INTRODUCTION

1. The same volume that contains William Camden’s diary, Dr. Thomas Smith’s V[iri] Cl[arissimi] Guilielmi Camdeni et Illustrium Virorum ad G. Camdenum Epistolae (Londoni, impensis Richardi Chiswelli ad Insigne Rosae Coronatae in Coemeterio D. Pauli, 1691; Early English Books, second series, reel 448:7) also contains as an appendix consisting of a collection of Camden’s poetry and epitaphs assembled by the editor. In the Introduction Smith says that some of these items (i. e., those written as gratulatory poems for other men’s books) were previously published, and some published by him for the first time, but he did not specify the sources for the unpublished work, presumably published in manuscript. Perhaps because it had already appeared in print, Smith also ignored Camden’s cycle of epigrams on the death of Sir Philip Sidney in the 1587 Oxford anthology Exsequiae Illustrissimi Equitis, D. Philippi Sidnaei, Gratissimae Memoriae ac Nomini Impensae, edited by William Gager. He also failed to include Camden’s most ambitious poetic effort, the epyllion Coniugium Tamae et Isis.
2. Scattered throughout his descriptions on the relevant counties of England in Britannia are a number of extracts from a poem entitled Connubium Tamae et Isis. Although he never claims credit for the work, the ironically diffident words which he introduces some of them (which find no match in the way he introduces quotations by any other author) strongly suggest they are his. There are seven such passages, and three others not explicitly ascribed to this poem, identified as fragments *4, *9 and *10 here (they are marked by an asterisk to indicate lack of absolute certainty about their authorship), are similar enough in style and content that I think it likely they come from the same work.
3. In this poem Camden describes the “marriage” of the Tama and the Isis, the upper and lower reaches of the same river, which evidently in his view takes a different character in Oxfordshire at the point where it takes a sharp eastward turn and flows through a narrow gap beween the Chiltern Hills and the Berkshire Downs. Hence the river takes on the new and conjoint name of Tamisis, and becomes England’s greatest river. The use of this somewhat artificial conceit allows Camden to write an epyllion in which he traces the course of the river, source to mouth, and can enliven it with any number of descriptive set-pieces devoted to places located along its banks and anything else associated with the river’s course that strikes his fancy. In Britannia he reproduces such descriptive passages for Windsor, Richmond, Runnimede, Hampton Court, and at least the first lines of one for the City of London. The original poem probably dealt with others as well, such as Oxford.
4. The strategy is very characteristic of Camden. In his extensive topographical survey of Britannia he often follows the course of rivers and coastlines rather than roads: save for Roman ones, roads in fact rarely attract his interest, and the work is not meant to serveas any kind of Baedeker, since often the reader is given no instructions how to visit the places he describes. Furthermore, it is very likely that Camden took his inspiration from John Leland's similar poem Κύκνειον ᾇσμα (1545), in which a swan swims downstream from Oxford to Greenwich, describing what sees along the way. NOTE 1 I have therefore placed these fragments in the order they occur along the river, rather that that in which they stand in Britannia, in which Camden begins by describing a southernmost tier of English counties running eastward from Cornwall to Kent, then going northward and following a parallel tier extending from Glocestershire to Essex.
5. These fragments are given as they are found in the final edition of Britannia (1607), but the poem itself is a good deal earlier. In somewhat abbreviated form (it only begins at line 15), fr. 3 is already included in the first edition of the book, printed in 1586, and it is probably even earlier than that. At fr. 1.17 and 5.34ff. Camden speaks of Elizabeth’s happy peaceful reign, now that France and Ireland have been put in their places (both these things happened in the early 1560’s, see the notes on 5. 37 and 5.38f. This theme of Elizabeth as a patroness of peace was insupportable beginning in 1585, when she opted to support the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands, thereby commencing open war with Spain. To my mind, this establishes a terminus ad quem after which the poem cannot have been composed, and it is likely that it was writtten a good deal earlier. Camden’s verse epistle to Robert Ascham, who died in 1568, shows that Camden was capable of writing good verse as a young man. The Connubium, and also an allegorical epyllion dealing with English rule in Ireland, may belong to the same period of his life.
6. The final item included here is a poem written by Camden to preface Britannia; it first appears in the 1594 edition.
7. Although in Camden’s time the use of Latin epitaphs was a conspicuous status marker, few distinguished writers of Latin seem to have concerned themselves with this form, and the few that did (such as William Gager and William Alabaster) wrote epitaphs in verse rather than prose. Given his professional preoccupation with genealogies, titles, and offices, one can readily understand why Camden provided a conspicuous exception to this generalization. One can imagine, too, that in this respect his services were sought after: if a Latin epitaph was prestigious, one written by Camden had especial cachet.

NOTES

spacerNOTE 1 According to Nick de Somogyi in his O. D. N. B. biography of the Hertfordshire poet William Vallans [d. 1590], Vallans’ A Tale of Two Swannes (published in 1590 but shown by internal evidence to have been written ca. 1577) “is the earliest extant river-marriage poem in English, predating Spenser’s Ephalamion (1596), the related sequence in The Faerie Queene (IV.ix.9 - 53), and Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612 - 22),” and notes that the poem’s formal device of the swans’ navigation of the river Lee (or Ware) is taken from Leland’s poem. In his prose introduction To the River, Vallons wrote, Yet hereby I would animate, or encourage, those worthy Poets, who have written Epithalamion Thamesis, to publish the same. This of course raises the question of the relationship of Spenser’s projected Epithalamion Thamesis to Camden’s poem — did Camden deliberately attempt to undertake the poetic task Spenser abandoned? — and Vallans’ evident awareness of one or both of these projects. These problems are consdered by Jack B. Oruch in “Spenser, Camden, and the Poetic Marriages of Rivers,” Studies in Philology 64 (1967) pp. 606 - 24.