1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Browne of Tavistock

Robert Southey, in British Poets, Chaucer to Jonson (1831) 840.



WILLIAM BROWNE was born at Tavistock of a good family, and from the school in the town was removed to Exeter College, Oxford. He afterwards entered at the Inner Temple; but delighting more in poetry and in such society as that age (and that only) afforded, than in the law, returned to Oxford, in middle life, as tutor to the Earl of Caernarvon. After he had discharged this office, the Earl of Pembroke took him into his family; and nothing more is known of him, except that he "got wealth and purchased an estate," and that there is reason to think the latter part of his life was past at Ottery St. Mary's, in his native county.

His poems were long undeservedly neglected, and had become extremely rare, when T. Davies, the bookseller, performed a good service to English literature in reprinting them. For Browne is a poet who produced no slight effect upon his contemporaries. George Wither, in his happiest pieces, has learnt the manner of his friend; and Milton may be traced to him. And in our days his peculiarities have been caught, and his beauties imitated, by men who will themselves find admirers and imitators hereafter.

He is said to have undertaken and nearly completed a series of lives of the English poets, beginning with Joseph of Exeter, and coming down to his own times. The loss of this work is the greatest which our poetical biography has sustained. Some of his unprinted poems were in the unhappy collection of Mr. Warburton the herald, and possibly may yet be recovered, as they disappeared not in that process of lighting the fire which has rendered that gentleman and his servant so unfortunately notorious, but in the dispersion of his library after his death.