1781 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Chapman

Thomas Warton, in History of English Poetry (1774-81; 1840) 3:361-62.



As an original writer, Chapman belongs to the class of dramatic poets, and will not therefore be considered again at the period in which he is placed by the biographers. His translations, therefore, which were begun before the year 1600, require that we should here acquaint the reader with the particulars of his life. He wrote eighteen plays, which, although now forgotten, must have contributed in no inconsequential degree to enrich and advance the English stage. He was born in 1577, perhaps in Kent. He passed about two years at Trinity College in Oxford, with a contempt of philosophy, but in a close attention to the Greek and Roman classics. Leaving the university about 1576, he seems to have been led to London in the character of a poet; where he soon commenced a friendship with Spenser, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Daniel, and attracted the notice of secretary Walsingham. He probably first acquired some appointment in the court of king James the First; where untimely death, and unexpected disgrace, quickly deprived him of his liberal patrons Prince Henry and Carr. Jonson was commonly too proud, either to assist, or to be assisted; yet he engaged with Chapman and Marston in writing the comedy of EASTWARD HOE, which was performed by the children of the revels in 1605. But this association gave Jonson an opportunity of throwing out many satirical parodies on Shakespeare with more security. All the three authors, however, were in danger of being pilloried for some reflections on the Scotch nation, which were too seriously understood by James the First. When the societies of Lincoln's-inn and the Middle Temple, in 1613, had resolved to exhibit a splendid masque at Whitehall in honour of the nuptials of the Palsgrave and the princess Elizabeth, Chapman was employed for the poetry, and Inigo Jones for the machinery. It is not clear, whether Dryden's resolution to burn annually one copy of Chapman's best tragedy BUSSY D'AMBOISE, to the memory of Jonson, was a censure or a compliment. He says, however, that this play pleased only in the representation, like a star which glitters only while it shoots. The manes of Jonson perhaps required some reconciliatory rites: for Jonson being delivered from Shakespeare, began unexpectedly to be disturbed at the rising reputation of a new theatric rival. Wood says, that Chapman was a "person of most reverend aspect religious and temperate, QUALITIES RARELY MEETING IN A POET!" The truth is, he does not seem to have mingled in the dissipations and indiscretions which then marked the profession. He died at the age of seventy-seven, in 1634, and was buried on the south side of saint Giles's church in the Fields. His friend Inigo Jones planned and erected a monument to his memory, in the style of the new architecture, which was unluckily destroyed in the old church. There was an intimate friendship between our author and this celebrated restorer of Grecian palaces.