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[It has been reported that this poem was written by Raleigh on the night before his execution in 1618;* but unluckily, it was in print ten years before that time, in the second edition of Davison's Poeticall Rhapsodie, 1608. The advocates of Raleigh's claim have sometimes fallen back on the position, that perhaps he composed it while he was erpecting execution in 1603;t but this ground also must be now relin
When Dr. Birch inserted it among Raleigh's Minor Works in 1751, (ii. 396,) he gave the tradition in a less substantial form :-" This Poem is supposed to be Sir Walter Raleigh's, and appears to have been written some short Time before his Death." But Dr. Farmer, who has marked Birch's variations in his copy of Davison, adds,“ This was written (I think) by Sir Walter Rawleigh ye Night before He was beheaded." These two notes very fairly represent the manner in which the tradition would grow up.
+ Percy's Reliques, ii. 289, ed. 1765. Nicolas's edit. of Davison, Biogr. Not.p. ci.-Malone's note, inserted in his copy of Davison, ed. 1621, in the Bodleian, was evidently written before he obtained the MS. mentioned in the next note, He thought of the earlier portion of Raleigh's long impri
quished, as there are MS. copies in existence of a still earlier date.* The nature of his first imprisonment puts that out of the question ; and hence it has been generally concluded, that the name appended to the poem is as erroneous as the tradition, and that Raleigh could not be its author.
Those who took the piece as Raleigh's editors have given it seem justified in this conclusion; for no evidence but the tradition is cited by Birch or Brydges; and when one part of a story is proved to be false, we are naturally inclined to distrust the whole. But if some independent testimony can be brought forward, of course the falsehood of the legend goes for nothing. Such testimony can certainly be found, though perhaps some may still doubt whether it is quite conclusive; but before it is adduced, we should enquire whether more satisfactory evidence has been stated in behalf of any other person.
1. Mr. Campbell asks: “Is not the Soul's Errand (thus he entitles the present piece] the same poem with the Soul's Knell, which is always ascribed to Richard EDWARDS ?-If so, why has it been inserted in Raleigh's Poems by Sir Egerton Brydges ?”+ For this conjecture, we are probably indebted to the partial resemblance of the titles, added to the circumstance, that Gascoigne ridiculed those who fancied, that “the Soulknil of M. Edwards was written in extremitie of sickness.” It would at once supersede the dates of the MSS., for Edwards died in 1566.-But as “the Soulknil" could scarcely be the title of a poem which contains no reference to knelling, and as false traditions of this nature were ap
• Malone had a MS. of it dated 1595 (Shakesp. by Boswell, ii. 579); Brydges speaks of one in Brit. Mus. dated 1596 (Lee Priory edit. of Raleigh's Poems, p. 58. Oxford edit. of Raleigh's Works, viii. 725); and Mr. Campbell says," it can be traced to MS. of a date as early as 1593." (Spe. cimens, p. 57, second ed.)
+ Specimens, p. Ixvi. note, second ed. But why must Brydges bear all the resentment of Messrs. Campbell and Hallam! He only followed Birch.
pended to almost all the moral pieces of that time, Mr. Campbell's opinion is not likely to meet with general support.
2. A letter of Bishop Percy's is in existence,* from which it appears that Cole had a MS. in which it was assigned to LORD Essex. The whole passage relating to this subject is curious; but it is sufficient to say here, that Percy was not willing to admit the claim; and we may safely follow his example.
3. Ritson gives it to Francis Davison ;t but no argument has hitherto been adduced in his favour, which would not make over to him all the unsigned pieces in the Collection which he formed. Mr. Campbell thought, that in 1593, he would be too young to write it; which is quite true, when the character of the poem is taken into the account; for he was then only about eighteen. But it might be urged, that he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn in that same year, and in the very next year, became confessedly an author.The former reason, however, is sufficient to justify us in setting him aside, as both the modern editors of the Rhapsody have done.
4. Ellis prints the poem under the name of Joshua SylVESTER, because a mutilated copy of it is inserted in the posthumous collection of Sylvester's Workes. “ Till a more authorized claimant shall be produced, it is therefore restored to its ancient proprietor."ę To be consistent, however, he
Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. Hist. &c. vi. 562, (where the poem is erroneously called " the Lyre.") The letter is dated March 9: 1767: when the se. cond ed. of the Reliques was nearly printed off. I wish we had any good reason for presuming, with Percy, that Raleigh "publicly owned" the poem.
+ Bibl. Poet. p. 308. But the passage is singularly confused, and he gives the piece a tiile (" The Answer to the Lye") which it neither bore nor could bear. His note in reference to Percy is (if possible) more illnatured than usual; for Percy named the edits. of 1608 and 1611 in his very earliest editions, (ii. 289, ed. 1765,-ii. 300, ed. 1767,) though it does not appear that he had seen them. | Nicolas's Life of F. Davison, prefixed to his ed. of Poet. Rhaps. p. iv.
Specimens, ii. 330, 333, ed. 1811. See Sylvester's Workes, p. 652, ed. 1641. Campbell, p. 57, cf. pp. 76, 79.
should have given it as it stands in that volume; but the absurdity would then have been too manifest; for, as Mr. Campbell says, “whoever looks at the folio vol. of Sylvester's poems, will see that Joshua uses the beautiful original merely as a text, and has the conscience to print* his own stuff in a way that shows it to be interpolated.” Doubtless every one will be of Mr. Campbell's opinion, supported as it is (though not very decisively) by that of Mr. Hallam.t Headley had asserted that it was “beyond a doubt not” Sylvester's, before Ellis wrote at all. I
5. A copy is found among the Poems of Lord Pembroke and Sir B. Rudyard (1660, p. 104,) with the initial of LORD Pembroke at the top. But this copy, like Sylvester's, is mutilated and imperfect, though not to so shameful a degree; and the character of the volume is so notorious, that I believe none of those who have had occasion to mention it
Not so; but it was bad enough to write it,-if indeed Sylvester was really guilty of it, which may be cbaritably doubted. He died in 1618 : and in the vol. of 1641, the piece is placed among the “ Posthumi ... Never till now Imprinted."-Others have written bad variations on the poem, as may be seen froin Percy's letter, quoted above,- from one of the copies printed by Sir H. Nicolas from the MSS. in Brit. Mus.,—and from that in the Chetham MS. mentioned below. There have been sundry imitations of it in later times, two of which occur in one vol. of " The New Foundling Hospital for Wil."
+ See Hist. Lit. Cent. XVI. ii. 126, ed. 1843. In a note, Mr. Hallam says, “ Brydges gives it to Raleigh without evidence, and we may add, without probability.”—“Without evidence," certainly; for he bas not adduced a particle. That which is qnoted above was altogether unknown to him. But why “ without probability"? Raleigh was 41 years old in 1593, the carliest date to which the poem bas been traced; he had written verses in 1576; and as to the subject of the piece, surely it is not necessary that a Christian man shonld be on the point of dying, before he will fix bis thoughts on death. Others bave made too much of the internal evidence when they thought it sufficient to prove Raleigh's title; but it can scarcely be urged against bim. Mr. Hallam says, that the poem is “characterised by strength, condensation, and simplicity;" and that " such poems as this conld only be written by a man who had seen and thought much." What is there here to which Raleigh may not answer ?
Select Beauties, &c. ii. 161, ed. 1787.