Howell’s Devises is dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke, in whose household he was ‘a humble ladies’ man-servant’ who ‘regarded himself virtually as the Herberts’ honorary family versifier’ (Michael Brennan, Literary Patronage in the English Renaissance: The Pembroke Family, London, 1988, p. 74). The invitation to Arcadia to ‘shewe they [=thy] selfe’ has sometimes been interpreted as a call to Sidney to print his work, but at this early date Howell is more likely to be requesting further manuscript exposure. (The ‘stigma of print’ did not, of course, attach to one of Howell’s own social status.)
The importance of Howell’s poem has been well summed up by Dennis Kay: it ‘confirms the existence of the Old Arcadia, suggests the centrality of the Eclogues to its structure, and reinforces the text’s private status as well as implying parallels with Chaucer and Spenser’. Howell ‘anticipates many later readings of the Old Arcadia by indicating that Sidney’s urbane tragicomedy contains a didactic sense and also requires active participation on the reader’s part’ (Kay, pp. 8-9).
Written to a most excellent Booke, full of rare invention
Goe learned booke, and unto Pallas sing,
Thy pleasant tunes that sweetely sownde to hie