Introduction

spacer1. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State and cousin to Watson’s Paris friend Sir Thomas Walsingham, died on April 6, 1590, and Watson was not behindhand in composing a eulogy. In a sense, Meliboeus is a sequel to the Latin Amyntas of 1585, designed to capitalize on that work’s success (at least in Abraham Fraunce’s translation): it is another elegy on the death of a beloved person set in the same pastoral world. NOTE 1 At its beginning it explicitly alludes to Amyntas’ climactic metamorphosis, and it reproduces a good deal of Amyntas’ imagery and phraseology. And yet it is an exercise in transvaluation. In a notice TO THE COURTEOUS READER that prefaces Watson’s parallel English version published at the same time, the poet wrote:

...my pastorall discourse to the vnlearned may seeme obscure; which to preuent, I have thought good, here to aduerstise you, that I figure England in Arcadia; Her Maiestie in Diana; Sir Francis Walsingham in Meliboeus, and his Ladie in Dryas; Sir Philippe Sidney in Astrophill and his Ladie in Hyale; Master Thomas Walsingham in Tityrus, and my selfe in Corydon.

spacer2. Amyntas is a straightforward exploration of pastoral’s idealized countryside; its only English particularization is that Amyntas’ lamentations take place by the banks of the Thames. But the reader does not need the poet’s explicit advice, or the work’s title, to understand that Meliboeus is an allegory. Its characters are transparently disguised versions of Walsingham, the members of his family, Elizabeth and — although not mentioned in this advice to the reader — other Privy Councilors who make their appearance at the end of the poem. And at one point Corydon asks a series of highly significant questions (106ff.):

Dicite nunc, socii, si dicere forte potestis,
Quis vice defuncti crescentes aggere claudet
Montoso rivos, ne pascua picta perrerent?
Quis fossa torrentis aquas prohibebit agello,
Ne simul et laetas messes et pingua late
Devastent culta, heu miseris ploranda colonis?
Quis pice languiduli scabiem curabit ovilis,
Aut alios vario subeuntes corpore morbos
Tollet, et immundum mersabit flumine vellus?
Quis mollis pratos agnos, agnos trepidantes,
Et teneros celsis imponet montibus haedos,
Nocteque sub prima saturos in tecta reducet?

{“Now tell, my friends, if you can, who will perform the dead man’s office of fencing the rivers with a hilly bank, lest they stray across the flowery meadows? Who will ditch the fields lest the waters also cause widespread damage to the happy crops and rich fields, a thing, alas, to be mourned by the poor farmers? Who will use dip to cure the lazy sheep of the scab, heal other ills that assault their bodies, and wash their filthy fleece in the river? Who will take the gentle lambs, the fearful lambs, and the tender kids, to the high mountains, and, when they are full, lead them back to the barn at nightfall?”]

spacer3. This passage closely echoes similar questions asked by the frantic protagonist at Amyntas, Lamentation IX.27ff.:

Per quem nunc rupis ducentur in alta capellae
Candentes, matresque lupis raptentur et agni?
Per quem nunc udis aries in gurgite villis
Mergetur? Per quem scabies ungetur amurca,
Antea per turbas mala quam contagia serpant?
Per quem pungentur salientes sanguine venae
In pede balantis, quando depascitur artus
Febris, et incensas est arida flamma medullas?
Per quem molle pecus montes cogetur in altos,
Caerula cum Thamesis pluviis humoribus aucta,
Vel nive, non curvis ripis atque aggere sueto
Se cohibet, summum sed inundans aequore littus
Praecipiti, rurisque casas et pinguia late
Pascua devastat, rudibus ploranda colonis?

[“Who will now fodder my cattle in winter? Or who will bring the wanton cow to my snow-white bull? Who will lead my gleaming goats to the high ridges, who will bathe my ram in a stream when his coat is muddied? Who will cure the scab with sheep-dip, before this contagion creeps throughout my flock? Who will bleed my sheep, piercing the throbbing veins in their feet, when the fever settles on their limbs and their marrow is scorched by its parching flame? Who will lead my gentle flock into the high mountains when the azure Thames is swollen by rainwater or snow, and does not hold itself within the accustomed levies of its winding banks, but rather floods the topsoil with its rushing waters, ruining our country homes and rich pastures far and wide, lamented by our simple farmers?”]

spacer4. Although the one passage seems almost a mechanical replica of the other, the meaning is quite transmuted. Amyntas is genuinely concerned for the welfare of his flocks and crops. But Corydon is really posing the question who will administer England? Meliboeus is presented, Agamemnon-wise, as a shepherd of men, and the entire pastoral enterprise is coopted as a metaphor for statecraft. This diagnosis receives verification at the end of the poem, when the rest of the Privy Council are mentioned under the names of yet more shepherds.
spacer5. The reader will perhaps be surprised that Watson’s Latin and English versions are not paired and linked in the normal Philological Museum way: who better suited to translate Meliboeus than its own author? But Watson did a far less accurate job of rendering his own Latin than had Abraham Fraunce in the case of Amyntas, and he acknowledged as much in his introductory address to the reader, when he wrote if you suppose me vaine, for translating myne owne poeme, or negligent, for not doing it exactly to the latin originall... Comparison of a sample passage is instructive. By way of illustration, here is the complete text of the passage partially quoted above (106 - 31):

Dicite nunc, socii, si dicere forte potestis,
Quis vice defuncti crescentes aggere claudet
Montoso rivos, ne pascua picta perrerent?
Quis fossa torrentis aquas prohibebit agello,
Ne simul et laetas messes et pingua late
Devastent culta, heu miseris ploranda colonis?
Quis pice languiduli scabiem curabit ovilis,
Aut alios vario subeuntes corpore morbos
Tollet, et immundum mersabit flumine vellus?
Quis mollis pratos agnos, agnos trepidantes,
Et teneros celsis imponet montibus haedos,
Nocteque sub prima saturos in tecta reducet?

Ante diem (proh fata) diem Meliboeus obivit.
Quis presso vacuam tellurem findet aratro,
Pinguia dividuis ut sulcis semina mendet,
Et glebis subigat dentata crate solutis?
Quis metet, et vinctas stridentibus undique plaustris
Exportabit agro, ponetque sub horrea fruges,
Sirius urenti spicas ubi conserit astro?
Quis positis minuet pastorum iurgia saxis,
Consilioque feras lites, privataque bella
Molliet eloquio, dum quisque aliena subintrat
Arva, nec assueto dignatur limite stringi?
Publica quis vidui curabit commoda ruris?
Seria quis ludis miscebut, et utile dulci?
Ante diem (proh fata) diem Meliboeus obivit.

{“Now tell, my friends, if you can, who will perform the dead man’s office of fencing the rivers with a hilly bank, lest they stray across the flowery meadows? Who will ditch the fields lest the waters also cause widespread damage to the happy crops and rich fields, a thing, alas, to be mourned by the poor farmers? Who will use dip to cure the lazy sheep of the scab, heal other ills that assault their bodies, and wash their filthy fleece in the river? Who will take the gentle lambs, the fearful lambs, and the tender kids, to the high mountains, and, when they are full, lead them back to the barn at nightfall? Alas the fates, Meliboeus has died before his time. Who will cut the fallow soil with his plow, so he may entrust his rich seeds to the furrows and put his toothed harrow to the broken sod? Who will reap and bind the harvest, carry it from the field in creaking wagons, and place it in the barns, when Sirius has parched the grain with his burning star? Who will diminish the shepherds’ suits, their stones set aside, and soften savage quarrels with his counsels, private feuds with his eloquence, when every man walks on another’s property and does not condescend to be fenced in by established boundaries? Who will be concerned with the public good of the countryside, now bereft? Who will mingle serious things with the playful, the useful with the pleasant? Alas the fates, Meliboeus has died before his time.”]

spacer6. This is Englished by Watson (103ff.):

Nowe tell me shephards all, and fellow swaynes,
spacerwho shal with rampiers fence our country soile?
Who shall recure their faintie maladies,
spacerand purge their fleeces in soft running streams?
Who shall defend our lambs from ieoperdies?
spacerand shrowd our kids from Titans parching beames?
Who now shal til our groiund, and reape our corn?
spacerwho shall assuage the strife of swelling pride
When euerie swynard shall exceede his borne,
spacerand will not by God
Terminus be tyde?
spacerspacerAlas too soone by Destins fatall knife
spacerspacerSweet Meliboeus is depriu’d of life.

Twelve lines in place of twenty-five, with many details suppressed, and passages that create important links with both Amyntas and Amintae Gaudia blurred or altogether dropped. Perhaps with an eye on the popular market, the unlearned readership to whom things might seem obscure, Watson simplified his poem. In the face of discrepancies of this magnitude, this translation cannot be represented as an adequate translation of the Latin original, and so in this edition it is treated as an independent text.


Notes

spacerNOTE 1 The strategy of writing such eulogies was scarcely invented by Watson. In the 1587 Oxford anthology on the death of Sir Philip Sidney, for exampole, William Gager of Christ Church had already anticipated Spenser’s 1596 Astrophil in contributing two fine specimens of this sub-genre (Gager’s poems XXVII and XXXIV). Presumably Gager adopted this strategy because Sir Philip’s interest in the Arcadian universe was already common knowledge. See also the discussion of the allusion to Sidney’s translation to heaven at Madrigal XXIV.6 in the Introduction to Watson’s set of madrigal lyrics.

spacerNOTE 2 See the commentary note on Meliboeus 106ff. a