1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Martin Parker

John Payne Collier, in "A True Tale of Robin Hood" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 3:114-16.



We know nothing of Martin Parker, the author of the above production, as a verse-maker, before 1632, when he seems to have put forth his first experiment under the title of The Nightingale warbling forth her owne Disaster, or the Rape of Philomela, which he dedicated to Henry Parker, Lord Morley and Mounteagle. In his address to the Reader he pleads hard for an impartial hearing and judgment, and appears, without much desert, to have obtained his wishes. Excellence could hardly at any time be looked for from a man who could begin with such an execrable stanza as this:—

I Philomel, turn'd to a Nightingale
Fled to the woods; and 'gainst a bryer or thorne
I sit and warble out my mournfull tale
To sleepe I alwaies have with heed forborne,
But sweetly sing at evening noone and morne:
No time yields rest unto my dulcide throat,
But still I ply my lachrimable note.

We have ventured to amend the passage by substituting note for "throat" in the last line and it must have been what the author intended, though not what his compositor printed. No particulars have reached us regarding Parker's private history, but from and after 1632 he seems to have continually employed his pen, like his predecessor Deloney, (see Vol. I. p. 259,) upon nearly every public occasion, besides producing innumerable ballads upon miscellaneous topics. He had many rivals and imitators, such as Guy, Crouch, Climsell, Price, and others, but none of them possessed or attained the same readiness in rhyming, or appear to have been gifted with the same natural humor. Although in his earliest known production Parker attempted a serious and sentimental strain, his talent was more for subjects of a comic description, as will be seen in such pieces as "The King and the Northern Man," "The King enjoys his own again," &c. The last was written during the Civil Wars, and, as may readily be supposed, was astonishingly popular among the Cavaliers both before and after the Restoration. He also employed himself upon romances. His True Tale of Robin Hood, most likely, came out soon after his Nightingale, and he followed it by his prose narratives of the story of King Arthur, Guy of Warwick, and Valentine and Orson. Of his King Arthur an edition was printed in 1660, and we apprehend that he lived and continued to write for some time after the return of Charles II. When he ceased to produce his rhymes, or when or where he died, we cannot state. In 1646 it is probable that he was in high repute, for S. Sheppard, in his Times Displayed, printed in that year, thus speaks of the sort of reputation as a poet which Parker then enjoyed:—

Each fellow now, that has but had a view
Of the learnd Phrygian's Fables, groweth bold,
And name of Poet doth to himself accrew:
That ballad maker, too, is now extold
With the great name of Poet.

In order that no mistake might be made as to the person intended, Sheppard inserted the initials of Martin Parker in his margin. It is impossible to give anything like a list of his various pieces. Many of them were merely broadside ballads, and continued to be reprinted, in the same shape, until the commencement of the eighteenth century, almost invariably with the name or the initials of the writer at the end of them.