1748 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Drayton

William Oldys, in Memoir in Drayton, Works (1748) 10.



In Queen Elizabeth's Reign, Greatness resided in her, and the most exalted Statesman never failed of receiving from Time to Time such Lessons of sovereign Authority, as kept him in his primitive Humility, and hindered him from forgetting his Power was only derivative. Poets therefore made their Court to the Queen, by making their Works useful to her Subjects; and here Drayton was in his Element. But under King James, a Prince of a mild and placid Temper, all his Ministers were the Slaves of those above and Tyrants to all below them. They courted the King by offering him Incense, as if he had been an Idol; and in their Turns they expected Incense too, which if they received, they snuffed from whatever Hand it came. But it is the Curse of Idolatry to take its Priests, like those Jeroboam made for his Golden Calves, "from amongst the meanest of the People"; and our Author was not, nor would make himself one of these, and to his immortal Honour be it spoken, he starved with Truth and virtue, instead of rising by Vice, or paying Court to Folly.

As to his private Life, he appears to have been of a free, chearful, and generous Disposition. He speaks to his Friends with that Openness and Candour, which is the true Language of Sincerity; when he commends, he does it heartily, but with Moderation; for a Profusion of Praise like a Waste of Perfumes, renders what should be agreeable, offensive. He is mild and just in his Censures, nor are there many Personal, I mean, to be met within his Works.