1599
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nosce Teipsum.

Nosce Teipsum. This Oracle expounded in Two Elegies. 1. Of Humane Knowledge. 2. Of the Soule of Man, and the Immortalitie Thereof.

Sir John Davies


Sir John Davies refers to Spenser's Meleager, from the second book of the Faerie Queene. For two centuries Davies's philosophical investigation of the soul was one of the most frequently printed long poems in the English language, far outpacing the Faerie Queene in the number of editions. Dorothy E. Mason notes a resemblance between Davies's lines on the senses ("there she decocts, and doth the food prepare") and the House of Alma in The Faerie Queene 2.9.27ff. Spenser Allusions (1972) 66. The poem originally appeared anonymously.

Nahum Tate: "Among many others, the author of this poem merits a lasting honour; for, as he was a most eloquent lawyer, so, in the composition of this piece, we admire him for a good poet and exact philosopher. 'Tis not rhyming that makes a poet, but the true and impartial representing of virtue and vice, so as to instruct mankind in matters of greatest importance" 1697; Poetical Works of Sir John Davies (1773) iv.

Thomas Warton: "After the FAERIE QUEENE, allegory began to decline, and by degrees gave place to a species of composition in which the perplex'd subtilities of metaphysical disquisition strongly prevail'd; and which perhaps took it's rise from the taste and influence of that pacific prince, and profound scholastic James I. 'Then Una fair 'gan drop her princely mien.' See Donne's works, and Davies on the IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL; Lord Brooke's TREATISE OF HUMAN LEARNING, &c. &c." Observations on the Faerie Queene (1754) 236 and note.

William Thompson: "This poem was published by Mr. Tate with the universal applause of the nation; and was without dispute, except Spencer's Fairy Queen, the best that was written in Queen Elizabeth's, or even King James the First's time" Poetical Works of Sir John Davies (1773) i.

Robert Southey: "Sir John Davies follows. Davenant has manifestly formed his versification upon that of this writer, and Dryden formed from both his opinion of the powers of the quatrain as an heroic measure" Quarterly Review 11 (July 1814) 487.

Thomas Campbell: "Davies carried abstract reasoning into verse with an acuteness and felicity which have seldom been equalled. He reasons, undoubtedly, with too much labour, formality, and subtlety, to afford uniform poetical pleasure. The generality of his stanzas exhibit hard arguments interwoven with the pliant materials of fancy so closely, that we may compare them to a texture of cloth and metallic threads, which is cold and stiff, while it is splendidly curious. There is this difference, however, between Davies and the commonly styled metaphysical poets, that he argues like a hard thinker, and they, for the most part, like madmen" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1842) lxx.

George MacDonald: "It is wonderful instance of what can be done for metaphysics in verse, and by means of imagination or poetic embodiment, generally. Argumentation cannot of course naturally belong to the region of poetry, however well it may comport itself when there naturalized; and consequently, although there are most poetic no less than profound passages in the treatise, a light scruple arises whether its constituent matter can properly be called poetry. At all events, however, certain of the more prosaic measures and stanzas lend themselves readily, and with much favour, to some of the more complex of logical necessities" England's Antiphon (1868; 1890) 105.

Edmund Gosse: "His extremely ingenious 'Orchestra,' a poem on dancing, has much in it that suggests the Fletchers on one side and Donne on the other, while his more celebrated magnum opus of the Nosce Teipsum is the general predecessor of all the school of metaphysical ingenuity and argumentative imagination. In Davies there is hardly a trace of those qualities which we have sought to distinguish as specially Elizabethan, and we have difficulty in obliging ourselves to remember that his poems were given to the public during the course of the sixteenth century" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 8.

Robert Krueger: "Both [Spenser and Davies] strive for smooth, melodious lines, and Davies achieves his aim throughout Nosce Teipsum. Although this similarity may be obscured by the difference in diction, it is undeniable. The archaic diction and the extensive use of alliteration and assonance give Spenser's verse richness. The plainness of Davies's diction emphasizes the smooth flow of his verse" Poems (1975) liv.

Jeanie R. Brink: "Davies may have adopted the structure of Teares of the Muses (separate speeches by each of the nine Muses) for his Epithalamion (1594-95), and Amoretti may be parodied in his 'Gullinge Sonnets' (cf. GS 4 with Am 1, 18, 30)" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 210.



Nor could the worlds best spirits so much erre,
If death tooke all, that they should all agree,
Before this life their honor to preferre;
For what is praise to things that nothing bee?

Againe, if by the bodies prop she stand,
If on the bodies life, her life depend,
As Meleagers on the fatall brand,
The bodies good she onely would intend.

We should not fine her halfe so brave and bold,
To leade it to the warres, and to the Seas;
To make it suffer watchings, hunger, cold,
When it might feed with plenty, rest with ease.....

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