Drayton, Michael

, an English poet, was born at HarshuU, in the parish of Atherston, in the county of Warwick, in 1563. His family was ancient, and originally descended from the town of Drayton in Leicestershire, which gave name to his progenitors, as a learned antiquary of his acquaintance has recorded; but his parents removing into Warwickshire, our poet was born there. When he was but ten years of age, he seems to have been page to some person of honour, as we collect from his own words: and, for his learning at that time, it appears evidently in the same place, that he could then construe his Cato, and some other little collection of sentences. It appears too, that he was then anxious to know, “what kind of strange creatures poets were r” and desired his tutor of all things, that if possible “he would make him a poet.” He was some time a student in the university of Oxford: though we do not find that he took any degree there. | In 1588, he seems, from his own description of the Spanish invasion, to have been a spectator at Dover of its defeat; and might possibly be engaged in some military post or employment there, as we find mention of his being well spoken of by the gentlemen of the army. He took delight very early, as we have seen, in the study of poetry; and was eminent for his poetical efforts, nine or ten years before the death of queen Elizabeth, if not sooaer. In 1593 he published a collection of pastorals, under the title of “Idea: the Shepherd’s Garland, fashioned in nine eclogues; with Rowland’s sacrifice to the nine Muses,” 4to, dedicated to Mr. Robert Dudley. This “Shepherd’s Garland” is the same with what was afterwards reprinted with emendations by our author in 1619, folio, under the title of “Pastorals,” containing eclogues; with the “Man in the Moon;” but the folio edition of Drayton’s works, printed in 1748, though the title-page professes to give them all, does not contain this part of them. Soon after he published his “Barons’ Wars,” and “England’s heroical Epistles;” his “Downfalls of Robert of Normandy, Matilda and Gaveston;” which were all written before 1598; and caused him to be highly celebrated at that time, when he was distinguished not only as a great genius, but as a good man. He was exceedingly esteemed by his contemporaries; and Burton, the antiquary of Leicestershire, after calling him his “near countryman and old acquaintance,” adds further of him, that, “though those transalpines account us tramontani, rude, and barbarous, holding our brains so frozen, dull, and barren, that they can afford no inventions or conceits, yet may he compare either with their old Dante, Petrarch, or Boccace, or their neoteric Marinella, Pignatello, or Stigliano. But why,” says Burton, “sould I go about to commend him, whom his own works and worthiness have sufficiently extolled to the world?

Drayton was one of the foremost of Apollo’s train, who welcomed James I. to his British dominions, with a congratulatory poem, &c. 1603, 4to and how this very poem, through strange ill luck, might have proved his ruin, but for his patient and prudent conduct under the indignity, he has, with as much freedom as was then convenient, informed us in the preface to his “Poly-Olbion,” and in his epistle to Mr. George Sandys among his elegies. It is probable, that the unwelcome reception it met with might | deter him from attempting to raise himself at court. In 1613 he published the first part of his “Poly-Olbion;” by which Greek tide, signifying very happy, he denotes England; as the ancient name of Albion is by some derived from Olbion, happy. It is a chorographical description of the rivers, mountains, forests, castles, &c. in this island, intermixed with the remarkable antiquities, rarities, and commodities thereof. The first part is dedicated to prince Henry, by whose encouragement it was written: and there is an engraving at full length of that prince, in a military posture, exercising his pike. He had shewed Drayton some singular marks of his favour, and seems to have admitted him as one of his poetical pensioners; but dying before the book was published, our poet lost the benefit of his patronage. There are 1 S songs in this volume, illustrated with the learned notes of Selden; and there are maps before every song, in which the cities, mountains, forests, rivers, &c. are represented by the figures of men and women. His metre of 12 syllables being now antiquated, it is quoted more for the history than the poetry in it; and in that respect is so very exact, that, as Nicolson observes, and since, Mr. Gough, Drayton’s Poly-Olbion affords a much truer account of this kingdom, and the dominion of Wales, than could well be expected from the pen of a poet. It is interwoven with many fine episodes: of the conquest of this island by the Romans; of the coming of the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans, with an account of their kings; of English warriors, navigators, saints, and of the civil wars of England, &c. This volume was reprinted in 1622, with the second part, or continuation of 12 songs more, making 30 in the whole, and dedicated to prince Charles, to whom he gives hopes of bestowing the like pains upon Scotland.

In 1626 we find him styled poet laureat, in a copy of his own verses written in commendation of Abraham Holland, and prefixed to the posthumous poems of that author. It is probable, that the appellation of poet laureat was not formerly confined so strictly, as it is now, to the person on whom this title is conferred by the crown, who is presumed to have been at that time Ben Jonson; because we find it given to others only as a distinction of their excellency in the art of poetry; to Mr. George Sandys particularly, who was our author’s friend. The print of Drayton, before the first volume of his works in | folio, has a wreath of bays above his head, and so has his bust in Westminster-abbey; yet when we find that the portraits of Joshua Sylvester, John Owen, and others, who never had any grant of the laureat’s place, are as formally crowned with laurel as those who really possessed it, we have reason to believe, that nothing more was meant by it, than merely a compliment.*

*

This matter is more fully explained by Mr. Malone in his Life of Dryden, vol. I. p. 78, 205.

Besides, as to Drayton, he tells us himself, in his dedication to sir William Aston of “The Owl,” that he leaves the iaurel to those who may look after it. In 1627 was published the second volume of his poems, containing his “Battle of Agincourt, Miseries of queen Margaret, Court of Fairies, Quest of Cynthia, Shepherd’s Syrena, elegies, also, the Moon-Calf,” which is a strong satire upon the masculine affectations of women, and the effeminate disguises of the men, in those times. The elegies are 12 in number, though there are but eight reprinted in the edition of 1748. In 1630 he published another volume of poems in 4to, entitled, the “Muses’ Elyzium:” with three divine poems, on Noah’s flood, Moses’s birth and miracles, and David and Goliath. Draytori died in 1631, and was buried in Westminster-abbey amongst the poets.

The learned and elegant editor of Phillips’s “Theatrum” appears to have appreciated the poetry of Drayton at its full value, when at the same time that he thinks his taste less correct, and his ear less harmonious than Daniel’s, he asserts, that “his genius was more poetical, though it seems to have fitted him only for the didactic, and not for the bolder walks of poetry. The ‘Poly-Olbion’ is a work of amazing ingenuity; and a very large proportion exhibits a variety of beauties, which partake very strongly of the poetical character; but the perpetual personification is tedious, and more is attempted than is within the compass of poetry. The admiration in which the * Heroical Epistles’ were once held, raises the astonishment of a more refined age. They exhibit some elegant images, and some musical lines. But in general they want passion and nature, are strangely flat and prosaic, and are intermixed with the coarsest vulgarities of ideas, sentiment, and expression. His ‘Barons’ Wars,’ and other historical pieces are dull creeping narratives, with a great deal of | the same faults, and none of the excellencies which ought to distinguish such compositions. His ‘Nymphidia’ is light and airy, and possesses the features of true poetry.1

1

Biog. Brit. Johnson and Chalmers’s English Poets, 1810. Warton’s Hist. of Poetry.—Censura Literaria.—Headly’s Beauties, &c. &c.