Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
Thomas Watson (15551592)
[Thomas Watson was born in London; was educated at Oxford; became a student of law, and died in London. His principal writings area translation into Latin of Sophocles Antigone, 1581; The [Hecatompathia], or Passionate Centurie of Love, 1582; Amyntæ Gaudia (in Latin), 1585; Italian Madrigals Englished, 1590; The Teares of Fancy, or Love Disdained, posthumously printed in 1593. Many of his poems were printed in the Miscellanies of the time.]
THOMAS WATSON is one of the best of the Elizabethan amorettists, or writers of wholly artificial love-poetry, and his Hecatompathia, which Mr. Arbers reprint has put within the reach of every one, may be taken as a type and summary of the whole class. It consists of a hundred so-called sonnets or passions, each of three six-lined stanzas, and each headed with a prose introduction describing the purport and often the literary origin of the poem. A series so furnished tells its own story; and we do not require to go back to Watsons epistle To the frendly Reader to appreciate his trauaile in penning these louepassions, or to learn that his paines in suffering them were but supposed. Watson, in fact, was a purely literary poet. At Oxford, says Antony Wood, he spent his time not in logic and philosophy, as he ought to have done, but in the smooth and pleasant studies of poetry and romance. To these studies, however, his devotion was serious; for he mastered four languages, so that he writes as familiarly of Sophocles and Apollonius Rhodius as of Ovid, of Petrarch and Ariosto as of Ronsard. He translated the Antigone into Latin, and it was one of his Latin poems that gave him the fancy name of Amyntas, under which the poets of the time ranked him with Colin Clout and with Astrophel. But the literature that he affected most was the love-poetry of the Italiansof Petrarch and his followers, of Seraphine and Fiorenzuola, and many others that are quite forgotten now. Sometimes translating, sometimes paraphrasing, sometimes combining them, he tells the story of his imaginary love, its doubts and fears and hopes, its torments and disappointment and final death, in that melodious Elizabethan English which not even monotony and make-believe can wholly deprive of charm. But still, Watson and his kindred poets have little more than an historical interest. They are but the posthumous children of the Courts of Love; their occupation is to use the scholarship and the ingenuity of the Renascence to dress up the sentiment of the Middle Agea sentiment no more real to them than it is to ourselves. They make no appeal to us; their note has nothing of the note of passion and of truth that rings in the verse of Sidney and of Shakespeare.