Source: H Date: 1583. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
This poem was written in 1583, when Alabaster took his leave of Westminster School. Three years William Camden would gain national prominence as an antiquary and topographer with the publication of the first edition of his Britannia. He was second master at Westminster during Alabaster’s time there.The autograph letter containing this poem is preserved among Camden’s papers, and was printed by Thomas Smith, V. Cl. Gulielmi Candeni et IllustriumVirorum Epistolae (London, 1691) p. 398.
In this letter the poet signs himself “Allibaster.” This same spelling is found in the postscript of a letter from Richard Thompson of Cambridge to Camden of July 1, 1594 (Brit. Lib. ms. Cottonian Jul. Caes. V, fol. 55). Perhaps the poet spelled his surname this way until he learned its etymology (from Arblast, “crossbowman”), about which he gratuitously lectured the Jesuit authorities in the deposition he made upon arriving at the English College at Rome.
Alabaster offers an elaborate prayer to the sun and moon to brighten Camden’s days and nights.
2 Jama was a Roman moon goddess commonly identified with Diana. Since Artemis-Diana-Hecate was the triple goddess also identified with the moon, it is not difficult to see how she could come to be viewed as all goddesses combined in one.
3f. Phoebus Apollo was, among other things, a wolf god, and was likewise identified with the sun. I know of no ancient tradition that gave him any especial connection with Egypt, but since Egypt was the home of sun-worship and had plenty of animal-shaped gods, it is easy to see how such an association might have been imagined in the Renaissance. Nor am I aware of any syncretistic tradition that made Phoebus a compendium of all the gods: possibly Alabaster invented this in order achieve a symmetrical balance between Phoebus and his sister Diana.
5 The idea, I suppose, is that the hours glide by like snakes.
11f. Let no Thessalian witch try to call down the moon from the sky by whispering her magic spells; let no bird defile Diana’s statue at a crossroads (in her aspect of Trivia she was goddess of the crossroads).
13f. The ancients supposed that the sun came closest to Ethiopia (literally “the Burning Land”). Hence Ethiopians were burnt black by the sun, and probably Alabaster intended a pun on atra. The Ethiopian, resenting this mistreatment, might try to harm Phoebus, a counterpart to the Thessalian witch’s attempt to bring down Diana.
II - IV.
Source: poems II - IV were printed in Alexander Neville (ed.), Academiae Cantabrigiensis Lachrymae Tumulo Nobilissimi Equitis D. Philippi Sidneii Sacratae (London, 1587). This volume is photographically reproduced in Elegies for Sir Philip Sidney (1587); Facsimile Reproductions with an Introduction by A. J. Colaianne and W. L. Godshalk (unpaginated, New York, 1980) Date: 1587. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
This and the following two epigrams were printed in the 1587 Cambridge memorial anthology on the death of Sir Philip Sidney. There is an ostensible problem with the authorship of these items. In the book the first two poems and all but the final couplet of the third appear on the recto of a page, and the last two lines of the third on its verso, followed by Alabaster’s name. The recto is numbered as p. 67, and the verso as p. 72. But it is unlikely that anything more serious is wrong than that the printer misnumbered the pages. Lines 7f. of the third poem explain and expand on the statement made in line 6, and who better than Alabaster, a lifelong student of Semitic philology, to contribute II? The volume in which these poems appear seems to have been a “rush job” hustled through a London printer rather than issued by the university’s own press, in order to be ready for distribution on the day of Sidney’s funeral, and it is likely that both this error and the garbled Hebrew of II are to be explained by the haste with which the book was produced.
The first of these three items is an unintelligible twelve-line poem in Hebrew. Being wholly ignorant of that language, I reproduce the observations of Coutts (p. 56), who minored in Hebrew in as a graduate student:
…the Hebrew characters are very difficult to distinguish. The Hebrew poem is obviously a lament, and several quite likely phrases can be deciphered. Sidney is “he who has not been asked for help in vain,” and the elegy concludes with a contrast of the laments of the University below, and Sidney’s “songs, which are now made blessed upon the heights of the mighty ones.”
The interested reader is referred to the photographic reprint of the volume in which it appeared, as described in the Introduction.
Alabaster’s Greek leaves something to be desired. In the title of the first of his two epigrams ΓΝΗΣΙΣΤΑΤΟΥ ought to be ΓΝΗΣΙΟΤΑΤΟΥ, and if in line 7 πάντος is to be construed with ἀρετῆς — what is the alternative? — he ought to have written πάσης. In the second, γε in line 6 and even more μὲν in line 8 are inserted to fill out the meter, without any particular thought being given to their meaning. In III.3 and 5 τέθναε is the shorter form of the perfect of θνήσκω, although the third person singiular of this form appears to be unattested in classical Greek. The last word of the poem is an impossible ἄδειν with a short first syllable, instead of ᾄδειν. IV.1 κεκοσμένος ought to take the dative rather than the genitive.
Many contemporary eulogistic poems for Sidney describe his assumption into heaven, his cooptation into the pantheon, his metamorphosis into a star, etc. Doubtless the most elaborate of these is the epyllion printed as Eclogue IV of Thomas Watson’s Amintae Gaudia (1592), but variants on the same theme can be found poems more or less contemporary with this one, such as William Gager’s poem XXXIII, printed in the corresponding Oxford anthology of memorial verse.
V - VIII.
Source: J. Date: 1593. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
A series of memorial epigrams for the poet’s aunt. she was the wife of John Still, Master of Trinity College (and also Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity) and subsequently Bishop of Bath and Wells, who used to be thought the probable author of Gamer Gurton’s Nedle. The inscription on her tomb at Hadleigh, Suffolk, states that she died on April 15, 1597.
The first poem involves puns on the name Still, played off against stella (“star”) and stilla (“drop.”)
4 The unstated antecedent of huic is presumably the viewer of the tomb.
6 Or perhaps we should translate “She was a Still.”
Source: Tomb inscription on the grave of Anne Still, Hadleigh Church, Hadleigh, Suffolk. Date: 1593. Meter: Dactylic hexameters.
Coutts suggested Alabaster’s authorship: “There is a characteristic play on her surname, and the compressed skill of the Latin verse does suggest him.” Possibly VII - X were alternate texts Alabaster had written for the memorial.
Source: R, fols. 155v - 156r. Reproduced by Alan H. Nelson, Records of Early English Drama: Cambridge (Toronto, 1989) II.851f.Date: 1596. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Recorded in the diary of Baron Waldstein, who visited Cambridge in July 1597, prefaced with the words Hunc diem videndis collegiis impendimus. Primum ingressi sumus collegium Trinitatus, quod omnium est amplissimum… In sacello ubi preces et conciones habentur, hoc legitur epitaphium: “”Christophoro Morlio huius collegii quondam socio posuit Ioannes Slede, ibidem quondam socius…” [“I spent today visiting the colleges. I first went into Trinity College, the largest of them all…In the chapel, where prayers and sermons are transacted, this epitaph can be read: Set up for Christopher Morley, a sometime Fellow of this college, by John Slade, likewise a sometime Fellow…”]
Christopher Morley matriculated from Trinity College in 1578 (B. A. 1583, M. A. 1586, Fellowship 1585); his last will and testament (witnessed by Alabaster’s close friend Hugh Holland) is preserved at Trinity College and can be seen here. Morley is attested to have acted in a 1595 Trinity comedy (Nelson, ib. I.356), and perhaps Alabaster wrote this epitaph because he had played a part in Roxana.
According to John S. Alabaster (p. 133 n. 19), the individual who erected this inscription could be the John Stedd who had belonged to Trinity College from 1568 - 1577, and migrated to Oxford in 1579 (serving as a University Proctor in 1590 - 91). But at least according to Nelson’s printed text the name is Slede, not Stede.
Source: M.Date: 1596. Meter: Dactylic hexameters.
In its collection of Lord Ellesmere’s correspondence the Huntington Library possesses an autograph letter by Alabaster (our M). Although the letter is undated, the time and circumstances of its writing can be fixed with some precision. The addressee, Sir Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere, was appointed Keeper of the Seal on May 6, 1596. He had offered Alabaster the Rectorship of Brettenham, Suffolk, but the poet refuses on the grounds that he could not afford the honor: the statutes of Trinity College would oblige him to resign his Fellowship if he took the position, and the parish income would not suffice by itself to support him and further his studies. He makes the counterproposal that no Rector be installed — he uses what appears to be the technical term for this situation, interregnum, also used in this sense by Richard Eedes, Iter Boreale 267 — and that he be appointed as locum tenens with the Rector’s salary. In the course of the letter Alabaster alludes to the support of Essex, currently involved in preparations for the Cadiz expedition, which sailed during the first week of June. In the event, Ellesmere rejected this suggestion and instead Alabaster sailed for Cadiz as one of Essex’ chaplains (John Donne was another). The letter must therefore have been written sometime between May 6 and early June.
On a smaller scale, this poem bears a certain generic resemblance to Milton’s fourth Latin elegy (1627), probably because both poems take their inspiration from Ovid, Tristia III.vii.
4 These lines contain a fancifully poetic description of the Thames passing underneath London Bridge.
7 The Keepers of the Seal traditionally leased York House in the Strand from the Archbishop of York as their official residence.
12 Is ius the subject of habeat, or is the subject Ellesmere himself? The line contains a barely translatable pun on the two meanings of munus: the law (or Ellesmere) does its job without being paid to do it, i. e., without accepting bribes.
14 A severer problem is posed by subscisiva (Alabaster’s hand is quite legible, and the reading is not in doubt). In the classical Latin Alabaster aspired to imitate, there is no such adjective as subcisivus or succisivus, and at any rate any four-syllable adjective in agreement with otia standing at the beginning of the line would be unmetrical, as the fourth syllable must be long.
One reason for Alabaster’s skill as an epigrammaticist is that in his younger days he owned and closely studied a copy of the 1566 Stephanus edition of The Greek Anthology. These verses represent his translation of Anthology V.216 (by Agathias Scholasticus), written marginally, as imperfectly transcribed by Coutts p. 114. The ends of lines 3 and (evidently) 4 are smudged; in my textual notes I have suggested conjectural restorations, since the text printed by Coutts is nonsensical. More transparent transcriptional errors can be corrected with reasonable certitude.
Since Coutts failed to identify the library that owns Alabaster’s copy of the Anthology, I have not been able to make a fresh transcription. Faute de mieux, the accompanying translation incorporates conjectural restoration, made with the help of the Greek original:
Εἰ φιλέεις, μὴ πάμπαν ὑποκλασθέντα χαλάσσῃς
θυμὸν ὀλισθηρῆς ἔμπλεον ἱκεσίης·
ἀλλά τι καὶ φρονέοις στεγανώτερον, ὅσσον ἐρύσσαι
ὀφρύας, ὅσσον ἰδεῖν βλέμματι φειδομένῳ.
ἔργον γάρ τι γυναιξὶν ὑπερφιάλους ἀθερίζειν
καὶ κατακαγχάζειν τῶν ἄγαν οἰκτροτάτων
κεῖνος δ’ ἐστὶν ἄριστος ἐρωτικός, ὃς τάδε μίξει
οἶκτον ἔχων ὀλίγῃ ξυνὸν ἀγηνορίῃ.
Source: K. Date: prior to summer 1597. Meter: Dactylic hexameters alternating with iambic trimeters.
Philippe de Mornay, Seigneur du Plessis, usually known as Du Plessis-Mornay [1549 - 1623] was a prominent French Protestant apologist, so influential that he was called “the Huguenot Pope.” This poem was probably inspired by a reading of his Traité de la verité de la religion chrétienne contre les athées, épicuriens, payiens, juifs, mohamétans, et autres infidèles (Antwerp, 1581). It is probably no more than coincidence that his Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort published at London in 1577 was written as a bridal present for Charlotte Arbaleste and that the surname Alabaster share the same derivation: no biography of our poet (including John S. Alabaster’s A Closer Look at William Alabaster, published by The Alabaster Society, 2003) mentions French family connections.
This poem was composed before Alabaster resigned his fellowship at Trinity College (summer, 1597). It is written in his own hand on the back of a printed page.
Source: C. Meter: Dactylic hexameters.
Immediately following XXXVI in C is a little Latin poem of no especial quality defining some rhetorical terms. It is written in a different hand than the rest of the manuscript. In C all but the first two lines of XXXIII were originally omitted, with part of the page left blank to acknowledge the poem’s defective condition in the copyist’s exemplar. The missing lines have been supplied in the same hand that wrote this item. We may probably presume that this second script was that of some subsequent owner of the manuscript who was able to complete XXXIII with the help of a good copy (although the manuscript otherwise shows no signs of collation), and who added the present lines on a blank page at the end of the ms. (it is written upside-down in relation to the rest). These facts as well as its nugatory nature strongly suggest that this poem is not to be ascribed to Alabaster. Nevertheless the possibility that this is an authentic item — if so, very likely written during his schoolboy days — that the manuscript’s owner garnered from some other source cannot be excluded absolutely; therefore it is included here, albeit with strong reservations.
Sources: BC. Date: Ca. 1606. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Superior for England, was tried and executed together with the surviving members of the Gunpowder Plot, in 1606. His actual complicity in the Plot has always been a subject for debate, and Catholics regard him as a martyr (he was beatified in the nineteenth century). Shortly after his death “Garnet’s straw” was discovered, an ear of wheat which, in the eyes of the faithful, reproduced his likeness and served as a sign of his sanctity. Henry Foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (London, 1877) IV.133 discusses the miracle and illustrates it with a facing plate. Cf. also Paul Durst, Intended Treason (London - New York, 1970) 277 - 9 with Plate 14 providing a superior rendition of the venerable object in question.
The upheaval following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot provided a tumultuous time for Alabaster. Although he had been freed in the general amnesty attendant upon James’ accession, he was swept into prison in a general roundup of the usual Catholic suspects (Story p. xix).
Sources: ABCDFIJLNOP. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The titles of J and N (and also the slightly corrupted one of ABC) show that the poem was written about the two Rainolds brothers, John Rainolds [1549 - 1607] and William Reynolds [d. 1594]. John, an outspoken Low Churchman, was a notable theologian and President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. William converted to Catholicism in 1575, migrated to the Continent, took holy orders, and held the chairs of Divinity and Hebrew at the English College at Rheims.
The situation of these two brothers, one who progressed from Catholicism to Protestantism, and the other vice versa, fascinated Alabaster, and there is a long passage about them in Alabaster’s Conversion (4.5 - 7), probably because it reminded him of his own conflicted and shifting attitudes toward religion; from the autobiography we also know that reading a book by William Reynolds was instrumental in triggering Alabaster’s conversion . Nevertheless the idea that each managed to convert the other to his position is a literary fiction. The frequency with which it turns up in manuscripts — measured by this yardstick, this is the most popular thing Alabaster ever wrote — suggest that it (and perhaps even its martial imagery) struck a chord with a number of readers in the period leading up to the Civil War.
This poem was first printed in Thomas Fuller’s account of John Rainolds in Abel Redivivus (1651), and latterly in the Cambridge Portfolio (London, 1840) 183, with a translator by the editor, J. J. Smith. The translation here, which is only attributed to Alabaster’s friend Hugh Holland in C and I, appears in a large majority of mss. F contains a second, by “G. S.”:
WarresStrife more than civill ’twixt two Brethren rose
Doubt in Religion
did beginmade them fall.
That stands up champion for th’ Reformed Creed,
This of Reforming sees no need.
The moments of each cause by both weigh’d well,
Equall they mett: Equall they fell.
Such was their Vote, Each let his Brother take,
Such was their Fate, both Faith forsake.
Both prisoners were, yet by no gaoler ty’d:
The Victor turn’d o’ th’ vanquished side.
Strange uncouth fight! Where Conquerd both are glad,
And yet each, that be conquerd, sad.
The last word of the first line was originally omitted and somebody else wrote in rose to fill out the line. It would appear that “G. S.” had seen Holland’s translation, or vice versa, as can be seen from the similar rhyming of take and forsake, and the resemblance of their final lines.
Source: C. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Evidently the fat of gulls and similar birds was used to make candles. The last line alludes to martyrdom at the stake.
Sources: BC. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The facts of this poem fit the case of Jane Dormer, Countess of Fiera [1538 - 1612], whose grandmother Lady Jane Dormer also died in exile for the sake of her Catholicism, in 1572 (life in D. N. B.). But 1612 seems a late date for Alabaster to write a pro-Catholic poem. Possibly some other aristocratic grandmother-granddaughter pairing can be identified.
Sources: BC.Date: ca. 1598. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Alabaster escaped to the Continent in 1598, and made his way to Rome by November, where he enrolled in the English College. Although he does not say so in Alabaster’s Conversion, evidently he passed through Venice on the way and, like many other Englishmen, fell under the city’s spell. For his possible route to Rome, see John S. Alabaster pp. 48f.
The Venus Anadyomene was a celebrated painting by the Greek Apelles, a contemporary of Alexander the Great. Alabaster confused it with a second painting of Venus left unfinished by the same artist (Cicero, de Officiis III.x.4, Pliny, Natural History XXXV.xci). He also wrote about Apelles’ famous painting in the first sentence of the dedicatory epistle preceding the Elisaeis (addressed to Elizabeth), Simulachrum Veneris ἀναδυομένης non e Cyprii maris angustiis, sed virtutum vestrarum Oceano (serenissime princeps)… [“I represent, most serene ruler, the image of a Venus rising, not from the narrows of the Cypriot sea, but from the ocean of your virtues… ”]
In the last line Alabaster alludes to the annual ceremony in which the Doge of Venice cast into the Adriatic to effect a symbolic wedding with the sea.
Sources: BC. Date: ca. 1598. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
This poem is not one of Alabaster’s happier inventions. The idea, I suppose, is that Venice is a Venus among cities, but the comparisons drawn between physical beauty and the beauty of a city are very forced.
3 There must be integrity of the individual parts, and also a due proportion of the parts when assembled together.
9f.Because law is tempered by mercy, there is not too much red (bloodshed) nor too much white (candor, or fairness).
The sixteenth poem from Abraham Cowley’s Sylva (1636). Louise I. Guiney, Recusant Poets (New York, 1939) 344 identified Alabaster as “Dr. A.” This suggestion has won the approval of Cowley’s editors, Thomas O. Calhoun, Laurence Heyworth, and Allan Pritchard, The Collected Works of Abraham Cowley (Newark, 1989) I.313, whence the present text is taken.
Sources: BCJ. Date: ca. 1612.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The Catholic Humanist Kaspar Schoppe [1576 - 1649] printed two treatises against King James, the Ecclesiasticus in 1611 and the even more scurrilous Collyrium Regium (“The Royal Suppository”) in the following year. This latter book was publicly burned at London in 1612 (and likewise in Paris because of some outrageous remarks that slandered the memory of Henri IV), and he was also hanged in effigy. There is a biographical sketch of Schoppe in J. Fr. Michard, Biographie Universelle (Graz, 1960), XXXVIII.509 - 11.
Attacking this writer so soon after the appearance of his two works was probably a stratagem by which Alabaster demonstrated his loyalty to James and the Anglican religion, as part of a campaign to rehabilitate himself. Indeed, several of his occasional poems dating from these years read almost like the work of a courtier-poet and seem calculated to attract the royal eye. Because of his conversion to Catholicism and subsequent erratic behavior, James once ventured the opinion that Alabaster was insane (Mark Eccles, Brief Lives; Tudor and Stuart Authors, Studies in Philology Texts and Studies 79, 1984, p. 4). Nevertheless, after his reconversion to Anglicanism he was restored to the king’s favor with a rapidity bordering on the marvelous. His offer to spy for England may have helped his cause. In May 1614 he was absolved by a public synod at Westminster, but even before this James had presented him with the living of Therford, Herts (attested by a letter of John Donne to Sir Henry Goodyer of March 14, 1614, quoted by Story p. xxi).
Smith, p. 183, printed this poem and provided the translation employed here. He also explained why Alabaster called Schoppe Scopticus: “[Scoffer] is, I believe, the nearest approach which the English language will afford to the very sorry pun of the original. The man’s Latin name was Schoppius, which Alabaster transformed into the Greek σκωπτικός, Ang. addicted to mocking or scoffing.”
Source: G. Date: 1613.Meter: Dactylic hexameters.
“In 1613…Francis, the Earl of Suffolk’s nymphomaniac daughter became the mistress of James’ reigning favourite, Robert Carr. She obtained an annulment of her marriage to the young earl of Essex on the grounds of his impotency, after a hearing farcical even by modern standards, and had the effrontery to marry Carr in the white dress and flowing hair of a virgin. James took a prurient interest in the annulment proceedings, and genially presided over the wedding, which was celebrated with unparalleled magnificence and debauchery in September 1613; two months later he created the bridegroom Earl of Somerset” — J. P. Kenyon, The Stuarts (London, 1958) 46.
The fact that Alabaster lent his complaint support to this effort, although the Archbishop of Canterbury was outspokenly unenthusiastic about granting an annulment, shows him at his most obsequious. Indeed, his praise of the newlyweds is so excessive that one might pardonably suspect him of satirical intentions. And in fact, his hints and even frank statements about Frances Howards’ rampant sexuality in poem XXV seem to show that he suffered from very few illusions about the nature of the business being transacted. But one must admit that John Donne contributed an Epithalamium for the same occasion. Thomas Campion supplied a masque, and Ben Jonson wrote two for the celebrations at Court that continued over the Yuletide season.
The reader, possibly a little overwhelmed by Alabaster’s effusive flattery and put off by his allusion to the brides’ first marriage, will be interested to learn that the happy couple subsequently became the most notorious murderers of James’ reign, an episode recently treated by Anne Somerset, Unnatural Murder: Poison at the Court of James I (London, 1997).
3 The marriage took place on December 26, 1613.
11f. Alabaster will interrupt his theological studies to participate in the festivities (at a time of year when authority is surrendered to Lords of Misrule and the like).
15 Fescennine verses, involving bawdy and joshing humor, were sung at Roman weddings.
38 I cannot explain why Alabaster calls the bride “Horatia.”
53ff. These frigid sophistries in support of the annulment of the bride’s first marriage seem tasteless (71f. quae plenius intrat / connubii corpus is downright nasty), and are especially unpoetic because they are placed in the mouth of Poetry herself.
62 One can only guess that praesuppositam indicates something that can be presupposed or taken for granted, since the word is not in the classical Latin lexicon.
69 A lustrum was a period of five years, so this line ought to indicate that Francis Howard’s previous marriage had lasted ten years; in fact she had married the second Earl of Essex in January 1606. So probably what Alabaster means is that the marriage was in its second lustrum when it was dissolved.
77ff. The complex thought of these lines is difficult to disentangle. Seemingly, it operates on two simultaneous levels. The poet is expressing the hope that the discord and unhappiness of the brides’ former marriage will be placed firmly behind her. But a couple of touches seem to invoke the idea that the Gunpowder Plot and its treasons are also safely buried in the past; the use of the significant word seditio. Other than the general idea of “happy days are hear again,” it is hard to divine what precisely these things have to do with each other. Or is 77 sortilegis inflata venena susurris meant to allude to the Archbishop’s opposition to the marriage, with an insinuation that such opposition is treasonous?
79 Apparently seditio (simultaneously meaning domestic discord and political sedition) is being compared to the shapeless matter of this our ephemeral world, before Plato’s Demiurge gave it form, as described in the Timaeus (i. e., it is compared to Chaos).
83 Lit., “with you as my thumb” (as a lutenist would use his thumb to strum his instrument).
90ff. Alabaster is thinking of the construction of a lyre: a tortoise shell (testudo) served as the resonating chamber. Out of this protruded two rods (postes) which held between them a crossbeam (trabes). These three pieces served as a frame to hold the strings. The bride’s virtue will serve as a carpenter’s square (norma) ensuring that the rods remain precisely perpendicular to the crossbeam, as (at least according to Alabaster’s understanding of the construction of musical instruments) they must remain at a right angle if the instrument is to retain its tuning and make good music.
93 The double-entendres wherewith this passage is liberally larded no doubt constitute Alabaster’s idea of Fescennine humor.
Source: G. Date: 1613.Meter: Dactylic hexameters.
Anagrams must have had a mystical significance for Alabaster, since the detection of anagrams in the Hebrew text of the Bible was part of his method for deciphering scriptural secrets. Our poet’s strategy in this and the following poems is to derive an anagram from the addressee’s name and then writing a poem employing imagery suggested by it (the following two vernacular sonnets do the same thing). He probably got the idea from Francis Davison’s Anagrammata in Nomina Illustrissomorum Heroum (1603).
15 Omnes sumus implies a linkage between Alabaster’s own rising fortunes and those of Somerset, since he himself was aspiring to rehabilitate himself with James.
24 Here, maintaining the metaphor, demulcet describes the caressing motion with which the sculptor applies his clay.
26 I. e., it strives to be recognized.
28 Evidently the reader is supposed to supply se on his own, although it is a temptation to write <se> exemplo. Vacuae buccae may signify an Earl with an empty mouth (i. e. with nothing especial to say), but more likely bucca here means, as we should say, “word of mouth,” i. e., an Earl whose reputation is not a vain and empty one. Exemplum does not designate the emblematic model of his name’s anagram, but indicates that Somerset strives to pattern himself after James, as stated immediately below.
29 Another difficult line. The manuscript comma after speculum is easily removed: like many poets of the time, Alabaster often inserted a comma merely as a caesura-marking device (in this edition, such commas are silently removed). In the ms. there is no punctuation after movet, although a period could be supplied after that word with novisti taken independently. But it is likelier that movet is a corruption and that novisti is to be construed with componere. If this verb were taken independently, who would be its subject? But if construed with componere, the verb’s subject would more obviously be the Earl, so that the poet’s advice directly addressed to him would begin here rather than at 32. The iussive subjunctive vincat in the next line would also be more comprehensible as an exhortation to the Earl. The obvious improvement is to write temet for movet.
32 Although I have translated these lines as if the contrast is between heaven and earth, in view of mediae sphaerae it is in fact likelier that Alabaster had in mind the Ptolemaic model of the universe as a series of nesting crystalline spheres, with the fixed sphere of the stars outermost, the moving spheres of the planets, sun and moon individually contained within, and the earth standing still at the center. The king is equated with the outermost sphere, and the “middle sphere” may designate the Court; if so, there is a hinted warning that involvement in Court politics can be dangerous (as Somerset and his bride soon learned to their great cost.)
37 The barns totter because they are full to the bursting-point.
44 The ms. inspersas is impossible: the easiest emendation would be to inspersos, to be construed with campos, but, if this change were made, quos would become problematic. The alteration made here is also difficult: in effect it creates a conditional sentence with a hypothetical subjunctive in the protasis and an indicative perfect in the apodosis. The evident idea is that you may, if you choose, sow seeds in such fields, although in the past they have produced nothing but weeds.
45 Flowery meadows may be attractive to the eye, but they are unprofitable. At least one other writer of the period expresses disdain for flower gardens for the same reason: see Richard Eedes’ 1583 Iter Boreale 147 and 150 with notes ad loc.
47 From the context, erugo obviously designates some jagged-edged weed.
48 the allusion is to that work of moral suasion often inflicted on schoolboys, Cebes’ Hercules at the Crossroad, in which the young hero was confronted with the choice between virtue and vice. At the same point in his youth Carr had made the right choice, and so became an example for others. Note that Alabaster employs compita as if it were a feminine singular rather than a neuter plural.
52 The translation is somewhat periphrastic, to show that the image is that of a foot-race.
59 Area is to be scanned as a disyllable.
Source: G. Date: 1613.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
2 Properly, the pronoun ought to be quod because its antecedent is genus, but Alabaster shifted genders because he was thinking of Woman as the actual subject; a similar looseness in the use of relative pronouns can be see in quos in line 16.
18 Propria aure (“with her own ear”) makes nonsense, and the meter precludes writing propria aure (the copyist may have been influenced by the use of aura in line 2). One could easily alter the text to proprio… ore if this were not intolerably redundant after cultus forma in the preceding line. (My translation “aura” is only made to convey a general sense of the line’s possible meaning.)
Since the line is corrupt, it would be dangerous to pronounce on the possibility that Alabaster intended a pun on the two meanings of sapio,“have flavor” and “be wise, prudent.”
33 The parting lips of the rosebud are compared to the lips of a kissing woman.
39 A Roman soldier carried his shield in his left hand and his sword in his right, so that his right side was vulnerable: the rose comparison points to female wantonness (and perhaps hints at a fear of female sexuality — in women in general or at least in Frances in particular — when it is not subject to the control of male authority, an idea enunciated more clearly at 15f.), but because of her virtue the bride will attack the validity of this example at its weak point.
43f. For the seeming chronological error see the note on XXII.69. The idea here, that an average chaste woman could stand these intolerable circumstances twice as long as could Frances Howard, is rather obscure and seems to insinuate something equivocal about the bride (the question mark, which in accordance with modern ideas of punctuation I have moved to the end of 44, may in fact better be interpreted as an example of exclamatory rhetorical percontatio). Or by quattuor are we to understand four years, not four lustra?
46 A translator can only guess at the meaning of this question, since transanimare is not a word in the Latin lexicon.
47ff. Alabaster appears to insinuate that, because of the impotence of her first husband, the bride had had to be kept under close watch, if not downright confinement, lest her sexual frustration lead her astray. In view of what he has said about the wholesomeness of masculine authority as a means of curbing and controlling female sexuality at 15f., one wonders whether, despite his commendation of her morality, he entertained some doubts or apprehensions on the subject. Indeed, it is not impossible for a reader to interpret his attitude towards he bride as hilariously subversive.
50 Sciolus is a neologism derived from It. sciola, also used by Thomas Watson in the epigram appended to his Amyntas (1585) line 19, and Amintae Gaudia (1592) Eclogue IV.478. Cf. D. F. Sutton (ed.), The Complete Works of Thomas Watson (1556 - 1592) (in two volumes, Lewiston N. Y., 1996).
64 Matronales ambiat illa stolas may mean that the rose has the aspiration to adorn a mother’s garment (looking forward to the bride presenting her husband with a son). But in view of the description of the bud protecting the rose within a verecunda stola at line 30 above, a likelier interpretation is that the flower shuns the nutritive and protective (matronalis) covering and blossoms forth.
XXVI - XXVII.
Source: G. Date: 1613.
Sources: BCLQ. Date: 1614.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Frederick, Prince Palatine of the Rhine, married James’ daughter in 1613 and their first son, Henry Frederick, was born on January 1, 1614 (New Style). I suppose the boy is called an interpres because of his mixed English-German ancestry. His “double greeting” is that he first says hello to the world, and wishes it a happy New Year, at the same time.
The birth of James’ grandson, with its potential implications for the succession of the British crown, had considerable psychological significance because of the recent death of Prince Henry, the heir apparent: J. W. Williamson, The Myth of the conjurur. Prince Henry Stuart: A Study of 17th century Personation (New York, 1978), 192f.
This poem has been printed by Smith, p. 183, whence the present translation is taken.
7 Relying on L’s nox (an obvious lectio facilior), Smith translated E’en day and night their sov’reignty curtail, but mos is superior: New Year’s Day and its customary celebrations defer to the boy’s birth. I therefore have altered his version to This day and Right.
Source: L. Date: 1615.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
In 1615 the Scottish bishop John Abernathy published A christian and heauenly treatise containing physicke for the soule, prefaced by a dedicatory epistle to James’ favorite, the Earl of Somerset. The fact that Alabaster writes warmly of such an impeccably orthodox work is further reason to question the claim of Henry Foley (VII.ii.1055, accepted by Guiney, p. 342, but not by Coutts, p. 226) that in late 1614 Alabaster retracted his recantation and lived in exile in Belgium until 1618.
This poem has been printed by Smith, p. 184, whence the present translation is taken.
1f. This is probably an allusion to Johann Kepler’s recently-published De maculis solaribus et stellis circa Iovem errantibus accuratior disquisitio (Augsburg, 1612).
Sources: BC. Date: 1620.Meter: Iambic trimeters.
Spenser died on January 16, 1599, but it would seem that the present poem was written in response to the erection of his second tombstone in the Abey in 1620, since it is a poetic elaboration on the English inscription actually used, The Prince of Poets in his tyme, whose Divine Spirrit needs doe othir witnesse then the works which he left behind him. Perhaps it was written out of gratitude for Spenser’s extravagant praise of the Elisaeis in Colin Clouts Come Home Again; there seems to have been no other connection between the two poets.
The text has been printed in the commentary note on line 400 of Colin Clouts Come Home Again in The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser (ed. J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt, Oxford, 1912), and also in Frederick Ives Carpenter, A Reference Guide to Edmund Spenser (Chicago, 1923) 229 with a translation by Paul Shorey.
Source: E. Date: 1620.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Sir Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum appeared in 1620. It is likelier that some reader was aware that Alabaster had been a Fellow of Trinity College and supplied this information than that the poet signed himself this way, 23 years after demitting the position.
4 E has mitilis, and at the corresponding point in XXXII BC have strictilis. Neither word is to be found in the classical Latin lexicon, and neither makes sense (unless, maybe just conceivably, strictilis is a neologism meaning “stringent”). While Alabaster uses such mysterious words elsewhere (such as XI.14 subcisiva, XXIII.62 praesuppositam, and XXIV.47 erugo), one cannot avoid the suspicion that the text of both poems is corrupt. Fertilis is the obvious emendation.
6 Alabaster seems not to have known that nivit (“it snows”) is an impersonal verb; here it appears to mean “turn white as snow.”
13 Athos is a mountain in Greece.
Sources: BC. Date: 1621 - 5. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
This poem is addressed to Bishop John Williams [1582 - 1650] — there is an article on his busy and tumultuous career in the D. N. B. It must have been written between July 1621 and October 1625, during which period he was simultaneously Bishop of Lincoln and Keeper of the Privy Seal. It is a reworking of the preceding one.
In his Scrinia Researata (1692), p. 137, John Hacket wrote how, when Williams fell afoul of King Charles and was incarcerated in the Tower in 1637, “He wanted not good Society, for I must ever praise his good friend Dr. Alabaster, who took up a Lodgning in one of the Mint-master’s Houses, to be with him continually” (quoted by Story, p. xxiii).
In both manuscripts the untelligible title is EPIGRAMMA DIFFERTUM NUBIS COELISTIS, QUOAD TONITRU, FULGUR, IRIDEM, ET PLUVIAM. At the very least, a word is missing. One could perhaps retain QUOAD and supply something like SPECTAT, but it is easier to regard QUOAD as a copyist’s error for QUOD, and to supply a verb like HABET or CONTINET (for TONITRU we must of course read TONITRUM).
Sources: BC. Date: 1622 - 4. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The courtier James Hay [d. 1636] was created first Earl of Carlisle in June 1622. When Alabaster writes of him being a favorite of two kings, he alludes to his repeated diplomatic missions to Louis XIII of France, which occurred between 1621 and 1624. These missions ceased upon Charles’ accession to the throne in March 1625, so clearly the English king in this poem is James.
Sources: BC. Date: After March 1625. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is found at Acts 5:1 - 11:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
This poem serves to show that to some extent Alabaster enjoyed the favor of Charles as well as of James, although he seems to have garnered no extra advancement during his reign.
Sources: BC. Date: 1635. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Sir Ralph Freeman, civilian and author of the tragedy Imperiale (1635). The authorized edition of Roxana (1632) was dedicated to him. He published his verse translation of Seneca’s Consolation to Martia in 1635.
Because of the shift from subjunctive to indicative, line 6 seems to be a new syntactical unit (the writer speaks, not Martia), and so at appears to make better sense than et: it was not a new Martia that was discovered among the British, but rather a new Seneca.
Sources: The second edition of Freeman’s book and C. Date: ca. 1635?Meter: Elegiac couplets.
Only the second edition of Freeman’s verse translation of Seneca’s de Brevitate Vitae, printed under the title Lucius Annaeus Seneca, The Philosopher his Book of the Shortnes of Life (1663) is extant; presumably Alabaster’s verses also prefaced the first edition, which may have been written at about the same time as his translation of the Consolatio ad Martiam.
Sources: BC. Meter: Elegiac couplets.
A variant on Martial’s epigram about a bee encased in amber (IV.32).
Sources: BC. Meter: Dactylic hexameters.
Sources: BC.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The story of Antius Restio and his slave is told by Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia VI.viii.7. Alabaster evidently presumed his readers would know the story, for he omits to describe the clever ruse by which the slave takes another old man’s body and burns it on a pyre, and convinces the soldiers of the Second Triumvirate that he has cremated his master. Perhaps something in slave’s behavior struck him as Christ-like, or at least as an all too literal example of “turning the other cheek.”
Sources: BC.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
The story of the miraculous birth of Gorgias also comes from Valerius Maximus I.viii.5. Again, a Christian could perhaps find symbolic value in this story of life following upon death.
2 Insubidus actually means “foolish, silly,” but from the context it would appear that Alabaster thought it meant “sudden, unexpected,” probably by wrongly thinking it = subitus.
Source for XLI - L: P.Meter: Elegiac couplets.
In the case of this and the following poem, the parallel English versions are very periphrastic. The Latin may more accurately be rendered:
As a garment shines, encrusted with emeralds from the East, and purple, picked out with a Lydian needle, as the pellucid Massic wine laughs in its thin glass and the apples blush when heated by the summer sun, as new-fallen snow shines, trod by no track, and lily, not yet plucked by a young girl’s hand, so the divine face of an untouched girl gleams, thus heaven shines because of her twin torches. Thus a hundred loves and jokes smile on her countenance, and rose paints her cheeks with its native hue. Oh pretty girl, do not trust overmuch in color, so short-lived, nor let your pretty face arouse your pride. In disguise, old age creeps in on silent foot, laying its palsied hands on beauty. Then your body will wither like a box-tree in autumn, and Proserpina will steal your golden locks. Anxious care will suddenly appear on your arid cheeks and, in consternation, you will shun your mirror. This rose, now clad in its purple mantle, will driip, then an ancient thing, the glory of its bloom blasted. Then the ivory will yellow, the lily will wither, and assured death will reap you, abject, with its savage scythe. Those twin lights will fall into the infernall abyss, the melted snow will swell the Stygian lake. And so, since this flower will wilt at the first moment, let your breast be clad by goods that endure. Don the snow-white raiments of virtue, girl, and, being pure, consult the mirror of pure heaven.
2 Maeonia was a district of Lydia, a nation famous for its gold. Alabaster means to describe purple vestments with gold embroidery. In the next line, Mt. Massicus in Campania was known for the excellence of the wine grown there.
8 Her two eyes (a familiar literary conceit).
The Latin poem is considerably more succinct than its English counterpart. A literal translation is:
When dewy night spreads her dusky wings, and the pallid moon triumphs with her snow-white horses, then sleep steals over the whole world, the winds subside, all the seas fall still, the industrious son of the Muses does not indulge in sleep, nor tastes the night in his breast. Rising, in mid-sky, and setting, Phoebus sees him at his studies; no peace or quiet pleases him. The waves of Lethe do not lap the Muses’ doors, nor does Phoebus’ field bear the gentle poppy.
10 (English) For that with both hands draw see my note on the word ambidexter as used at George Ruggle’s Ignoramus 362.
35 (English) For the literary cliché of humble and rustic folk sleeping on turf, cf. Seneca, Phaedra 511 and Lucan, Bellum Civile VII.761. It is tempting to read wrapped on his own ground.
Although both the Latin and English versions are written as continual texts in the ms., they both naturally fall into twelve-line stanzas (with a four-line envoi in the Latin).
6 Amathidae is difficult to understand and lies under suspicion of being a copying error. Literally, it would mean “the son of the ignorant man.” Was this Alabaster’s nonce-word for “groundling?”
6 (English) Cf. Jonah 4:6, And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
17 spithamae dimentio = “a span.”
35 The Pactolus and the Tagus were two gold-bearing rivers in antiquity.
The title scans as a dactylic hexameter: it would seem to be Alabaster’s paraphrase (or imperfect recollection) of Ovid, Tristia V.iv.15, fert tamen, ut debet, casus patienter amaros.
25 Mt. Marpetus is a craggy mountain on the island of Paros in the Aegean.
In the title, fabulae = “phantoms,” as at Horace, Odes I.iv.16, of which Alabaster was no doubt thinking.
4 Vulcan was a lame god.
8 The Sibyl at Cumae sat on a tripod and recorded her responses on leaves.
45 Irus is the beggar in the Odyssey.
59 Ixion was punished for having tried to rape Juno, by being whirled forever on a wheel in the Underworld.
Alabaster set himself the technical exercise of rewriting the first two stanzas of Horace, Ode III.iii into elegiac couplets.
Although a poem on the Four Seasons scarcley requires classical inspiration, Alabaster possibly conceived this cycle as an expansion of the third stanza of Horace, Odes IV.vii.
40 (English) In mythology Boreads was the lover of Orithyia.