Seccombe and Arber, comps. Elizabethan Sonnets. 1904.
VII. The Zenith of the Sonneteering Vogue in Elizabethan EnglandDaniel and Constable
Before Sidney and Watson had laid down their pens, and before the vogue of the quatorzain had completed its conquest of England, there emerged in a very low rank of the literary hierarchy a writer of English sonnets, whose grotesque rusticity and plagiaristic habit were curious omens for the future. In 1584 there was printed a volume entitled Pandora. The Musyque of the beautie of his Mistresse Diana. Composed by John Soothern, Gentleman, and dedicated to the ryght honorable Edward Deuer, Earle of Oxenforde, etc.1 In discordant doggerel, and in a vocabulary freely strewn with French words and idioms, this writer composed a series of sonnets, odes, and odellets, which were translated with an unsurpassable crudity from the French of Ronsard. Sootherns Diana is avowedly Ronsards Cassandre or Astrée. He declares himself a close observer of Ronsards worship of an Astre divine. The eulogies which the French poet bestows on Henry II. of France and his courtiers, Soothern transfers without qualification to his patron, the Earl of Oxford. Ronsards recurring boasts that his pen is capable of making his patrons immortal are absorbed in Sootherns verse with grotesque effect. Soothern affects to emulate the example of Ovid and Petrarch as well as of Ronsard. Pindar and Anacreon were, he pretends, also among his masters. But there is very little in his uncouth writing which is not the original property of the French poet. It was probably only in Ronsards adaptations that he studied Greek. Such rustic lines as
Vaunt us that never man before,
Now in England, knewe Pindars string.
are merely Sootherns grotesque rendering of Ronsards boast
A contemporary English critic, Puttenham, in his Arte of English Poesie, writing in 1589 in ignorance of the exalted English poetry that the near future had in store, blindly credited this halting English sonneteer with reasonable good facility in translation. But the critic at the same time justly complained of his impudent thefts from Ronsard.2 The episode of Sootherns strangely contrived robberies is merely of value as a straw denoting the quarter from which the wind was about to blow in full blast on the Elizabethan sonnet.
With 1591, the date of the publication (although not of the composition) of Sidneys Astrophel and Stella, the sonneteering rage opened in England in earnest. Between that date and 1597 amorous sequences came from the printing presses of London in a continuous stream. Many of the writers acknowledged that they emulated Sidneys example. Of discipleship to him they made repeated boast; but their imitative temper did not restrict them to so narrow a field of study. Most of them pitched their tents in France, making occasional excursions into Italy. All worshipped at the shrine of Petrarch, but they were often content with second or third-hand knowledge of his achievement. Ariosto and Tasso were at times more immediate sources of inspiration; but the most popular of the French sonneteers, notably Ronsard and Desportes, were the masters who boasted the largest following. The names which the Elizabethans bestowed on their sonnet-sequences were invariably borrowed from France. Delia, Diana, Idea, all did duty as titles of French collections of love-poetry before they were enlisted in the like service in Elizabethan England. The Elizabethans rang bold changes on the conventional phrases and sentiments to which the French tongue introduced them. They quickly proved that Sootherns clumsy endeavour was a crude freak, and that theft from France could be made with grace and dexterity. The frigid conceits were not always literally produced; they were at times amplified with a good deal of ingenuity, and were clothed in warmer tones. But they rarely bore any trace of genuine passion or substantive originality. The Elizabethan sonnet, as it multiplied, travelled further and further from personal emotion or experience.
Samuel Daniel may be reckoned Sidneys first successor on the throne of Elizabethan sonneteers. The adventurous publisher Newman issued piratically twenty-eight sonnets by Daniel at the end of his unauthorised edition of Sidneys Astrophel and Stella. In self-defence Daniel published on his own account a collection of fifty-five sonnets to which he gave the general title Delia.3
Daniel pretends to be a follower of Petrarch, although at a long interval. His attire, he says, is base compared with the great masters. His pen cannot achieve the same consistent style. He tells his poetic mistress that, thou, a Laura, hast no Petrarch found (Sonnet xxxviii.), yet he hopes that his affections are not inferior to Petrarchs in warmth. This precise form of self-depreciation is a convention of the French sonneteers of the Pléiade, and serves as a warning that Daniels claim of discipleship to Petrarch should not be taken too literally. Du Bellay had lately written in a sonnet which was probably the foundation of Daniels:
There is a likelihood that Daniel was better read in the later Italian poetry which was produced in his own lifetime than in the Italian poetry of Petrarch. The verses entitled The Description of Beauty, the last of three poems which he appended to his collected sonnets, are honestly described as translated out of Marino. With a more characteristic secrecy Daniel failed to disclose that the immediately preceding Pastoral was a literal rendering of a song or choro in Tassos recently published pastoral play of Aminta.5
But on the whole the signs of French influence in Daniels sonnets are far greater than those of Italian influence. It was not Daniels ordinary custom to adapt Italian poetry at first hand. Reminiscences of Petrarch undoubtedly abound in Daniels sonnets, but they prove on examination to be borrowed from the adaptations of Petrarchs work by recent French disciples. Nor did he disdain recourse to the original work of French writers, especially Ronsard and Du Bellay.6 From the work of the former he clearly drew those pathetic sonnets in which he prophetically describes the havoc that old age will work upon his strength and his mistresss beauty. To the example of Ronsard must be assigned, too, Daniels insistence on his belief that his verses have the power of immortalising those whom they celebrate. That conceit spread from classical literature through the whole of Renaissance poetry. But Ronsard was mainly responsible for its universal vogue among the Elizabethan sonneteers.7
But the French contemporary Desportes, of all foreign writers, is Daniels most conspicuous creditor. It is to the French renderings of Petrarchs poetry by Desportes that Daniels sonnet-sequence is at nearly all points indebted. The student of Petrarch will often detect a resemblance between the Italian text and Daniels words, but will recognise at the same time variations in the English sonnet which he might easily be misled into assigning to the invention of the English poet. A reference to Desportes adaptation of the same poem of Petrarch is needed to explain the situation. Daniel borrowed from Desportes the latters version of the Italian, occasionally changing the French phraseology, but more often exhibiting a servility that a nice literary morality could hardly justify.
The evidence on this point is conclusive. Daniels Sonnets xv. and xxxii. closely reflect Petrarchs Sonnets xxxvii. and clxxxviii. In the first, Petrarch reproaches Lauras looking-glass with absorbing her interests; in the second, he generally deplores the misery which comes of his loyalty to his mistress.8 Daniel worked alone on Desportes renderings of the Italian.
DANIEL, Delia, XXXII.
Why doth my mistress credit so her glass
Gazing her beauty, deigned her by the skies?
And doth not rather look on him, alas!
Whose state best shows the force of murdering eyes.
The broken tops of lofty trees declare
The fury of a mercy-wanting storm;
And of what force your wounding graces are,
Upon myself, you best may find the form.
Then leave your glass, and gaze yourself on me!
That mirror shows the power of your face:
To admire your form too much may danger be,
Narcissus changed to flower in such a case.
I fear your change! not flower nor hyacinth;
Medusas eye may turn your heart to flint.
DESPORTES, Les Amours DHippolyte, XVII.
Pourquoy si folement croyez-vous à un verre,
Voulant voir les beautez que vous avez des cieux?
Mirez-vous dessus moy pour les connoistre mieux,
Et voyez de quels traits vostre bel il menferre.
Un vieux chesne ou un pin, renversez contre terre,
Monstrent combien le vent est grand et furieux:
Aussi vous connoistrez le pouvoir de vos yeux,
Voyant par quels efforts vous me faites la guerre.
Ma mort de vos beautez vous doit bien asseurer,
Joint que vous ne pouvez sans peril vous mirer:
Narcisse devint fleur davoir veu sa figure.
Craignez doncques, madame, un semblable danger,
Non de devenir fleur, mais de vous voir changer,
Par vostre il de Méduse, en quelque roche dure.
DANIEL, Delia, XV.
If a true heart and faith unfeigned;
If a sweet languish with a chaste desire;
If hunger-starven thoughts so long retained,
Fed but with smoke, and cherished but with fire:
And if a brow with Cares characters painted:
Bewray my love, with broken words have spoken,
To her which sits in my thoughts temple, sainted:
And lay to view my vulture-gnawen heart open:
If I have wept the day and sighed the night,
While thrice the sun approached his northern bound;
Sleep was, indeed, one of the most constant themes of French poetry of the epoch. Daniel was only one of a number of Elizabethans who applied to the topic the phraseology and imagery which prevailed in France. But his handling of it especially impressed the Elizabethan public, and was itself a fruitful parent of later English imitations. Bartholomew Griffin boldly plagiarised Daniel, when in his sonnet-sequence of Fidessa (No. xv.) he penned an address to Care-charmer sleep, brother of quiet death. So endless is the chain which links sonneteer to sonneteer in the sixteenth century.
The imitative habit of Daniels Muse renders it unnecessary to inquire, with former critics, into the precise identity of the lady to whom he affected to inscribe his sonnet miscellany. Delia is a mere shadow of a shadowa mere embodiment of what Petrarch wrote of Laura, and Ronsard wrote of Marie, and the other ladies of his poetic fancy. To Petrarch ultimately belong such lines by Daniel as these which have hitherto been mistaken for an attempt at a portrait from the life:
The theory that the hazy features of this phantom of Italian and French poetry were drawn directly from a lady residing in the west of England, whose home was on the banks of a river Avon, possibly that in Wiltshire, hardly merits discussion. There is no reason to quarrel with the suggestion that Daniel may have been acquainted with a lady dwelling by the Avon. He resided in the part of the country through which the Wiltshire Avon runs. Accordingly he wrote:
But the example of Petrarch and his French imitators made it obligatory for sonneteers to apostrophise rivers of their acquaintance. Sidney had lately addressed a sonnet to the Thames. Avon shall be my Thames echoed Daniel (Sonnet liii.) by way of friendly emulation. Anxiety to conform at all points to the sonneteering fashions of his day at home and abroad, was Daniels dominating impulse. His Delia does not admit of examination from any more human point of view.
Despite the lack of originality, Daniels sonnets enjoyed vast popularity. Spenser lauded their well tuned song.13 The sweet-tuned accents of Delian sonnetry rang, according to another admirer, through the whole country.14 Their influence is especially perceptible in the sonnet-sequence called Diana, by Henry Constable, which came from the press immediately after the appearance of Deliain the autumn of 1592.
Constables rare volume contains only twenty-three poems. It was licensed for the press 22nd September 1592, and its full title ran: Diana, the praises of his Mistres in certaine sweete Sonnets, by H. C. (London, Printed by I. C. for Richard Smith, 1592.)15 The publisher, Richard Smith, reissued the collection with very numerous additions in 1594. That reissue is a typical publishing venture of the age. The new title ran: Diana, or, The Excellent conceitful Sonnets of H. C. augmented with divers Quatorzains of honourable and learned personages. Divided into VIII. Decades. With this miscellany Constable had small concern.
The printer, James Roberts, and the publisher, Richard Smith, who supplied dedications respectively to the reader and to Queen Elizabeths ladies-in-waiting, had swept together sonnets in manuscripts from all quarters, and presented their customers with a disordered assembly of what they called orphan poems. Besides the twenty-three sonnets which Constable claimed for himself in the original edition, the new issue contained eight by Sir Philip Sidney. Seventy-six sonnets were included in all; the honourable and learned personages, to whom the remaining forty-one quatorzains belonged, were not indicated, and have not been positively identified.
Apart from internal evidence, the Franco-Italian spirit of Constables work is betrayed, both by the general title Diana, which is directly borrowed from Desportes chief sonnet-sequence, and by the Italian wordssonetto primo, sonetto secundo, and so forthwhich form the headlines of each poem in the authentic issue. Echoes of Sidney, Watson, and Daniel mingle with the foreign voices. Constables 3rd Decade, Sonnet i., on his mistresss sickness, shows the influence of Astrophel and Stella (Sonnet ci.), as well as of Petrarchs lamentations on Lauras failing health (Sonnets cciii., cxcv., cxcvii.). The sorrow which the sonneteer affects at the waywardness of his mistress usually paraphrases Ronsardat times clumsily and unimpressively.
Most of the familiar conceitshow the ladys lips make the roses red (Decade I. Sonnet ix.),16 how the eye and heart accuse each other of causing loves wounds (Decade VI. Sonnet vii.), how verse has the faculty of immortalising its hero or heroine (Decade VIII. Sonnet iv.)reappear with due precision. Obedient to convention, Constable likens Diana to sun, moon, and stars (Decade VI. Sonnet i.), and when he complains of the wounds with which Loves arrows have tortured his heart, he follows the old French poet Melin de St. Gelais in comparing his state with that of Saint Francis.17 Constables language, which can be on occasion tuneful and dignified, seems at times to owe more than Daniels diction to the poets invention. But the main poetic ideas offer convincing testimony of foreign origin. Evidence that Shakespeare read Constables verse and borrowed from it probably gives it its most lasting interest.
Note 1. Only two copies seem known: a perfect exemplar is in the Christie-Miller Library at Britwell; an imperfect copy, with manuscript notes by George Steevens (formerly in the Corser Collection), is in the British Museum. Of another alleged imperfect copy, which is said by Heber and by Corset to be among Capells books at Trinity College, Cambridge, nothing is known there. (See Capells Shakespeareana, by W. W. Greg, 1903.) [back]
Note 2. Puttenham is especially wrathful with Soothern for his shameless use of these French wordes fredden, egar, superbous, filanding, celest, calabrois, thebanois, and a number of others, for English wordes, which haue no maner of conformitie with our language either by custome or deriuation which may make them tollerable. (The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Arber, p. 259.) Puttenham makes many quotations by way of proving the unjustifiable clumsiness of Sootherns numerous Gallicisms. The whole passage is worth studying. [back]
Note 3. The volume was licensed by the Stationers Company to Simon Waterson, a publisher in whom Daniel had every confidence, on 4th February 15912. Daniel here abandoned nine of his previously published sonnets and added thirty-one. He revised and enlarged the sequence in a reissue two years later in the volume entitled Delia and Rosamond augmented, and it is in this shape that his collection is printed in these volumes. [back]
Note 4. Du Bellay, ed. 1597, Les Amours, p. 308b, Sonnet x. Cf. Desportes sonnet already quoted, pp. xxvi, xxvii, supra. [back]
Note 5. I give the opening stanza and the envoy in both English and Italian:
TASSO, Aminta, Atto I. Sc. 2 (last chorus).
O Bella età de loro
Non già perche di latte
Sen corse il fiume, e stillò mele il bosco,
Non perchè i frutti loro
Dier da laratro intatte
Le terre, e gli angui errar senz ira, ò tosco,
Non perchè nuuol fosco
Non spiego allhor suo velo,
Ma, in Primavera eterna,
C hora saccende, e verna,
Rise di luce, e di sereno il Cielo,
Nè portò peregrino
O guerra, o merce, à gli altrui lidi il pino .
Amiam, chel Sol si muove, e poi rinasce.
A noi sua breve luce
Sasconde, e l sonno eterna notte adduce.
O happy Golden Age!
Not for that Rivers ran
With Streams of milk, and Honey dropt from Trees;
Not that the earth did gage
Unto the Husbandman
Her voluntary fruits, free without Fees,
Not for no cold did freeze,
Nor any cloud beguile,
Th Eternal flowring Spring,
Wherein lived evry thing;
And whereon th Heavens perpetually did smile:
Not for no ship had brought
From foreign Shores, or wars or wanes ill sought .
Note 6. Delia, the title of Daniels collection, is clearly borrowed from France. Maurice Sève of Lyons first published in 1544 a very popular collection of dizains or epigrammes of love on the Petrarchan model, under the title of Delie, obiect de plus haulte vertu. Another edition was prepared at Paris in 1564. A beautiful reprint was issued at Lyons in 1862. [back]
Note 7. See pp. xcvii, xcviii, infra. I have traced this conceit of the eternising power of poetry through classical poetry in my Life of Shakespeare, p. 114. Cf. especially Pindars Olympic Odes, xi.; Horaces Odes, iii. 30; Ovids Metamorphoses, xv. 871, sq.; and Virgils Georgics, iii. 9. The conceit was universal in Elizabethan poetry addressed to both men and women. Sidney, in his Apologie for Poetrie (1595), wrote of the habit of poets to tell you that they will make you immortal by their verses. Men of great calling, Nashe wrote in his Pierce Pennilesse (1593), take it of merit to have their names eternised by poets. [back]
Note 9. Here, too, Desportes doubtless had an Italian original, but I have not yet discovered it. [back]
Note 10. Desportes is here adapting one of Ronsards madrigals which consists of sixteen lines. The first, fifth, and ninth lines run respectively:
Si cest aimer, Madame, et de jour et de nuit rever.
Si cest aimer de suivre un bonheur qui me fuit,
Si cest aimer de vivre en vous plus quen moy-mesme.
The last three lines run:
Si cela est aimer, furieux je vous aime,
Je vous aime et sçay bien que mon mal est fatal.
Le cur le dit assez, mais la langue est muette.
(Ronsard, ed. Blanchemain, vol. i. p. 311.) De Baif has a similar sonnet (Amours de Francine, Bk. i. p. 102, ed. Marty-Laveaux, 1881): Si ce nest pas Amour, que sent doncques mon cur? So, too, Claude de Pontoux, LIdée, cxxvi.: Nest Amour quest ce donc que ie sens? [back]
Note 11. Cf. Pierre de Brach, uvres Poetiques, ed. Dezeimeris, i. 59. The admirable epithet, care-charmer, as well as the description of sleep as brother of death, which Daniel borrowed from Desportes, is ultimately of Greek origin. Meleager in the Greek Anthology (Pal. xii. 127), sings of [Greek]. Homer and Hesiod both called sleep brother of death. Such imagery was thoroughly naturalised in France. Very numerous instances of its employment could be given from the Pléiade writers. Cf. Ronsards ode to sleep (Odes, Book IV. Ode iv.):