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

XVII. Writers on Country Pursuits and Pastimes

§ 7. Herbals

The earliest of the numerous herbals which appeared in England, the Grete Herball, founded on the French Grand Herbier, was printed by Peter Treveris at Southwark in 1526, and several times reprinted before the middle of the century. William Turner, the reformer, who had a garden at Kew, diversified his protestant polemics with botanical pursuits; and his New herball (1551–62) is considered a starting point in the scientific study of botany in England. Matthias de L’Obel, whose important works appeared only in Latin, was a resident in England and botanist to king James I. The Niewe herball (1578) of Rembert Dodoens, in its English dress by Henry Lyte, through the French version of L’Écluse (Clusius), was very popular, as was also the abridgment by William Ram, published in 1606 under the title Rams little Dodeon. It was also from Dodoens’s Pemptades that John Gerard, through the manuscript of Priest’s translation which came into his hands, derived and adapted, without acknowledgment, a great part of his celebrated Herball or generall historie of Plantes (1597). The majority of the numerous woodcuts used in this folio had previously appeared in the Eicones plantarum of Tabernaemontanus (1590). A revised and enlarged edition was brought out by Thomas Johnson in 1633.

These herbals, though not professedly horticultural works, give occasional glimpses into plant culture as practised at that time; and the art of gardening, which was then making considerable progress in this country at the hands of a number of enthusiastic devotees, also began to produce its own special literature. Dutch and other foreign sources provided ready material and inspiration for some of the earlier writers, among whom there is naturally a good deal of repetition; illustrations were also freely copied, especially designs for knots, or carpet beds, which seem to have been highly esteemed, but of which Bacon, in his magnificent plan of a princely garden, says contemptuously that “you may see as good sights, many times, in Tarts.” Tusser has introduced a considerable amount of gardening detail into his Pointes of good husbandrie; but Thomas Hill, or “Didymus Mountain” as he sometimes facetiously styled himself, was one of the earliest to compile a book devoted exclusively to horticulture. This was printed in 1563 under the title A most briefe and pleasaunt treatyse, teachynge howe to dress, sowe, and set a garden, and afterwards enlarged as The proffitable arte of gardening. Markham’s writings on the subject are to be found chiefly in his English Husbandman, Country-mans Recreation, and Country Housewifes Garden, the latter sometimes printed with Lawson’s New Orchard mentioned above. In 1608, Sir Hugh Plat published his contribution to horticulture under the title Floraes Paradise; and, in 1629, the ardent botanist and lover of flowers, John Parkinson, king’s herbarist, brought out his delightful Paradisi in sole Paradisus terrestris, or a garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permitt to be noursed up: with a kitchen garden … and an orchard, the woodcuts for which were specially done in England; this was followed in 1640 by his great herbal, Theatrum botanicum, with its description of nearly 3800 plants and its 2600 illustrations.

In his recension of the Book of St. Albans, issued in 1595 as the Gentlemans Academie, Markham came into touch with heraldry; but, as he merely modernised the diction without revision of the matter, he can scarcely be deemed a writer on this science. The section on coat-armour in the St. Albans book was the first English treatise on heraldry, and is not without some practical value; it was derived largely from Nicholas Upton’s De officio militari (1441), first printed in 1654 by Sir Edward Bysshe. In 1562, Gerard Legh brought out his popular Accedens of Armory, and several other writers, such as John Bossewell, Sir John Ferne and William Wyrley, followed him; but most of these works were vitiated by flights of imagination and absurd legends about the antiquity of coat-armour, and it was left to John Guillim, whose Display of Heraldrie, first printed in 1610, is still a classic, to place the science on something approaching a sound basis.

According to Langbaine, Markham was esteemed a good scholar and an excellent linguist, understanding perfectly the French, Italian and Spanish languages. He was certainly well read in the subjects which he handled, and thoroughly conversant with the classical allusions with which it was the fashion in his day to overlay polite literature. In verse, however, his achievement does not reach a high order; his was not a lyric muse, and the long narrative poems which he attempted are dull conventional productions, lacking inspiration and spontaneity. Even his best opportunity, the thrilling story of the last fight of the Revenge, fails to arouse him, and the poem, dragged out through 174 stanzas of eight lines each, is a tedious performance, clogged with laboured metaphor and classical simile. In other poems he deals with some of the sacred themes much affected at that time: the Poem of poems, or Sions muse, contayning the divine Song of Salomon in eight eclogues, the subject of one of bishop Hall’s satires and mentioned by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, made its appearance in 1595; and, in 1600, was printed Teares of the Beloved: or, the lamentation of Saint John concerning the death and passion of Christ Jesus our Saviour, a poem of 140 six-lined stanzas in heroic metre; Marie Magdalens lamentations for the losse of her Master Jesus, a similar poem of the following year, has also been attributed to him.

Besides these original exercises, Markham translated from the French of “Madam Genevefve Petau Maulette,” Devoreux, or vertues tears (1597), a lament on the death of Henry III of France and of Walter Devereux, a brother of the earl of Essex. In 1609, he produced The Famous Whore, or Noble Curtizan, being the story of the career of “Paulina, the famous Roman curtizan, sometimes mes unto the great Cardinall Hypolito, of Est,” a poem in riming couplets translated, it is said, from the Italian; but the original of this, as likewise of Devoreux, has not been traced. Rodomonths Infernall, or the Divell conquered, a spirited English rendering from the French of Desportes, also belongs to him; but the version of Ariostos Satyres, issued under Markham’s name in 1608, was claimed by Robert Tofte. This ascription may have been an error, either accidental or intentional, on the part of the publisher; and a similar confusion seems to have occurred in the case of the Pastoralls of Julietta, which was entered by Thomas Creede in the Stationers’ register in November, 1609, as “translated out of French by Jarvis Markam,” but in the following year was published by him as the work of Tofte.

Seeing the freedom with which he “paraphrastically” used ther writers’ work, it is not surprising to find that Markham adventured the hazardous rôle of continuator. In 1607, he published The English Arcadia, alluding his beginning from Sir Philip Sydnes ending, and followed it, six years later, with The second and last part of the first booke of the English Arcadia. Making a compleate end of the first history; but neither of these attempts seems to have met with any marked success.

Markham is further known as collaborator in the production of two plays, but precisely what share belongs to him is not apparent. The Dumbe Knight (1608), founded on one of Bandello’s Italian novels, was written in conjunction with Lewis Machin of whom nothing further is known. The true tragedy of Herod and Antipater, printed in 1622 but written some ten years earlier, was the joint work of Markham and William Sampson. Both plays belong to the older school of dramatic writing, and present no features of importance in either the progress of the drama or the development of literary art.

In appraising Markham as a writer, his efforts in poetry and drama may well be ignored. He is essentially an openair man. Any rural occupation or manly sport is fit subject for his willing pen, and therein we find the true Markham. He is delightfully human, and everything upon which he touches is lighted up by his enthusiasm and made, for the moment, the most engrossing theme in the world.