1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Harbert

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



This interesting and, on the whole, well-written historical poem, of nearly three hundred stanzas, has attracted so little notice (perhaps, in part, owing to its extreme scarcity) that a single page, quoted in Rest. I. 231, is all that, in modern times, has been seen of it. It is dedicated by William Harbert (afterwards knighted) to his relative Sir Philip Herbert for the spelling of the name was then so unsettled that the author signs himself Harbert and Herbert indifferently. It is Herbert at the end of the first dedication, (for it has two,) and Harbert at the end of the second, where the following lines refer to his youth at the time he printed his poem:—

These Poems which my infant labours send
As messengers of dutie to thine eares,
Are of small value; but if nature lend
Some perfect dayes to my unripened yeares,
My pen shall use a more judicious vaine,
And sing thy glory in a higher straine.

If they had read this passage, printed in 1604, Ritson and other compilers of bibliographical works would not have attributed to Harbert "Baripenthes," on the death of Sidney in 1586 (Bibl. Poet. 234), and a "Letter to a pretended Roman Catholic" in 1585. (Lowndes's B. M. edition of 1859, p. 993.) He was then only a boy; but of course in 1604, when he published the performance in our hands, he was, like all the rest of the world, an enthusiastic admirer of Sidney, and thus launched out in praise of him and of Spenser, just after the accession of James I.:—

Still living Sidney, Caesar of our land,
Whose never daunted valure, princely minde,
Imbellished with art and conquests hand,
Did expleiten his high aspiring kinde
(An eagles hart in crowes we cannot finde)
If thou couldst live and purchase Orpheus quill,
Our Monarches merits would exceed thy skill.

Albions Maeonian Homer, natures pride,
Spenser, the Muses sonne and sole delight,
If thou couldst through Dianas kingdome glide,
Passing the Palace of infernall night,
(The sentinels that keepe thee from the light)
Yet couldst thou not his retchlesse worth comprise,
Whose minde containes a thousand purities.

The adulation of the new king is offensive, but the tribute to the dead poet is interesting; and in another part of his work the author twice mentions Daniel, not indeed by name, but in reference to the historical poems he had produced. The seven portions into which Herbert divides his subject are sufficiently indicated on the title-page, and it is to the last, his hopeful applause of Prince Charles, that he prefixes a separate dedication. We should not be surprised if the author had originally intended to print it separately. The Prophesie of Cadwallader is not very clearly made out, but it is sufficiently obvious that it related to the great family, and to the blessed advent of the reigning king.

The versification is easy, but not always regular, while the writer's youth is in many places shown by his fondness for new words, of which "expleiten," in the first stanza last above quoted, is one, and it would be easy to point out others. Now and then we find Herbert indebted to foreign sources, as in the following instance to Petrarch, without acknowledgment:—

When Alexander saw the precious stone,
Under whose isye wings Achilles lay,
Shedding ambitious teares he said with mone,
Unhappy I, and ten times happy they
Whose ensignes prayse sweet Homer did display!
Then happy art thou, King, whose reign we see!
Homer doth sing thy prayse, for thou art hee.

The absurd novelty of making King James his own Homer is original, but all the rest is of course Italian. The most satisfactory part of the work is entitled "The field of Banbury"; but even in his descriptions the author is not clear, while in some other portions of his small volume he evidently affects the obscure. Like some of our modern poets, he seems to fancy that readers will value a thought, however commonplace, in proportion to the difficulty they experience in extracting it from the words.

The whole is in the English seven-line stanza, excepting two speeches which are put into the mouths of Lords Warwick and Pembroke, where a six-line stanza seems, for no particular reason, to be preferred; neither have the speeches themselves any remarkable merit. When writing of the Wars of the Roses, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in spite of his subsequent career, seems a peculiar favorite with Harbert, especially for his personal courage; and in this respect he certainly merited the following description of him in battle:—

There might you see that worthy man of men,
Richard, with his victorious sword in hand,
Like a fierce Lyon passing from his den,
Or some sterne Boare whose anger plowes the land,
Securely pass through every conquer'd band.
As a round bullet from a Canon sent
This Knight alone through fortie thousand went.

There is no list of errata, and certainly the printer did not do any great justice to his author: thus we have "milde" for wilde in one place, "shut" for shot in another, and "parke" for sparke in a third. Harbert is often faulty in his concords; and of old much less care was observed, even by some of our best writers, in making the verb agree with its nominative, than we should have expected, or than in our day would be tolerated. The following is a not very singular example:—

Witnesse these silver haires which now appeares:
Cares makes us old, though we be yong in yeares.

We cannot conclude without quoting a stanza expressly directed against the stage, at a time when Shakspeare was giving it glory, and James I. encouragement. What succeeds was addressed "to the young Prince":—

Curbs the malignant pride of envies rags,
And checke the stubborne stomackes of disdains,
These penny Poets of our brazen stage,
Which alwayes wish — O let them wish in vaine!—
With Rossius gate thy government to staine.
Make them more mild, or be thou more austere;
Tis vertue unto vice to be severe.

What may have been meant by "Rossius gate" we own we do not clearly comprehend. Perhaps it was some temporary allusion, or it may have been a misprint. It was just at this period that Shakspeare ceased to be an actor; and the history of the theatres shows that, just after his retirement, they broke out with peculiar boldness against public men, not even excepting the occupant of the throne. The French ambassador was compelled to remonstrate against the actors at the Globe for bringing the Queen of France and Madlle. de Verneuil upon the stage, the former boxing the ears of the latter. In the same way, King James was represented swearing, and beating a gentleman for interrupting his sport.