1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Davies

Robert Southey, in British Poets, Chaucer to Johnson (1831) 686.



Davies is one of the worthies of Wiltshire. He was born in 1570, at Chicksgrove, a hamlet in the parish of Tetbury, and was the third son of a country lawyer. His mother was of the Bennett family, in the same county. In the fifteenth year of his age he was admitted commoner of Queen's College, Oxford; in the eighteenth he removed to the Middle Temple, when he incurred censure for some early irregularities, and whence he was expelled, after he had been called to the bar, for quarrelling with Richard Martin, and beating him in the Hall. He was, however, restored in 1601, by favour of the Lord Keeper Ellesmere; and took his seat in parliament, the same year, as member for Corfe Castle. The dedication of his poem on the Immortality of the Soul bears date in the following year. Such a poem obtained immediately, in those days, the notice which it deserved; and when, on the death of Elizabeth, the author accompanied Lord Hunsdon into Scotland, James inquired "if he was Nosce Teipsum," embraced him, and promised him his favour. The merited reproach of promoting unworthy favourites has clung to the memory of James the First; but it ought to be remembered also, that the most able and illustrious men of his age were distinguished by his favour.

In 1603 Davies was sent to Ireland as solicitor general; made attorney-general soon afterwards; and being appointed one of the judges of assize, at a time when a guard of six or seven score foot, and fifty or sixty horse, was necessary fo his protection on the circuit, deserved the praise of the government as "a faithful and well deserving servant of His Majesty." He was knighted in 1607. In 1612 he published his very able Discovery of the true Causes why Ireland had never been entirely subdued. Soon afterwards he was made king's sergeant; elected for the county of Fermanagh; and, after a warm contest between the Protestant and Romish members, was chosen speaker of the first Irish House of Commons formed by a general representation. He published the first Reports of Cases which were ever made public in Ireland; and the preface to this volume is said to be the best that was ever prefixed to a law book.

Sir John Davies left Ireland in 1616; sat in parliament for Newcastle-under-Line; and was to have been appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1626, when an apoplectic stroke put an end to his mortal existence on the night of the 7th of December.

He had published a collected edition of his poems in 1622. Nahum Tate, by Lord Dorset's recommendation, republished them at the end of the century, giving thus better proof of his judgement in poetry than can be found in his own works. They were published also by Thomas Davies, the book-seller, to whom our early poets owe much, and were first included in a general collection of our poets by Dr. Anderson.

He married Lady Eleanor Touchet, daughter of George Lord Audley, Earl of Castlehaven. Sir Archibald Douglas was her second husband, and she is said to have been an uncomfortable wife to both; this, however, was her misfortune rather than her fault, the evidence of her craziness being public and notorious. Sir John Davies had by this unhappy marriage an idiot son, and a daughter who married Ferdinando Lord Hastings, afterwards Earl of Huntingdon. It may be regretted that he did not leave representatives who would have thought it a duty and an honour to publish all that could be collected of his writings; thus erecting the best and most enduring monument to his memory.

Davenant has evidently formed his style upon that of Sir John Davies.