Sampson, William (1590?-1636?) (DNB00)

SAMPSON, WILLIAM (1590?–1636?), dramatist, was doubtless born about 1590 at South Leverton, a village near Retford, Nottinghamshire. He belonged to a family of yeomen who owned property in South Leverton. In 1612 William Sampson, either the dramatist himself or his father, figured with Thomas and Henry Sampson among the humbler owners of land there (Thoroton, Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, ed. Throsby, iii. 271). Like many other yeomen's sons, the dramatist seems in early life to have become a serving man in great households of the neighbourhood. He finally found a permanent home as a retainer in the family of Sir Henry Willoughby, bart., of Risley, Derbyshire, with whom Phineas Fletcher [q. v.] also resided between 1616 and 1621.

Sampson's duties left him leisure for literature. He made the acquaintance of Gervase Markham, another Nottinghamshire author, and joined him in writing, probably about 1612, a tragedy on the story of Herod and Antipater drawn from Josephus's ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ (bks. xiv. and xv.). It was successfully produced in London, was licensed for publication on 22 Feb. 1621–2, and appeared under the title ‘The True Tragedy of Herod and Antipater, with the Death of faire Marriam. According to Josephus, the learned and famous Jewe. As it hath beene of late divers times publiquely acted (with great applause) at the Red Bull by the company of his Maiesties Revels. Written by Gervaise Markham and William Sampson, Gentlemen,’ London, printed ‘by G. Eld for Mathevv Rhodes,’ 1622. The publisher Rhodes signed prefatory verses addressed to the reader.

Sampson followed up this effort by a play (without any collaborator) on a topic of local interest—the seduction by one Bateman of Mistress German, a young married woman of Clifton. The lovers committed suicide. The episode was the subject of a rare chapbook, entitled ‘Bateman's Tragedy; or the perjured Bride justly rewarded,’ and Ritson printed a popular ballad on the theme. Sampson's piece was written partly in blank verse and partly in prose, and was composed under the roof of his patron Willoughby. It was published with the title ‘The Vow Breaker. Or the Faire Maide of Clifton in Nottinghamshire As it hath beene divers times acted by severall companies with great applause.’ By William Sampson, London (by John Norton, and are to be sold by Roger Ball), 1636. This was dedicated to Anne, Sir Henry Willoughby's daughter, and a prefatory plate illustrated the story. In the last act the mayor of Nottingham has an interview with Queen Elizabeth respecting the navigation of the river Trent.

A third piece, a comedy, entitled ‘The Widow's Prize,’ is also attributed to Sampson. According to an extract from Sir Henry Herbert's diary, quoted by Halliwell (Dict. of Plays), it contained ‘much abusive matter,’ but was allowed by Herbert, the licenser, on 25 Jan. 1624–5 to be acted by the prince's company, on condition that Herbert's ‘reformations were observed.’ It was entered for publication in the ‘Stationers' Registers’ on 9 Sept. 1653, but is not known to have been printed. The manuscript was destroyed by Warburton's servant.

Later in life Sampson, in accord with his profession of serving man, devoted much of his literary energy to panegyrising in heroic verse the nobility and gentry of the midland counties. In 1636 there appeared his ‘Virtus post Funera vivit, or Honour Tryumphing over Death, being true Epitomes of Honorable, Noble, Learned, and Hospitable Personages’ (London, printed by John Norton, 1636, 4to). The opening lines are addressed to William Cavendish, earl of Newcastle. There follow a prose dedication to Christian, dowager countess of Devon, and one in verse to Charles, viscount Mansfield, son of the Earl of Newcastle. The poems—all in heroic couplets—number thirty-two. Among the persons commemorated are Elizabeth Talbot, countess of Shrewsbury (‘Bess of Hardwick,’ No. 1), and William Cavendish, earl of Devonshire (No. 3). Sampson's efforts to attract the patronage of the Cavendishes were untiring. An unprinted poem by him, inscribed to Margaret Cavendish, marchioness of Newcastle, is entitled ‘Love's Metamorphosis, or Apollo and Daphne,’ a poem. It is in some 180 six-line stanzas, and is extant in Harl. MS. 6947 (No. 41, ff. 318–336). The first line runs ‘Scarce had Aurora showne her crimson face.’ Another of Sampson's poems, entitled ‘Cicero's Loyal Epistle according to Hannibal Caro,’ is also unprinted; it was dedicated to Lucy, wife of Ferdinando, lord Hastings (afterwards sixth earl of Huntingdon). The manuscript formerly belonged to B. H. Bright.

Sampson died soon after the publication of his ‘Virtus post Funera’ in 1636. He married Helen, daughter of Gregory Vicars, and sister of John Vicars, and had by her at least two sons, Henry [q. v.] and William, who both became fellows of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. William (1635–1702) was afterwards rector of Clayworth and prebendary of Lincoln from 1672 (Thoroton, ed. Throsby, iii. 308). To Hannah Sampson, possibly the dramatist's daughter, Willoughby, his master, left on his death in 1649 ‘his ruby hatband and case of silver instruments’ (Addit. MS. 6688, f. 142). Sampson's widow in 1637 married, as her second husband, Obadiah Grew [q. v.]

[William Sampson, a Seventeenth-century Poet and Dramatist, by John T. Godfrey, F.R.H.S., 1894; Hunter's manuscript Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 24488, pp. 283–4; Fleay's Biogr. Chron. of the English Drama.]

S. L.