Michael Drayton’s conversational history and critique of English poetry honours Chaucer, Surrey, Wyatt, Spenser, Sidney, Warner, Marlowe, Nashe, Jonson, Alexander, Drummond and (as translators) Chapman, Sylvester, and Sandys. Gower, Gascoigne, Churchyard and Daniel receive somewhat less favourable mention. Drayton’s friend Henry Reynolds, to whom the poem is addressed, himself wrote on poetry in Mythomystes. Wherein a Short Survay is Taken of True Poesy, London, 1632, and saluted ‘the smooth and artfull Arcadia’ (p. 8).
Drayton’s praise of ‘plenteous’ English and its parity with Latin and Greek, and the censure of Lyly’s style, at least partly derive from, and pay tribute to, The Defence of Poetry (MP, pp. 118, 119).
Where Harvey (No. 19) had recommended Sidney for prose and Spenser for verse, Drayton (like Richard Carew, No. 34), finds Sidney a ‘Heroe for numbers, and for Prose’. He seems, nevertheless, to accord Spenser pre-eminence. (For another instance of Drayton’s response to Sidney, see Introduction, p. 34.)
Grave morrall Spencer after these came on
Then whom I am perswaded there was none
Since the blind Bard his Iliads up did make,
Fitter a task like that to undertake,
To set downe boldly, bravely to invent,
In all high knowledge, surely excellent.
The noble Sidney, with this last arose,
That Heroe for numbers, and for Prose.
That throughly pac’d our language as to show,
The plenteous English hand in hand might goe