1. It has now been definitively established that Thomas Watson was the second son of the London draper and merchant William Watson of St. Olave parish, Hart Street. NOTE 1 This sweeps aside a great deal of conjecture on the subject (including alleged hints that he may have been a Catholic, or other supposed facts which have supported various biographical theories) largely based on confusion with other contemporary Londoners named Watson, which may now be consigned to the dustbin and needs not be considered here. Two salient facts emerge from the ground-breaking researches of Ibrahim Alhiyara. The first is that it appears that Watson was born in 1555, which increases the likelihood that Mark Eccles correctly identified our poet as the Thomas Watson who was attending Winchester College in 1567. The second is that Alhiyara shows that there was plenty of money on both sides of Watson’s family. Most particularly, when Watson’s father died in 1559, and then his mother in the following year, he and his elder brother were taken in by their wealthy uncle Thomas Lee, who paid for his education and, no doubt, subsidized the extended stay on on the Continent which was so crucial for his intellectual development. This, incidentally, explains why he repeatedly describes himself, and is described by others, as a generosus or gentleman.
2. At some unspecified time he went up to Oxford. No record of his presence there has been discovered: if he matriculated, he may have belonged to one of those now-extinct Halls for which records do not survive. His university connection is guaranteed by the fact that he signed himself as an Oxford man when contributing gratulatory verses for Greene’s Ciceronis Amor (1589) and in connection with the manuscript treatise Artificiosae Memoriae Libellus. NOTE 2 Additionally, the earliest biographical notice was written by the Oxford antiquarian Anthony à Wood, NOTE 3 who recorded, upon unspecified authority, “Thomas Watson, a Londoner born, did spend his time in this university, not in logic and philosophy, as he ought to have done, but in the smooth and pleasant studies of poetry and romance, whereby he obtained an honourable name among the students of those faculties.” So Watson was evidently not a diligent student, and his stay at Oxford must have been too short for the University to leave much of a mark on him, or he on it. The chief evidence for this period of his life is autobiographical, in the dedicatory poem prefacing his version of the Antigone (35 - 50):
Dumque procul patria lustrum mediumque peregi
Discere diversis aedere verba sonis,
Tum satis Italia linguas moresque notabam,
Et linguam, et mores, Gallia docta, tuos.
Ut potui, colui Musas, quocunque ferebar,
Charus et imprimus Iustinianus erat.
Saepe sed invitam turbavit Pallada Mavors,
Saepe meo studio bella fuere morae.
Castra tamen fugi, nisi quae Phoebeia castra
Cum Musis Charites continuere pias.
Bartole, magnus eras, neque circumferre licebat,
Nec legum nodos, Balde diserte, tuos;
Arripui Sophoclem, docui mitescere Musas,
E Graecis pepigi metra Latina modis.
Taliter absumens turbatus utilis horas,
Antigonen docui verba Latina loqui.
[“I spent seven or eight years far from my homeland, and learned to speak in diverse tongues. Then I became well versed in Italy’s language and manners, and also thy our tongue and ways, learned France. Wherever I was wafted, I cultivated the Muses as best I could, and Justinian was especially dear. But often Mars troubled Pallas against her will, and wars often interrupted my study. Yet I shunned the camps, save for the camps of Phoebus, which contained the pious Graces together with the Muses. Bartolus, you were a great tome. I was not permitted to carry you about, nor your legal puzzles, learned Baldus. I took up Sophocles, I taught his Muses to grow gentle. I made Latin out of his Greekish verse. Thus, though disturbed, I spent my hours a useful man, I taught Antigone how to speak Latin.] NOTE 4
3. Alhiyara speculated that Watson had gone up to Oxford in 1570 or 1571, and may have remained there until the death of his uncle in the autumn of 1572, at which time he inherited the money to subsidize overseas travel and study. NOTE 5 Another possibility deserves consideration, that his academic career may have duplicated that of Sir Philip Sidney. 1571 was a bad plague year at Oxford. For his extra protection, Sidney’s family removed him from the University and bundled him off on a Grand Tour of the Continent. It may be suggested that Watson’s wealthy uncle did the same. Sidney’s family did not allow him to travel abroad without supervision, although he was a year older than Watson, and it is not likely that Lee did otherwise, although what arrangements he made are entirely unknown. NOTE 6 This possibility does not seem to be excluded by Watson’s subsequent statement that he spent “a lustrum and a half” on the Continent. A Roman lustrum was a period of five years, and if his “lustrum and a half” is reckoned at seven rather than eight years, and if Watson was employing the inclusive Roman method of counting, the time-span 1571 - 1577 (when he quit Douai) could be reconciled with his words.
4. The natural — although perhaps not the inevitable — inference from Watson’s own words is that Italy came before France. The only records for his Wanderjahre are found in the diary of the English College at Douay, Flanders. NOTE 7 In an entry for October 15, 1576, is noted that “Dominus Watson went from here to Paris,” presumably to hear a course of lectures. He retuned to Douai the next May, and his departure from there for England is recorded on August 7 with the words Augustus — Die 7 occasione turbarum ingruentium discesserunt in Angliam Mr. Watsonus, Mr. Robinsonus, Mr. Griffettus, et alii nonnulli [“August: on the seventh day Master Watson, Master Robinson, Master Griffith, and some others left for England because of the riots.”] There was anti-English rioting at Douai, and at least some of its English members thought it prudent to leave. He does not reappear in the historical record until 1579, in connection with the Anne Burnell affair. Praise of Forcatulus (Estienne Forcadel), poet and professor of Roman law at Toulouse, in the headnote of Passion XXXVIII of the Ἑκατομπαθία led Boyle to suspect that Watson may have studied there at some point. NOTE 8 Certainly, he must have begun his legal studies somewhere. When he writes of having been disturbed by military alarums, this fits the French situation better than that of peaceful Italy. NOTE 9 Maybe he witnessed St. Bartholomew’s Day.
5. Such biographical speculations must be balanced against the internal evidence of the Ἑκατομπαθία. The only vernacular French poet laid under contribution is Ronsard (he only shows knowledge of Etienne Forcadet’s Latin poetry). And all of Ronsard’s poems imitated by Watson were to be found in no more than two of his books, Les Premier Livres des Amours and Quatriesme Livres des Odes. But he translated Petrarch, Serafino, and a wide variety of other Italians, and was instrumental in introducing the Italian madrigal to England. He was more interested in, and conversant with, Italian literature and culture than French, and this hints where he spent most of his time. The fact that he is called both Dominus and Master in the Douai diary hints that he may have acquired degrees at some Italian university.
6. In his autobiographical sketch, Watson tells us that it was during his sojourn abroad that he first began to write. His translation of Sophocles was the product of this period. So, presumably, were some of the lost early works mentioned in his annotations of various Passions in the Ἑκατομπαθία (for which see here) and in the epigram printed at the end of Amyntas. The poem addressed to him by Stephen Broellmann described below implies that he was already a prolific writer.
7. At first sight one consideration looks problematic. One is not disturbed that Watson is described as a young man (iuvenis) by some authors of the gratulatory poems that precede the 1581 Antigone. But might seem implausible that in the Amyntas of 1585 he was still applying this word to himself when he was thirty years old. This seeming discrepancy is liable to an explanation. Although the poet is ostensibly apologizing for a youthful work, it is likelier that he is attempting to resume a pose he had struck in his previous books. In the Antigone and the Ἑκατομπαθία one of his principal objects was to display his formidable poetic technique, multilingualism, and learning, and his general accomplishments as a wunderkind. Although by 1585 this posture was wearing very thin and unconvincing, it need not be adduced to question the facts set forth above.
8. The miniature autobiography continues:
Momenti res magna, meis quoque viribus impar,
Ni daret ipsa mihi sedula Pallas opem.
Tandem opus exactum volui lacerare, vel igni
Tradere, quod Latio Graecia maior erat.
Plurima sed vetuit prudentum turba virorum,
Me simul eulogiis concelebrare suis.
Inde rudis iterum coepi limare Camoenis,
Et magis intenta consolidare manu.
[“...a thing of great moment, greater than my powers, had not Pallas industriously come to my aid. I wished to tear up the work I had rejected, or feed it to the fire, since Greece was greater than Latium. But a great number of prudent men forbade this, at the same time celebrating me in poems of praise. Hence I began once more to polish my rude Muse, to shape them with firmer hand.”]
These lines glide lightly over the events of the next four years. When he speaks of being celebrated in songs of praise, he has in mind the poem written by the German jurist and Humanist Stephen Broellmann addressed to him during his Paris days, praising his poetry and urging him to publish. Such recognition must have heartened him and strengthened his resolve to write: he remembered Broellmann’s lines and included them as one of the gratulatory verses prefacing the published Antigone.
9. Other things seem to have happened, at which he only hints in the passage just quoted. Throughout his career he regularly signed himself as i(uris) u(triusque) studiosus, a student of both canon and civil law. Several of his biographers have assumed that Watson was enrolled in the Inns of Court, although Eccles denied this on the grounds that he never described himself as such and no record of such an association survives. NOTE 10 The consideration that a number of individuals who wrote gratulatory poems for his early books were members of the Inns strongly suggests that, if not actually one himself, he tended to associate with men who were. The Inns provided a sanctuary for a number of literati more or less pretending to read law, and Watson looks very much like, as we would say, a “professional student” protracting his education so as to gain a semblance of respectability and regular occupation while devoting himself to literature. One presumes that he was living comfortably on inherited money. NOTE 11 But the Inns did offer one thing of more substantial value: like the universities, they provided a venue for the production of plays. NOTE 12 Evidence exists that his Antigone was acted, and suggests that this occurred prior to its publication. Although several authorities have argued for the latter, production at the Inns of Court seems much likelier than at Cambridge (there is no definite evidence for a production of a Latin play there, but George Salterne’s Tomumbeius, preserved by Bodleian MS. Rawl. Poet. 75 may be one such example). The autobiographical lines just quoted, therefore, probably allude to the fact that Watson was persuaded by his friends to dust off a work previously written and furbish it up for the stage, and then for the printer. Probably at this time he added the special Prologue spoken by Nature and the concluding Pomps and Themes.
10. Watson was back in Paris at some point in the early 1580’s. The anonymous author of Ulysses upon Ajax (1596) described Sir John Harington’s etymologies in The Metamorphosis of Ajax as “the froth of witty Tom Watson’s jests, I heard them at Paris fourteen years ago: besides what balductum play is not full of them?”, and in a later context we shall see evidence for his meeting Sir Thomas Walsingham there during this period. Nor can the possibility be discounted that he first met the young of Earl of Northumberland, to whom he would dedicate two of his works, during the Earl’s Paris sojourn in 1582.
11. After returning from the Continent, Watson quickly became a notable figure on the London literary scene. With respect to the dedicatory poem he contributed in 1582 for Christopher Ockland’s epic poem on English history, Εἰρηναρχία, S. K. Heninger wrote: NOTE 13
Printed on the same page immediately above Watson’s decastichon is another commendatory verse in Latin by Richard Mulcaster, then at the peak of his career as headmaster of the Merchant Taylors’ School. On 7 May 1592 Elizabeth’s “high Commission Ecclesiastical,” acting upon the recommendation of the Privy Council, ordered Ockland’s volume “to be receyved and publiquely read and taught in all Grammar and Free Scholes” — as reported in two letters printed before the 1582 edition. The inclusion of Watson’s commendatory verse in a book so widely circulated upon the advice of the kingdom’s most powerful men indicates that he carried considerable weight as a scholar, and that, although just returned to London, he had immediately made influential connections.
He also gained the respect of another school teacher, destined to be a writer of vastly greater stature, William Camden, who contributed a gratulatory poem for the Antigone.
12. But the majority of the literary associations he formed were of a very different kind. On the showing of friendships attested by the front-of-the-book material other men wrote for his volumes, and that which he contributed to those by others (these men included Peele, Greene, Lyly, Roydon, and Marlowe), and of the lively and somewhat disreputable adventures that attest a more or less bohemian existence, he deserves to be categorized as the of the University Wits. Or more precisely, as Nicholl accurately diagnosed his position, NOTE 14 he belonged to “a definable, rather upmarket sub-group of the ‘University Wits’” that included Marlowe. In a number of ways “upmarket” is exactly the right phrase for classifying Watson. It certainly defines the nature of his work: smooth, dignified, and formal, learned almost to a fault, philosophical, with no visible taint of of Grub Street hack-work. NOTE 15 Indeed, in an important sense, he operated on a loftier plane than any of the other members of this literary set. Much of his output was in Latin, addressed to a readership that had passed through the schools and universities. His English work was pitched towards this same elite audience. And, of course, we catch no signs of the grinding poverty that hounded, and occasionally killed, some of the other Wits. From first to last, Watson the writer manufactured and successfully wore a persona of literary respectability, elevation, and scholarly gravity. Save for the epigram at the end of Amyntas and the solemn clowning in Amintae Gaudia — in both cases done for calculated literary reasons — it never slipped.
13. What went on behind this mask was something rather different. Nashe’s reminiscence after his death has a certain emblematic value: NOTE 16
A man he was that I dearly lou’d and honor’d, and for all things hath left few his equalls in England, he it was in the company of diuers Gentlemen one night supper at the Nags head in Cheape first told me of [Gabriel Harvey’s] vanitie, and those Hexameters made of him,
But o what neewes of that Good Gabriell Haruey
Knowne to the world for a foole and clapt in the Fleet for a Rimer? NOTE 17
[Harvey] raild vppon me vnder the name of Piers Pennilesse, and for a bribe that I should not reply on him, praisd me, and reckoned me (at the latter end) among the famous Schollers of our time, as S. Philip Sidney, M. Watson, M. Spenser, M. Daniell, whom he hartily thankt, and promised to endow with manie complements for so enriching our English Tongue.
14. In this one paragraph we glimpse Watson’s two sides. Alongside the famous scholar worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with Sidney and Spenser, there is the boon blade in the tavern, as willing and able as anyone else to mock Gabriel Harvey’s Pedantius-pomposity. NOTE 18 Another witness gives corroborative testimony. The anonymous author of the 1596 Ulysses upon Ajax, already quoted, described Sir John Harington’s etymologies in the The Metamorphosis of Ajax as “the froth of witty Tom Watson’s jests, what balductum play is not fully of them?”NOTE 19 and we are about to consider some pranks which show this aspect of his character in action. But tavern-Watson was rarely allowed to impinge on the territory reserved for book-Watson. In his works many Wit features are wholly absent: there is no casting of turds in the teeth of respectability, no antic foolery, no personal backbiting and literary feuding. NOTE 20 He may have been friends with Nashe, Greene, and Peele, and may have had more in common with them than he cared to admit, but he resolutely forbore to imitate their excesses in print.
15. The discovery that Watson had a multifaceted personality is not necessarily illuminating per se. But, depending on whom you believe, more was concealed behind the literary persona, that has earned him some very hard epithets. First, knave. In the second place, spy. For a third, something not entirely unlike wizard. Reviewing these accusations is a means of presenting much of what is known about Watson’s London existence.
16. Let us begin with knave, a sobriquet applied to Watson by a hostile contemporary. In his recent chapters on Watson, John Nicholl discussed two incidents which he thought warranted the conclusion that a our poet was a man of bad character: NOTE 21 “In both episodes there is a strong element of fraud and deception. They suggest the man’s relish for intrigue. There is cruelty in them, too: the intrigue has victims.”
17. In 1579, while living in Westminster, NOTE 22 Watson made the acquaintance of Edward and Anne Burnell — Edward was the stepbrother of the poet Barnaby Googe — residents of the same house as himself. NOTE 23 Anne suffered from the fantastic impression that she was the daughter of the King of Spain, as proven by certain marks upon her body. A Nottinghamshire witch had told her so, promising that further signs of confirmation would appear. In 1597 Anne came to the attention of the authorities, and was examined by the Privy Council. She told how Watson had egged her on by issuing impressive-sounding prophecies. He was obliged to make a deposition to a Council official, in which he stoutly denied having encouraged this delusional woman. Anne was ordered to desist, did not, and in 1592, two months after Watson’s death, was tied to a cart and whipped through the streets. In John Stow’s Annales, or General Chronicle of England (1631) it is recorded that: NOTE 24
A certain gentlewoman by the Council’s commandment was whipped through the City of London, for affirming herself to be the daughter of Philip, K. of Spain, as he had been persuaded by some accompted soothsayers, afterwards proved liars.
18. Nicholl’s assumption that Watson deserves to be reckoned as one of these “accompted soothsayers” rings true. In the 1587 investigation, Anne was only willing to tell the authorities that she had been encouraged by a certain learned young gentleman of Westminster, but Watson’s identity was revealed by an obliging neighbor, who described him as “a wise man in St. Helen’s, that could tell strange things.” Watson’s statement at his examination wears an unconvincing look of feigned innocence: NOTE 25
Thomas Watson late of St. Ellenes in London gentleman examined the xijth daye of August 1587: being damaunded wheather he knoweth a gentlewoman called Mrs. Burnell sayeth thatt he doth knowe her very well & sayeth that the first acquaintaunce he had with her was at westminster aboute viij yeares past in a howse of one Walle<r> wheare she & her husbande did lye & wheare also he himselfe did nowe and then lye with one Mr. Beale a preacher & his acquaintaunce in Oxforde before: at <which> time he remembreth she had talked of an old woman that dwelte in the Countrye that had toulde that she was better borne than she was taken or to like effecte, to which speach he sayeth he said nothing & is very sure that neither she in his hearing nor him selfe did ever saye that she was or that it might be she was kinge phillip or quene Maryes childe, or that it might be she was the Childe of the one or thother, neyther euer did saye that she had some markes vpon her bodye that hereafter shoulde appeare greater, neither ever hearde her saye that she had the markes of Englande on her bodye neither ever hearde any person so saye.
Nicholl’s appraisal was that: NOTE 26
This is a story of an unscrupulous young man and an unfortunate old woman. Watson’s actions are amusing on one level, a jape, but they have a hard edge. He trades on his learning, on the mystique it has for those who lack it. There is the overtone of charlatanism, of phoney magic and mumbo-jumbo. It is a piece of theatre, with Watson giving his best in the role of the ‘soothsayer.’ The whole thing plays like a comedy, but the comedy has a victim who ends up whipped at the cart’s end.
19. No doubt Watson was able to gull his neighbors into thinking he was some kind of soothsayer thanks to general impression made by his book learning. It is worth hazarding a further guess. In about 1585 he published a treatise on memory training, and as early as 1583 had written a manuscript handbook on the subject (read aloud in a context which, as we shall see, itself had the distinct aspect of a practical joke). A few years later the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci wowed the Chinese by demonstrating mnemonic skills, using precisely the same system of “local memory” advocated by Watson. NOTE 27 Perhaps this was the beginning of the whole affair: he began by performing memory stunts to amuse his simple neighbors, observed the impression he was making, and could not resist the temptation to extract some fun from the situation by encouraging the belief he was a wizard. One may reasonably think him a fool for failing to see that his prank might have serious consequences, and no doubt he had a good scare thrown in him when he was reeled in for questioning by the Privy Council. But, save in the generalized sense that there may be an element of cruelty in most practical joking, in the available evidence there is no sign of conscious sadism in his fake wizardry.
20. At lines 13f. of the dedicatory poem prefacing the Meliboeus of 1590, dedicated to Sir Thomas Walsingham, Watson wrote of his famous cousin Sir Francis, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State,
Et mihi subtristes qui (te mediante) procellas
Depulit, hyberno vela ferente noto.
[“...a man who warded off baleful storms from me when a winter tempest blowing from the South struck my sail, thanks to your intervention.”]
Evidently, therefore, Mr. Secretary acted at his cousin’s behest to get Watson out of a scrape. NOTE 28 Summoned by the Privy Council, a panicky Watson may have obtained his intervention. But, of course, if a propensity for practical joking could get him involved in one such affair, he could have been implicated in more. At very least, involvement in two domestic scandals (the second about to be described), as well as a killing and a consequent spell of imprisonment, cumulatively go to show that the course of Watson’s life did not always run as smoothly as do his verses. NOTE 29
21. A second adventure presents distinct parallels to the Burnell episode. NOTE 30 By 1591, Watson had virtually been taken into the household of William Cornwallis, a wealthy Catholic neighbor, an advocate of the Queen’s bench and eldest son of Sir Thomas Cornwallis (who had formerly been comptroller of Queen Mary’s household), in the capacity of tutor to his son John. Watson was by now married to Anne Swift (he had married her in September 1585, in St. Antholin’s on Watling Street) NOTE 31 and one of his brothers-in-law, Thomas Swift, was a retainer of Cornwallis. The most important transaction in what was admittedly a more complex story, is that Watson seems to have arranged, to some degree, for Thomas and Cornwallis’ fourteen year-old daughter Frances to enter into a contract drawn up by Thomas’ brother Hugh, an attorney, which was ostensibly for a loan, but was cleverly worded so as to obligate Frances to marry Thomas. Swift subsequently tried to enforce both terms of the contract, to get the girl and his money too, with disastrous consequences for himself. Evidently Thomas Cornwallis’ son was party to the plan and seems to have played the role of go-between in furthering it.
22. There is no need to go into all the details of this domestic drama here. For us, the crucial fact is that William Cornwallis did not become fully aware of what was going on until after Watson’s death in September 1592 (Hugh Swift died at about the same time). Thomas Swift eventually got hauled before the Star Chamber and was fined a thousand pounds and sent to the pillories. All sorts of discreditable stuff was said about Watson, and Cornwallis was inclined to believe it. In a complaining letter to Sir Thomas Heneage, a member of the Privy Council and of the Star Chamber, he thundered:
Sir, he that could deuise twenty fictions and knaveryes in a play, which was his daily practyse and his living, could draw the lies and deuices of this letter, which Sir, vpon my life, was Watson’s penning for the most part...My son, Sir who knew this knavery of the writing a year before me, and concealed it by Watson’s deep dissimuled aduice, who read vnto [i. e., tutored] him daily and had gotten a young man’s loue, knows all this and much more manifesting lies, periury and cozenage.
23. These hard words form as striking contrast as one could wish with the otherwise unanimous praises of Watson’s contemporaries. At first sight, this affair seems to cast Watson in a much more discreditable light than the practical joke previously played on Anne Brunell, and maybe it does. But, as Chatterley wrote in what is for our purposes the crucial sentence in his detailed study of the affair (on p. 125)m during the period in which the facts of the case were beginning to come to light “Swift tried to pin as much blame as he could on the dead Watson.” For that matter, Cornwallis’ son John had a similar motive for shifting blame onto Watson in order to appease his irate father. Now conveniently dead, Watson was unable to give his side of the story, and his own version of events might have been considerably different.
24. But in fact he did. In my Introduction to Amintae Gaudia I shall argue that Epistle II of that work is a fictionalized account of the Cornwallis affair, in which Amyntas represents Thomas Swift and the go-between Mopsus stands for himself. In this Epistle, the essential honorableness of Amyntas’ intentions are stressed, and it is emphasized that the goal of his machinations is holy matrimony. Swift’s true intentions may have been a good deal more sinister, but at any rate Amintae Gaudia appears to record how Watson read the situation, and goes to show that whatever he may have done within the Cornwallis household was done with the benevolent intention of furthering a love-match, a sensitive business requiring the deception of the girl’s father because it was between social unequals. Speaking in favor of this assessment of his motivations is the fact that there is evidence that son John was also privy to the plot. Surely he would not have been willing to aid a rascal in swindling his father, and so he too must have seen Swift’s enterprise in a favorable light. Yes, a fair amount of discreditable information about Watson was placed on the public record, but it must be borne in mind who placed it there, when, and why. It would be pleasant to imagine that sponsoring a love-match was the motivation of a poet who wrote so much about love, an interpretation that of course involves a speculative interpretation of the Amintae Gaudia epistle, but one that must be borne in mind by anyone attempting to assess his character.
25. This brings us to the second charge leveled against Watson, that he was a government agent. NOTE 32 In reviewing Watson’s participation in the adventures involving the Brunells and the Cornwallises, Nicholl did not stop at he judgment that he was a sadistic intriguer. He put a far worse interpretation on Watson’s involvement. Noting that both the Brunells and the Cornwallises were Catholic families, he suggested that Watson had been planted in these households by the government to spy on their activities. It would be easy enough to disparage this assumption regarded in isolation, for in both adventures Watson comported himself in such a way as to throw the limelight firmly on himself, scarcely the typical spy’s modus operandi. One might of course wonder why he was doing this in view of Alhiyara’s discovery that he came from a well-to-do family background, and the most plausible answer is probably that by now he had gone through his inheritance and needed the income (this is also the probable reason why he practiced law — see here) and became involved with the production of The Honorable Entertainement gieuen to the Queenes Maiestie in Progresse, at Elvetham in Hampshire, and evidently wrote for the theater, as discussed here, and it is not impossible that his prolonged imprisonment in connection with the William Bradley affair had to do with his inability to make bail). Then too, in his recent study Chatterley (p. 122) states that Watson became John Cornwallis’ tutor soon after his family moved into the neighborhood at the of 1589, but gives no evidence to support this contention, and in this particular context chronology is crucial, for it is vital to Nicholl’s argument to be able to demonstrate that he did he take up that job before the death of Sir Francis Walsingham in 1590. But Nicholl made this suggestion as a part of a more complex tissue of inferences tending to this same conclusion.
26. This is scarcely the place to review Nicholl’s elaborate theory of the murder of Christopher Marlowe, which he concluded to have been arranged by Essex’ party as part of a campaign to discredit Raleigh. It is enough to note that in his reconstruction of the shadowy underworld of English spydom he repeatedly availed himself of a kind of historical McCarthyism, heavily relying on inferences of guilt by association. Thus he regarded Watson’s friendship with Marlowe and his relation by marriage to Robert Poley as indications that he was hireling of the same espionage apparatus. Thus he was able to attach sinister significance to the detail that the minor poet Matthew Roydon, who wrote a gratulatory poem for the Ἑκατομπαθία, co-signed a financial note with Nicholas Skeres, another governmental agent who, together with Poley, was present at Eleanor Bull’s house on the occasion of Marlowe’s death. NOTE 33
27. Such general considerations as these predisposed Nicholl to find a special significance in Watson’s Paris encounter with Sir Thomas Walsingham (cousin to Sir Francis Walsingham and Marlowe’s patron). NOTE 34The evidence for this is provided by Watson himself. In 1590 he wrote Meliboeus, a pastoral eulogy on the death of Sir Francis. This poem consists of a dialogue between Tityrus (Sir Thomas) and Corydon (Watson). At lines 132ff. Tityrus says:
Saepe meis olim placuit ta strudula canna
Auribus, ad Parsios quando cantabat olores,
Sequana divisum qua fluctibus lluit urbem,
Foelicem, licito si regi serviat, urbem.
Tum tua cordatis (memini) iuvenilia plectra
Perplacuere viris, upupisque es visus hyrundo.
[“Once your strident reed used to please my ears, when it would sing to the swans of Paris, that divided city washed by the waters of the Seine, a happy city, if it would obey a lawful king. I recall how your youthful plucking was dear to men of good sense, you seemed like a swallow to us hoopoes.”]
28. History first catches sight of Sir Thomas 1n 1580, functioning in France as a despatch carrier, and Watson must have made his acquaintance about that time. Sir Francis Walsingham was in France on a diplomatic mission in late July and August of 1581, and in his diary Lord Burghley recorded the arrival in England of three couriers carrying despatches from home: Sir Thomas, John Furriar, “who would later deal with Poley in the Babingham affair,” and a certain Watson, who arrived at Court on August 13. While admitting that Watson is a common English surname, Nicholl suggested that this individual was our man. This supposition is incapable of proof, but if Watson did Sir Francis the favor of carrying letters back to London, one wonders exactly what this would go to show. What aspiring young man would refuse to oblige one of the great men of the realm, especially when he was the cousin of a friend and potential patron?
29. We have seen Watson playing the false wizard in jest. Two authorities have claimed that his interest in arcana was more serious. Nicholl found evidence for this in his prose treatise Compendium Memoriae Localis, probably printed in 1585. According to him,
Watson’s interest in [Giordano Bruno] is made clear in his own book on the art of memory. Mnemotechnology, or ars memoriae, was one of Bruno’s specialties, part of his package of magical powers. He recommended the topographical method, where complex ideas are stored in ‘places,’ typically the rooms of a house, and can be retrieved by an imagined progress from room to room. This is exactly Watson’s subject...He acknowledges Bruno as the master of this art, and modestly states that his own contribution is minor compared to that of ‘Nolanus.’
Watson’s treatise on mnemonics differs radically in nature from that of Bruno, for it reasserts the purely pragmatic mnemotechnics of Roman rhetorical theory, largely appropriated from the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium — and therefore, since Watson clearly thought Cicero had written this work, supported by the tremendous cultural authority of the great Roman author — stripped bare of any arcane elements, and in introducing the work I shall argue that it in fact seems to have been written in disapproving reaction to Bruno’s mysticism. Indeed, reading this treatise aloud to an audience in which Bruno was present may well have been another of Watson’s practical jokes, holding up to public ridicule the pretensions of that Italian visitor.
30. Likewise, Nicholl discerned sinister significance in Watson’s association with the Earl of Northumberland, the so-called “Wizard Earl,” to whom our poet dedicated his 1586 translation of Coluthus’ Raptus Helenae and for whom, evidently, he also privately prepared A learned Dialogue of Bernard Palessy, Concerning Waters fountaines, both naturall and artificiall: Translated Out of French into English, preserved in a presentation manuscript from the Earl’s own library. NOTE 35 This is a variant of Nicholl’s familiar “guilt by association” strategy. On no better grounds George Peele could be alleged to have been some kind of Gnostic or Hermeticist because he wrote The Honour of the Garter for Northumberland in 1593. Colluthus’ narrative poem is self-evidently devoid of any conceivable arcane implications. The Discours Admirabiles (1580) by Bernard Palissy [d. 1590] is a pioneering series of dialogues between Theory and Practice on geological subjects. NOTE 36 Watson translated the first of these dialogues, a discussion of terrestrial hydraulics which contains a good deal of practical advice about irrigation, the use of pumps, etc., of interest to Northumberland because of his enthusiasm for gardens (betweem 1574 and 1600 he did a lot of work on the gardens of Petworth, which eventually included an elaborate water system). NOTE 37 It is noteworthy that Watson did not translate the second one, which deals in part with alchemy.
31. A similar conclusion has been suggested on completely different grounds, by Harry H. Boyle in his unpublished dissertation on Watson. In discussing Meliboeus, he wrote: NOTE 38
Watson...[shows] in his dirge an extraordinary preoccupation with astrological and theological matters...His conception of the powers of the zodiac and the Christian heaven...strongly suggests that he also was acquainted with the occult aspects of Ficino and Pico’s thought. An intensive discussion of Hermeticism would be digressive in this context; it is, however, necessary to show that Watson’s allusions are more those of an informed renaissance Gnostic than of a “sectary astronomicall.” The essential difference is that the believer seeks to “Foretell his irrevocably foreordained future,” while the Gnostic extraordinary, the magus, practices to escape “astrological determinism by gaining power over the stars, guiding their influence in the direction which the operator desires.” Watson assumes the this distinctively active role in his invocation.
32. This suggestion was prompted by two passages in the poem. The more significant of these enumerates the heavenly Principalities (365 - 76), lore the speaker in the poem claims to have learnt from some ancient bard (365). At first sight, it might appear that the bard in question is nobody more arcane than Dante, and that this passage is based on Canto XXVIII of the Paradiso. In view of Watson’s interest in Italian literature, this may be so, but he lists the Principalities in a different order than does Dante. His scheme is the one that Pope Gregory I used in his Homilies on the Gospels, and we might better suppose that his bard is supposed to be that legendary storehouse of all recondite wisdom, Orpheus (as is suggested by lines 175f.). Be that as it may, this simple list of Principalities scarcely looks like the secret knowledge of an initiate; Watson claims no special properties for them, nor does he suggest that they can be manipulated by magical operations.
33. Earlier in the same poem there is an astrological passage (151 - 203) in which Corydon calls on the signs of the zodiac and the movable spheres of heaven to lament the dead Meliboeus. This passage can be matched with a couple of stray astrological lines in other works: Amyntas, Lamentation IV.74 and Amintae Gaudia, Eclogue IV.378 with its disdainful remark about smatterers (scioli) in astrology, and Eclogue VI.30 of the same work. These occasional astrological lines look essentially ornamental rather than indicative of sustained interest in the subject.
34. Rather more serious indicators of the poet’s intellectual bent are a couple of Platonic passages. In the Poet’s prologue to the Pomps and Themes appended to the Antigone (9) he says of Poetry, speciem bonorum signat in mente [“she stamps the form of good things upon the mind.”] Species is the word Cicero regularly uses to designate the Platonic Idea or Form, and perhaps the mind is a conceived as a wax tablet, as at Plato, Theatetus 109E - 195B. But one must hasten to add that this is a Platonizing touch superimposed on a viewpoint derived from a very different source, for in these Pomps and Themes Watson’s intention was to apply to the Antigone a reading that employs the morally didactic theory of Sir Philip Sidney.
35. Then too, there is a memorable passage at Amintae Gaudia Eclogue IV.131 - 52 which describes an oracular Saturn dreaming in his underwater cavern, and whatever he dreams Jove turns into reality. Boyle was of the opinion that this passage, “perhaps best called a digression, is basically a treatment of Plato’s metaphorical explanation of the theory of ideas. In Watson, the myth of the golden age is combined with the epistemology of Plato.” So both passages show that Watson had read Plato, or at least Italian Platonists, and was impressed with the Theory of Forms. But it may be asked what this proves, beyond the obvious conclusion that nobody would care to challenge, that he was well educated, possessed of a lively and curious intellect, and had gathered and absorbed information from a wide variety of sources. Nothing in his life or writings marks him as having any interests that straitlaced contemporaries would have regarded as unwholesome. All in all, the portrait that emerges is of a University Wit who was rather more learned and intellectual than the other members of his literary circle, and who kept “witty Tom Watson” at arm’s length from his literary persona. The suggestions that he led some sort of secret life, as a con-man, spy, or wizard, are wholly unconvincing.
36. Watson is probably best known to the modern world, not as a writer, but as a friend of Marlowe, and this is why so much available Watsonian research is biographical rather than literary. The most familiar adventure of his life was the incident that transpired in Hog Lane on September 18, 1589. NOTE 39 The story is best told by the inquest report of William Danby, Coroner of the Household, written in atrocious Latin of the authentic Dogberry variety; the essential portion is reproduced here, with abbreviations written out and punctuation added:
Qui dicunt super sacramentum suum quod ubi praefatus willelmus Bradley et quidam Christopherus Morley nuper de London generosus vicesimo octavo die Septembris Anno tricesimo primo supradicto fuerunt insimul pugnantes in quadem venella vocata hoglane in parochia Sancti Egidii extra Creplegate in predicto Comitatu Middlesex inter horas secundam et terciam post meridiem eiusdem diei. Ibi intervenit eiusdem die et anno et infra horas quidam Thomas watson nuper de london generosus super clamorem populi ibidem astantis ad separandum praefatos willelmum Bradley et Christoferum Morley sic pugnantes et ad pacem dicte domine Regine conservandam. Et gladium suum eam ob causam tunc et ibidem extraxit. Super quo praefatus willelmus [sic!] Morley seipsum retraxit et a pugnando desistit. Et super hoc predictus willelmus Bradley videns eundem Thomam watson sic intervenientem ibidem cum gladio suo extracto dixit ei in his Aglicanis verbis sequentibus, videlicet arte thowe nowe come then I will have a bout with thee. Et instanter idem willelmus Bradley in prefatum Thomam watson cum gladio suo insultum fecit et cum uno gladio et uno pugione de ferro et Calibi predictum Thomam watson tunc et ibidem verberavit vulneravit et maletractavit ita quod de vita eius desperabatur. racione cuius prefatus Thomas watson cum gladio suo predicto de ferro et calibi precii iij s. iiij d. quem in manu sua dextra tunc et ibidem habuit et tenuit seipsum contra predictum Willelmum Bradley tunc et ibidem defendit et a predicto willelmo Bradley pro salvacione vite sue usque ad quoddam fossatum in venella predicta fugit ultra quod quidem fossatum idem Thomas watson absque periculo vite sue fugere non potuit. Et predictus wilelmus Bradley insultum suum predictum continuando prefatum Thomam Watson tunc et ibidem recenter insecutus fuit. Super quo predictus Thomas Watson pro salvacione vite sue predictum Willelmum Bradley cum gladio suo predicto tunc et ibidem percussit dans ei unam plagam mortalm sive vulnus et in super dextram partem pectoris ipsius willelmi Bradley prope mamillam profundidatis ex pollicum et latitudinis unius pollicis de qua quidem plaga mortali idem Willelmus Bradley apud ffynesbury predictum in predicta Comitatu Middlesex instanter obiit. Et sic Juratores predict dicunt super sacramentum suum predictum quod predictus Thomas Watson seipsum defendendo prefatum Willelmum Bradley modo et forma predictis interfecit et occidit contra pacem dicte domine Regine Coronam et dignitatum suas et non per feloniam nec aliquo alio modo quam ut supradictum est.
[Danby lists the members of the coroner’s jury “Who aver on their oath that the aforesaid William Bradley and a certain Christopher Morley, lately a gentleman of London, were fighting together on the eighteenth NOTE 40 day of September in the thirty-first year [of Elizabeth’s reign, i. e., 1589], in a certain road called Hog Lane in the parish of St. Giles without Cripplegate in the aforesaid County of Middlesex between the hours of two and three in the afternoon of the same day. There on the same day and year and between the aforementioned hours a certain Thomas Watson, lately a gentleman of London, intervened upon the outcry of the bystanders, for the separation of the aforesaid William Bradley and Christopher Morley, who were thus fighting, and for the preservation of the aforesaid Queen’s peace. And for which cause he then and there drew his sword. Whereupon the aforesaid Christopher Morley withdrew himself and desisted from the fighting. And whereupon the aforementioned William Bradley, seeing this Thomas Watson to intervene, spoke to him in these words, his sword still drawn, viz., “Are thowe nowe come? Then I will haue a boute with thee.” And immediately the same William Bradley there and then made an assault upon the aforementioned Thomas Watson, and with one sword and one dagger of iron and steel there and then struck and wounded the aforementioned Thomas Watson and so mistreated him that his life was despaired of. For which reason the aforementioned Thomas Watson with his aforementioned sword of iron and steel (of the value of 3 s. 4 d.), which he there and then was holding in his hand, leveled the same against the aforementioned William Bradley until he came to a certain ditch in the aforesaid road, beyond which ditch the same Thomas Watson could retreat no further without risk of life. And the aforementioned William Bradley there and then followed after the aforementioned Thomas Watson for the continuation of his aforementioned assault. Whereupon the aforementioned Thomas Watson for the preservation of his life there and then struck the aforementioned William Bradley with his aforementioned sword, inflicting on him one mortal bow or wound in the upper right portion of the breast of the same William Bradley, next to the nipple to the depth of six inches and the width of an inch, by which mortal blow the same aforementioned William Bradley immediately died at Finsbury in the aforementioned County of Middlesex. And thus the aforementioned jurors say on their oath that the aforementioned Thomas Watson killed the aforementioned William Bradley in the aforementioned way and form, and killed him against the peace and dignity of Her aforementioned Majesty’s Crown but not by a felony nor in any other way than is stated above.”]
37. Marlowe and Watson stood their ground, where arrested, and brought to the local Justice of the Peace, and later in the same day incarcerated at Newgate pro suspicione murdri. Although the Middlesex coroner’s jury convened the following day and found that Watson had killed Bradley in self-defense, the two poets were remanded to Newgate. Marlowe was bailed out on October 1. Watson was left in jail. The case was heard at the Old Bailey on December 3. Marlowe was discharged, but Watson was kept in prison pending the royal grace until February 10 of the following year. Evidently Watson’s inheritance was exhausted, so that he could not make bail, NOTE 41 but it is puzzling that none of his friends — one thinks of Sir Thomas Walsingham, also Marlowe’s patron — was willing to stand surety for him, though he could quite reasonably be thought to have saved Marlowe’s life. It is perhaps also surprising that his status as a gentleman (generosus) did not earn him better consideration. His five-month sojourn in Newgate forms an ironic contrast to the case of Ingram Frizer, who was briefly jailed for killing Marlowe in May-June 1993, professedly also in self-defense, but who was bailed out after a few days.
38. Hog Lane was a dirt road running westward from Shoreditch to Finsbury Field in the “liberties” outside the city wall. It lay close to the suburb of Norton Folgate where, according to the 1589 Newgate calendar, both Marlowe and Watson resided. This was a cheap district of cottages and tenements, that recommended itself to actors and literati (including the young Shakespeare) because of its proximity to such early theaters as the Theatre and the Curtain. Nicholl wrote that Marlowe and Watson “were neighbours,. possibly room-mates.”NOTE 42 This latter suggestion seems improbable in view of Watson’s married state, but they were certainly neighbors.
39. The story told by the coroner’s report, no doubt written on the basis of eyewitness testimony, wears a straightforward look. Marlowe and Bradley were engaged in a duel. Watson happened along, attracted by the commotion, and attempted to break up the affair. Marlowe desisted but Bradley turned on Watson. Either overmastered or unwilling to fight, our poet backed off and suffered a wound, NOTE 43 and when a ditch in Finsbury Field NOTE 44 blocked his further retreat, he was obliged to kill Bradley in order to survive. Given the sympathetic acceptance of this account, no doubt based on a good deal of eye witness testimony in the report, it may seem surprising that Watson remained imprisoned for such a long time. It might have been the case that the authorities had an inkling that bad blood between Watson and Bradley had already existed, and harbored suspicions that there was more to the story than met the eye. There is a request that a court issue more or less what nowadays we call a “restraining order,” contained in the the Queens Bench Controlment Rolls, and, if aware of it, any prosecutor would think long and hard before letting Watson go: NOTE 45
Willielmus Bradley petit securirtates pacis versis Hugonem Swift et Iohannem Allen et Thomas Watson ad metum mortis &c.
Attachiamentum vicecomitii Middlesex
retornabile xve Martini
[“William Bradley requests sureties of peace against Hugh Swift and John Allen and Thomas Watson out of fear for his life &c.
Attachment of the Sheriff of Middlesex
Returnable 15 days after St. Martin’s Day.”] NOTE 46
40. On the reverse of the same page of the Rolls is a similar document in which Hugh Swift asked for securities of peace against one George Orrell. NOTE 47 We have already been introduced to Swift, Watson’s lawyer brother-in-law who aided in the swindle by which Thomas Swift sought to marry Sir Thomas Cornwallis’ daughter. Eccles (p. 68) identified John Allen as the brother of the famous actor Edward Alleyn. The public archival records pertinent to this affair preserve no evidence about the nature of the quarrel. But Cecioni NOTE 48 quoted a document preserved at Dulwich College (founded by Allen’s actor-brother):
Bond from William Bradley, of London, yeoman, to John Allen, of London, innholder, in 40 marks, for the payment, on 25 of August of 14£, Dated 8 Mar. 30 Eliz. 
Could it be that the quarrel had its origin when Bradley defaulted on this loan? Bradley, an innkeeper’s son, was evidently a rash and contentious man (both Eccles and Cecioni cite plenty of evidence to that effect) and it is scarcely impossible that the grudges growing out of this episode came to include not just Allen, but his friends as well.
41. Thanks to their mutual friend Sir Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe and Watson may already have known each other. It should be observed, however, that there is no evidence that serves to prove this point, or to suggest that Bradley’s quarrel with Marlowe had anything to do with his one with Watson, Swift and Allen. But if the two poets were not already friends, shared time in Newgate would have made them such. The real evidence for their friendship is that Marlowe served as Watson’s literary executor nearly three years later. It deserves to be pointed out that, as with the Cornwallis affair, Amintae Gaudia contains a fictionalized account of this adventure. In Epistle I Amyntas recalls how he first met Phyllis when he intervened to break up a fight between two rivals for her affection, Faustulus and Corydon. There is no reason at all, of course, to think that the real-life quarrel was over a girl, but it is noteworthy how Watson projects his fictional hero into a situation with a distinct resemblance to the one he himself had experienced.
42. According to parish records, Watson was buried at the church of St. Bartholomew-the-Less, London, on September 26, 1592. The summer of 1592 had ushered in a bad visitation of the plague, sufficiently so that the theaters had to be shut down and Elizabeth and her privy councillors removed to Oxford. NOTE 49 His friend Greene had died at the beginning of September, after suffering a month of agony and writing Greene’s Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance on his deathbed. It is not unlikely that Watson died of the same cause: by the time the plague burned itself out in the next year, according to the 1631 chronicle of John Stow, 10,575 Londoners had died, something like one in fifty of the urban population. Despite having been married for the better part of a decade, there seems to be no record that he left any issue.
43. What was said about him by his contemporaries, both before and after his death, shows that Watson was held in considerable regard. High esteem for him is one of the few things upon which Thomas Nashe and Gabriel managed to agree. NOTE 50 I have already quoted Nashe’s words on the subject. Likewise, in the third of his Foure Letters of 1592 (p. 48) an unusually conciliatory Harvey wrote, “I courdially recommend to the deere Louers of the Muses: and namely to the professed Sonnes of the same, Edmond Spencer, Richard Stanihurst, Abraham Fraunce, Thomas Watson, Samuel Daniell, Thomas Nash, and the rest: whome I affectionately thancke for their studious endeuours, commendably employed in enriching, and polishing their natiue Tongue, neuer so furnished, or embillished, as of late.” In 1589, after having just mentioned “sweete Master France...his excellent translation of Master Thomas Watsons sugred Amintas“ in the introduction “To the Gentleman students” prefacing Greene’s Menaphon, Nashe added that “the number of good Poets, are very small: and in trueth (Master Watson except, whom I mentioned before) I knowe not almost any of late dayes that hath shewed himselfe singular in any special Latin Poëm, whose Amintas and translated Antigone may march in equipage of honour, with any of our ancient Poets.” NOTE 51 The discerning Francis Meres in his 1598 Palladis Tamis (sig. Oo 3v) ranked him with the best in the land, Shakespeare included, as a tragedian and poet. NOTE 52 In upbraiding Love in his Affectionate Shepheards (1596), Richard Barnsfield linked Watson’s protagonist with tose of Spenser and Sidney:
By thee great Collin lost his libertie,
By thee sweet Astrophel forwent his ioy,
By thee Amyntas wept incessantly.
In a sidenote to a mention of Daniel in the Polimanteia published at Cambridge in 1595, “W. C. ” alluded to Shakespeare’s “Wanton Adonis” and — clearly thinking of Venus and Adonis — designated Shakespeare “Watson’s heyre.” NOTE 53 In 1593, soon after his death, George Peele looked back (in the Honour of the Garter): NOTE 54
To Watson, worthy many Epitaphes
For his sweet Poesie, for Amintas teares
And ioyes so well set downe.
He received a complimentary allusion in the second part of the Cambridge comedy Return from Parnassus (I.i.237). NOTE 55 In his 1607 A Knights Coniuring Dekker gave a charming imaginary picture of the deceased Wits congregating in the groves of Elysium, and honored Watson by naming him first, even before Marlowe. NOTE 56 Furthermore, as can be seen from appropriate Commentary notes on the individual Passions of the Ἑκατομπαθία, another mark of the esteem in which Watson was held was the frequency with which his individual poems were included both in contemporary printed anthologies and personal commonplace books. Likewise, madrigals from his 1590 collection are not uncommon in printed musical anthologies.
44. The historical importance of the Ἑκατομπαθία, the first genuine sonnet cycle to be written and printed in England, NOTE 57 is considerable, and it established Watson as a leading English Petrarchan — although, as we shall see, a poet who put a very idiosyncratic spin on Petrarchism. His accomplishments as a Humanistic poet are less familiar, although no less impressive. Dr. Samuel Johnson (whose readings in this body of literature must have been very limited) advanced the questionable suggestion in his Life of Milton, that William Alabaster, author of the gruesome revenge drama Roxana, was the best Latin poet England had produced prior to Milton. Watson has a strong claim on this appellation, challenged only, perhaps, by Wiliam Gager of Oxford and Thomas Campion (whose achievements in Latin poetry are sometimes wrongly belittled by modern critics). The posthumous Amintae Gaudia shows him hitting his stride as England’s premier Ovidian, and it is as such that Leicester Bradner sensibly discussed him in his survey of Anglo-Latin poetry. NOTE 58
45. Watson’s reputation with his contemporaries largely rested on his Amyntas poetry. He launched his literary career at a time when the fashion for pastoral was beginning. In 1579 Spenser published The Shepheards Calendar. Sidney’s poetry was getting abroad, if only in manuscript, and engendered a literary movement that has been called “Arcadianism,” that “accepted Sidney’s Arcadia...as the model of all that it was noble and courtly and ingenuous to feel and think.” NOTE 59 Watson was quick jump aboard this literary bandwagon: no less than five of his ten published works explore the world inhabited by ardent Amyntas and his doomed Phyllis. This world is even invoked where one might not expect to encounter it, in The first sett of Italian madrigalls Englished of 1590, and there are also distinctly pastoral elements in his 1586 translation of Coluthus. Watson had turned the exploration of Amyntas-land into a minor industry — so successfully, in fact, that he started something of a craze and others of the time were not slow to capitalize on it: see Albert Chatterley, Notes and Queries for September 2001, for song and madrigal imitations — and he did not merely contrive this universe to resemble Sidney’s Arcadia. By incorporating the dead Sidney and his in-laws into this fictive world as characters, he managed to create the sense that this was the same universe. Although this was done with the utmost expressions of piety, it was nevertheless a characteristically deft feat of literary imperialism.
46. Because Watson’s output has never been studied synoptically, one of the most striking features of his art has gone almost entirely unnoticed: the many cross-references he created among many of his individual works, filling them with quotations from, and allusions to, each other in such a way as to weave them together into a complex network of intertextuality. As his works accumulate with the passage of time, by a kind of snowballing effect this playful phenomenon becomes increasingly more visible. Loaded as it is with such pointers to the poet’s previous works, his masterpiece Amintae Gaudia could not be fully comprehended if read in isolation. For this reason, incidentally, the reader who desires to have a fully accurate experience of Watson’s art is strongly urged to read his works in their chronological order (the order in which they are listed in the Table of Contents). The cross-references between his individual works, of course, are noticed in appropriate commentary notes.
47. This intertextual habit is most evident in Watson’s five works having to do with Amyntas, and a large number of passages in his Latin bucolic poetry contain echoes of the Ἑκατομπαθία. To a lesser extent, reminiscences of his and its appended Pomps and Themes can also be detected in subsequent works. Watson does not deserve criticism as an autoplagiarist or someone who repeated the same material out of a poverty of invention. Rather, he seems to have made a game out of including these echoes in his poems, expecting the informed reader to note and appreciate his personal cross-references. Reading any one of his poems or poetry cycles in isolation is not as rich or rewarding an experience as reading them in combination. Thus at the beginning of Meliboeus Watson refers explicitly to Amyntas’ climactic metamorphosis in Amyntas, and a number of verbal echoes of the previous work serve as collective reminders that Meliboeus is a sequel. Amintae Gaudia returns us once more to Amyntas’ world as it describes how the protagonist wooed and won his Phyllis, and how they existed in a happy state before her death. The final item in this series acquires a deeper pathos, bordering on tragic irony, for the reader who is familiar with Amyntas, a cycle of lamentations over the dead shepherdess, having as its climax the suicide of the grief-stricken shepherd and his miraculous transformation into an amaranthus. Hence Amyntas’ threat to commit suicide in Epistle X of Amintae Gaudia foreshadows his actual suicide at the end of Amyntas, and all that is said about Love’s power over him acquire extra meaning in the light of Love’s eulogy after his death in Amyntas. Echo’s teasing predictions of Phyllis’ imminent death in Eclogue VIII also have special meaning for the reader who knows that the prophecy will prove true. In the same way, the description of Sir Philip Sidney’s metamorphosis into the star Astrophil in Amintae Gaudia, Eclogue IV, provides a parallel to the transformation of Amyntas in Amyntas and that of Sir Francis Walsingham in Meliboeus.
48. But this exploration was by no means mechanically repetitious. Every time Watson revisited this world he reinvented it. Amyntas at least ostensibly seems an uncomplicated representation of the timeless, stylized, and artificial “green cabinet” NOTE 60 world of classical and neoclassical pastoral. Thinking of both Amyntas and Meliboeus, Leicester Bradner wrote “there is no satire on religion or politics, no moral discussion, and no personal allegory...This lack of ulterior motive is the result and the reward of Watson’s allegiance to the spirit of the Italian sonneteers and writers of pastoral romances.” NOTE 61 This appraisal is simplistic and ultimately wrong, but at least it serves to indicate what one encounters on the surface. But in the case of Meliboeus we do not need the author’s extra-textual advice to divine that it is the allegorical eulogy on the death of a great contemporary statesman. And this poem introduces an important innovation, repeated in Watson’s subsequent pastoral works. As noted above, as soon as our poet incorporates the dead Astrophil into his poem, NOTE 62 resemblance is replaced by identity: the world inhabited by Amyntas becomes an extension of that created by Sidney, and acquires all the cultural prestige associated with Sidney’s world. The idea of this enlarged pastoral world is reinforced by the Madrigals. Amintae Gaudia maintains this fiction, and it contains further references to the contemporary world, which have the effect of fusing Amyntas-land more closely with England.
49. Mark Eccles wrote: NOTE 63
[Watson’s] familiarity with Italy explains very well...why his work had the effect of novelty to the English, whose poetry had absorbed Italian influences since Wyatt and Surrey, but had so mixed them into the native stream that Watson’s elaborately regular style must have seemed purely Italian and Petrarchan, and therefore admirable and to be imitated.
An even more penetrating observation was made by S. K. Heninger, Jr., in introducing a photographic reproduction of the Ἑκατομπαθία. NOTE 64 One of the distinctive features of that volume is its copious amount of annotating material, unique for an English sonnet cycle but reminiscent of Bembo’s commentary on Petrarch’s Sonetti e Canzoni, and those of Muret and Belleau on Ronsard’s Amours. Only in this case the author provided the information himself, painstakingly recording his debts and supplying a wealth of information to the reader less cultured than himself. No doubt part of the reason for this welter of self-annotation was to parade his learning in typical Humanist fashion, but one would like to think that Watson had a more serious purpose. Heninger observed that all this material was designed to educate his fellow countrymen. It “[defers] to the untutored, with the expectation of edifying him and conditioning his taste. Watson was self-critic in order to be public arbiter.” This is exactly the right formula. In the Ἑκατομπαθία he set himself up as a didactic arbiter elegantiae for his fellow countrymen, a publicist for Europe’s most advanced culture, and showed how the most fashionable and up-to-date Continental poetry could be adapted to English purposes. Besides writing the first true English sonnet cycle, he was involved in the nationalization of the Italian madrigal, that most Petrarchan of musical forms. His The first Sett of Italian madrigals Englished, in part a collaborative effort with William Byrd, was one of the first collections that helped popularize this musical form, and he may have had a hand in the production of previous similar publications. Likewise, although the production of Latin versions was a Humanistic industry on the Continent, his Latin Antigone was the first such version of an Attic tragedy printed in England. NOTE 65 He also rendered Coluthus’ Greek epyllion accessible to educated Englishmen in a Latin verse translation. The introduction of this literary form paved the way for Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, and also for Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.
50. A person living abroad for a prolonged period can see his own homeland with new eyes when he returns, and does not always like what he sees. It may well be that when Watson came home the state of English letters struck him as provincial and uncouth, in need of a wholesome infusion of European politesse, so that he assigned himself the task of raising the cultural tone of his nation. His self-appointed mission was to convey to his fellow countrymen,
Report of fashions in proud Italy
Whose manners till our tardie apish Nation
Limpes after in base imitation.
[Richard II II.i]
But he was scarcely an uncritical fugleman of Continental fashions. The Italian- and French-based poetry he purveys is tempered by his own restraint and philosophical moralism. There is in fact something fundamentally schizophrenic about Watson’s activities as a cultural missionary, for, although he clearly appreciated the Petrarchan poetry that abounded on the Continent and strove to improve and modernize English literature by showing how it could be imitated, he deeply distrusted the particular brand of erotic experience this kind of poetry enshrined. One fails to grasp how Watson imagined he could recommend such poetry to his fellow countrymen for its form, rhetoric, and imagery, while at the same time subjecting its contents to severe critical analysis, and, in some of his works, to devastating satirical treatment.
51. Historians of literature usually classify Watson as an English Petrarchan, and indeed much of his poetry is saturated with Petrarchan rhetoric and imagery (as discussed in the Introduction to the Ἑκατομπαθία). Besides Petrarch himself, the other Continental poets whose works he translated or adapted are predominately Petrarchans such as Serafino and Ronsard. As with all such poets, the grand theme of his work was romantic love. But the fact that Watson wrote so much about this subject should not mislead us into considering him a normal love-poet. What sets him apart from run-of-the-mill Petrarchans is his cooly evaluative stance. The motto printed on the title page of Amyntas, nemini datur amare simul et sapere [“It is given to no man to love and be wise,” Watson’s version of Publilius Syrus, Sententiae A22, amare et sapere vix deo conceditur.] is also the subtitle of the third Theme written for the Antigone, devoted to the analysis of Haemon’s self-destructive erotomania. These words can be taken as the motto for Watson’s literary output as a whole, for most of his important works are devoted to illustrating this same point. The central theme of the Ἑκατομπαθία is that love is destructive to reason, and the pivotal moment of the cycle’s narrative sequence comes when The Author renounces love and reason reasserts itself. Superficially, as Leicester Bradner thought, Amyntas looks like an exercise in uncomplicated romanticism, as the shepherd Amyntas laments the loss of his Phyllis. But the motto nemini datur amare simul et sapere points the way to a more complex reading, whereby at least the thoughtful reader is encourage to react critically to Amyntas’ adolescent self-pity and bathetic rant; use of this particular motto also invites the reader familiar with Watson’s Antigone to apply the earlier evaluation of Haemon to Amyntas, and also to observe that Amyntas’ suicide replicates that of Haemon.
52. The next of his works to deal with love is the 1586 translation of Coluthus’ Raptus Helenae . This narrative poem about the Judgment of Paris and Paris’ abduction of Helen is anything but a romantic retelling of the familiar story: Venus, Helen, and Paris are presented as highly unattractive, and the only sympathetic character is Helen’s abandoned daughter Hermione, the first but by no means the last victim of her surrender to eroticism. Colluthus repeatedly advises the reader that there will be many more such victims, and the entire poem is a cautionary take about the ruinous consequences of eros. Then there is the posthumous Amintae Gaudia, in which Watson repeats the device he had employed for Amyntas, deliberately counterproductive rhetorical exaggeration which ends by undermining the reactions it purportedly strives to create. In this work we find a new element that points in the same direction, the use of subversive humor and self-parody as a second important ironizing device. In this way too, the reader is encouraged to take a critical and detached attitude towards the ostensible romanticism of the work. For the more thoughtful and those willing to look beneath the surface, Watson offers plenty of pointers in both these works that Amyntas the lover can just as well be regarded as Amyntas the self-destructive fool. Looking at his works in this spirit, one sees a uniformity of attitude throughout. From first to last, Watson shows himself as a moralist who regarded eroticism with deep suspicion, because he regarded it as detrimental to reason and self-control. So he may have been a publicist for modern European love poetry, but he was scarcely an uncritical one. In the last analysis he was writing for an audience of philosophers, not lovers.