1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Middleton

John Payne Collier, "The Ant and the Nightingale" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 2:333-35.



There were two editions of this interesting tract in 1604: this is the second. [Author's note: The Rev. Mr. Dyce became aware of the existence of two impressions of The Ant and the Nightingale, from this article in the Bridgewater Catalogue; and after examining both he arrived at the conclusion that the edition called Father Hubburds Tales was the first; but we cannot agree with him, though it is not easy to establish the fact either way. See Dyce's Middleton, v. 549. See also Spenser's Works, 1862, I. lxxxii.] The first was called Father Hubburd's Tales, or the Ant and the Nightingale, and it was "printed by T. C., for William Cotton," &c., with Creed's device of Truth chastised, and not Bushell's device (as in the second edition) of Justice striking a measure of corn. The internal differences are still more important. The greater part of the second edition is a reprint in a larger black-letter type, but between the line on sign. F 4, "That greater wormes have farde like thee," and the line "By this the day began to spring," more than six pages are omitted, including "The Ant's Tale when he was a Scholler," and some early blank-verse. It is in the "Ant's Tale" that we meet with the mention of a player who is called "old Titus Andronicus," and whose peculiar action with one arm is ridiculed; and here also we find that Julius Caesar was then represented in a puppet-show: the same exhibition is again noticed in the comedy of Every Woman in her Humour, 1609. The other variations are typographical; but bibliographers have not been aware of the existence of two distinct impressions.

The tract is full of curious illustrations of manners and the state of society, and among other points it mentions the death of Thomas Nash, who we know had been buried before 1601. We extract three interesting stanzas, where Nash's talents and loss are commemorated, the more willingly because we do not recollect that they have ever been referred to:—

Or if in bitternes thou raile, like Nash:
Forgive me, honest Souls, that tearme thy phrase
Rayling, for in thy workes thou wert not rash,
Nor didst affect in youth thy private praise.
Thou hadst a strife with that Trigemini;
Thou hurtst not them, till they had injurde thee.

Thou wast, indeed, too slothfull to thy selfe,
Hiding thy better tallent in thy Spleene:
True spirits are not covetous of pelfe;
Youth's wit is ever ready, quick and keene.
Thou didst not live thy ripened Autumne day,
But wert cut off in thy best blooming May.

Else hadst thou left, as thou indeed hast left,
Sufficient test, though now in others Chests,
T' improve the basenes of that humorous theft
Which seemes to flow from selfe-conceving Brests.
Thy name they burie, having buried thee:
Drones eat thy Honnie, thou wert the true Bee.

A mock dedication "to the true general Patron of all Muses, Musitians, Poets and Picture Drawers, Syr Christopher Clutch-Fist," is subscribed Oliver Hubburd; but the address "to the Reader" has the initials of the author, Thomas Middleton, at the end. In the latter the following passage is remarkable; and, if it do not show that Spenser's Mother Hubbard's Tale was "called in again," it proves that obstruction was offered by public authorities to some subsequent production under the same name. T. M. says: — "Why I call those Father Hubburd's Tales is not to have them cald in againe, as the Tale of Mother Hubburd: the worlde would shewe little judgement in that, yfaith, and I should say then, "plena stultorum omnia"; for I entreat here neither of rugged Beares or Apes — no, nor the lamentable downefal of the old wives platters."

We more than suspect that Spenser's Mother Hubbard's Tale had been objected to, and that it was not allowed, until certain offensive parts had been removed.