Fairfax, Edward (DNB00)

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FAIRFAX, EDWARD (d. 1635), translator of Tasso's ‘Gerusalemme Liberata,’ was a son of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton, Yorkshire. Douglas says that he was born to Sir Thomas ‘by Dorothy, his wife, daughter of George Gale of Ascham Grange, Esq.;’ but in the ‘Visitation Pedigree,’ 1585, there is no Edward among the children of Sir Thomas Fairfax by his wife, Dorothy Gale; and Roger Dodsworth, in ‘Sancti et Scriptores Ebor.,’ states that he was a natural son. Thoresby, in ‘Ducatus Leodiensis,’ places Edward and his brother, Sir Charles, among the sons of Sir Thomas Fairfax, but connects them only with a line of dots, ‘thus intimating that there was something peculiar’ (Hunter, Chorus Vatum). Edward was born at Leeds in ‘an ancient house near the church.’ He married a sister of Walter Laycock of Copmanthorpe, Yorkshire, chief aulnager of the northern counties, and several of his children were born in Leeds.

In 1600 he published ‘Godfrey of Bulloigne, or the Recoverie of Jerusalem. Done into English heroicall verse,’ fol., the first complete translation of Tasso's ‘Gerusalemme Liberata.’ The work is dedicated to Queen Elizabeth in four six-line stanzas, and the dedication is followed by a prose ‘Allegorie of the Poem.’ Richard Carew had previously translated a portion of the poem, and Fairfax made full use of his predecessor's labours. But in refinement and poetic instinct Fairfax far surpasses not only Carew but the translators of later times. Brian Fairfax states that ‘King James valued it above all other English poetry,’ and that it solaced Charles I in the time of his confinement. Dryden in the preface to his ‘Fables’ says: ‘Many besides myself have heard our famous Waller own that he derived the harmony of his number from “Godfrey of Bulloigne,” which was turned into English by Mr. Fairfax.’ On the other hand, Ben Jonson, in one of his conversations with Drummond, gave it as his opinion that the translation was ‘not well done.’ A second edition appeared in 1624, fol., and in 1817 the work was edited by S. W. Singer, 2 vols. 8vo.

Fairfax also wrote twelve eclogues. Brian Fairfax says that they were written in the first year of James I, and lay neglected in the author's study for ten years, when a transcript was made for the Duke of Richmond and Lennox. This transcript was burnt in the banqueting house at Whitehall. At a later date the poet's son William rediscovered the original among the loose papers in his father's library, but no complete manuscript copy is now known. Mrs. Cooper, in ‘The Muses' Library,’ 1737, printed the fourth eclogue, ‘Eglon and Alexis,’ from a manuscript (containing the twelve pieces) in the possession of the Fairfax family. Another eclogue has been printed in ‘Philobiblon Miscellanies,’ vol. xii. It is highly probable that a poem in Addit. MS. 11743, ff. 5–6 (which manuscript contains many papers relating to the Fairfax family), entitled ‘Ecloga Octava. Ida and Opilio,’ is one of the lost eclogues.

Fairfax lived a studious and retired life. On the authority of Brian Fairfax we learn that ‘he was very serviceable to his brother, Lord Fairfax, in the education of his children, the government of his family, and all his affairs.’ He resided at Newhall, in the parish of Fewston, Yorkshire. In 1621 two of his daughters were supposed to be bewitched, and Fairfax drew up a full account of the affair. This curious document is printed in ‘Philobiblon Miscellanies,’ vol. v., under the title of ‘A Discourse of Witchcraft. As it was acted in the Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax of Fuystone in the County of York, in the year 1621. From the Original Copy written with his own hand.’ In the preface to the ‘Discourse’ Fairfax describes himself as ‘neither a fantastic Puritan nor superstitious Papist, but so settled in conscience that I have the sure ground of God's word to warrant all I believe, and the commendable ordinances of our English Church to approve all I practise.’ The domestic troubles attributed to the machinations of the reputed witches continued until April 1623. Fairfax was buried at Fuiston on 27 Jan. 1635 (Hunter, Chorus Vatum). His widow was buried on 21 Jan. 1648.

Brian Fairfax mentions that several letters, ‘which deserve to be published,’ passed between Fairfax and the Romish priest, John Dorrell [Darrel], then a prisoner in York Castle, on the subject of the pope's supremacy, infallibility, idolatry, &c. Dodsworth, who describes Fairfax as ‘a singular scholar in all kind of learning,’ states that he wrote a ‘History of Edward the Black Prince,’ which was not published. William Fairfax, the translator's eldest son, a scholar of some repute, was ‘grammatical tutor’ of Thomas Stanley, the editor of ‘Æschylus.’

[Letter of Brian Fairfax to Atterbury in Atterbury Correspondence, iii. 255–69; Hunter's Chorus Vatum; Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis, ed. Whitaker, pp. 39, 64; ‘A Discourse of Witchcraft,’ Philobiblon Miscellanies, vol. v.; Mrs. Cooper's Muses' Library, 1737; Collier's Bibl. Cat. i. 267–9.]

A. H. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.120
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
132 i 15 Fairfax, Edward: for 11473 read 11743
25  for Fuiston read Fewston