1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Drayton

John Payne Collier, "Idea. The Shepheards Garland" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:274-78.



This is Drayton's second known work, his Harmonie of the Church (printed in 1591 and 1610) being his first. Throughout he calls his mistress by the name of Idea; and from this publication he derived his own poetical appellation of Rowland, by which he was afterwards known and spoken of among his contemporaries. This edition deserves especial remark, because the work subsequently underwent numerous and important changes, and more especially because it contains several poems that were never reprinted by the author. One of these is an elegy, as it may be called, upon the death of Sir Philip Sidney, whom Drayton celebrates as Elphin. It is to be observed also, that in posterior impressions the arguments preceding the eclogues, and the mottos by which they are concluded, were omitted.

The dedication "to the noble and valerous gentleman, Master Robert Dudley," is subscribed Michael Drayton, but in the body of the work he never mentions himself but by his assumed and favorite name, sometimes only Rowland, or "little Rowland," and at others "Rowland of the Rock."

It is impossible to give an adequate notion of the many alterations subsequently introduced; but here and there they are so extensive as to give the whole pastoral an appearance of novelty. One of the most striking of these is "the sixt Eglog," where Drayton introduced some very high-flown praises of the Countess of Pembroke; among other things, speaking of her as a bird:—

Delicious Larke, sweete musick of the morrow,
Cleere bell of Rhetoricke, ringing peales of love;
Joy of the Angels, sent us from above,
Enchanting Syren, charmer of all sorrow,
The loftie subject [of] a heavenly tale,
Thames fairest Swanne, our summers Nightingale.

The word "of" is inserted in MS. by an old hand, and it was evidently omitted by error of the press. The same blunder occurs afterwards and is similarly corrected. There are several mentions of Spenser in the eclogues, by his assumed and well-known name of Colin:—

And I to thee will be as kinde,
As Colin was to Rosalinde, &c.

It may be noticed that in the stanza we have just quoted, in praise of "Sidney's sister," Drayton adopts an expression Spenser had applied to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1590, in the sonnet to him appended to the first three books of The Fairy Queen. "To thee that are the summer's nightingale!"

The poem, contained in Drayton's fourth Eclogue, upon the loss of Sidney, which for some reason was not reprinted by the author in subsequent editions of his works, may be here fitly quoted at length:—

Melpomine put on thy mourning Gaberdine,
And set thy song unto the dolefull Base,
And with thy sable vayle shadow thy face,
With weeping verse,
Attend his hearse,
Whose blessed soule the heavens doe now enshrine.

Come Nymphs and with your Rebecks ring his knell,
Warble forth your wamenting harmony,
And at his drery fatall obsequie,
With Cypres bowes,
Maske your fayre Browes,
And beat your breasts to chyme his burying peale.

Thy birth-day was to all our joye, the even,
And on thy death this dolefull song we sing,
Sweet Child of Pan, and the Castalian spring,
Unto our endles mone,
From us why art thou gone,
To fill up that sweete Angels quier in heaven.

O whylome thou thy lasses dearest love,
When with greene Lawrell she hath crowned thee,
Immortall mirror of all Poesie:
The Muses treasure,
The Graces pleasure,
Reigning with Angels now in heaven above.

Our mirth is now depriv'd of all her glory,
Our Taburins in dolefull dumps are drownd.
Our viols want their sweet and pleasing sound,
Our melodie is mar'd
And we of joyes debard,
Oh wicked world so mutable and transitory.

O dismall day, bereaver of delight,
O stormy winter sourse of all our sorrow,
O most untimely and eclipsed morrow,
To rob us quite
Of all delight,
Darkening that starre which ever shone so bright:

Oh Elphin, Elphin, Though thou hence be gone,
In spight of death yet shalt thou live for aye,
Thy Poesie is garlanded with Baye:
And still shall blaze
Thy lasting prayse:
Whose losse poore shepherds ever shall bemone.

Come Girles, and with Carnations decke his grave,
With damaske Roses and the hyacynt:
Come with sweete Williams, Marjoram and Mynt,
With precious Balmes,
With hymnes and psalmes,
His funerall deserves no lesse at all to have.

But see where Elphin sits in fayre Elizia,
Feeding his flocke on yonder heavenly playne,
Come and behold, yon lovely shepheards swayne,
Piping his fill,
On yonder hill,
Tasting sweete Nectar, and Ambrosia.

In the eclogue, as he afterwards printed it, Drayton gave his lamentation for the untimely death of Sidney a totally different form. The above can hardly be the epitaph on Sidney spoken of by N. Baxter in Ourania, 1606. (See p. 76.)

The encomium on Queen Elizabeth under the name of Beta, in the third eclogue, is much the same in the earlier and later impressions. The song in praise of his mistress, in the second eclogue, was not repeated after 1593, but another substituted; and the same may be said of the "doleful elegy" imputed, just afterwards, by Winken to Rowland. Rowland's description of "Idea," in the fifth eclogue, is nearly all new; and Borrill's denunciation of love, in the seventh eclogue, has little more than the termination of the same in subsequent editions. In early life Drayton was not so particular in the exactness of his rhymes as he had become when he republished his pastorals. Take for instance the following stanza in Eclogue VIII.

The infant age could deftly carroll love,
till greedy thirst of that ambitious honor
Drew Poets pen from his sweete lasses glove,
to chaunt of slaughtering broiles and bloody horror.

The author subsequently made it stand thus:—

That simple age as simple sung of love,
Till thirst of empire and of earthly sways
Drew the good shepherd from his lasses glove,
To sing of slaughter and tumultuous frays.

Many proofs to the same effect might be found in these pastorals. The tale of Dowsabell and the Shepherd, in the eighth eclogue, underwent little or no change.

The copy we have here used has the autograph of Robert Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth's beheaded favorite, upon the title-page. We dare not impute to him various MS. alterations, but they are most of them singularly judicious. For instance, in one place Drayton mentions Chaucer,—

Or else some Romaunt unto us areed
Which good old Geffrey taught thee in thy youth.

Here Geffrey is misprinted Godfrey, but altered to Geffrey in a handwriting of the time. Again, in Drayton's song in praise of Beta (i.e. Queen Elizabeth), we meet with this couplet:—

And tune the taber and the pipe to the sweet violons,

And move the thunder in the ayre with lowdest clarions.

Here "move" ought probably to be mocke, and to that word it is amended in MS.

We never saw more than two copies of Drayton's Shepheards Garland, 4to, 1593; one that belonged to the late Mr. Heber, and the other the exemplar we have employed.