1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Watson

John Payne Collier, "Mellibaeus Thomae Watsoni" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:224-25.



Thomas Watson, one of the most elegant Latin as well as English versifiers of his day, printed this piece in both languages in the same year. They came out separately, and probably the translation into English, under the title of An Eclogue upon the Death of the Right Hon. Sir Francis Walsingham, appeared just subsequently to the tract before us. It is a dialogue between Corydon and Tityrus, and in the dedication to Thomas Walsingham, son of Sir Francis, Watson says:—

Dumque ego sum Corydon, Tityrus esse voli:
Ereptum nobis Melibaeum flebimus ambo;
Flebimus, ut raptum fievit amicus Hylam.
Dignitatis tuae studiosus,
THOMAS WATSONUS.

Watson's translation of his Melibaeus is in ten-syllable alternate rhyme. In it he thus mentions Spenser, confessing his own unfitness for the task of praising Queen Elizabeth:—

Yet lest my homespun verse obscure hir worth,
Sweete Spencer, let me leave this task to thee,
Whose neverstooping quill can best set forth
Such things of state as passe my Muse and me, &c.

Watson is the poet whom Steevens (on the strength of his [Greek characters, Hecatompathia] or Passionate Centurie of Love, reviewed at great length in Vol. IV. of the Brit. Bib].) pronounced "a more elegant Sonneteer than Shakespeare," and perhaps, if mere elegance be considered, the critic was not so far mistaken as many have hitherto supposed. Steevens, however, was not acquainted with Watson's most "elegant" production, which has since been discovered, and forms the subject of the last Article.