Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 2. The Harmonie of the Church

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

X. Michael Drayton

§ 2. The Harmonie of the Church

On 1 February, 1591, his earliest extant work was entered at Stationers’ Hall; and the dedication to the lady Jane Devereux of Merivale, sister-in-law of the earl of Essex, is dated the tenth of the same month. How Drayton came to enjoy the patronage of this lady is not known. The Harmonie of the Church, as has been said above, has a flavour of Tottel’s Miscellany. The author, clearly, was well read in his Old Testament and Apocrypha; for the matter of his book is the versification of nineteen prayers and songs of thanksgiving from these sources, including The Song of Songs. The song of Moses, from the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy, the song of Deborah and Barak from Judges, the prayer and song of Judith and the joyful thanksgiving of the faithful from the twelfth chapter of Isaiah are among the passages paraphrased. There is nothing in all this painstaking ’prentice work that foreshadows the poet who was to be; and it is hard to believe that this was really the best that Drayton could do at the age of twenty-eight. Though quatrains and stanzas of six decasyllabic lines occur, the principal metre is that of the old “fourteeners,” or twelves and fourteeners mixed, common in the earlier Elizabethan poetry. Drayton uses it without spirit or novelty, and it may not be unfair to regard The Harmonie of the Church as intended merely to acquire for the author a very respectable introduction to the public of his day. Were this his object it appears to have failed. For some cause still unexplained, the book was confiscated in the year of its publication, forty copies only (which have all disappeared) being reserved for the library of the archbishop of Canterbury. It can hardly be that orthodoxy was offended, or that the paraphrase of The Song of Songs was considered as licentious; and perhaps the suggestion of some irregularity in publishing is the most reasonable. Drayton reprinted the work under another title in 1610.