1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Niccols

John Payne Collier, "Epicedium. A Funeral Oration" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 3:41-44.



We are here able to add another, and his earliest, work to those hitherto assigned to Richard Niccols. It has always been considered anonymous, nobody knowing to whom the description Infelice Academico Ignoto applied. We apply it to Niccols on the strength of a marginal note in an existing copy, dated 4th July, 1604, and subscribed J. B., which is placed opposite the words we have quoted from the title-page. The tract must have been written before Niccols left Magdalen College, Oxford. He was thus Academicus, but why he added infelice ignoto to it we can give no information. Perhaps he had been disappointed of some public employment after his return from the Cadiz expedition, and went to the University in despondency. That he was quite a young man when the piece in our hands was written, we can establish by the two following interesting stanzas, and a couplet, from a poem it contains under the title of "A true Subjects sorowe for the losse of her late Soveraigne." Niccols first mentions Spenser, and then Drayton, by their known poetical and pastoral appellations:—

Wher's Collin Clout or Rowland now become,
That wont to lead our Shepheards in a ring?
Ah, me! the first pale death hath strooken dombe,
The latter none incourageth to sing.
But I unskilfull, a poore Shepheard's lad,
That the hye knowledge onely doe adore,
Would offer more, if I more plenty had,
But comming short of their aboundant store,

A willing heart, that on thy fame could dwell,
Thus bids Eliza happily farewell.

The above may partly explain how it happened that Drayton (as indeed he was reproached) congratulated James on his accession, but wrote nothing in lamentation of Elizabeth on her decease. Niccols is known to have been an admirer and imitator of Spenser, both in his Cuckow and in his Beggar's Ape, written some years subsequently, (see post, pp. 44, 48.) In the tract in our hands he calls himself "a poor Shepherd's lad," as Spenser and Drayton had done before him.

"The Funeral Oration" on the death of the Queen, there headed Epicedium, and not Expicedium, as on the title-page, begins immediately; for the young Academicus was willing to display his skill in prose as well as in verse. It is a very studied, school-boyish production, full of classical allusions, and it dwells with apparent enthusiasm on the beauty, learning, and chastity of Elizabeth. We are told that

"Her beauty was so great that it was rather envied then equalled, beloved then praysed, admired then described: her power so great, that whole kingdomes were affrighted at her name, and many rich countries made happy by her protection: her learning so admirable that as from east and west many nations resorted to Rome, * * * so many from all parts repayred to her kingdome, where they were either inchaunted by her beauty, amazed at her greatnes, enriched by her bountie, confirmed by her wisdome, or confounded in their judgments: her chastitie was so great, that the question is whether the conquest of her enemies wrought her more fame, or the continence and government shee had in her selfe more merit."

Such ridiculous extravagance of laudation defeats itself. "A true Subjects Sorowe" opens thus:—

I joine not handes with sorowe for a while,
To soothe the time, or please the hungrie eares;
Nor do inforce my mercinarie stile
No feigned livery my Invention weares.

Not long afterwards he proceeds as follows, addressing the female mourners at the tomb:—

Uppon the Alter place your Virgin spoyles,
And one by one with comelinesse bestowe
Dianaes buskins and her hunting toyles,
Her empty quiver and her stringles bow.

Let every Virgin offer up a teare,
The richest Incence nature can alowe;
And at her tombe (for ever yeare by yeare)
Pay the oblation of a mayden vows.

And the tru'st vestal, the most sacred liver,
That ever harbored an unspotted spirit,
Retaine thy vertues and thy name for ever,
To tell the world thy beautie and thy merrit.

Here we see that Niccols, some years before he wrote what have hitherto been considered his earliest productions, had attained great ease and smoothness of versification. The last nine pages are filled with "The true Order and formall proceeding at the Funerall of the most high, renowned, famous and mightye Princesse, Elizabeth," &c., all which is, most unusually, interspersed with poetry in the midst of the details of the procession. It opens with three six-line stanzas, the first being this:—

Before thou reade, prepare thine eyes to weepe,
If that thins eyes containe one liquid teare;
Or if thou canst not mourne, fall dead in sleepe,
For naught but death such sorrow can out-weare.
'Twill grieve heereafter soules as yet unborne,
That one soules losse did make so many morne.

It is worthy of remark, in reference to Samuel Daniel's earliest known collection of sonnets addressed to "Delia," and so named, that Niccols, like some others, gives it as the known appellation of Elizabeth. He says at the end:—

And since that Delia is from hence bereaven,
We have another Sun ordein'd by heaven.
God graunt his virtues may so glorious shine,
That after death he may be crown'd divine!
Amen.

At the close of the tract we have only a formal prayer for James I. — "Vivat Jacobus: Angliae, Scotiae, Frauciae et Hiberniae Rex."