1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Fairfax

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 120.



EDWARD FAIRFAX, the truly poetical translator of Tasso, was the second son of Sir Thomas Fairfax, of Denton, in Yorkshire. His family were all soldiers; but the poet, while his brothers were seeking military reputation abroad, preferred the quiet enjoyment of letters at home. He married and settled as a private gentleman at Fuyston, a place beautifully situated between the family seat at Denton and the forest of Knaresborough. Some of his time was devoted to the management of his brother Lord Fairfax's property, and to superintending the education of his lordship's children. The prose MSS. which he left in the library of Denton sufficiently attest his literary industry. They have never been published, and, as they relate chiefly to religious controversy, are not likely to be so; although his treatise on witchcraft, recording its supposed operation upon his own family, must form a curious relic of superstition. Of Fairfax it might, therefore, well be said—

Prevailing poet, whose undoubting mind,
Believed the magic powers which he sung.
[William Collins, in Superstition's Ode.]

Of his original works in verse, his History of Edward the Black Prince has never been published; but Mr. A. Chalmers (Biog. Dict. art. Fairfax) is, I believe, as much mistaken in supposing that his Eclogues have never been collectively printed, as in pronouncing them entitled to high commendation for their poetry. A more obscurely stupid allegory and fable can hardly be imagined than the fourth eclogue, preserved in Mrs. Cooper's Muse's Library: its being an imitation of some of the theological pastorals of Spenser is no apology for its absurdity. When a fox is described as seducing the chastity of a lamb, and when the eclogue writer tells us that

An hundred times her virgin lip he kiss'd,
As oft her maiden finger gently wrung,

who could imagine that either poetry, or ecclesiastical history, or sense or meaning of any kind, was ever meant to be conveyed under such a conundrum?

The time of Fairfax's death has not been discovered; it is known that he was alive in 1631; but his translation of the Jerusalem was published when he was a young man, was inscribed to Queen Elizabeth, and forms one of the glories of her reign.