1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Davies

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 297-98.



SIR JOHN DAVIES was born at Chisgrove in Wiltshire, in 1570. Though a lawyer of great eminence, he is chiefly known to posterity through the medium of his poetical works. His Nosce Teipsum, or poem on the Immortality of the Soul, on which his fame rests, was published in 1599, and not only secured him the admiration of his learned contemporaries, among whom may be recorded the great names of Camden, Harrington, Jonson, Selden, and Corbet, but accelerated his professional honours; for being introduced to James in Scotland, in order to congratulate him on his accession to the throne of England, the king, on hearing his name, enquired if he was Nosce Teipsum? and being answered in the affirmative, graciously embraced him, and took him into such favour, that he soon made him his Solicitor, and then Attorney-General in Ireland.

Besides this philosophical poem, the earliest of which our language can boast, Sir John printed, in 1596, a series of Epigrams, which were published at Middleburg, at the close of Marlowe's translation of Ovid's Epistles, and in the same year the first edition of his Orchestra, or a poem of dauncing; these, with twenty-six acrostics on the words Elizabetha Regina, printed in 1599, and entitled Hymns of Astraea, complete the list of his productions.

His Nosce Teipsum is a piece of close reasoning in verse, peculiarly harmonious for the period in which it appeared. It possessed, also, wit, ingenuity, vigour and condensation of thought, but exhibits few efforts of imagination, and nothing that is either pathetic or sublime. In point of argument, metaphysical acuteness and legitimate deduction, the English poet is, in every respect, superior to his classical model Lucretius; but how greatly does he fall beneath the fervid genius and creative fancy of the Latin bard!

Sir John died suddenly on the 7th of December, 1626, in the fifty-seventh year of his age.