1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Browne of Tavistock

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 83-84.



Of Browne's history little is known. He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, and subsequently belonged to the Inner Temple. We are told by Wood, that he had a little body and a great mind. The first part of Britannia's Pastorals was published in 1613, when the author was only twenty-three years old, and the second part in 1616. He was the beloved of Drayton and Ben Jonson, and the "severer muse" of Selden commended his "tuned essays." In 1624 he returned to Exeter College in the capacity of tutor to Robert Dormer, afterwards Earl of Caernarvon, who perished in the battle of Newbury. Of the later years of his life no account has been preserved. He appears to have resided in the family of Lord Pembroke, and to have obtained more wealth than usually falls to the lot of poets. But the Earl's Palace was a "Castle of Indolence" to Browne, and his agricultural employments also contributed to withdraw him from the service of the Muse. At any rate, his manhood never realized the promise of his youth. Browne is not popular, and never will be; yet we may say of him, in his own words, that he was

A gentle shepherd, born in Arcady,
That well could tune his pipe, and deftly play
The nymphs asleep with rural minstrelsy.

The song of the bird among the dewy grass, or the faint shadow of a flower upon the water, were inspirations to him. His genius was not of the highest order, but it was pure and gentle; and some of his smaller lyric poems are marked by a Grecian delicacy and finish. One specimen from his Original Poems, first published by Sir Egerton Brydges will not be unacceptable

Yet one day's rest for all my cries,
One hour among so many;
Springs have their Sabbaths, my poor eyes
Yet never met with any.
He that doth but one woe miss,
O Death! to make him thine—
I would to God that I had his,
Or else that he had mine.

To poems like this, we may apply Dryden's remark, in the dedication of the Aeneid, that the sweetest essences are always confined in the smallest glasses. The Happy Life, in the same collection, is not less beautiful.