Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townsend, Aurelian

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TOWNSEND, AURELIAN (fl. 1601–1643), poet, was son of John Townshend of Dereham Abbey, Norfolk, and great-grandson of Sir Roger Townshend of Raynham. He was at one time steward to Sir Robert Cecil, first earl of Salisbury, and letters from him to Cecil, written in 1601 and 1602, are preserved among Lord Salisbury's manuscripts (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th and 7th Reps.) From an early age he had a reputation as a writer of graceful verse, which gained him many friends among courtiers who shared his literary tastes, as well as among professional men of letters. Ben Jonson was long on terms of very close intimacy. In 1602 Sir Thomas Overbury told Manningham the diarist: ‘Ben Jonson the poet nowe lives upon one Townesend and scornes the world’ (Manningham, Diary, p. 130). In 1608 Townsend was invited by Edward Herbert (afterwards first Lord Herbert of Cherbury) [q. v.] to accompany him on a continental tour. He was useful to Herbert from his perfect colloquial knowledge of French, Italian, and Spanish. With Herbert he was the guest of the Duc de Montmorenci, governor and virtual sovereign of Languedoc, and visited the court of Henri IV.

At Charles I's court Townsend enjoyed, with his friends Walter Montagu [q. v.] and Thomas Carew [q. v.], a high literary reputation, and became apparently a gentleman of the privy chamber. In 1631, when Ben Jonson was driven from court through the influence of Inigo Jones, Townsend succeeded him as composer of court masques. On 8 Jan. 1631–2 one entitled ‘Albion's Triumph’ was presented by the king and his lords at Whitehall. The masque contained an allegorical representation of the English capital and court. It was afterwards printed with the names of the performers for Robert Allot, with the date 1631 (London, 4to). Some copies have the author's name, while others are anonymous. On 13 Feb. 1631–2, Shrove Tuesday, a second masque by Townsend, ‘Tempe Restored,’ was presented before Charles and his court at Whitehall by the queen and fourteen of her ladies. The story relates to Circe and her lovers. The work was printed with the date 1631 (London, 4to). Both these masques were designed and planned by Inigo Jones, Townsend being merely employed to supply the words.

At least as early as 1622 Townsend was married and settled as a ‘housekeeper’ in Barbican, London, near the Earl of Bridgwater's residence. On 3 June 1629, on petition to the king, he was granted the custody of the widow of Thomas Ivatt, a searcher of London. She was a lunatic, and Townsend obtained the administration of her estate (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1628–9, pp. 560, 567). In 1643 Townsend presented a petition to the House of Lords setting forth that he was threatened with arrest for 600l. at the suit of one Tulley, a silkman, for commodities ordered for Lewis Boyle, lord Kinalmeakey, the son of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork. He pleaded that he was the king's ordinary servant, and that he himself owed Tulley nothing, and asked for protection. On 3 March 1642–3 the House of Lords decided to grant him their protection, and bestowed on him the freedom of privilege of parliament (Lords' Journals, v. 632–636). In the confusion of the civil war Townsend disappears. The baptisms of five of his children—George, Mary, James, Herbert, and Frances—are recorded in the register of St. Giles, Cripplegate, between 1622 and 1632. Herbert died in infancy. According to Collier (Shakespeare, 1858, i. 72), the Earl of Pembroke, in a manuscript note in a copy of Roper's ‘Life of Sir Thomas More’ (edit. 1642), which was sold among Horace Walpole's books, states that Townsend was living in Barbican in poor circumstances, and had ‘a fine fair daughter,’ mistress first to the Palsgrave, and afterwards to the Earl of Dorset. He may have been alive in 1651, as among other complimentary verses prefixed to the ‘Nympha Libethris, or the Cotswold Muse,’ of Clement Barksdale [q. v.], printed at Worcester in 1651, are some signed ‘Tounsend,’ which were possibly written by Aurelian.

Townsend has been undeservedly neglected as a poet. Many of his lyrics, which possess much charm and grace, are scattered through manuscript miscellanies. His reply to ‘The Enquiry’ (a poem attributed to Carew or Herrick), entitled ‘His Mistress Found,’ is printed in Carew's ‘Poems and Masque’ (ed. Ebsworth, 1893). Beloe included it and another poem by Townsend, entitled ‘Youth and Beauty,’ in his ‘Anecdotes of Literature’ (1812, vi. 195, 198). Mr. A. H. Bullen in ‘Speculum Amantis’ (1889) printed Townsend's poem ‘To the Lady May’ from the Malone MS. 13, f. 53. The ‘Speculum’ also contains a song ‘Upon Kind and True Love,’ which appeared in ‘Wits Interpreter’ in 1640 (entitled ‘What is most to be liked in a Mistress?’), and was reprinted in ‘Choice Drollery’ (1656). This poem, with another in ‘Choice Drollery’ ‘Upon his Constant Mistress,’ is anonymous, but both are attributed to Townsend. Two poems by Townsend were set to music in Henry Lawes's ‘Ayres and Dialogues’ (1655), and two others in Lawes's ‘Second Book of Ayres’ (1655). Commendatory verses by him were prefixed to Henry Carey, earl of Monmouth's ‘Romulus and Tarquin’ (translated from the Italian of Malvezzi), 1638, and to Lawes's ‘Choice Psalmes set to Music for Three Voices,’ 1648.

Townsend probably edited the first and best edition of Carew's ‘Poems,’ which appeared in 1640. Carew addressed him with much affection in a poem ‘In Answer to an Elegiacal Letter (from Aurelian Townsend) upon the Death of the King of Sweden.’ There Carew apparently attributes to Townsend a share in the ‘Shepherd's Paradise’ by Walter Montagu [q. v.] Townsend is alluded to disparagingly in Suckling's ‘Session of the Poets’ in company with George Sandys [q. v.]

[Carew's Poems and Masque, ed. Ebsworth, pp. 227–9, 242–3, 260; Hunter's Chorus Vatum; Herbert's Autobiography, ed. Lee, 1886, pp. 90, 93, 100; Collier's Memoirs of Shakespearean Actors, 1846, p. xxiv; Fleay's Chronicle of the English Drama; Cunningham's Life of Inigo Jones, p. 27; Gifford's Memoir of Ben Jonson, prefixed to Works, 1846, p. 47.]

E. I. C.