Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 7. John Wotton; Richard Barnfield

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

VI. The Song-Books and Miscellanies

§ 7. John Wotton; Richard Barnfield

John Dickenson, the author of three very dainty little songs, is a little known poet, whose Shepheardes Complaint, in which all three occur, was published in 1594. John Wotton, who, possibly, was the half-brother of Sir Henry Wotton mentioned by Izaak Walton, is the author of one very famous and delightful poem, Damaetas’ Jig in praise of his love, beginning “Jolly shepherd, shepherd on a hill,” in which is concentrated the whole quality of the collection of pastorals and the very breath of this springtime of poetry. The song ascribed to Shakespeare is the “On a day (alack the day!)” which appeared in the first edition of Love’s Labour’s Lost, and, again, in the Sonnets to Sundry notes of Music appended to The Passionate Pilgrim (1599). Both in that volume and in England’s Helicon the songs immediately following are “My flocks feede not,” and “As it fell upon a day.” Of these two, the latter had already appeared in the Poems in divers Humors attached to The Encomion of Lady Pecunia, by Richard Barnfield, published in 1598, together with the sonnet, “If Musique and sweet Poetrie agree,” which also forms part of The Passionate Pilgrim. This is not the place to examine the ascription of particular songs: the best opinion determines for Barnfield’s authorship of the sonnet; that of the “ode” “As it fell upon a day” is more doubtful. The fact that, in England’s Helicon, it follows immediately upon “My flocks feede not,” and is entitled Another of the same shepherd’s, is part of the evidence for his authorship of that poem also. Barnfield, who was born in 1574, in Shropshire, was educated at Oxford and died in 1627, was not a professional writer. His three volumes: The Affectionate Shepheard (1594), Cynthia (1595) and the Encomion of Lady Pecunia (1598), were all published before he was twenty-five, and bear evidence of being not so much the result of any strong impulse to poetry as the elegant amusement of a young scholar. All reveal a love of strangeness in subject, of conceit and far-fetched imagery. The Affectionate Shepheard begins by elaborating the second Eclogue of Vergil into a passionate address by an aged man to a youth named Ganymede (to whom, also, a number of sonnets in Cynthia are composed in the same vein), and passes on to give a great deal of good, if ill-arranged, advice on the same moral level as that of Polonius. For Cynthia, he claims that it is the first imitation of the verse of The Faerie Queene: its subject is a classical allegory, leading to a panegyric on queen Elizabeth, and the volume contains also a narrative “tragedy” on Cassandra, and an “ode,” in which a lying shepherd is heard to complain that his love for Ganymede has been ousted by the greater beauty of a lass, whose name we learn to be Eliza. In the introductory letter to The Encomion of Lady Pecunia, Barnfield openly admits his search for an uncommon, novel subject. The poem is a satire on the power of wealth: it is followed by The Complainte of Poetrie for the Death of Liberalitie, a topic to which he refers more than once in his other works; and by an estrif between Conscience and Covetousness. Then follow those Poems in divers Humors, to which reference was made above. The traces of the poetic exercise are clear in all Barnfield’s work. It is at its best and its pleasantest in the moments when, forgetting his intellectual foppery and affectation, he sings naturally and sweetly about the country. His descriptions of country scenes are sometimes admirable, and he has a quaint and pleasing way of dropping simple country similes into the most elaborate of his fancies. His favourite metre is the decasyllabic line, which he manages with dignity and variety in stanzas of a quatrain and a couplet, or of rime royal; and there are some good hexameters, as there are certainly some extremely bad ones, in an extraordinarily “conceited” poem called Hellens Rape, or a light Lanthorne for light Ladies. His vocabulary is rich and often strange; though not so much with the archaism of his “king of poets,” Spenser, as with the homelier usages of his own day. Another prominent feature in Barnfield’s work is his ardent and outspoken admiration for Spenser, his friend Watson, Sidney, Drayton and other contemporary poets. Bartholomew Yong we have mentioned already, and somewhat in disparagement. In him stands out prominently the affectation of the time, to which we shall return, and neither in spirit nor in melody is he worthy of the important place assigned to him in the volume. William Smith, a rather pedantic writer, was the author of Chloris (1596), and Christopher Brooke, whose spirited, if conventional, Epithalamium closes the volume, is known as the collaborator with Browne and Wither in The Shepheards Pipe (1614), and belongs, with Browne himself, to the generation following. To this list must be added a number of anonymous authors, of whom “W. H.,” the author of two very graceful and charming songs, may, possibly, be William Hunnis, whom we met in The Paradyse of Daynty Devises.