It is not a little strange that a Person who raised to himself so high a Reputation by his Writings, and who was besides so great a Lover of his Country and so much esteemed by Men of the best Heads and brightest Wits of the Age in which he lived, should notwithstanding have so little Regard shewn to his Memory, as to have scarce a single Incident of his Life recorded by any other Pen than his own. The facetious Dr. Fuller has vouchsafed to mention him among the Worthies of Warwickshire, but in a very dry quaint Manner; and the most material Thing he says of him is, that the Place of his Birth was near that of his Countryman William Shakespear, but not so near as the Place of his Interment to that of Geoffrey Chaucer, by which, no doubt, his Reader will be much edified. Mr. Edward Phillips has bestowed somewhat fewer than twenty Lines upon our Author's Memory, containing only a Character of his Works, in which he has transcribed what little he found for his Purpose in Fuller. Mr. William Winstanley has transcribed Mr. Phillips and Dr. Fuller, without adding any thing that is worth the Reader's Notice. As for more modern Writers, they have contented themselves with transcribing Mr. Winstanley and adding a Catalogue of Mr. Drayton's Works. All therefore that we can say of him, must be borrowed from thence, and we shall endeavour to range the few Facts we meet with there in the best Order we may, and illustrate them the best we can.
He was born, but at what time does not appear, at Athelston in Warwickshire, and retained always a warm and generous Affection for his native Country. He was descended from an ancient and honourable Family in that County, and appears to have had a regular and learned Education. He tells us himself, that he was very early smitten with the Love of Poetry, insomuch, that when he was but ten Years old, and no farther advanced than in his Accidence, he was very earnest with his School-master to make him a Poet. His Master, it seems, indulged him to his Wish, and made him very early acquainted with the Latin Classics, which suiting extreamly well with his Genius, he read them, more especially Virgil and Horace, with infinite Pleasure and most assiduous Application. He began very early to discover his Acquaintance with the Muses, to whom he devoted himself through his whole Life.
His first Essays were the natural Flights of a young and sprightly Genius, well seasoned with Learning, and not at all deficient in Judgment; so that he had no Reason in his riper Years to be ashamed of these early Performances, as the Reader will perceive by consulting his IDEA and his ELEGIES, most of which were written when he was a young Man. In these he discovered much of that laudable Fondness for his Country, which is incident to every good Mind, as particularly appears by the following short and beautiful Poem on the River Ankor, which runs through the Forest of Arden, in Warwickshire, the Scene of his juvenile Pleasures, and of his first Correspondence with the Muses, which with respect to the natural and unaffected Vivacity of the Thoughts, Elegance of Composition, and Harmony of Numbers, might pass for no mean Testimony of Poetic Genius even at this Day. The Lines are these;
Clear Ankor, on whose silver-sanded Shore,
My soul shrin'd Saint, my fair Idea lies,
O blessed Brook, whose milk-white Swans adore
Thy crystal Stream refined by her Eyes,
Where sweet myrrh-breathing Zephyr in the Spring
Gently distills his Nectar-dropping Showers,
Where Nightingales in Arden sit and sing
Amongst the dainty Dew-impearled Flowers;
Say thus, fair Brook, when thou shalt see thy Queen,
Lo, here thy Shepherd spent his wand'ring Years;
And in these Shades, dear Nymph, he oft had been,
And here to thee he sacrific'd his Tears:
Fair Arden, thou my Tempe art alone,
And thou, sweet Ankor, art my Helicon.
His Affection for Poetry, however strong, did not hinder his Application to other Branches of Learning; but more especially to History, and particularly that of his own Country, in which he became as knowing as any Man of his Time; and with great Industry and Pains set himself to enquire into the secret Springs and Motions, by which the most remarkable Events, and most surprising Revolutions had been brought about. In these Enquiries, it was natural for him to take Notice of the singular Turns of Fortune that had befallen the most eminent Persons flourishing in different Ages; and where he found their Stories had not been fully represented to the World, or their Characters set in a true Light, he was desirous of rendering that Service to Posterity, and of preserving from Oblivion the Actions of those whose Persons had been persecuted by Fortune.
He had before him the Example of Lydgate the famous Monk of Bury, who translated into English Verse the celebrated Work of Boccace; and the Continuation of that Work under the Title of The Mirrour for Magistrates, written by some of the prime Wits in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth; wherein this Method of celebrating famous Persons is chiefly applied to those who have flourished in this Island, and was undoubtedly the Source of our Historical Plays.
This it was that put him upon writing his Legends, of which he first published three, and then added a fourth. These contained the Stories of Robert Duke of Normandy, eldest Son to the Conqueror; the Lady Matilda, who was beloved by King John, and by him supposed to be murdered for preferring her Vow of Chastity to the Honour of being a King's Mistress; Pierce Gaveston, the unhappy Favourite of that more unhappy Monarch Edward the Second; and Thomas Cromwell Earl of Essex, the great Instrument of King Henry VIII. and at length the Victim of that Prince's Policy and his own Ambition. These Historical Poems, adorned and heightened with all the Ornaments of a lively Fancy, and thick sown with short judicious Reflections, flowing from a sound Judgment in Men and Things, were received as they deserved with universal Applause, and gained their Author the Reputation which he had so long sought, of being a great Poet, and this too from the best Judges, of whom there were not a few in those Times.
This emboldened him to take a higher Flight, and to attempt a new Kind of Writing, at least in our Language. These he entitled ENGLAND'S Heroical Epistles. As to the Matter of them it was all borrowed from true History, and the principal Facts in then; are supported by Annotations drawn from the Chronicles that were then published. As for the Form, he professes to have imitated Ovid, and it must be allowed that the Characters are finely supported.
This Work, which appeared, as we learn from the Notes, while the Earl of Essex was in the Height of Favour with Queen Elizabeth, added much to that Fame which he had already acquired; and procured him, according to the Mode of that Age, the Commendations of the greatest Wits in his own Country and in Scotland: amongst the former was Sir Edmund Scory; and amongst the latter Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Sterling, who was himself one of the finest Gentlemen, as well as one of the politest Scholars and best Poets that Kingdom had to boast: so that now the Character of our Author was thoroughly established, and the Praises bestowed upon him incited him to proceed in his Career, and to undertake a larger and more difficult Work, in which he might have an Opportunity of shewing to how good Purpose he had spent his Time in the Study of Homer and Virgil, those two great Lights of Greek and Roman Poesy; and how much he possessed of that Fire and Spirit which enabled Lucan to raise his own Reputation by singing his Country's Ruin.
This was his Historical Poem of the BARONS WARS, divided into six Cantos, containing the History of the Reign of Edward the Second, with which he had rendered himself perfectly acquainted, by the Perusal of all our ancient Authors. He seems to have been led to this by his former Studies, having twice touched upon the Subject before, viz. in the Legend of Pierce Gaveston, and in the Love Epistles between Queen Isabella and Mortimer. He seems indeed to say so much himself towards the Close of the second Canto, yet he very prudently avoids telling the Story of Gaveston twice, by opening his Performance with the great Power of the Spensers, which gives him an Opportunity of entering immediately upon the Action of his Poem, which was the Loves of Mortimer Earl of March, and Queen Isabella.
It is certain that he has managed this with great Force of Genius and Skill in moral Policy, by reconciling his Manner of treating his Subject to the strictest Truth of History and shewing that the loathsome Intrigues of the Court, and particularly the adulterous Amours of the Queen, were the true Sources of those fatal Disturbances and bloody Fields, in which the harmless and honest Subjects of England were led on to spend their Lives as well as shipwreck their Fortunes, under the specious Pretence of fighting for the publick Good, which ended in the traiterous as well as barbarous Murder of a Prince, who wanted not good Qualities, and who had been misled and abused through the Course of his whole Reign. The Characters are finely drawn, and I am satisfied very justly too, for besides his own Knowledge in the History of England, which was very great, he had the Advice and Assistance of the most able and knowing Men of that Time; when the collecting and comparing our ancient and original Writers was a favourite and fashionable Stile.
It is therefore much to be regretted, that the Cantos were not illustrated by Annotations in the same Manner as his Epistles, from whence we might have been more particularly acquainted with the Grounds on which he went; since that he seldom or never proceeded without, appears from the Pains he took to compare Sir Thomas Moore's Description of the Person of Jane Shore with her original Picture, of which he has given us a curious and exact Account, that had been otherwise buried in Oblivion.
As to the Manner of his Poem, it was written originally in Stanzas of seven Lines, which he afterwards changed very judiciously for the Octave, or more musical Stanza of eight Lines. As he followed the Italian Mode in the Structure of his Verse, so he followed it likewise in the Division of his Work, not into Books but into Cantos; being led thereto, as he tells us himself in his learned Preface, by the Example of Edmund Spenser. It is no Wonder therefore, that a Work written with so much Art as well as Truth, and which was equally valuable whether considered as Poem or as a History, was universally admired in an Age when there flourished so many Persons of true Taste and exalted Genius, who knew how to set a just Price upon the Labour both of the Poet and the Historian. The second Edition of it therefore came abroad with Commendatory Verses, not only by Mr. Thomas Greene, Mr. Edward Heyward, both ingenious Men and esteemed Poets, but of Sir John Beaumont, and the learned Mr. Selden, whose Commendations were sufficient to have established the indisputed Merit of any Piece, to which they thought fit to give the Sanction of their Praise.
We are very certain that all the Works hitherto mentioned, some little Poems only excepted, that are scattered in his two Books of Miscellanies, were both composed and published in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, and this leads us to a Circumstance of his Life, hitherto unnoticed by any who have pretended to speak of him; which is that he was very ungratefully treated upon the coming in of King James, to whom it seems he had not only been a hearty Well-wisher, in Times when that was not either very safe or profitable, but useful also in some Respects, which might have entitled him to considerable Expectations before the King's Accession took Place, and to the Completion of his Hopes afterwards. But he was wretchedly disappointed, since so far from receiving what he looked for, that he was passed by and neglected by all but the worthy Gentleman who had made Use of him in these Services, and who was his firm Friend and bountiful Patron as long as he lived. This is a curious Piece of secret History; and therefore first hear what Mr. Drayton himself says, and then we shall endeavour to explain it as well as we can. It occurs in his Preface to his Poly-Olbion.
"To any that shall demand wherefore having promised this Poem of the general Island so many Years, I now publish only this Part of it; I plainly answer, that many times I had determined with myself to have left it off, and have neglected my Papers sometimes two Years together, finding the Times since his Majesty's Coming in to fall so heavy upon my distressed Fortunes, after my zealous Soul had laboured so long in that, which with the general Happiness of the Kingdom seemed not then impossible, somewhat also to have advanced me. But I instantly saw all my long nourished Hopes even buried alive before my Face: so uncertain in this World be the Ends of our clearest Endeavours! And whatever is herein that tastes of a free Spirit, I thankfully confess to proceed from the continual Bounty of my truly noble Friend, Sir Walter Aston, which hath given me the best of those Hours, which Leisure hath effected this which I now publish."
In order to have a just Comprehension of this Matter, it is requisite that we should know something of Sir Roger Aston, a near Relation of this Gentleman, Sir Walter Aston; whom, if the Reader consults Sir Anthony Weldon's Court and Character, or rather scandalous History of King James, he will find to have been that Monarch's Barber, and tho' he is so kind as to admit him to have been a Gentleman of good Family, yet he is disposed to allow him no Breeding; no, not so much as if he had been really as he stiles him, a Barber at Court. But the Truth of the Matter is far otherwise, for this Sir Roger Aston was the Son of a younger Brother of that ancient House in Cheshire, from which they are all descended; and he was so far from entering in King James's Service in that low Station, that he served his Grandfather the Earl of Lenox as Master of the Horse, was Groom to the Bed-Chamber to King Henry, and Gentleman of the Bed-Chamber to King James when a Child, and was the Person principally entrusted with the Messages and Letters that passed between his Master and Queen Elizabeth; and by the Interposition of Sir Walter Aston, Mr. Drayton was in this Respect very useful in faithfully performing the various Services which he was commanded.
Upon the King's coming in, he was in Hopes his Patron would have procured him a Reward proportionable to his Merit; but finding Mr. Samuel Daniel, who was in great Credit with Queen Anne, preferred before him, (which, if I mistake not, is hinted at in this Complaint) he was grievously troubled; and no doubt it added to his Discontent, when upon the Death of Mr. Daniel, with whom, if I divine right, there had been a Rivalship for many Years, the Laurel devolved upon the Brow of the celebrated Ben Johnson, who was indeed our Author's Friend, which might in some Measure alleviate his Sense of this second Disappointment. But to proceed in the History of his Works:
The next Thing he published was the largest and most elaborate Performance of his whole Life, being the first Part of his POLY-OLBION, containing eighteen Songs. It was published in 1512, in Folio. This Work, which is a Poetical Description of England, is one of the most learned and laborious, as well as one of the most ingenious entertaining and accurate Pieces that is to be found in our Language; and therefore the great Selden did not disdain to let his Commentaries accompany the Songs of his Friend, which as they are exceeding judicious, and contain an infinite Variety of curious and recondite Learning, so they gave such a Weight and Authority to this Piece, as have supported it in the Esteem of all good Judges above a Century.
To say the Truth, and what is barely the Truth, it is not easy to conceive a harder Task than that which our Author imposed upon himself when he set about this Undertaking; and yet it would be full as great a Difficulty to imagine a Thing of this Kind brought to a higher Degree of Perfection. This will appear still more wonderful to the critical and learned Reader, when he considers the Time in which it was wrote, and how few Helps the Author had towards compleating so vast a Design in comparison of what he might have had, if he had lived in later Times. The true Way of judging of the Merit of this Book, is to compare it with Cambden's celebrated Work in Prose, from whence it will appear how little Mr. Drayton borrowed from others, and what infinite variety of curious Facts he inserted from our old Manuscript History, and how judiciously they are applied. We need not therefore be surprized that not only the Writers next in Point of Time, such as Weever and Fuller, borrow from his so largely, or that later Antiquaries, such as Musgrove, Kennet, Wood, and Hearne, cite him as a most authentick Author.
Bishop Nicholson, who is very far from being partial to the Writers of whom he speaks, in pleased to allow this Commendation to our Author and his Book: "That it affords a much truer Account of this Kingdom and the Dominion of Wales, than could be well expected from the Pen of a Poet." This was pretty fair and candid, but to shew how speedily he resumed the captious Spirit of a Critic, he proceeds thus: "The first eighteen of these Songs had the Honour to be published with Mr. Selden's Notes, the other twelve being hardly capable of such a Respect." It would have looked better, if this Prelate had assigned some Reason for his Assertion; and yet is the more excusable, since that would be a sort of breaking through his Rule, which was to decide according to his own Notion, and to dictate to his Readers, instead of delivering his Opinion with its Motives.
The second Part of the Poly-Olbion, containing the twelve last Songs, was published ten Years after the former; to render the Work in every Respect compleat, except having such a Body of learned Notes as accompanied the former, of which if either Mr. Selden had then had Leisure, or any other Antiquary of great Abilities would have taken the Pains, they had undoubtedly been very capable of the like Illustrations. As it was, they were celebrated by Ben Johnson, and other excellent Judges, as equal in every Respect to the Hopes that had been raised by the former Part, and will certainly do Honour to the Author's Memory, as long as there are any who love and honour their native Country so much as to make it their Business to enquire into her past as well as present State; for such will find themselves under a Necessity of recurring to Mr. Drayton, who as he had not Example, except it may be one or two short Latin Poems, by the incomparable John Leland, so he has not hitherto had any Imitator, notwithstanding the Praises his Work obtained, and the high Price it has born.
The Battle of AGINCOURT was the next Work our Author published, which is an Historical Poem of that glorious Expedition of King Henry the Fifth, by which he laid the Foundation of the Conquest of France, which he afterwards happily atchieved: it is written in the same Stanza with his Barons Wars, but being one single Action is not divided into Cantos. In this, as in all his other Works, the Author pays a deep Respect to History, and varies from it as little as possible, as may be easily observed by comparing his Poem with the Histories of Thomas de Elmham and Julius Florus, or by reading it with Speed's History of that Reign, which is remarkably well performed, and drawn from the very best original Writers, tho' by the Way, it is believed by the best Criticks that this was not written by, but rather given to Speed by the Lord Carew, a Nobleman of true Genius and great Learning.
In this Poem of our Author, the Language is much purer and more correct than in his former Writings; but there are not so many Reflections, or such high Flights of Fancy as in his preceding Pieces. It may not be amiss to observe, that he has blended therein, two old English Poems, or at least the most remarkable Passages in them, the one entitled The Siege of Harfleur, and the other The Battle of Agincourt, neither is this to be regarded as Plagiarism, since both those Pieces are very meanly penned, and no Way worthy of Notice, except for the Facts which they contain.
This was followed by his Miseries of Queen MARGARET the unfortunate Wife of that still more unfortunate Monarch Henry VI. It is written in the same Stanza with the former, and is like it an entire Piece, tho' much the larger of the two; the Design of this Poem is to shew "that Calamities are, generally speaking, either a just Punishment of Vices, or the natural Consequences of Indiscretions; from which, those who more in a superior Sphere are so far from being secure, that on the contrary they stand but so much the more exposed, and usually feel the quickest and severest Reverses of Fortune." It is for this Reason that we find more Reflections in this than in the former, more indeed than I think are to be found in any other of his Works; but as they are short, judicious, and perfectly well applied, they are so far from being Blemishes to this Poem, that they may be justly stiled its greatest Beauties, as they rise naturally from the Subject, and are perfectly consistent with the Author's Purpose.
He had touched upon this Topick before in his Heroick Epistles; and both here and there he keeps close to Historical Facts, and shews that Truth is as susceptible of the Graces of Poetry as Fiction; and that it is in the Power of a great Genius to move the Passions as strongly by a natural Representation of Facts that have really happened, as it is possible to do by having Recourse to Invention; which is an Excellency so much the more worth observing, as it is certainly very uncommon; for as our Author and some other judicious Critics observed, tho' there is much found Sense, great Smoothness of Numbers, and a commendable Correctness of Language in Mr. Daniel's Historical Poems, yet they have for all that an apparent Flatness and a perfectly Prosaic Turn.
We come now to the lighter Works of our Author; which, however, are very far from being inferior to the rest; indeed so far from it, that if I durst trust my own Judgment, I would venture to assure the Reader that there are hardly any finer Poems in our Language than those three of which I am next to speak. His NYMPHIDIA, or Court of Fairy, is in every Respect singular and exquisite. It is a Fairy Tale most happily imagined, written with great Fire and Spirit, heightened by the most pleasing Imagery, most admirably conducted, and very artfully concluded. There is in it all that Enthusiasm, which is, properly speaking, the Soul of Poetry, and of which our Author had given but few Specimens in his former Works. Hence it appears that in all his other Pieces, that grave and solemn Air, that strict Regard to Characters, and prudent Attention to his Subjects, were all the Effects of a well-regulated Judgment, and not at all owing to a Barrenness of Invention, Want of Genius, or an exhausted Fancy. For in this single Poem we may discern the Liveliness of Spenser, the happy Power of Shakespear, and all the skill of Johnson.
There is besides all this, a Vein of Irony or Humour runs through the whole that seems peculiar to our Author, and of which we could never have imagined him Master from the Perusal of his larger Works. The Measure of the Verse is very luckily adapted to the Nature of the Tale, and tho' the Language is intermixed with many old Words and obsolete Phrases, yet these are introduced on purpose, and with such Dexterity, that they give a certain Air of Antiquity to the Narration, which is none of its meanest Beauties. There is no doubt that many of our modern Readers will imagine that I am strongly prejudiced in our Author's Favour, and that I have carried my Commendations of this Fairy Tale much beyond its real Merit, to these, all I can say is this, that if they will peruse it with a reasonable Degree of Attention, they will find I have rather fallen short of Truth, and this too without making any Allowances for the Time in which it was written, which for any thing in the Sentiment, Method, or Diction, might have been no longer ago than yesterday.
His Pastorals intituled The Quest of CYNTHIA, and The Shepherd's SIRENA, are exquisite Performances, and will appear such to every true Judge, as they have all the Beauties, and all the Graces of which that Kind of Poetry is susceptible. They have each a little Plot, finely imagined, regularly conducted, and prettily concluded. The Numbers are so just, so elegant, and so flowing that perhaps we have not in this Respect two finer Pieces in our Tongue. There is indeed a little Sprinkling of antiquated Words, but the Choice is so judiciously made that it does not obscure the Sense, as in Spenser often, and sometimes even in Shakespear, but gives it that natural Rudeness, that pleasing Rusticity, which makes the Doric Dialect so charming in the Works of Theocritus, and is indeed essentially necessary to Pastoral.
In a Word, and not to dwell too long upon Pieces we should not have dwelt on at all, if it had not been to excite the Reader's Curiosity for his own Profit, let us conclude with observing that these are in all Respects our Author's Master-Pieces, the perfectest Poems that ever fell from his Pen, and which fully refute the Notion that the Harmony of Numbers in English Poesy was unknown 'till Waller stole the Secret from Fairfax; whereas any Critic who has an Ear, must allow that there is hardly a Poem in Waller more numerous than these of Mr. Drayton, or in every other Circumstance more correct.
At length we are arrived at what seems to have been his latest Work, which is his MOON CALF, a Satire in which surely there wants not either Wit, Spirit, or that warm Poetic Madness, which himself has elsewhere celebrated as that which distinguishes the true Genius, and can never be either counterfeited or imitated. He Feigns that the WORLD was in Labour, and brought forth by the EVIL FIEND an Androgynous Monster, which being divided, produced an effeminate Man, and a masculine Woman. He takes Occasion from thence to inveigh bitterly against the Manners of the Age in which he liv'd, and to lay open its Vices, not with Freedom barely, but with Fury. In short, his Indignation, or to speak plainly, his Resentment is very conspicuous and we cannot help discerning how much his Spleen is gratified, while he seems to be intent only on the great Work of Reformation.
This, however, is no Detriment to his Reader; it adds to the Poignancy of his Satire, and gives such a Fertility to his Invention as is truly amazing, but it muse be acknowledged that there is a Roughness in the Verse, perhaps beyond what even Satire might excuse; but which, however, may be in some Measure qualified, if we consider this Performance as an absolute Original, for which the Author could not have the least Hint from any of our old Poets, or from his Contemporaries, any more than from the Ancients; that the Fiction is extremely bold, breaks out into a vast Extent, and is notwithstanding thoroughly executed. It was the last Blaze of his Poetic Flame, and therefore glaringly strong, and glittering with an irregular Splendor.
It has been already observed, that his ELEGIES were written at several Times, and upon several Occasions, and therefore no wonder that they are written in different Manners. There are, however, few that deserve to be particularly mentioned. In his Epistolary Poem to Mr. William Brown, who seems to have been his Companion in Misfortune, he sooths his Discontent by shewing him the Follies and Vices of those Times in which they had been shipwreck'd, and generously concludes, that to suffer in such an Age was to triumph. His Elegy inscribed to Henry Reynolds, Esq; is as its Title bears a very clear and candid Criticism upon Poets and Poetry; and for that Reason alone deserves to be read, as it gives us the true Character of the most eminent of those that flourished in his Time; the best of which, such as Spenser, Shakespear, and Johnson, appear to have been his intimate Acquaintance, and indeed the latter paid him greater Honours in his Poetical Capacity than any other Man. Mr. Drayton's Epistle to Mr. George Sandys the Translator of Ovid, while he resided in Virginia, is truly Poetical; and as it contains a Passage explanatory of something that has been before hinted, and which has so close a Relation to his Personal History, that I might be censured for passing it by, I shall therefore transcribe it.
It was my Hap, before all other Men,
To suffer shipwreck by my forward Pen,
When King JAMES enter'd; at which joyful Time
I taught his Title to this Isle in Rhime.
And to my Part did all the Muses win,
With high Pitch Paeans to applaud him in.
When Cowardice had ty'd up every Tongue,
And all stood silent, yet for him I sung.
And when before by Danger I was dar'd,
I kick'd her from me, nor a Jot I spar'd.
Yet had not my clear Spirit in Fortune's Scorn,
Me above Earth, and her Afflictions born;
He next my GOD on whom I built my Trust,
Had left me trodden lower than the Dust:
But let this pass, in the extremest Ill,
Apollo's Brood must be courageous still.
Let Pyes and Daws sit dumb before their Death,
Only the Swan sings at the parting Breath.
After this short, and in some Measure, superficial View of his numerous Poetical Performances, we need not wonder that he was in his Life-time esteemed the Delight of the Muses, and one who did Honour to his Age and Country. We have already spoken of many of his Patrons, and not a few of his Friends; all of them Men of equal Note for their Abilities, and of Fame for their Virtues. To be beloved by such Men while living, gives a Title to Reverence with Posterity while Memory survives. But we need not keep to general Terms, since our Author's Merit will not at all suffer, if we separate and divide the great Qualities which he possessed. His Honour and Loyalty Recommended him to Sir Roger and Sir Walter Aston. His Virtue was commended not only by Sir John Beaumont at Home, out by the Earl of Stirling, and Sir William Drummond of Hawthornden, both his intimate Friends, abroad. His Learning was admired by the judicious Mr. Selden, his Poetry commended by Ben Johnson and that not in the Lump, but mentioning singly, and by itself, every Piece of his composing.
In a Word, all the great and good Men of his Time were his Friends at least, if not his Patrons. That he did not thrive, arose from no great Singularity in that Age in which he flourish'd; for the Men of Interest were not then remarkably great or good, that is to say, they were not either proper Judges of Merit, or real Friends to Virtue. Our Poet had deserved well of his Prince, and he trusted to that, but he could not flatter his Favourites; the Names of Salisbury, Somerset, or Buckingham do not so much as once occur in his Writings, which shews that though he was an excellent Poet, he was a very indifferent Courtier.
When this shall be attentively consider'd, it will undoubtedly raise the Reputation of our Author to its deserved Height, in every virtuous Reader's Judgment. We do not take his good Qualities upon Trust, but are the natural and proper Judges of them. We have such, and so many Histories of those Times, as leave us no Room to question, that Flattery would have made any, as we very well know, it made Numbers who had scarce the Power of distinguishing themselves in another Road. What then might so great a Man have done, if he would have condescended to make his Court in so servile a Manner? The great Favourites in King James's Court were none of them Blockheads. Carr had Learning and good Sense, which was the Reason of his preferring Overbury; and though Villiers was no Scholar, he was a Man of Parts, and hated Fools. The same Thing might be said of all, and a great deal more of some of King James's Ministers, more especially, if we take Cecil, Bacon, and Williams into that Rank; so that the Road lay open to Drayton and most certainly had his Morals been worse, his Fortunes had been better.
But without a Tincture of this aulic Vice, there was no such Thing as thriving. We see this in all the Letters of these Times, even those of the greatest and ablest Men; and this made me say they were no proper Judges of Merit; for being forced to make their Way to Places by fawning, they naturally hated all that were of a rougher Stamp, thinking there could nothing intervene between the Spaniel and the Bull-Dog.
In Queen Elizabeth's Reign, Greatness resided in her, and the most exalted Statesman never failed of receiving from Time to Time such Lessons of sovereign Authority, as kept him in his primitive Humility, and hindered him from forgetting his Power was only derivative. Poets therefore made their Court to the Queen, by making their Works useful to her Subjects; and here Drayton was in his Element. But under King James, a Prince of a mild and placid Temper, all his Ministers were the Slaves of those above and Tyrants to all below them. They courted the King by offering him Incense, as if he had been an Idol; and in their Turns they expected Incense too, which if they received, they snuffed from whatever Hand it came. But it is the Curse of Idolatry to take its Priests, like those Jeroboam made for his Golden Calves, "from amongst the meanest of the People;" and our Author was not, nor would make himself one of these, and to his immortal Honour be it spoken, he starved with Truth and virtue, instead of rising by Vice, or paying Court to Folly.
As to his private Life, he appears to have been of a free, chearful, and generous Disposition. He speaks to his Friends with that Openness and Candour, which is the true Language of Sincerity; when he commends, he does it heartily, but with Moderation; for a Profusion of Praise like a Waste of Perfumes, renders what should be agreeable, offensive. He is mild and just in his Censures, nor are there many Personal, I mean, to be met within his Works.
I know that something of that Kind is said to have been artfully hid in his Moon-Calf, but I protest it has escaped me, and yet I pretend to some Acquaintance with the Characters of that Age; all the World knows that it was very luxurious, and therefore liable to that general Invective with which his Performance abounds. It is also said, and I believe truly, that he was a Man of the strictest Morals, as well as very religious; but however he was no Bigot, as appears by the Commendations bestowed upon him by Men of all Parties; being on the one Hand equally regarded by Sir Fulk Grevil, who was looked on as a Puritan, and by Mr. Edmund Bolton, who was a zealous Papist. To conclude, his Contemporaries assure us, that he was for nothing more remarkable than for his exemplary Modesty, his Conscience having always the Command of his Fancy, very temperate in his Life, slow of Speech, and inoffensive in Company.
At length, when he had reached to a good old Age, since his Writings shew that he was a Poet forty Years; and the Persons with whom he was intimate, plainly prove that he must have been towards seventy; sometime in the Year 1631, but no body, I think, has preserved the Memory of the Month or Day, he paid his left Debt to Nature. His Body lies interred under a neat Monument of Thick and White Marble, on which is his Busto crowned with Laurel, at the South End of Westminster-Abbey, near those two eminent Poets Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser.
There are on his Monument two Inscriptions, the one very short and modest; which perhaps was placed there by the Person who erected his Tomb; the other in Verse, in a bold and high Stile of Commendation, which perhaps the Reader will better like, when he is told that it fell from the Pen of that excellent Critic as well as Poet, Mr. Benjamin Johnson, a Man much too sollicitous about his own Reputation, to hazard it by ill-founded or excessive Commendations of another's Merit. But it seems the Affection he had for our Author living, his just Sense of his high Endowments, and a tender Regard for his Memory, inspired him with what follows.
MICHAEL DRAYTON, Esq.
A Memorable Poet of this Age,
Exchanged his Laurel for a Crown of Glory, 1631.
Do, pious Marble, let thy Readers know
What they, and what their Children owe
To DRAYTON'S Name, whilst sacred Dust
We recommend unto thy Trust;
Protect his Memory, and preserve his Story,
Remain a lasting Monument of his Glory:
And when thy Ruins shall disdain
To be the Treasurer of his Name,
His Name, that cannot fade, shall be
An everlasting Monument to Thee.