Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Day, John (fl.1606)

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1215813Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14 — Day, John (fl.1606)1888Arthur Henry Bullen ‎

DAY, JOHN (fl. 1606), dramatist, is described on the title-page of ‘The Parliament of Bees,’ 1641, as ‘Sometimes Student of Caius Colledge in Cambridge.’ He was admitted 24 Oct. 1592, and was expelled for stealing a book from the library 4 May 1593. A comedy called ‘The Maiden's Holiday’ was entered in the Stationers' books in 1654 as the joint production of Day and Marlowe. If credit could be paid to this doubtful entry, it would appear that Day was writing for the stage as early as 1593; but we find no mention of him in Henslowe's ‘Diary’ until 1598, in which year he assisted Chettle in writing (1) ‘The Conquest of Brute, with the first finding of the Bath.’ In 1599 he wrote with Haughton two domestic tragedies, (2) ‘The Tragedy of Merry,’ and (3) ‘The Tragedy of Cox of Collumpton;’ and in the same year he joined Chettle and Haughton in the composition of (4) ‘The Orphan's Tragedy.’ He was engaged in January 1599–1600 on (5) ‘The Italian Tragedy of …’ [name wanting in the ‘Diary’]; in February 1599–1600 he wrote with Dekker and Haughton (6) ‘The Spanish Moor's Tragedy,’ which critics have sought to identify with ‘Lust's Dominion,’ printed in 1657 as a work of Marlowe; in March 1599–1600 he joined the same playwrights in composing a play called (7) ‘The Seven Wise Masters.’ Other plays to which he contributed in 1600 were: (8) ‘The Golden Ass, and Cupid and Psyche,’ written in conjunction with Dekker and Chettle; (9) ‘The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green,’ in which he was assisted by Chettle. In January 1600–1 Day and Haughton wrote (10) ‘The Second Part of the Blind Beggar;’ and (11) ‘The Third Part,’ by the same authors, was produced without delay. To 1601 also belong (12) ‘The Conquest of the West Indies,’ by Day, Wentworth Smith, and Haughton; (13) ‘The Six Yeomen of the West,’ by Day and Haughton; (14) ‘Friar Rush and the Proud Woman of Antwerp,’ by the same authors; (15) ‘The Second Part of Tom Dough,’ by the same authors. In 1602 Day wrote without assistance (16) ‘The Bristol Tragedy,’ which has been wrongly identified with the anonymous comedy published in 1605 under the title of ‘The Fair Maid of Bristow;’ he also joined Hathway and Wentworth Smith in writing (17) ‘Merry as may be,’ (18) ‘The Black Dog of Newgate,’ (19) ‘The Second Part of the Black Dog’ (January 1602–3), and (20) ‘The Unfortunate General’ (January 1602–3); and with ‘his fellow-poets’ (of whom Hathway was one) he wrote in March 1602–3 a play called (21) ‘The Boast of Billingsgate.’ The ‘Diary’ also records that Day was employed with Chettle (seemingly in 1603 and earlier) to write or revise a play on the subject of (22) ‘Shore's Wife.’ Of these twenty-two plays, the titles of which are here given in modern orthography (as Henslowe's spelling is perplexingly erratic), only one has come down, namely, ‘The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green,’ printed in 1659 with the name of John Day on the title-page. In August 1610 there was entered on the Stationers' Registers (23) ‘A Booke [probably a play] called the Madde Prancks of Merry Moll of the Bankside, with her Walks in Man's Apparel, and to what Purpose. Written by John Day.’ Nine years later another entry records (24) ‘A Play called the Life and Death of Guy of Warwicke, written by John Day and Thomas Dekkers,’ which is probably not to be identified with the poor play published in 1661 under the title of ‘Guy, Earl of Warwick, by B. J.’ Day was again associated with Dekker in the composition of a play called (25) ‘The Bellman of Paris,’ to which reference is made in Sir Henry Herbert's ‘Office-Book,’ under date 30 July 1623: ‘For the Prince's Players a French tragedy of the Bellman of Paris, written by Thomas Dekkers and John Day for the Company of the Red Bull.’ In September 1623 the ‘Office-Book’ has another entry (26) relating to Day—‘For a company of strangers a new comedy, Come See a Wonder, written by John Daye.’ In the intervals of writing for the stage Day found time to compose a poem on (27) ‘The Miracles of Christ.’ The poem has perished, but there is extant an undated letter (first printed in the Shakespeare Society ‘Papers’) which he sent, with a copy of the poem, to an unnamed patron. Another relic has descended in the shape of some ‘Acrostic Verses upon the name of his worthie friende Maister Thomas Dowton,’ a successful actor, which were intended (it would seem) as a delicate appeal for pecuniary assistance. Henslowe constantly lent Day trifling sums of money, and it is to be feared that the poet was seldom free from financial difficulties. Few allusions to Day are to be found among his contemporaries. Ben Jonson, on the occasion of his memorable visit to Hawthornden in 1618–19, told William Drummond that ‘Sharpham, Day, Dicker were all rogues,’ and again ‘That Markham (who added his “English Arcadia”) was not of the number of the Faithful, i.e. Poets, but a base fellow. That such were Day and Middleton.’ Twenty-one years later, in John Tatham's ‘Fancies Theater,’ 1640, was published a wretched elegy ‘On his loving friend M. John Day.’ Tatham belonged to a younger generation, and his elegy cannot have been written much earlier than 1640.

The first of Day's plays in order of publication is ‘The Ile of Gvls,’ 1606, 4to, acted at the Black Friars by the children of the Revels; reprinted in 1633. Probably the title was suggested by Nashe's lost play ‘The Isle of Dogs.’ Day drew his plot from Sir Philip Sidney's ‘Arcadia,’ and occasionally he borrows the very words of the romance. The ‘Ile of Gvls’ is a very attractive play, full of diverting situations and sparkling dialogue. In 1607 was published ‘The Travailes of the three English Brothers, Sir Thomas, Sir Anthony, Mr. Robert Sherley.’ Prefixed is a dedicatory epistle headed ‘To honours fauourites, and the intire friends to the familie of the Sherleys, health,’ and subscribed with the authors' names—John Day, William Rowley, and George Wilkins. It is a play of little merit; but the character of Zariph the Jew, which was unmistakably modelled on Shylock, is drawn with some vigour. Two of Day's plays were published in 1608: ‘Law-Trickes, or Who would have thought it,’ licensed for the press in March 1607–8; and ‘Humour out of Breath,’ licensed in April 1608. ‘Law-Trickes’ contains abundance of graceful and witty writing, nor are there wanting touches of quiet pathos. The interest is well sustained, and the dénouement skilfully contrived. There is a curious resemblance, too close to be accidental, between some passages of this play and passages of ‘Pericles.’ ‘Humour out of Breath,’ which is written mainly in rhyme, is a delightful comedy. The dialogue is vivacious and brilliant; it has the polish without the tiresomeness of euphuism. Day had evidently made a close study of Shakespeare's early comedies, and studied them with profit. No earlier edition than the 4to of 1641 is known to exist of ‘The Parliament of Bees, with their proper Characters. Or A Bee-hive furnisht with twelve Honycombes, as Pleasant as Profitable. Being an Allegoricall description of the actions of good and bad men in these our daies.’ But in Gildon's edition of Langbaine's ‘Dramatick Poets,’ 1699, in Giles Jacob's ‘Poetical Register,’ 1719, and in Baker's ‘Companion to the Play-house,’ 1764, mention is made of a quarto of 1607. Charles Lamb, too, in his ‘Extracts from the Garrick Plays’ makes his quotations from ‘The Parliament of Bees: Masque. By John Day. Printed 1607;’ but there is no copy of the 1607 edition at present among the Garrick plays, and not improbably Lamb merely followed tradition in assigning 1607 as the date of the first edition. Gildon, Jacob, and Baker give only a bare list of Day's plays, and it is likely enough that they confused the date of the ‘Bees’ with that of the ‘Three English Brothers,’ just as Jacob confuses the two works in another particular, making Rowley and Wilkins to have had a hand in the ‘Bees,’ and leaving Day wholly responsible for the ‘Three English Brothers.’ Though the 1607 quarto, if it ever existed, has vanished, there is fortunately extant an early manuscript copy (Lansdowne MS. 725), which differs considerably from the printed copy. The title of the manuscript is ‘An olde Manuscript conteyning the Parliament of Bees, found In a Hollow Tree In a garden at Hibla, in a strandge Languadge, And now faithfully Translated into Easie English Verse by

John Daye,
Ovidius mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castaliis plena ministret aquis.’

The manuscript gives the masque in its unrevised state, preserving many passages that were afterwards cancelled. Day revised his masque with the utmost care, making many abridgments, additions, and alterations. The labour was well spent, for the quaint old whimsical masque, in which all the characters are bees, is now polished to the last touch. ‘The very air,’ says Lamb, ‘seems replete with humming and buzzing melodies. Surely bees were never so be-rhymed before.’ There is no evidence to show whether the masque was acted. It is to be noticed that some of the ‘characters’ (or colloquies) in the ‘Parliament of Bees’ are found with slight alterations in Dekker's ‘Wonder of a Kingdom,’ licensed for the press in 1631 and printed in 1636, and others in ‘The Noble Soldier,’ published in 1634 as a work of S[amuel] R[owley] (though there is good reason for believing that it was largely written by Dekker). The explanation seems to be that Day had contributed to these two plays and merely reclaimed his own property. There is also extant an allegorical prose tract by Day, first printed in the collected edition of his ‘Works,’ 1881, from Sloane MS. 3150. It is entitled ‘Peregrinatio Scholastica or Learneinges Pillgrimage Containeinge the straundge Adventurs and various entertainements he founde in his traveiles towards the shrine of Latria. Meliora speramus: Composde and devided into Morall Tractates.’ From the dedicatory epistle to William Austin, Esq., it would appear to have been written late in life, for the author begs that his work ‘may not finde the lesse wellcome in regard I boast not that gaudie spring of credit and youthfull florish of opinion as some other filde in the same rancke with me;’ adding, ‘The day may come when Nos quoque floruimus may be there motto as well as myne.’ It was suggested by Bolton Corney (Notes and Queries, 3rd series, ix. 387) that Day was the author of ‘The Returne from Pernassus,’ but the arguments that he adduced were of little value. It has also been suggested, by Mr. Edmund Gosse, that ‘The Maid's Metamorphosis,’ a pastoral comedy printed in 1600, may have been written by Day. Among the ‘Alleyn Papers’ are preserved some lines, in Day's handwriting, which belong to some lost historical play. Day's works were collected by the present writer in 1881 (seven parts, fcp. 4to) for private circulation.

[Introduction to Works of John Day, 1881; Henslowe's Diary; Alleyn Papers, 23–5; Warner's Catalogue of the Dulwich Collection, 21–3.]

A. H. B.