1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Fairfax

John Holland, "Edward Fairfax" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 32-33.



The date of Fairfax's birth is unknown. He was a natural son of Sir Thomas Fairfax, of Denton, in Yorkshire, and spent his life at Fuystone, in the forest of Knaresborough, in the enjoyment of many blessings which rarely befall the poetical race — competence, ease, rural scenes, and an ample command of the means of study. He wrote a work on Demonology, which is still in manuscript, and in the preface to it he states that in religion he was "neither a fantastic Puritan, nor a superstitious Papist." He also wrote a series of Eclogues, (one of which was published in 1741, in Cooper's Muses' Library,) and died in 1632: Fairfax was of the same distinguished family as the parliamentary general who is also said to have indulged a taste for versification, and having an estate of his own, and the greatest advantage of leisure and genius, passed his days in the bosom of his family, and in the cultivation of poetry. It has been justly remarked, that "he flourished just at the close of that golden period, that height and strong summertime of our poetry, when language, wisdom, and imagination, were alike at their noblest, and thoughts were poured forth as profusely as words have been since. He was inclined to the music of verse; and the age was full of music, of every species; — he was of a romantic, and, most probably, superstitious turn of mind; and popular superstitions were still more in favour, than during the preceding era; — he had perhaps, something of the indolence of a man of fortune; and, in the course of his Italian luxuries, he met with a poet, whose tendencies were like his own, and who was great enough to render the task of translation honourable as well as thoughtful."

He accordingly produced a version of Tasso, which, if not equal to the original, or exempt from those errors which a future translator (always provided he is a poet too) may avoid; has nevertheless been pronounced to be the completest of any that has yet appeared. This work was executed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and dedicated to that Princess, who was proud of patronising learning, but not very lavish in its support. The poetical beauty and freedom of Fairfax's version have been the theme of almost universal praise. Collins has bestowed on it a high and merited eulogy, in his Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands. Speaking of Tasso, he says—

How have I sat, when piped the pensive wind
To hear his harp by British Fairfax strung,
Prevailing poet! whose undoubting mind
Believed the magic wonders which he sung.

Waller, who appears to have known Italian, and Dryden, who undoubtedly did so, were both great admirers of Fairfax, and are believed to have derived something of the "harmony of numbers" from him; but his greatest title to regard, on the score of authority, comes from Milton, who, when he borrowed from Tasso, took care to look at Fairfax also, and to add now and then something from him by the way.