Underdown, Thomas (DNB00)

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UNDERDOWN, THOMAS (fl. 1566–1587), poet and translator, was the son of Stephen Underdown, to whom Sir Thomas Sackville, afterwards first earl of Dorset [q. v.] had shown kindness (epistle prefixed to 2 below). Wood says that he spent some time at Oxford University, but left it without a degree. Cooper identifies him with Thomas Underdown of Clare Hall, Cambridge, B.A. 1564, M.A. 1568, and points out that a Thomas Underdown was ‘parson of St. Mary's in Lewes’ in 1583, when he was in trouble for nonconformity. It is not probable that this was the translator.

The earliest extant edition of Underdown's chief work, ‘An Æthiopian Historie, written in Greeke by Heliodorus, no lesse wittie than pleasaunt,’ is undated; a copy is in the Bodleian. It doubtless appeared in 1569, when Francis Coldock was licensed to publish ‘The ende of the xth book of Helioderus Œthiopium (sic) Historye.’ Another edition, ‘newly corrected and augmented with divers and sundry newe additions by the said Authour,’ appeared in London in 1587, 4to. The address ‘to the gentle reader’ of the 1587 edition says that the earlier issue was published by persuasion of ‘my friend’ Francis Coldock, which now ‘by riper years better advised’ the writer regrets. A third edition appeared in 1606. In 1622 William Barrett, finding Underdown's style ‘almost obsoleted,’ revised and republished his translation ‘cleared from the barbarisms of anti- quity.’ The translation is an important example of Elizabethan prose, remarkable for rhythm and poetic vigour. Warton points out that it opened out a new field of romance, and claims that it influenced and partly suggested Sir Philip Sidney's ‘Arcadia.’ Abraham Fraunce in ‘The Countess of Pembroke's Yvy Church,’ 1591, turned the beginning into six pages of clumsy hexameters. Underdown's Greek scholarship was slight and his Latin faulty. His version follows the Latin of the Pole, Stanislao Warschewiczki, published at Basle, 1551. Underdown's translation (edit. 1587) was reprinted in 1895 as vol. v. of the ‘Tudor Translations,’ edited by Mr. W. E. Henley, with an introduction by Mr. Charles Whibley.

Underdown's other works were: 1. ‘The excellent historye of Theseus and Ariadne,’ London, 1566, 8vo. In the ‘Stationers' Register’ (Arber, i. 304, v. 57) this is entered to Richard Jones on 18 Jan. 1566. 2. ‘Ovid his invective against Ibis. Translated into English meeter, whereunto is added by the Translator a short draught of all the stories and tales contayned therein, very pleasant to be read,’ London, 1569, b.l. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1577. The epistle dedicated to Sir Thomas Sackvile, lord Buckhurst, contains some autobiographical details. The poem is in fourteen-syllable verse. The prose appendix is a clear and simple collection of classical stories which proved useful to dramatists and poets.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 430; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 490, where the statement that verses by Underdown are prefixed to John Studley's translation of Seneca's ‘Agamemnon,’ 1566, is a mistake; Tanner's Bibliotheca, p. 741; Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, iv. 299, 300; Strype's Whitgift, i. 255; Arber's Stationers' Register, v. 57, 69, 71, 103; Collier's Bibliogr. Account of Early Engl. Lit. ii. 459; Brydges's Censura Lit. ii. 187.]

R. B.