Guildford, Nicholas de (DNB00)

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GUILDFORD, NICHOLAS de (fl. 1250), poet, is the supposed author of an English poem, 'The Owl and the Nightingale,' which takes the form of a contest between the two birds as to their relative merits of voice and singing. Master Nicholas de Guildford is chosen as umpire, and we then learn that his home is at Porteshom (now Portisham) in Dorset. Master Nicholas has very commonly been supposed to be the author himself, but Professor Ten Brink argues that the manner in which his many virtues are dwelt on makes this improbable, and suggests that the author was a friend of Guildford's. In any case, however, the writer was clearly a clerk, and he speaks of himself as having once been dissolute but now grown staid, and complains that he had been passed over while others less worthy obtained preferment as to the date of the poem there has been much discussion; allusion ia made to a King Henry:

That underwat the King Henri,
Jesus his soule do merci!—(ll. 1091-2).

Whether Henry II or Henry III is meant is disputed. Sir F. Madden thought the latter, in which case the poem must have been written after 1272. More probably, however, it is Henry II, for the language belongs to the first half of the thirteenth century, and the bitter complaints of papal avarice tend to prove that the writer must have lived in the early part of the reign of Henry III; furthermore the handwriting of the Cottonian MS. of the poem is ascribed to the same period.

'The Owl and the Nightingale' is a poem of real merit, smoothly and melodiously written, and is an excellent specimen of the south-western dialect of the thirteenth century, It furnishes much incidental information on the manners and feelings of the time. The writer was one of the best lyrical poets of the age; whether he was the author of any of the other poems which occur in the same manuscripts is uncertain. Professor Ten Brink thinks that Guildford's style is not visible in any extant songs of the period. There are two manuscripts of 'The Owl and the Nightingale': (1) MS. Cotton CaligulaA. ix., of the first half of the thirteenth century; (2) MS. Jesus Coll. Oxford, 29 (Coxe, Cat. MSS. Coll. Oxon.), about fifty years later. Dr. Stratmann considers that the two copies are independent. The poem has been thrice edited: by Mr. Stevenson for the Roxburghe Club, 1838, by Mr. T. Wright for the Percy Society, 1842(vol.ii,),and by Dr. F.H. Stratmann,' Krefeld, 1868.

A poem, entitled 'La Passyun Jhu Crist, en Engleys,' immediately precedes 'The Owl and the Nightingale' in the Jesus College MS. A note (on f. 228 a) referring to 'La Passyun,' and in the handwriting of Thomas Wilkins, rector of St. Mary, Glamorganshire, who gave the manuscript to the college, states that the writer had found on a leaf (now missing) of the manuscript a quatrain, which alluded to one Master John of Guildford. Master John may have been the author of 'La Passyun,' and a relation of Nicholas, whom some have supposed to he the author of that poem, as well as of 'The Owl and Nightingale.' The 'Passyun' is printed in Morris's 'Old English Miscellany' (Early English Text Society).

[Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, ii. 38. 39 (Hazlitt's edition, 1871); Wright's Biog. Brit. Lit. Anglo-Norman Period, p. 438; Ten Brink's Early English Literature, translated by H.M. Kennedy, pp. 214-18; Hardy's Descriptive Cat. of British Hist. iii. 85-6; Stevenson and Wright's Prefaces to Ths Owl and the Nightingale; Morris's Pref. to Old English Miscellany.]

C. L. K.