Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drayton, Michael
DRAYTON, MICHAEL (1563–1631), poet, was born at Hartshill, near Atherstone, Warwickshire, in 1563. He states in his epistle to Henry Reynolds that he had been a page, and it is not improbable that he was attached to the household of Sir Henry Goodere of Powlesworth; for in a dedicatory address prefixed to one of his ‘Heroical Epistles’ (Mary, the French queen, to Charles Brandon) he acknowledges that he was indebted to Sir Henry Goodere for the ‘most part’ of his education. Aubrey says that he was the son of a butcher; but Aubrey also describes Shakespeare's father as a butcher. We have it on Drayton's own authority (‘The Owle,’ 1604) that he was ‘nobly bred’ and ‘well ally'd.’ There is no evidence to show whether he was a member of either university. His earliest work, ‘The Harmonie of the Church,’ a metrical rendering of portions of the scriptures, was published in 1591. Prefixed is a dedicatory epistle, dated from London, 10 Feb. 1590–1, ‘To the godly and vertuous Lady, the Lady Jane Deuoreux of Merivale,’ in which he speaks of the ‘bountiful hospitality’ that he had received from his patroness. This book, which had been entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 1 Feb. 1590–1, under the title of ‘The Triumphes of the Churche,’ for some unknown reason gave offence and was condemned to be destroyed; but Archbishop Whitgift ordered that forty copies should be preserved at Lambeth Palace. Only one copy, belonging to the British Museum, is now known to exist. ‘A Heavenly Harmonie of Spirituall Songs and Holy Hymnes,’ 1610 (unique), is the suppressed book with a different title-page. In 1593 appeared ‘Idea. The Shepheards Garland. Fashioned in nine Eglogs. Rowlands Sacrifice to the Nine Muses.’ These eclogues, which were written on the model of the ‘Shepherd's Calendar,’ afterwards underwent considerable revision. There was room for improvement, the diction being frequently harsh and the versification inharmonious, though much of the lyrical part is excellent. In the fourth eclogue there is introduced an elegy, which was afterwards completely rewritten, on Sir Philip Sidney; and it is probably to this elegy (not, as some critics have supposed, to a lost poem) that N[athaniel?] B[axter?], in speaking of Sidney's death, makes reference in ‘Ourania,’ 1606:
O noble Drayton! well didst thou rehearse
Our damages in dryrie sable verse.
In 1593 Drayton published the first of his historical poems, ‘The Legend of Piers Gaveston,’ 4to, which was followed in 1594 by ‘Matilda, the faire and chaste Daughter of the Lord Robert Fitzwater.’ Both poems, after revision, were reprinted in 1596, with the addition of ‘The Tragicall Legend of Robert, Duke of Normandie,’ the volume being dedicated to Lucy, countess of Bedford. After the dedicatory epistle comes a sonnet to Lady Anne Harington, wife of Sir John Harington. There is also an address to the reader, in which Drayton states that ‘Matilda’ had been ‘kept from printing’ because the stationer ‘meant to join them together in one little volume.’ The statement is curious, for the 1594 edition of ‘Matilda’ is dedicated to Lucy, daughter of Sir John Harington, afterwards Countess of Bedford, and must have been published with Drayton's knowledge. A poem in rhymed heroics on the subject of ‘Endymion and Phœbe,’ n.d., 4to, entered in the ‘Stationers' Register’ 12. April 1594, was doubtless published in that year. Lodge quotes from it in ‘A Fig for Momus,’ 1595. There are some interesting allusions to Spenser, Daniel, and Lodge. It was not reprinted, but portions were incorporated in ‘The Man in the Moone,’ and the dedicatory sonnet to the Countess of Bedford was included in the 1605 collection of Drayton's poems.
Before leaving Warwickshire Drayton paid his addresses to a lady who was a native of Coventry and who lived near the river Anker. In her honour he published, in 1594, a series of fifty-one sonnets under the title of ‘Ideas Mirrovr: Amours in Quatorzains,’ 4to. Drayton attached no great value to the collection, for twenty-two of the sonnets printed in ‘Ideas Mirrovr’ were never reprinted. The lady (celebrated under the name ‘Idea’) to whom the sonnets were addressed did not become the poet's wife, but he continued for many years to sing her praises with exemplary constancy. In the 1605 collection of his poems he has a ‘Hymn to his Lady's Birth-place,’ which is written in a strain of effusive gallantry. The magnificent sonnet, ‘Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part,’ first appeared in the 1619 folio. An epistle, ‘Of his Lady's not coming to town,’ first published in the 1627 collection, shows that his devotion, after thirty years' service, was unchanged. All his biographers agree that he lived and died a bachelor; but it is to be noticed that Edmond Gayton (not a very sure guide), in ‘Festivous Notes on Don Quixote,’ 1654, p. 150, states that he was married.
The first poem planned on a large scale is ‘Mortimeriados,’ published in 1596, and republished with many alterations in 1603. under the title of ‘The Barrons Wars.’ To the revised edition Drayton prefixed an address to the reader, in which he states that, ‘as at first the dignity of the thing was the motive of the dooing, so the cause of this my second greater labour was the insufficient handling of the first.’ Originally the poem had been written in seven-line stanzas, but in the second edition the ‘ottava rima’ was substituted, ‘of all other the most complete and best proportioned.’ Drayton was constantly engaged in revising his works, and ‘The Barons' Wars’ saw many changes before it reached its final shape. ‘Mortimeriados’ was dedicated, in nine seven-line stanzas, to the Countess of Bedford; but when, in 1603, Drayton reissued the poem, he withdrew the dedication and cancelled various references to his patroness. In the eighth eclogue of ‘Poemes Lyrick and Pastorall,’ n.d. (1605?), he inveighs against a certain Selena, who had temporarily befriended ‘faithfull Rowland,’ but had afterwards transferred her patronage to ‘deceitfull Cerberon.’ Rowland is the pastoral name which Drayton had adopted for himself; Cerberon's personality is matter for conjecture; but it is more than probable that Selena was intended for the Countess of Bedford. The invective was cancelled in later editions.
‘England's Heroicall Epistles,’ 1597, his next work of importance, is the most readable of Drayton's longer works. The book was modelled on Ovid's ‘Heroides,’ and Drayton has shown himself to be no unworthy pupil of the skilful Roman artist. A second edition appeared in 1598; a third, with the addition of the sonnets, in 1599; a fourth in 1602, again with the sonnets; and a fifth, with ‘The Barons' Wars,’ in 1603. Historical notes are appended to each epistle; and to each pair of epistles (with a few exceptions) Drayton prefixed a dedication to some distinguished patron. In the dedication to the Earl of Bedford he mentions the obligations under which he stood to the family of the Haringtons, and states that he had been commended to the patronage of Sir John Harington's daughter, Lucy, countess of Bedford, by ‘ that learned and accomplished gentleman Sir Henry Goodere (not long since deceased), whose I was whilst hee was, whose patience pleased to beare with the imperfections of my heedles and unstayed youth.’
From Henslowe's ‘Diary’ it appears that Drayton was writing for the stage between 1597 and 1602. He wrote few plays single-handed, but worked with Henry Chettle [q. v.], Thomas Dekker [q. v.], and others. In December 1597 he was engaged with Munday on a lost play called ‘Mother Redcap.’ On 20 Jan. 1598–9 he received three pounds ‘in earneste of his playe called Wm. Longberd’ (Diary, ed. Collier, p. 142), and on the following day he acknowledged the receipt of ‘forty shillinges of Mr. Phillip Hinslowe, in part of vili, for the playe of Willm. Longsword’ (ib. p. 95). Probably both entries refer to the same lost play. In 1599 he wrote the ‘First Part of Sir John Oldcastle,’ with Wilson, Hathway, and Munday; and in January 1599–1600 he was engaged with the same authors on ‘Owen Tudor.’ There was a ‘Second Part of Sir John Oldcastle;’ but it is not clear whether it was written by the four playwrights or whether Drayton was solely responsible. ‘The First Part of the true and honorable History of the Life of Sir John Oldcastle’ was published in 1600 in a corrupt form. Some copies fraudulently bear Shakespeare's name on the title-page. In May 1602 Drayton wrote, with Dekker, Webster, Middleton, and Munday, a play which Henslowe calls ‘too harpes’ (‘Two Harpies’). The anonymous ‘Merry Divel of Edmonton,’ 1608, has been attributed to Drayton on the authority of Coxeter, but no evidence has been adduced in support of Drayton's claim.
There is a tradition that Drayton was employed by Queen Elizabeth on a diplomatic mission in Scotland. In an obscure passage of the satirical poem ‘The Owle,’ 1604, he states that he went in search of preferment ‘unto the happie North,’ and ‘there arryv'd, disgrace was all my gayne.’ On the accession of James he published ‘To the majestie of King James. A gratulatorie Poem,’ 1603, 4to, and in the following year gave a further proof of his loyalty in ‘A Pæan Triumphall: composed for the societie of the Goldsmiths of London congratulating his Highnes Magnificent Entring the Citie,’ 1604. But his hopes of gaining advancement from James were rudely disappointed; his compliments met with indifference and contempt. Many years afterwards (1627) in an epistle to his friend George Sandys he refers to the ill-treatment that he had experienced. Chettle, in ‘England's Mourning Garment,’ n.d. (1603), hints that he had been too hasty in paying his addresses to the new sovereign:
Think 'twas a fault to have thy Verses seene
Praising the King ere they had mournd the Queen.
In 1604 appeared ‘The Owle,’ an allegorical poem, in imitation of Spenser's ‘Mother Hubbard's Tale,’ on the neglect shown to learning. If Drayton had not expressly stated that it was written earlier than the ‘Gratulatorie Poem,’ it would be reasonable to assume that it was inspired by indignation at the treatment that he had received from the king. ‘The Owle’ was dedicated to the young Sir Walter Aston [q. v.], to whom he also dedicated the 1603 edition of ‘The Barrons Wars’ and ‘Moyses in a Map of his Miracles,’ 1604. From a passage in the last-named poem it has been hastily inferred that Drayton had witnessed at Dover the destruction of the Spanish armada. At his investiture as knight of the Bath in 1603 Sir Walter Aston made Drayton one of his esquires (Douglas, Peerage, ed. Wood, i. 127), a title which Drayton afterwards used somewhat ostentatiously. In ‘Poems: by Michaell Draiton Esquire,’ 1605, the word ‘Esquire’ is made to occupy a line by itself. About 1605 appeared the undated ‘Poemes Lyrick and Pastorall: Odes, Eglogs, the Man in the Moone,’ 8vo, with a dedication to Sir Walter Aston. The volume contains some of Drayton's choicest work. Here first appeared the famous ‘Ballad of Agincourt,’ which is unquestionably the most spirited of English martial lyrics; the fine ode ‘To the Virginian Voyage,’ the charming canzonet ‘To his coy Love,’ the address ‘To Cupid,’ and other delightful poems. Two of the odes (‘Sing we the Rose’ and the address to John Savage) were never reprinted; the rest of the volume, after revision, was included in the 1619 folio. The collection of ‘Poems,’ 1605, 8vo, with commendatory verses by Thomas Greene, Sir John Beaumont, Sir William Alexander, &c., embraces ‘The Barons' Wars,’ ‘England's Heroical Epistles,’ ‘Idea,’ and the ‘Legends.’ Other editions appeared in 1608, n. d., 1610, and 1613. The edition of 1610 has at the end an additional leaf containing a commendatory sonnet by Selden. In 1607 Drayton published another of his legends, ‘The Legend of Great Cromwell,’ which was republished with alterations in 1609, and was included in the 1610 ‘Mirour for Magistrates.’
The first eighteen songs of Drayton's longest and most famous poem, ‘Poly-olbion, or a Chorographicall Description of all the Tracts, Rivers, Mountaines, Forests, and other Parts … of Great Britaine,’ fol., appeared in 1613, with an engraved as well as a printed title-page, a portrait by Hole of Prince Henry, to whom the work was dedicated, and eighteen maps. To each song are appended copious annotations, full of antiquarian learning, by John Selden. A second part, containing songs xix–xxx, was written later, and the complete poem (with commendatory verses before the second part by William Browne, George Wither, and John Reynolds) was published in 1622. Selden's annotations are confined to the first part. It is not surprising that Drayton experienced some difficulty in finding a publisher for so voluminous a work. In a letter to William Drummond of Hawthornden, dated 14 April 1619, he writes: ‘I thank you, my dear, sweet Drummond, for your good opinion of “Poly-Olbion.” I have done twelve books more; … but it lieth by me, for the booksellers and I are in terms. They are a company of base knaves, whom I both scorn and kick at.’ The nature of the subject made it impossible for the poem to be free from monotony. The ‘Poly-Olbion’ is a truly great work, stored with learning of wide variety, and abounding in passages of rare beauty. It was the labour of many years, for so early as 1598 Francis Meres reported that ‘Michael Drayton is now in penning in English verse a poem called “Pola-olbion.”’ Prince Henry, to whom it was dedicated, held Drayton in esteem; for it appears from Sir David Murray's account of the privy purse expenses of the prince that Drayton was an annuitant to the expense of 10l. a year.
In 1619 Drayton collected into a small folio all the poems (with the exception of the ‘Poly-Olbion’) that he wished to preserve, and added some new lyrics. The collection consists of seven parts, each with a distinct title-page dated 1619, but the pagination is continuous. In some copies the general title-page is undated; in others it bears date 1620. At the back of the general title-page is a portrait of Drayton, engraved by Hole, and round the portrait is inscribed ‘Effigies Michaelis Drayton, Armigeri, Poetæ Clariss. Ætat. suæ L. A Chr. ciɔ. dc. xiii.’ A fresh volume of miscellaneous poems, ‘The Battaile of Agincourt,’ &c., appeared in 1627, sm. fol. Here was published for the first time the dainty and inimitable fairy poem, ‘Nimphidia.’ ‘The Shepheards Sirena’ and ‘The Quest of Cynthia’ are agreeably written, though the latter poem is far too long. ‘The Battaile of Agincourt’ (not to be confused with ‘The Ballad of Agincourt’) and ‘The Miseries of Queen Margarite’ contain some spirited passages, but tax the reader's patience severely. Among the ‘elegies’ is the interesting ‘Epistle to Henry Reynolds,’ in which Drayton delivers his views on the merits of various contemporary English poets. It may be doubted whether Drayton had any great liking for the drama; his praise of Shakespeare is tame in comparison with his enthusiasm for Spenser. One epistle is addressed to William Browne of Tavistock, and another to George Sandys, the translator of Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses;’ both are written in a tone of sadness. ‘An Elegie vpon the death of the Lady Penelope Clifton’ and ‘Vpon the three Sonnes of the Lord Sheffield, drowned in Humber’ had previously appeared in Henry Fitzgeoffrey's ‘Certayn Elegies,’ 1617. At the beginning of the volume are commendatory verses by I. Vaughan, John Reynolds, and the fine ‘Vision of Ben Jonson on the Muses of his friend, M. Drayton,’ which opens with the question whether he was a friend to Drayton. When he visited William Drummond of Hawthornden in 1619, Jonson stated that ‘Drayton feared him; and he [Jonson] esteemed not of him [Drayton],’ spoke disparagingly of the ‘Poly-Olbion,’ and had not a word to say in Drayton's praise.
Drayton's last work was ‘The Muses Elizium lately discovered by a new way over Parnassus … Noahs floud, Moses his birth and miracles. David and Golia,’ 1630, 4to. The pastorals were dedicated to the Earl of Dorset, and at p. 87 there is a fresh dedication to the Countess of Dorset, preceding the sacred poems. Of ‘Noah's floud’ and the two following poems there is little to be said; but ‘The Muses Elizium,’ a set of ten ‘Nimphalls,’ or pastoral dialogues, is full of the quaint whimsical fancy that inspired ‘Nimphidia.’ The description of the preparations for the Fay's bridal in the eighth ‘Nimphall’ is quite a tour de force.
Drayton died in 1631 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where a monument was erected to him by the Countess of Dorset. The inscription (‘Do, pious marble, let thy readers know,’ &c.) is traditionally ascribed to Ben Jonson. It is quite in Jonson's manner, but it has also been claimed for Randolph, Quarles, and others. In Ashmole MS. 38, art. 92, are seven three-line stanzas which purport to have been ‘made by Michaell Drayton, esquier, poet laureatt, the night before hee dyed.’ There is a portrait of Drayton at Dulwich College, presented by Cartwright the actor. In person he was small, and his complexion was swarthy. He speaks of his ‘swart and melancholy face’ in his ‘Legend of Robert, Duke of Normandy.’ His moral character was unassailable, and he was regarded by his contemporaries as a model of virtue. ‘As Aulus Persius Flaccus,’ says Meres in 1598, ‘is reputed among all writers to be of an honest life and upright conversation, so Michael Drayton (quem toties honoris et amoris causa nomino) among schollers, souldiers, poets, and all sorts of people is helde for a man of vertuous disposition, honest conversation, and well-governed carriage.’ Similar testimony is borne by the anonymous author of ‘The Returne from Pernassus.’ His poetry won him applause from many quarters. He is mentioned under the name of ‘Good Rowland’ in Barnfield's ‘Affectionate Shepheard,’ 1594, and he is praised in company with Spenser, Daniel, and Shakespeare in Barnfield's ‘A Remembrance of some English Poets,’ 1598. Lodge dedicated to him in 1595 one of the epistles in ‘A Fig for Momus.’ In 1596 Fitzgeoffrey, in his poem on Sir Francis Drake, speaks of ‘golden-mouthed Drayton musicall.’ A very clear proof of his popularity is shown by the fact that he is quoted no less than a hundred and fifty times in ‘England's Parnassus,’ 1600. Drummond of Hawthornden was one of his fervent admirers. Some letters of Drayton to Drummond are published in the 1711 edition of Drummond's works. Another Scotch poet, Sir William Alexander, was his friend. Jonson told Drummond that ‘Sir W. Alexander was not half kinde unto him, and neglected him, because a friend to Drayton.’ In his epistle to Henry Reynolds he mentions ‘the two Beaumonts’ (Francis Beaumont and Sir John Beaumont) and William Browne as his ‘deare companions and bosome friends.’ Samuel Austin in ‘Urania,’ 1629, claims, acquaintance with Drayton. There is no direct evidence to show that Shakespeare and Drayton were personal friends, but there is strong traditional evidence. The Rev. John Ward, sometime vicar of Stratford-on-Avon, states in his manuscript note-book that ‘Shakespear, Drayton, and Ben Jhonson had a merry meeting, and, itt seems, drank too hard, for Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted.’ The entry was written in 1662 or 1663. In the 1594 and 1596 editions of ‘Matilda’ there is a stanza relating to Shakespeare's ‘Rape of Lucrece.’ It was omitted in later editions, but no inference can be drawn from the omission, for Drayton was continually engaged in altering his poems. A stanza relating to Spenser was also omitted in later editions. Some critics have chosen to suppose that Drayton was the rival to whom allusion is made in Shakespeare's sonnets. It is not uninteresting to notice that Drayton was once cured of a ‘tertian’ by Shakespeare's son-in-law, Dr. John Hall (Select Observations on English Bodies, 1657, p. 26).
Drayton has commendatory verses before Morley's ‘First Book of Ballets,’ 1595; Christopher Middleton's ‘Legend of Duke Humphrey,’ 1600; De Serres's ‘Perfect Use of Silk-wormes,’ 1607; Davies's ‘Holy Rood,’ 1609; Murray's ‘Sophonisba,’ 1611; Tuke's ‘Discourse against Painting and Tincturing of Women,’ 1616; Chapman's ‘Hesiod,’ 1618; Munday's ‘Primaleon of Greece,’ 1619; Vicars's ‘ Manuductio,’ n. d. [1620?]; Holland's ‘Naumachia,’ 1622; Sir John Beaumont's ‘Bosworth Field,’ 1629. Some of these poetical compliments are subscribed only with the initials ‘ M. D.’ Poems of Drayton are included in ‘England's Helicon,’ 1600; some had been printed before, but others were published for the first time. There are verses of Drayton, posthumously published, in ‘Annalia Dubrensia,’ 1636. An imperfect collection of Drayton's poems appeared in 1748, fol., and again in 1753, 4 vols. 8vo; but his poetry was little to the taste of eighteenth-century critics. From a well-known passage of Goldsmith's ‘Citizen of the World’ it would seem that his very name had passed into oblivion. Since the days of Charles Lamb and Coleridge his fame has revived, but no complete edition of his works has yet been issued. In 1856 Collier edited for the Roxburghe Club a valuable collection of the rarer works: ‘The Harmonie of the Church,’ ‘Idea. The Shepheards Garland,’ ‘Ideas Mirrour,’ ‘Endimion and Phœbe,’ ‘Mortimeriados,’ and ‘Poemes Lyrick and Pastorall.’ The Rev. Richard Hooper in 1876 issued an edition of the ‘Poly-Olbion’ in three volumes; and the same editor is preparing a complete critical edition of Drayton's entire works, with a full list of variæ lectiones, an undertaking which will involve vast labour. Facsimile reprints of the early editions are being issued by the Spenser Society. A volume of selections from Drayton's poems was edited by the present writer in 1883.[Memoir by Collier, prefixed to the Roxburghe Club collection of Drayton's Poems, 1856; Collier's Bibl. Cat.; Corser's Collectanea; Hazlitt's Bibliographical Collections; Bibliotheca Heberiana, pt. iv.; Addit. MS. 24491 (Hunter's Chorus Vatum); Henslowe's Diary.]