Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fraunce, Abraham
FRAUNCE, ABRAHAM (fl. 1587–1633), poet, was a native of Shropshire, and is said by Oldys to have been educated at Shrewsbury School, but his name not to be found in the register. Sir Philip Sidney, according to the same authority, interested himself in his education, and sent him to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he became a pensioner 20 May 1575, a Lady Margaret scholar 8 Nov. 1578, and a fellow in 1580. He proceeded B.A. in 1579–80 and M.A. in 1583, and in 1580 acted in Dr. Legge's play, ‘Richardus Tertius,’ which was produced at the college. Having been called to the bar at Gray's Inn, he practised in the court of the marches of Wales. So long as Sidney lived he seems to have favoured Fraunce, and when Sidney died in 1586, Sidney's sister Mary, countess of Pembroke, took him under her patronage. To her he dedicated nearly all his works, one of which he called ‘The Countess of Pembroke's Ivychurch,’ from the name of one of his patroness's residences, and another ‘The Countess of Pembroke's Emanuel.’ Her husband Henry, earl of Pembroke, president of the council of Wales, who also treated the poet with unvarying kindness, recommended him to Lord Burghley in 1590 for the office of queen's solicitor in the court of the marches. He seems to have been an officer of that court as late as 1633, when he celebrated in verse the marriage of Lady Margaret Egerton with Sir Gervase Cutler. The lay was daughter of John Egerton, first earl of Bridgewater [q. v.], who was appointed president of the council of Wales in 1631. Fraunce claims to have paid poetical honours to all the earl's daughters.
Fraunce proved himself one of the most obstinate champions of the school which sought to naturalise classical metres in English verse. All his poems are in hexameters, and all are awkward and unreadable. Yet Fraunce gained the highest commendation from his contemporaries. As the protégé of Sir Philip Sidney, he was introduced at an early age into Sidney's circle of literary friends, which included Spenser, Sir Edward Dyer, and Gabriel Harvey. With Spenser he was very intimate, and he was able to quote, in his ‘Arcadian Rhetorike,’ 1588, the ‘Faerie Queene’ before its publication. Spenser refers to him in ‘Colin Clout's come home again’ (1595) as ‘Corydon, … hablest wit of most I know this day,’ a reference to Fraunce's translation from Virgil of Corydon's lamentation for Alexis. Thomas Watson was his closest literary associate. Both translated separately Tasso's ‘Aminta,’ and Fraunce translated Watson's Latin poem ‘Amintas.’ Nashe, in his epistle prefixed to Greene's ‘Arcadia,’ or ‘Menaphon’ (1589), writes of ‘the excellent translation of Master Thomas Watson's sugared “Amintas”’ by ‘sweet Master France.’ Fraunce is apparently mentioned in Clerke's ‘Polimanteia’ (1595) among the leaders of English contemporary poetry under the disguise of ‘Watson's heire.’ Lodge, in his ‘Phillis’ (1593), wrote of Fraunce and Watson as ‘forebred brothers, who in their swan-like songs Amintas wept.’ Similarly Spenser refers to them jointly when, in the ‘Faerie Queene,’ he speaks of ‘Amyntas' wretched fate, to whom sweet poets' verse hath given endless date.’ Gabriel Harvey, in his ‘Foure Letters’ (1592), commends Fraunce and others to ‘the lovers of the muses … for their studious endeavours commendably employed in enriching and polishing their native tongue.’ George Peele, in his ‘Honour of the Garter’ (1593), describes ‘our English Fraunce’ as ‘a peerless sweet translator of our time.’ Meres, in his ‘Palladis Tamia’ (1598), names Fraunce with Sidney, Spenser, and others as ‘the best for pastoral.’ Ben Jonson, with characteristic brusqueness, told Drummond of Hawthornden ‘that Abram Francis in his English hexameters was a fool’ (Conversations, p. 4).
Fraunce's earliest published work was the translation of Thomas Watson's ‘Amyntas,’ 1585, which he entitled ‘The Lamentations of Amintas for the Death of Phillis; paraphrastically translated out of Latine into English Hexameteres,’ London, by John Wolfe for Thomas Newman and Thomas Gubbin, 1587; by Walter Charlewood, 1588. It was also republished in 1589, and an edition dated 1596 belongs to Sir Charles Isham. It is in the form of eleven eclogues, each called a ‘day.’ In 1591 appeared ‘The Countesse of Pembrokes Yuychurch, conteining the affectionate life and unfortunate death of Phillis and Amyntas. That in a Pastorall: this in a Funerall: both in English Hexameters,’ London, by Thomas Orwyn for William Ponsonby. In the dedication to the Countess of Pembroke, Fraunce writes: ‘I haue somewhat altered S. Tassoes Italian and M. Watsons Latine “Amyntas” to make them both one English.’ The pastoral which opens the volume is translated directly from Tasso's ‘Aminta.’ The second part, ‘Phillis Funeral,’ is a republication of Fraunce's older translation of Watson's ‘Amyntas’—‘The Lamentations of Amintas.’ The eclogues here number twelve, the last one of the earlier edition being divided into two, and there are a few other alterations in the concluding lines. Robert Greene, in the dedicatory epistle to his ‘Philomela: the Lady Fitzwaters Nightingale,’ 1615, justifies his own title by Fraunce's example in giving to his ‘Lamentations of Amintas’ the title of ‘The Countess of Pembrokes Ivychurch.’ There follow in the same volume, all in hexameters: ‘The Lamentation of Corydon for the loue of Alexis, verse for verse out of Latine,’ from Virgil's Eclogue II (reprinted from Fraunce's ‘Lawier's Logike,’ 1588), and ‘The Beginning of Heliodorus, his Aethiopical History.’ In 1592 was published ‘The Third Part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Iuychurch, entituled Amintas Dale, wherein are the most conceited tales of the Pagan Gods in English Hexameters, together with the ancient descriptions and philosophical explications,’ London, for Thomas Woodcocke. This was dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke, is in both verse and prose, and resembles in plan Sidney's ‘Arcadia.’ A companion volume to this series was ‘The Countess of Pembrokes Emanuel: conteining the Natiuity, Passion, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ, togeather with certaine Psalmes of Dauid. All in English Hexameters,’ London, for William Ponsonby, 1591; also dedicated (in two hexameter lines) to the Countess Mary. Eight psalms are reduced to hexameters. Dr. Grosart reprinted this volume in his ‘Fuller Worthies' Miscellanies,’ vol. iii., 1872.
Fraunce's other works were: 1. ‘Abrahami Fransi Insignium, Armorum, Emblematum, Hieroglyphicorum, et Symbolorum, quæ in Italia Imprese nominantur, explicatio: Quæ Symbolicæ Philosophicæ postrema pars est,’ London, 1588. Dedicated to Robert Sidney, Sir Philip's brother. The original manuscript is in Bodleian MS. Rawl. Poet. 85. 2. ‘The Arcadian Rhetorike, or the Precepts of Rhetorike made plaine by examples Greeke, Latin, English, Italian, French, Spanish, out of Homer's Ilias and Odissea, Virgil's Æglogs, Georgikes & Aeneis, Songs & Sonets, Torquato Tassoes Goffredo, Aminta, Torrismondo Salust his Iudith, and both his semaines Boscan & Garcilassoes sonets and Æglogs,’ London, by Thomas Orwin, 1588 (entered in Stationers' Registers 11 June). A copy is in the Bodleian; none is in the British Museum. Fraunce here quotes the unpublished ‘Faerie Queene.’ 3. ‘The Lawiers Logike, exemplifying the praecepts of Logike by the practice of the Common lawe,’ London, 1588 (entered in Stationers' Registers 20 May 1588, when Fraunce's own name appears with the licensers, the bishop of London and the warden of the company). Dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke in rhymed hexameters. Quotations from Latin and English poets appear in the text, and Fraunce appends Virgil's second eclogue in the original and in his own hexametrical translation, afterwards reprinted at the end of the ‘Ivychurch,’ as well as analyses of the Earl of Northumberland's case and of Stanford's crown pleas. A manuscript draft of this work belonged to Heber with a dedication to Sir Edward Dyer, and a different title, ‘The Sheapheardes Logike: containin the praecepts of that art put down by Ramus.’
Fraunce also contributed to Allot's ‘English Parnassus’ (1600), and five of his songs appear at the close of Sir Philip Sidney's ‘Astrophel and Stella,’ 1591. His epithalamium on the marriage of Lady Magdalen Egerton and Sir Gervase Cutler (1633) was in 1852, according to Joseph Hunter, at Campsall, Yorkshire, among the papers of Dr. Nathaniel Johnston of Pontefract, but cannot now be found. A work called ‘Frauncis Fayre Weather’ was licensed to William Wright, 25 Feb. 1590–1, by the Stationers' Company, and J. P. Collier suggested that this might prove a lost work by Fraunce (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 44).
[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 119, 546; Warton's English Poetry; Corser's Collectanea; Collier's Bibliographical Cat. i. 294–5; Langbaine's Dramatic Poets with Oldys's MS. notes in Brit. Mus. Cat. C. 28 g. 1; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus. MS. Addit. 24488, ff. 349–51; Gabriel Harvey's Works, ed. Grosart, i. 217; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. xi. 378, xii. 179; Hazlitt's Bibliographical Handbook and Miscellanies; Arber's Stationers' Reg. ii.; Grosart's Fuller Worthies' Miscellanies, iii; works cited above.]