1790 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Fraunce

Edmond Malone, in Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (1790; 1821) 2:239-45.



By Corydon was certainly meant Abraham Fraunce, a poet of considerable learning, who, from various circumstances, we may be assured, was a friend of Spenser's. In 1588, he had published, in quarto, The Lamentation of Corydon for the Love of Alexis, being a translation of Virgil's second Eclogue, in English hexameters; which appears to have given occasion to the poetical designation here employed. This piece he afterwards annexed to his Lawyer's Logike, which appeared in the same year; and it was again reprinted and attached to his poem, entitled The Countess of Pembroke's Ivy Church in 1591. Abraham Fraunce appears to have been born about the year 1564, in or near Shrewsbury, in which town and neighbourhood, several persons, of the same name, in lower life, yet remain. His father's Christian name I have not been able to discover; but he appears to have been a burgess of Shrewsbury, and probably, like our poet's father, was a glover. Abraham Fraunce, the person of whom we are now speaking, was bred at the free-school of Shrewsbury, of which the celebrated Mr. Ashton was master; and his name stands the twenty-fifth in the list of admissions, for January 1571, in the register kept by that gentleman. He appears then as a burgess. At this school, Sir Philip Sidney was bred, and laid the foundation of his friendship with Foulke Greville (afterwards Lord Brooke), they both being admitted into it on the same day; several years, however, before the admission of Fraunce.

His friendship and connexion with Spenser, it may be presumed, began at an early period; for Fraunce, like him, was honoured by the patronage of Sir Philip Sidney, by whom he was sent to St. John's College, in Cambridge, in 1579; where, for a long period, he was supported by his bounty. Here he resided eight years; and, after his patron's death, he, in 1587, removed to Gray's Inn, to study the law. In 1590, by the favour of Henry Earl of Pembroke, who had married Sidney's sister, he was, we have reason to believe, made the Queen's solicitor at the Council or Court of the Marches in Wales; a situation in which he was certainly but "meanly waged;" the salary of his office amounting only to ten pounds a year. While he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, he presented his early patron (in 1581) with a small discourse on logick, which he afterwards enlarged: and, he tells us, he "read the perfect copy" (in publick, I suppose), "three times over, at St. John's, and three times at Gray's Inn." It was, originally, he informs us, "A Discourse on the Use of Logick, and a contracted Comparison between this of Ramus, and that of Aristotle;" but when he changed his situation, and, from a Cambridge student, became a lawyer, he altered the title of his book, and called it the Lawyer's Logick. "Yet," says he, "because many love logike, that never learne lawe, I have reteyned those ould examples out of the new Shepheard's Kalendar [Spenser's celebrated work], which I first gathered, and thereunto added those also out of our law-books, which I lately collected." Neither his English hexameters, nor this odd and motley mixture of law, logick, and poetry, will, I fear, much raise Abraham Fraunce in the opinion of a reader of the present day. But he must be estimated by the notions which prevailed in his own time, and by the judgment of his contemporaries; among whom the praise of Spenser cannot but cast some degree of splendour around his name. The absurd kind of metre in which several of his English compositions are written, he appears to have adopted, on the authority of his patron, Sir Philip Sidney, for whom he had so great a veneration, that, in his treatise entitled (perhaps with allusion to Sidney's celebrated work), The Arcadian Rhetoricke, published in 1588, he has made him his great English exemplar, on almost every topick, both in prose and verse; and here, also, we find The Faery Queen quoted, though neither that poem, nor the Arcadia, was then published; a circumstance which ascertains that Spenser lived on terms of intimacy with Fraunce, and gratified him with the perusal of a portion of his great poem, while it yet remained in manuscript.

Thus we see these poets were connected and endeared to each other, by various ties, and by congenial studies. Spenser, who, in compliment to Sidney, had himself made some English verses "halt ill on Roman feet," was not only attached to Fraunce, in consequence of his connexion with that extraordinary and accomplished man by whom he was bred, but must also have been highly gratified by the flattering circumstance of his having exemplified most of his logical precepts, in a book of near three hundred quarto pages, by quotations from The Shepheard's Calendar.

Another work of Fraunce's yet remains to be mentioned, which was also given to the publick in 1588, in quarto, and is entitled Abrahami Fransi Insignium, Armorum, Emblematum, Hieroglyphicorum et Symbolorum, quae ab Italis Impresse nominantur, Explicatio. Quae Symbolican Philosophiae postrema Pars est. In the first part of this learned work, which is dedicated, in a Latin quatrain, to Robert Sidney, the brother of Sir Philip, he has introduced a very elegant translation, in Latin hexameters, of Homer's beautiful description of the shield of Achilles, in the eighteenth book of the Iliad. From this, and his other works, he appears to have been a very excellent and general scholar, having made himself master of the Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French languages; and, therefore, well merited the high praise here bestowed, by Spenser, on his talents and erudition, in the couplet in which he is shadowed:

And there is Corydon, though meanly waged
Yet ablest wit of most I know this day.