1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Fairfax

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:223-25.



All the biographers of the poets have been extremely negligent with respect to this great genius. Philips so far overlooks him, that he crowds him into his supplement, and Winstanley, who followed him, postpones our author till after the Earl of Rochester. Sir Thomas Pope Blount makes no mention of him; and Mr. Jacob, so justly called the Blunderbus of Law, informs us he wrote in the time of Charles the first, tho' he dedicates his translation of Tasso to Queen Elizabeth. All who mention him, do him the justice to allow he was an accomplished genius, but then it is in a way so cool and indifferent, as shews that they had never read his works, or were any way charmed with the melody of his verses. It was impossible Mr. Dryden could be so blind to our author's beauties; 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 harmony to the last; by asserting that Waller confessed he owed the music of his numbers to Fairfax's Godfrey of Bulloign. The truth is, this gentleman is perhaps the only writer down to Sir William Davenant, who needs no apology to be made for him, on account of the age in which he lived. His diction is so pure, elegant, and full of graces, and the turn of his lines so perfectly melodious, that one cannot read it without rapture; and we can scarcely imagine the original Italian has greatly the advantage in either, nor is it very probable that while Fairfax can be read, any author will attempt a new translation of Tasso with success. 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 sometime governor. When he married is not on record, or in what circumstances he lived: But it is very probable, his father took care to support him in a manner suitable to his own quality, and his son's extraordinary merit, he being always stiled Edward Fairfax, Esq; of Newhall in Fuystone, in the forest of Knaresborough. The year in which he died is likewise uncertain, and the last account we heat of him is, that he was living in 1631, which shews, that he was then pretty well advanced in years, and as I suppose gave occasion to the many mistakes that have been made as to the time of his writing. Besides the translation of Godfrey of Bulloigne, Mr. Fairfax wrote the history of Edward the Black Prince and certain eclogues, which Mrs. Cooper tells us are yet in manuscript, tho' (says she) "by the indulgence of the family, from wham I had likewise the honour of these memoirs, I am permitted to oblige the world with a specimen of their beauties." He wrote also a book called, Daemonologie, in which he shews a great deal of ancient reading and knowledge; it is still in manuscript, and in the beginning he gives this character of himself. "I am in religion neither a fantastic 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." The eclogues already mentioned are twelve in number, all of them written after the accession 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, dignified with noble instructions of morality, and policy, to those of the highest rank; and some modest hints to Majesty itself. The learning contained in these eclogues is so various and extensive, that according to the opinion of his son, who has written long annotations on each, no man's reading besides his own was sufficient to explain his references effectually. As his translation of Tasso is in every body's hand, we shall take the specimen from the fourth eclogue, called "Eglon and Alexis," as I find it in Mrs. Cooper's collection [omitted].