1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Weever

John Payne Collier, "Epigrammes in the oldest cut and newest fashion" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:227-30.



Beloe (Anecdotes, VI. 156) was the first to call attention to the contents of this book, which Ritson only speaks of as "a little book of epigrams, 1599." Beloe used a copy belonging to Combe of Henley, which he supposed to he unique; but there are, at least, two other exemplars of it. The additional notes in Warton (H. E. P. IV. 102, 401, edit. 8vo.) were taken from Beloe, and with Beloe's misprints. The Epigrams have little merit in themselves; but when we add, that they relate by name to Shakspeare, Spenser, Daniel, Drayton, Warner, Ben Jonson, Marston, &c., the volume cannot be looked at without great interest. The author was, perhaps, a friend of Ben Jonson, who in Epigram XVIII. (p. 773, edit. 1616) couples him with a much greater poet in the same department, Sir John Davys.

In his dedication to Sir Richard Houghton, of Houghton Tower, the author deprecates severity towards his "young Muse"; and it appears elsewhere that he was not twenty when his epigrams were written, and that he was only in his twenty-second year when they were published. We may pass over the commendatory verses in English, Latin, and Greek, only distinguished by initials or by unrecorded names; but eight six-line preliminary stanzas by Weever inform us that he was of Cambridge, and especially praise Daniel and Drayton, with a sly hit at Marston, whom, however, he applauds in a subsequent part of his book. From the body of it we select a few pieces on celebrated contemporaries, beginning with Shakspeare. It is Epigram 22 of "the fourth week."

AD GULIELMUM SHAKESPEARE.
Honie-tong'd Shakespeare, when I saw thine issue,
I swore Apollo got them and none other,
Their rosie-tainted features cloth'd in tissue
Some heaven born goddesse said to be their mother:
Rose-cheekt Adonis with his amber tresses,
Faire fire-hot Venus charming him to love her,
Chaste Lucretia virgine-like her dresses,
Proud lust-stung Tarquine seeking still to prove her.
Romea, Richard, more whose names I know not,
Their sugred tongues and power attractive beuty
Say they are Saints, althogh that Sts. they shew not
For thousands vowes to them subjective dutie:
They burn in love, thy children Shakespear het them,
Go, wo thy Muse, more Nymphish brood beget them.

Here it is to be remarked that Beloe, quoting the above, besides other errors, arbitrarily altered "het," i.e. heated, to "let," which quite changes the meaning of the writer. "Romea," for Romeo, was probably a mere misprint, however ignorant Weever professes himself to be of the names of Shakspeare's heroes. The following is important, not merely because it confirms the story of Spenser's extreme poverty at the time of his death, but because it may be said to establish that one of that great poet's minor works, his Ruins of Time, had actually been called in:—

IN OBITUM ED. SPENCER, POETAE PRESTANTISS.
Colins gone home, the glorie of his clime,
The Muses Mirrour, and the Shepheard's Saint.
Spencer is ruined, of our later time
The fairest ruine, Faeries foulest want:
Then his Time ruines did our ruine show,
Which by his ruine we untimely know:
Spencer therfore thy Ruines were cal'd in,
Too soone to sorrow least we should begin.

We must bear in mind, that Spencer's Ruins of Time had been written (under the title of Stemmata Dudleiana) as early as 1580, that they were devoted to the celebration of Lord Leicester and his family, and that, when printed in 1591, they contained a most severe attack upon Lord Burghley. For these reasons, in all probability, they had been "called in." The subsequent lines to Daniel are also worthy of extraction; relating as they do to the death of Ferdinando, Earl of Derby, who had died in 1594, "not without suspicion of poison, or witchcraft":—

AD SAMUELEM DANIEL.
Daniel, thou in tragicke note excells,
As Rosamond and Cleopatra tells:
Why dost thou not in a drawne bloudy line
Offer up teares at Ferdinandoes shrine?
But those, that e're he di'de bewitcht him then,
Belike bewitcheth now each Poets pen.

In his Pierce Pennyless, 1592, Thomas Nash, as we know, had blamed Spenser for not having addressed a sonnet to the Earl of Derby, when he printed his Fairy Queen, in 1590. Weever's tribute to Drayton also refers to the death of Sidney:—

AD MICHAELEM DRAYTON.
The Peeres of heav'n kept a parliament,
And for Wittes-mirrour Philip Sidney sent:
To keepe another when they doe intend,
Twentie to one for Drayton they will send,
Yet bade him leave his learning; so it fled
And vow'd to live with thee since he was dead.

We wish we could make room for all the interesting personal matter in this little volume, more particularly, as it has never yet been adverted to in any detail; but we must be satisfied with the two epigrams which apply to Marston, Ben Jonson, R. Allot, the editor of England's Parnassus, and Christopher Middleton, the writer of the Legend of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; which, however, was not published until the year after the date of the appearance of Weever's Epigrammes.

AD JO. MARSTON ET BEN JOHNSON.
Marston, thy Muse enharbours Horace vaine,
Then, some Augustus give thee Horace merit;
And thine, embuskin'd Johnson, doth retaine
So rich a stile and wondrous gallant spirit,
That if to praise your Muses I desired,
My Muse would muse. Such wittes must be admired.

AD RO. ALLOT ET CHR. MIDDLETON.
Quicke are your wits, sharp your conceits,
Short and more sweete your layes:
Quicke, but no wit, sharpe no conceit,
Short and lesse sweete my praise.

These have very little merit of their own, but they show the estimate of the men in their day. The same may be said of six lines addressed to the founder of Dulwich College, in which Rome and Roscius are called upon to yield the palm to London and Alleyn. We ought to add that the Epigrams are divided into "weeks," and that each "week" is dedicated to a different patron.