1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Smith

John Payne Collier, "Chloris" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:68-71.



The most remarkable circumstance about this very rare book (only three copies of it have ever been mentioned) is, that it is, not indeed dedicated to, but addressed to Spenser, who must have given encouragement to the author to print his creditable sonnets to an unknown mistress, whom he calls Chloris. Regarding Smith we have no information excepting that he was not the writer of the play printed in 1615 under the title of Hector of Germany, although it has been assigned to William Smith in all lists, — last in Lowndes' Bibl. Man. edit. 1863, p. 2431. This mistake arose out of the initial of the Christian name of both; but Chloris, as we see above, was by William, and Hector of Germany was by Wentworth Smith. They were, however, contemporaries, but the talent of William Smith appears to have been entirely undramatic, while Wentworth Smith was the author of several plays imputed of old to Shakspeare. William Smith could write verse, but it hardly ascended to the rank of poetry, while Spenser seems to have been anxious to promote the success of a juvenile aspirant, who more than once speaks of his "maiden Muse," and of "the young-hatched" offspring of his brain. Two sonnets, addressed "To the most excellent and learned Shepheard Collin Cloute," immediately follow the title-page, and we quote them:—

Collin, my deere and most entire beloved,
My muse audatious stoupes hir pitch to thee,
Desiring that thy patience be not moved
By these rude lines, [that] written heere you see.
Faine would my muse, whom cruell love hath wronged,
Shroud hir love labors under thy protection,
And I my selfe with ardent zeale have longed,
That thou mightst knowe to thee my true affection.
Therefore, good Collin, graciously accept
A few sad sonnets which my muse hath framed:
Though they but newly from the shell are crept,
Suffer them not by envie to be blamed;
But underneath the shadow of thy wings
Give warmth to these yong-hatched orphan things.

Give warmth to these yoong-hatched orphan things,
Which chill with cold to thee for succour creeps:
They of my studie are the budding springs,
Longer I cannot them in silence keepe.
They will be gadding, sore against my minde;
But, curteous shepheard, if they run astray
Conduct them, that they may the path way finds,
And teach them how the meane observe they may.
Thou shalt them ken by their discording notes:
Their weedes are plaine, such as poore shepheards weare,
Unshapen, torne and ragged are their cotes;
Yet foorth they wandring are devoid of feare.
They wich have tasted of the muses spring
I hope will smile upon the tunes they sing.
Finis. W. SMITH.

These are followed by forty-nine love-effusions of the same measure, (with one exception, which found its way into England's Helicon, edit. 1600, sign. M 2 b,) but before we quote a specimen from them, we will extract a third sonnet to Spenser, (the last in the volume, and numbered 50,) which, however, merits attention chiefly on account of the poet (here called Colin, and not Collin) spoken of in it. It runs thus, not unmusically:—

Colin, I know that in thy loftie wit
Thou wilt but laugh at these my youthfull lines:
Content I am they should in silence sit,
Obscurd from light, to sing their sad designes;
But that it pleased thy grave shepheardhood
The Patron of my maiden verse to bee,
When I in doubt of raging Envie stood,
And now I waigh not who shall Chloris see:
For fruit before it comes to full perfection
But blossome is, as every man doth know:
So these being bloomes, and under thy protection,
In time, I hope, to ripenes more will grow.
And so I leave thee to thy woorthy muse,
Desiring thee all faults heere to excuse.

Spenser was, no doubt, at this date in a forbearing and approving mood, for he had published his own Amoretti in the year preceding. Of course the two works will not bear an instant's comparison, and Smith endeavors to make up for the absence of real inspiration and genuine feeling (in which Spenser abounds) by artificial ornaments, and by the frequency of classical allusions. As an example of a sonnet with fewer of these impeding aids, we extract that numbered 39:—

The stately Lion and the furious Beare
The skill of man doth alter from their kinde,
For where before they wilde and savage were
By art both tame and meeke you shall them finde.
The Elephant, although a mighty beast,
A man may rule according to his skill;
The lustje horse obaieth our beheast
For with the curbe you may him guide at will:
Although the flint most hard containes the fire,
By force we do his vertue soone obtaine,
For with a steele you shall have your desire.
Thus man may all things by industry gaine;
Onely a woman, if she list not love,
No art nor force can unto pitie move.

Certainly Smith's "art" was not of a kind and degree to move much pity in any lady who was a judge of the real excellence of poetry, its fire and its fervor; and he owns that his complexion, "which was black," did not suit the taste of Chloris. We are inclined to think that Smith's best production is the six-and-twenty lines called "Corins Dreame of his faire Chloris," which obtained for him a place in both editions of England's Helicon, 1600 and 1614. Most of the sonnet-writers of that day, with the great exceptions of Shakspeare and Spenser, were more or less imitators of each other — the main difference being the degree of imitation.