1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Davies

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787) 1:xli-ii.



Sir John Davies. A man of low extraction, who, by dint of natural abilities, made his way to great worldly, as well as literary, eminence. The extent of his honours was, to be appointed Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, but he died suddenly before he was sworn in. — Wood says, "He was held in great esteem by the noted scholars of his time; among whom were, William Camden, Sir Jo. Harrington, the poet, Ben Jonson, Jo. Selden, Facete Hoskyns, R. Corbet of Christ Church, and others, who esteemed him to be a person of bold sprit, of a sharp and ready wit, and completely learned, but in truth more a scholar than a lawyer." He has preserved a list of his publications, which, exclusive of his poetry, are very numerous. His Nosce Teipsum is the earliest philosophical poem this country has produced; the language is pure, demonstrative, and neat to a degree. The authoress of the Muses' Library has well remarked, "There is a peculiar happiness in his similies, being introduced to illustrate more than adorn, which renders them as useful as entertaining, and distinguishes his from those of every other author." The following instance, which is most happy, will sufficiently prove the truth of Mrs. Cowper's remark:

But as Noah's pigeon, which return'd no more,
Did shew the footing ground for all the flood;
So when good souls departed through Death's door
Come not again, it shews their dwelling's good.

This poem was republished in 1714, by Tate, and addressed to the Earl of Dorset, who was very fond of Davies. There was another edition in 1773. — He was born at Chisgrove, in Wiltshire, 1570; was a commoner of Queen's College Oxford. He studied the law at the Middle Temple, and died in 1626.