Weever, John (DNB00)

WEEVER, JOHN (1576–1632), poet and antiquary, a native of Lancashire, born in 1576, was admitted to Queens' College, Cambridge, as a sizar on 30 April 1594. His tutor was William Covell [q. v.] (College Register). He bathed freely, he relates, in what he described as ‘Nestor-old nymph-nursing Grant[a].’ He retained through life an affection for his college, but seems to have left the university without a degree.

Retiring to his Lancashire home about 1598, he studied carefully and appreciatively current English literature, and in 1599 he published a volume entitled ‘Epigrammes in the oldest Cut and newest Fashion. A twise seven Houres (in so many weekes) Studie. No longer (like the Fashion) not unlike to continue. The first seven. John Weever’ (London by V. S. for Thomas Bushell), 1599, 12mo. The whole work was dedicated to a Lancashire patron, Sir Richard Houghton of Houghton Tower, high sheriff of the county. A portrait engraved by Thomas Cecil is prefixed, and described the author as twenty-three at the date of publication, 1599. But Weever in some introductory stanzas informs the reader that most of the epigrams were written when he was only twenty. He speaks of his Cambridge education, and confesses ignorance of London. The epigrams, which are divided into seven parts (each called a ‘week,’ after the manner of the French religious poet Du Bartas), are in crude and pedestrian verse. But the volume owes its value, apart from its rarity, to its mention and commendation of the chief poets of the day. The most interesting contribution is a sonnet (No. 22 of the fourth week) addressed to Shakespeare which forcibly illustrates the admiration excited among youthful contemporaries by the publication of Shakespeare's early works—his narrative poems, his ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and his early historical plays (cf. Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse, New Shakspere Soc., 1879, p. 16). Hardly less valuable to the historian of literature are Weever's epigrams on Edmund Spenser's poverty and death, on Daniel, Drayton, Ben Jonson, Marston, Warner, Robert Allott, and Christopher Middleton. In his epigram on Alleyn, he asserts that Rome and Roscius yield the palm to London and Alleyn. A copy of this extremely rare volume is in the Malone collection at the Bodleian Library.

Subsequently Weever produced another volume of verse. This bore the title: ‘The Mirror of Martyrs; or, the life and death of that thrice valient Capitaine and most godly Martyre Sir John Oldcastle, knight, Lord Cobham,’ 1601, sm. sq. 8vo (London, by V. S. for William Wood). There are two dedications to two friends, William Covell, B.D., the author's Cambridge tutor, and Richard Dalton of Pilling. The work was, the author tells us, written two years before publication, and was possibly suggested by the controversy about Sir John Oldcastle that was excited in London in 1598 by the production of Shakespeare's ‘Henry IV.’ In that play the great character afterwards re-named Falstaff at first bore the designation of Sir John Oldcastle, to the scandal of those who claimed descent from the lollard leader or sympathised with his opinions and career (cf. Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse, pp. 42, 165). Weever calls his work the ‘true Oldcastle,’ doubtless in reference to the current controversy. Weever displays at several points his knowledge of Shakespeare's recent plays. He vaguely reflects Shakespeare's language in ‘Henry IV’ (pt. ii. line 1) when referring to Hotspur's death and the battle of Shrewsbury (stanza 113). Similarly in stanza 4 he notices the speeches made to ‘the many-headed multitude’ by Brutus and Mark Antony at Cæsar's funeral. These speeches were the invention of Shakespeare in his play of ‘Julius Cæsar,’ and it is clear that Weever had witnessed a performance of Shakespeare's play of ‘Julius Cæsar’ before writing of Cæsar's funeral. Weever's reference is proof that ‘Julius Cæsar’ was written before Weever's volume was published in 1601. There is no other contemporary reference to the play by which any limits can be assigned to its date of composition. The piece was not published until 1623, in the first folio of Shakespeare's works. As in his first, so in his second volume, Weever mentions Spenser's distress at the close of his life (stanza 63). Four perfect copies of Weever's ‘Mirror of Martyres’ are known; they are respectively in the Huth, Britwell, and Bodleian libraries, and in the Pepysian Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. The only other copy now known is imperfect, and is in the British Museum. The poem was reprinted for the Roxburghe Club in a volume edited by Mr. Henry Hucks Gibbs (afterwards Lord Aldenham) in 1873.

Subsequently Weever published a thumb-book (1½ inch in height) giving a poetical history of Christ beginning with the birth of the Virgin. The title-page ran ‘An Agnus Dei. Printed by V. S. for Nicholas Lyng, 1606.’ The dedication ran: ‘To Prince Henry. Your humble servant. Jo. Weever.’ The only copy known is in the Huth Library (cf. Brydges, Censura Literaria, ii.; Huth Library Cat.)

In the early years of the seventeenth century Weever travelled abroad. He visited Liège, Paris, Parma, and Rome, studying literature and archæology (cf. Funerall Monuments, pp. 40, 145, 257, 568). Finally he settled in a large house built by Sir Thomas Chaloner in Clerkenwell Close, and turned his attention exclusively to antiquities. He made antiquarian tours through England, and he designed to make archæological exploration in Scotland if life were spared him. He came to know the antiquaries at the College of Arms and elsewhere in London, and made frequent researches in the libraries of Sir Robert Cotton and Sir Simonds D'Ewes. His chief labours saw the light in a folio volume extending to nearly nine hundred pages, and bearing the title ‘Ancient Funerall Monuments within the United Monarchie of Great Britaine, Ireland, and the Islands adjacent, with the dissolved monasteries therein contained, their Founders and what Eminent Persons have been in the same interred’ (London, 1631, fol.). A curious emblematic frontispiece was engraved by Thomas Cecil, as well as a portrait of the author, ‘æt. 55 Ao 1631.’ Weever dedicated his work to Charles I. In an epistle to the reader he acknowledges the encouragement and assistance he received from his ‘deare deceased friend’ Augustine Vincent, and from the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton, to whom Vincent first introduced him. He also mentions among his helpers Sir Henry Spelman, John Selden, and Sir Simonds D'Ewes. A copy which Weever presented to his old college (Queens') at Cambridge is still in the library there, and has an inscription in his autograph (facsimile in Pink's Clerkenwell, p. 351). Almost all Weever's sepulchral inscriptions are now obliterated. His transcripts are often faulty and errors in dates abound (cf. Wharton, Angl. Sacra, par. i. p. 668; Gent. Mag. 1807, ii. 808). But to the historian and biographer the book, despite its defects, is invaluable. A new edition appeared in 1661, and a third, with some addenda by William Tooke, in 1767. Weever's original manuscript of the work is in the library of the Society of Antiquaries (Nos. 127–8).

Weever, who dated the address to the reader in his ‘Funerall Monuments’ from his house in Clerkenwell Close, was buried in 1632 in the church of St. James's, Clerkenwell. The church was subsequently entirely rebuilt (cf. Pink's Clerkenwell, p. 48). The long epitaph in verse inscribed on his tomb is preserved in Stow's ‘Survey of London’ (1633, p. 900, cf. Strype's edition, bk. iv. p. 65; Gent. Mag. 1788, ii. 600).

[Authorities cited; Fuller's Worthies; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Pink's Clerkenwell; Addit. MS. 24487, f. 358 (Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum); Collier's Bibliogr. Cat.; Weever's books.]

S. L.