1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Watson

John Payne Collier, "The Tears of Fancie" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:220-24.



Only a single copy of the above work is known, and that is deficient of two leaves, containing sonnets numbered 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16: all the rest, consisting of 52 sonnets, remain, and the last is subscribed T. W., the only mark of authorship. We may, perhaps, take it for granted that T. W. meant Thomas Watson; for there then existed no other writer, with those initials, at all capable of producing such poems. Nothing is said in it to lead us to the belief that Watson was dead at the time this collection of Sonnets was published; but we know from a stanza in Richard Barnfield's Affectionate Shepherd, 1594, that at that date he was no more. He thus addresses Watson by a name he had assumed in one of his works: — Amyntas:—

And thou, my sweete Amyntas, vertuous minde,
Should I forget thy learning and thy love,
Well might I be accounted but unkinde,
Whose pure affection I so oft did prove:
Might my poore plaints bard stones to pitty move,
His loose should be lamented of each creature,
So great his name, so gentle was his nature.

Thomas and Watson could not be uncommon names; but in the register of St. Bartholomew the Less, in which parish various literary men resided, we meet with the following entry of a burial, the date of which accords with the period when it is likely that our poet expired: — "26 Sept. 1592. Thomas Watson, gent, was buried." It has never been anywhere cited, but we have little doubt that it applies to our poet.

In his Pierce's Supererogation, 1593, Gabriel Harvey twice mentions Watson, once as "a learned and gallant gentleman, a notable poet"; and Nash, in his reply, called Have with you to Saffron Waldon, 1596, says, "A man he was that I dearely lov'd and honor'd, and for all things hath left few his equalls in England: he it was that, in company of divers gentlemen, one night, at the Nags head in Cheape, first told me of his [Harvey's] vanitie, and those hexameters made of him,—

But, o what news of that goodly Gabriell Harvey,

Knowne to all the world for a foole, and clapt in the Fleet for a Rimer?

Taken literally, the last line affords a new point in the history of Spenser's friend. Watson's Amyntae Gaudia was printed with the date of 1592, and C. M. [forsan Christopher Marlowe] in the dedication of it to the Countess of Pembroke, states that the work was posthumous. Watson's Amyntas had come out in 1585; but his [Greek characters, Hecatompathia], or passionate Centurie of Love, a collection of poems in eighteen-line stanzas, was published as early as 1582. Another production by Watson, entitled Compendium Memoriae localis, was in the possession of Mr. Heber, but, as it was imperfect at the end, the date and printer are unknown. In 1581 Watson had published Sophoclis Antigone: Interprete Thoma Watson I. V. studioso. He also called himself "Londinensis I. V Studiosus," before his Amyntas in 1585. He was educated at Oxford, (Wood's Ath. Oxon. I. 601,) and studied the law, and perhaps love, in the metropolis.

"Fancy," as everybody is aware, was an old synonyme for love, and the fifty-two sonnets, under the title of The Tears of Fancie, are all devoted to an unrequited attachment; therefore it is, in allusion particularly to the work before us, that Barnfield, in another part of his Affectionate Shepheard, speaking of Spenser, Sydney, and Watson as Amyntas, tells Cupid,—

By thee great Cohn lost his libertie;
By thee sweet Astrophel forwent his joy;
By thee Amyntas wept incessantly, &c.

The Tears of Fancy are printed in Roman type, with the exception of this introductory sonnet, which immediately follows the title-page, but has no signature:—

Goe, idle lines, unpolisht, rude, and base,
Unworthy words to blason beauties glory,
(Beauty that hath my restless hart in chase,
Beauty the subject of my ruefull story)
I warne thee shunne the bower of her abiding;
Be not so bold, ne hardy as to view her,
Least she inraged with thee fall a chiding,
And so her anger prove thy woes renewer.
Yet, if she daigne to rew thy dreadfull smart,
And reading laugh, and laughing so mislike thee,
Bid her desist, and looke within my hart,
Where shee may see how ruthles shee did strike mee.
If shee be pleasde, though she reward thee not,
What others say of me regard it not.

This address occupies the whole page, but in the rest of the volume there are two sonnets on every page. Sonnet-writing was much in fashion from about 1585 to 1595, and, after the example of Sydney and Daniel, many were produced that never found their way into print, or at all events until some time after they were composed. Most of these by Watson, we may presume, were scattered about in loose papers among his acquaintances. Sometimes they are separate, yet connected in subject, the last line of one forming the first line of another. The following is numbered Sonnet XXVI.:—

It pleas'd my Mistres once to take the aire
Amid the vale of Love for her disporting.
The birds perceaving one so heavenly faire,
With other Ladies to the grove resorting,
Gan dolefully report my sorrowes endles;
But shee nill listen to my woes repeating,
But did protest that I should sorrow friendles:
So live I now and looke for joyes defeating.
But joyfull birds melodious harmonie,
Whose silver tuned songs might well have mooved her,
Inforst the rest to rewe my miserie,
Though she denyd to pittie him that lov'd her.
For shee had vowd her faire should never please me,
Yet nothing but her love can once appease me.

This is gracefully and elegantly worded, but none of Watson's thoughts are new or striking. Throughout he labors to employ double rhymes, and his efforts now and then give a comic effect to what he meant to be serious; as where he says:—

Hers end my sorrowes, here my salt teares stint I,
For she's obdurate, sterne, remorseles, flintie.

The subsequent (Sonnet XLVII.) is, perhaps, the best in the small volume, and it will be observed that the poet only uses one double rhyme in it:—

Behold, deare Mistres, how each pleasant greens
Will now renew his summers liverie.
The fragrant flowers, which have not long beene scene
Will flourish now are long in braverie:
But I, alas! within whose mourning mind
The grafts of griefe are onelie given to grow,
Cannot enjoy the spring which others find,
But still my will must wither all in woe.
The lustie ver, that whilome might exchange
My griefe to joy, and my delight increase,
Springs now else where, and showes to me but strange:
My winters woe, therefore, can never cease.
In other coastes his sunne doth clearely shine,
And comfort lend to every mould but mine.

Here we do not see the artificial involution of rhymes observed in the regular Italian sonnet, Watson being content with three ordinary quatrains, closing with a couplet. The last sonnet, LX., is peculiar, and we know of no similar example, for every line, but the last two, asks a question, which is answered in the margin thus:—

Who taught thee first to sigh, Alasse sweet hart? love.

Who taught thy tongue to marshall words of plaint? love.

After the closing couplet of this sonnet we read "FINIS. T. W.," and the work abruptly ends. A few of the pieces consist of eighteen lines, as is the case with all in the body of the same author's [Greek characters, Hecatompathia], printed probably in 1582: he has there, however, an introductory sonnet, headed "A Quatoryain of the Authour unto his booke of Love Passions," which is strictly according to the Italian model. Another, which has never been remarked upon, possesses the singularity of being a mixture of rhyme and blank verse.