1891 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Niccols

Edmund Gosse, in "A Mirror for Magistrates," Gossip in a Library (1891) 33-37.



Richard Niccols, who is responsible for the collection in its final state, was a person of adventure, who had fought against Cadiz in the Ark, and understood the noble practice of the science of artillery. By the time it came down to him, in 1610, the Mirror for Magistrates had attained such a size that he was obliged to omit what had formed a pleasing portion of it, the prose dialogues which knit the tales in verse together, such pleasant familiar chatter between the poets as "Ferrers, said Baldwin, take you the chronicles and mark them as they come," and the like. It was a pity to lose all this, but Niccols had additions of his own verse to make; ten new legends entitled A Winter Night's Vision, and a long eulogy upon Queen Elizabeth, England's Eliza. He would have been more than human if he had not considered all this far more valuable than the old prose babbling in black letter. This copy of mine is of the greatest rarity, for it contains two dedicatory sonnets by Richard Niccols, one addressed to Lady Elizabeth Clere and the other to the Earl of Nottingham, which seem to have been instantly suppressed, and are only known to exist in this and, I believe, one or two other examples of the book. These are, perhaps, worth reprinting for their curiosity. The first runs as follows:

My Muse, that whilom wail'd those Briton kings,
Who unto her in vision did appear,
Craves leave to strengthen her night-weathered wings
In the warm sunshine of your golden Clere [clear];
Where she, fair Lady, tuning her chaste lays
Of England's Empress to her hymnic string
For your affect, to hear that virgin's praise,
Makes choice of your chaste self to hear her sing,
Whose royal worth, (true virtue's paragon,)
Here made me dare to engrave your worthy name,
In hope that unto you the same alone
Will so excuse me of presumptuous blame,
That graceful entertain my Muse way find
And even bear such grace in thankful mind.

The sonnet to the Earl of Nottingham, the famous admiral and quondam rival of Sir Walter Raleigh, is more interesting:

As once that dove (true honour's aged Lord,)
Hovering with wearied wings about your ark,
When Cadiz towers did fall beneath your sword,
To rest herself did single out that bark,
So my meek Muse, — from all that conquering rout,
Conducted through the sea's wild wilderness
By your great self, to grave their names about
The Iberian pillars of Jove's Hercules,—
Most humbly craves your lordly lion's aid
'Gainst monster envy, while she tells her story
Of Britain's princes, and that royall maid
In whose chaste hymn her Clio sings your glory,
Which if, great Lord, you grant, my Muse shall frame
Mirrors most worthy your renowned name.

But apparently the "great Lord" would not grant permission, and so the sonnet had to be rigorously suppressed.