Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dowland, John
DOWLAND, JOHN (1563?–1626?), lutenist and composer, is said by Fuller (Worthies, ed. Nichols, ii. 113), on hearsay evidence, to have been born at Westminster. But in his own ‘Pilgrimes Solace’ (1612) is a song dedicated ‘to my louing countreyman, Mr. John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin in Ireland,’ from which it might be understood that the composer was an Irishman. He seems to have been born in 1563, for in his ‘Observations belonging to Lute-playing,’ appended to his son Robert's [q. v.] ‘Varietie of Lute-lessons’ (1610), after mentioning a work by Gerle, which appeared in 1533, he goes on: ‘Myselfe was borne but thirty yeares after Hans Gerle's booke was printed,’ and in the address to the reader in his ‘Pilgrimes Solace’ (1612) he says, ‘I am now entered into the fiftieth yeare of mine age.’ About 1581 he went abroad, proceeding first to France and then to Germany, where he was well received by the Duke of Brunswick and the landgrave of Hesse. At the court of the former he became acquainted with Gregory Howet of Antwerp, and at that of the latter with Alessandrio Orologio—both noted musicians of their day. After spending some months in Germany, Dowland went to Italy, where he was received with much favour at Venice, Padua, Genoa, Ferrara, Florence, and other cities. At Venice in particular he made friends with Giovanni Croce. Luca Marenzio—the greatest madrigal writer of his day—wrote to him from Rome; his letter, dated 13 July 1595, is printed in the prefatory address to Dowland's first ‘Book of Songes.’ Dowland seems to have made several journeys on the continent. He was in England on 8 July 1588, when the degree of Mus. Bac. was conferred on him and Thomas Morley [q. v.] at Oxford. He seems to have received the same degree at Cambridge, some time before 1597, but there is no extant record of it, or of his having ever proceeded Mus. Doc., though he was sometimes called ‘Dr. Dowland’ by his contemporaries. In 1592 he contributed some harmonised psalm-tunes to Este's ‘Psalter.’ He must have gone abroad again, for the album of Johann Cellarius of Nürnberg (1580–1619), written towards the end of the sixteenth century, contains a few bars of his celebrated ‘Lachrymæ,’ signed by him. In this his name is spelt ‘Doland’ (Addit. MS. 27579). In 1596 some lute pieces by him appeared in Barley's ‘New Booke of Tabliture.’ This was apparently unauthorised, for he alludes to ‘diuers lute lessons of mine lately printed without my knowledge, falce and unperfect,’ in the prefatory address to the ‘First Booke of Songes or Ayres of Foure Partes, with Tableture for the Lute,’ which was published by Peter Short in 1597. This collection immediately achieved greater popularity than any musical work which had hitherto appeared in England. A second edition (printed by P. Short, the assignee of T. Morley) appeared in 1600; a third, printed by Humfrey Lownes, in 1606; a fourth in 1608; a fifth in 1613 (Rimbault, Bibliotheca Madrigaliana, p. 9), and the book was reprinted in score by the Musical Antiquarian Society in 1844. It is not difficult to account for its popularity, for its appearance marks a new departure in English music, which eventually led to that peculiarly national product, the glee. Dowland's songs are not madrigals, but simply harmonised tunes; they are not remarkable for contrapuntal skill; their charm and vitality consists entirely in their perfect melodic beauty, which causes them still to be sung more than the compositions of any other Elizabethan composer. In 1598 Dowland contributed a short eulogistic poem to Giles Farnaby's [q. v.] canzonets. In the same year, when he was at the height of his fame, appeared Barnfield's sonnet (sometimes ascribed to Shakespeare), ‘In praise of Musique and Poetrie,’ in which he is celebrated thus:
Dowland to thee is deare; whose heauenly tuch
Vpon the Lute, doeth rauish humaine sense.
In 1599 a sonnet by Dowland appeared prefixed to Richard Allison's ‘Psalms.’ He must have left England in this year, for in 1600 he published the ‘Second Booke of Songs or Ayres, of 2. 4. and 5. parts: With Tableture for the Lute or Orpherian, with the Violl de Gamba,’ on the title-page of which he is described as lutenist to the king of Denmark. The preface to this work, which is dedicated to Lucy, countess of Bedford, is dated ‘From Helsingnoure in Denmarke, the first of June.’ This was followed (in 1603) by the ‘Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires. Newly composed to sing to the Lute, Orpharion, or Viols, and a Dialogue for a base and meane Lute with fiue voices to sing thereto.’ In the dedicatory epistle to this work he alludes to his being still abroad. He was in England in 1605, when he published his extremely rare ‘Lachrymæ, or Seven Teares, figured in seaven passionate Pavans,’ dedicated to Anne of Denmark. It seems from the preface to this that he had been driven back by storms on his return to Denmark, and forced to winter in England (Hawkins, Hist. of Music, iii. 325). He had finally left Denmark in 1609, when he was living in Fetter Lane. He published in this year a translation of the ‘Micrologus’ of Andreas Ornithoparcus, which he dedicated to the Earl of Salisbury. In the translator's address to the reader he promises a work on the lute, which is also alluded to by his son Robert in the preface to his ‘Varietie of Lute-lessons’ (1610). To this latter work John Dowland appended a ‘Short Treatise on Lute-playing.’ Two years later appeared his last work, ‘A Pilgrimes Solace. Wherein is contained Musicall Harmonie of 3. 4. and 5. parts, to be sung and plaid with the Lute and Viols.’ In this he is described as lutenist to Lord Walden (eldest son of the Earl of Suffolk). In the preface he complains of neglect. ‘I haue lien long obscured from your sight, because I receued a kingly entertainment in a forraine climate, which could not attaine to any (though neuer so meane) place at home.’ He had returned to find himself almost forgotten, and a new school of lute-players had arisen who looked upon him as old-fashioned. Peacham, in his ‘Minerva Britanna’ (1612), alludes to this neglect. He compares Dowland to a nightingale sitting on a briar in the depth of winter:
So since (old frend), thy yeares haue made thee white,
And thou for others, hast consum'd thy spring
How few regard thee, whome thou didst delight,
And farre, and neere, came once to heare thee sing:
Ingratefull times, and worthles age of ours,
That let's vs pine, when it hath cropt our flowers.
Sir William Leighton's ‘Teares’ (1614) contains a few compositions by Dowland, but his latter years were passed in obscurity. He was (according to Rimbault) in 1625 a lutenist to Charles I; he died either in that year or early in 1626, as is proved by the warrant to his son Robert, though the exact date and place of his death and burial are unknown. Fuller (Worthies, ed. Nichols, ii. 113) says he was ‘a chearful person … passing his days in lawful meriment;’ but Fuller's account is very inaccurate, and he probably invented the remark to illustrate a well-known anagram which was made on Dowland, and which is to be found in several contemporary books:
Annos ludendo hausi.
Fuller attributes this to one Ralph Sadler of Standon, who was with Dowland at Copenhagen, but it is claimed by Peacham in his ‘Minerva Britanna,’ and is also to be found in Camden's ‘Remains.’ In the preface to his ‘Pilgrimes Solace’ Dowland says that his works had been printed at Paris, Antwerp, Cologne, Nürnberg, Frankfort, Leipzig, Amsterdam, and Hamburg. None of these foreign editions are known, but some of his music occurs in Füllsack and Hildebrand's ‘Ausserlesener Paduanen vnd Galliarden. Erster Theil,’ which appeared at Hamburg in 1607. Much manuscript music by him, chiefly consisting of lute lessons, is to be found in the British Museum, Christ Church (Oxford), Fitzwilliam, and University (Cambridge) Libraries.
[Authorities quoted above; Addit. MS. 5750; Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 460; Burney's Hist. of Music, iii. 136; W. Chappell's Preface to Dowland's First Book of Songs (1844); Mace's Monument, p. 34; information from the Rev. Dr. Luard.]