1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Drayton

John Payne Collier, "The Owle" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:283-84.



The author states, in an address "to the Reader," that "this small poem was lastly finished," almost a year before it was printed, and that it was postponed to his gratulatory effusion on the arrival of King James. He dedicated it in a sonnet to his "most esteemed patron Sir Walter Aston, Knight," and there refers to his Barons Wars, which had already been about ten years in type. For some reason not explained, The Owl was not included in the collection of Drayton's works which he published in 8vo, 1605, but it was inserted in the folio of 1619, and in all subsequent impressions.

It appears by Sir David Murray's account of the Privy Purse expenses of Prince Henry, preserved in the Audit Office, that Drayton was an annuitant to the extent of 10 a year. The document applies to two years, and Joshua Sylvester's annuity of 20 is entered for both years, while Drayton's is only for one year. Perhaps his name had only been recently placed upon the list.

On the title-page of The Owl is a woodcut representing that bird surrounded by "chattering pyes." It is from end to end a satirical apologue, and passages might easily be pointed out that possibly gave offence. That it was popular we need not doubt; and it is twice spoken of by N. Baxter, in his Ourania, 1606, (see p. 76,) as "Madge Howlet's Tale."

And every Stationer hath now to sale
Pappe with a Hatchet and Madge Howlet's Tale.

And again afterwards,

Learned Drayton hath told Madgehowlet's Tale
In covert verse of sweetest madrigale.

It certainly is "covert verse," but in ten-syllable couplets, without any lyrics such as madrigals were usually composed in.