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Furrows else plough'd, sow'd in vain,
By thy rain
And the vales,
With thy oft
In the land
Thou didst bless,
Fall, and fill
Fresh and green,
Among the poets who exercised a lively influence over their immediate contemporaries and successors, the name of Sylvester should not be omitted. The first part of his translation of the Divine Weeks of Dubartas was published in 1598. Bishop Hall speaks of him with affectionate praise—" Our worthy friend, Mr. J. Sylvester," he says, "hath showed me how happily he hath sometimes turned from his Bartas to the sweet singer of Israel." He closed a troubled life at Middleburgh, in Holland, on the 28th of September, 1618, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. He appears to have been secretary to the Company of Merchants in that town*.
The youthful admiration of Milton and Dryden has endeared the works of Sylvester to the poetical student. Mr. Dunster, in his ingenious considerations on Milton's early reading, has shown his obligations to this singular
* Cole MSS. Cole ascertained this fact from the list of subscribers to Minshieu's Dictionary, in 1617.
author, in whose poetry the flame of genuine fancy con-
Arise betimes, while th' opal-coloured morn
The fate of Davison recalls to the memory the unfortunate and accomplished Sir Walter Raleigh, whom Spenser, in a beautiful sonnet, called the Summer's Nightingale. Mr. Tytler seems to have proved in his recent Life of Raleigh, that the charge of irreligion, so frequently urged against him, does not apply to his maturer years. The afflictions of his manhood appear to have obliterated the vain and sceptical feelings of his youth, and to have impressed his mind with a just and lively sense of the Divine Power. During his long imprisonment, rendered still more melancholy by the uncertainty of its issue, he composed one or two touching Hymns that testify the sincerity of his heart and the piety of his feelings. Probably the last words ever traced by his pen were the lines written in his Bible on the evening preceding his execution, in which he renewed his expression of confidence in the mercy and intercession of our Saviour.
The following Hymn requires no criticism to recommend it:—
Rise, oh, my soul, with thy desires to heaven,
And with divinest contemplation use
And let vain thoughts no more thy thoughts abuse;
And thou, my soul, inspired with holy flame,
View and review with most regardful eye
On which thy Saviour and thy sin did die.
To Thee, O Jesu, I direct my eyes;
To thee my hands, to thee my humble knees,
To thee my thoughts, who my thoughts only sees.
The lover of poetry will always regret that Raleigh's retreats to his charming seat at Sherborne, were not more frequent, and of longer continuance; and that the "pure contents" which, in his own words, were wont to "pitch their tents" upon those pastures, were unable to detain him from the empty vanities of the court.
I bring this rapid Introduction to an end with regret; little has been said, where the heart of every poetical student would prompt him to say much. Many names have been passed over unnoticed that deserve to be treasured up in the memory of the Christian. Some of these will be mentioned in the following memoirs. I have walked through the burial-ground of our Elder Poets with no irreverent footstep, nor shall I have lingered there in vain, if I have renewed one obliterated inscription, or bound one flower upon a tomb.
SIR JOHN DAVIES.
The author of the earliest philosophical poem in our language may seem to claim a longer notice than I am able to bestow; but his life presents no incidents of general interest, and Mr. George Chalmers, in the memoir prefixed to his reprint of Davies' Law Tracts, has communicated every circumstance known concerning him. To that account I am indebted for the following particulars.
John Davies was born at Tisbury in "Wiltshire*, where his father, originally of New Inn, practised as a solicitor. He was admitted a commoner of Queen's College, Oxford, in Michaelmas Term 1585, not having then completed his fifteenth year. In the beginning of 1588 he removed to the Middle Temple, but after an interval of two years returned to the university and took his Bachelor's degree. Although the irregularity of his conduct, while residing in the Temple, had excited the displeasure of that Society, he was called to the bar in 1595; but was expelled, in February 1597—8, for beating a fellow-student, named Richard Martin, in the public Hall. After this disgrace he retired to Oxford, where he is considered to have written his poem upon the Immortality of the Soul, which appeared in 1599; the Dedication to the Queen, however, is dated July 11, 1592. The difficulty may be resolved into a typographical error; or it is possible that the manuscript might have been withheld from the press after the dedication was composed. His Orchestra, a poem upon dancing, published in 1596, had carried his name to court, and when the Secretary Cecil entertained Elizabeth, Davies con
* Southey says, in a hamlet of Tetbury.
tributedto a dramatic performance, of which a copy is preserved among the Harleian MSS.
He did not, however, resign himself to the visions of romance, but appeared in the parliament which assembled October 27, 1601. His rising character, combined with a suitable expression of regret for his intemperate conduct, and, perhaps, more than either, the powerful intervention of Lord Ellesmere, had procured his re-admission into the Temple; and when Lord Hunsdon went to Scotland to congratulate James the First upon his accession to the British throne, he was accompanied by Davies. That learned monarch, having inquired whether he were Nosce Teipsum,—a characteristic play of words upon the title of his poem,—welcomed him with very flattering marks of esteem. His advance to prosperity was now rapid. In 1603 he was sent as Solicitor-General to Ireland, and was subsequently chosen Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Honours continued to flow in upon him, and he was within sight of the Chief Justiceship of England, when a sudden fit of apoplexy put an end to all his projects. He died on the 7th of December, 1626, in the fifty-seventh year of his age, and was buried in St. Martin's in the Fields, where a monument, no longer existing, was erected to his memory.
Sir John Davies was endowed with a very comprehensive intellect; he was the author of our first and noblest didactic poem, of the most sagacious political treatise upon the state of Ireland which had hitherto appeared, and of the earliest report of cases in the Irish Law Courts, during the four hundred years of English domination. Wood says that he versified some of the Psalms, and Mr. Park has printed a specimen of his epigrams. The Immortality of the Soul, although received upon its appearance with the admiration it deserved, had fallen into comparative oblivion, when Nahum Tate, at the instigation of the Earl