1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Davison

John Payne Collier, "A Poetical Rapsodie" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:230-34.



This was the last impression issued in the lifetime of the author-editor, Francis Davison, eldest son to unfortunate Secretary Davison, who died in 1608, leaving four sons and two daughters. It is believed that Francis Davison himself died in 1619, before any of his brothers and sisters. The collection, which is even superior in some respects to England's Helicon, 1600, was made in imitation of it, and first appeared in 1602. Such was its popularity that it was reprinted, with additions, in 1608, 1611, and 1621: in the last impression, after Francis Davison's death, the materials were rearranged. At the end of four leaves, containing the alphabetical contents, are the initials D. P., but why they were placed there, or what or whom they mean, is nowhere explained. The mere list was hardly worth owning.

We notice the volume here chiefly for the purpose of pointing out an important error that must have been committed in assigning one of the longest and most striking poems to a man who clearly could have had nothing to do with it. We refer to the first Eglogue, which at the end has the initials F. D., which Sir H. Nicolas in his edition (8vo, 1826) enlarged to "Francis Davison"; but he could not have read the production without seeing at once that it contains passages which could by no possibility have been written by that young man, who was at most twenty-seven when they first appeared in print. It was evidently the authorship of a person who had long been in disgrace at Court, (or with Astraea, as he calls Elizabeth,) for he says,—

My night hath lasted fifteene yeares,
And yet no glimpse of day appeares.

How could young Francis Davison have been fifteen years out of favor with the Queen? or how could he proceed to lament,—

But I that late
With upright gate
Bars up my head while happy favour lasted,
Now old am growne,
Now overthrowne,
With wee, with griefe, with wailing now am wasted.

The whole is a personal production, referring to the previous advancement and subsequent sudden fall of the speaker; and our solution of the difficulty is, that the Eclogue was the production, not of Francis Davison, but of his father William Davison; but the MS. being in the handwriting of the former, the printer (to whom such matters were avowedly left) erroneously placed the initials F. D. at the end of it. In 1602, when this Eclogue first appeared, it was exactly "fifteen years" since the death of Mary Queen of Scots, for hastening whose execution (though with the good will of Elizabeth) William Davison had incurred the well affected displeasure of the Queen. Whether our speculation be or be not adopted, it is quite certain that Sir H. Nicolas had no warrant for here extending the initials F. D. into "Francis Davison." Another explanation maybe, that F. D. ought to be E. D.; and that Sir Edward Dyer, who complains that he had been long excluded from Court, was the author of the first Eclogue. How carelessly the printer (W. Stansby) performed his duty in other respects might be illustrated in many places, but we will take an instance from this very production, subscribed F. D., where the following couplet occurs:—

My nightly rest[s] have turn'd to detriment,
To plaints have turn'd my wonted merriment.

Here "detriment" and "merriment" do not rhyme; but as dreriment was then a comparatively new word, (employed first by Spenser,) the printer did not know it, and composed "detriment" instead of it. In the second Eclogue he was guilty of a blunder of a different kind, omitting to mark the speech of "the Herdman," and thereby giving the conclusion of the Dialogue to "the Shepherd." This error also was never set right in ancient or modern editions.

Some of the best pieces in the Collection, especially "an Eglogue made long since upon the death of Sir Philip Sidney," are subscribed A. W., initials which nobody has yet been able to appropriate at all satisfactorily. Ritson's notion, that they were by Arthur Warren, shows that he was no good judge of poetry. Warren, from what he has left behind him, was wholly incapable of them. We do not recollect that the following has been quoted in reference to Spenser, but no one else can be meant by Collin, and personally the passage is very interesting:—

Perin.
Who else but Thenot can the Muses raise,
And teach them sing and dance in mournfull guise?
My finger's stiffe, my voice doth hoarsely rise.

Thenot.
Ah I where is Collin and his passing skill?
For him it fits our sorrow to fulfill.

Perin.
Tway sore extreames our Collin presse so neere
(Alas, that such extremes should presse him so!)
The want of wealth, and losse of lone so deere;
Scarse can he breath from under heapes of woe:
He that beares heaven beares no such weight, I trow.

Thenot.
Hath he such skill in making all above,
And hath no skill to get or Wealth or Love?

Perin.
Praise is the greatest prise that Poets gaine,
A simple gaine that feeds them ne're a whit.
The wanton lasso for whom lie bare such paine,
Like running water, loves to change and flit.
But if thou list to heare a sorry fit,
Which Cuddy could in doleful verse endite,
Blow thou thy pipe, while I the same recite.

It was just about the date of Sidney's death that Spenser, here named Collin, having obtained his grant of land in Cork, had gone to take possession of it. (Life of Spenser, 1862, p. lii.) The "wanton lass," who was as changeable as water, must have been his poetical mistress Rosalind. Farther on, in relation to the death of Sidney, as the friend and patron of Spenser, A. W. says:—

Ah! Collin, I lament thy case:
For thee remaines no hops of grace.
The best reliefe
Of Poet's griefe
Is dead, and wrapt full cold in filthy clay;
And nought remaines
To ease our paines,
But hope of death to rid us hence away.

We have briefly touched upon these points because, we apprehend, they are new, and have not been noticed in the various editions of the Poetical Rhapsody.