1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Browne of Tavistock

A Constant Reader, "Poems by William Browne" Gentleman's Magazine 85 (October 1815) 299.



August 18.

MR. URBAN,

Perceiving in p. 149, some mention of the Lee Priory Press, I cannot refrain from indulging myself, and, I hope, such of your Readers as are lovers of Old English Poetry, by noticing one of its recent publications, which has afforded me peculiar pleasure. Among the Poets of the early part of the sixteenth Century, the name of William Browne is eminently distinguished; but it must be owned, that his published works have not quite justified, in modern estimation, the repute in which we find him to have been held by his contemporaries. The work to which I refer, "The original Poems of William Browne, never before published," sanctions, in my opinion, the judgment of the Editor, and amply vindicates the celebrity the Poet acquired. These compositions, now first printed from the manuscript copy, do indeed, to borrow the Editor's words, possess "a simplicity, a chasteness, a grace, a facility, a sweetness, full of attraction and delight." I am not one of those who, presuming to despise the effusions of modern genius, discover some wonderful merit in every production that is old, and who can devour with insatiable avidity all the quaint metaphysical jargon of many Poets contemporary with Browne. But, in testimony of the value of a volume like this, I am happy to concur with the most ardent of black-letter enthusiasts.

That is a noble noble Ode, commencing,

Awake, fair Muse, for I intend
These everlasting lines to thee!
And, honour'd Drayton, come and lend
An ear to this sweet melody;
For on my harp's most high and silver string,
To those Nine Sisters whom I love I sing.

"The Happy Life" has all the charm, and ease, and unaffected flow of moral feeling, of Horace's more serious lyrical pieces.

Of his Sonnets the following may be a specimen:

So sat the Muses on the bank of Thames,
And pleas'd to sing our heavenly Spenser's wit,
Inspiring almost trees with powerful flames,
As Caelia, when she sings what I have writ:
Methinks there is a spirit more divine,
And elegance more rare, when aught is sung,
By her sweet voice, in every verse of mine,
Than I conceive by any other tongue.
So a Musician sets what some one plays
With better relish, sweeter stroke, than he
That first composed; nay, oft the maker weighs,
If what he hears his own or others' be.
Such are my lines: the highest, best of choice,
Becomes more gracious by her sweetest voice.

It is hardly necessary to observe, that this rare volume is adorned with all the beauty of typography for which the Lee Priory Press is so remarkable.
Yours, &c.
A CONSTANT READER.