Willoughby, Henry (DNB00)

WILLOUGHBY or WILLOBIE, HENRY (1574?–1596?), the eponymous hero of the poem called ‘Willobies Avisa,’ was second son of Henry Willoughby, a country gentleman of Wiltshire, by Jane, daughter of one Dauntsey of Lavington, Wiltshire. A younger brother was named Thomas. The father's father, Christopher Willoughby, was illegitimate son of Sir William Willoughby, the brother of Sir Robert Willoughby, first baron Willoughby de Broke [q. v.], (cf. Hoare, Modern Wiltshire, i. i. 38–9). Henry matriculated as a commoner from St. John's College, Oxford, on 10 Dec. 1591, at the age of sixteen. According to the report of a ‘friend and chamberfellow,’ he was ‘a scholler of good hope.’ He may be the ‘Henry Willoughbie’ who graduated B.A. from Exeter College on 28 Feb. 1594–5 (Oxford Univ. Reg. Oxf. Hist. Soc. ii. ii. 187, iii. 189). Soon after that date, ‘being desirous to see the fashions of other countries for a time,’ he ‘departed voluntarily to her maiestie's service’ (Willobies Avisa, ed. Grosart, p. 5). Before 30 June 1596 he is reported to have died (ib. p. 149).

On 3 Sept. 1594 there was licensed for the press ‘a book entitled Willoby his Avisa, or the True Picture of a Modest Maid and of a Chaste and Constant Wife’ (Arber, Stationers' Registers, ii. 659), and shortly afterwards the work issued from the press of John Windet. In this volume, which mainly consists of seventy-two cantos in varying numbers of six-line stanzas (fantastically called by the author ‘hexameters’), the chaste heroine, Avisa, holds converse—in the opening sections as a maid, and in the later sections as a wife—with a series of passionate adorers. In every case she firmly repulses their advances. Midway through the book ‘Henry Willobie’ is introduced as an ardent admirer, in his own person, chiefly under the initials ‘H.W.’ It is explained in a prose interpolation that Willobie has sought the advice of a friend, ‘W.S.,’ who had lately gone through the experience of a severe rebuff at the hands of a disdainful mistress. After ‘W.S.’ light-heartedly offers some tantalising advice in verse, ‘H. W.,’ in the twenty-nine cantos which form the last portion of the volume, is made to rehearse his woes and Avisa's obduracy.

Two prefaces, one addressed to ‘all the constant ladies and gentlewomen of England that feare God,’ and the other to ‘the gentle and courteous reader,’ are both signed ‘Hadrian Dorrell.’ The second is dated from Dorrell's ‘chamber in Oxford this first of October.’ Dorrell takes responsibility for the publication, stating that he found the manuscript in his friend Willobie's rooms while he was absent from the country. Dorrell says that he christened the work ‘Willobie his Avisa’ because he supposed it was Willobie's ‘doing and being written with his own hand.’ He explains that the name ‘Avisa’ was derived from the initial letters of the words ‘amans vxor inviolata semper amanda,’ and that there was ‘something of truth hidden under this shadow.’

In 1596 Peter Colse produced a poem on the same model as ‘Willobies Avisa,’ which he called ‘Penelopes Complaint.’ Colse declares that ‘seeing an unknowne author hath of late published a pamphlet called Avisa’ concerning the chastity of a lady of no historical repute, he deemed it fitting to treat of the chastity of Penelope. Colse speaks approvingly of the unknown author's style and verse, which he closely imitates.

To Colse's effort ‘Hadrian Dorrell’ at once replied in 1596 in a new edition of ‘Avisa,’ to which he prefixed an ‘Apologie shewing the true meaning of “Willobie his Avisa.”’ This was dated from Oxford ‘this 30 of June 1596.’ Dorrell, in contradiction to his former statement, declares that the whole of ‘Avisa’ was a poetical fiction which was written ‘thirty-five years since, and long lay among the waste papers in the author's study, with many other pretty things of his devising,’ including a still unpublished work called ‘Susanna.’ The name ‘Avisa’ he now affirms either means that the woman described had never been seen, ‘a’ being the Greek privative particle, and ‘visa’ the Latin participle; or was an irregular derivative from avis, a bird. At the close of the ‘Apologie’ he remarks that Willobie is lately dead.

Dorrell's general tone suggests that his two accounts of the origin and intention of the book are fictitious, while the conflict between his statements respecting the author renders it unlikely that either is wholly true. But that Dorrell had ground for his claim of intimacy with Henry Willoby, the Oxford student, seems supported by the fact that he adds to this edition of 1596 a poem in the same metre as ‘Avisa,’ headed ‘The Victorie of English Chastitie under the fained name of Avisa,’ and signed ‘Thomas Willoby frater Henrici Willoby nuper defuncti.’ The Oxford student Henry Willoby undoubtedly had a brother named Thomas. The name of Hadrian Dorrell was apparently assumed. No Oxford student bearing that appellation is known to the university registers. It is probable that ‘Hadrian Dorrell’ was sole author of ‘Avisa,’ and that he named his work after his friend Henry Willoby, in the same manner as Nicolas Breton named a poem, ‘The Countess of Pembrokes Passion,’ after the patroness in whose honour and for whose delectation it was written.

The chief interest of the poem lies in its apparent bearings on Shakespeare's biography. In prefatory verses in six-line stanzas, which are signed ‘Contraria Contrariis: Vigilantius: Dormitanus,’ direct mention is made of Shakespeare's poem of ‘Lucrece,’ which was licensed for the press on 9 May 1594, only four months before ‘Avisa.’ This is the earliest open reference made in print by a contemporary author to Shakespeare's name. The notice of Shakespeare lends substance to the theory that the alleged friend of Willoby, who is known in the poem under the initials ‘W.S.,’ may be the dramatist himself. ‘W.S.’ is spoken of as ‘the old player.’ If this identity be admitted, there is a likelihood that the troubled amour from which ‘W.S.’ is said in the poem to have recently recovered is identical with the intrigue that forms one of the topics of Shakespeare's sonnets. The frivolous tone in which ‘W.S.’ is made in ‘Avisa’ to refer to his recent amorous adventure suggests, moreover, that the professed tone of pain which characterises the poet's addresses to a disdainful mistress in his sonnets is not to be interpreted quite seriously.

‘Willobies Avisa’ proved popular, and rapidly went through six editions, but very few copies survive. Of the first edition, published in 1594, two perfect copies are known—one in the British Museum, and the other in Mr. Christie Miller's library at Britwell; a slightly imperfect copy is in the Huth Library. No copy is now known either of the edition of 1596, containing for the first time Dorrell's ‘Apologie’ and Thomas Willoby's contribution, or of a third edition published after 1596 and before 1605. A fourth edition (‘the fourth time corrected and augmented’) was issued by Windet, the original printer and publisher, in 1605; a unique copy is at Britwell. Bagford, Benjamin Furley, and other collectors noted an edition of 1609, which was probably a ‘remainder’ issue of the fourth edition. The work was reprinted in 1635 by William Stansby, and was described on the title-page as ‘the fifth time corrected and augmented;’ a copy, said to be unique, is in the British Museum. Dr. Grosart reprinted privately in 1880 the first edition, with extracts from the additions first published in 1596, although now only accessible in the editions of 1609 and 1635. The portion supposed to refer to Shakespeare was reprinted in ‘Shakspere Allusion Books’ (pt. i. ed. C. M. Ingleby, New Shakspere Society, 1864, pp. 69 et seq.)

[Grosart's reprint of Willobie his Avisa, 1880; Sidney Lee's Life of Shakespeare, 1898.]

S. L.