INTRODUCTION

1. In his study “The Life and Times of William Gager,” C. F. Tucker Brooke wrote: NOTE 1

In August, 1484, the University of Oxford directed that one hundred pounds be allowed to Joseph Barnes, a bookseller, in order that they might have a press in the University, and this was the real beginning of the Oxford University Press. Among the earliest, and today quite the rarest, of its publications is a series of sixteen-page pamphlets, issued in 1586 and 1587, and evidently intended to maintain the national morale. As befitted a learned press, they are in Latin, and in Latin verse of admirable quality. The first two, dated 1585, deal with the case of Dr. William Parry M. P., who was executed as a traitor on March 2 of that year. The other, In Guil. Parry Proditorem Odae et Epigrammata, consists of three Horatian odes from the pen of William Gager of Christ Church, the most accomplished Latin poet of this age, which occupy six pages, and the rest are filled by a series of epigrams in elegiac verse, against Parry, the Anglo-Romans, and the Pope.
The next year, 1586, brought more plots to kill the queen and more Horatian odes by Gager on the subject. Six of these, different from the three on Parry that had been printed the previous year, were published again in a sixteen-page sheet, with the title In Catilinarias Proditiones. A wide sale was apparently expected, for the imprint notes that copies can be purchased in London, at the sign of the Tiger’s Head in St. Paul’s Churchyard…Such work cannot but have been popular, and it is natural that a new issue of the odes was required before the year was out. By that time Gager had written three others, following the development of events, and these were squeezed within the limits of a sixteen-page pamphlet…

2. The appearance of these works so early in the history of Barnes’ press raises the obvious question why the operator of a nominally academic press would print such stuff. Then too, there is a second question about the start of Barnes’ printing operation. Ever since Henry VIII’s break with Rome, presses had been forbidden at the Univeristy by authorities who preferred to have publishing enterprises in London under close governmental supervision by such means as the Stationers Company. NOTE 2 Then in 1584 Congregation petitioned the Earl of Leicester, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, for permission to establish a press, and such permission was rapidly granted. Not only that, but Barnes was not required to join the Stationers Company and, evidently, was exempted from the censorship machinery normally brought to bear on London printers. Although Harry Carter told the story of the establishment of Barnes’ press in the official history of the Oxford University Press, NOTE 3 he failed to appreciate that this was an astonishing volte-face of governmental policy that surely requires explanation.
3. Post hoc propter hoc may be a fault in logic, but it is nonetheless highly tempting to seek an answer to one of these questions by appeal to the other. by supposing that, under the pressure of the Spanish war, the government shifted from a purely defensive policy of censorship to a more proactive one of coopting literature for its own purposes. One is therefore inclined think that Barnes’ press was allowed to operate because a deal had been struck whereby he would publish a certain amount of more or less frankly propagandistic literature designed to orchestrate educated public opinion on matters of political importance. His press, therefore, was permitted to exist under an agreement that it would function in part as an organ of pro-government propaganda aimed at sector of society that was crucially important for the good operation of Tudor government. And since a very salient feature of England’s educated classes was a degree of proficiency in Latin amounting to Latin-English bilinguality, it is easily understood why most (if not quite all) of the volumes of this kind issued by Barnes were written in Latin.
4. Speaking in favor of this interpretation is the fact that Barnes continued to publish volumes of politically-slanted poetry throughout his career. Indeed, so did his successors as Printer to the University of Oxford and, after the Clarendonian Grant, the Oxford University Press itself, down to the end of the seventeenth century; similar volumes were likewise printed at Cambridge. It therefore appears that the publication of such stuff was deemed a normal (and, if I am right, a necessary) part of the operation of an academic press. To give the reader some idea of this importance of this aspect of Barnes’ enterprise, here, to the best of my knowledge, is a list of the Latin poetry volumes I know to have been printed by him down the end of the reign of Elizabeth: NOTE 4

In Adventum…Lecestrensis Comitis ad Collegium Lincolniense Carmen Gratulatorium (1585, single-page broadsheet on Leicester’s visit to Lincoln College)

William Gager, In Guil. Parry Proditorem Odae et Epigrammata (1585, on William Parry)

Anon. (probably George Peele), Pareus (1585, on William Parry)

William Gager, In Catilinarias Proditiones ac Proditores Domesticos Odae 6 (1586, on the Babington Plot)

William Gager, In Catilinarias Proditiones ac Proditores Domesticos Odae 9 (1586, on the Babington Plot)

Exequiae Illustrissimi Equitis D. Philippi Sidnaei Gratissimae Memoriae ac Nomini Impensae (1587. University memorial anthology on the death of Sir Philip Sidney, edited by Gager, 1587)

Peplus. Illustrissimi viri D. Philippi Sidnaei supremis honoribus dicatus (1587, New College memorial anthology on the death of Sidney)

De Caede et Interitu Gallorum Regis Henrici Tertii (1589, on the assassination of Henri III King of France).

Oxoniensium stenagmos, sive, Carmina ab Oxoniensibus conscripta in obitum illustrissimi herois, D. Christophori Hattoni militis, summi totius Angliæ nec non Academiæ Oxoniensis cancellarii (1592, University memorial anthology on the death of Sir Christopher Hatton)

John Sanford, Apollonis et Musarum Εὐκτικὰ Εἰδύλλια (1592, on Elizabeth’s visit to Oxford)

Epicedium in obitum illustrissimi herois Henrici comitis Derbiensis (1593, poems by Matthew Gwinne and Henry Price on the death of Henry, Earl of Derby).

Funeria Nobilissimi ac Praestantissimi Equitis D. Henrici Untoni, ad Gallos Bis Legati Regii, Ibique Nuper Fato Functi, Charissimae Memoriae ac Desiderio a Musis Oxoniensibus Apparata (1596, University memorial anthology on the death of Sir Henry Unton)

Oxoniensis Academiae Funebri Officium in Memoriam Honoratissiam Serenissimae et Beatissimae Elisabethae, Nuper Angliae, Franciae et Hiberniae Reginae (1603, University memorial anthology on the death of Elizabeth)

This is a fairly impressive number of volumes, and the additional possibility should be noted some of of the more academic-seeming works issued by Barnes may be possessed of a more or less pronounced political content. This is certainly true of John Case’s 1588 Sphaera Civitatis, ostensibly a commentary on Aristotle’s Politics but to an appreciable extent written as an apologia for the ideals of Elizabeth’s government.
5. It is worth arguing that the present poem on Sir Francis Drake deserves to be listed as another item printed by Barnes as part of his political program. This is particularly true because the commonest kind of poetry volume put out by Barnes was meant to memorialize the death of a national figure. To be sure, it differs from the volumes listed above in two respects. First, it is written in English. But with its welter of erudite Classical and mythological allusions, it is clearly aimed at the same intellectually up-market audience as those Latin volumes. Second, since it does not bear the University seal on its title page, one might argue that it lacks the aura of officialdom that they possess. The response to this possible objection is that Barnes’ publishing operation has never been studied with the care that it deserves; some of his volumes employ the seal, some do not, and at present the significance of its presence or absence is far from clear. The proper answer may well be that Barnes’ press was so closely identified with the University of Oxford that, seal or no seal, any item he published had the status of a quasi-official University publication. Further detailed research may possibly cast more light on the question, but, at least as a provisional conclusion, we may probably think that Fitzgeoffrey’s contribution deserves to be read and discussed as one of his ongoing series of propagandistic poetry volumes.
6. In reading the academic poetry of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, one rapidly discerns a pattern. Much of it written by young University men on the make, who, concerned about finding their way in the world, published a poetry volume in the hope of gaining visibility in order to procure patronage and a position (a Church living, say, or a position as secretary to some great man). For them, the publication of such a volume was a vehicle for self-promotion in which they could display their learning and also their loyalty to Church and Crown. Then, the desired position landed, their literary careers (at least as authors of Latin verse) came to a more or less abrupt halt. Such young thrusters were naturally tempted to write what they expected potential patrons and employers wanted to read, and so were easily coopted into the enterprise of producing poetry with a pronounced loyalist bias, if not actual propaganda (one thinks of all the literary fallout of the Gunpowder Plot). This was as true of Charles Fitzgeoffrey as it was of John Milton.
7. I have written extensively about the life of the Cornishman Charles Fitzgeoffrey [1576 - 1637] elsewhere. He had matriculated from Broadgates Hall (the future Pembroke college) in 1593, and would be admitted to the B. A. in 1597, and to the M. A. in 1600, and it is likely he left the University in 1599. Also the author of a volume of Latin epigrams written after the model of those of his friend Thomas Campion, the 1601 Affaniae with its appended Cenotaphia, a volume also printed by Barnes that likewise containing a number of patriotic items, Fitzgeoffrey was an infinitely better poet in Latin than he was in English. Sir Francis Drake, His Honourable lifes commendation, and his Tragicall Deathes lamentation is not without some felicities, but it cannot be denied that if Wyndham Lewis had commenced his The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse with the Elizabethans, he could have quarried plenty of passages exactly illustrative of the quality of poetic badness described in the memorable essay prefacing that collection.
8. Looking at the poem more analytically, any reader who comes to it with the expectation of reading, say, a narrative poem about Drake’s career or learning anything true and interesting about the historical man will be severely disappointed. Sir Francis Drake is kind of a lengthy meditation on Drake’s life and death, in which the old Devonian pirate has been replaced by a kind of national paladin, effusively and interminably described a demigod on earth and darling of the Olympian gods. His historical exploits are likewise presented more as literary generalities than as hard facts, and are sometimes mythologized out of recognition (a lengthy passage on the defeat of the Armada, which is described as Drake’s singlehanded doing, swerves off into a retelling of the myth of the war of the Giants against the gods, the implication being it is a modern equivalent). The poem reaches its climax in a passage beginning at stanza 281, when we learn Drake’s posthumous fate:

And that deare bodie held in Neptunes wombe
By Jove shalbe translated to the skie.
The sea no more, heaven then shall be his tombe,
Where he a new-made star eternallie
Shall shine, transparent to spectatours eie:
A fearefull comet in the sight of Spaine,
But shall to us a radiant light remaine.

9. To the reader familiar with the literature of the time, this source for this will be immediately recognizable. The death of Sir Philip Sidney engendered something like a national poetry-writing contest, and, in many of the effusions it produced, the historical Sidney was likewise replaced by a heavily mythologized figure, in which he was retrospectively seen in a golden haze that had the effect of removing all his rough edges, no doubt because of a wartime need to manufacture a national hero. Soon after his death, William Gager was one of the first to enunciate a prominent theme in this effort, Sidney’s apotheosis, in one of his poems in the University anthology on his death: NOTE 5

Regni delitiae beatoris
Quid te iams supero diu, Philippe,
Post annum rear actitare coelo?
Tene perpetua iuvat quiete
Frui, perque sacras et otiari
Et lustrare avidis domos ocellis,
Mirandi artificis domos stupendas?
Ecquid te placidis iuvat choraeis
Indulgere, chorumque ductitare
Inter sydereas Dei puellas?
An tu iam recolis artes priores
Vitae praeteritae, quibus petebas
Coelos, et solitis vacans Camaenas,
Hymnos egregios canis deorum,
Virginumque, ducumque, martyrumqe
Ad coeli numerum simul canentis?
Sic est, et medio sedens Olympo
Aeternaque comam revincte lauro,
Turbas caelicolum trahis canendo,
Accendisque tui deos amore,
Virgines, duces, martyresque,
regnique indigenas beatioris.

[“Philip, what delights of that happier realm in high heaven am I to imagine you enjoying after a year’s time? Does it please you to indulge yourself in perpetual peace, to idle through the sacred halls, the wonderful halls of our amazing Architect, gazing at His mansion with hungry eyes? Does it please you to take part in the leisurely choral dance, leading your chorus amidst God’s starry daughters? Are you reacquainting yourself with the erstwhile arts of your previous life, by which you used to aspire to haven; and, having time for your customary Muses, are you singing magnificent hymns about gods, virgins, leaders and martyrs, singing to the rhythm of the heavens? So it is, and sitting on midmost Olympus, your hair bound with everlasting laurel, you attract the immortals in throngs by your singing, kindling affection for yourself in gods, virgins, leaders and martyrs, the denizens of that happier realm.”]

10. Other writers picked up and embroidered the theme of Sidney in Heaven. In his Amintae Gaudia (printed posthumously in 1592), Thomas Watson carried it about as far as it could go, by inserting a lengthy epyllion (Amintae Insomnium) describing how in Amyntas’ dream Venus goes to great lengths to primp herself for Sidney’s arrival on Olympus, where he is destined to experience the following fate (Eclogue IV.373ff.):

Est satis indultum dapibus, nunc ultima merces
Sydnaei dabitur meritis, ea gloria restat
Unica, stella nova est (animo si forte tenetis)
Iampridem per me sita propter Cassiopaeae
Lucentem cathedram, sphaeraeque infixa supremae,
Dedecus astrologis sciolis, et sontibus horror.
Dum proprium circa centrum gyratur, in illum
Scintillas populum spargit qui subiacet Arcto.
Utque facem Veneris tegit, hanc quoque lividus albor,
Utque est lucidior, sic est spaciosior omni
Sydere constanti, et flammis aequata secundis.
Huic (ita fata volunt) astro moderabitur hospes
Noster, et exutus mortali nomine, divus
Astrophilus nobis totoque vocabitur orbe.
Militis excipiet votum, vatisque misellis,
Quos habuit semper charos, charissimus ipsis,
Defendetque lares patrios, plenum salutis
Lumen in augustae gremium diffindet Elisae.

[“Enough of feasting; now the final reward will be given Sidney for his merits, this one glory remains. There is a new star, as perhaps you recall, which I have already placed near Cassiopeia’s bright chair, set in the outmost sphere, an embarrassment to the astrological smatterers, a source of terror to the guilty. And while it wheels about its own fixed center, it showers sparks on that people which dwells beneath the North Star. And a white pallor tinges it, just as it does Venus’ planet; just as it is brighter, so it is larger than any fixed star, reckoned among the propitious heavenly bodies. our guest will govern this star, for thus the fates will it, and, shed of his mortal name, he will be called Divine Astrophil by us and b all the world. He will receive the prayers of soldiers and wretched bards, whom he always holds dear, being most dear to them. He shall defend his nation’s hearth, shedding a wholesome light on the bosom of august Elisa.”]

11. In preparing to write the present poem, Fitzgeoffrey seems to have learned a lot from Gervase Markham’s recent one on the death of another naval hero, The most honorable Tragedie of Sir Richard Grenvile, Knight (1595 — for his familiarity with this work see the notes on 70.1 and 175.1), since the extravagantly perfervid terms in which he writes of Drake look suspiciously like Markham’s. Additionally, he has made a study of, if not the exact items quoted here, at least others written in the same vein. To be sure, other ambitious poems had already been written about Drake (by Nicholas Breton, Henry Robarts and Thomas Greepe) NOTE 6 but now the aging mariner had obligingly died. The less creditable facts of his life and personality, as well as the string of disasters that haunted his later career, could now be forgotten, and he now became available for the same kind of treatment accorded the dead Sidney, and more recently Grenville. Au fond, Fitzgeoffrey’s poem works by way of applying to Drake this same heroizing technique that had been invented for Sidney, transforming a historical figure into a national hero of mythological proportions, in this case a hero that, frankly, might be of more use to his nation in death than he had been in his later life. Joseph Barnes, one imagines, must have been happy to add this item to his list.
12. Sir Francis Drake, His Honourable lifes commendation, and his Tragicall Deathes lamentation, then, was printed at Oxford by Joseph Barnes in 1596 "to bee solde in Paules Church-yard at the signe of the Bible" (Short Title Catalogue 10943, Early English Books reel 226:15 ). One therefore gathers that Barnes expected a poem on Drake’s recent death to be a commercial success, for, as Tucker Brooke appreciated, there was a beneficial economic aspect to his issuing poetry volumes on newsworthy developments of national importance. He was not wrong: a second printing was required later in the same year under the title Sir Francis Drake his honorable lifes commendation, and his tragicall deathes lamentation. Newly printed with additions. (Short Title Catalogue 10944, Early English Books reel 1602:09). Extant copies of these two printings are owned by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, The British Library, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the Beinecke Library of Yale University, and the Huntington Library of San Marino, California. The first modern edition, the work of Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, was published at the private press of Lee Priory, by J. Warwick (1819) under the title of The Life and Death of Sir Francis Drake. Save for adding an informative footnote on the relationship of Fitzgeoffrey to the Rous brothers, who supplied two of the gratulatory poems at the front of the volume, Brydges’ only contribution was to impose modern orthography on the text. A text is also included in The Rev. Alexander B. Grosart, The Poems of the Rev. Charles Fitzgeoffrey (1593 [sic] - 1636] (Blackburn, 1881).

 

Notes

NOTE 1 C. F. Tucker Brooke, “The Life and Times of William Gager (1555 - 1622),” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 95 (1951) 71f.

NOTE 2 I realize that this remark reflects a traditional view of the function of the Stationers’ Company. For a more modern interpretation cf. Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge, 1997) and “The Stationers’ Company of London,” in The British Literary Book Trade, 1475-1700, (edd. James K. Bracken and Joel Silver, New York, 1996) 275-291.

NOTE 3 Harry Carter, A History of the Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1975), Chapter II. Carter went into detail about the mechananics of the press’ foundation, but did not inquire into the reasons for its establishment.

NOTE 4 For a full list of University Latin poetry anthologies published at Oxford and Cambridge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, cf. D. K. Money, The English Horace; Anthony Alsop and the Tradition of British Latin Verse (Oxford, 1998) 373 - 378. Most of these anthologies were written to commemorate state occasions, such as royal birth, marriages and deaths, and provided an occasion, not only for individual contributors to express their loyal sentiments, but also for the Universities to do so as corporate entities. Virtually all of these anthologies, therefore, can be said to have a distinctly political slant.

NOTE 5 The entire Oxford Sidney anthology (as well as the New College and Cambridge ones on the same subject) have been photographically reproduced as Elegies for Sir Philip Sidney (1587), Facsimile Reproductions with an Introduction by A. J. Colainne and W. l. Godshalk (New York, 1980).

NOTE 6 Nicholas Breton, Discourse in commendation of the valiant and vertuous minded Gentleman, Maister Francis Drake, with a reioysing of his happy adventures (1581); Henry Robarts, A most friendly farewell, given by a welwiller to the right worshipful Sir Frauncis Drake Knight, Generall of her Maiesties navy (1585); Thomas Greepe, The true and perfecte newes of the woorthy and valiaunt exploytes, performed and doone by that valiant knight Syr Frauncis Drake: not onely at Sancto Domingo, and Carthagena, but also nowe at Cales, and vppon the coast of Spayne (1587).