1921 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Nathaniel Whiting

George Saintsbury, "Introduction to Nathanial Whiting" in Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (1905-21) 3:424-27.



In the case of most of the constituents of these volumes, there was little need of "deliberating and pondering" like the excellent Sir Thomas Bertram, when he had to settle such weighty questions as whether his niece should or should not go out to dinner, and if so whether she should walk or drive. But it was not quite the same in regard to Albino and Bellama. The first claim of entrants here — rarity and novelty to the general, it has without question: for the book (though it seems to have been issued in two forms, or at least with two title-pages) is very uncommon, and the author has escaped the wide-encroaching net of the D.N.B. Nor could I allow this to he balanced by the dull, clumsy, philistine, hackneyed ribaldry of the nunnery scenes in the middle, or by a page of sheer nastiness at the end, which is a sort of concentration of Herrick's foulest epigrams. These things will happen: and they can be skipped. It gave one more serious pause that "N. W." seldom displays anything like the poetry which far more than compensates for much milder blots in Leoline and Sydanis, and that his book is written in a singular jargon almost as much out of the common way as the wildest freaks of Benlowes, but without their excuse of furor poeticus. What turned the scale in his favour, after more than one reading, was the increasing conviction that the book, in spite or perhaps to some extent because of its defects, is a really valuable document for the history of English Literature from the special point of view which was marked out in the General Introduction. It is noteworthy as a member, graceless and slatternly, but still a member, of that class of Heroic Poem which it has been one of my main objects to bring before the student. It is still more noteworthy in connexion with the history of English fiction as presenting a special variety of that kind. It was not till, for the purposes of this collection, and by the kindness of Professor Firth, who lent me his copy, I read the volume (I knew it before only by name and from the Censura Literaria) that a gap in my mind's atlas of that fiction was filled in satisfactorily.

I said, in speaking of Leoline and Sydanis, that we must take not merely the Heroic but the Mock-Heroic poem into consideration as origins for our English examples; and this is very much more the case with Albino and Bellama. Whiting almost parades his knowledge of Italian; and I should think, from some of the worst as well as the oddest parts of his poem, that he had pushed his researches as far as Macaronic. In fact you must go beyond Folengo — to Tifi Odassi and Fossa Cremonese — to supply a "further" to his excursions, into the unsavoury now and then. But turning willingly enough from this, it will be evident to any instructed reader — and his prelusive panegyrists point it out — that his purpose is largely satiric. Indeed, his uncouth lingo has a close connexion with that of Marston and the other early Elizabethan satirists forty years before him: while he gives one odd reminders, at the same time, of the prose pamphlet which was contemporary with these very satirists, and was actually written by some of them. Now all these links are links with the history of the Novel backwards; and there are others forward. Change the romance apparatus into that of common life, of which our examples are French and Spanish rather than Italian, and you will get out of parts of Albino and Bellama something by no means unlike the singular farrago which goes under the name of The English Rogue. Besides convincing the author that prose is much better for such work than verse (which Head himself saw), present him with more wits, better taste, and a more advanced state of society and manners, and you will probably find him some way on the road which loads, however far away, and after whatever rise, over the hills beyond his dirty marsh, to Tom Jones itself. While, to make a less "kangaroo" transition in quality though a farther one in time, much smaller alteration would make Albino and Bellama into very fair Mrs. Radcliffe.

The curious addition Il Insonio Insonadado or "Waking-Dream Undreamt" (whether the title is invented or borrowed, some one with greater knowledge of Spanish than I possess must decide) may supply some greater interest than Whiting's escapade in the Heroic Romance. It is not continuously paged with the rest of the volume, but merely "signatured" H, H 2, &c. as far as a (misprinted) 5. On the whole, however, it is much less carelessly put to press than Albino and Bellama, and it is also (in parts at least) much more soberly written. The opening does not promise much, except an example of the loose, would-be satirical academic commonplaces of the time; but it afterwards takes on some critical substance, and if I had read it (as I had not yet) twenty years ago I should have given it a small corner in an otherwise very scantily occupied chapter of my History of Criticism. Whether the personages introduced before the Heavenly Court aim at individuals it would be very hard to say: but the certification of the poetess might have some interest. "Tenth Muses," as was said in relation to Anne King (v. sup., p. 210), were not unknown, and Katharine Philips was alive, though as yet but a child. But women had, before her, made little figure in English literature. The evidences of popular taste are not quite worthless, and while the absence of Ben Jonson is noteworthy, the presence of Drummond is almost equally so, as well as the mention of that "testiness" which certainly does appear in the poet of Hawthornden. But the chief critical utterance is the quatrain, solid and judicial if not very poetical, on Donne.

Of Whiting himself I have been able to find out very little. He was of Queens' College, Cambridge; Brydges erroneously says "King's," having, misread the misprinted "Regnalis" of James Bernard's commendatory poem. And he must have settled down twenty years later sufficiently to print in 1659, according to Hazlitt, The Saint's Triangle of Duties, Deliverances, and Dangers. The first edition of Albino and Bellama appeared in 1637, with the title Le hore di recreatione: Or, The Pleasant Historie of Albino and Bellama... By N. W., Master of Arts, of Queenes Colledge in Cambridge. The British Museum also has a copy with an engraved frontispiece as well, adding to which is annexed il insonio insonodado or the vindication of Poesye. These title-pages are also dated 1638, and the engraved title-page was also issued in 1639.

In 1633 the birth of the Duke of York was commemorated at Cambridge in Ducis Eboracensis Fasciae a Musis Cantabrigiensibus raptim contextae. "N. Whyting, Coll. Regin. Art. Baccal." contributes two copies of verse, Latin and Greek, both markedly royalist in tone.

It was not, however, for some time after I had been working on Whiting that I found considerable new light thrown on him by his prose work, which is in the British Museum, under his name, though Albino and Bellama is not. The title of it is abbreviated by Hazlitt, and is in the original very long, beginning with the Hebrew [Hebrew characters] "Old Jacob's Altar newly repaired; or The Saints' Triangle of Dangers, Deliverances and Duties." It is a solid little quarto of some 260 pages, dedicated to Sir William Fleetwood, Sir George Fleetwood, "Baron of Swonholm in Sweadland," and "his Excellency Charles Lord Fleetwood." Whiting was now "Minister" of Aldwinckle (All Saints, as the registers show) by the patronage of Sir William, to whom he refers as his "ancient" and "affectionate Mecaenas" in his Cambridge days. He is certainly by this time a full-blown Puritan. He uses that word itself frequently, and with pride; refers to "my reverend grandfather," minister of Elton, Northants, who was apparently a "pilgrim father"; speaks of the time when "the Episcopal monopoly lasted," and eulogizes "the faithful Peters to whom is committed the Word of Reconciliation" (Reconciliation a la Peters is good!); but also calls Herbert "divine" and quotes St. Anselm, though of course without the "Saint." Allowing for its standpoint the book is not virulent, and is a respectable piece of hortatory divinity on its own side. Besides, the thought that in a few months "the Episcopal monopoly" came back again, and that "the faithful Peters" received the deferred pay for his various "commissions," mitigates judgement not a little; while, to crown all, the contrast with Albino and Bellama is irresistibly comic. Perhaps, indeed, some of the ribaldry of the convent scenes in the verse may be due to the Puritanism which is so distinct in the prose. But it would be an odd Saint who could construct himself a "triangle" of any kind of sanctities or pious experiences out of Whiting's romance. And this, which is so characteristic of the time, and yet not so uncharacteristic of all times, adds to my satisfaction in presenting Mr. Nathaniel Whiting with some little more detail than even Brydges has given. (It may be added that he was deprived of the living at the Restoration. Edward Price succeeded him on February 20, 1662-3. According to a brief notice in Notes and Queries, he then migrated to the village of Cranford, near Kettering, and got together a congregation there. There is no trace of him in the registers of either of the Cranford churches. The same authority states that he died childless and was a benefactor of the free school of Aldwinckle, of which he was master during the period of his incumbency.)