1603
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Barrons Wars: To the Reader.

The Barrons Wars in the Raigne of Edward the Second. With Englands Heroicall Epistles. By Michael Drayton.

Michael Drayton


Describing his rationale for recasting Mortimeriados as The Barrons Wars, Michael Drayton cites Spenser as an authority for dividing an epic poem into cantos: "The Italians use Cantos, and so our first late great Reformer Ma. Spenser, that I assume another name for the sections in this volum cannot be disgratious, nor unavowable" Sig A3v.

Robert Southey: "Drayton, in the Preface to the Barons' War, calls Spenser 'our first great reformer,' i.e. of verse" Commonplace Book (1848-51) 4:3321.

George Saintsbury: "his prose Prefaces deserve attention here, because many of them display the secret of his workmanlike skill. It is evident from them that Drayton was as far as possible from holding the false and foolish improvisation-theory of poetry, and they testify to a most careful study of his predecessors and contemporaries, and to deliberate practice in the use of the poet's tools of language and metre" in The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 1:528.

Oliver Elton: "It is clear that the Legends form a kind of little affluent to the Mirror [for Magistrates] and the chronicle play; and the whole body of historic narrative verse must be regarded as a defeated rival of the chronicle play, equally popular perhaps for a while, but in true achievement far behind it. Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond, the first poem of this kind possessing any savour since Sackville's, was entered in 1592. Drayton's Legend of Pierce Gaveston appeared in 1593. In Marlowe's Edward the Second, entered July of the same year, the tale of Isabel, Mortimer, Gaveston, and Edward, was cast once for all into clear and enduring form. Yet Drayton returned to the subject with blind fascination both in his Mortimeriados and his Heroical Epistles. The rivalry was idle; and the incident figures the whole destiny of the historic 'epic' in its race for life with the historic play" Michael Drayton: a Critical Study (1905) 41-42.




That at first I made choise of this argument, I have not as yet repented mee, for if the Muse have not much abused me, it was most worthy to have found a more worthy pen then mine owne; for the Barrons warres, (omitting the qualitie of those Armes, whereof I have not heere to speake) were surely as well for their length in continuate, as for theyr manifold bloodshed, and multitude of horrid accidents, meet matter for trumpet or tragedy. Therefore as at first the dignity of the thing was the motive of the dooing, for the cuase of this my second greater labour was the insufficient handling of the first, which though it were more then boldnesse to venture on so noble an argument without leisure, and studie competent, eyther of which travaile hardly affoords; yet the importunitie of friends made mee contrary to mine owne judgement take, undertake, and publish is so as the world hath seene; but heerin I intend not to be too exact, as if either it needed to much excuse (knowing that even as it was, it ought to have passed for better then some would suffer, who can hardly thinke any thing hath savour but their own, though never so unsavourie) or as if I should seeme now to have excelled my selfe, and failing in my hopes be kept without excuse. Grammaticasters have quarreld at the title of Mortimeriados, as if it had beene a sin against Syntaxis to have inscribed it in the second case, but not theyr idle reproofe hath made me now abstaine from fronting it by the name of Mortimer at all, but the same better advise which hath caused me to alter the whole; and where before the stanza was of seaven lines, wherin there are two couplets, as in this figure appeareth [diagram], the often harmonie thereof softned the verse more then the majestie of the subject would permit, unlesse they had all been Geminels, or couplets. Therefore (but not without new fashioning the whole frame) I chose Ariostos stanza of all other the most complete, and best proportioned, consisting of eight, sixe interwoven, and a couplet in base [diagram].

The Quadrain doth never double, or to use a word of Heraldrie, never bringeth foorth Gemells. The Quinzain too soone. The Sestin hath Twinnes in the base, but they detaine not the Musicke, nor the Cloze (as Musitions terme it) long enough for an Epick Poem; The stanza of seaven is touched before; This of eight both holds the tune cleane through to the base of the columne (which is the couplet at the foote or bottom) and closeth not but with a full satisfaction to the eare for so long detention.

Briefely, this sort of stanza hath in it majestie, perfection, and soliditie, resembling the piller which in Architecture is called the Tuscan, whose shaft is of six diameters, and bases of two. The other reasons this place will not beare, but generally all stanzas are to my opinion but tyrants, and torturers, when they make invention obey their number, which sometime would otherwise scantle it selfe. A fault that great Maisters in this Art strive to avoyde. Concerning the devision which I use in this Poem, I am not ignorant that antiquitie hath used to distinguish workes into Bookes, and every one to beare the number of theyr order, Homers Iliads, and Ulysiads indeed are distinguished by severall letters of the Greeke Alphabet, as all the world knowes, and not by the numerall letters onely, which to Iota are digit, and afterward compound, the Alpha beeing our unit, for the Greekes had no figures nor cyphers in their Arithmeticke. Virgils Aeneis, Statius Thebais, Silius worke of the Carthegenian war, Illyricus Argonauticks, Vidas Christeis, are all devided into books. The Italians use Cantos, and so our first late great Reformer Ma. Spenser, that I assume another name for the sections in this volum cannot be disgratious, nor unavowable.

Lastly, if I have not already exceeded the length of an Epistle, I am to intreat, that he who wil (as any man may that wil) make himselfe a party to this of ours, would be pleased to remember that Spartan Prince who beeing found by certaine Embassadors playing among his children, requested them to forbeare to censure til also they had some of their owne. To such I give as ample power and priviledge as ever Jus liberorum could in Rome, craving backe againe at their bands by a regrant, the like of that which I impart, for great reason there is that they should undergoe the licence which themselves challenge, and suffer that in their fames which they would wrongly put upon others, according to the most indifferent law of the Talio. Fare you well.


[sigs. A2v-3v]