1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Warner

John Payne Collier, "The first and second Parts of Albions England" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:213-17.



The first edition of this important and amusing historical work was published in 1586, when it was printed by B. Robinson for Thomas Cadman. This is the second impression by a different printer for the same bookseller. With regard to the first edition, we meet with the following remarkable, and, we think, unquoted entry in the Registers of the Stationers' Company, dated 1586:—

"Whereas the Wardens on Monday, the 17th day of October 1586, upon serche of Roger Wards's house, dyd fynd there in printinge a booke in verse intytled Englandes albion, being in English and not aucthorised to be printed, which he had been forbidden to prynte, as well by the L. Archb. of Canterbury, as well as by the Wardens at his owne house. Item, they found there in printinge the grammar in 8vo. belongings to the priviledge of Mr. F. Flower &c. And for as much as all this he hath done contrarye to the late decrees of the honorable court of Starre chamber, the said Wardens seised three heapes of the said Englandes albyon, and the first leafe of the grammar in 8vo. and three presses and diverse other parcelles of printinge stuffe, by vertue of the said decrees, and accordingly brought them to the Stationers' halle. Whereupon it is now concluded and ordered, accordinge to the said decrees, that the said presses and pryntynge stuffe shalbe made unservyceable, defaced, and used in all pointes accordinge to the tenor of the decrees aforesaid."

It does not appear here precisely whether the fault was in Warner's book, or in Warde's printing of it, unless we are to conclude (as is by no means impossible) that the Archbishop of Canterbury had forbidden Albion's England, on account of the questionable or objectionable nature of some part of its contents. What the cause might be we are without information, but we can readily imagine that offence may have been taken at various portions of the somewhat eccentric production. The edition before us, of 1589, concludes with Chap. XXXIII., ending with the following harsh and obscure lines, where Queen Elizabeth is called Pandora, and where "an ocean" of matter seems proposed to be entered upon in a subsequent impression of the work:—

Then luckiest of the Planets were predominant, say we,
When this bed-match either heire that bloud-mart did agree,
When Seventh begot the Eight, and Eight the first and last for like
Our now Pandora, ere whose raigne our humbled sayles we strike.
For at her Grandsier rears we up our Colome plaine and poore,
Not writing as did Hercules on his — Beyond no more:
For he lackt search, our Muse lackes skill; an Ocean is in store.
It onelie rests we borrow leave in brevitie to say
Somewhat fore-said, not fullie said, and then is holiday.

Even in 1592, the date of the third edition of Warner's Albion's England, there must have been some hitch as to the continuation of the subject. It there professes to be in forty-four chapters, divided into nine books, but, singularly enough, Book IX. contains no more than the following enigmatical lines, under the beading of Chap. XLIIII.:—

Elizabeth by Peace by Warre, for Majestie for Milde
Inriched, Feared, Honor'd, Lov'd, But (loe) unreconcilde,
The Muses Check my sawsie Pen for enterprising bar
In duly praising whom themselves, even Artes themselves might err.
Phoebus, I am not Phaeton, presumptuously to aske
What, shuldst thou give I could not gide: gide, give not me thy Task:
For, as thou art Apollo too, our mightie Subject threats
A non plus to thy double Power.
Vel volo, vel vellem.

This is succeeded immediately by the word Finis, and why the writer had arrived at a nonplus is not explained. In 1602 (there was an intermediate impression in 1597) the bulk of the work had been swelled to seventy-nine chapters, contained in thirteen books, and the last lines of Book XIII. are these:—

Nor perpetuitie my Muse can hope, unlesse in this,
That thy great name, Elizabeth, herein remembred is.
May Muse, arte-graced more then mine, in numbers like supply
What in thine Highnes praise my pen, too poore, hath passed by:
A larger field, a subject more illustrious none can aske
Than with thy scepter and thy selfe his Poesie to taske.
Thy peoples Prolocutor be my prayer, and I pray
That us thy blessed life and raigne long blesse, as at this day.

It seems certain that, at no date, could offence have been taken for any deficiency in Warner's poem of flattery to the Queen. The main features of the production are historical, but into these we need not enter; and Warner makes frequent efforts to lighten his grave subject, and his ponderous style, by episodes, anecdotes, and allusions, sometimes not very well adapted to the place where they are found. For instance, we should not have looked hero for the following concentrated versification of a tale, we apprehend anterior even to Boccaccio:—

It was at midnight when a Norms, in travall of a childe,
Was checked of her fallow Nonnes for being so defilde:
The Lady Prioresse heard a stirre, and starting out of bad,
Did taunt the Novasse bitterly, who, lifting up her head,
Sayd, 'Madame, mend your hood;' for why so hastely she rose,
That on her bead, mistooke for hood, she donde a Canon's hose.

The author indulges also in freaks of versification. His triplets are unusually frequent, and in one place (B. VII. ch. 37) he has four-and-twenty successive lines with the same rhyme. This, we own, is rather wearisome, but on the whole his performance is both amusing and informing. The versification is fourteen-syllable lines throughout.

A Continuance of Albions England, by the first Author W. came out in 1606, "imprinted by Felix Kyngston for George Potter." It is dedicated to Sir Edward Coke, while he was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. It consists of a 14th, 15th, and 16th book, in the same measure and manner as the preceding portions. At the close Warner calls upon King James to complete his undertaking by worthily treating the reign of Queen Elizabeth, whose acts were "pen-work for a King." The most remarkable portion of this "Continuance" is a preliminary address "To the Reader," in short lines, where the author refers to Chaucer, Spenser, and Stow, — to the tomb built by Brigham in 1556 for the first, to the accidental interment of the second in 1599, and to the starvation of the last in 1605:

The Musists, though themselves they please,
Their dotage els finds meede nor ease:
Vouch't Spencer, in that rank preferd,
Per accidens only interrd
Nigh venerable Chaucer, lost
Had not kinde Brigham reard him cost;
Found next the doore, church-outed neere,
And yet a Knight, Arch-lauriat heere.
Adde Stows late antiquarious pen,
That annald for ungratefull men:
Next, Chronicler, omit it not
His licenc't basons little got;
Liv'd poorely where he trophies gave,
Lies poorely there in notelesse grave.

This is very just and highly interesting. The last six lines refer to the license given to old Stow to place basins in different streets, to collect alms from the city he had illustrated by his famous Survey seven or eight years before. Warner himself died suddenly in his bed at Amwell, and the event was commemorated in the Register by the vicar, under the date of 1608-9.

Considering the personal particulars to be gleaned from his Albion's England, it would be singular to find so many blunders regarding his history, if we did not know how little critics generally read even of the works of an author whose biography they are writing. Anthony Wood supposes Warner to have been born in Warwickshire, (Ath. Oxon. edit. Bliss, 1. 765,) and A. Chalmers asserts (Biogr. Dict. Vol. XXXI. p. 164) that he was a native of Oxfordshire; when Warner himself (whose word ought to be accepted) informs us in ch. 62 that he "first breathed the air in London": from ch. 66 we learn that he began to live in the same year that Elizabeth began to reign. This, too, is a point not hitherto ascertained, and he was therefore only fifty when he died. As to his family, among other matters, he informs us, several times over, that his father had travelled in Muscovy, and had made discoveries that ought to have been remembered and rewarded. Warner also mentions having seen a traitor executed in Essex, who had pretended to be Edward VI.

Warner was praised by Nash for his Albion's England in the year after it first appeared. And he himself mentions his Pan his Syrinx, which originally came out about 1584 (although no such edition is now known,) and was reprinted, "newly perused and amended," in 1597. (Warton, H. E. P. IV. 803, edit. 8vo.)