1685
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Immortality of Poesie. By Mr. Evelyn. To Envy. Ovid. Amor. Lib. I. Eleg. 15.

Poems by Several Hands, and on Several Occasions collected by N. Tate.

John Evelyn the Younger


It is not often that Chaucer and Spenser appear in the same catalogue with Sedley and Etheridge, but they do in this adaptation of Ovid's "To Envy." Chaucer, Spenser, and Jonson occupy the places of Homer, Hesiod, and Callimachus in the original. The poem is signed "Mr. Evelyn" this is John Evelyn, son of the diarist, who lived from 1654 to 1698; Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) apparently attributes the poem to the father. This adaptation enjoyed something of an afterlife when its catalogue was twice worked over, first by a Gentleman of Oxford in The Grove (1721) and later by an anonymous writer in the London Magazine 34 (November 1765) 591. A different adaptation appears in Miscellany Poems and Translations by Oxford Hands (1685).

Samuel Austin Allibone: "John Evelyn, 1654-1698, 3d son of [John Evelyn], educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, was in 1690 made one of the chief clerks of the Treasury, and in 1691 was elected a commissioner of the revenue in Ireland" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:567.

Edmund Gosse: "As the seventeenth century approached its close, the poetry of England was invaded more and more completely by a Latinism which repulsed and finally silenced all that was not in sympathy with it, and gave an exaggerated importance to all that was. To attribute this tendency to the popularity of those translations of the Latin poets published by Dryden, or to the precepts of the Aristotelian critics of France, is to evade the difficulty. These writings were welcomed, and therefore exercised influence, because the public ear was ready to receive them. The rules of Rapin and Le Bossu did not create a taste — they only justified and fortified it. Every section of poetry responded to the change of manner. The very study of nature was contracted into channels as close as had sufficed Horace and Juvenal their satiric picturesqueness of detail. The desire of finding such channels is perhaps the most definite symptom we can point to as leading to such a condition of things. The extreme facility of Renaissance invention had wearied the mind of Europe, and an appetite for individual inspiration gave way to a passion for regularity and intellectual discipline, until only such terrestrial forms of poetical fancy gave satisfaction as Rome rather than Greece or Italy had nourished. The taste for poetry, in the abstract, as a species of literature, retained its hold on the public even when the art had been despoiled of all its lyric and idyllic charms, of half its colour and its music, and of much of its variety.... Dryden alone had retained to the last some reverberations of the great romantic music of Elizabeth. When he died, the Latinists were absolutely paramount, and the poets of the next quarter of a century knew no Apollo but Horace" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature 36-37.

John Evelyn Senior reprints Spenser's catalogue of trees (FQ 1.1.8-9) in his Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees (1664).



Envy, how dar'st thou say that I in vain
Have spent my years, or with false Names profane
The sacred Product of my fertile Brain?

'Tis true, in th' Art of War I am not skill'd,
No Trophies did I e're attempt to build
By gaining grinning Honour in the Field.

I never try'd to learn the tedious Laws,
Or sought in pleading of a desp'rate Cause,
To sell my Breath for Int'rest or Applause.

Such little things I scorn, I nobly aim
At that which may secure a lasting Fame,
And through the World immortalize my Name.

Old Chaucer shall, for his facetious Style,
Be read, and prais'd, by warlike Britains, while
The Sea enriches, and defends their Isle.

While the whole Earth resounds Elisa's Fame,
Who aw'd the French, and did the Spanish tame,
The English will remember Spencer's Name.

While Flatt'rers thrive and Parasites shall dine,
While Commonwealths afford a Cataline,
Laborious Johnson shall be thought divine.

Thee Shakespear Poets ever shall adore,
Whose wealthy Fancy left so vast a store,
They still refine thy rough but precious Ore.

So long shall Cowley be admir'd above
The Croud, as David's troubles pity move,
Till Women cease to charm, and Youth to love.

While we the Fall of our first Parents grieve,
And worship him who did that Fall retreive,
Milton shall in majestick Numbers live.

Dryden will last as long as Wit and Sense,
While Judgment is requir'd to Excellence,
While perfect Language charms an Audience.

As long as Men are false, and Women vain,
While Gold continues to be Vertues bane,
In pointed Satyr Wicherly shall reign.

When the aspiring Grecian in the East,
And haughty Philip is forgot i' th' West,
Then Lee and Otways Works shall be supprest.

While Fathers are severe, and Servants cheat,
Till Bawds and Whores can live without deceit,
Sydley, and easie Etheridge shall be great.

Stones will consume, Age will on Metals prey,
But deathless Verse no time can wear away;
That stantd the sthock of years without decay.

When Kingdoms shall be lost in Sloth and Lust,
When Treasures fail and glorious Arms shall rust,
Verse only lists it self above the dust.

Come bright Apollo then, let me drink deep
Of that blest Spring thou dost for Poets keep,
While in ignoble ease the World's asleep.

Yet wreaths of tender Myrtle crown my head,
Let me by still by anxious Lovers read,
Envy'd alive, but honour'd when I'm dead.

Till after Death, Desert was never crown'd,
When my Ashes are forgotten under ground,
Then my best part will be immortal found.

[pp. 90-93]