1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Webbe, William

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WEBBE, WILLIAM (fl. 1586), English literary critic, was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he took his degree in 1572–1573. He was tutor to the two sons of Edward Sulyard of Flemyngs, Essex, and later to the children of Henry Grey of Pirgo in the same county. A letter from him is prefixed to the 1392 edition of Tancred and Gisniunda,[1] written by his friend, Robert Wilmot. In 1586 he published A Discourse of English Poetrie, dedicated to his patron, Edward Sulyard. Webbe argued that the dearth of good English poetry since Chaucer’s day was not due to lack of poetic ability, or to the poverty of the language, but to the want of a proper system of prosody. He abuses “this tinkerly verse which we call ryme,” as of barbarous origin, and comments on the works of his contemporaries, displaying enthusiasm for Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar, and admiration for Phaer’s translation of Virgil. He urged the adoption of hexameters and sapphics for English verse, and gives some lamentable examples of his own composition.

The Discourse was reprinted in J. Haslewood’s Ancient Critical Essays (1811–1815), by E. Arber in 1869, and in Gregory Smith’s Elizabethan Critical Essays (1904).

  1. The original play, Gismonde of Salerne, was by five authors, and was produced in the Queen’s presence at the Inner Temple in 1568.