1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Davies

John Payne Collier, "Orchestra, or a Poeme of Dauncing" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:234-37.



In the General Biographical Dictionary by A. Chalmers, under "Davies," we are told that the first edition of Sir John Davys's Poem called Orchestra, originally published in 1596, "has escaped the researches of modern collectors, and the poem, as we now find it, is imperfect. Whether it was, or was not so in the first edition may be doubted." This in our hands is the first edition, and the poem is in all respects complete.

The title is followed by a dedicatory sonnet, "To his very Friend, Ma. Rich. Martin." The circumstance is singular, recollecting that this Richard Martin was the very person whom, according to his biographers, Sir John Davys beat in the Middle Temple Hall, which occasioned his expulsion from the society in February, 1597-98. In Polymanteia, which was printed in 1595, it is stated that Davys was of Lincoln's Inn: why he changed to the Middle Temple does not appear, nor to what Inn of Court, if any, he went after having been expelled from the Middle Temple. The quarrel with Martin (afterwards Recorder of London) was of course subsequent to the Sonnet, which is written in extravagant terms of friendship and admiration. As it has never been reprinted, it deserves on all accounts to be quoted:

TO HIS VERY FRIEND, MA. RICH. MARTIN.
To whom shall I this dauncing Poeme send,
This suddaine, rash, halfe-capreol of my wit?
To you, first mover and sole cause of it,
Mine-owne-selves better halfe, my deerest frend.
O, would you yet my Muse some Honny lend
From your mellifluous tongue, whereon doth sit
Suada in Majestie, that I may fit
These harsh beginnings with a sweeter end.
You know the modest Sunne full fifteene times
Blushing did rise, and blushing did descend,
While I in making of these ill made rimes,
My golden howers unthriftily did spend:
Yet, if in friendship you these numbers prayse,
I will mispend another fifteene dayes.

When Sir John Davys republished Orchestra with his other pieces in 1622, he substituted for the above a sonnet addressed to Prince Charles; and at the conclusion of the poem he left a hiatus after the one hundred and twenty-sixth stanza, perhaps on account of his quarrel with Martin. In the edition of 1596, as has already been remarked, the production is complete, but some portions of the last five stanzas are at this distance of time obscure. Sir John Davys, however, pays tribute in them to his predecessors in English poetry, Chaucer, Spenser, Daniel, Chapman, Drayton, Sir Philip Sidney, &c. Those terminating stanzas are numbered respectively from one hundred and twenty-seven to one hundred and thirty-one inclusive, and run thus:—

Away, Terpsechore, light Muse, away,
And come Uranie, prophetesse divine:
Come, Muse of heav'n, my burning thirst allay,
Even now for want of sacred drink I tine.
In heav'nly moysture dip thys Pen of mine,
And let my mouth with Nectar overflow,
For I must more then mortall glory show.

O, that I had Homer's aboundant value,
I would hereof another Ilias make;
Or els the man of Mantua's charmed braine,
In whose large throat great Jove the thunder spake.
O, that I could old Gefferies Muse awake,
Or borrow Colin's fayre heroike stile,
Or smooth my rimes with Delia's servants file.

O, could I, sweet Companion, sing like you,
Which of a shadow under a shadow sing;
Or, like faire Salve's sad lover true,
Or like the Bay, the Marigold's darling,
Whose suddaine verse Love covers with his wing.
O, that your braines were mingled all with mine,
T' inlarge my wit for this great worke divine.

Yet, Astrophell might one for all suffize,
Whose supple Muse Camelion-like doth change
Into all formes of excellent devise.
So might the Swallow, whose swift Muse doth range
Through rare Idaeas, and inventions strange,
And ever doth enjoy her joyfull spring,
And sweeter then the Nightingale doth sing.

O, that I might that singing Swallow heare,
To whom I owe my service and my love,
His sugred tunes would so enchant mine eare,
And in my mind such sacred fury move,
As I should knock at heav'ns gate above,
With my proude rimes, while of this heav'nly state
I doe aspire the shadow to relate.

This is followed by the word "Finis"; but yet the poet seems rather to have been about to begin a new subject than to finish an old one. It is now perhaps impossible to explain who is intended by "Salve's sad lover true," or who is figured under "the Bay, the Marigold's darling." "The Swallow" is probably Martin, the friend to whom the poem is inscribed, and who seems to have been himself a verse-maker. Excepting this interesting conclusion, the rest of the poem was exactly reprinted in 1622. Sir John Davys was, perhaps, an expert dancer earlier in life; but, in 1603, he had grown very corpulent, as appears by Manningham's Diary among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum. (Vide History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage, Vol. I. p. 820.) Sir J. Harington, in Epigram 67 of Book II., bears testimony to the same fact.

It is stated correctly by the biographers of John Davys that he was patronized by Lord Ellesmere, and among the papers of his lordship is preserved the following autograph Sonnet, which appears to have been addressed to the Lord Chancellor, on the death of his second wife in the year 1599:—

You, that in Judgment passion never show,
(As still a Judge should without passion bee),
So judge your self; and make not in your woe
Against your self a passionate decree.
Griefe may become so weake a spirit as mine:
My prop is fallne, and quenched is my light;
But th' Elme may stand, when with'red is the vine,
And, though the Moone eclipse, the Sunne is bright.
Yet were I senselesse if I wisht your mind,
Insensible, that nothing might it move;
As if a man might not bee wise and kind.
Doubtiesse the God of Wisdome and of Love,
As Solomon's brains he doth to you impart,
So hath he given you David's tender hart.

Your Lordships in all humble Duties
and condoling with your Lordship most affectionately
Jo. Davys."

The following note is appended, also in the handwriting of Sir John Davys: — "A French writer, (whom I love well), speakes of 3 kindes of Companions, Men, Women, and Bookes: the losse of this second makes you retire from the first: I have, therefore, presum'd to send your Lordship one of the third kind which (it may bee), is a straunger to your Lordship, yet I persuade me his conversation will not be disagreeable to your Lordship."