Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Powell, Thomas (1572?-1635?)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
1196002Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46 — Powell, Thomas (1572?-1635?)1896Albert Frederick Pollard

POWELL, THOMAS (1572?–1635?), attorney and author, born about 1572, of Welsh parents, came of the same family as Sir Edward Powell, who, in 1622, succeeded Sir Christopher Perkins [q. v.] as master of requests; he was probably related to Thomas Powell, a clerk in chancery, to whom William Hayward's ‘Bellum Grammaticale’ was dedicated in 1576, and the second part of the ‘Myrrour of Knighthood’ in 1582–3. He entered Gray's Inn on 30 Jan. 1592–3, being described as ‘of Disserth, Radnorshire,’ but apparently devoted more time to versification than to the law. In 1598 he published ‘Loue's Leprosie,’ 4to, a poem on the death of Achilles through his love for Priam's daughter Polyxena; it is dedicated to Sir Robert Sidney (afterwards Earl of Leicester) [q. v.] The only copy known is now at Britwell. It was reprinted, with an introduction by Dr. E. F. Rimbault, in vol. vi. of the Percy Society's ‘Early English Poetry.’ This was followed in 1601 by ‘The Passionate Poet; with a description of the Thracian Ismarus,’ 4to, printed by Valentine Simmes. There is a unique copy at Britwell (cf. Brydges, Restituta, iii. 169–73). Powell's verse is poor, and his meaning is frequently obscure.

Powell now turned from ‘bad serious poetry to chaffing prose, still intersperst with scraps of bad verse—and divers professional handbooks’ (Furnivall, Introd. to Tom of All Trades). The identity of the poet and the legal writer, although disputed by Collier, is fairly well established. Powell's first prose work was ‘A Welch Bayte to spare Prouender, or a looking backe upon the Times,’ 1603, 4to, dedicated to Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton [q. v.] Its object seems to be to justify Elizabeth's treatment of papists and dissenters; it ironically describes the effect produced by the news of her death and the troubles likely to ensue, but urges the advantages of uniting Scots and English in one nation. The only known copy is in the Huth Library. James seems to have been offended by Powell's tone. The book was suppressed, and the printer, Simmes, who had also published ‘The Passionate Poet,’ was condemned to pay a fine of 13s. 6d. (Cat. Huth Libr.; Furnivall, Introd. to Tom of All Trades; Arber, Transcript, iii. 349; but cf. Brydges's Brit. Bibl. ii. 183–90 for a different interpretation of the book). In the same year appeared Powell's ‘Vertue's Due, or a true Modell of the Life of … Katharine Howard, late Countess of Nottingham, deceased. By T. P. Gentleman,’ 8vo. It is dedicated to the widower, Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham, and was reprinted in ‘A Lamport Garland’ (Roxburghe Club, 1881, ed. Charles Edmonds). In 1606 Powell contributed verses to Ford's ‘Fame's Memoriall.’

From this time Powell devoted himself to writing professional works, and with that object began to search the records in the chancery, the Tower, and elsewhere. In 1613 his literary work was interrupted by his appointment (13 Nov.) as solicitor-general in the marches of Wales; but on 5 Aug. 1622 he surrendered this office, and in the same year he published his ‘Direction for Search of Records remaining in the Chauncerie, Tower, Exchequer,’ &c., 4to, dedicated to James I, Prince Charles, Sir Edward Powell, and Noy, then reader at Lincoln's Inn; it professes to be the result of twenty years' work. In 1623 he petitioned the king for an order requiring judges and officers of courts to supply him with information about fees, &c., necessary to complete the work which would then be ‘more useful than the Conqueror's Domesday.’ The order was granted, and the result of Powell's further labours was embodied in the ‘Repertorie of Records,’ 1631, 4to.

Meanwhile, he published in 1623 ‘The Attourney's Academy,’ 4to, dedicated to Prince Charles and Bacon (reprinted in 1613 and 1647); and a satirical work entitled ‘Wheresoever you see mee, Trust unto yourselfe, or the Mysterie of Lending and Borrowing,’ 4to; it is ironically dedicated to ‘the two famous universities, the seminaries of so many desperate debtors, Ram Ally, and Milford Lane,’ and describes various classes of debtors, their cunning practices and the like. In 1627 appeared ‘The Attorney's Almanacke,’ 4to. ‘Tom of All Trades, or the Plain Pathway to Preferment,’ 4to (1631; 2nd edit. 1635, with the title ‘The Art of Thriving, or the Plain Pathway to Preferment’) contains a description of various schools, colleges, &c., the best methods of thriving in various professions; it throws valuable light on English education in Shakespeare's time, and was reprinted, with an introduction by Dr. Furnivall, for the New Shakspere Society in 1876. Powell also left in manuscript ‘The Breath of an Unfeed Lawyer, or Beggers Round,’ which is extant in the Cambridge University Library (Cat. MSS. in Cambr. Univ. Libr. i. 213). The author probably died about 1635.

He is doubtless to be distinguished from a ‘Serjeant Powell’ mentioned in the state papers in 1631. A later Thomas Powell (fl. 1675) was author of ‘The Young Man's Conflict,’ 1675, ‘Salve for Soul Sores,’ 1676, and other works; he probably wrote the commendatory verses prefixed to Henry Vaughan's ‘Olor Iscanus,’ 1651.

[Powell's works in Brit. Mus. Libr.; Furnivall's Introd. to Tom of All Trades; Rimbault's Introd. to Love's Leprosy; Hunter's manuscript Chorus Vatum; Warton's English Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, iv. 304 n. 3; Ritson's Bibl. Anglo-Poetica; Brydges's Restituta and British Bibliographer; Collier's Bibl. Account, ii. 184; Hazlitt's Handbook and Collections passim; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. passim; Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. p. 63, 2nd Rep. p. 89; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 478; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 366; notes supplied by Miss Bertha Porter.]

A. F. P.