GERVASE MARKHAM, an English author, who lived in the reigns of James I. and Charles I. but whose private history is involved in much obscurity, was son of Robert Markham, esq. of Gotham, in the county of Nottingham. He bore a captain's commission under Charles I. in the civil wars, and was accounted a good soldier, as well as a good scholar. One piece of dramatic poetry which he has published will shew, says Langbaine, that he sacrificed to Apollo and the muses, as well as to Mars and Pallas. This play is extant under under the title of "Herod and Antipater," a tragedy, printed in 1622. Markham published a great many volumes upon husbandry and horsemanship: one upon the latter, printed in quarto, without date, he dedicated to prince Henry, eldest son to James I. In husbandry he published "Liebault's La Maison rustique, or the country farm," in 1616. This treatise, which was at first translated by Mr. Richard Surfleit, a physician, Markham enlarged, with several additions from the French books of Serris and Vinet, the Spanish of Albiterio, and the Italian of Grilli. He published other books of husbandry, particularly "The English Husbandinan, in two parts," Lond. 1613-1635, with the "Pleasures of Princes in the Art of Angling." Granger mentions "The whole Art of Angling," 1656, 4to, in which he says Markham very gravely tells us that an angler should "be a general scholar, and seen in all the liberal sciences; as a grammarian, to know how to write or discourse of his art in true and fitting terms. He should have sweetness in speech to entice others to delight in an exercise so much laudable. He should have strength of argument to defend and maintain his profession against envy and, slander," &c. Markham also wrote a tract entitled "Hunger's prevention, or the whole Art of Fowling," 1621, 8vo. In military discipline he published "The Soldier's Accidence and Grammar," in 1635. But he appears to have been earliest distinguished by his talents for poetry. In 1597 he published "Devereux Vertues tears for the loss of the most Christian king Henry, third of that name king of France, and the untimely death of the most noble and heroical Walter Devereux, who was slain before Roan, in Fraunce," a translation from the French, 4to. He was the author also of "England's Arcadia, alluding his beginning from sir Philip Sydney's ending," 1607, 4to. The extracts from Markham in "England's Parnassus," are more numerous than from any other minor poet. The most remarkable of his poetical attempts appears to have been entitled "The Poem of Poems, or Sion's Muse, contaynyng the divine Song of king Salomon, devided into eight eclogues," 1596, 16mo. This is dedicated to "the sacred virgin, divine mistress Elizabeth Sydney, sole daughter of the ever-admired sir Philip Sydney." Bishop Hall, who was justly dissatisfied with much of the spiritual poetry with which his age was overwhelmed, alludes to this piece in his "Satires" (B. I. Sat. VIII.); and says that in Markham's verses Solomon assumes the character of a modern sonneteer, and celebrates the sacred spouse of Christ with the levities and in the language of a lover singing the praises of his mistress. For this censure, Marston in his "Certayne Satires" (Sat. IV.) endeavours to retort upon Hall.
Langbaine is very lavish of his praise of Markham; but he does not appear to have known much of his poetry, or of his real character. In the works referred to below are some conjectures, and some information respecting Markham, which place his character rather in an equivocal light. It appears, however, that his works on husbandry, agriculture, &c. were once held in great esteem, and often reprinted. On the records of the stationers' company is a very extraordinary agreement signed by this author, which probably arose from the booksellers' knowledge of the value of Markham's work, and their apprehensions that a new performance on the same subject might be hurtful to the treatises then circulating. It is as follows:
"Md. That I Gervase Markham, of London, gent. do promise hereafter never to write any more book or books to be printed of the diseases or cures of any cattle, as horse, oxe, cowe, sheepe, swine, and goates, &c. In witnes whereof I have hereunto sett my hand the 24th day of Julie, 1617. GERVIS MARKHAM."
This likewise seems to confirm the opinion of some that he was an author by profession, and one of the earliest on record. Numerous, however, as were this writer's works, his memory has not had the fate of being transmitted with any clearness to posterity. The time of his birth, death, and all other particulars regarding him, are utterly unknown.