1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Davison

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) 1:234-37.



Francis Davison was the eldest of the four sons of William Davison, who was Secretary of State and Privy Counsellor to Queen Elizabeth — a man who, for wisdom and integrity, was behind none other of his time, and whose unmerited ill-treatment by his Sovereign, forms, next to her execution of Mary Queen of Scots, with which he was intimately connected, one of the darkest stains on her character. To N. H. Nicolas, Esq., who has so generously done justice to the memory of the ill-treated Secretary, we are indebted for nearly all we know of the Poet — and that is very little. He was born about 1575, became in due course a member of Gray's Inn, had the Queen's licence to travel for three years, and in 1602 published the "Poetical Rhapsodie," containing a collection of Sonnets, Odes, Elegies, Madrigals, Epigrams, Pastorals, Eclogues, and other Poems, many of which were written himself and his brother Walter, but the greater part by miscellaneous Authors: as a collection of Elizabethan poetry, the Work has always been highly thought of, and has gone through repeated editions. It is not, however, in the Work above-named, that we find the Psalms attributed to Francis Davison. Among the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, there is a copy of "Divers selected Psalms of David (in verse,) of a different composure from those used in the Church. By Fra. Davison, Esq., deceased, and other gentlemen."

In the first page of the MS. alluded to, which is in 8vo., 113 pages, and numbered 6930, occurs the following complimentary "Introduction to as many of the Psalms as are of Mr. Francis Davison's composure," by W. Bagnall:—

These Psalms, so full of holy meditation,
Which David sung by heavenly inspiration,
Our souls, by as divine an imitation,
Ravish and bless anew in this translation.
Cease not this holy work, but one by one,
Chaunt o'er these heavenly hymns, which may be done
In divine measures, as they are begun,
Only by David's self, or David's Son!

It is supposed that Francis Davison was a dependent on the Court, and died about 1621. Speaking of the "Poetical Rhapsody," and in allusion to the uncertain fate of its accomplished compiler, a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, (Nov. 1817,) remarks: — "It is not easy to guess how it could have happened that a man of Francis Davison's talents and acquirements should have gone to his grave without having left to posterity, any other traces of his existence than this single literary present. The ardour of mind which is an inseparable ingredient of poetical power, is almost, always accompanied by ambition, or at least a strong love of fame. It was not the world's insensibility to this production which blighted his hopes and destroyed his spirits: for this was certainly well received and very popular. In the present day, it is scarcely possible that such man could have died utterly unnoticed." The "other gentlemen" referred to: are Christopher Davison, brother of the foregoing; Joseph Bryan and Richard Gipps. The following verses by Francis Davison, shew a practised hand:—

PSALM XIII.
Lord, how long, how long wilt thou
Quight forget and quight neglect me?
How long, with a frowning brow,
Wilt thou from thy sight reject me?

How long shall I seeke a way
Forth this maze of thoughts perplexed,
Where my griev'd mind, night and day,
Is with thinking tried and vexed!

Now long shall my scornful foe
(On my fall his greatness placing)
Build upon my overthrowe,
And be grac'd by my disgracing!

Heare, O Lord and God, my cries;
Mark my foe's unjust abusing;
And illuminate mine eies,
Heavenly beams in them infusing!

Lest my woes too great to bear,
And too infinite to nomber,
Rock me soone, 'twixt hope and fear,
Into Death's eternal slomber.

Lest my foes their boasting make,
Spight of right on him we trample!
And in' pride of mischief take,
Heartned by my sad example.

As for me, I'll ride, secure
At thy mercie's sacred anchor,
And undaunted will endure
Fiercest storms of wrong and rancour.

These blacke clowdes will overflowe,
Sun shine shall have his returning;
And my grief-dulld heart, I knowe,
Into mirth shall change his mourning.

Therefore I'll rejoyce, and sing
Hymnes to God in sacred measure,
Who to happie passe will bring
My just hopes, at his good pleasure!