1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Brathwait

John Payne Collier, "A Strappado for the Divell" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:4-97.



There is, perhaps, no work in English which illustrates more fully and amusingly the manners, occupations, and opinions of the time when it was written, than the present volume by Richard Brathwaite; but it is a strange, undigested, and ill arranged collection of poems, of various kinds, and of different degrees of merit, some of them composed considerably before the rest, but few without claims to notice. The principal part consists of satires and epigrams, although the author purposely confounds the distinction between the two, telling "the captious Reader,"

My answer's this to him that saies I wrong
Our art to make my Epigrams so long:
I dare not bite — therefore to change my nature,
I call't an Epigram which is a Satire.

Yet that be dared bite may be seen from the following, among other preliminary lines "to his Booke."

Which to prevent let this be understood
Great men, though ill, they must be stiled good:
Their blacke is white, their vice is vertue made;
But 'mongst the base call still a spade a spade.

He never scruples to use the plainest terms, and though he seldom inserts real names, he spares neither rank nor condition.

The title-page is followed by "the Author's Anagram," viz., "Vertu hath bar[e] credit"; and, after a double dedication to Sir Thomas Gainsford and Mr. Thomas Posthumus Diggs, we come to "another Anagram," and a prose address "to the gentle Reader," in which the author apologizes for typographical errors, by stating that he was absent when his book was printed. Then succeed lines "to his Booke," a third dedication "to all Usurers, Broakers and Promoters &c. Ladies, Monkies, Parachitoes, Marmosites," &c. and a note "upon the Errata," again mentioning the absence of the author, as well as "the intricacy of the copy." To these are added "Errata," some "Embleames," as they are termed, and separate addresses to the "equal" and "captious" Readers. The preliminary matter thus terminated, we arrive at the substance of the volume, commencing with a poem to "Mounsieur Bacchus, sole Soveraigne of the Ivy-bush," &c.

Brathwaite was an admirer of George Wither, (who had published his Satires two years before,) and of William Browne; and a poem entitled "Upon the general Sciolists or Poetasters of Britannie," after abusing the low versifiers of the day, he thus distinguishes them:

Yet ranke I not (as some men doe suppose)
These worthlesse swaines amongst the laies of those
Time-honour'd Shepheards (for they still shall be,
As they well merit, honoured of mee)
Who beare a part, like honest faithfull swaines
On witty Wither never-withring plaines:
For these (though seeming Shepheards) have deserv'd
To have their names in lasting marble carv'd.
Yea, this I know, I may be bold to say
Thames n'ere had swans that song more sweet than they.
It's true, I may avow't, that nere was song
Chanted in any age by swains so young
With more delight then was perform'd by them,
Pretily shadow'd in a borrow'd name.
And long may England's Thespian springs be known
By lovely Wither and by bonny Browne;
Whilest solid Seldon, and their Cuddy too,
Sing what our Swaines of old could never doe.

The latter part of this quotation refers to The Shepherd's Pipe, printed in 1614, which, on the authority of Wither, is known to have been written by himself and Browne. "Solid Seldon" is, of course, "the learned Selden," who wrote some lines prefixed to Browne's Brittannia's Pastorals, but who was meant by "their Cuddy" is not, we believe, ascertained. One of the most amusing pieces in the collection, partly from its humor, but more from its allusions, is entitled "Upon a Poets Palfrey, lying in lavander for the discharge of his Provender": it reminds us in some degree of the Italian artist Bronzino's stanzas upon a horse given to him by one of his patrons, but never delivered: the latter, however, is in a higher strain of fancy. Brathwaite begins by a quotation from Shakspeare's Richard the Third:

If I had liv'd but in King Richard's dayes,
Who in his heat of passion, midst the force
Of his Assailants troubled many waies,
Crying 'A horse, a kingdome for a horse,'
O! then my horse, which now at livery slaves,
Had beene set free, where now he's forc't to stand,
And like to fall into the Ostler's hand.

King Richard's exclamation had been parodied by John Marston, in his Scourge of Villanie, two years after Shakspeare's play was published. Farther on, we have the following allusion to Marlow's Tamburlaine, and to the very passage Shakspeare had previously ridiculed:

If I had liv'd when fame-spred Tamberlaine
Displaid his purple signals in the East,
'Hallow, ye pamphred Jades!' had been in vaine;
For mines not pamphred, nor was are at feast
But once, which once's nere like to be againe;
How, methinks, would has bane scour'd the wheeles,
Having brave Tamberlaine whipping at's heeles.

The same poem contains references to Shelton's translation of Don Quixote, the first part of which was printed in 1612; to Banks's famous horse that ascended to the top of St. Paul's; to Vennar's Englands Joy, played at the Hope Theatre in 1603; to Bartholomew Fair, as then celebrated, and to other matters of curiosity. In another long and not very lively poem, to the cotton manufacturers of the North of England, Brathwaite mentions "Wilson's Delight," "Arthura-Bradly," (see p. 33,) and "Mall, Dixon's Round," as celebrated tunes. The first was, perhaps, derived from Wilson the comic actor, who was famous before the time of Shakspeare, and who has left at least one play behind him. "Arthur-a-Bradly" is well known, but "Mall Dixon's Round" has perished, at all events by that name.

The last part of the volume has a new title-page, "Love's Labyrinth, or the true-Lover's knot: including the disastrous fals of two star-crost Lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe;" a subject, as the author adds, "heeretofore handled." He alludes, perhaps, to Dunstan Gale's Pyramus and Thisbe, which originally appeared in 1596, and of which what purports to be a new edition came out in 1617: it may be doubted, however, whether more was done to it than giving it a fresh title-page. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe had also been told in Dr. Muffet's Silkworms and their Flies, 4to, 1599, which see hereafter. An "Epistle of Hyppolitus to Phaedra," in octave stanzas, in imitation of Drayton, and five pages of illustrative notes, conclude Brathwayte's volume.