The induction to Richard Niccols's additions to the Mirror for Magistrates (The Winter Night's Vision) is in 204 fourteeners set out with much Spenserian alliteration and imagery. Having composed his two beast-fables, The Cuckow and The Beggar's Ape ("Which injur'd by the guilt of time to light she durst not bring") Niccols will now rise to epic notes. As in The Cuckow, Niccols complains bitterly about the state into which poetry has fallen under James I. The opening description of the wintery landscape recalls Spenser's Shepheardes Calender, and probably alludes to the dearth of poetry since the death of Ceres-Elizabeth: "None but the Red-breast and the Wren did sing the even away, | And that in notes of sad record for summers late decay; | The field, which whilome Ceres crown'd with golden eares of corne, | And all the pasture-springing meades, which Pales did adorne, | Lookt pale for woe" p. 556.
As night falls the poet retires to bed; unable to sleep for care he reads the Mirror for Magistrates: "There, as in glasse, I did behold, what day before did show, | That beautie, strength, wealth, worlds vaine pompe, and all to dust do go" p. 557. He dozes, only to be awakened by a blast from Fame's trumpet, come to announce the arrival of "Mnemosyne, that keepes the wealthie store | Of times rich treasure" p. 559. The poet is commanded to fill out the gaps in the Mirror for Magistrates; to which he replies that he lacks the skill for such high matter and, anyway, times are bad for poets. The Mother of the Muses grieves that it would be so, but the work must be done. She promises that Fame will summon the ghosts of the departed worthies, who will relate their stories to the poet.
The poem is dedicated with a sonnet to Niccols's patron, Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham.
Henry Headley: "Richard Niccols, a poet of great elegance and imagination, one of the ornaments of the reign of Elizabeth. The most material of his works are his Additions to The Mirror for Magistrates, a book most popular in its time, suggested by Boccace, De Casibus Principum, containing a series of pieces by Sackville, Baldwyne, Perrers, Churchyard, Phayer, Higgins, Drayton. It was ultimately completed, and its contents new-arranged, by Niccols" Specimens of Ancient English Poetry (1787) 1:lx.
Nathan Drake: "Niccols's edition forms a thick quarto of eight hundred and seventy-five pages, including ninety legends, and embracing, with the exception of four pieces, all the parts previously published, in chronological order, and super-adding an Induction and ten poems of his own composition. He has taken the liberty, however, of modernising and abbreviating some of the earliest stories, with the view of rendering the series more acceptible to his contemporaries" Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 341.
My Muse, that mongst meane birds whilome, did wane her flaggie wing,
And Cuckow-like of Castaes wrongs, in rustick tunes did sing,
Now with the mornes cloud-climbing Lark must mount a pitch more hie,
And like Joves bird with stedfast lookes outbrave the Sunnes bright eie:
Yea she, that whilome begger-like her beggers ape did sing,
Which injur'd by the guilt of time to light she durst not bring,
In stately stile tragedian-like with sacred furie fed,
Must now record the tragicke deeds of great Heroes dead.
Vouchsafe then thou great King of heav'n, the heav'nly drops t' infuse
Of sacred juyce into my pen, give strength unto my Muse
To mount aloft with powerfull wings, and let her voice be strong,
That she may smite the golden starres with sound of her great song.
When Jove-borne Phoebus fierie steeds about the world had bin,
And wearied with their yearely taske, had taken up their Inne
Farre in the South, when cold had nipt the hawthornes rugged rinde
And lively sap of summer sweet, from blast of blustring winde
Had sunken down into the roote, whose thornie browes besprent
With frostie dew, did hang their heads, and summers losse lament;
My limbes benumb'd with unkind cold, my life blood waxing chill,
As was my wont I walked forth to ease me of such ill:
But when I came in fields abroad, and view'd the wastefull spight
Of wrathfull winter, griev'd I was to see so sad a sight:
The shadie woods, in which the birds to build their neasts were seene,
Whose waving heads in aire shot up were crown'd with youthful greene,
Now clad in coate of motlie hue did maske in poore array,
Rough Boreas with his blustering blasts had blowen their leaves away.
Instead of blossomes on the boughes, the spring whilome begun,
Which through the leaves did seeme to laugh upon the summers Sunne,
Now nought but hoarie frost was seene, each branch teares downe did send,
Whose dewie drops in ysiccles upon each bough depend:
The mistresse of the woods quaint quire, the warbling Philomele,
That wont to ravish with delight, th' inhabitants, that dwell
About the greene wood side, forgot the layes she sung before,
For griefe of summers golden losse she now could sing no more:
And all the quire that wont with her to beare a part and sing
Concordant discords in sweet straine for welcome of the spring,
Sate silent on the frostie bow, and shuddering all for cold,
Did shroud the head beneath the wing, the day was waxed old,
None but the Red-breast and the Wren did sing the even away,
And that in notes of sad record for summers late decay;
The field, which whilome Ceres crown'd with golden eares of corne,
And all the pasture-springing meades, which Pales did adorne,
Lookt pale for woe, the winterie snow had covered all their greene,
Nought else upon the grasselesse ground, but winters waste was seene:
The shpheards feeble flocke pent up within the bounded fold,
So faint for food, that scarce their feete their bodies could uphold,
Did hang the head with heavie cheare, as they would learne to mourne
The thrall in which they now did live, by shepheard left forlorne:
All sweet delight of summer past, cold winters breath had blasted,
The Sunne in heav'n shone pale on earth to see her wombe so wasted:
All which, as I griev'd at such sight, the fields alone did range,
Did teach me know all things on earth were subject unto change.
How fond (me thought) were mortall men, the trustlesse stay to trust
Of things on earth, since heere on earth all things returne to dust?
Who so in youth doth boast of strength, me thought the loftie oake
Would teach him that his strength must vade, when age begins to yoke
His youthfull necke, even by it selfe, his leavie lockes being shed,
And branched armes shrunke up with frost, as if they had been dead.
The lovely Lillie, that faire flower for beautie past compare,
Whom winters cold keene breath had kill'd, and blasted all her faire,
Might teach the fairest under heav'n, that beauties freshest greene
When spring of youth is spent, will vade, as it had never been;
The barren fields, which whilome flowr'd as they would never fade,
Inricht with summers golden gifts, which now been all decay'd,
Did shew in state there was no trust, in wealth no certaine stay,
One stormie blast of frowning chance could blow them all away;
Out of the yeares alternate course this lesson I did con,
In things on earth of most availe assurance there was none:
But fancie feeding on these thoughts, as I alone did wend,
The clocke did strike, whose chime did tell the day was at an end;
The golden Sunne, daies guide, was gone, and in his purple bed
Had laid him downe, the hea'vns about their azure curtaines spread,
And all the tapers lighted were, as t'were the watch to keepe,
Lest past her houre night should usurpe, while he secure did sleepe.
Then clad in cloake of mistie fogges the darke night up did come,
And with grim grieslie looke did seeme to bid me get me home;
Home was I led, not as before with solace from the field,
The wofull waste of summer past had all my pleasure spill'd:
When home I came, nipt with sharpe cold of Boreas bitter aire,
After repast to my warme bed forthwith I made repaire,
Where, for the nights were tedious growen, and I disturb'd in mind
With thoughts of that daies object seene, not unto sleepe inclin'd,
I up did sit, my backe behind the pillow soft did stay,
And call'd for light, with booke in hand to passe the time away;
Of which each line which I did reade, in nature did agree
With that true use of things, which I the day before did see;
A Mirrour hight for Magistrates, for title it did beare,
In which by painfull pens, the fals of Princes written were:
There, as in glasse, I did behold, what day before did show,
That beautie, strength, wealth, worlds vaine pompe, and all to dust do go;
There did I see triumphant death beneath his feet tread downe
The state of Kings, the purple robe, the scepter and the crowne;
Without respect with deadly dart all Princes did he strike,
The vertuous and the vicious Prince to him been both alike;
Nought else they leave untoucht of death except a vertuous name,
Which dies, if that the sacred nine eternize not the same.
Why then (ye thrice three borne of Jove) why then be ye despis'd?
Is vertue dead? hath daintie ease in her soft armes surpris'd
The manhood of the elder world? hath rust of time devour'd
Th' Heroes stocke that on your heads such golden blessings show'rd?
This silent night, when all things lie in lap of sweet repose,
Ye only wake, the powres of sleepe your eyes do never close,
To shew the sempiternitie, to which their names ye raise
On wings of your immortall verse, that truly merit praise.
But where's the due of your desert, or where your learnings meed?
Not only now the baser sprite, whom dunghill dust doth breed;
But there they that boast themselves to be in honors bosome borne,
Disdaine your wisdome, and do hold your sectaries in scorne.
No marvell then, me thought, it was, that in this booke I read,
So many a Prince I found exempt, as if their names been dead,
Who for desert amongst the best a place might justly claime:
But who can put on any spirit to memorize the name
Of any dead, whose thanklesse race t' whom learning shapes the leg
In humble wise, yet in contempt bids learned wits go beg?
As thus in bed with booke in hand I sate contemplating,
The humorous night was waxed old, still silence husht each thing,
The clocke chim'd twelve, to which as I with listning eares attend,
As signes of fraile mortalitie all things I apprehend;
The daylight past, as life I deeme, the night as death to come,
The clocke that chim'd, deaths fatall knell, that call'd me to my doome,
Still silence rest from wordly cares, my bed the grave I thinke,
In which, with heart to heav'n up-lift, at length I downe did sinke:
Where after still repose when as thin vapors had restrain'd
The moving powers of common sense, and sleepe each sense enchain'd,
Whether the watchfull fantasie did now in sleepe restore
The species of things sensible, which I had seene before;
And so some dreame it only was, which I intende to tell,
Or vision sent Ile not discusse, to me it thus befell:
A sudden sound of trumpe I heard, whose blast so loud was blowne,
That in a trance I senseless lay, fraile mortall there was none
That heard such sound, could sense retaine; my chamber wals did shake,
Up flew the doores, a voice I heard, which thus distinctly spake:
Awake from sleep, lift up thy head, and be no whit dismai'd,
I serve the Deities of heav'n, their hests must be obey'd,
And now am sent from her that keepes the store-house of the mind;
The mother of the Muses nine, for thee she hath assign'd
For her design, the night to come in sleepe thou must no spend;
Prepare thy selfe, that gainst she come, her will thou maist attend.
As to these words I listning lay, and had resumed spright,
I boldly looked round about, and loe, there stood in sight
True Fame, the trumpeter of heav'n that doth desire inflame
To glorious deeds, and by her power eternisies the name;
A golden trumpe her right hand held, which when she list to sound,
Can smite the starres of hea'vn, and bring the dead from under ground;
Upon her head a chaplet stood of never vading green,
Which honor gave, to give to them that favour'd of her been:
Her wings were white as snow, with which she compast heav'n and earth
With names of such, whom honor did renowne for deeds of worth.
As I beheld her Princely port, yet trembling all for feare,
A sound of heav'nly harmonie did pierce my pleased eare,
In rapture of whose sweet delight, as I did ravisht lie,
The goddesse dread whom Fame forespoke did stand before mine eye,
The Ladie of mount Helicon, the great Pierian dame,
From whom the learned sisters nine derive their birth and name,
In golden garments clad she was, which time can never weare,
Nor fretting moth consume the same, which did embroydered beare
The acts of old Heroes dead, set downe in stately verse,
Which sitting by the horse-foot spring, Joves daughters did rehearse:
Five Damsels did attend on her, who with such wondrous skill
Do on their severall functions worke, to serve their Ladies will,
That what she seekes on earth, to see, to heare, smell, taste or touch,
They can present the same with speed, their power and skill are such.
As in amazment at such sight I in my bed did lie,
Shee thus bespake: I am, quoth she, the Ladie Memorie,
Joves welbelov'd Mnemosyne, that keepes the wealthie store
Of times rich treasure, where the deeds that have been done of yore
I do record, and when in bookes I chance to find the Fame
Of any after death decai'd, I do revive the same.
Turning the volume large of late, in which my Clio sings
The deeds of worthie Britaines dead, I find that many Kings
Exempted are, whose noble acts deserve eternitie,
And mongst our Mirrours challenge place for all posteritie:
For which, my station I have left, and now am come to thee,
This night thou must abandon sleepe, my pen-man thou must bee.
To this said I: O goddesse great, the taske thou dost impose
Exceeds the compasse of my skill, t'is fitter farre for those,
Whose pens sweet Nectar do distill, to whom the power is given
Upon their winged verse to rap their readers up to heav'n.
The pinions of my humble Muse be all too weake to flie
So large a flight; theirs be this taske that love to soare on high.
But how can they such taske up-take, that in a stately straine
Have rais'd the dead out of the dust; yet after all their paine,
When their sweet Muse in vertues praise hath powred out their store,
Are still despis'd and doom'd for aye with vertue to be poore.
To this, alas, quoth Memorie, it grieves me to behold
The learned wits left all forlorne, t'whom whilome it was told
Maecenas was reviv'd againe; yet grieve I more to see
The loathed lozell to prophane that sacred mysterie.
Each vulgar wit, that what it is, could never yet define,
In ragged rimes with lips prophane, will call the learned nine
To help him utter forth the spawne of his unfruitfull braine,
Which makes our peerelesse poesie to be in such disdaine,
That now it skils not whether Pan do pipe, or Phoebus play,
Tom Tinkar makes best harmonie to passe the time away:
For this I grieve, for this the seed of Jove are held in scorne,
Yet not for this our Worthies dead are to be left forlorne.
For so no future age should know the truth of things forepast,
The names of their forefathers dead would in the dust be cast.
Then do not thou thy helpe denie, I will conduct thy pen,
And Fame shall summon up the ghosts of all those worthie men,
That mongst our Mirrours are not found, that each one orderly
May come to thee, to tell the truth of his sad tragedie.
Thus having said, she tooke the booke from underneath my head,
And turning ore the leaves, at last, she thus began to reade.