Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davies, John (1565?-1618)

DAVIES, JOHN (1565?–1618), of Hereford, poet and writing-master, was born at Hereford about 1565. Wood states that he was educated at Oxford University, and among the poems prefixed to ‘Microcosmos,’ 1603, is a copy of Latin verses by Robert Burhill [q. v.], beginning

Oxoniæ vates cum sis, Herefordia quare,
Davisi, in titulo pristina scripta tuo?
Crede mihi, doctam non urbem tale pigebit
Ingenuum in titulo nomen habere suo.

From a poetical address ‘To my much honoured and intirely beloued patronesse, the most famous vniversitie of Oxford,’ published among the poems appended to ‘Microcosmos,’ we learn that he resided for a time at Oxford, pursuing his occupation of writing-master, and two of his sonnets are in praise of Magdalen College, where he seems to have had many pupils. But it is clear, both from the address to his ‘patronesse’ and from the sonnets, that he was not a member of the university. Although he attained high fame as a writing-master, and his pupils were drawn from the noblest families in the land, Davies assures us that it was difficult for him to gain a comfortable livelihood. The Earl of Northumberland's book of household expenses for 1607 records the payment of 40s. ‘to Mr. Davyes, the writer’ (Hist. MSS. Comm., 6th Rep., 229). In 1608 Davies was living in the parish of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, London (Hunter, Chorus Vatum), and in January 1612–13 his first wife, Mary Croft, by whom he had a son Sylvanus, was buried in the church of St. Dunstan, where there is a monument to her with memorial verses by her husband. He took a second wife, Dame Juliana Preston, a widow, in 1613, and in the marriage license, dated 19 July 1613, he is stated to be ‘about forty-eight.’ On 25 May 1614 letters of administration were issued from the prerogative court of Canterbury to administer his second wife's estate. His own will (first printed by the Camden Society) is dated 29 June 1618, at which time he was residing at St. Martin's Lane. He desired in his will to be buried near his first wife, in the church of St. Dunstan, and there he was buried on 6 July 1618. Mention is made of a third wife, Margaret, in the will. Arthur Wilson, who was one of his pupils, states that Davies was a Roman catholic (Peck, Desiderata Curiosa, p. 461). Two of his brothers were also writing-masters.

Davies was a very voluminous and somewhat tedious writer. His first work, published in 1602, was a philosophical poem, entitled ‘Mirum in Modum. A Glimpse of Gods Glorie and the Soules Shape,’ 4to, dedicated to William, earl of Pembroke, Sir Robert Sidney, kt., and ‘the right right worshipfull Edward Herbert of Mountgomery, Esquire,’ afterwards Lord Herbert of Cherbury. In 1603 was published at Oxford ‘Microcosmos. The Discovery of the Little World, with the Government thereof,’ 4to, 2nd edit. 1605. Prefixed are dedicatory sonnets to the king and queen, ‘A Request to the City of Hereford,’ and other matter, including several copies of Latin and English verse in commendation of the author; then follows a long ‘preface’ in verse, addressed to the king, which is succeeded by a poetical address headed ‘Cambria, to the high and mighty, Henry by the grace of God Prince of Wales.’ The lengthy poem ‘Microcosmos’ is a rambling treatise on physiological and psychological subjects. Appended to ‘Microcosmos’ are a poem entitled ‘An Extasie,’ several sonnets (and short poems) dedicated to distinguished patrons, an English poem by Nicholas Deeble, ‘In loue and affection of Maister Iohn Dauies … and admiration of his excellence in the Arte of Writing,’ and some commendatory verses by Ed. Lapworth. In 1605 appeared ‘Humours Heau'n on Earth: with the Ciuile Warres of Death and Fortune. As also the Triumph of Death: or, the Picture of the Plague, according to the Life; as it was in Anno Domini 1603,’ 8vo, with a copy of dedicatory verses to Davies's pupil, Algernon, lord Percy, and another to the Ladies Dorothy and Lucy Percy. A copy in the Grenville Library (dated 1609) contains a manuscript dedicatory epistle (in verse) to the Earl of Northumberland. ‘Through precisenesse of the chaplaines allowed to allowe bookes’ or ‘throughe ignorance or causlesse feare’ on the part of the authorities, ‘Davies could not get this epistle allowed.’ The poem on the plague is vividly written, but (like all Davies's work) is too prolix. In 1606, on the occasion of the visit of Christian IV to England, Davies published ‘Bien Venv. Greate Britaines Welcome to hir Greate Friendes and Deere Brethren the Danes.’ His next poem ‘רהדה Summa Totalis; or, All in All, and the same for ever,’ 1607, 4to, dedicated to Lord Ellesmere and ‘my good Lady and Mistresse,’ the Countess of Derby, was intended as a continuation of ‘Mirum in Modum.’ In 1609 appeared a sacred poem, ‘The Holy Roode, or Christs Crosse; containing Christ Crucified, described in Speaking-picture,’ 4to, dedicated to the Countess of Derby and her three daughters. The title-page is undated, but the imprint at the end of the volume gives the date 1609. Prefixed are commendatory verses by Michael Drayton, and a couplet by ‘Edw. Herbert, knight’ (afterwards Lord Herbert of Cherbury). To 1610 or 1611 belongs the miscellaneous undated collection entitled ‘Wittes Pilgrimage (by Poeticall Essaies) through a World of Amorous Sonnets, Soule-passions, and other Passages, diuine, philosophicall, morall, poeticall, and politicall,’ 4to, dedicated to the Earl of Montgomery and Sir James Hays, knight. The amatory sonnets in this collection are Davies's most inspired productions. About the same date appeared ‘The Scourge of Folly. Consisting of satyricall Epigramms and others in Honor of many noble and worthy Persons of our Land. Together with a pleasant (though discordant) descant vpon most English Prouerbes, and others,’ 12mo. On the title-page is an illustration of Wit scourging Folly, who is mounted on the back of Time. The epigrams, which number three hundred, have little merit, but are interesting from the notices that they afford of contemporary writers. One is addressed ‘To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare’ (No. 159), and there are epigrams to Daniel, Ben Jonson, Marston, Hall, Fletcher, and others. The sonnets in praise of ‘worthy persons’ show that Davies was well acquainted with many of the most exalted personages of the age. At the end of the volume is a satire headed

Papers Complaint, compil'd in ruthfull Rimes
Against the Paper-spoylers of these Times,

with dedicatory verses to Thomas Rant, counsellor-at-law. It is valuable as testifying to the popularity of Shakespeare's ‘Venus and Adonis,’ and for its comments on Nashe, Gabriel Harvey, Jonson, Dekker, and others. The satire was republished in 1625, under the title of ‘A Scourge for Paper-persecutors,’ with a continuation by A[braham] H[olland]. In 1612 Davies published ‘The Muse's Sacrifice, or Divine Meditations,’ 12mo, dedicated to Lucy, countess of Bedford, Mary, countess-dowager of Pembroke, and Elizabeth, lady Carey. The sacred poems are followed by ‘Rights of the Living and the Dead,’ in which occurs the fine poem describing ‘The Picture of an Happy Man.’ Prince Henry, who had been a pupil of Davies, died in 1613, and the poet expressed his sorrow in ‘The Mvses Teares for the losse of their Hope; Heroick and Nere-too-much praised Henry, Prince of Wales,’ &c., 4to. In William Browne's ‘The Shepheards Pipe,’ 1614, 8vo, there is an ‘eclogue’ by Davies, to whom Browne afterwards paid a high compliment in the second song of the second book of ‘Britannia's Pastorals,’ 1616. Davies's next work was ‘A Select Second Hvsband for Sir Thomas Overburie's Wife, now a Matchlesse Widow,’ 1616, 8vo, dedicated to William, earl of Pembroke, to which are appended elegies on Overbury, a poem entitled ‘Speculum Proditori,’ and ‘The Conclusion to Sir Thomas Overbury.’ In 1617 he published his last work, ‘Wit's Bedlam,’ a collection of miscellaneous verses. Malone, Brydges, and others have quoted from this volume, but no copy can at present be traced. Commendatory verses by Davies are prefixed to William Parry's ‘A new and large Discourse of the Trauels of Sir Anthony Sherley, knight,’ 1601; Joshua Sylvester's ‘Du Bartas,’ 1605, 1633; John Melton's ‘A Sixe-folde Politician,’ 1609; Dekker's ‘Lanthorne and Candlelight,’ 1607; Rowland Vaughan's ‘Most approved and long experienced Water-Workes,’ 1610; John Guillim's ‘A Display of Heraldrie,’ 1610; John Speed's ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine,’ 1611; Coryate's ‘Crudities,’ 1611; J[ohn] D[ennys]'s ‘The Secrets of Angling,’ 1613; Ravenscroft's ‘Brief Discourse,’ 1614; Taylor's ‘Urania,’ 1615; Captain John Smith's ‘Description of New England,’ 1616; William Browne's ‘Britannia's Pastorals. The Second Booke,’ 1616; Edward Wright's ‘A Description of the Admirable Table of Logarithmes,’ 1616. There is an inscription by Davies beneath a copperplate portrait of Queen Elizabeth (‘Elizabetha Regina Nich. Hillyard delin. et excud.’). Of his ‘Writing Schoolmaster, or the Anatomy of Fair Writing,’ which contains engraved specimen-copies of various styles of handwriting, together with a set of practical directions for learners, the earliest known edition is dated 1633; later editions appeared in 1663 and 1669. Some choice examples of Davies's penmanship are preserved at Penshurst. Fuller judged him to be the most skilful penman of his age. There is a portrait of Davies before his ‘Writing Schoolmaster.’ His works were collected by Dr. Grosart in 1873, 2 vols. 4to.

[Grosart's Introd. to Davies's Works; Hunter's Chorus Vatum; Wood's Athenæ (Bliss); Fuller's Worthies; Corser's Collectanea; Collier's Bibl. Cat.; Hazlitt's Bibl. Collections.]

A. H. B.