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A Discourse of

English Poetrie











NOTES of William Webbe, .... 3


INTRODUCTION,. ... . . . . - j

BIBLIOGRAPHY, . . . * . 10


1. The Epiftle to Edward Sulyard, Efquire, . . 13

2. A Preface to the noble Poets of England, . . 17

(a) What Poetry is ? . . . .21
(6) The beginning of Poetry, and of what eftimation

it hath always been, . . . .21

(C) The ufe of Poetry, and wherein it rightly con-

fifted, ..... 25

(ll) The Author's judgment of Englifh Poets, . 30

(e) Cije fHatter of Emjlisfj ^octrir, . . 38-56
Ex. Comparifon of Thomas Pnaer's tranflation

of the sEneid with the original text of Virgil.

(f) 2Ehc IFHaniur nr JFcrin o 3iij}lislj ^octrie, . 56-84


There be three fpecial notes neceflary to be obferved
in the framing of our accuftomed Englifh Rhyme:

(1) 7'Ae metre or verfe mnjl be proportionate, . 57
Ex. Criticifm of the different forts of Verfe in

Spencer's Shepherds Calender.

(2) The natural Accent of the words mujl not
bewre/le>t t ..... 62

(3) The Rhyme or like ending of Verfes, . 63

B. The Reformed kind of ENGLISH VERSE [i.e.,

in CLASSICAL FEET], . . 67-84

Ex. The Author's tranflation of the firfl two

Eglo^ues of Virgil into Englifh Hexameters, 73-79
Ex. His tranflation of Hobbinoll's Song in the

Shepherds Calender into Englifh Sapphics, . 81-84

(g) The Canons or general Cautions of Poetry, pre-

fcribed by Horace : collected by George
Fabricius [l>. 23 April 1516 at Chemnitz, </.

13 Jiy 1570, .... 85-95

4. EPILOGUE, ...... 96



Probable or approximate dates.

Very little is known of the Author of this work. The suggestion that he
was the WilKam Webbe, M.A., one of the joint Authors of a topographical
book The Vale Royal, 1648, fol., is quite anachronistic.

Messrs. Cooper, in Athena Cantabrigiensis, ii. 12. Ed. 1861, state that
our Author "was a graduate of this University, but we have no means of
determining his college. One of this name, who was of St. John's College,
was B.A. 1572-3 [the same year as Spenser], as was another who was of
Catharine Hall in 1581-2. His place of residence is unknown, although it
may perhaps be inferred that it was in or near the county of Suffolk. We
have no information as to his position in life, or the time or place of his
death. He was evidently a man of superior intellect and no mean attain-
ments." [Our Author apparently witnessed Tancred and Gismund in 1568,
and being evidently acquainted with Gabriel Harvey and Spenser (who left
Cambridge in 1578), must be the earlier graduate of the above two Webbes.]

1568. Tancred and Gismund, written by five members of the Inner

Temple, the first letters of whose names are attached to the
several acts, viz., Rod. Staff; Hen. No[well?]; G. All; Ch.
Hat[ton?]; and R. Wfilmot]: is 'curiously acted in view
of her Maiesty, by whom it was then princely accepted."

Webbe appears to have been present at the representation :
see 1591. Mr. J. P. Collier in his edition of ' Dodsley's Old
Plays,' i. 153, prints from a MS. what is apparently a por-
tion of this Tragedy as it was then acted, written in alternate
rhymes. He also states in his HLtt. of Dram. Poet, that it
' is the earliest English play extant, the plot of which is known
to be derived from an Italian novel." Hi. 13. Ed. 1831.
1572-3. Our Author takes his B.A. at Cambridge.

1582. Nov. 28. Gabriel Poyntz presented Robert Wilmott, clerk to the
Rectory of North Okendon, Essex : 18 miles from London.
Newcourt Repertorium, ii. 447. Ed. 1710.

Flemyngs is a large manor house in Essex in the parish of Runwell, in the
hundred of Chelmsford ; from which town it is ten miles distant, and about
twenty-nine miles from London. ' This house commands extensive views of
some parts of the county and of Kent, including more than thirty parish

Edward Sulyard succeeded, on the death of his father Eustace in 1546, to
Flemyngs and other possessions. He had two sons, Edward and Thomas,
and a daughter named Elizabeth. He was knighted on 23 July 1603 at
Whitehall by James I, before his coronation : and died in June 1610. Of his
two sons, Edward died without issue; Thomas, b. 1573, was knighted, and d.
March 1634; leaving a son Edward, who d. 7 Nov. 1692 without issue, ' the
last of the house and family.' See W. Berry, County Gen. Essex, 64. T.
Wright, Hist, of Essex, i. 142, 143. Ed. 1831. J. P[hilipot] Knts. Batch,
made by James I. 1660.

*1583 or 4. Webbe appears to have been at this time private tutor to Mr.
Sulyard's two sons, for he presented his MS. translation (now
lost) of the Georgics to Mr. Sulyard : see//. 55 and 16.
1585. DEC. 2. The Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's appoint Robert Wilmott,
M.A., to the Vicarage of Horndon on the Hill, twenty-four
miles from London, and a few miles from Flemyngs, where his
friend Webbe was a private tutor. Newcourt, idem. ii. 343.


1586. Of ' the pregnant ympes of right excellent hope,' Thomas
Sulyard was about thirteen years old, and his brother Edward
was older than him.

W. Webbe writes the present work in the summer evenings.
SEPT. 4. It is thus registered for publication.
"Robt. Walley
John Charlewood, Rd. of them, for printinge A Discourse o.

englishe poetrye vj d ."

J. P. Collier, Extr. of S tat. Ca.'s Kegrs. ii., 215. Ed. 1849.

1587. FEB. 5. Margaret, the mother of Mr. Sulyard died. She is buried at


1588. Warton quotes "a small black-lettered tract entitled The
Touch-stone of Wittes, chiefly compiled, with some slender
additions, from William Wehbe's Discourse of English
Poetrie, written by Edward Hake, and printed at London by
Edmund Bollifant." /. 804. Ed. 1870.

Our Author his pupils growing to manhood then appears to have gone,
possibly also in the same capacity of private tutor into the family of Henry
Grey, Esquire [created Baron Grey of Groby, 21 July 1603 : d. 1614] at
Pirgo, in the parish of Havering atte Bower, Essex ; fifteen miles from Lon-
don. Dugdale states that the first husband of one of the daughters of this
Henry Grey, Esquire, was a William Sulyard, Esquire. Baron, i. 722.
Ed. 1675. From this old Palace of the Queens of England Webbe wrote the fol-
lowing letter to Wilmott, which is reprinted in the revised edition of Tan-
cred and Gismund published in 1592: of which there are copies in the
Bodleian, and at Bridgewater House, and an imperfect one in the British

1591. U AuG.'8 34 ' *To* his f rend R. W. Master R. VV. looke not now for
the tearmes of an intreator, I wil beg no longer, and for your
promises, I wil refuse them as bad puiment : neither can I be
satisfied with any thing, but a peremptorie performance of an
old intention of yours, the publishing I meane of those wast
papers (as it pleaseth you to cal them, but as I esteem them,
a most exquisite inuention) of Gismunds Tragedie. Thinke
not to shift me off with longer delayes, nor alledge more ex-
cuses to get further respite, least I arrest you with nry Actum
est, and commence such a Sute of vr.kindenesse against you,
as when the case shall be scand before the ludges of courtesie,
the court will crie out of your immoderat modestie. And thus
much I tel you before, you shal not be able to wage against
me in the charges growing vpon this action, especially, if the
worshipful company of the Inner temple gentlemen patronize
my cause, as vndoubtedly they wil, yea, and rather plead
partially for me then let my cause miscary, because them-
selues are parties. The tragedie was by them most pithely
framed, and no lesse curiously acted in view of her Maiesty,
by whom it was then as princely accepted, as of the whole
honorable audience notably applauded : yea, and of al men
generally desired, as a work, either in statelines of shew,
depth of conceit, or true ornaments of poeticall arte, inferior
to none of the best in that kinde : no, were the Roman Seneca
the censurer. The braue youths that then (to their high
praises) so feelingly performed the same in action, did shortly
after lay vp the booke vnregarded, or perhaps let it run
abroade (as many parentes doe their children once past
dandling) not respecting so much what hard fortune might
befall it being out of their fingers, as how their heroical wits
might againe be quickly conceiued with new inuentions of
like worthines, wherof they haue been euer since wonderfull
fertill. But this orphan of theirs (for he wandreth as it were
fathcrlesse,) hath notwithstanding, by the rare and bewtiful
perfections appearing in him, hetherto neuer wanted great


fauourers, and louing presenters. Among whom I cannot
sufficiently commend your more then charitable zeale, and
scholerly compassion towards him, that haue not only rescued
and defended him from the deuouring iawes of obliuion, bul
vouchsafed also to apparrel him in a new sute at your own
charges, wherein he may again more boldly come abroad,
and by your permission retutne to his olde parents, clothed
perhaps not in richer or more costly furniture than it went
from them, but in handsomnes and fashion more answerable
to these times, wherein fashions are so often altered. Let one
word suffice for your encouragement herein : namely^ your
commendable pains in disrobing him of his antike cunositie,
and adorning him with the approoued guise of our stateliest
Englishe termes (not diminishing, but augmenting his arti-
ficial! colours of absolute poesie, deriued from his first parents)
cannot but bee grateful to most mens appetites, who vpon
our experience we know highly to esteem such lofty measures
of sen tenuously composed Tragedies.

How much you shal make me, and the rest of your priuate
Trends beholding vnto you, I list not to discourse : and there-
fore grounding vpon these alledged reasons, that the suppress-
ing of this Tragedie, so worthy for ye presse, were no other
thing then wilfully to defraud your selfe of an vniuersall thank,
your frends of their expectations, and sweete G. of a famous
eternitie. I will cease to doubt of any other pretence to
cloake your bashfulnesse, hoping to read it in print (which
lately lay neglected amongst your papers) at our next ap-
pointed meeting.

I bid you heartely farewell. From Pyrgo in Essex, August
the eight, 1591. Tuns fide et facilitate. GUIL. WEBBE.
It may also be noted that Wilmott dedicated this revised tragedy to two
Essex ladies : one of whom was Lady Anne Grey, the daughter of Lord
Windsor, and the wife of the above-mentioned Henry Grey, Esquire of Pirgo.
That the above R. Wilmott, Clergyman, is the same as the Reviser of the
play appears from the following passage in his Preface.

''Hereupon I have indured some conflicts between reason and judgement,
whether it were convenient for the commonwealth, and the indecorum of my
calling (as some think it) that the memory of Tancred's Tragedy should be
again by my means revised, which the c-ftner I read over, and the more I
considered thereon, the sooner I was won to consent thereunto : calling to
mind that neither the thrice reverend and learned father, M. Beza, was
ashamed in his younger years to send abroad, in his own name, his Tragedy
of Abraham, nor that rare Scot (the scholar of our age) Buchanan, his most
pathetical fe/>tAa." ' Dodsley's Old Plays: ii. 165. Ed. by J. P. Collier, 1825.
If the identity may be considered as established, Wilmott the Poet lived
on till 1619 : when he was succeeded on his death by W. Jackson, in the
Rectory of North Okendon. Newcourt, idem. ii. 447.

No later information concerning W. Webbe than the above letter, has yet
been recovered.


R. ASCHAM. The Scholemafter, . . 3*. 57

G. B. ? The Shippe of Safeguard*, 1569 . . 35

F. C. . ? . . . .35

T. CHURCHYARD. Churchyard's 'Chippes? 1575; Church-
yard's 'Chance,' 1580; Churchyards 'Charge, '1580; &c. 33
M. D. [? Mafter Dyer, i.e., Sir Edward Dyer] . . 33

? DARRELL . ? . . -35


R. EDWARDES. Par. of Dainty Devifes, 1576; Comedies 33
Sir T. ELYOT. The Governor, 1538 . . 42,43

G. GASCOIGNE. Poftes, 1572; The Sleele Glas, &c., 1576. 33

B. GOOGE. Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes, 1563 ; tranf-

lation of Palingenius' Zodiac of Life. 1560. 1565. . 34
SirJ. GRANGE. The Golden Aphroditis, 1577 . . 35

G. HARVEY. . . . . . -35

W. HUNNIS. Paradife of Dainty Devifes, 1576, 1578 . 33
? HYLL ? . . . " . . ,33

E. K. [i.e. EDWARD KIRKE] ... 33, 53

F. K. [? Fr. Kindlemarfh] Par. of Dainty Devifes, 1576, 1578 35
J. LYLY. Euphues, 1579-80 ; Plays . . .46
A. MUNDAY. The Mirrour of Mutabilitie, 1579 ; The

Paine of Pleafure, 1580 . . . -35

T. NORTON. Joint Author of Ferrex and Porrex, 1561 . 33

C. OCKLANDE. Anglorum Pralia, 1580, 1582 . . 30
[? DR. E.] SAND[YS]. Par. of Dainty Devifes, 1576, &c. . 33
E. SPENSER. Shepheards Calender, 1579, 1581, 1586 35, 52, 8l
HENRY, Earl of SURREY. Sonnets, &>c., inTottel's Mifc. 1557 33
T. TUSSER. Five hundred points of Good Hufbandru,

1557-80 ...... 33

THOMAS, Lord VAUX. Sonnetes, &c., in Tottel's Mifc.

1557 ; and Par. of Dainty Devifes, 1576 . . 33

E. VERE, Earl of OXFORD. Unpublifhed Sonnets . . 33

G. WHETSTONE. The Rocke of Regard, 1576 . . 35
R. WILMOTT. Tancred and Gifmund, 1568 . . 35
S. Y. [? M. YLOOP, i.e. M. POOLY in Par. of Dainty Devifes} 35



J. HEYWOOD. Troas, 1559; Thyejles, 1560; Hercules

Furens, 1561 . . . . .34

A. NEVILL. (Edipus, 1563 . . -34

J. STUDLEY. Medea, 1566; Agamemnon, 1566 . . 34


G. TURBERVILLE. Heroical Epijlles, 1567 . . 34

A. GOLDING. Metamorphofes, 1565 , . 34, 51

T. CHURCHYARD. Triflia, 1578 . . . -34

T. DRANT. Satires, 1566; Art of Poetrie, 1567 . . 34


HENRY, Earl of SURREY. Two Books of the* jEneid,' 1557 33
T. PHAER, M.D. <)\rd Books of the* JEneid,' 1558-1562 33, 46-51
T. TWYNE. The remaining ?\rd Books, 1573 . . 34

A.FLEMING. Bucolicks, 1575, in rhyme. His Georgicsw-

ferred to at>. 55 appeared in 1589 . . 34, 55

A Difcourfe of Engli/h Poetrie


jjPart from the exceflive rarity of this work, two
copies of it only being known ; it deferves
permanent republication as a good example
of the bed form of Effay Writing of its time ; and as
one of the feries of Poetical Criticifms before the ad-
vent of Shakefpeare as a writer, the ftudy of which is
fo effential to a right underflanding of our befl Verfe.
Although Poetry is the mofl ethereal part of
Thought and Expreffion ; though Poets muft be born
and cannot be made: yet is there an art of Poefy;
fet forth long ago by Horace but varying with differ-
ing languages and countries, and even with different
ages in the life of the fame country. In our tongue
Milton only excepted there is nothing approaching,
either in the average merit of the Journeymen or the
fuperlative excellence of the few Mafler-Craftfmen, the
Poefy of the Elizabethan age. Hence the value of
thefe early Poetical Criticifms. Their difcuflion of
principles is mofl helpful to all readers in the difcern-
ment of the fubtle beauties of the numberlefs poems
of that era : while for thofe who can, and who will ;
they will be found fingularly fuggeflive in the training
of their own Power of Song, for the inflrudlion and
delight of this and future generations.

A Cambridge graduate ; the private tutor, for fome
two or three years pafl, to Edward and Thomas Sul-

8 Introduftion.

yard, the fons of Edward Sulyard Efquire, of Flem-
yngs, fituated in Effex, fome thirty miles diftant from
London . our Author gave his leifure hours to the
fludy of Latin and Englifh poetry.

He had acquainted himfelf with our older Poets,
and with the contemporary verfe: and, thinking for
himfelf, he endeavoured to fee exactly what Englifh
poetry actually was, and what it might and mould be-
come. Doubtlefs in his walks in the large park fur-
rounding the Old Manor Houfe this fubject often oc-
cupied his thoughts, and he fat down to commit his
opinions to the prefs, in the prefence and quietude of
a large and fair landfcape ftretching far away fouth-
ward beyond the Thames into Kent, diverfified with
the fpires of many churches and the mafts of many
paffing fhips : and all illuminated with the glow and
glory of the fummer evenings of 1586.

Webbe was as much affected with the ' immoderate
modefty' with which, five years later, he charged Wil-
mot, as any of the writers of that age. He dreads, at
/. 55, the unauthorized publication of his verfion of
the Georgics, and he muft have been moved deeply
by ' the rude multitude of rufticall Rymers, who will
be called Poets' before he ventured to advocate in
print ' the reformation of our Englifh Verfe,' i.e., the
abandonment of Rhyme for Metre.

He calls his work ' a Height fomewhat compyled for
recreation, in the intermyffions of my daylie bufmeffe,'
yet it is the mod extenfive piece of Poetical Criticifm
that had hitherto appeared. He had read, for he
quotes at /. 64, G. Gafcoigne's Certayne Notes, &c.,
1575 : alfo Three proper and wittie, familiar Letters,
by Immerito [Edmund Spenfer] and G[abriel H[arvey]
1580, to which he alludes at /. 36. He may have
heard of Sir P. Sidney's Apologie for P0efrie[i$S2],
then circulating in manufcript, or of the young Scotch
King's Reulis and Cautelis of Scottijh Poefic, then being

Introduction. 9

published at Edinburgh. Yet none of thefe is fo
lengthy, nor deals with the fame extent of fubjefl,
nor is illuflrated by original examples, as is this

Though the book is an honeft one, faithfully repre-
fenting the author's robufl mind ; it was written under
the ftrong influence of three works : Afcham's Schole-
mafter, 1570; Edwardes' Paradife of Dainty Dei'ifes,
1576; and Spenfer's Shepherdes Calender, anonymoufly
publifhed, without the author's confent, by E. K. [i.e.,
Edward Kirke, as is generally believed] in 1579. He
follows Afcham as to the origin of Rhyme; and alfo in
his error as to SimmiasRhodiasat/. 57,&c. He quotes
W. Hunnis' poem at p. 66, from the collection of
Edwardes. It is alfo Webbe's great merit as a lover
and judge of poetry, that he inftinclively fixes upon
the Shepherdes Calender (never openly acknowledged
by Spenfer in his lifetime) as the revelation of a great
poet, as great an Englifh Poet indeed, as had yet ap-
peared. That Paftoral Poem gave Webbe a higher
reverence for Spenfer than his great Allegory breeds
refpect for him in many, now-a-days.

The facility of Rhyme, at a time when there were many
wonderfully facile Rhymers, induced Afcham, Webbe,
and many others to feek after a more difficult form of
Englifh verfe. Claffical feet Webbe himfelf experi-
enced to be a 'troublefome and vnpleafant peece of
labour,' fo he fought after fomething more adapted to
the nature of the language, 'fome perfect platforme or
Profodia of verifying.' Blank verfe would have fatif-
fied him, but he did not recognife its merits in Surrey's
tranflation of the sEneid. He is, however, warm in
his praife of Phaer's verfion of that work in hexame-
ters : and gives us three pieces of reformed verfe of
his own coinage ; two in hexameters, and one in

Finally, Webbe wrote 'thefe fewe leaues' 'to ftirre

io Introduction.

vppe fome other of meete abilitie, to beflowe trauell
in this matter.' His wifh had been anticipated. Al-
ready a Matter Critic was at work we know not for
certainty whether it was George Puttenham, or who
elfe who, beginning to write in 1585, publifhed in
1589 The Arte of Englijh Poefie: which is the largefl
and ablefl criticifm of Englifh Poefy that appeared in
print, during the reign of Elizabeth.

in the $utthor'$ lifetime.

I. As a feparate publication.

1. 1586. London. I vol. 410. See title on oppofite page.

Of the two copies known, the one here re-
printed is among the Malone books in the
Bodleian. The other pafled from hand to
hand at the following fales : always increafmg
in price.
1773. APR. 8. Mr. West's sale, No. 1856, los. 6d.,

to Mr. Pearson.
1778. APR. 22. Mr. Pearson's sale, No. 1888, .3, 55.,

to Mr. Stevens.
1800. MAY 19. Mr Stevens' sale, No. 1128, &, 8s.,

to the Duke of Roxburghe.
1812. JUNE 2. The Roxburghe sale, No. 3168, ,64,

to the Marquis of Blandford.

3fc0tte$ since the ^utljor'.c; beatl).

I. As a feparate publication.

3. 1870. DEC. I. London. EngliJJi Reprints-, fee title at

1 vol. 8vo. /. I.

II. With other works.

2. 1815. London. Ancient Critical E/ays, Ed. by J. Haflc-

2 vols. 4to. wood. A Difcourfe of Englijh Poetrie oc-

cupies Vol. ii., pp. 13-95.


li/h Poetrie.

Together, with the Authors
iudgment, touching the re-
formation of our Eng-
lifh Verfe.

By William Webbe

Jmprinted at London,

by lohn Charlewood for

Robert VValley



To the right vvorfhip=

full, learned, and moft gentle Gentle-

man, my verie good Master, Ma.

Edward Suliard, Efquire. W. W.

wyfheth his harts defire.

|Ay it pleafe you Syr, thys ma
more to beare with my rudenes, in
prefenting vnto your viewe, an other
flender conceite, of my fimple capa'
city: wherin although I am not able
to bring you anie thing, which is
meete to detains you from your more ferious matters:
yet vppon my knowledge of your former courtefy and
your fauourable countenaunce towardes all enterprifes
of Learning, I dare make bold to craue your accustomed
patience, in turning ouerfome of thefefewe leaues, which
I Jhall account a greater recompence, then the wry ting
thereof may deferue.

i 4 The Epiftle.

The fir me hope of your wonted gentlenes, not any good
lyking of myne owne labour, made me thus prefumptu-
oujly to craue your worships patronage for my poore
booke. A pretty aunfwere is reported by fame to be made
by Appelles to King Alexander, who (in difport) taking
vp one of his penfilles to drawe a line, and asking t/ie
Paynters iudgment of his draught, It is doone (quoth
Apelles) like a King: meaning indeede it was drawen as
hepleafed, but was nothing leffe then good workmanshippe.
Myfelfe in like fort, taking vppon me, to make a draught
of Englifh Poetry, and requejling your worfliyps cenfure
of the fame, you wyll perhaps gyue me thys verdift, It
was doone like a Scholler, meaning, as I could, but
indeede more like to a learner, then one through grounded
in Poeticall workmanship.

Alexander in drawing his lyne, leaned fometime too
hard, otherwhyle^ too foft, as neuer hauing beene appren-
tice to the Arte: I in drawing this Poeticall difcourfe,
make it fome where tojlraight (leaning out the cheefe col-
lour es and ornaments of Poetry) in an other place to wydc
(fluffing in peeces little pertinent to true Poetry) as one
neuer acquainted wyth the learned Mufes. What then ?
as he being a king, myght meddle in what Scyence him
It/led, though therein Jiee had no skyll: fo I beeing a
learner, wyll try e my cunning in fome parts of Learning,
though neuer fofimple.

Nowe, as for my faucie preffing vppon your expected
fauor in crauing your iudgment, I befeech you let me

The Epiftle. 15

make thys excufe: that whereas true Gcntilitie did
neuer withdrawe her louing affeclion from Lady Learn-
ing, so I am perfwaded, that your worshyppe cannot
chufe, but continue your wonted fauourable benignitie
towardes all the indeuourers to learning, of "which
corporation I doo indeede profeffe my felfe one fillie

For fith the wryters of all ages, haue fought as an un-
doubted Bulwarke and stedfajl fauegarde the patronage
of Nobilitye, (a JJiielde as fure as can be to learning)
wherin toJJirowde andfafelye place their feuerall inuen-
tions: why should not Ifeekefome harbour for my poore
trauell to reste and Jlaye vppon, beeing of it felfe vnable
to JJiyft the carping cauilles and byting f comes of lewde
controllers ?

And in trueth, where myght I rather choofe a fure
defence and readye refuge for the fame, then where I fee
perfecte Gentility e, and nobleneffe of minde, to be fajle
lynched with excellencie of learning and affable courtefye ?

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