The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VII. Robert Southwell. Samuel Daniel

§ 2. John Davies of Hereford

A good way of learning to appreciate Southwell’s poetry is to compare it with that of another religious poet, John Davies of Hereford. Davies was born in Hereford, about 1565, and settled at Oxford as a writing-master, living, as it appears, an easy and prosperous life. The principal model of his uninspired verse was Joshua Sylvester, the translator of Du Bartas’s Semaines, on which he founded his long poem, Microcosmos (1603); but he owed something, also, to his namesake, Sir John Davies, whose Nosce Teipsum formed the basis of Mirum in Modum (1602) and Summa Totalis (1607). Davies of Hereford is no lyric poet. He writes long philosophical and theological treatises in rime, modelling his stanzas on Spenser; and neither his imagination nor his reasoning power is sufficient to make him more than mildly interesting. The antithesis and paradox prominent in Southwell may be found also in Davies, but wearing the air rather of scholastic pedantry than of living and effectual truth. Davies borrows from Sylvester the practice of playing upon words, and carries it to tedious lengths. In spite of the work of Sir John Davies, it may be fairly said that the art of reasoning in verse was not mastered till Dryden’s day; and John Davies of Hereford is chiefly valuable as illustrating by contrast the genius of Southwell, who dealt with the same theological truth, and from much the same intellectual standpoint, in an entirely different manner.