Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barnes, Barnabe
BARNES, BARNABE (1569?–1609), poet, a younger son of Dr. Richard Barnes [q. v.], bishop of Durham, was born in Yorkshire about the year 1569. He became a student of Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1586, and left the university without taking his degree. In 1591 he accompanied the Earl of Essex into Normandy, to join the French forces against the Prince of Parma. He must have been in England again in 1593, when he published (or perhaps printed for private circulation) the collection of love-poems on which his fame rests. Of this volume only one copy (in the Duke of Devonshire's library) is known to exist. The title is ‘Parthenophil and Parthenophe. Sonnettes, Madrigals, Elegies, and Odes. To the right noble and vertuous gentleman, M. William Percy, Esquier, his dearest friend.’ The date and printer's name are cut away; but we find the book entered on the registers of the Stationers' Company on 10 May 1593 (Arber, Transcripts, ii. 298). Harvey, in his ‘New Letter of Notable Contents,’ dated 16 Sept. 1593, thanks the publisher Wolf for the present of ‘Parthenophil’ and other books. Barnes had sided with Harvey against Nash, and had contributed a strong sonnet, ‘Nash, or the Confuting Gentleman,’ to ‘Pierce's Supererogation,’ 1593. Nash, that unrivalled master of invective, was not slow to respond. In ‘Have with you to Saffron Walden,’ 1596, he accuses Barnes of cowardice in the face of the enemy, and of stealing ‘a nobleman's steward's chayne at his lord's installing at Windsor.’ If the evidence of Nash may be believed, it was owing to Harvey's encouragement that Barnes's ‘Parthenophil’ saw the light. Before making Harvey's acquaintance, he did not ‘so much as know how to knock at a printing-house dore,’ but ‘presently uppon it, because he would be noted, getting a strange payre of Babilonian britches … and so went up and down towne and shewd himselfe in the presence at court, where he was generally laught out by the noblemen and ladies.’ Allusion is made to Barnes, under the name of Barnzy, in Thomas Campion's ‘Observations in the Art of English Poesie,’ 1602. In the sixth chapter, ‘Of the English Trochaick Verse,’ the author (who was a close friend of Nash) introduces some epigrams of his own, in one of which he hints that Harvey had been too familiar with Barnes's wife—in all probability a piece of idle scandal. Previously in his ‘Poemata’ Campion had written an epigram against Barnes, in which he held him up to ridicule as a braggart and coward. Bastard, in ‘Chrestoleros,’ 1598, has this couplet:
Barneus' verse, unless I do him wrong,
Is like a cuppe of sacke, heady and strong.
In the ‘Scourge of Villanie,’ 1599, Marston makes a satirical allusion to ‘Parthenophil.’
Barnes's second work appeared in 1595 under the title of ‘A Divine Centurie of Spirituall Sonnets.’ According to the fashion of the time he attached, or pretended to attach, more importance to these sonnets than to his volume of love-poetry. Posterity, as usual, has taken a different view. To Florio's ‘Worlde of Wordes,’ 1598, Barnes prefixed some complimentary verses. At Oxford Florio had been Barnes's servitor (Malone's appendix to Love's Labour's Lost). In 1606 Barnes published in folio a dull treatise, entitled ‘Offices, enabling privat Persons for the speciall service of all good Princes and Policies.’ Prefixed to this work (or to some copies of it) are verses by William Percy, the sonnetteer, and John Ford, the dramatist, to whose ‘Fame's Memoriall’ Barnes paid a similar compliment. Our author's last work was a tragedy, published in 1607, ‘The Divil's Charter: a Tragœdie conteining the Life and Death of Pope Alexander the Sixt.’ For the most part, the ‘Divil's Charter’ is very unpleasant reading, often tedious and sometimes nauseous; but there are powerful passages, and Dyce thought that from one scene Shakespeare drew a hint for stage business in the ‘Tempest.’ Shakespearean commentators have pointed out a striking parallelism between a passage of Barnes's play and the ‘pitiful mummery’ (by whomsoever introduced) in ‘Cymbeline,’ v. 4. Barnes also wrote a play on the subject of the ‘Battle of Evesham’ (others say ‘Hexham’), which was never printed. The autograph manuscript is said to have been sold at the sale of Isaac Reed's books and manuscripts in 1809; but we find no mention of it in the sale-catalogues, and its present possessor is unknown. From the registers of St. Mary-le-Bow, Durham, it appears that Barnes was buried in December 1609.
As a sonnetteer and lyrist Barnes takes high rank among the minor Elizabethans. His sonnets, fervent and richly coloured, suffer from over-elaboration and conceit; but these were the faults of the age. His imagery is not of the cheap, commonplace character affected by Watson, but testifies to rare imaginative power joined to the gift of true poetic expression. The madrigals, fine and free (but unfortunately too few), prove him to have been a born singer.[Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), ii. 47; Parthenophill and the Spiritual Sonnetts were edited, with an introduction and notes, by Dr. Grosart in 1875. In the second volume of Heliconia, 1815, Thomas Park had published the Spirituall Sonnetts; and Parthenophil is included in the fifth volume of Mr. Arber's English Garner, 1882. The best criticism on Barnes is an article by Prof. Dowden in the Academy of 2 Sept. 1876.]