1616 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fido: An Epistle to Fidelia.

Original Poems. [Samuel Egerton Brydges, ed.]

William Browne of Tavistock


An undated amatory epistle beginning with an allusion to the story of Timias and Belphoebe, first published in the nineteenth century. The poem is usually dated from the 1620s, but the affected manner of the poet's pleading perhaps suggests a readership in the Inns of Court. The poem is notable for its several references to manuscript circulation.

Gentleman's Magazine: "Perceiving in p. 149, some mention of the Lee Priory Press, I cannot refrain from indulging myself, and, I hope, such of your Readers as are lovers of Old English Poetry, by noticing one of its recent publications, which has afforded me peculiar pleasure. Among the poets of the early part of the sixteenth Century, the name of William Browne is eminently distinguished; but it must be owned, that his published works have not quite justified, in modern estimation, the repute in which we find him to have been held by his contemporaries. The work to which I refer, The original Poems of William Browne, never before published, sanctions, in my opinion, the judgment of the Editor, and amply vindicates the celebrity the Poet acquired. These compositions, now first printed from the manuscript copy, do indeed, to borrow the editor's words, possess 'a simplicity, a chasteness, a grace, a facility, a sweetness full of attraction and delight.' I am not one of those who, presuming to despise the effusions of modern genius, discover some wonderful merit in every production that is old, and who can devour with insatiable avidity all the quaint metaphysical jargon of many Poets contemporary with Browne. But, in testimony of the value of a volume like this, I am happy to concur with the most ardent of black-letter enthusiasts" "A Constant Reader" 85 (October 1815) 299.



Sitting one day beside a silver brook,
Whose sleepy waves unwillingly forsook
The strict embraces of the flow'ry shore,
As loath to leave what they should see no more:
I read (as fate had turn'd it to my hand)
Among the famous lays of fairy land,
Belphoebe's fond mistrust, whenas she met
Her gentle Squire with lovely Amoret.
And laying by the book, poor lad, quoth I,
Must all thy joys, like Eve's posterity,
Receive a doom, not to be chang'd by suit,
Only for tasting the forbidden fruit?
Had fair Belphoebe licens'd thee some time
To kiss her cherry lip, thou didst a crime;
But since she for thy thirst no help would bring,
Thou lawfully might'st seek another spring;
And had those kisses stol'n been melting sips,
Ta'en by consent from Amoret's sweet lips,
Thou might'st have answer'd, if thy love had spied,
How others gladly gave what she denied;
But since they were not such, it did approve
A jealousy not meriting thy love,
And an injustice offer'd by the maid
In giving judgment ere she heard thee plead.
I have a Love, (and then I thought of you
As Heaven can witness I each minute do,)
So well assur'd of that once promis'd faith,
Which my unmoved Love still cherisheth,
That should she see me private with a dame,
Fair as herself, and of a house whose name,
From Phoebus' rise to Tagus where he sets,
Hath been as famous as Plantagenet's;
Whose eyes would thaw congealed hearts of ice;
And as we now dispute of Paradise,
And question where fair Eden stood of old,
Among so many sweet plots we behold,
Which by the arms of those brave rivers been
Embraced which of yore did keep it in:
So were she one, who did so much abound
In graces, more than ever mortal crown'd,
That it might fitly for a question pass,
Where or wherein her most of beauty was.
I surely could believe, nay, I durst swear,
That your sweet goodness would not stoop to fear,
Though she might be to any that should win it
A Paradise without a serpent in it.

Such were my thoughts of you, and thinking so,
Much like a man, who running in the snow
From the surprisal of a murd'rous elf,
Beats out a path, and so betrays himself,
I in security was further gone,
And made a path for your suspicion
To find me out. Time being nigh the same,
When thus I thought, and when your letters came.

But, oh, how far I err'd, how much deceiv'd
Was my belief! yourself, that have bereav'd
Me of that confidence, my love had got,
Judge if I were an infidel or not;
And let me tell you, fair, the fault was thine,
If I did misbelieve, and none of mine.

That man which sees, as he along doth pass
Some beaten way, a piece of sparkling glass,
And deems far off that it a diamond is,
Adds to the glass by such a thought of his:
But when he finds it wants, to quit his pain,
The value soon returns to him again.

If in the ruder North some country clown,
That stands to see the king ride through the town,
Spying some gay and gold-belaced thing,
Should cry, See, neighbours, yonder comes the king:
And much mistaken both in state and age,
Points at some lord, and for a lord a page:
Is not that lord or page beholding much
To him that thinks them worthy to be such
He took them for? And are not you to me
Indebted much, since my credulity
Made you the same I thought you, and from thence
Rais'd an assurance of your confidence?
These were the thoughts of you I still was in,
Nor shall your letters so much of me win;
I will not trust mine eyes so much to think
Your white hand wrote with such a staining ink;
Or if I ever take it for your hand,
I sure shall think I do not understand
In reading as you meant, and fall from thence
To doubt if points perverted not the sense!
For such a constant faith I have in thee,
That I could die even in that heresy.

In this belief of you I stand as yet,
And think as those that follow Mahomet:
He merits much that doth continue still
In his first faith, although that faith be ill.

A vain inconstant dame, that counts her loves
By this enamell'd ring, that pair of gloves,
And with her chamber-maid when closely set,
Turning her letters in her cabinet,
Makes known what tokens have been sent unto her,
What man did bluntly, who did courtly woo her;
Who hath the best face, neatest leg, most lands,
Who for his carriage in her favour stands.
Op'ning a paper then she shows her wit
On an epistle that some fool had writ:
Then meeting with another which she likes,
Her chambermaid's great reading quickly strikes
That good opinion dead, and swears that this
Was stol'n from Palmerin or Amadis.
Next come her sonnets, which they spelling read,
And say the man was very much afraid
To have his meaning known, since they from thence
(Save Cupid's darts) can pick no jot of sense;
And in conclusion, with discretion small,
Scoff this, scorn that, and so abuse them all.
If I had thought you such an empty prize,
I had not sought now to apologize,
Nor had these lines the virgin paper stain'd
But, as my Love, unspotted had remain'd;
And sure I think to what I am about
My ink than it was wont goes slower out,
As if it told me I but vaguely writ
To her that should, but will not, credit it.

Yet go, ye hopeless lines, and tell that fair,
Whose flaxen tresses with the wanton air
Entrap the darling boy, that daily flies
To see his sweet face in her sweeter eyes;
Tell my Fidelia, if she do aver
That I with borrow'd phrases courted her,
Or sung to her the lays of other men;
And like the cag'd thrush of a citizen,
Tir'd with a note continually sung o'er
The ears of one that knew that all before.
If thus she think, (as I shall ne'er be won
Once to imagine she hath truly done,)
Let her then know, though now a many be
Parrots, which speak the tongue of Arcadie,
Yet in themselves not so much language know,
Nor wit sufficient for a Lord Mayor's show.
I never yet but scorn'd a taste to bring
Out of the channel when I saw the spring,
Or like a silent organ been so weak,
That others' fingers taught me how to speak.
The sacred Nine, whose powerful songs have made
In wayless deserts trees of mighty shade
To bend in admiration, and allay'd
The wrath of tigers with the notes they play'd,
Were kind in some small measure at my birth,
And by the hand of Nature to my earth
Lent their eternal heat, by whose bright flame
Succeeding time shall read and know your name,
And pine in envy of your praises writ,
Though now your brightness strive to lessen it.
Thus have I done, and like an artist spent
My days to build another's monument;
Yet you those pains so careless overslip,
That I am not allow'd the workmanship.
Some have done less, and have been more rewarded;
None hath lov'd more, and hath been less regarded:
Yet the poor silkenworm and only I
Like parallels run on to work and die.
Why write I then again, since she will think
My heart is limned with another's ink?
Or if she deem these lines had birth from me,
Perhaps will think they but deceivers be,
And, as our flattering painters do impart,
A fair made copy of a faithless heart,
O, my Fidelia, if thou canst be won
From that mistrust my absence hath begun,
Be now converted, kill those jealous fears,
Credit my lines: if not, believe my tears,
Which with each word, nay, every letter, strove
That in their number you might read my love.
And where (for one distracted needs must miss)
My language not enough persuasive is,
Be that supplied with what each eye affords,
For tears have often had the power of words.
Grant this, fair saint, since their distilling rain
Permits me not to read it o'er again.
For as a swan more white than Alpine snow,
Wand'ring upon the sands of silver Po,
Hath his impression by a fuller sea
Not made so soon as quickly wash'd away:
Such in my writing now the state hath been,
For scarce my pen goes of the ink yet green,
But floods of tears fall on it in such store,
That I perceive not what I writ before
Can any man do thus, yet that man be
Without the fire of love and loyalty?
Know then in breach of Nature's constant laws,
There may be an effect and yet no cause.
Without the sun we may have April showers,
And wanting moisture know no flowers;
Causeless the elements could cease to war:
The seaman's needle to the Northern star
Without the loadstone would for ever move.
If all these tears can be and yet no love:
If you still deem I only am the man,
Which in the maze of love yet never ran:
Or if in love I surely did pursue
The favour of some other, not of you;
Or loving you, would not be strictly tied
To you alone, but sought a saint beside:
Know then by all the virtues we enthrone,
That I have lov'd, lov'd you, and you alone.
Read o'er my lines where truthful passion mov'd,
And Hate itself will say that I have lov'd.
Think on my vows which have been ever true,
And know by them that I affected you.
Recount my trials, and they will impart
That none is partner with you in my heart.
Lines, vows, and trials will conclude in one,
That I have lov'd, lov'd you, and you alone.
Lines, seek no more then to that doubtful fair,
And ye, my vows, for evermore forbear:
Trials to her prove never true again;
Since lines, vows, trials strive all but in vain.
Yet when I writ, the ready tongue of Truth
Did ever dictate, not deceiving youth.
When I have sworn my tongue did never err
To be my heart's most true interpreter,
And proof confirm'd when you examin'd both,
Love caused those lines, and constancy that oath;
And shall I write, protest (you prove) and then
Be left the most unfortunate of men?
Must truth be still neglected? faith forgot?
And constancy esteem'd as what is not?
Shall dear regard and love for ever be
Wrong'd with the name of lust and flattery?
It must, for this your last suspicion tells,
That you intend to work no miracles.

[Poems, ed. Goodwin (1893) 2:237-45]