Thomas Watson (poet)

Thomas Watson (poet)

Thomas Watson (1557? – 1592), was an English lyrical poet, possibly educated at Oxford, and was a law-student in London. He spent some time abroad, and while quite a young man enjoyed a certain reputation as a Latin poet.

His "De remedio amoris", which was perhaps his earliest important composition, is lost, as is his "piece of work written in the commendation of women-kind", which was also in Latin verse. The earliest publication by Watson which has survived is a Latin version of the "Antigone" of Sophocles, issued in 1581, dedicated to Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel.

The following year Watson appears for the first time as an English poet in some verses prefixed to George Whetstone's "Heptameron", and also in a far more important work, as the author of the "Hecatompathia or Passionate Centurie of Love", dedicated to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who had read the poems in manuscript and encouraged Watson to publish them. This is a collection or cycle of a hundred pieces, reflecting classical and French and Italian poems, and being in some cases translations. The technical peculiarity of these interesting poems is that, although they appear and profess to be sonnets, they are written in triple sets of common six-line stanza, and therefore have eighteen lines each. It seems likely that Watson, who courted comparison with Petrarch, seriously desired to recommend this form to future sonneteers; but in this he had no imitators. Nevertheless, according to "The Oxford Companion to English Literature", Watson's sonnets "appear to have been studied by Shakespeare and other contemporaries."

Among those who were at this time the friends of Watson we note Matthew Royden and George Peele. In 1585 he published his first Latin epic 'Amyntas', eleven days of the shepherd's mourning for the death of his lover, Phyllis. Watson's epic was afterwards translated into English by Abraham Fraunce (1587). Although a relationship to Torquato Tasso's "Aminta' is often supposed, in fact there is none. In the fourth reprint of his English version in 1591 Fraunce also printed his own translation of the Tasso work, and it is this that has given rise to the confusion. Watson was now, as the testimony of Thomas Nashe and others prove, regarded as the best Latin poet of England. In 1590 he published, in English and Latin verse, his "Meliboeus", an elegy on the death of Sir Francis Walsingham, and a collection of Italian Madrigals mostly by Marenzio, given English lyrics by Watson, together with two others set to music by William Byrd. Of the remainder of Watson's career nothing is known, save that on the 26th of September 1592 he was buried in the church of St Bartholomew the Less, and that a month later his second Latin epic "Amintae Gaudia" was seen through the press by his friend Marlowe. This tells the story of Amyntas' love, and eventual winning, of Phyllis, and is therefore chronologically the first part of the earlier epic. In the following year his last book, "The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained" (1593), was posthumously published under the initials T.W. This is a collection of sixty sonnets, regular in form, so far at least as to have fourteen lines each. Spenser is supposed to have alluded to the untimely death of Watson in "Colin Clouts Come Home Again", when he says: "Amyntas quite is gone and lies full low, Having his Amaryllis left to moan".

He is mentioned by Francis Meres in company with Shakespeare, Peele and Marlowe among "the best for tragedie", but no dramatic work of his except the translations above mentioned has come down to us. It is certain that this poet enjoyed a great reputation in his lifetime, and that he was not without a direct influence upon the youth of Shakespeare. He was the first, after the original experiment made by Wyat and Surrey, to introduce the pure imitation of Petrarch into English poetry. He was well read in Italian, French and Greek literature.

Watson died young, and he had not escaped from a certain languor and insipidity which prevent his graceful verses from producing their full effect. This demerit is less obvious in his later than in his earlier pieces, and with the development of the age, Watson, whose contemporaries regarded him as a poet of true excellence, would probably have gained power and music. As it is, he has the honour of being one of the direct forerunners of Shakespeare (in "Venus and Adonis" and in the "Sonnets"), and of being the leader in the long procession of Elizabethan sonnet-cycle writers.

Watson plays a prominent part in the novel A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess, in which he is a close friend of Christopher Marlowe. In the book Watson introduces Marlowe to Sir Francis Walsingham and he also contributes to several of Marlowe's plays.

External links

* [ "Hekatompathia" online.]



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