1
Before the Laureateship: Jonson and Davenant

POETRY is very nearly as old as language, and from the remotest antiquity it has been employed to celebrate the deeds and virtues of the great. It has counselled in sorrow, rejoiced in fortune, triumphed in victory and mourned in defeat. By poetry we remember the names of kings dead five thousand years ago, their tombs long since crumbled, their very cities obliterated. The word of a king may determine life or death, but the word of a poet gives immortality.

It is a little surprising, therefore, that the notion of keeping a salaried poet permanently on the royal household staff seems to have occurred to none of the kings of antiquity. Many individual poets have received honours, pensions, gifts and patronage from the monarchs they served, but until the reign of Charles II in England there was nothing closely comparable with our office of Poet Laureate. In no age, and no country, until the death of Sir William Davenant on April 7th, 1668, was the passing of one court poet considered the occasion for the appointment of another with the same duties and the same emolument. It was left for the nation that has produced the greatest poetry of the world to establish the highest office to which a professional poet can aspire. And to this office, on April 13th, 1668, John Dryden was appointed.

One cannot, however, begin quite so baldly as that, especially as the Patent formally issued on August 18th, 1670, confirming Dryden in office, mentions specifically certain of his 'predecessors,' including 'Sir Geoffrey Chaucer, knight,' 'Sir John Gower, knight,' and several others, some of whom were not even poets.

Dryden's patent of 1670 appointed him Historiographer Royal and served to confirm the existing Laureateship appointment. It bestowed on him the several rights and privileges formerly enjoyed by those who held either of the offices before him, but with magnificent vagueness forebore to notice that 'Sir Geoffrey Chaucer, knight' (to look no

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The Poets Laureate
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 11
  • I - The Poets Laureate 13
  • 1 - Before the Laureateship: Jonson and Davenant 15
  • 2 - The First Laureate: John Dryden 21
  • 3 - Thomas Shadwell 32
  • 4 - Nahum Tate 44
  • 5 - Nicholas Rowe 55
  • 6 - Laurence Eusden 62
  • 7 - Colley Cibber 68
  • 8 - William Whitehead 79
  • 9 - Thomas Warton 92
  • 10 - Henry James Pye 109
  • 11- Robert Southey 124
  • 12 - William Wordsworth 145
  • 13 - Alfred, Lord Tennyson 153
  • 14 - Alfred Austin 166
  • 15 - Robert Bridges 178
  • 16 - John Masefield 185
  • II - Selections from the Works Of the Poets Laureate 193
  • Ben Jonson 195
  • Sir William Davenant 198
  • John Dryden 200
  • Thomas Shadwell 204
  • Nahum Tate 208
  • Nicholas Rowe 213
  • Laurence Eusden 220
  • Colley Cibber 225
  • William Whitehead 230
  • Thomas Warton 235
  • Henry James Pye 243
  • Robert Southey 248
  • William Wordsworth 254
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson 260
  • Alfred Austin 267
  • Robert Bridges 272
  • John Masefield 277
  • Select Bibliography 281
  • Index 285
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