1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Davies

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 100



SIR JOHN DAVIES wrote, at twenty-five years of age, a poem on the immortality of the soul; and at fifty-two, when he was a judge and a statesman, another on "the art of dancing." Well might the teacher of that noble accomplishment, in Moliere's comedy, exclaim, "La philosophie est quelque chose — mais la danse!"

Sir John was the son of a practising lawyer at Tisbury, in Wiltshire. He was expelled from the Temple for beating Richard Martin, who was afterwards recorder of London; but his talents redeemed the disgrace. He was restored to the Temple, and elected to parliament, where, although he had flattered Queen Elizabeth in his poetry, he distinguished himself by supporting the privileges of the house, and by opposing royal monopolies. On the accession of King James he went to Scotland with Lord Hunsdon, and was received by the new sovereign with flattering cordiality, as author of the poem Nosce Teipsum. In Ireland he was successively nominated solicitor and attorney general, was knighted, and chosen speaker of the Irish House of Commons, in opposition to the Catholic interest. Two works which he published as the fruits of his observation in that kingdom, have attached considerable importance to his name in the legal and political history of Ireland. On his return to England he sat in parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyne, and had assurances of being appointed chief justice of England, when his death was suddenly occasioned by apoplexy. He married, while in Ireland, Eleanor, a daughter of Lord Audley, by whom he had a daughter, who was married to Ferdinand Lord Hastings, afterwards Earl of Huntingdon. Sir John's widow turned out an enthusiast and a prophetess. A volume of her ravings was published in 1649, for which the revolutionary government sent her to the Tower, and to Bethlehem Hospital.