In what amounts to a program for the first generation of Spenserian poets, William Covell, writing anonymously, exhorts students at Cambridge, Oxford, and the Inns of Court to stop imitating trifles and emulate "the love-writing muse of divine Sydnay, and the pure flowing streame of Chrystallin Spenser" Q1v. The work is dedicated to the Earl of Essex.
Covell encourages writers of the Inns of Court to follow the example of Cambridge in pursuing English hexameters, a project associated with Sidney's circle, and praises Cephalus and Procris by Thomas Edwards, a Spenser-influenced poem also published in 1595. In a catalogue of poets including Daniel, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Lydgate, and David Lyndsay, William Covell singles out Spenser: "Let other countries (sweet Cambridge) envie, (yet admire) my Virgil, thy Petrarch, divine Spenser" Sig R2v. The essay was once attributed to William Clerke.
Joseph Haslewood: "This work is divided into three parts; the first Polimanteia is on the subtleties and unlawfulness of Divination; the second, an address from England to her three Daughters; and the third, England to all her inhabitants, concluding with the speeches of Religion and Loyalty to her children. Some researches have been made by a friend to ascertain the author's name, but without success. He was certainly a man of learning, and well acquainted with the works of contemporary writers, both foreign and domestic. The second part of his work is too interesting from the names innumerated in the margins not to be given entire. The mention of Shakespeare is two years earlier than Meres's Palladis Tamia, a circumstance that has escaped the research of all the Commentators; although a copy of the Polimanteia was possessed by Dr. [Richard] Farmer, and the work is repeatedly mentioned by [William] Oldys, in his manuscript notes on Langbaine. This omission may be attributed to the title page which bears a character of the draff of time or local politics. It is dedicated to the unfortunate 'Robert Devorax Earle of Essex and Ewe, Viscount of Hereforde,' &c. where the author describes himself as taking 'England's person, and to speake like a Common-wealth'" British Bibliographer 1 (1810) 275.
Trevor Ross: "Covell was evidently the first to call for a national canon of letters presided over by England's universities, though there was very little of an institutional nature about his canon" The English Literary Canon (1998) 88.
If from the depth of intyre affection, I take upon me to deale more plainely, then your honorably augmented dignities will well permit; or from too fervent a love, overweyingly valew you at too high a rate, perswade your selves (if these be my faultes) that the name of a mother hath a priveledge to excuse them both: and howsoever a mother to her daughters, might more fitly speake in secret and not hard, yet seeing my naked trueth desires not so shroude it self from my greatest enemie, I challenge those kingdomes that have had children, to be witnesse of my talke; and if either there be folly in me, for to love so much, or fault in you to deserve so little, then let them blame me of too blind affection: and accuse you of not deserving, and so speedily from Fames books will I cancel out your praise, and recant my love to a mothers shame. But if I (justly fortunate) have high cause to commend you, and Europe for your sake, hath greater cause to commend mee; then may I not lawfully with a mothers love, shew the affection of a grandmother, to commend your children? And although my revenewes are such, as I cannot give you large patrimonies, yet from my mouth shall the whole world take notice to give you eternal praises. The time was (and happie time may I say) when in the glorie of my age, in the prime of my youth, in the honor of my dayes, in the fame of my desert, in the multitude of my friends, I matched with Sigebertus sometimes my loving husband; and howsoever my behaviour was farre from lightnes, my manners from looseness, and my modestie from the least suspect, yet was I taken in the corrupt mindes of some fewe, to be too familiar with Cantabrus the K. of Spayne, the supposed father of Cambridge my eldest daughter: but to excuse my selfe, (though there was not cause) I protest I was free from such adulterie, lawfullie married to Sigebert: by him was begotten my eldest daughter Cambridge: and the suspition only proceeded from this, that Cantabrus seeing me happie for so sweete a childe, was desirous to christen it, and calde it Cambridge, and after from Athens sent for some to nurse her. Then after Sigebertus death (sweete daughter sigh that he died so soone) (for legacies farre greater would he have left thee) courted devoutly, I matched at last (wearie of my widdowhood) with worthie Alfred: of him (sweet daughter Oxford) was thou borne: and how soever some shadowes of discord have bin betwixt you two (a thing usually incident to your sex) which of you might challenge the first place; yet I must needes confesse this, I lived long comforted only with one childe; doubting I should have been aged and past childbearing, and then to my perpetuall comfort (sweete Oxford) was thou borne. And howsoever thy elder sister may challenge that she hath lived longer, yet can she not boast that either I have loved her better, or that she her selfe hath deserved to be loved better. More fruitfull Oxford hast thou bin; (neither herein doe I commend thee) but more proudly jealous (Cambridge) of thy honor hast thou been; yet both of you so deare to me, so equally beloved, so worthily accounted of, so walled with priviledges, so crowned with all kinde of honor, as both (unequall to bee compared with each other) may in the highest tearmes bee preferred before the most famous, that Europe hath: then strive not betwixt your selves, but both be unite together: joyne hands, and if famous Alexandria, that sometime lived with high honour, who now lieth buried in her own ashes, were flourishing, to make comparison, let her know that within your walles, (howsoever you reverence hers for their age) are many as famous as Athanasius, many as full of learned varietie as Clemens, and many farre more soundly religious then them both. Joyne I say together and strive both to grace your youngest sister (daughter frowne not that I tearme thee youngest:) (daughter, frowne not that I tearme her your sister:) for although she cannot bragge of the same progenie, nor hath received such ample legacies from her deceased father, yet her beautie, her modestie, her owne behaviour, hath matched her with such noble families, as both of you may be intertained by her, and have your children graced with her favour: you are both growne into good yeares, gravitie befits you. But she is young, stately, courtlike, and such a one as scornfully can answer her proudest suters; nay her children are so valiantly wise, as when my subjects disagree she makes them friends, when you fall out she endeth all strife, and to whom I have committed now in my age the government of al my subjects: then repine not at her happines, if you love mine; wish that daylie she may growe more honourable. And howsoever I have heard complaints, that she hath received some of your children, and cherished them so much, that she hath made them wanton, yet (daughters) the fault is not hers; you your selves having bin ancient mothers, can well judge, that youth (and youth plentifullie stored with all favours) can hardly be restrained to a stricter course: she hath not been careles, plentifully to set before them grave and worthie mirrhors of wise sobrietie, whom if your youth would emulate, then should you causeles complaine of her kindnes: And for her, this must I say (though I heare otherwise) that kindley, lovingly, and wisely she respecteth you, as her elder sisters. Neither can it be, (howsoever perhaps shee might perswade her selfe) that if I should live to see you buried (O unfortunate if I live so long) that (sweete daughters) she alone could be sufficient to comfort me; nay my age and her youth, both so neerely depend upon your welfare, as if either yee dye (which I dare not thinke of) or be offended with us (which I will not suppose) then desolate were our case, and both of us like to be seene ruinous. Account of them then (daughter) as your elder sisters, and howsoever you are youthful and full of favour, yet they are aged and full of honour: And though it be the part of a mother equally to respect you all three, yet at my husbands sute (hee living) I so bequeathed mine honour unto them two, as the stay of our house remaineth in them onely. Then I intreate thee (daughter) by the love which thou bearest to mine inhabitants: by the care which thou hast of thy owne safety: and lastly by the duetie which thou owest to me thy mother, in all respects to favour thy sisters honour: in all causes chiefly to intend their good: and to binde those with a sacred vowe, who are thy posterities, to seeke their glorie whilst the world endureth. Stately Greece, who sometimes was famous over al the world, had long since beene buried in the eternall night of darke forgetfulnes, if her duaghter Athens had not lincked her children in marriage, with the greatest families in all Europe: And renowned Florence (daughters give mee leave to advance your petegree) (not halfe so nobly descended as you are) being begotten by Silla his souldiers, a Pagan, borne in the dayes of infidelitie, had never been reputed as the flower of Italie, if laureate Petrarch, Dantes, Accursius, Aretin, and lastly, the famous Duke had not made her indeard to the most renowned in all Greece. And Padway eternizing the river Po, had been long since in the middest of her distresses, rased out of our famous memories, if Rome live-making Livie had not beene noted to descend from her. Then flourish (kinde daughters) all united in that manner, that the world may knowe your posteritie to bee so linckt together, as that my love cannot bee greater to you all, then all the worlde may see that yours is amongst your selves: Cambridge thou once like the Queene of the Amazons, for my honour accepted the proude challenge of the Roman Champion; and thy children have often since so valiantly withstoode their learned foes, as Rome can neither advance her Bellarmin: Lovan her Stapleton, (nay mine by right) Rhemes their margent: or the proudest of them all, say, they have dared mee, and I have not answered: nay thy other sister hath been so forward in that kinde, as the woundes shee made, are not yet cured. And if at home any base pesant, not valewing thy worth, upon presumption shall do you wrong, either hardly intreating your children, denying them their names of honour, defrauding them of their land: detracting from their fame; your youngest sister shal be so incensed with it, as humbling their pride, she shall cause them to repent their boldnes: and think daughters, I intend not to see you want, for no sooner will I heare that you are distressed, but my nobilitie shall redresse your wrong; my citizens shall relieve your want; and my souldiers shall procure your peace. And for your scoulding neighbours, vouchsafe not daughters to contend with them; humble not my honour so lowe, as to mate it with such meane Knights. Paris, wise was thy Japhets progenie, who made thy Sequan to parte thy towne and thee. And great Charles, thou wert great in this, to foresee an Universitie and a towne, could not well agree: My youngest daughter it was thy case, to have one of thy children undeservedly endangered by thy often relieved neighbours. But as the excellencie of the object corrupts the sence: and Lyons are never so furious, as the sight of a red colour: nor the Elephants so unruly, as the shew of the Mulberie; so my ignorant inhabitants are no where so rude, as placed so neare a sunne: my Lyons are no where so furious, as seeing your scarlet gowns, not my Elephants so unruly, as tasting of your powrefull and poyson killing mulberies. I would exhort you in more ample tearmes, but that I knowe your patience, and control them in a sharpter manner, but that I see their furie: betake your selves to more high atchievements. Let your aged sit downe, and rest them in honours chayre; set your children to write triumphing songs for their mothers victorie: shew your quick discerning eyesight in these deceiving times. Let the worlde see, that amongst your children, wit hath fruitefully growne, in this untimely, niggardly blasting age: wherein though blackemouthed envie repine at every choyce conceit, tearming it, either time or wit, or both idlelie imployed, yet my true discernment and a mothers love, makes mee terame them natures works, made with a comparing pride, in these latter times to shew their excellencie: Yet follow not so farre the conceited imitation of former time, to take trifles for subjectes to work upon, as therein meaning to make art wondered at that worke of nothing. Thousands of objects might bee found out, wherein your high spirited muse might flie an unmatched pitch, and Phoenix-like fire her selfe into immortall ashes by the Sunne. So onely without compare, eternallie should you live: for in your children shall the love-writing muse of divine Sydnay, and the pure flowing streame of Chrystallin Spenser survive onely: write then of Elizas raigne, a taske onely meete for so rare a pen: it is easie to give immortalitie to an ever-living Empresse: or if this bee matter, which the baseness of these worthlesse times would hardlie prefer before trifles, (a thing sufficient to accuse this age of treason) then take a tragicke stile, and mourne for the trulie Hon. Ferdinandos death: whom though scattered teares have honoured in some few sonnets, yet he is a true worthie object of everlasting mourning for the sacred Muses: who languishing with late sorrow for the fathers death, want strength and leasure to weepe for the Sonnes eclipse: honour him sweete daughters children, who living honoured you: and control with the muses pen the repining fates, so farre as give him immortalitie, and cause him live to despight them. Thus wept you for famous Sydnay, my brave souldier: and men Hon. are onely fit to be mourned for by your Muses: which if being made sorrowfull they require larger matter to mourne for. Then name but Hatton, the Muses favourite: the Churches musick: Learnings Patron, my once poore Ilands ornament: the Courtiers grace, the Schollars conntenance, and the Guardes Captaine. Thames I dare avouch wil become teares: the sweetest perfumes of the Court will bee sad sighes: everie action shall accent griefe; honor and eternitie shall strive to make his tombe, and after curious skill and infinite cost, ingrave this with golden letters, "Minus merito": the fainting Hind untimely chafde shall trip towards heaven, and "tandem si" shall be vertues mot. Or if sad Melancholie (daughters) displease your Muses, (a thing well agreeing with my age) then take the course to canonize your owne writers, that not every bald ballader to the prejudice of Art, may passe currant with a Poets name, but that they onely may bee reputed Hon. by that tearme, that shall live priviledged under your pennes: For not precise Aristarchus, or aged censoring Cato, might challenge greater priviledge of trueth, then your free toongd and un-aw-bound skill: I speake this (daughters) not to that ende to make your children like the peremptory Criticks of this age, but to diswade you from the fault of the common people, the cruel mislike of your owne, and the intollerable flatterie of strangers wits. And if this or such like be not matter, wherein your deare cherished muse may justly delite it selfe, and sweetely please others, then sing of warres, and of learned vlaour: of Minerva's foe-danting shield: of Mars-conquring honor: of the Courts Loadstarre: of Englands Scipio: of France his ayde: of Fames glorie: of the Muses eldest sonne: of Arts ornament: of vertues miracle: of Religions champion: of thrise honorable, and worthilie-worthie-honored-noble-Essex. (Daughter Cambridge) he was sometimes thy care, thou now art become his; bee proud that thou gavest sucke to so brave a man; and assure thy selfe (yet slacke not to honor him) that hee will willinglie bestowe that milke (which is now made bloud) with interest in thy quarel; howsoever slack not, but write; sleepe not, but sing: let your mornings muse like Aurora blushing march her equipage, in her stateliest buskind Poetrie. I know Cambridge howsoever now old, thou hast some young ["Sweet Master Campion," note], bid them be chast, yet suffer them to be wittie; let them be soundly learned, yet suffer them to be gentlemanlike qualified: Oxford thou hast many ["Britton, Percie, Willobie, Fraunce, Lodge, Master Davis of L.I., Drayton, Learned M. Plat," note], and they are able to sing sweetly when it please thee. And thou youngest of all three, either in Hexameter English, thou art curious (but that thou learnedst of my daughter Cambridge) or in any other kinde thou art so wisely merrie, as my selfe (though olde) am often delighted with thy musick, tune thy sweet strings, and sing what please thee. Now me thinks I begin to smile, to see how these smaller lights (who not altogether unworthily were set up to expel darknes) blushinglie hide themselves at the Suns appeare. Then should not tragicke Garnier ["A work howsoever not respected yet excellently done by Th. Kid," note] have his poore Cornelia stand naked upon every poste: then should not Times complaint delude with so good a title: then should not the Paradise of daintie devises bee a packet of balde rimes: then should not Zepheria, Cephalus and Procris (workes I dispraise not) like water men pluck every passinger by the sleeve: then every brainles toy should not usurpe the name of Poetrie: then should not the Muses in their tinsell habit be so basely handled by every rough swaine: then should not loves humour so tyrannise over the chast virgines: then should honor be mournd for in better tearmes. Cambridge make thy two children friends ["D. Harvey, M. Nash," note], thou hast been unkinde unto the one to weane him before his time; and too fond upon the other to keepe him so long without preferment; the one is ancient, and of much reading, the other is young but ful of wit: tell them both thou bred them, and brought them up: bid the ancient forbeare to offer wrong; tel the yonger he shall suffer none: bid him that is free by law, think it a shame to be entangled in small matters: but tell the other, he must leave to meditate revenge, for his adversarie (and let that suffice for al revenge) (to learnings injurie) lives unregarded. And daughter (but I list not chide thee) I heare thou art in prefering growne too partiall: thou lovest sinisterly thy selfe, and hast quite forgotten me thy mother; it is thy sisters fault, as well as thine, you both of you preferre such into your privat favours, grace them with degrees, give them places; (but I will say nothing because strangers heare me) who of all other are the most unmeete to do me good: nay, that which doth vexe me more, you say all herein you are mother like: What? have I prefered to dignitie in the Common wealth, such as the world in true estimate, have thought unmeete? Have I relied upon them, as upon Atlas shoulders, who were unmeete for so great a burden? Have I ever ventured my selfe in the field under their ensignes, who were reputed cowards? Did I ever imploy in forraine matters, such as were unfit for private causes? Nay, I protest for these 36. yeres I have alwayes cared to take them nearest into my favour, who were best acquainted with wisdomes secret. I relied upon those in my peace, who Nestor-like, were wise to prevent warre: I trusted to those in my warres; who Hector-like were valiant to procure my peace: I sent such into forraine countries, as birth made Hon. experience wise; education learned: these have beene my honors: and if I have faultes (children) they proceede from you. But I am loath to doe you the least wrong: and to charge you with unkindnes in my last age: for unlesse I have ever doted (a thing easie in so great a love) France my sister (for I will begin with her) cannot so much brag of Paris, Orleance, Lyons, Rhemes, or the proudest of al her children: as I may justly of you three. Germante hath painefull Basill, and pleasant populous Franckefort: where Ceres, Bacchus, the Naiades and Dryades do march together, and yet these too meane to compare with you. I passe by Italies of spring, who of long time hath cried her selfe with excessive pride. Ritch Venice, with her 400. bridges: great Millayn, proude Genua, fertill Bomonia, auncient Ravena, noblie honorable Naples, (once Parthinope:) holy Rome, and faire Florence. Thus they were tearmed long since, but now unequall to compare with you: Salernitana sometimes could give counsell, when she shewed her care and skil to my deare Henry, but now obscurilie shee lieth desolate: you may passe these farre, and without presumption compare with Toledo, Spaynes Navell: with Vienna fearefull to the Turkes: you are talkt of every where, and falselie Rome goeth about to intice your children, offering them kingdomes to forsake you: (daughters) spare not, take what I have and bestowe upon them: let them not whilest I live, forsake you for want of living: my wealth and possessions that I have, are intended chiefelie to your good: and howsoever either the base cormorant, or the poore citie-usurer, or the wanton spend-thrift, take themselves to have more interest in my substance then you have, yet they usurpe upon my kindenes, and make mee beleeve, that the two staies of my age (you my children for peace, and my souldiers for warre) have both enough: I have made lawes to augment your revenewes by your rent corne: I provided lately for my souldiers, when they were in want: credit mee children, my care is of you onely; for unlesse you direct them, their plentie is dangerous to breed rebellion: their force is doubtfull to make them disobedient: their honor likely to grow tyrannous, and what soever they injoy without you, to bee dangerous to the Commonwealth. Let your children (daughters) content themselves: leave to repine at baser fortunes: let them be perswaded of this, that Fame shall be their servant, Honour shall bee their subject, Glory shalbe their crown, Eternitie their inheritance: (then indeard wit decking admired daughters) write and let the worlde know that heavens harmonie is no musicke, in respect of your sweete, and well arte tuned strings: that Italian Ariosto did but shadowe the meanest part of thy muse, that Tassos Godfrey is not worthie to make compare with your truelie eternizing Elizas stile ["M. Alabaster, Spenser and others," note]: let France-admired Bellaw, and courtlike amarous Ronsard confesse that there be of your children, that in these latter times have farre surpassed them. Let divine Bartasse eternally praise worthie for his weeks worke, say the best things were made first: Let other countries (sweet Cambridge) envie, (yet admire) my Virgil, thy Petrarch, divine Spenser. And unlesse I erre, (a thing easie in such simplicitie) deluded by dearlie beloved Delia, and fortunatelie fortunate Cleopatra ["All praise worthy Sweet Shakspeare, Eloquent Gaveston," note]; Oxford thou maist extoll thy courte-deare-verse happie Daniell, whose sweet refined muse, in contracted shape, were sufficient amongst men, to gaine pardon of the sinne to Rosemond, pittie to distressed Cleopatra, and everliving praise to her loving Delia. Register your childrens petegree in Fames forehead, so may you fill volumes with Chaucers praise, with Lydgate, the Scottish Knight, and such like, whose unrefined tongues farre shorte of the excellencie of this age, wrote simplie and purelie as the times weare. And when base and injurious trades, the sworne enemies to Learnings eternitie (a thing usuall) shall have devoured them, either with the fretting cancker worme of mouldie time: with Arabian spicerie: with english honnie: with outlandsih butter (matters of imployment for the aged dayes of our late authors) yet that then such (if you thinke them worthie) in despite of base Grosers, (whome I charge upon paine of learnings curse, not to handle a leafe of mine) may live by your meanes, canonized in learnings catalogue. I am loath to bee too long in my advisements to you (wise daughters:) and therefore heere I period them, wishing you (if neede bee) to make mine apologie: not that I fainte to maintaine the least parte of my credit, against any male-contentd self-conceited, unregarded malicious subject, but what Europe in this age, delited onelie with thinges personall, shall not bring mee upon the theater in matter of such designements, to stand (against my owne inhabitants) to the favourable courtesie of their wise Censors. Daughters followe their counsell, and honour such, as I have for wisedome loved, for yeares and authoritie appointed to rule over you: let not your younger children despise their aged brethren, love them as becommeth mothers, and I will send for them in convenient time (as their grandmother) to governe my common wealth. And because shee shall not thinke I neglect here, reade what I have written to mine inhabitants in her behalfe: judge how I stand affectionate; God graunt you may all followe my advise, so shall I finde you trustie, and you me to be moste loving: then shall the world teare mee, for such worthie children: and envie you for so kinde a mother. But heere (children) I must ende with you, and speake to the rest of wise inhabitants.