Verse > Anthologies > Seccombe and Arber, eds. > An English Garner > Elizabethan Sonnets
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Seccombe and Arber, comps.  Elizabethan Sonnets.  1904.
 
Introduction
X. Poetæ Minimi
 
None of the remaining collections of sonnets, which are brought together in these volumes, are of sufficient interest to justify minute study. They imitate and exaggerate the least admirable characteristics of the better endowed writers who immediately preceded them. They illustrate all the worst features of the Elizabethan passion for sonneteering.  1
  First in chronological order among these debased developments of the vogue comes a work of William Percy, a son of the Earl of Northumberland, and a college friend of Barnabe Barnes. It was to Percy that Barnes dedicated his ample sequence of Parthenophil and Parthenophe. His own collection of twenty poems was entitled Sonnets to the fairest Cœlia. 1 Spenser’s publisher, William Ponsonby, undertook the publication. 2 The author explains in an address to the reader, that out of courtesy he had lent the sonnets to friends, who had secretly committed them to the press. Making a virtue of necessity he had accepted the situation, but begged the reader to treat them as ‘toys and amorous devices.’ There is no likelihood that the reader will treat them as anything else. Percy shows some reading in home and foreign literature. Emulating Drayton, he bids his lute ‘rehearse the songs of Rowland’s rage’ (Sonnet viii.). He employs musical terms (viii.) very much in the manner of the French sonneteer Pontus de Tyard, and with Ronsard he finds ‘a Gorgon shadowed under Venus’ face’ (Sonnet xiii.). At times he echoes the words of his friend Barnes. But his poetic faculty was exiguous; he is invariably grotesque and at times coarse, while his rhymes constantly strike the most discordant notes.  2
  Zepheria, a collection of forty sonnets or ‘canzons,’ as the anonymous poetaster calls them, appeared in 1594. No author’s name was given in the volume. Drummond of Hawthornden, who read it in 1611, immediately after Lodge’s Phillis, merely attributed it to the pen of ‘some uncertaine writter.’ The book is dedicated in verse ‘Alii veri figlioli delle Muse.’ There Daniel is congratulated on ‘the sweet-tuned accents of his Delian sonnetry.’ Among other English ‘modern Laureates’ who have roused Ovid and the Tuscan Petrarch from the sleep of death, the writer specially singles out Sir Philip Sidney (under his poetic designation of Astrophel). A reference in Canzon xiv. ‘to that Divine Idea’ betrays knowledge of Drayton or Spenser. Zepheria limps clumsily along a most cacophonous path. The author was a law-student who mistook legal technicalities for poetic imagery. To help out his rhyme he invented a vocabulary of his own. The verbs ‘imparadise,’ ‘portionize,’ ‘partialize,’ ‘thesaurize,’ are some of the fruits of his ingenuity. He claims that his Muse is capable of ‘hyperbolised trajections’; he apostrophises his lady’s eyes as ‘illuminating lamps,’ and calls his pen his ‘heart’s solicitor.’ His modest admission—
        ‘My slubbering pencil casts too gross a matter,
  Thy beauty’s pure divinity to blaze’—
truthfully characterises his literary ability.
  3
  ‘R. L. Gentleman,’ probably Richard Linche, a miscellaneous writer of some little repute, published in 1596 thirty-nine sonnets under the title Diella,—a crude anagram on ‘Delia.’ 3 The publisher, Henry Olney, who dedicated the volume to Anne, wife of Sir Henry Glenham, and daughter of Thomas Sackville, the literary Earl of Dorset, had lately produced Sir Philip Sidney’s Apologie for Poetrie (1595). R. L.’s sonnets are typically servile in their repetition of well-worn phrases and imagery. The apostrophes to Time and to the poet’s lute, the description of sunrise and of the crystal fountains in his lady’s eyes, are dull echoes of Ariosto and Desportes. But authors at home, notably Sir Philip Sidney, were also freely plagiarised. But the author did not claim for his ‘passionate sonnets,’ as the publisher figuratively called them, that they were anything beyond literary exercises. 4 They were issued by way of prelude to a verse translation of Bandello’s love-story of Dom Diego and Ginevra.  4
  To the same year (1595) belongs a collection of somewhat higher merit: Bartholomew Griffin’s Fidessa, sixty-two sonnets inscribed to ‘William Essex, Esq.’ Griffin designates his sonnets as the ‘firstfruits of a young beginner.’ 5 He had some genuine poetic faculty, but plagiarised with exceptional boldness. He did not put himself, as a rule, to the trouble of going abroad for his inspiration. He freely appropriated home products. He absorbs in his Sonnet xv. Daniel’s address to ‘Care-charmer sleep.’ In Sonnet xxxiii., where he imagines his wrinkled face and silver hairs to be a mirror reflecting the cruelty of his mistress, he echoes Drayton’s treatment (Idea, 1594, xiv.) of the sonneteering convention which makes every unrequited lover see in a looking-glass his face prematurely withered and deformed by despair. In Sonnet xliii., beginning, ‘Tell me of love, sweet Love, who is thy sire?’ Griffin rewrote Watson’s Hecatompathia (lii.), of which the first line runs, ‘When wert thou born, sweet Love? who was thy sire?’ 6 No sincerity can be attached to this mosaic of borrowed conceits and diction.  5
  William Smith, the author of Chloris—a third collection of sonnets which appeared in 1596—was a very humble disciple of Spenser. 7 The two opening sonnets, which are unnumbered, are, like the forty-ninth and last, inscribed to his master. Smith describes his poems as the ‘budding springs of his study.’ They are mere reminiscences of his reading, and the phraseology and metre have no literary value.  6
  Finally, in 1597, there came out a similar volume by Robert Tofte, entitled Laura, the Joys of a Traveller, or the Feast of Fancy. The book is divided into three parts, each consisting of forty ‘sonnets’ in very irregular metres. The rules of the sonnet form are for the most part ignored. There is a prose dedication to a well-known patroness of poets, Lucy, sister of Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland, afterwards wife of James Hay, first Earl of Carlisle. Tofte tells his patroness that most of his ‘toys’ ‘were conceived in Italy,’ and he distributes about his pages the names of Italian cities—Padua (p. 359), Siena (p. 372), Pisa (p. 382), Rome (p. 386), Florence (p. 396), Mantua (p. 417), Pesaro (p. 419), and Fano (p. 420)—by way of indicating the places where he held communion with his Muse. As its name of Laura implies, his work is a pale reflection of Petrarch. 8  7
  The fifteen collections included in these volumes by no means represent the whole of the amorous sonneteering activity of the era, but they give as large a picture of it as any student is likely to need. Of the excluded collections of sonnet-sequences of love, mention may be made of a very rare collection of forty sonnets, echoing English and French models, by an unidentified writer, ‘E. C., Esq.,’ under the title of Emaricdulfe (1595), 9 and two efforts of greater interest, which although written in Elizabeth’s time were published later: viz. William Alexander’s Aurora, a hundred and six sonnets, with a few songs and elegies interspersed on French patterns (published in 1604), and Cælica, a miscellany of lyrics in varied metres, by Sir Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke, the intimate friend of Sir Philip Sidney. Both Alexander and Greville amply illustrated the influence of foreign workers. Of collections of sonnets which belong altogether to a somewhat later epoch, one alone is of first-rate literary interest. About 1607 William Drummond of Hawthornden penned a series of sixty-eight sonnets, interspersed with songs, madrigals, and sextains. Nearly all were translated or adapted from modern Italian sonneteers. But Drummond’s dexterity was exceptional. The writer’s native poetic fire is by no means dimmed by his dependence on foreign effort. 10  8
 
Note 1. Cœlia, a name very familiar in classical poetry, was applied to his poetic mistress by the very popular Latin poet Hieronymus Angerianus of Naples, in his [Greek] (Paris, 1582). Angerianus’ work was well known to Giles Fletcher and others of his contemporaries. A sequence of twenty-six sonnets was addressed to an imaginary Cœlia by the Scottish poet, Sir David Murray of Gorthy (see ‘The Tragical death of Sophonisba,’ ad fin. London, 1611. 8vo). [back]
Note 2. Only two copies seem now known; the one belongs to the Duke of Northumberland and the other to Mr. Huth. [back]
Note 3. It is barely possible that the sonneteer is the ‘Maister R. L.,’ the friend of Richard Barnfield, to whom Barnfield inscribed the fine sonnet ‘In praise of Musique and Poetrie’ on the opening page of his poems For Divers Humours, 1598. Barnfield credits his friend with special devotion to music, of which there is no evidence in Linche’s work. [back]
Note 4. This volume is very rare. There are copies in the British Museum and in the Bodleian Library. [back]
Note 5. Of Griffin’s volume only three copies seem to be known—in the Bodleian, Huth, and Britwell Libraries, respectively. Griffin’s Sonnet iii., beginning, ‘Venus and young Adonis sitting by her,’ is almost identical with the fourth poem—a sonnet beginning, ‘Sweet Cytheræa, silting by a brook’—in Jaggard’s piratical miscellany, The Passionate Pilgrim, which bore Shakespeare’s name on the title-page. [back]
Note 6. Watson based this effort on a sonnet which he attributes to Serafino; but though it appears in later editions of Serafino’s sonnets, it appears to be the work of another Italian sonneteer, Pamphilo Sasso. Desportes rendered the Italian sonnet very literally in Amours de Diane, Livre I. xxxvii. [back]
Note 7. ‘Chloris’ was the name of one of the ladies to whom Théodore de Bèze addressed himself in his early and very popular collection of Latin Poemata, 1548 (ed. Machard, 1879, p. 197). In 1600 a licence was issued by the Stationers Company for the issue of Amours by W. S. This no doubt refers to a second collection of sonnets by William Smith. The projected volume is not extant. [back]
Note 8. A postscript by a friend—‘R. B.’—complains that the publisher had intermingled with Tofte’s genuine efforts ‘more than thirty sonnets not his.’ But the style throughout is so uniformly tame that it is not possible to distinguish the work of a second hand. [back]
Note 9. This volume, which was dedicated by ‘E. C.’ to his ‘two very good friends, John Zouch and Edward Fitton, Esquiers,’ was reprinted for the Rozburghe Club in A Lamport Garland, 1881, edited by Mr. Charles Edmonds. ‘Emaricdulfe’ is an anagram on the name of one Marie Cufeld, or Cufaud, of Cufaud Manor, near Basingstoke. [back]
Note 10. Practically to the same category as these collections of sonnets belong the voluminous laments of lovers, in six, eight, or ten-lined stanzas, which, though not in strict sonnet form, closely resemble in temper the sonnet-sequences. Such are Willobie’s Avisa, 1594; Alcilia: Philoparthen’s Loving Folly, by I. C., 1595 (reprinted in Some Longer Elizabethan Poems, ed. A. H. Bullen, in the present series, pp. 319–362); Arbor of Amorous Devices, 1597 (containing two regular sonnets), by Nicholas Breton; Alba, the Months Minde of a Melancholy Lover, by Robert Tofte, 1598; Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love, by Anthony Scoloker, 1604 (reprinted in Some Longer Elizabethan Poems, pp. 363–404); Breton’s The Passionate Shepheard, or The Shepheardes Love: set downe in passions to his Shepheardesse Aglaia; with many excellent conceited poems and pleasant sonets fit for young heads to pass away idle houres, 1604 (none of the ‘sonets’ are in sonnet metre); and John Reynolds’ Dolarnys Primerose … wherein is expressed the lively passions of Zeale and Loue, 1606. Though George Wither’s similar productions—his exquisitely fanciful Fidelia (1617) and his Faire-Virtue, the Mistresse of Phil’Arete (1622)—were published at a later period, they were probably designed in the opening years of the seventeenth century. [back]
 
 
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