Baron, Robert (fl.1645) (DNB00)

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BARON, ROBERT (fl. 1645), poet and dramatist, claims distinction as one of the most successful of plagiarists. With so much judgment did he steal that his thefts passed unrecognised for more than a century after his death. According to Langbaine, who, on this occasion, seems no more trustworthy than usual, he was born in 1630. His first printed work, ‘Eροτοπαιγνιον, or the Cyprian Academy,’ he dates from ‘my chambers in Gray's Inn, 1 April 1647.’ It is dedicated to James Howell, the well-known author of ‘Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ,’ who was perhaps his uncle, though Warton says that the word nephew applied by Howell to Baron ‘seems to be only a term of fondness and familiarity.’ Howell, in one of his letters to Baron in Paris, encloses a bill of exchange for the use of the recipient, and there seems therefore reason to suppose that a relationship existed. There is also some cause to conjecture that Baron had shown Howell his verses while still in manuscript. In a letter dated Fleet, 3 Aug. 1645, and addressed to Master R. B., Howell likens the ‘lines’ of his correspondent to ‘leaves, or rather so many branches, amongst which ther sprouted divers sweet blossoms of ingenuity, which I find may quickly come to a rare maturity,’ &c. He also expresses a wish that ‘forraign ayr did blow upon the foresaid blossoms.’ Less than two years later, 20 June 1647, Howell addresses Baron in Paris in language of very similar eulogy, and speaks of having ‘seldom met with such an ingenious mixture of prose and verse, interwoven with such varieties of fancy and charming strains of amorous passions,’ &c. In vindication of Howell's judgment it may be urged that whole passages of the ‘Cyprian Academy’ and of Baron's other works are taken, with scarcely a pretence of alteration, from the first edition of Milton's minor poems, first published in 1645, and as yet almost unknown. No similar instances of theft can indeed have been brought to light. An exposure of the plagiarism is given in Warton's delightful edition of Milton's minor poems, and is amplified in the sixth volume of the booksellers' edition of Milton's works, 1801. To the ‘Pocula Castalia’ of Baron (Lond. 1650, 8vo), Howell prefixed some verses, in which he spoke of the ‘greenness’ of the author's muse. Baron's various volumes of poems have a full share of the commendatory verses then in fashion. Among the signatures are Jo. Quarles, fell. of Pet. House, Camb., and J. Hall.

Baron was educated at Cambridge, though there is no evidence that he took his degree. His best known work is a tragedy, entitled ‘Mirza,’ said on the title-page to have been really acted in Persia in the last age. In an address to the reader, Baron acknowledges that the story is the same as that of Sir John Denham's ‘Sophy,’ but adds: ‘I had finished three compleat acts of this tragedy before I saw that, nor was I then discouraged from proceeding.’ It is without date, but is dedicated to the king, whence probably it was not later than 1648. Denham's ‘Sophy,’ meanwhile, first saw the light in 1642. Warton says that ‘Mirza’ is a copy of Jonson's ‘Catiline,’ which seems not quite just. Genest gives an analysis of the story. There are one or two good and eminently dramatic lines in ‘Mirza,’ which as yet have not been traced to any other writer. More than one hundred pages of annotation are supplied by the author, thus swelling the book out to two hundred and sixty-four pages. ‘Pocula Castalia’ was given to the world in 1650, 8vo. In 1649 appeared ‘Apologie for Paris for rejecting of Juno and Pallas and presenting of Ate's Golden Ball to Venus,’ &c., 16mo. Langbaine, who anticipates Warton's assertion with regard to the resemblance between ‘Mirza’ and ‘Catiline,’ quotes passages from both which have a certain measure of resemblance, but scarcely support a charge stronger than imitation. He also states that Baron ‘is the first author taken notice of by Phillips in his “Theatrum Poetarum,” or his transcriber, Mr. Winstanley, in his “Lives of the English Poets;” and though neither of them give any other account of our author but what they collected from my former catalogue, printed 1680, yet, through a mistake in the method of that catalogue, they have ascrib'd many anonymous plays to the foregoing writers, which belonged not to them.’ This complaint is justified. Winstanley attributes to Baron ‘Don Quixote, or the Knight of the Ill-favoured Countenance,’ a comedy which Mr. Halliwell Phillips (Dictionary of Old Plays) says was never printed; ‘Dick Scorner,’ a play mentioned in Kirkman's ‘Catalogue,’ and supposed to be a misreading of the interlude of ‘Hicke Scorner;’ ‘The Destruction of Jerusalem,’ attributed in the ‘Biographia Dramatica’ to Thomas Legge; and the ‘Marriage of Wit and Science,’ which is by Thomas Marshe, and was printed about fifty years before the birth of Baron. Other masques and interludes are assigned to him in obvious mistake. ‘Deorum Dona,’ a masque, and ‘Gripus and Hegio,’a pastoral in three acts, the former borrowed from poems of Waller, the latter taken from Waller's ‘Poems’ and Webster's ‘Duchess of Malfy,’ are also mentioned by Winstanley, the ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ and Mr. Halliwell Phillips. These two works are included in the ‘Cyprian Academy’ mentioned above. If, as has been supposed, Milton aided Phillips in writing the ‘Theatrum Poetarum,’ he has treated with signal indulgence the piracies of Baron from himself. After 1650 Baron disappears, and nothing more is heard concerning him.

[Langbaine's Account of the English Dramatic Poets; Winstanley's Lives of the Poets; Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum; Howell's Letters.]

J. K.