Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davy, Adam

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DAVY, ADAM (fl. 1308?), a fanatical rhymer, has obtained an unmerited importance in literary history from the fact that he was formerly supposed to be the author of all the poetry contained in the Bodleian MS. Laud, 622, including the striking poem of ‘Alisaunder,’ which has been printed in Weber's ‘Metrical Romances.’ It has long been known that the ‘Alisaunder’ cannot be his work; and the only compositions that can with certainty be ascribed to him are the five ‘Dreams’ relating to a contemporary King Edward, who is also designated as Prince of Wales. The manuscript, in the judgment of palæographical experts, was written in the last quarter of the fourteenth century; and as Edward II was the only King Edward during that century who is certainly known to have been created Prince of Wales, it has been generally assumed that he is the person referred to. Professor ten Brink, however, has suggested that Edward I may have been meant, apparently on the ground that that king may himself have been called prince of Wales in the period between 1284, when Wales was conquered, and 1301, when he conferred the title on his eldest son. This however, is unsupported by evidence; and the tone of the poems seems clearly to indicate that they relate to a youthful sovereign. On linguistic grounds it would be quite possible that they were written in the reign of Edward III; but although Hardyng and later writers say that that monarch had been prince of Wales, there appears to be no contemporary proof of the fact. Whoever was the king spoken of, it is probable that the ‘Dreams’ were written very early in his reign, when it still seemed most natural to call the king by the title he had borne before his accession. If they belong to the reign of Edward II, they may be assigned approximately to 1308; if to that of Edward III, their date is about twenty years later. Davy predicts for King Edward a career of brilliant prosperity; he sees him crowned emperor of Christendom, and victorious over all his enemies. It must not be supposed that the story of the ‘Dreams’ is a mere poetic convention; the writer clearly meant it to be understood that he had really received a prophetic revelation. He hints that he had made known his visions to the king, not, he several times affirms, with any hope of reward, but in obedience to an express divine command. He says that he was a ‘marshal,’ and lived at Stratford-at-Bow, and he boasts proudly that he is well known ‘both there and everywhere.’ He was certainly a practised versifier, and (though there is no real evidence on the point) it does not seem impossible that he may be the author of the poems (with the exception of the ‘Alisaunder’) which are found in the same manuscript with his ‘Dreams.’ These poems, ‘Life of St. Alexius,’ ‘The Battle of Jerusalem,’ ‘The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday,’ ‘Scripture Histories,’ ‘The Lamentation of Souls,’ certainly belong to Davy's period, and in diction and metrical qualities they closely resemble his undoubted work. If Davy be the author of them, he seems to have been a man of education, as some of them are apparently derived immediately from Latin originals. The principal objection to their being ascribed to him is the difficulty of supposing that so egotistical a writer would have left so many of his productions anonymous. The ‘Dreams,’ together with ‘Alexius,’ ‘Fifteen Signs,’ ‘Lamentation,’ and part of the ‘Scripture Histories,’ have been edited by Dr. Furnivall for the Early English Text Society (1878).

[Furnivall's Introduction to his edition of Adam Davy's Five Dreams; Ten Brink's Early English Literature, trans. Kennedy, p. 321; Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, ii. 201 ff.]

H. B.