1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Barnabe Barnes

Thomas Park, in "A Divine Centurie of Spirituall Sonnets" Censura Literaria 6 (1808) 120-24.



B. Barnes, according to Wood, was the son of Richard B. bishop of Durham, was born in Yorkshire, about 1569, and at the age of seventeen became a student of Brasen Nose College, Oxford, but left the university without a degree. In 1591 he appears to have accompanied a military expedition to France, under the Earl of Essex, where (if the satiric Nash is to be credited) he acquired no laurels as a warrior. After his return he published Parthenophil and Parthenope; a most rare collection of sonnets, madrigals, &c. described by Mr. Beloe in his Anecdotes of Literature, II. 77.; and he took part with Harvey against Nash, by contributing three sonnets to Pierce's Supererogation, 1593. This drew upon him, as was to be expected, the contumelious asperity of Harvey's bitter opponent, in his Have with you to Saffron Walden, 1596: where the following sarcasm on the title-page of the present work [Centurie of Sonnets] occurs. "Of late he (Barnabe of the Barnes) hath set foorth another booke, which he entitles no lesse than A Divine Centurie of Sonets: and prefixeth for his poesie, Altera Musa venit, quid ni sit et alter Apollo? As much to say as, 'Why may not my Muse be as great as Apollo, or god of poetrie, as the proudest of them?' But it comes as farre short, as Paris-Garden Cut of the height of a cammell, or a cock-boate of a carricke. Such another device it is, as the godly ballet of John Carelesse, or the song of Green Sleeves moralized." Wood further records of Barnes, that he published Five Books of Offices, in 1606, folio; and the Devil's Charter, a tragedy, in 1607. One Barnabe Barnes (he adds) of the city of Coventry, died about 1644, but whether this was our author, or what relation to him, he could not tell: nor might an examination of the parish-registers in that city enable us to ascertain; since the latter portion of his life may have been shadowed by a similar obscurity to what has long enveloped his literary remains.

With his Century of devout Sonnets it was my better hap to meet, when I first became

Intent to rescue some neglected rhyme,
Lone-blooming, from the mournful waste of time.

They possess a few of the beauties and many of the defects which marked the vernacular poetry of his age, when scholars, courtiers, and soldiers, scribbled "unpremeditated verse." The quatorzains of Barnes however, were not unstudied effusions. They are written with a laborious adherence to the recurring rima of the Italian sonetto; a custom by many English poets "more honoured in the breach than the observance:" and they are frequently written also with an attention to what Mr. [Thomas] Warton truly considered as a beauty, — the continuance of the sense beyond the termination of the line. But diversified epithets or concrete appellations are continually substituted for figurative language, and sentences are not unfrequently tortured into a forced construction, which borders on the Della Cruscan subterfuge of attracting by a glitter of words rather than thoughts. I proceed to select a few specimens that are least obnoxious to such censures. The object and tenour of these poetic aspirations cannot be regarded without respectful approval.