1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Fraunce

John Holland, in Psalmists of Britain. Records of upwards of One Hundred and Fifty Authors, who have rendered the Whole or Parts of The Book of Psalms, into English Verse (1843) 1:224-28.



"The Hexameter Verse I grant to be a gentleman of an ancient house (so is many an English beggar,) yet this clime of ours he cannot thrive in our speech is too craggy for him to set his plough in; he goes twitching and hopping like a man running upon quagmires, up the hill in one syllable and down the dale in another, retaining no part of that strictly smooth gait which he vaunts himself with among the Greeks and Latins." Such is the sentence of Thomas Nash, upon the attempts which have been made to conform our inflexible English language to the metrical rhythmus of Homer and Virgil. That several of our earlier Poets — and some modern ones, should have allowed their admiration of the classical measures to beguile them into attempts at imitation, is perhaps much less surprising, than that so many failures should have been necessary to convince genius of the futility of the experiment. Of the abstract merits of the question affecting what is termed "English Hexameters," and about which such conflicting opinions have been maintained, I profess no competency to judge. But the subject practically considered, is one upon which no genuine lover of English poetry need to exercise the same diffidence. The circumstance that no popular collection of our old poetry contains a single remembered specimen of hexameter verse — that there exists not so much as a tetrastic — perhaps not a line of such construction in current living quotation — and, moreover, notwithstanding that Southey in his "Vision of Judgement," the most recent and ingenious effort of this kind, has laboured so zealously to transfer the reproach of failure from the language to the Poets, he has himself not less than others signally failed, by producing a poem, which scores of ardent admirers of our standard Poets could hardly be said to be capable of reading at all; certainly not with pleasure. All this surely proves that the modulation of the hexameter verse, so fascinating to the ear of the scholar, in the languages of Homer and Virgil, cannot be successfully imitated by any collocation of the words which fall with such ease, sweetness, and effect, into the metres of Shakspear, Spenser, Milton, or Gray. Of the attempt of Stanihurst, to subject the English pronunciation to the rules of Latin prosody, some notice has been already taken: he followed the example of Sir Philip Sydney; and was himself succeeded by the individual named at the head of this notice. Southey, in the Preface to his "Vision of Judgement," thus speaks of the three Poets and their verses: — "What in Sydney's hands was uncouth and difficult, was made ridiculous by Stanihurst, whose translation of the four first books of the Aeneid into hexameters is one of the most portentous compositions in any language. No satire could so effectually have exposed the measure to derision. The specimens which Abraham Fraunce produced were free from Stanihurst's eccentricities, and were much less awkward and constrained than Sydney's. But the mistaken principle upon which the metre was constructed was fatal, and would have, proved so even if Fraunce had possessed greater powers of thought and of diction." Fraunce, "Sweet Master Fraunce," as he is called by Nash, and who certainly had some vogue as a; Poet in his day, published, among other things, a volume in English hexameter verse, entitled, "The Countess of Pembroke's Ivy Church, and Emanuel," including a translation of Tasso's Aminta. This appeared in 1591; and it is at the end of it that we usually meet with the following Psalms rendered in English Hexameters — i. vi. viii. xxix. xxxviii. l. lxxiii. civ. I have not met with the date either of Fraunce's birth or of his death.

PSALM LXXIII.
God, th' aeternal God, noe doubt is good to the godly,
Giving grace to the pure, and mercy to Israel holy;
And yet, alas, my feete, my faynt feete gan to be slyding,
And I was almost gone, and fall'n to a dangerous error.
For my soul did grudg, my hart consumed in anger,
And myne eyes disdayng'd, when I saw, that such men abounded,
With wealth, health, and joy, whose myndes with myschif abounded.
Theyr body stowt and strong, theyr lyms stil lyvely apearing,
Neyther feare any panges of death, nor feele any sicknes:
Some still mourne, they laughe: some lyve unfortunate ever
They for joy doe triumphe and taste adversyty never,
Which makes them with pryde, with scornful pryde to be chayned,
And with blood-thirsting disdaigne as a roabe to be cov'red.
Theyr fare is delicate, theyr flesh is dayntyly pampred,
Theyr eyes with fatness start out, theyr greedy devowring
Gutts, with swylling; and, what fond fancy desyreth,
Or lewd lust lyketh, that fortune fryendly afordeth.
Themselves most synfull, cause others for to be synners
With theyr poysn'd breath, and vile contagious humours;
They check, scorne, controlle, looke, overlooke with a lordlyke
Imperious countenance; theyr mouth fowle blasphemy uttreth,
And from the forlorne earth, to the hev'ns disdaignfully mounteth.
This surpassing pompe and pryde allureth a nomber
Ev'n of God's owne flocke; (flock weake and weary with anguish)
Unto the selfsame trade, which makes theyr glory the greater.
Tush, say they, can God from the highest hev'ns to the lowest
Earth, vouchsaulf, thinck you, those prince-like eyes to be bowing?
Tis but a vaine conceipt of fooles, to be fondly referring
Every jesting trick and trifling toy to the Thundrer,
For loe, these be the men whoe rule and reign with aboundance;
These, and who but these? why then, what meane I to lift up
Cleane handes, and pure hart to the hev'ns? what meane I to offer
Praise and thanksgeving to the Lord? what meane I to suffer
Such plagues with patience? yea, and almost had I spoken
Even as they did speake, which thought noe God to be guyding.
But soe should I, alas, have judged thy folk to be luckless,
Thy sons forsaken, thy saints unworthily haples.
Thus did I thinck and muse, and search what might be the matter,
But yet I could not, alas, conceave soe hidden a woonder,
Until I left myself, and, all my thoughts did abandon,
And to thy sacred place, to thy Sanctuary lastly repayred.
There did I see, O Lord, these mens unfortunate endings,
Endings mute, and fit for their ungodly beginnings.
Then did I see how they did stand in slippery places,
Lifted aloft that their downefalling might be the greater.
Lyving Lord, how soone is this theyr glory triumphant
Dasht, confounded, gone, drownd, in distruction endless?
Their fame's soone outworne, theyr name's extinct in a moment,
Lyke to a dreame, that lyves by a sleep, and dyes with a slumber.
Thus my soule did greeve, my hart did languish in anguish,
Soe blynde were myne eyes, my minde soe plunged in error
That noe more than a beast did I know this mystery sacred.
Yet, thou heldst my hande, and kepst my soule from the dungeon,
Thou didst guyde my feete, and me with glory receavedst,
For what in heav'n or in earth shal I love or woorthyly wonder,
But my most good God, my Lord and mighty Jehova?
Though my flesh oft faint, my hart's oft drowned in horror,
God never fayleth, but will be my mighty protector.
Such as God forsake, and take to a slippery comfort,
Trust to a broken staffe, and taste of woorthy revengement.
In my God, therefore, my trust is wholly reposed,
And his name wil I praise, and sing his glory renowmed.