1627
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To my most dearely-loved friend Henry Reynolds Esquire, of Poets and Poetry.

The Battaile of Agincourt. Fought by Henry the Fift of that Name, King of England, against the whole Power of the French: under the Raigne of their Charles the Sixt, Anno Dom. 1415. The Miseries of Queene Margarite, the infortunate Wife, of that most infortunate King Henry the Sixt. Nimphidia, the Court of Fayrie. The Quest of Cinthia. The Shepheards Sirena. The Moone-Calfe. Elegies upon sundry Occasions. By Michaell Drayton Esquire.

Michael Drayton


In one of Michael Drayton's best-known poems, "Grave moral Spenser" appears in a lengthy catalogue of Elizabethan poets; Drayton also describes how a tutor encouraged his desire to learn poetry. Almost nothing is known of Henry Reynolds, author of Mythomystes (1632). Drayton's remark, along with Jonson's phrase "grave and diligent Spenser" in the Masque of Queens gave rise to Milton's famous epithet in Areopagita, "our sage and serious poet Spencer."

1748 editor: "A very clear and candid Criticism upon Poets and Poetry; and for that Reason alone deserves to be read, as it gives us the true Character of the most eminent of those that flourished in his Time; the best of which, such as Spenser, Shakespear, and Johnson, appear to have been his intimate Acquaintance, and indeed the latter paid him greater Honours in his Poetical Capacity than any other Man" Works of Drayton (1748) 10.

St. James's Chronicle: "Drayton's Elegy, inscribed to Henry Reynolds, Esq; in which the above Lines [on Shakespeare] are found, is, as its Title bears, a very clear and candid Criticism on Poets and Poetry; and for that Reason alone deserves to be read, as it gives us the true Character of the most eminent of those who flourished in his Time; the best of which, such as Spencer, Shakespeare and Johnson, appear to have been Drayton's intimate Acquaintance. His poetical Works were collected and published in 1748" (29 June 1767).

Nathan Drake: "A most playful and luxuriant imagination is displayed to much advantage in the Nymphidia, or The Court of Fairy, and an equal degree of judgment, together with a large share of interest, in the poem addressed to his loved friend Henry Reynolds, On Poets and Poesy. These, with the first collection of pastorals, part of the second, and some well-chosen extracts from his bulkier works, would form a most fascinating little volume" in Shakespeare and His Times (1817; 1838) 298-99.

Robert Southey: "Though he is not a poet 'virum volitare per ora,' nor one of those whose better fortune it is to live in the hearts of their devoted admirers, yet what he deemed his greatest work will be preserved by its subject; some of his minor poems have merit enough in their execution to ensure their preservation, and no one who studies poetry as an art will think his time mis-spent in perusing the whole, — if he have any real love for the art which he is perusing. The youth who enters upon that pursuit without a feeling of respect and gratitude for those elder poets, who by their labours have prepared the way for him, is not likely to produce any thing himself that will be held in remembrance by posterity" The Doctor (1849) 86-87.

Oliver Elton: "Sounder, and less ponderous than the rest of the Elegies, is the well-known Epistle to my friend Henry Reynolds, Esq., of Poets and Poesy, which condenses the writer's judgments upon past and living "makers" of his country. His too tepid lines on Shakspere, and his omissions of singers like Campion and Giles Fletcher and Donne, of dramatists like Webster and Middleton, have often been contrasted with the apt and splendid tributes paid to Chaucer and to Nashe, and to Marlowe as a lyrist. By the favour of friendship, he warmly salutes Sandys, whose clear-cut couplets may have been touched in form by his own, and that 'man of men,' Sir William Alexander. Drummond receives his tribute; but three other poets, 'my dear companions whom I freely chose my bosom friends,' are particularly named, who must, unlike Drummond, have been personal associates. One was Francis Beaumont [1616]; the second was Sir John Beaumont, whose death in 1627 led Drayton to offer desolately, in the prefatory verses to Bosworth Field, 'this poor branch of my withering bays;' the third was William Browne, who repeatedly names Drayton with regard. We know little else about Drayton's dealings with other men of letters. With the dictator, Jonson, who survived him six years, his relations were cordial" Introduction to Michael Drayton (1895) 48-49.

Harold H. Child: "In his sixty-fourth year, Drayton looked back and gave his friend Henry Reynolds, in a letter in verse, an account of his education at Polesworth, and the birth in him of the desire to be a poet.... The account forms an interesting comment on Drayton's muse, which was always sensitive to the influence of other poets, and was largely inspired from without" Cambridge History of English Literature (1910) 4:195.

Herbert E. Cory: "Michael Drayton's weighty Epistle to Henry Reynolds of Poets and Poesie should be always remembered as a piece of remarkably acute criticism at a time when national self-confidence and the spirit of eulogy ran so high that literary criticism was practically impossible. Drayton's estimate of his immediate predecessors was genial, sympathetic, and extraordinarily shrewd. For Spenser, however, nothing but hallelujahs could be expected from his pen. His noble lines are famous. 'Grave moral Spenser after these came on, | Than whom I am persuaded there was none, | Since the blind bard his Iliads up did make, | Fitter a task like that to undertake; | To set down boldly, bravely to invent, | In all high knowledge surely excellent'" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 94.

Michael Drayton's verse epistle was anonymously reprinted in Sportive Wit (1656) under the title "To his Friend; a Censure of the Poets"; the lines on Spenser are reprinted in Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) 243 without recognizing the source. There are variants ("Grave Spenser shortly after these came on"), though the later version appears to derive from the printed text, perhaps at one remove.



My dearely loved friend how oft have we,
In winter evenings (meaning to be free,)
To some well chosen place us'd to retire;
And there with moderate meate, and wine, and fire,
Have past the howres contentedly with chat,
Now talk'd of this, and then discours'd of that,
Spoke our owne verses 'twixt our selves, if not
Other mens lines, which we by chance had got,
Or some Stage pieces famous long before,
Of which your happy memory had store;
And I remember you much pleased were,
Of those who lived long agoe to heare,
As well as of those, of these latter times,
Who have inricht our language with their rimes,
And in succession, how still up they grew,
Which is the subject, that I now pursue;
For from my cradle (you must know that) I,
Was still inclin'd to noble Poesie,
And when that once Pueriles I had read,
And newly had my Cato construed,
In my small selfe I greatly marveil'd then,
Amongst all other, what strange kinde of men
These Poets were; And pleased with the name,
To my milde Tutor merrily I came,
(For I was then a proper goodly page,
Much like a Pigmy, scarse ten yeares of age)
Clasping my slender armes about his thigh.
O my deare master! cannot you (quoth I)
Make me a Poet, doe it; if you can,
And you shall see, Ile quickly be a man,
Who me thus answered smiling, boy quoth he,
If you'le not play the wag, but I may see
You ply your learning, I will shortly read
Some Poets to you; Phaebus be my speed,
Too't hard went I, when shortly he began,
And first read to me honest Mantuan,
Then Virgils Eglogues, being entred thus,
Me thought I straight had mounted Pegasus,
And in his full Careere could make him stop,
And bound upon Parnassus by-clift top.
I scornd your ballet then though it were done
And had for Finis, William Elderton.
But soft, in sporting with this childish jest,
I from my subject have too long digrest,
Then to the matter that we tooke in hand,
Jove and Apollo for the Muses stand.

That noble Chaucer, in those former times,
The first inrich'd our English with his rimes,
And was the first of ours, that ever brake,
Into the Muses treasure, and first spake
In weighty numbers, delving in the Mine
Of perfect knowledge, which he could refine,
And coyne for currant, and asmuch as then
The English language could expresse to men,
He made it doe; and by his wondrous skill,
Gave us much light from his abundant quill.

And honest Gower, who in respect of him,
Had only sipt at Aganippas brimme,
And though in yeares this last was him before,
Yet fell he far short of the others store.

When after those, foure ages very neare,
They with the Muses which conversed, were
That Princely Surrey, early in the time
Of the Eight Henry, who was then the prime
Of Englands noble youth; with him there came
Wyat; with reverence whom we still doe name
Amongst our Poets, Brian had a share
With the two former, which accompted are
That times best makers, and the authors were
Of those small poems, which the title beare,
Of songs and sonnets, wherein oft they hit
On many dainty passages of wit.

Gascoine and Churchyard after them againe
In the beginning of Eliza's raine,
Accoumpted were great Meterers many a day,
But not inspired with brave fier, had they
Liv'd but a little longer, they had seene,
Their workes before them to have buried beene.

Grave morrall Spencer after these came on
Then whom I am perswaded there was none
Since the blind Bard his Iliads up did make,
Fitter a taske like that to undertake,
To set downe boldly, bravely to invent,
In all high knowledge, surely excellent.

The noble Sidney, with this last arose,
That Heroe for numbers, and for Prose.
That throughly pac'd our language as to show,
The plenteous English hand in hand might goe
With Greeke and Latine, and did first reduce
Our tongue from Lillies writing then in use;
Talking of Stones, Stars, Plants, of fishes, Flyes,
Playing with words, and idle Similies,
As th' English, Apes and very Zanies be
Of every thing, that they doe heare and see,
So imitating his ridiculous tricks,
They spake and writ, all like meere lunatiques.

Then Warner though his lines were not so trim'd,
Nor yet his Poem so exactly lim'd
And neatly joynted, but the Criticke may
Easily reproove him, yet thus let me say;
For my old friend, some passages there be
In him, which I protest have taken me,
With almost wonder, so fine, cleere, and new
As yet they have bin equalled by few.

Neat Marlow bathed in the Thespian springs
Had in him those brave translunary things,
That the first Poets had, his raptures were,
All ayre, and fire, which made his verses cleere,
For that fine madnes still he did retaine,
Which rightly should possesse a Poets braine.

And surely Nashe, though he a Proser were
A branch of Lawrell yet deserves to beare,
Sharply Satirick was he, and that way
He went, since that his being, to this day
Few have attempted, and I surely thinke
Those words shall hardly be set downe with inke;
Shall scorch and blast, so as his could, where he,
Would inflict vengeance, and be it said of thee,
Shakespeare thou hadst as smooth a Comicke vaine,
Fitting the socke, and in thy naturall braine,
As strong conception, and as Cleere a rage,
As any one that trafiqu'd with the stage.

Amongst these Samuel Daniel, whom if I
May spake of, but to sensure doe denie,
Onely have heard some wisemen him rehearse,
To be too much Historian in verse;
His rimes were smooth, his meeters well did close,
But yet his maner better fitted prose:
Next these, learn'd Johnson, in this List I bring,
Who had drunke deepe of the Pierian spring,
Whose knowledge did him worthily prefer,
And long was Lord here of the Theater,
Who in opinion made our learn'st to sticke,
Whether in Poems rightly dramatique,
Strong Seneca or Plautus, he or they,
Should beare the Buskin, or the Socke away.
Others againe here lived in my dayes,
That have of us deserved no lesse praise
For their translations, then the daintiest wit
That on Parnassus thinks, he highst doth sit,
And for a chaire may mongst the Muses call,
As the most curious maker of them all;
As reverent Chapman, who hath brought to us,
Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiodus
Out of the Greeke; and by his skill hath reard
Them to that height, and to our tongue endear'd,
That were those Poets at this day alive,
To see their bookes thus with us to survive,
They would think, having neglected them so long,
They had bin written in the English tongue.

And Silvester who from the French more weake,
Made Bartas of his sixe dayes labour speake
In naturall English, who, had he there stayd,
He had done well, and never had bewraid,
His owne invention, to have bin so poore
Who still wrote lesse, in striving to write more.

Then dainty Sands that hath to English done,
Smooth sliding Ovid, and hath made him run
With so much sweetnesse and unusuall grace,
As though the neatnesse of the English pace,
Should tell the Jetting Lattine that it came
But slowly after, as though stiffe and lame.

So Scotland sent us hither, for our owne
That man, whose name I ever would have knowne,
To stand by mine, that most ingenious knight,
My Alexander, to whom in his right,
I want extreamely, yet in speaking thus
I doe but shew the love, that was twixt us,
And not his numbers which were brave and hie,
So like his mind, was his cleare Poesie,
And my deare Drummond to whom much I owe
For his much love, and proud I was to know,
His poesie, for which two worthy men,
I Menstry still shall love, and Hauthorne-den,
Then the two Beamounts and my Browne arose,
My deare companions whom I freely chose
My bosome friends; and in their severall wayes,
Rightly borne Poets, and in these last dayes,
Men of much note, and no lesse nobler parts,
Such as have freely tould to me their hearts,
As I have mine to them; but if you shall
Say in your knowledge, that these be not all
Have writ in numbers, be inform'd that I
Only my selfe, to these few men doe tye,
Whose workes oft printed, set on every post,
To publique censure subject have bin most;
For such whose poems, be they nere so rare,
In private chambers, that incloistered are,
And by transcription daintyly must goe;
As though the world unworthy were to know,
Their rich composures, let those men that keepe
These wonderous reliques in their judgement deepe,
And cry them up so, let such Peeces bee
Spoke of by those that shall come after me,
I passe not for them: nor doe meane to run,
In quest of these, that them applause have wonne,
Upon our Stages in these latter dayes,
That are so many, let them have ther bayes
That doe deserve it; let those wits that haunt
Those publique circuits, let them freely chaunt
Their fine Composures, and their praise pursue,
And so my deare friend, for this time adue.

[pp. 204-08]