Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 4. The Identity of “Idea”

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

§ 4. The Identity of “Idea”

The questions are of importance in the biography of Drayton, since they affect his honour as a man. Now, for the first time in his writings, he gives, in his eclogue VIII of 1606, unmistakable evidence of the identity of Idea. A previous mention (in Endimion and Phœbe, ?1595) had supplied the fact that she was then an unmarried woman, living by the river Ancor. In the eclogue, we are told that she is the youngest sister of Panape, who still lives by the Ancor, and that she has lately moved to another part of England.

  • The younger then, her sister not less good,
  • Bred where the other lastly doth abide,
  • Modest Idea, flower of womanhood,
  • That Rowland hath so highly deified;
  • Whom Phoebus’ daughters worthily prefer,
  • And give their gifts abundantly to her.
  • Driving her flocks up to the fruitful Meene,
  • Which daily looks upon the lovely Stowre,
  • Near to that vale, which of all vales is queen,
  • Lastly, forsaking of her former bow’r:
  • And of all places holdeth Cotswold dear,
  • Which now is proud, because she lives it near.
  • Of the two daughters of Sir Henry Goodere, the patron of Drayton’s boyhood, the elder, Frances, had married her cousin and lived on at Polesworth; the younger, Anne, had married, in 1595 or 1596, Sir Henry Rainsford of Clifford Chambers, “in Evesham vale, on the Stour, and north of Meon Hill, an outlying spur of Cotswold.” There can be little doubt that, by 1606, at any rate, Idea was Anne Rainsford, neé Goodere. Further evidence comes from The Barrons Wars (1603):

  • My lays had been still to Idea’s bower,
  • Of my dear Ancor, or her lovèd Stour;
  • and from the thirteenth song of Poly-Olbion (1613), where Drayton, singing of Coventry and Godiva, has these lines:
  • The first part of whose name, Godiva, doth fore-reed
  • Th’ first syllable of hers, and Goodere half doth sound;
  • and states that “her being here was by this name fore-shown,” while
  • as the first did tell
  • Her sir-name, so again doth Ancor lively spell
  • Her christen’d title Anne.
  • The passage ends by informing us that Coventry was Anne Goodere’s birth-place. Once more, in the Hymn to his Ladies Birth-Place, among the Odes of 1619, he states that Godiva was the type of Idea, and that Idea was born in “happy Mich-Parke,” the “best and most frequent” street of Coventry.

    There seems here ample evidence that, from 1595 to 1619—from Drayton’s thirty-second to his fifty-sixth year—Idea was Anne Goodere; and his long friendship with lady Rainsford and her husband is, also, well attested. Was Idea always Anne Goodere? And is the Idea of the eclogues of 1593, and of the sonnets of 1594 and later years, which offer no evidence, the same person? It would be natural to suppose that they were, and that Drayton was faithful throughout to his “lady.” As we have seen, he distinctly states in eclogue VIII of 1606 that the Idea of that eclogue was the lady “whom Rowland hath so highly deified”—that is, to whom Drayton had addressed the sonnets. But it has been suggested that there was a change, and a very violent change, in Drayton’s allegiance, and that the attack on Selena in eclogue VIII of 1606 is intimately connected with this change. Endimion and Phœbe (?1595) was ushered in by a glowing sonnet addressed to Lucy countess of Bedford, the famous daughter of lord Harington, whose seat was at Combe Abbey on the banks of the Ancor. The sonnet thanks her for her bounty, and vows the poet’s devotion; it is, in fact, the stock tribute of client to patron. The last twenty-two lines of Endimion and Phœbe form an address to a “sweet mayd,” the “purest spark of Vesta’s kindled fire,” the “sweet Nymph of Ancor, crowne of my desire.” It has been argued that the sonnet to the patroness and the closing lines of the poem must refer to the same person; to which it may be objected that the two tributes are quite different in tone, and that the phrases quoted above are very inaptly applied to a married woman, and very aptly to one who was still unmarried and who seems to have been the object of the poet’s love, rather than of his reverence or gratitude. If, however, the Idea of Endimion and Phœbe be the countess of Bedford, it is fair to conclude that so is the Idea of the eclogues of 1593 and the sonnets of 1594. In 1596, Drayton dedicated to the countess of Bedford his Mortimeriados; in the same year, his legend of Robert Duke of Normandy; and, in 1597, his England’s Heroicall Epistles. Then, in 1603, in issuing his Mortimeriados in a new form, he dedicated it, not to lady Bedford but to Sir William Aston, and omitted all the references to that lady. Finally, in eclogue VIII of 1606, comes the attack on Selena. It has been supposed that the countess of Bedford had withdrawn her patronage; that Drayton, in revenge, took from her the dedication of the new form of Mortimeriados; and that, in the Idea of 1606, taking advantage of the fact that both ladies had dwelt by the Ancor, he turned Idea into Anne Goodere and made the countess of Bedford the hated and perfidious Selena. Unless it can be proved that the Idea of Endimion and Phœbe was the countess of Bedford, the accusation seems to break down; and it must be remembered that, though the new form of Mortimeriados was dedicated to Sir William Aston, the sonnet to the countess of Bedford was reprinted in the same volume, and continued to be reprinted with the other sonnets till Drayton’s death. It seems possible, therefore, that Drayton effected the change of patron without grossly insulting his former benefactress or even quarrelling with her, and that he remained faithful in love throughout to a single lady, to whom he consistently gave the title of Idea. Who Selena was, who Cerberon and who Olcon, must remain uncertain. In a later and revised edition of these pastorals, published in 1619, the lines of Selena are omitted.