1679
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Preface to Paraphrase upon the Canticles.

A Paraphrase upon the Canticles, and some Select Hymns of the New and Old Testament, with other occasional Compositions in English Verse. By Samuel Woodford. D.D.

Rev. Samuel Woodford


Samuel Woodford offers one of the earlier comments on Spenser's stanza, described as "an Improvement of the Ottava Rima."

William Crowe: "In 1679, Samuel Woodford, D.D. published a Paraphrase on the Canticles and Hymns; and in the preface made certain observations on the structure of English verse; which are mentioned, not so much for any thing remarkable in his criticism, as for his high commendation, at this period, of Milton's Paradise Lost; though he would rather 'it has been composed in rhyme'" "On English Versification" London Magazine 7 (January 1823) 34.

John Holland: "Woodford appears, in the issue, to have been willing to leave the celebration of the 'First Week of the World' to Du Bartas, Sir Richard Blackmore, and others, while he addressed himself to a subject, as much more attractive as it was less philosophical — 'The Song of Solomon.' This highly allegorical portion of Holy Scripture, abounding, as it does, in metaphors and imagery of so purely an oriental cast, that sober English theologians have found no little difficulty in explaining its meaning satisfactorily, was not only the frequent theme of Poets, but of Preachers, in the Seventeenth Century. So far as the former confined themselves merely to versifying the Canticles in whole or in part, their labours may be said to have been less offensive to good taste and sound judgment, than those of the latter: but when rhyming effusions in this style of fervid and luscious phraseology, such as the pious Dr. Watts regrets himself to have composed while young, found their way into religious Congregations, their tendency to produce spiritual emasculation, may well have been deplored" Psalmists of Britain (1843) 2:71.

Herbert E. Cory: "Phillips [who praises Spenser in his Theatrum Poetarum] may have influenced Dr. Samuel Woodford who published, in 1679, A Paraphrase Upon the Canticles with a preface that is full of interest for us. 'Among the several other Papers that we have lost of the Excellent and Divine Spenser, one of the happiest Poets that this Nation ever bred (and out of it the world it may be (all things considered) had not his Fellow, excepting only such as were immediately Inspired) I bewail nothing methinks so much, as his Version of the Canticles. For doubtless, in my poor Judgement, never was Man better made for such a Work, and the Song itself as directly suited, with his Genius and manner of Poetry (that I mean wherein he best shews and even excels himself, His Shepherd's Kalender, and other occasional Poems, for I cannot yet say the same directly for his Faery Queen design'd for an Heroic Poem) that it could not but from him receive the last Perfection, whereof it was capable out of its original.' Woodford's eccentric notions and terrifying plesiosaurian sentences do not prove that he was out of the literary world of his day. He was the friend of Sprat, the famous biographer of Cowley, and seems to have commanded no small respect from Flatman, 'the matchless Orinda,' and other distinguished contemporaries that are now with the snows of yesteryear. His opinions are always interesting and often sound and suggestive. He thinks that couplets are best in an heroic poem, 'as in Mr. Cowley's Davideis (for the Quatrains of Sir William Davenant, and the Stanza of Nine in Spenser's Faery Queen, which are but an Improvement of the Ottava Rima, to instance in no more, seem not to me so proper)'" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 122.

Harko Gerrit De Maar: "Woodford's remarks are important in the history of Spenser's reputation. They show that he did not feel very confident of the greatness of 'The Faerie Queene' as an epic. Now this was precisely what some of Woodford's predecessors and most of his eighteenth century successors did feel. Till far into the next century it was customary to put Virgil and Spenser in the same category" History of Modern English Romanticism (1924) 64.

Samuel Woodford's volume also contains sonnets and a poems in a variety of neo-Spenserian stanza forms.




Among the several other Papers that we have lost of the Excellent and Divine Spenser, one of the happiest Poets that this Nation ever bred, (and out of it the World, it may be (all things considered) had not his Fellow, excepting only such as were immediately Inspired) I bewail nothing me-thinks so much, as his Version of the Canticles. For doubtless, in my poor Judgement, never was Man better made for such a Work, and the Song it so directly suited, with his Genius, and manner of Poetry (that I mean, wherein he best shews and even excels himself, His Shepherds Kalendar, and other occasional Poems, for I cannot yet say the same directly for his Faery Queen design'd for an Heroic Poem) that it could not but from him receive the last Perfection, whereof it was capable out of its Original....

If therefore Our selves, or the French will use Blank Verse, either in an Heroick Poem, where they should be, I think, Couplets, as in Mr. Cowley's Davideis (for the Quadrains of Sir William Davenant, and the Stanza of Nine in Spenser's Fairy Queen, which are but an Improvement of the Ottava Rima, to instance in no more, seem not to me so proper) or in and Ode or Sonnet, (which remains yet to be attempted) since we want that Character of Verse, which the Greek and the Latine had of old, and those among the Modern equivalently observe, who both lie nearer Rome, and retain the most visible Traces of its Language, having no means of differencing it from Prose except by the Rhythm, as the most essential Mark, let us give it the Character, as to its Form, which it anciently had, a Number and Movement metrical, with enterchang'd variety, according to the kind of our Verse, of diverse sorts of Feet. But this we in English have found, by the Experience of Sir Philip Sidney, Ab. France, and others in the last Age, would never do; and in the next, even Our now cry'd-up Blank Verse, will look as unfashionable, how well sover as a Novelty, and upon his Credit, who was the Inventor of it here, it may speed in this. Not but that I have, and always had, as great an honour for Mr. Milton's Paradise Lost, as those who admire him most, and look upon it as Mr. Driden has very well observed, "To be one of the greatest, most noble and most sublime Poems, take it altogether, which either this Age, or Nation has produced." Nay, that it shall live as long as there are Men left in our English World to read, and understand it; and that many Ages hence translated into what-ever speech we shall be then changed (for changing we have been from Chaucer's time downward with a Witness, however it be call'd Refining) that shall survive the Language, wherein it stands written, and therein it self. Yet still I say, the Learned only must and shall be Judges of this, and that if he had thought to give it the Adornments of Rhythm, and not avoided them so Religiously, as any one may perceive he now and then does, to the debasing of his great Sense, it had been so absolute a piece, that in spight of whatever the World Heathen, or Christian hitherto has seen, it must have remain'd as the standard to all succeeding Poets and Poesy....

The Legend forther of Love I have stiled it, for honours sake to the great Spenser, whose Stanza of Nine I have used, and who has Intituled the six Books which we have compleat of his Faery Queen, by the several Legends of Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice and Courtesy, and to any who knows what the word Legend there, or in its true and first notion signifies, it will neither seem strange, ridiculous, or improper: I have made it to consist of three Cantos, agreeable enough to the nature of an Epode, or Legend, if it be judged indecent, as indeed it is, considering its length, for an Epilogue; In the first whereof taking occasion from the Canticles, to which in the beginning it refers, I have endeavoured to shew the true Nature of Love, and what it was in the state of Innocence, describing it by the liveliest Images, which I could form to my self suitable to a Poetical Composition. In the second I have considered the thing whatever it be, vulgarly called Love, under the dominion and government of Sense, exclusive of Reason, which it too often either draws to its party, or wholly extinguishes, than which nothing can be conceived more absurd, unreasonable, extravagant, and inhumane. The third Canto, in the close of it, is design'd for the Restauration of Love, by Sacred Marriage, or Wedlock, according to the Divine Institution, to its ancient Dignity and Lustre....


[sigs B2, C2v-C3, C4-C4v]