1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Joseph Hall

John Payne Collier, "Virgidemiarum" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 2:114-16.



Bishop Hall, the author of these satires, thirty-five in number, claims, in a "Prologue" prefixed to the three earliest books, to be "the first English Satirist." This assumption may be disputed on behalf of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Gascoigne, besides Edward Hake, who printed several "Satires" in his Newes out of Powles Churchyarde. The earliest known copy of Hake's very interesting and remarkable production is dated 1579 (as we have shown on a former page, 103), but it furnishes internal evidence that it had been originally printed in 1567. We may, therefore, place him next to Sir Thomas Wyatt as an original satirist in English.

Dr. Donne had also written, though not printed, satires as early as 1593, a MS. of them with that date being preserved in the British Museum; and Thomas Lodge had actually printed a volume containing "Satyres, Eclogues, and Epistles" in 1595, under the title of A Fig for Momus. Hall, therefore, instead of being the first, was only the sixth English satirist. In 1597 he was in his twenty-third year, and having recently quitted Cambridge, he was full of Juvenal and Perseus, both of whom he often closely, though not avowedly, imitates. He was perhaps not then aware of what had been already produced in English in this department.

It is very certain, however, that Hall had previously written, and probably printed, some pastoral poems. John Marston, who was his follower and antagonist, speaking of him in the fourth Satire, appended to his Pigmalion's Image, 8vo, 1598, asks, — "Will not his pastorals indure for ever?" a line that completely explains what Hall himself says in "his Defiance to Envy," which precedes his satires. He has been speaking of pastoral poetry, and ridiculing the manner in which such subjects were usually treated, and then proceeds as follows:—

Whether so me list my lonely thought to sing,
Come daunce, ye nimble Dryads, by my side:
Ye gentle Wood-nymphs come; and with you bring
The willing Faunes that mought your musick guide.
Come, Nimphs and Faunes, that haunt those shady groves,
Whiles I report my fortunes or my loves.

Or whether list me sing so personate,
My striving selfe to conquer with my verse,
Speake, ye attentive Swaynes, that heard me late,
Needs me give grasse unto the Conquerers.
At Colins feet I throw my yeelding reed;
But let the rest win homage by their deed.

Of course Colin is Spenser, whom Hall declares his inability to rival in pastoral poetry. To show that Bishop Hall had written pastorals before he ventured upon satires, is to present him in a new point of view; and we may conclude from Marston's expression, that Hall's Pastorals were printed, though no copy of them has survived.

We may here add that in the modern reprint of Hall's Satires, (8vo, 1824,) in the first line of the preceding passage, "lonely" is misprinted "lovely", and other errors of a more flagrant character are committed; thus, "Juvenile" is misprinted for "Juvenal," "waste" for "wafte," "intendeth" for "indenteth," streave for "brave," sorrow'd for "sour'd," "holy" for "hollow," &c. These strange disfigurements of course render such an impression entirely useless.

The "three last bookes of byting Satyres" form Hall's second volume, which bears the date of 1598 on the title-page, and was "imprinted at London by Richarde Bradocke," for the same bookseller as the "first three bookes"; but the general title-page, which precedes the whole, is called "Virgidemiarum, Sixe Bookes," and is dated 1597. When, therefore, the title-page dated 1597 was printed, it applied to the whole collection of Satires, which then in fact came from the press, and not to the first three books in 1597, and the last three books in 1598. The first two lines of "the Author's charge to his Satyres," which introduces "the three last bookes," would lead us to believe that they had been written when the author was extremely young, perhaps even before he went to college.

Ye lucklesse Rymes, whom not unkindly spighte
Begot long since of Truth and holy rage, &c.;

and, if we are to take Hall's word for it, he never meant them to be printed in his lifetime:—

When I am dead and rotten in the dust,
Then gin to live, and leave when others lust.

The work before us became extremely popular immediately after its publication, with which event in the first instance Hall seems not to have been acquainted; but when he found that it was beyond recall, he gave the printer a more perfect copy than he had before obtained. This fact appears by a note on the last page, which contains the additions and corrections made in consequence. Virgidemiarum was again printed in 1598, 1599, and 1602, all the copies being, like the earliest, in 12mo.

The first known production of Bishop Hall's pen was an elegy on the death of Dr. William Whitaker, printed, with other tributes by other authors in Latin and English, in 1596. Having been born in 1574, Hall was then in his twenty-second year. There is little to notice in it beyond an overflow of pumped-up tears, but it concludes with an allusion to Spenser's "Bower of Bliss," although with a very different application, where Hall exclaims,—

Enter, O Soule, into thy Bowre of Blisse
Through all the throng, &c.

We have already (ante, p. 21) called attention to an original poem by Hall, not included in any list of his productions.