1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gervase Markham

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 246-47.



Gervase Markham, whom we have incidentally mentioned in various parts of this work, was the most indefatigable writer of his era. He was descended of an ancient family in Nottinghamshire, and commenced author about the year 1592. The period of his death is not ascertained; but he must have attained a good old age, for he fought for Charles the First, and obtained a Captain's commission in his army. His education had been very liberal, for he was esteemed a good classical scholar, and he was well versed in the French, Italian, and Spanish languages. As he was a younger son, it is probable that his finances were very limited, and that he had recourse to his pen as an additional means of support. "He seems," remarks Sir Egerton Brydges, "to have become a general compiler for the booksellers, and his various works had as numerous impressions as those of Burn and Buchan in our days." No subject, indeed, appears to have been rejected by Markham; husbandry, huswifry, farriery, horsemanship, and military tactics, hunting, hawking, fowling, fishing, and archery, heraldry, poetry, romances, and the drama: all shared his attention and exercised his genius and industry.

His popularity, in short, in all these various branches was unrivalled; and such was his reputation as a cattle doctor that the booksellers, aware of the value of his works in this kind of circulation, got him to sign a paper in 1617, in which he bound himself not to publish any thing further on the diseases of "horse, oxe, cowe, sheepe, swine, goates, etc." His books on agriculture were not superseded until the middle of the eighteenth century, and the fifteenth impression of his Cheap and Good Husbandry, which was originally published in 1616, is now before us, dated 1695. Nor were his works on rural amusements less relished; for his Country Contentments, the first edition of which appeared in 1615, had reached the eleventh in 1675. The same good fortune attended him even as a poet, for in England's Parnassus, 1600, he is quoted thirty-four times, forming the largest number of extracts taken from any minor bard in the book. He appears to have been an enthusiast in all that relates to field-sports, and his works, now becoming scarce, are, in many respects, curious and interesting, and display great versatility of talent. By far the greater part of them, as is evident from their dates, was written before the year 1620, though many were subsequently corrected and enlarged.