1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Scott

John Payne Collier, "Philomythie or Philomythologie" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:26-28.



This is the first edition of a curious, but not very intelligible book. The author seems to have been so fearful lest his satire should be considered personal and individual, that ambiguity often renders him incomprehensible. The present copy differs from some others in the circumstance that the second title-page, on sign. F 2, "Certaine Pieces of this Age paraboliz'd," is dated 1615, and not 1616. The first title-page is engraved by R. Elstracke; and in an address "to the Reader" (which follows "Sarcasmos Mundo" and other preliminary poems) we meet with the following mention of Spenser:—

If Spencer were now living to report
His Mother Hubberts tale, there would he sport
To see him in a blanket tost, and mounted
Up to the starrs, and yet no starre accounted.

This shows clearly that Spenser by his Mother Hubberd's Tale had given such offence, that, had he been living in 1616, he would have run the risk of being "tossed in a blanket." It seems probable that it was "called in" on account of the severity of its satire and personal allusions; but a question has arisen whether a notice of the "Tale of Mother Hubburd" in The Ant and the Nightingale, 1604, which unquestionably was highly disapproved, applies to Spenser's satirical apologue, or to some tract published under nearly the same title. The reason for the latter opinion is, that, as Mother Hubberd's Tale has come down to us, it contains nothing about "rugged bears," or "the lamentable downfall of the old wife's platters." This is true; but that may have been the very part of the poem which most offended, and was therefore afterwards erased by Spenser. Still, we are of opinion that the writer of The Ant and the Nightingale did not refer to Spenser, but to some imitator; and we are confirmed in this belief by a second allusion to Mother Hubburd in another tract which the same author, T. M., also printed in 1604, called The Black Book, which contains the following words: "And to confirm this resolution the more, each slipped downe his stocking, baring his right knee, and so began to drinke a health halfe as deepe as Mother Hubburds cellar, that she was called in for selling her working bottle-ale to bookbinders, and spurting the froth upon Courtier's noses." Here again there is nothing of the kind in Spenser's Mother Hubberd's Tale; and we may conclude, with tolerable certainty, that same lost publication, with a title similar to that of Spenser, and purposely adopted for the sake of his popularity, was intended by T. M.

Scott professes himself afraid to follow the example of Spenser. The second portion of his work contains four emblematical engravings, which may also doubtless be assigned to Elstracke. The most remarkable poem is entitled "Regalis Justitia Jacobi," in which Scott celebrates the impartial justice of King James, in refusing to pardon Lord Sanquhar, or Sanquier, for the deliberate murder of Turner, the celebrated fencer, in 1612, as may be seen in Wilson's History of that reign. Turner had himself killed an adversary named Dunn in 1602, by piercing him to the brain through the eye, (see Hist. Engl. Dram. Poetry, I. 326,) and the animosity of Lord Sanquhar was occasioned by the loss of an eye while fencing with Turner. Scott alludes as follows to these incidents:—

This silly Fencer, in his ignorance bold,
Thinks his submissive sorrow will suffice
For that unhappy thrust at Sanquier's eyes;
And, begging pardon, seemes to have it then.
What foole dares trust the uuseal'd words of men?
Yet Turner will: a reconciled foe
Seemes a true friend to him would have him so.
He thinks (now Dunne is dead) to die in peace,
But blood cries out for blood, &c.

On p. 126 is a blank for some part of the copy which the printer had lost, "the Author being far from London," but it is promised that the defect shall be supplied in the next impression. The second edition did not make its appearance until 1622, and there was a third in 1640. The author's style is diffuse and wordy, and his satire, where it is intelligible, far from pungent.