1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Nathaniel Baxter

John Payne Collier, "Sir Philip Sydneys Ourania" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:75-77.



Our main object in speaking of this very dull and elaborate work is to prove that it does not belong to Nicholas Breton, to whom it has always been attributed, but to Nicholas Baxter; and our authority (which we, many years ago, communicated to the late Rev. Joseph Hunter) is a copy of the work signed, and throughout corrected, by the author, now before us. In different places he also puns upon his own name as Tergaster, and calls an adversary Baxtero-mastix.

He claims at one time to have been tutor to Sir Philip Sidney, and to have been in favor with the Countess of Pembroke and her family; but, for some unexplained cause, having forfeited her patronage, he had penned some portion of his "Ourania" in Wood-street Counter. We apprehend that he was in the Church, although he nowhere states the fact distinctly: under his pastoral name of Endimion he admits his obligations to John Stone, Esq., "Secondary of the Counter in Wood-street," while he was in confinement there for debt.

The main body of Baxter's poem is an explanation, in couplets, of all branches of natural philosophy; and he informs us that while he was piping as a shepherd in some part of Wales, he was accosted by Cynthia (i.e. Lady Pembroke) and her attendant Nymphs, who asked him to sing them a song, which lasts through 76 pages. He had rather a strange notion of harmony of versification, although he seems to have been well acquainted not only with Sidney, but with Spenser and Drayton. Of the last he was a special admirer, twice praises his "Owl," 1604, and, what is more remarkable, gives us the information that Drayton had written a poem on the death of Sidney. It has, we apprehend, been lost with various other similar elegies, and must have preceded anything by Drayton that has come down to us. Speaking of Sidney's fate, Baxter's words are,

O, noble Drayton! well didst thou rehearse
Our damages in dryrie sable verse,

adding as a note in the margin, "Drayton upon the death of S. P. S." This novel fact alone is sufficient to give value to Baxter's "Ourania." As may be supposed, he is extremely discursive in his long-drawn-out philosophical dissertation, or "song," and in many places attempts to be severe and satirical: thus, to Usurers, he says:—

You dampne your selves and sweare that money's scant,
But rich commodities you shall not want,
That certaine money presently will yeeld
If he be skilfull to marshall the field:
Silks and velvets at intollerable price,
Embroydered Hangars, Pepper and Rice,
Browne paper, Lute-strings, buckles for a saddle,
Periwigs, Tiffany paramours to waddle, &c.

This is only the old story, told in prose long before by Nash and other sufferers. The main body of the tract is introduced by nine pages of seven-line stanzas, and as many stanzas and pages follow it, but we cannot say that the stanzas are any improvement upon the couplets. About the middle of the work we meet with a notice of Dr. Muffet by name, together with high praise of his poem, Silkworms and their Flies, 1599, for which see post, under MUFFET.