1862 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Barnfield

John Payne Collier, in Poetical Works of Spenser (1862; 1875) 2:cv-cvi.



The earliest imitation of Spenser's stanza (certainly not of his matter or manner) came out while he, as far as we know, was still resident in his Castle of Kilcolman, busily employed in continuing his Faerie Queene.... This attempt to follow Spenser's example, as to stanza, was made by Richard Barnefield, a writer of no mean talents, but who in modern times has attained more celebrity than his productions intrinsically entitle him to, because it so happens that some of Shakespeare's minor poems were for many years attributed to him. It has now been ascertained that they belong, beyond dispute, to our great dramatist: still, Barnfield has merits of his own for which he deserves attention; and one of those merits is that he was the earliest of our versifiers, who was so sensible of the excellence of Spenser's choice of a stanza as to write it himself. We first hear of Barnefield as a young poet in 1594, when his Affectionate Shepherd made its appearance, one piece in which, called The Shepheard's Content, gave such special satisfaction, that the writer was encouraged in the next year to publish his Cynthia with certaine Sonnets, and the Legend of Cassandra. It is only in a portion of this small volume that he has employed the stanza of Spenser, and it is in that division which he entitles Cynthia.