1636 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Of the two most beautifull Sisters rowed on the Trent; under the Allegorie of Swans.

Tixall Poetry. [Arthur Clifford, ed.]

Sir Richard Fanshawe


Sir Richard Fanshaw's early sonnet takes its two swans from Spenser's Prothalamion. The poem was first published as "A Dreame." Not seen.

The Champion: "We have a quarto volume of 460 pages, which is the ponderous vehicle of articles of a very light and flimsy texture. It is, however, a curiosity, and as it may be considered as rather printed than published, we shall gratify our readers, who would otherwise probably die in perfect ignorance of this deed, with a brief account of its origin, and some few extracts, the shortest and sweetest we can find in Tixall Poetry. Mr. Clifford, and Mr. W. Scott, were in 1809, the joint editors of Sir Ralph Sadler's State Papers, preserved at Tixall, in Staffordshire, the seat of Mr. Clifford's brother. On a visit at Tixall, he discovered many MS reliques, and amongst others, those which are at present before us, under the title of Tixall Poetry. 'They were,' he says, 'altogether an unexpected discovery they were likely to be more interesting in themselves, and were more suited to the bent of my genius, and to the train of my favourite studies, than a diplomatic correspondence, or a collection of State Papers,' p. xix" (22 March 1814) 95.

Nathan Drake: "Taken as a whole, and in a literary point of view, the Tixhall Poetry may be justly considered as forming one of the most pleasing miscellanies of the age. Its authors and collectors were not, it is true, poets or literati by profession, but they possessed a liberal education; and their familiarity with the highest ranks of society, of which indeed they formed an integral part, has often given, both to their sentiment and diction, an ease, a spirit, and elegancy of colouring, which, under other circumstances, they had probably wanted" "Tixhall Poetry" in Evenings in Autumn (1822) 1:182-83.

W. Davenport Adams: Sir Richard Fanshawe, diplomatist and poet (b 1608, d. 1666), published translations of Camoens Lusiad, of Guarini's Pastor Fido, of the fourth book of Virgil's Aeneid, of Horace's Odes, and of Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess in Latin verse, besides A Short Discourse of the Long Wars of Rome. His Original Letters and Negotiations were published in 1702" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 217.

John Buxton: "Fanshawe compliments the Aston sisters as two swans coming proudly down the stream of Trent.... These verses were among those found in a trunk at Tixall, Lord Aston's principal seat, and in 1813 he printed them in his volume of Tixall Poetry" A Tradition of Poetry (1967) 109-10.

Peter Davidson: "Fanshawe was considerably influenced by Spenser, especially at the beginning of his poetic career in the later 1620s when he translated the metrical portions of Boethius' Consolations of Philosophy. These poems (in BL, Add MS 15,228) contain several clear Spenserian echoes. His translation Metrum I.I begins, 'Lo, I that whilome lusty notes did rayse' (cf. FQ I proem I), and alludes throughout to the December eclogue of The Shepheardes Calender, Metrum 5.5 borrows a line from FQ III iv 49. A sonnet by Fanshawe, entitled 'A Dreame' (ed. 1964:77), bears an obvious dept to Spenser's Prothalamion" Peter Davidson, Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 300.

The poem was later revised: "The reason for the revision is clear: the first, spontaneous version contained obvious borrowings from Spenser, which Fanshawe reduced in revision. In the first version, Fanshawe is indebted to Spenser not only for the swans of the Prothalamion which survive in the final version, but also for all the details of the opening lines" Poems and Translations (1997) 1:349.

John Gibson Lockhart reports that in 1810 Walter Scott had withdrawn from this publishing venture: "James Ballantyne augurs, and well might he do so, not less darkly, as to 'the Aston speculation' — that is, the bulky collection entitled 'Tixall poetry.' 'Over this, he says, 'the (Edinburgh) Review of the Sadler has thrown a heavy cloud — the fact is, it seems to me to have ruined it. Here is the same editor and the same printer, and your name withdrawn. I hope you agree with John and me, that this Aston business ought to be got rid of at almost any sacrifice. We could not now even ask a London bookseller to take a share, and a net outlay of near £2500, upon a worse than doubtful speculation, is surely 'most tolerable and not to be endured'" Life of Scott (1837-38; 1902) 2:208.



I saw two swans come proudly downe the streame
Of Trent, as I his silver curles beheld;
To which, the doves that draw fayre Venus' teame,
And Venus selfe, must beauty's scepter yield.
Jove was not halfe so white, when he was one,
And courted Leda in a snowy plume;
Nor never such a taking shape put on,
Of all that love compelled him to assume.
Fayre birds, allied to him that set on fire
The world, why do ye so delight in floods?
And kindling in a thousand hearts desire,
Quench his soft movings in your gentle bloods?
Ah! since so many live in flames for you,
Leave to be swans, growe salamanders too.

[Bawcutt (1964) 77]