Open main menu


LANE, JOHN (fl. 1620), verse-writer, lived on terms of intimacy with Milton's father. His friends also included ‘Thomas Windham, Kensfordiæ, Somersettensis,’ Matthew Jeffery master of the choristers at Wells Cathedral, and 'George Hanscombe, Somersettensis.’ The approval he bestows on the Somerset poet Daniel, and his description of his own verse as ‘Lane's Western Poetry,’ in contrast with ‘Tusser's Eastern Husbandry,’ further strengthen the assumption that he was connected by birth with the county of Somerset (cf. Triton's Trumpet, infra). In his dedication of ‘The Squire's Tale’ to the poets laureate of the universities he says that he had had no academic education. He speaks of himself as an old man in 1621, but if he be the John Lane who wrote to the astrologer William Lilly on 6 June 1648 (MS. Ashmol. 423, art. 34), he must have lived to a great age. It is certain that he was personally known to Milton's nephew, Edward Phillips, who was born in 1630. In his ‘Theatrum Poetarum,’ 1675, Phillips describes Lane as ‘a fine old Elizabeth gentleman.’ He left much in manuscript, but published only two pieces: 1. ‘Tom Tel-troths Message and his Pens Complaint. A worke not vnpleasant to be read, nor vnprofitable to be followed. Written by Jo. La., Gent. London, for R. Howell, 1600.’ This poem, in 120 six-line stanzas, is dedicated to Master George Dowse, and is a vigorous denunciation of the vices of Elizabethan society. Lane describes it as ‘the first fruit of my barren brain.’ It was reprinted by the New Shakspere Society (ed. Dr. F. J. Furnivall) in 1876. 2. ‘An Elegie vpon the Death of the high and renowned Princesse our late Soueraigne Elizabeth. By I. L., London, for John Deane, 1603,’ 4to. The Bodleian Library possesses the only copy known.

In 1615 Lane completed in manuscript Chaucer's unfinished ‘Squire's Tale,’ adding ten cantos to the original two, and carrying out the hints supplied by Chaucer with reference to the chief characters, Cambuscan, Camball, Algarsife, and Canace. Lane attempts an archaic style and coins many pseudo-archaisms. The literary quality of his work is very poor. A revised version was finished by Lane in manuscript in 1630, and was dedicated to Queen Henrietta Maria. Copies of both versions are in the Bodleian Library, the earlier being numbered Douce MS. 170, and the later Ashmole MS. 53. The former, although licensed for the press 2 March 1614–15, was printed in 1888 by the Chaucer Society for the first time. The edition is carefully collated with the 1630 version.

Two other manuscript poems, still unprinted, were finished by Lane in 1621. One is ‘Tritons Trumpet to the sweet monethes, husbanded and moralized by John Lane, poeticalie adducinge (1) the Seauen Deadlie Sinnes practised into combustion; (2) their Remedie by their Contraries the Virtues … (3) the execrable Vices punished.’ Phillips refers to the piece under the title of ‘Twelve Months.’ A dedication copy, presented to Charles, prince of Wales, is in the British Museum (MS. Reg. 17 B. xv. Brit. Mus.). On fol. 179 Lane refers admiringly to the elder Milton's skill in music. Another manuscript copy is at Trinity College, Cambridge (O. ii. 68). The last work left by Lane in manuscript is ‘The Corrected Historie of Sir Gwy, Earle of Warwick … begun by Dan Lidgate … but now dilligentlie exquired from all antiquitie by John Lane, 1621’ (Harl. MS. 6243). It is prefaced by a commendatory sonnet by Milton's father, and bears an ‘imprimatur’ dated 13 July 1617 (Masson, Milton, i. 43). The prose introduction is printed in the ‘Percy Folio Ballads,’ ii. 521–5 (ed. Furnivall and Hales).

In prefatory verses to his ‘Squire's Tale’ Lane claims that he was author of another piece of verse, in which he ‘had to poetes an alarum given.’ In his ‘Address to all Lovers of the Muses,’ prefixed to his ‘Triton's Trumpet,’ he notes that he had written a work called ‘Poetical Visions.’ Phillips credits him with two poems called respectively ‘Alarm to the Poets’ and ‘Poetical Visions.’ Nothing seems known of these productions, although Phillips asserts that they were extant in manuscript in his time. Had Lane's works, Phillips adds, escaped ‘the ill fate to remain unpublisht—when much better meriting than many that are in print—[they] might possibly have gained him a name not much inferiour if not equal to Drayton and others of the next rank to Spenser.’ This verdict modern critics must decline to ratify.

[Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum, 1675, pp. 111–112; Winstanley's Lives of the Poets, 1687, p. 100 (repeating Phillips); Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 24489, pp. 143 sq.; Lane's Continuation of Chaucer's Squire's Tale (Chaucer Soc.), 1888, pp. ix–xv; Lane's Tom Tel-troth's Message, reprinted by New Shakspere Soc., 1876, ed. Furnivall, pp. xii–xv.]

S. L.