1757 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Chapman

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1757) 1:229-34.



GEORGE CHAPMAN was born in the year 1557, but of what family be is descended, Mr. Wood has not been able to determine; he was a man in very high reputation in his time, and added not a little to dramatic excellence. In 1574, being well grounded in grammar learning; he was sent to the university, but it is not clear whether to Oxford or Cambridge; it is certain that he was sometime in Oxford, and was taken notice of for his great skill in the Latin and Greek languages, but not in logic and philosophy, which is the reason it may be presumed, that he took no degree there. After this he came to London, and contracted an acquaintance, as Wood says, with Shakespear, Johnson, Sidney, Spenser and Daniel. He met with a very warm patronage from Sir Thomas Walsingham, who had always had a constant friendship for him, and after that gentleman's decease, from his son Thomas Walsingham, esquire, whom Chapman loved from his birth. He was also respected, and held in esteem by Prince Henry, and Robert earl of Somerset, but the first being untimely snatched away, and the other justly disgraced for an assassination, his hopes of preferment were by these means frustrated; however, he was a servant either to King James I. or Queen Anne his consort, through whose reign he was highly valued by all his old friends, only there are some insinuations, that as his reputation grew, Ben Johnson, naturally haughty and insolent, became jealous of him, and endeavoured to suppress, as much as possible, his rising fame, as Ben, after the death of Shakespear, was without a rival.

Chapman was a man of a reverend aspect, and graceful manner, religious and temperate, qualities which seldom meet (says Wood) in a poet, and was so highly esteemed by the clergy, that some of them have said, "that as Musaeus, who wrote the lives of Hero and Leander, had two excellent scholars, Thamarus and Hercules, so had he in England in the latter end of Queen Elizabeth, two excellent imitators in the same argument and subject, viz. Christopher Marlow, and George Chapman." Our author has translated the Iliad of Homer, published in folio, and dedicated to Prince Henry, which is yet looked upon with some respect. He is said to have had the spirit of a Poet in him, and was indeed no mean genius. Pope somewhere calls him an enthusiast in poetry. He likewise translated the Odyssey, and the Battle of Frogs and Mice, which were published in 1614, and dedicated to the earl of Somerset, to this work is added Hymns and Epigrams, written by Homer, and translated by our author. He likewise attempted some part of Hesiod, and continued a translation of Musaeus's Aerotopegnion de Herone & Leandro. Prefixed to this work, are some anecdotes of the life of Musaeus, taken by Chapman from the collection of Dr. William Gager, and a dedication to the most generally ingenious and only learned architect of his time, Inigo Jones esquire, Surveyor of his Majesty's Works. At length, says Wood, this reverend and eminent poet, having lived 77 years in this vain, transitory world, made his last exit in the parish of St Giles's in the Fields, near London, on the 12th day of May, 1655, and was buried in the yard on the South side of the church in St Giles's: soon after a monument was erected over his grave, built after the manner of the old Romans, at the expence, and under the direction of his much loved worthy friend Inigo Jones, whereon is this engraven, Georgius Chapmannus, Poeta Homericus, Philosophus verus (etsi Christianus Poeta) plusquam celebris, &c.

His dramatic works are,

All Fools, a Comedy, presented at the Black Fryars, and afterwards before his Majesty King James I. in the beginning of his reign, and printed in 4to. London 1605. The plot is taken, and the characters formed upon Terence's Heautontimorumenos. The Prologue and Epilogue writ in blank verse, shew that in these days persons of quality, and they that thought themselves good critics, in place of sitting in the boxes, as they now do, sit on the stage; what influence those people had on the meanest sort of the audience, may be seen by the following lines in the Prologue written by Chapman himself.

Great are the gifts given to united heats;
To gifts, attire, to fair attire the stage
Helps much; for if our other audience see,
You on the stage depart before we end,
Our wit goes with you all, and we are fools.

Alphonsus Emperor of Germany, a Tragedy, often acted with applause at a private house in Black Fryars, by the servants of King Charles I. printed in 4to. London 1654. This play, though it bears the name of Alphonsus, was writ, as Langbaine supposes, in honour of the English nation, in the person of Richard, Earl of Cornwal, son to King John, and brother to Henry III. He was chosen King of the Romans in 1527. About this time Alphonsus, the French King was chosen by other electors. Though this King was accounted by some a pious prince, yet our author represents him as a bloody tyrant, and, contrary to other historians, brings him to an unfortunate end, he supposing him to be killed by Alexander, son to Lorenzo de Cipres his secretary, in revenge of his father, who was poisoned by him, and to compleat his revenge, he makes him first deny his Saviour in hopes of life, and then stabs him, glorying that he had at once destroyed both body and soul. This passage is related by several authors, as Bolton's Four last Things, Reynolds of the Passions, Clark's Examples, &c.

Blind Beggar of Alexandria, a Comedy, printed 1598, dedicated to the earl of Nottingham, Lord high Admiral.

Bussy d'Amboise, a Tragedy, often presented at St. Paul's, in the reign of King James I. and since the Restoration with great applause; for the plot see Thuanus, Jean de Serres, and Mezeray, in the reign of King Henry III. of France. This is the play of which Mr. Dryden speaks, when in his preface to the Spanish Fryar, he resolves to burn one annually to the memory of Ben Johnson. Some haw differed from Mr. Dryden in their opinion of this piece, but as the authorities who have applauded, are not so high as Mr. Dryden's single authority, it is most reasonable to conclude not much in its favour.

Bussy d'Amboise his Revenge, a Tragedy, printed 1612, and dedicated to Sir Thomas Howard. This play is generally allowed to fall short of the former of that name, yet the author, as appears from his dedication, had a higher opinion of himself, and rails at those who dared to censure it; it is founded upon fiction, which Chapman very justly defends, and says that there is no necessity for any play being founded on truth.

Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, Marshal of France, in two plays, acted at the Black Friars in the reign of King James I. Printed in 4to. London 1608, dedicated to Sir Thomas Walsingham.

Caesar and Pompey, a Roman Tragedy, printed 1631, and dedicated to the Earl of Middlesex.

Gentleman Usher, a Comedy, printed in 4to. London 1606. We are not certain whether this play was ever acted, and it has but an indifferent character

Humorous Day's Mirth, a Comedy; this is a very tolerable play.

Mask of the Two Honourable Houses, or Inns of Court, the Middle-Temple, and Lincoln's-Inn, performed before the King at Whitehall, on Shrove Monday at night, being the 15th of February, 1613, at the celebration of the Royal Nuptials of the Palsgrave, and the Princess Elizabeth, &c. with a description of their whole shew, in the manner of their march on horseback, from the Master of the Rolls's house to the court, with all their noble consorts, and shewful attendants, invented and fashioned, with the ground and special structure of the whole work by Inigo Jones; this Mask is dedicated to Sir Edward Philips, then Master of the Rolls. At the end of the Masque is printed an Epithalamium, called a Hymn for the most happy Nuptials of the Princess Elizabeth, &c.

May Day, a witty Comedy, acted at the Black Fryars, and printed in 4to. 1611.

Monsieur d' Olive, a Comedy, acted by her Majesty's children at the Black Fryars, printed in 4to. 1606

Revenge for Honour, a Tragedy, printed 1654.

Temple, a Masque

Two Wise-men, and all the rest Fools, or a Comical Moral, censuring the follies of that age, printed in London 1619. This play is extended to seven acts, a circumstance which Langbaine says he never saw in any other, and which, I believe, has never been practised by any poet, ancient or modern, but himself.

Widow's Tears, a Comedy, often presented in the Black and White Fryars, printed in 4to. London 1612; this play is formed upon the story of the Ephesian Matron. These are all the plays of our author, of which we have been able to gain any account; he joined with Ben Johnson and Marston in writing a Comedy called Eastward Hoe; this play has been since revived by Tate, under the title of Cuckolds Haven. It has been said that for some reflections contained in it against the Scotch nation; Ben Johnson narrowly escaped the pillory. See more of this, page 237.