1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Oldys

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:121 & n.



WILLIAM OLDYS (1696-1761) was a zealous literary antiquary, and Norroy King-at-Arms. He wrote a Life of Raleigh, and assisted every author or bookseller who required a leaf from his voluminous collections. His obscure diligence amassed various interesting particulars of literary history. The following exquisite little Anacreontic was from the pen of Oldys, who occasionally indulged in deep potations of ale, for which he was caricatured by his friend and brother antiquary, Grose:—

SONG, MODE EXTEMPORE BY A GENTLEMAN, OCCASIONED BY A FLY DRINKING OUT OF HIS CUP OF ALE.
Busy, curious, thirsty fly,
Drink with me, and drink as I;
Freely welcome to my cup,
Could'st thou sip and sip it up.
Make the most of life you may,
Life is short, and wears away.

Both alike are mine and thine,
Hastening quick to their decline:
Thine's a summer, mine no more,
Though repeated to threescore;
Threescore summers, when they're gone,
Will appear as short as one.*

* Oldys's song was included in a Select Collection of English Songs, published by J. Johnson in 1783. Burns, the Scottish poet, had a copy of this work (one of the volumes of which is now before us), and we observe he has honoured the extempore lyric of the old antiquary with pencil marks in the margin. In his "Lines written in Friars' Carse Hermitage," Burns has echoed some of Oldys's thoughts and expressions.