1687 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Drayton

William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687) 105-08.



Mr. Drayton, one who had drunk as deep a Draught at Helicon as any in his time, was born at Athelston in Warwickshire, as appeareth in his Poetical Address thereunto, Poly-Olbion, song 13. p. 213.

My native Country then, which so brave Spirits hast bred,
If there be virtue yet remaining in thy earth,
Or any good of thine thou breath'st into my Birth,
Accept it as thine own whilst now I sing of thee,
Of all thy latter Brood th' unworthiest tho' I be.

He was in his time for fame and renouwn in Poetry, not much inferior, if not equal to Mr. Spencer, or Sir Philip Sidney himself. Take a taste of the sprightfulness of his Muse, out of his Poly-Olbion, speaking of his native Country Warwickshire.

Upon the Mid-lands now th' industrious Muse doth fall,
That Shire which we the Heart of England well may call,
As she herself extends (the midst which is Deweed)
Betwixt St. Michael's Mount and Barwick bordering Tweed.
Brave Warwick that abroad so long advanc'd her Bear,
By her illustrious Earls renowned every where,
Above her neighboring Shires which always bore her Head.

Also in the Beginning of his Poly-Olbion he thus writes:

Of Albions glorious Isle the wonders whilst I write,
The sundry varying Soyls, the Pleasures infinite,
Where heat kills not the cold, nor cold expells the heat,
The calms too mildly small, nor winds too roughly great.
Nor night doth hinder day, nor day the night doth wrong;
The summer not too short, the winter not too long:
What help shall I invoke to aid my Muse the while? &c.

However, in the esteem of the more curious of these times, his Works seem to be antiquated, especially this of his Poly-Olbion, because of the old-fashion'd kind of Verse thereof, which seems somewhat to diminish that respect which was formerly paid to the Subject, although indeed both pleasant and elaborate, wherein he took a great deal both of study and pains; and thereupon thought worthy to be commented upon by that once walking Library of our Nation, Mr. John Selden: His Barons Wars are done to the Life, equal to any of that Subject. His Englands Heroical Epistles generally liked and received, entituling him unto the appelation of the English Ovid. His Legends of Robert Duke of Normany, Matilda, Pierce Gaveston, and Thomas Cromwel, all of them done to the Life. His Idea expresses much Fancy and Poetry. And to such as love that Poetry, that of Nymphs and Shepherds, his Nymphals, and other things of that nature, cannot be unpleasant.

To conclude, He was a Poet of a pious temper, this Conscience having always the command of his Fancy; very temperate in his Life, slow of speech, and inoffensive in company. He changed his Lawrel for a Crown of Glory, Anno 1631. and was buried in Westminster-Abbey, near the South-door, by those two eminent Poets, Geoffry Chaucer and Edmund Spencer, with this Epitaph made (as it is said) by Mr. Benjamin Johnson.

Do, pious Marble, let thy Readers know
What they, and what their Children ow
To Drayton's Name, whose sacred Dust
We recommend unto thy Trust
Protect his Memory, and preserve his Story,
Remain a lasting Monument of his Glory:
And when thy Ruines shall disclaim
To be the Treasurer of his Name,
His Name that cannot fade shall be
An everlasting Monument to thee.