1738 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Fairfax

Elizabeth Cooper, in The Muses Library (1738) 342-44, 363.



A Gentleman of so much Merit, that he eminently deserves to be rank'd among the First of our English Writers; yet has He hitherto been treated with so much Neglect, to say no Worse, That no one Author has afforded us a tolerable Sketch of his Life; or given Themselves even the Trouble to make the slightest Enquiry after Him. — Philips so far overlooks him, that he was forc'd to crowd him into his Supplement, and his Transcriber Winstanly, does, in a Manner, the same, by postponing him till after the Earl of Rochester, Sir Thomas Pope Blunt makes no mention of him at all: And Mr. Jacob informs us he wrote in the Reign of King Charles the First tho' He dedicates his Translation of Tasso to Queen Elizabeth: Indeed all that name him, do him the Justice to allow he was an accomplish'd Genius; but then 'tis in so cool, and careless a Manner, as plainly indicates they were very little acquainted with the Merit they prais'd. — 'Twas impossible for the great Mr. Dryden to be so insensible; and, accordingly we find him introducing Spencer, and Fairfax, almost on the Level, as the leading Authors of their Times; nay tacitly yielding the Palm in Point of Musick to the last; by asserting, That Waller confess'd He ow'd the Harmony of his Numbers to the Godfrey of Bulloign, of Fairfax. — In Fact, this Gentleman is the only Writer down to D'Avenant, that needs no Apology to be made for him, on Account of the Age he lived in. — His Diction being, generally speaking, so pure, so elegant, and full of Graces, and the Turn of his Lines so perfectly Melodious, that I hardly believe the Original Italian, has greatly the Advantage in either: Nor could any Author, in my Opinion, be justify'd for attempting Tasso anew, as long as his Translation can be read.

Mr. Fairfax was natural Son of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton, and natural Brother to Sir Thomas Fairfax the first who was created Baron of Cameron. His younger Brother was Knighted; and slain at the memorable siege of Ostend, 1601. of which Place he was some Time Governor.

Whom he marry'd, is not on Record; or in what Circumstances he liv'd; But 'tis to be presum'd, his Father took Care to support him in a Manner suitable to his own quality, and his Son's Merit. He being always stil'd E. Fairfax, Esq; of New-Hall in Fuystone, in the Forest of Knaseborough: — The Year he dy'd in, is likewise uncertain; and the last we hear of him, is, that He was living in 1631: which argu'd that he was then pretty well advanc'd in Years; and, as I suppose, gave occasion to the many Mistakes that have been made, as to the Time he wrote in.

His eldest Son was William a very learned, but splenetick Man; who was a Kind of a Tutor; or rather an intimate Friend to Mr. Stanley, who publish'd the Lives of the Philosophers; The greatest Part of the Work, as well as the Notes on Euripides truly belonging to Mr. W. Fairfax; tho' his Modesty, and Friendship declin'd the Reputation.

Mr. Fairfax, the Father, beside the Translation of Godfrey of Bulloigne, wrote the History of Edward the Black Prince, and certain witty Eclogues, which are yet in Manuscript, tho' by the Indulgence of the Family (from whom I had likewise the Honour of these Memoirs) I am permitted to oblige the World with a Specimen of their Beauties: A Favour that I am proud to say will, in one Sense however, make this Collection compleat, since it was impossible it should be so without. He wrote also a Book call'd Daemonologie, in which, tho' the Story is particular, He shows a great deal of ancient Reading and Knowledge: It is still a MS. and, in the Beginning, He gives this Character of Himself.

"I am in Religion, neither a fantastick Puritan, nor superstitious Papist, but so settled in Conscience that I have the sure Ground of God's Word to warrant all I believe, and the commendable Ordinances of our English Church to approve all I practise: In which Course I live a faithful Christian and an Obedient, and so teach my Family" [passage from the translation omitted].

The Eclogues, above quoted, are in Number Twelve; all of them wrote after the Accession of of King James to the Throne of England, on important Subjects, relating to the Manners, Characters, and Incidents of the Times he lived in; They are pointed with many fine Strokes of Satire; dignify'd with wholsome Lessons of Morality, and Policy, to those of the highest Rank; and some modest Hints even to Majesty it self — As far as Poetry is concern'd in them, the very Name of Fairfax is the highest Recommendation, and the Learning they contain, is so various, and extensive, that, according to the Evidence of his Son, (who has written large Annotations on each) No Man's Reading, beside his own, was sufficient to explain his References effectually.