INTRODUCTION

1. Although authors’ reputations rise and fall over time, it would be difficult to find one whose standing has declined more precipitously than William Alabaster [1568 - 1640]. NOTE 1 His abortive attempt to write an Aeneid for his times, the Elisaeis, was praised by Spenser as the poem of the age (Colin Clouts Come Home Again 400ff.). Thinking at least primarily of his theological writings, Herrick hailed him as One onely glory of a million / In whom the spirit of the Gods dost dwell. NOTE 2 With an eye on his bloody revenge tragedy Roxana in his The Worthies of England Thomas Fuller called him “as most rare poet as any our age or nation hath produced.” NOTE 3 In his Life of Milton Samuel Johnson ventured the opinion that “if we produced anything worthy of notice before the elegies of Milton it was perhaps Alabaster’s Roxana.NOTE 4 Even more recently, in his 1847 essay Quaestio Quamobrem Poetae Latini Recentiores Minus Legantur Walter Savage Landor named him, along with Thomas Campion, first in a list of England’s outstanding Latin poets. NOTE 5 Another, and ultimately more eloquent mark of his stature is the number of manuscripts in which his various works are preserved. In contrast to such extravagant praise, the amount of modern critical or scholarly effort that has been invested in Alabaster is distinctly limited. But, both as a Latin poet of no mean ability and as an interesting case history of a “vexed and troubled Englishman,” an intellectual divine inwardly torn by religious turmoil, perceived (and often scorned) by his contemporaries as a notorious tergiversator, he retains a certain amount of interest.
2. In one form or another, Alabaster’s major literary works, his tragedy Roxana (a Latin adaptation of Luigi Groto’s La Dalida), the fragmentary epic Elisaeis, and his vernacular sonnets, are available in modern versions. NOTE 6 There remains a corpus of fifty items either definitely or at least very likely by Alabaster, that needed to be assembled from a wide variety of sources, printed and manuscript. The manuscripts (with identifying sigla given in bold type) drawn upon for the present collection are these:

1. Bodleian Library Ashmole 38, art. 87, containing poem XVI (A).

2. Bodleian Library Rawlinson D283, containing poems XXVIII, XVI, XXII, XXXVII, XV, XXXII, XVII, XXXVIII, XXX, XXXIV, XVIII, XXXV, XXXIII, XIX,  XX, XXV, XXVI and XXVIII (B).Bound together with a separate manuscript containing Aesop’s fables in Latin verse.

3. Bodleian Library Rawlinson D293, a splendid presentation copy containing Book I of the Elisaeis and poems XXVIII, XVI, XXII, XXXIII, XIX,  XX, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, and *XIV (C).

4. Bodleian Library Rawlinson D399, containing poem XVI in a commonplace book (D).

5. Bodleian Library Rawlinson Poet. 62, containing poem XXXI   in a commonplace book (E)

6. Bodleian Library Tanner 306, containing poem XVI in a commonplace book (F).

7. British Library Royal 12a, xxxv, containing poems XXIII - XXVII (G). Marred by a surprising number of scribal errors for a presentation copy. On the title page next to Alabaster’s name is “Iohannes Mauritius” (John Moore), either an owner of the ms. or its copyist.

8. British Library Cottonian Jul. Caes. v (a collection of letters received by  Alabaster’s former schoolmaster William Camden), containing poem I   (H).

9. British Library Add. 25,303, containing poem XVI   in a commonplace book (I).

10. Corpus Christi College (Oxford) 309. William Fulham’s commonplace book, containing poems XVI   and V - VIII and also sonnets 74 and 41 (J). For a discussion of this manuscript cf. E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare (Oxford, 1930) II.255f.

11. Folger Shakespeare Library X.d.214. The library’s description is “Written on the back of a printed leaf signed de Neufville, Aug. 5, 1582, possibly part of the preface to De l’origine et institution des  festes et sollenites ecclesiastiques, (1582), by François de Neufville,” containing poem XIII (K)

12. Gonville and Caius College (Cambridge) 73/40, containing poems XXVIII, XVI, XXII and XXIX in a commonplace book (L). A transcription of Alabaster’s items in this manuscript has been printed by J. J. Smith, The Cambridge Portfolio  (London, 1840) 183 - 6.

13. Huntington Library (San Marino, California) EL 428, a letter from Alabaster to Lord Ellesmere, ending with some Latin verses included here as poem XI (M)

14. Huntington Library HM 172, containing poem XVI in a commonplace book (N).

15. Huntington Library HM 41536, containing poem XVI written in a blank sheet of an accounts book (O). It is written together with John Donne’s A Hymn to God the Father and an anonymous short Latin love poem ad Chlorindam, accompanied by two English translations. Since Alabaster did not otherwise write erotic poetry and since no woman named Chlorinda is known to have figured in his life, there appears to be no reason for attributing this trifle to him.

16. Huntington Library HM 39464, containing poems XVI and *XLI - *L; evidently a collection of Latin poems, which I shall argue are all by Alabaster, with accompanying English translations (P).

17. Trinity College (Dublin) 877, containing poem XXVIII in a commonplace book (Q).

18. Vatican Library Regiensis Latinus 666, containing poem X (R).

Both original printed sources and modern editions or reprintings of these texts will be recorded in appropriate commentary notes.
3. The initial problem confronting the editor of a miscellany such as can be assembled from these sources concerns order of presentation. At least approximate chronological order is always a good idea, and in this case is at least partially feasible because Alabaster’s life falls into three very distinct chapters: his years at Westminster and Cambridge prior to his conversion in the summer of 1597, his Catholic period, which lasted until ca. 1610, and his mature years, when he sought and won reacceptance by the British establishment and then lived out his life as an Anglican rector, beginning about 1612. A number of Alabaster’s poems can be dated with reasonable exactitude, at least if one assumes they were written tolerably soon after the events that inspired them. Others are not so precisely datable but can be assigned to one of these three periods. There remains a considerable residue of items, mostly on generalized ethical subjects, not written in response to specific datable events, and not reflecting any particular doctrinal position. These considerations permit an edition divided into four sections: the Westminster/Cambridge poems (I  - XIV), Catholic ones (XV - XXI), ones written after 1612 (XXII - XXXVI), and undatable items (XXII - XLIX). In each of the first three sections, poems that can be dated with precision are printed in chronological order, and are followed by poems that cannot, but that obviously belong to that period of Alabaster’s life. For want of a better organizational principle, poems belonging to the fourth category are printed according to the alphabetical order of the manuscript that contains them.
4. The two principal collections on which this edition is based are of quite different characters, and the only common denominator between them is the ubiquitous poem XVI. The first is a collection entitled epigrammata authore Gulielmo Alabastro  s. theologiæ professore (attribution to Alabaster of an academic title he never possessed suggests that he was not responsible for its compilation). Many of these are occasional pieces, often written in response to events or personalities of a public nature, identifiable and therefore often datable. The inclusion of poem XXXIV shows that the collection was not assembled prior to 1635. The items in this anthology are not organized by chronology any more than by any other principle, so that poems representing various periods of the author’s life, and consequently quite different religious views, are jumbled together at random. This creates some startling juxtapositions. Most spectacularly, XV speaks warmly of the Jesuit Father Henry Garnet, regarded by Anglo-Catholics as a martyr and all but a saint, but by loyal Anglicans as an arch-traitor, and this poem is immediately followed by XXXI, addressed to a man who was simultaneously an Anglican bishop and a member of James’ government. This collection is preserved most fully by B and C, and in very attenuated condition by J, which contains only its first three items. NOTE 7 With two exceptions, B and C present the same poems in the same order. B concludes with XXXV, gratulatory verses for Sir Ralph Freeman’s translation of Seneca’s Consolatio ad Marciam, whereas C follows this with XXXVI, similar verses for Freeman’s translation of Seneca’s de Brevitate Vitae. It is possible that XXXVI did not stand in the collection in its original form, because it appeared in a volume printed subsequently, and was later added by a reader who found it in the book (it was printed in the second edition, as it presumably also was in the first, but no copy of the first edition survives to establish its publication date). It is equally possible that XXXVI has been accidentally omitted from B or its exemplar. Its position at the end of the collection could be alleged in support of both views.
5. The Huntington collection preserved in P is evidently incomplete at the beginning (if nothing else, it lacks a title page), and in its present condition consists of 37 bound and numbered pages. This volume contains eleven Latin poems with accompanying English translations; the Latin ones are written in an italic script, their vernacular counterparts in a secretary hand (since educated Englishmen could write in both styles, there is no reason to doubt that this is the work of a single copyist). NOTE 8 With the exception of the popular poem XVI, the items in this collection consist of poetic elaborations on familiar ethical themes. Some  of these are sufficiently developed that they deserve to be classified as sermones, or morally edifying satires in the manner of Horace. At least in the Latin versions, the quality of the versification and occasional flashes of lively wit and originality impart genuine interest.
6. The anonymous contributor to the Huntington Library card catalogue expresses hesitancy about attributing this collection to Alabaster. Only one poem in this collection, XVI, is indisputably his. What about the rest? Although certainty is impossible, it is likely that he can be held responsible for the entire body of work. The quality of the Latin poems is good enough, and that of the English ones sufficiently indifferent, to support this conclusion. For the English translations in the collection are no less incompetently written than are Alabaster’s sonnets, and display much the same defects. Thus, for example, there are a number of lines that contain only four or four and a half feet in both sets of poems; sometimes, no doubt, this should be blamed on the copying process, but, as the editors of the sonnets noted about their corrections of similar mistakes, “it is possible that the editor has here done for the author what he should have done for himself.” In the present set of poems, it is tolerably clear that copyists have omitted words at *XLVII.58 and *XIX.13 (in its unedited form Which chills thy bones, and runnes through veines), where the sense as well as the meter patently wants a word; it is perhaps a little less clear that the same explanation applies to *XLIII.32 and *XLIV.11. More important for diagnostic purposes is another comment made by the editors of the sonnets:

In many cases it is Alabaster’s incompetence which leaves the reader in doubt where the stress on a word should fall and uncertain whether to elide a syllable or not. It seemed better not to overload the commentary by suggestions as to how lines might be read, and to leave the reader to decide whether Alabaster’s frequent failures to ‘keep accent’ are due to a bad ear or to deliberate experimentation in handling the decasyllabic line.

This observation applies with equal force to the present poems. In extreme cases, one encounters such lines as Sonnet 6.2, The mount spiritual, and there supply, where the accentuation of “spiritual” is, to put it mildly, eccentric. One can match this phenomenon in the Huntington poems: some of the more egregious examples are both “purse-leaches” and ”Westminster” at *XLIII.12, *XLVII.87 “innumerable,” and *XLVII.106 “Ambrosian.” Certainty about scansion is frequently impossible, and sometimes it seems as if the poet is satisfied if he can manage to put ten syllables in a line, without being overly concerned how he achieves them. But it is likelier that Alabaster indeed was engaged in “deliberate experimentation in handling the decasyllabic line,” and that he, like Sidney, Campion, and others before him, entertained a theory of prosody influenced by the quantitative metrics of Latin poetry rather than the stress-based ones of English. Specifically, it would seem that he reasoned that an iamb was composed of three minims, and so permitted himself the substitution of trochees for iambs, since trochees too are made of three minims (in theory, such a doctrine would also permit the substitution of an iamb for a trochee, but I do not recall encountering one in practice). One sees this phenomenon both in his sonnets and in the English version of Roxana, which I have argued to be written by Alabaster himself. The fact that this trochee-for-iamb phenomenon is visible throughout the collection of poems preserved by P is a powerful reason for attributing it to Alabaster. There is only one technical matter in which the poems of the Huntington anthology differ from the sonnets. In the latter, Alabaster often scans such terminations as -ion, -ial, and -ience as disyllables, especially at the end of the line. The Huntington poems do not employ many words with these terminations, and when they do they are scanned normally. But the infrequency of these instances would appear to deprive this observation of any especial significance. At most, this might indicate that the two groups of poems were written at different periods in the poet’s life, when his ear (or perhaps his theory of versification) was not identical. This would seem to be the only stylistic point that could be employed to challenge attribution of the Huntington poems to Alabaster, and by itself it does not seem a compelling one.
7. The sonnet editors also complained about occasional unintelligibility:

Faced with poems of such unequal accomplishment and a poet so inexact in his use of language, a commentator has at times to be content to suggest a general sense and acknowledge that often another reader’s guess may be as good as his own. To discuss some of the more obscure passages at any length would be ’to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility.’

There are some points where the sense and syntax of the Huntington poems are no less elliptic and crabbed. Perhaps the most memorable such line is *XLIX.12, Thy paine thou coulds’t not, less avoide thy feare. A commentator can only inform the reader that this appears to mean “You could not avoid thy pain, and even less so your fear,” and hope that he has got it right. Or again, take the couplet L.35f.:

                                 Instead of flowers, chill shivering Winter dresses
                                 With Isicles her (selfe-bald) borrow’d tresses.

It takes the reader a moment to realize that selfe-bald means “bald herself” and is to be construed with “Winter.”
8. The generalized ethical nature of most of these poems discourages comparison with the contents of Alabaster’s other work, but a couple of points perhaps deserves comment. The first two lines of the English description of Autumn in *L (21f.) are:

Then from the mid-heaven Sols bright flame doth fly
Towards the cross  starred in th’ Antarctic Sky

This finds a possibly significant parallel in the description of the coming of night at Elisaeis 333ff.:

Spumantes iam Phoebus equos currumque supinum
Hesperiis roravit aquis qua caeliter Atlas
Hinc mare praeruptum, hinc Lybicos superintonat aestus.   
Iamque Magellano radians confinia ponto 
Anglorum antipodes roseo Matuta recursu 
Lustravit, nostrumque diem transcripsit ad Indos
Et ferrugineis Europam involverat alis
Roscida Nox, divesque effudit cornua Somnus.

[“Now Phoebus had plunged his foam-flecked horses and idle chariot in Italian waters, where from on high Atlas  thunders down on the steep ocean on one hand, and on the other on Libya’s heat. And now at her return Dawn was shedding her light on the Sea of Magellan, on the opposite side of the globe from the English, transferring the daylight to the Indies, and dewy night enfolded Europe in her dusky wings as wealthy Sleep poured out his cornucopia.”]

Both passages feature the same superimposition of modern geographical awareness on classical poetic commonplaces. Then too, poem XLI, which compares a beautiful girl to flowers and other handsome things in the natural world, and uses these comparisons to draw very moralistic conclusions, is more than a little similar to poem XXV, undoubtedly by Alabaster.
9. So the quirks and defects of these poems seem sufficiently similar to those of the sonnets to support attribution to Alabaster. Their Latin equivalents are written with far greater assurance and exhibit the same sound grasp of the technicalities of Latin metrics and quantification that one finds in Alabaster’s Latin works. NOTE 9 There are no textual problems in the corresponding Latin poems that cannot be ascribed to copying errors. In sum, the contrast between the Latin and the English is precisely what we would expect for Alabaster. While the authorship of these poems is not entirely certain, we may regard it as nearly such.
10. I am of course grateful to all the libraries that supplied me with photographs or microfilms of manuscripts in their possession, as detailed in the Introduction, but I must express my particular gratitude to the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, for allowing me access to their manuscript and rare books holdings; it was there that I discovered several manuscripts containing poetry by Alabaster that do not appear to have been previously mentioned in the scholarly literature.

11. This collection of poems first appeared in my Unpublished Works by William Alabaster (1568 - 1640), vol. 126 in the Salzburg Studies in English Literature, Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies (1997). This second, electronic edition permits me to make improvements over the print one: 1.) I had included as conjecturally by Alabaster, and identified as poem *II, a short laudatory epigram on Drake's circumnavigation, preserved without attribution in Q (a commonplace book that contains poem XXVIII). I have subsequently found this to be a schoolboy effort — in fact, one of the poems pinned to the mainmast of the Golden Hind on the day of Drake's knighting — by John Owen. which he later printed as his epigram II.39. 2.) The confusion was facilitated by the fact that both Alabaster and Owen were pupils of Willam Camden at the Westminster School. I had omitted the 1596 epitaph Alabaster wrote for Christopher Morley of Trinity College, now included as poem X. 3.) Misled by a secondary source, I stated that that Alabaster's aunt Anne Still had died in 1597, but have now learned that the date on her tomb is 1593. This has required moving Alabaster's cycle of epigrams on her death to an earlier position in the collection. The following table summarizes the differences of poem numeration between the old and new editions:

NEW

I
---
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
VIII
*IX
X
XI



OLD

I
*II
III
IV
V
VII
VIII
IX
X
*XI
---
VI

 

Commencing with poem XII, the numeration of the two editions is identical. 4.) In connection with arguing that the English version of Roxana is the work of Alabaster himself, I have been obliged to rethink the accentual irregularities in Alabaster's versification, which I had previously regarded as a sign of simple incompetence. It seems preferable to think that he had an idiosyncratic theory of metrification (albeit a one perhaps less than perfectly applied in practice). 5.) Since 1997, at least one significant item of Alabaster scholarship has appeared, John S. Alabaster's A Closer Look at William Alabaster (1568 - 1640): Poet, Theologian, and Spy? (Alabaster Society Occasional Monograph No. 1, 2003), from which I have gleaned various useful items of information. The true death-date of Anne Still, for example, is given on p. 133, n. 18, and the facts set forth about Christopher Morley in the next footnote on the same page places a valuable and completely effective quietus on the fancies of conspiracy theorists who imagine that this epitaph has anything at all to do with Christopher Marlowe.

 

Notes

NOTE 1 For a modern biography cf. G. M. Story and Helen Gardner, The Sonnets of William Alabaster (Oxford, 1959) xi - xxiii (in this work, Story is responsible for the introductory biographical material, and Gardner for the edition and annotation of the sonnets); L. I. Guiney, Recusant Poets: More to Jonson (New York, 1939) 335 - 46, and, most importantly, Eleanor Coutts’ unpublished “The Life and Works of William Alabaster, 1568 - 1640” (diss. Madison, 1957).

NOTE 2  Poetical Works (ed. L. C. Martin, Oxford, 1936) 256f.  Story - Gardner, p. 63, give a more comprehensive list of early references to Alabaster as a poet (cf. also Coutts, pp. 1f.). They point out that he is frequently praised for his Latin poetry, almost never for his English. For a higher estimation of his sonnets than is usually conceded, cf. George Klawitter, “Craft and Purpose in Alabaster’s Incarnation Sonnets,” University of Hartford Studies in Literature (Winter 1985) 60 - 66, and “Alabaster’s ‘Ensign’ sonnets: Calm before the Storm,” in Eugene Cunnar and Jeffrey Johnson (edd.), Discovering and Recovering the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Pittsburgh, 2000) 62 - 79.

NOTE 3 Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England (ed. P. Austin Nuttall, London, 1840, repr. New York, 1965) III.185ff., a judgment repeated almost verbatim by  Anthony à Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, Fasti Oxonienses, and Life of Anthony à Wood (ed. Philip Bliss, London, 1813 - 22, repr. Hildesheim, 1969), I.259f. of the Fasti (in Volume ii of the set). Wood had a habit of borrowing from other writers without giving proper credit.

NOTE 4  Samuel Johnson, The Lives of the Poets (London, 1959) I.65.

NOTE 5 Poemata et Inscriptiones Novis Auxit Savagius Landor (London, 1847) 290. To be sure, in Musae Anglicanae: A History of Anglo-Latin Poetry 1500 - 1925 (New York, 1940, repr. New York, 1966), Leicester Bradner voiced the suspicion that Landor’s list was not based on personal familiarity with these authors, but rather was appropriated from Thomas Farnaby’s Index Poeticus of 1634. In any event, this is evidence for how Alabaster’s reputation was perpetuated.

NOTE 6 “The ‘Elisaeis’ of William Alabaster” (ed. Michael O’Connell, Studies in Philology monograph 76, 1979). The edition of the sonnets (a sequence of sixty-three written in the initial flyleaves of a 1558 French book of hours owned by St. John's College, Cantab.) has been cited above, and some of them are available in electronic format here.

NOTE 7 B and C are very alike in their readings and must be closely related descendants of a common exemplar. B cannot be copied from C because in B  poem XXIII is complete (B also does contains two lines in XXII which are omitted in C), and C cannot be copied from B because in C the title of XXXV is correct, whereas in B it is not.

NOTE 8 In transcribing this latter hand I have rather arbitrarily imposed the modern distinction between U and V, since it is often too uncertain which letter the scribe intended to write to allow an accurate transcription.

NOTE 9 The reader may care to compare O’Connell’s appraisal of Alabaster’s style as a Latinist, pp. 6 - 8. It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between Alabaster’s English and Latin styles: his Latin can be difficult to read when he is straining after stylistic effects and striving to seem erudite or “impressive,” but the soundness of his technique is unquestionable.