Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Critical Introduction by George Saintsbury
William Warner (1558?1609)
[William Warner was born in Oxfordshire, and died on the 9th of March, 1609, at Amwell. His chief work is Albions England, 1586. It was at first prohibited, for reasons unknown, but afterwards became very popular. He perhaps translated the Menaechmi of Plautus, 1595; and certainly wrote a prose collection of moralized stories, entitled Syrinx, 1597.]
WARNERS chief and only poetical work is Albions England, a curious medley of partly traditional history, with interludes of the fabliau kind. By some accident it has, since the authors death, secured an audience, not indeed wide, but much wider than that enjoyed by the work of contemporaries of far greater power. The pastoral episode of Argentile and Curan hit the taste of the eighteenth century, and Chalmers reprinted the whole poem in his Poets, very injudiciously following Ellis in dividing the fourteen-syllable lines into eights and sixes. In this form much of it irresistibly reminds the reader of Johnsons injurious parody of that metre: but in the original editions it appears to much greater advantage. The ascending and descending slope of the long lines is often managed with a good deal of art; and as the following extract, giving the speeches of Harold and William before Hastings, will show, there is sometimes dignity in the sentiments and vigour in their expression. The author is too prone to adopt classical constructions, especially absolute cases, which often throw obscurity over his meaning. Warner is not, as he has been called, a good, honest, plain writer of moral rules and precepts; nor is his work, as another authority asserts, written in Alexandrines. But though he will not bear comparison with the better, even of the second-rate Elizabethans, such as Watson, Barnes, and Constable, much less with his fellow historians Drayton and Daniel, the singularity of the plan of his book, and some vigorous touches here and there, raise him above the mass. There is, moreover, one thing in his work which is of considerable literary interest. Unlike almost all his contemporaries, he is hardly at all Italianate. The Italian influence, which for a full century coloured English poetry, is scarcely discernible in him, and he is thus an interesting example of an English poet with hardly any foreign strain in him except, as has been said, a certain tinge of classical study.