Basse, William (DNB00)

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BASSE or BAS, WILLIAM (d. 1653?), poet, is described by Anthony à Wood in 1638 as 'of Moreton, near Thame, in Oxfordshire, sometime a retainer to [Sir Richard Wenman, afterwards] the Lord Wenman of Thame Park' (Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iv. 222). From the references made in Basse's poems to Francis, Lord Norreys (afterwards Earl of Berkshire), it has been inferred that the poet was at one time also attached to his household at Ricot or Rycote, Oxfordshire.

In 1602 two poems by 'William Bas' were published in London. The one was entitled 'Sword and Buckler, or Serving Man's Defence;' the other 'Three Pastoral Elegies of Anander, Anetor, and Muridella.' Of the former, which the author describes as his first production, a unique perfect copy is in the Bodleian Library; it was reprinted in J. P. Collier's 'Illustrations of Early English Popular Literature,' vol. ii., in 1864. The only copy known of the latter is in Winchester College library. In 1613 an elegy on Henry, prince of Wales, called 'Great Brittaines; Sunnes-set, bewailed with a Shower of Teares, by William Basse,' was issued by Joseph Barnes at Oxford. It was dedicated by the author 'to his honourable master, Sir Richard Wenman, knight,' and was reproduced at Oxford by W. H. Allnutt from the perfect copy at the Bodleian in 1872. No other volume of Basse's poems was printed in his lifetime, but two manuscript collections, prepared for the press, are still extant. Of these one bears the title of 'Polyhymnia,' and has never been printed. The only copy of it now known belonged to Richard Heber, and afterwards to Thomas Corser; on the fly-leaf is the autograph of Francis, Lord Norreys, to whom the opening verses are addressed, and to whose sister, Bridget, countess of Lindsey, the collection is dedicated. Another manuscript of 'Polyhymnia,' described by Cole in his manuscript 'Athenæ Cantab.' and now lost, differed materially from the Corser manuscript. The second collection left by Basse in manuscript is now the property of F. W. Cosens, Esq.; it consists of three long pastoral poems, of which the first is dedicated to Sir Richard Wenman; bears the date 1653, and was printed for the first time in J. P. Collier's 'Miscellaneous Tracts,' in 1872. To it is prefixed a poem addressed to Basse, by Ralph (afterwards dean) Bathurst [q. v.], who compares the author to an 'aged oak,' and says:

 … thy grey muse grew up with older times,
And our deceased grandsires lisp'd the rhymes.

Bathurst's verses were printed in Warton's pleasant 'Life of Bathurst' (1761), p. 288, with the inscription 'To Mr. W. Basse upon the intended publication of his poems, January 13, 1651.'

Basse is best known by his occasional verse, which has never been collected, and chiefly by his 'Epitaph on Shakespeare.' The poem is in the form of a sonnet, and was first attributed to Donne, among whose poems it was printed in 1633. In the edition of Shakespeare's poems issued in 1640 it is subscribed 'W. B.,' and Ben Jonson makes a distinct reference to it in his poem on Shakespeare prefixed to the folio of 1623, which proves it to have been written before that date. In a manuscript of the reign of James I in the British Museum (MS. Lansd. 777, fo. 676), the lines are signed 'Wm. Basse.' Nine other manuscript versions are extant, and in five of these Basse is described as the author. There are minute variations in the copies, and the readings have been carefully collated by Dr. Ingleby and Miss Toulmin Smith in Shakespeare's 'Centurie of Prayse' (pp. 136-9, New Shaksp. Soc.). Basse also wrote a commendatory poem for Michael Baret's 'Hipponomie, or the Vineyard of Horsemanship' (1618), and he has been identified with the 'W. B.' who contributed verses to Massinger's 'Bondman' (1624), although William Browne has also been claimed as their author. In Izaak Walton's 'Compleat Angler' the piscator remarks, 'I'll promise you I'll sing a song that was lately made at my request by Mr. William Basse, one that hath made the choice songs of the "Hunter in his Career" and of "Tom of Bedlam," and many others of note; and this that I will sing is in praise of Angling.' Basse's 'Angler's Song,' beginning 'As inward love breeds outward talk,' then follows. Of the other two songs mentioned by Walton, a unique copy of 'Maister Basse, his careere, or the new hunting. To a new Court tune,' is in the Pepys collection at Cambridge; it is reprinted in 'Wit and Drollery' (1682), p. 64, and in 'Old Ballads ' (1725), ii. 196. The tune is given in the 'Skene MS.' preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, and a ballad in the Bagford collection in the British Museum, entitled 'Hubert's Ghost,' is written 'to the tune of Basse's Career.' Basse's second ballad, 'Tom of Bedlam,' has been identified by Sir Harris Nicolas in his edition of Walton's 'Angler,' with a song of the same name in Percy's 'Reliques,' ii. 357; but many other ballads bear the same title, and this identification is therefore doubtful. In 1636 Basse contributed a poem to the 'Annalia Dubrensia.'

Basse's poetry is characterised by a homeliness of language and versification and by an enthusiastic love of country life. It derives an historical interest from. Izaak Walton's honourable mention of it, and from the homage paid to Shakespeare by its author.

The long interval of fifty-one years between the production of the first and last poems bearing Basse's signature has led Mr. J. P. Collier to conjecture that there were two poets of the same name, and he attributes to an elder William Basse the works published in 1602, and to a younger William Basse all those published later. The internal evidence offered by the poems fails, however, to support this conclusion. 'Urania,' the last poem of the collection, bearing the date 1653, has all the metrical characteristics of the 'Sword and Buckler' of 1602; and Bathurst's verses prove that Basse followed his poetical career through many generations. A William Basse 'of Suffolk' entered Emmanuel College,. Cambridge, as a sizar in 1629, and took the degree of B.A. in 1632, and that of M.A. in 1636, but it is highly improbable that this student was the poet. There was a family named Basse, of Benhall, Suffolk, in the seventeenth century, of whom a William died in 1607, aged 85, and left a son Thomas and a grandson William, probably the Cambridge student; but it is impossible to identify the poet with any member of this family. The fact that his 'Great Brittaines Sunnesset' was published at Oxford, and his intimate relations with two great Oxfordshire houses, seem to connect the poet with Oxfordshire rather than with Suffolk.

[Cole's MS. Athenae Cantab, in Brit, Mus. Collier's Bibliographical Account, i. 54-7, ii. 332; Corser's Collect. Anglo-Poet, i. 199-208; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. i. 200, 265, 295, 348; Walton's Angler (ed. Nicolas), 85, 88, 281-2.]

S. L. L.