1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Edward Dyer

Alexander B. Grosart, "Memorial-Introduction" Miscellanies of the Fuller Worthies' Library (1870-76) 4:5-18.



Pope stingingly sang (or call it "said") of the multitude of Versifiers in his clay that they were a "mob of gentlemen" who "wrote with ease," rhyming his sarcasm wickedly with "please" — inevitable as "breeze" and "trees." The sting lay in the word "mob" as applied to such superfine and self-pleased gentry. Earlier, the "gentle" (truly gentle) Singers were equally numerous perhaps, but however many, never could "mob" have held good of them: for taken all in all, each was a "gentleman" and all in assembly, meet Followers of Him "the first true Gentleman that ever breathed" [author's note: Dekker]. It needeth only to recall those of our next Miscellany and their compeers — none of them a more literary idler such as the Satirist smote but noble and of noble and arduous achievement; men to whom poetry was the unbending of spirits "finely touched to fine issues" and whose whole lives were set to music — not indeed without discords such as BEN JOHNSON with felicitous earsight (so-to-say) calls "angrie music" but ever returning to and recovering the primal harmonies.

Of the Elizabethan court-circle — for it is of it I speak — a circle paired only as on a planisphere by that of which OLIVER CROMWELL was the centre — Sir Edward Dyer, whose Writings are here to be introduced, was one of the foremost, albeit now except in his undying association with SIR PHILIP SIDNEY and FULKE GREVILLE, LORD BROOKE, the lustre has paled from his name.

That our Worthy was of mark as a Poet in his generation — and such a generation! — is indubitable. For dear old GEORGE PUTTENHAM in his still quick book of the "Art of English Poesie" praised him so early as 1589 as "for Elegie most sweete, solempne, and of high conceit:" while onward, with touch of regret, DRUMMOND of Hawthornden in one of his memorable "Conversations" with BEN JONSON, alluding to these words, says: "He who writeth the arte of English Poesy, praiseth much Rawleigh and Dyer; but their works are so few that have come to my hands, I cannot well say anything of them." EDMUND BOLTON, in the same reign, made the same complaint, that he had "not seen much of SIR EDWARD DYER'S poetry." These are the common-places of quotation, when the name of DYER comes up: but a much more noticeable and an earlier compliment has been overlooked, to wit, the dedication to him of two of GEORGE WHITNEY'S "Emblems," and another celebration therein. True, it is a poor book, and swarms with dedicatory names. Nevertheless the "notices" are not to be forgotten: and here they are.

De morte et amore: Jocosum
To Edward Dyer Esquier.
Pennae gloria perennis
To Edwarde Dier Esquier.

In the verse to the latter on "the glory of the pen" — which Emblem he had intended inscribing to Sir PHILIP SIDNEY, — he thus gives us the story of his refusal and the ground of it, so bringing "glory" to the "pen" of our Worthy:

Wherefore, for to extoll his name in what I might,
This Embleme lo, I did present, unto this worthie Knight.
Who, did the same refuse, as not his proper due:
And at the first, his sentence was, "it did belong to YOU." [Dyer.
Wherefore, lo, fame with trompe, that mountes unto the Skye
And farre above the highest spire, from pole to pole dothe flye.
Heere houseth at your will, with pen adorn'd with baies:
Which for you bothe, she hath prepar'd, unto your endlesse praise.
The laurell leafe for you, for him the goulden pen;
The honours that the Muses give, unto the rarest men.
Wherefore, proceede I praye, unto your lasting fame;
For writings last when wee bee gonne, and doe preserve our name.
And whilst wee tarrye heere, no treasure can procure,
The palme that waites upon the pen, which ever doth indure.

Then in an emblem of the "dyer" he thus refers to our DYER:

But saye wee lacke, their herbes, their wormes, their flies
And want the meanes their gallant hues to frame.
Yet Englande, hath her starre of orient dies,
And Seeke therein a DYER most of fame,
Who alwaies bathe so fine and freshe a hewe,
That in their landes, the like is not to viewe.

All this was in 1586. In like manner ABRAHAM FRAUNCE dedicated his "Shephearde's Logike" to "the ryght worshypful Mr. Edward Dyer." My good friend MR. W. CAREW HAZLITT has also sent me certain dedicatory-lines of THOMAS POWELL, in "A Welch Bayte to Spare Provender, or A Looking backe upon the Times past." 1603. (4o).

POWELL was a man of brain unquestionably, but Verse was not his forte, and I now better understand how he got Henry Vaughan the Silurist to "do" for him his verse-scraps of quotation. I do not know that it is worth-while puzzling over the Verses in order to extract a meaning which after all may not be there: but to save "Much Ado About Nothing" in the lack of notices of our Worthy, I give the lines, which may amuse, perchance amaze:

TO THE RIGHT WORSHIPFULL SIR EDWARD DYER.
This which I bring thee is no Ilias [ahem!]
Writ in veratrum [sic] drunken giddinesse:
Yet in the stuffings of our legends masse,
It is not to conceite in most recesse,
Nor honours it with the most humble knee,
Though it's unsinewed [sic] to fall under thee.
T. P.

Independent of all "testimonies" the Singer of "My mynde to me a kingdom is" and "A Fancy" — not to mention others — must hold his own against Time. "His fame is too big a morsel for Oblivion to swallow," as quoth one of the old Puritan Commentators of another's — as all will agree who patiently and with fitting reverence read our after-pages.

I have given in extenso "Prayse of Nothing." I must confess, however, that in so doing I am still doubtful of the real authorship of this tractate. I learn from Mr. J. PAYNE COLLIER, who first assigned it to SIR EDWARD DYER (in his Bridgewater Catalogue: 1837, p. 284) that his sole warrant is the "By E. D." of the title-page — slender authority certainly, since there is E[dward] D[aunce], author of "A Brief Discourse of the Spanish State, with a dialogue annexed, entituled Philobasilis. London, by R. Field, 1590. (4o)" — which has interspersed more "Verses" than the "Prayse of Nothing:" and various others answering to the same initials, might easily be found contemporary. So that we must (reluctantly) hesitate, especially as I am informed by one not given to hap-hazard statements, viz., JAMES CROSSLEY, Esq., F.S.A., of Manchester, that he remembers distinctly a copy being catalogued many years ago as "By E. Da." and so possibly (as I have suggested) "E. Da[unce]." But I have decided to include the "Prayse of Nothing," as (a) Our usual literary authorities seem to have accepted the DYER authorship, and as (b) In the Bodleian copy (TANNER collection) the initials are certainly "E. D.," and (c) The Adversaria of WILLIAM OLDYS, Norrey King-at-Arms, yields us a "Choice Note" containing an anecdote of our Worthy which quaintly fits in with his authorship. It is as follows: "SIR EDWARD DYER, a man of fine parts and accomplishments, was a dependent upon the Court in Queen Elizabeth's reign, but one of those who would not fawn and cringe, and long had expectations given him from her of preferment suitable to his merits. It happened as he was one day walking under her window that Her Majesty was looking out, and seeing him in a very pensive mood she had a mind to be jocose. 'Sir Edward, Sir Edward,' says she, 'what does a man think of when he thinks of NOTHING?' 'A woman's promise,' answered he with a smile. The Queen shrunk in her head, and said to somebody near her, 'Well, this anger would be a brave passion for making men witty, if it was not so base a one as to keep them poor.'" To this the erudite annotator of the Adversaria in Notes and Queries — where they were first published under the caption of "Choice Notes" (Vol. xi., pp. 161-3, et seqq) adds: "Sir Edward Dyer had most probably recently published his tract The Prayse of Nothing. By E. D." But Homer nods, seeing that Dyer was not knighted so as to be addressed as "Sir Edward, Sir Edward" by the Queen, until 1596, whereas "Prayse of Nothing" was printed so far back as 1585, or a good eleven years before. Still it is not impossible that there was a basis of truth in the anecdote. The tractate is intrinsically a curiosity worth preservation, and inaccessible beyond the solitary original exemplar and MR. COLLIER'S reprint of twenty-five copies. It bears the stamp of a cultured and observant mind, and while generally grave, has occasionally gleams of humor and a swift throb of pathos. MR. COLLIER'S reprint is well done: but a collation of it with the unique Bodleian copy has enabled me to correct some oversights, such as seem inevitable top the reproduction of old books. I have to thank the venerable editor for his permission to use his Introduction — a privilege I have availed myself of by reprinting it.

I the more readily give the "Prayse of Nothing" even though it be "sub judice," in that after all search and re-search, MR. COLLIER has failed to recover so much as his memorandum of the (then) possessor of another bookling assigned by him to SIR EDWARD DYER, viz., "Sixe Idillia, that is sixe small or petty Poems, or Aeclogues, chosen out of the right famous Sicilian Poet Theocritus, and translated into English verse. Dum defluat amnis. — Printed at Oxford by Joseph Barnes. 1588." (8vo.) The ground again for giving the "Sixe Idillia" to Sir Edward Dyer is "his initials and motto at the back of the title-page." It is much to be regretted that Mr. Collier did not furnish us with this alleged "motto," and still more so that he did not carry out his announced intention of reprinting the "most rare poetical tract ... entire," as his transcript (if ever made), as well as the original, seems to have perished. As it is, I have been utterly baffled in my efforts to trace the "Sixe Idillia," and am forced to content myself with the extracts of Mr. Collier's "Introduction" to the "Prayse of Nothing." These I have similarly introduced into our preliminary Note, from Mr. Collier, as above.

For the rest, the unquestionable productions of SIR EDWARD DYER — beginning with the imperishable "My mynd to me a kingdome is" — have brought together, embracing all mentioned by DR. HANNAH in his admirable "Courtly Poets from RALEIGH to MONTROSE " (1870), with additions. I am sure he will sympathize with my going to the MSS. and reproducing the original, however arbitrary, orthography. Modernisation and correction would defeat my object in reviving these various Worthies, by taking away their characteristics and philological interest and use. In related Notes the source of each is given.

Biographically very little remains to be told. According to chatty AUBREY he was one of the same family with a judge of the name, who is mentioned as "Sergeant at the Lawe" and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1552 [Names and Arms of Knights, Brit. Bibl. Cotton. Claudius ciii. Plut. xxi. E. 4]. A Sir Thomas Dyer and Sir James Dyer had been "knighted" at the beginning of Edward the Sixth's reign — the latter the judge. Sir Richard Dyer, son and heir to Sir James was "clubbed 1585, the 4th of Aprill." SIR THOMAS was — it is believed — father of our SIR EDWARD, who was born, (Aubrey again being our authority) at Sharpham Park, Somersetshire: birth-date unknown. Anthony-a-Wood enrolls him in his Athenae as "having had in Oxford some of his academical education,..." "particularly" — as he goes on to tell, "in Baliol College or Broadgate's Hall;" and with more of sprightliness than wont he remarks: "where his natural inclinations to poetry and other polite learning, as also his excellency in bewailing and bemoaning the perplexities of love, were observed by his contemporaries." "But" — he proceeds, "leaving the University without a degree, he travelled beyond the seas, and at his return, being esteemed a well-bred gentleman, was taken into the service of the royal court, being then looked upon as a most ingenious person, rank'd with some of the most noted poets living in the reign of queen Elizabeth, and a contributor with the chief of them, out of his writings, to the Collection of choice flowers and Descriptions that were published at the beginning of King James I." The worthy Annalist confounds a book called "England's Parnassus" with "England's Helicon" — the latter containing several pieces by Dyer. He continues: "At riper years he laboured and studied much in chymistry, was considered by some a Rosie-crucian and a great devotee to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley, astrologers and chymists, especially the last, whom he confidently believed to have obtained the grand secret called the Elixir." On this and what follows, I may refer the Reader to our memorial-introduction to the "Rosie-crucian" twin-brother of HENRY VAUGHAN, Silurist, lest he should be i' the vein of pitying Sir Edward's credulity. WOOD concludes: "The Queen [Elizabeth] knew and had a great respect for him and his excellent parts, and having spent some time in foreign countries, she therefore employed him in several embassies beyond the seas, particularly to Denmark in 1589, and in his passage thither, he called on the said Dee and Kelley, who were then near or in Bohemia, and being alone with Kelley in his elaboratory, he saw him put of the base mettal into the crucible, and after it was set a little upon the fire and a very small quantity of the vessel (i.e. Elixir) put in and stirred with a stick, it came forth in great proportion perfecte gold. This, very soon after his, Sir Edward Dyer's return, he aver'd at the Archbishop's table at Lambeth before several learned persons. After his said return, the Queen being well satisfied with the services he had done to the crown, she conferred on him the chancellorship of the Garter, upon the death of Sir John Wolley in the beginning of 1596, and at that time the degree of knighthood, being then esteemed to be a grave and wise gentleman." Of his "Embassies" some Letters survive, as I am sure I have read two, if not more, in print: but they are of no historic or biographic significance. I place references below to two Letters.

WOOD could only state vaguely that "he died some years after K. James I. came to the crown." The usual death-date given is 1610: but the Burial-Registers of St. Saviours, Southwark, shew it to have been 1607: for there we read, "1607, May 11. Sir Edward Dyer, Knight, in the chancel." In accord with this, and so against Sir Harris Nicolas — in his List of the Chancellors of the Order of the Garter — who gives 1608 as the date of his death — Letters of Administration on the estate of "Sir Edward Dier, Knight, of Weston, co. Somerset" were granted from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 25 June, 1607, to his sister Margaret Dier. He died unmarried, as BEN JONSON told DRUMMOND of Hawthornden. Never let it be forgotten that he was the friend of Sin PHILIP SIDNEY, who left to him in his Will along with FULKE GREVILLE, "the other half" of his books.