Southern, John (DNB00)

SOUTHERN or SOOWTHERN, JOHN (fl. 1584), poetaster, seems to have been born in England, and was doubtless connected with the Shropshire family. He seems to have been educated in France, whence he returned to his native country to follow the profession of a musician. In 1584 he published an eccentric volume of verse under the title of ‘The Musyque of the Beautie of his Mistresse Diana. Composed by John Soowthern, Gentleman, and dedicated to the right Honorable Edward Dever, Earle of Oxenford, &c., 1584, June 20. Non careo patria, me caret illa magis. London, for Thomas Hackette,’ 1584, 4to. (His patron was Edward de Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford [q. v.]). The volume consists of sonnets by the author, who anticipated Henry Constable in addressing them to a mistress named Diana, of elegies, odes, odellets, and a ‘stansse’ and two ‘quadrans’ in French; as well as four epitaphs which are said to have been written by the Countess of Oxford ‘after the death of her young sonne the Lord Bulbecke;’ (the countess was Anne Cecil, eldest daughter of Lord Burghley). The work is a clumsy performance, and is only remarkable for its reckless plagiarism of Ronsard.

Southern's lack of literary power, his impudent thefts from Ronsard, and his gallicised vocabulary exposed him to much ridicule. Puttenham wrote of him in his ‘Arte of English Poesie,’ 1589 (lib. iii. cap. xxii., ed. Arber, pp. 259–60): ‘Another of reasonable good facilitie in translation finding certaine of the hymnes of Pyndarus and of Anacreons odes, and other lirickes among the Greekes very well translated by Rounsard the French poet, and applied to the honour of a great prince in France, comes our minion and translates the same out of French into English, and applieth them to the honour of [the Earl of Oxford] a great nobleman in England (wherein I commend his reuerent minde and duetie), but doth so impudently robbe the French poet both of his prayse and also of his French termes that I cannot so much pitie him as be angrie with him for his injurious dealing. … And in the end (which is worst of all) makes his vaunt that neuer English finger but his hath toucht Pindar's string, which was neuerthelesse word by word as Rounsard has said before by like braggery.’ Puttenham gives examples of Southern's grotesque employment of French words. Drayton, in his ‘Poemes Lyrick and Pastorall’ (1603?), bestowed on ‘Southerne an English lyrick’ the mysterious commendation:

'Southern, I long thee spare,
Yet wish thee well to fare,
Who me pleased'st greatly,
As first, therefore more rare,
Handling thy harpe neatly.’

One copy of Southern's volume alone seems known. Somewhat imperfect, it belonged to Steevens, who amply annotated it, and is now in the British Museum. A second copy belonged to Heber. It is often stated erroneously that another copy, wanting the title-page, is in the Capel collection at Trinity College, Cambridge.

[Collier's Bibliographical Account, ii. 367; Heber's Cat. of Early English Poetry, p. 308; Ritson's Bibliographia Anglo-Poetica.]

S. L.