Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ian MacInnes: “Poetry, Policy & Daniel’s Epistle”

Ian MacInnes
Albion College

“Some Gothicq barbarous hand”: Poetry and foreign policy in Samuel Daniel’s “Epistle to Prince Henry”

1> In the first decade of the seventeenth century, few events excited the English imagination as widely as their tiny colony in Virginia. The Virginia venture was the subject of what today we would call a massive public relations campaign, consisting of official proclamations, economic initiatives, reports from abroad, public spectacles, sermons, poems, and even the deliberate leaking of rumor and speculation for consumption both at home and abroad. The project reached its apogee with the Viriginia lottery of 1612, which invited anyone with a shilling to participate vicariously in the experience of colonial expansion. As one might expect, the tone throughout these events and documents is always celebratory; the actions taken and planned do not appear to have been the subject of serious debate, let alone controversy. In the face of this apparently overwhelming propaganda, however, one person, the poet Samuel Daniel, argued against colonial expansion, and he did so in a verse epistle addressed to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry Frederick, a young man whose public commitment to the Virginia colony seemed unshakeable. Daniel’s epistle is unusual not just in its minority position but also in its method of argument. He tries to convince the Prince not by contradicting the propagandists or by offering alternatives but by raising the implicit fear behind the larger meta-narrative of imperial destiny itself, a narrative central to public advocacy of the cause. It is not the possibility of failure that worries Daniel but the certainty of success, a success that he argues will ultimately corrupt the English national character and even destroy England. In the end, Daniel’s poem helps show the extent to which historical meta-narratives were at the center of literary contributions to political life.

2> The carefully crafted publicity campaign promoting the Virginia colony began with the formation of the Virginia Company and the royal Council for Virginia in 1606. The latter began publishing regular reports of its key proceedings and proclamations, especially in reaction to developing news from Virginia. This news itself was provided by a limited number of reliable sources. Religious leaders too were drafted into the effort, like William Crashaw, whose sermon delivered to the court in February of 1609 promised the Virginians “Civilitie for their bodies [and] Christianitie for their soules: The first to make them men: the second happy men” (D4). The Virginia Company in its turn created propaganda with a more populist appeal. The lottery of 1612, ostensibly created to raise money, was also an opportunity for advertisements that could emphasize particular aspects of the settlement. The same civility, for example, that for Crashaw is a noble cause became a comforting process in a broadside ballad called “Londons Lotterie,” printed by the Virginia Company as an advertisement for the lottery itself and sung “to the tune of the Lusty Gallant”:

“Who knows not England once was like
a Wildernesse and savage place,
till government and use of men,
that wildnesse did deface:
And so Virginia may in time,
be made like England now;
Where long-loud peace and plenty both,
sits smiling on her brow.”

3> The underlying narrative, expressed in homely fashion here, is the same westward march of civilization described by the medieval and Renaissance concept of translatio imperii, the inevitable westward movement of empire. Those who contributed to the lottery could imagine themselves as the beneficiaries as well as the enactors of a civilizing process.

4> Popular works such as ballads were accompanied by more literary efforts as well. The poet Michael Drayton, who counted in part on court patronage,
[i] came out as early as 1606 with his “Ode to the Virginia Voyage.” This poem echoes the sunny economic come-ons of the official propaganda, calling Virginia “earths onely paradise” and promising “the fruitfull'st soile, / without your toile” (ll. 23-28), but it also heightens the language, suggesting that those who participate in the venture are exemplars of national character:

“You brave Heroyque Mynds,
worthy your Countries Name,
that honor still pursue,
goe, and subdue,
whilst loytering hinds,
luck heere at home, with shame.” (lines1-6)

5> His choice of “hinds” to describe the stay-at-homes suggests that the colonization of the new world is a distinctly male enterprise. In his eagerness to celebrate English masculinity, Drayton appears not to notice the contradiction of heroes who avoid the shame of “loytering” at home by seeking a paradise “without ... toyle.” His poem is simply interested in promoting, for an aristocratic audience, the idea that the Virginia colony is a ground for heroic enterprise.

6> As it happened, there was one particular aristocrat at the heart of the new enterprise and one for whom claims about heroic valor would have had a particular attraction: the young heir to the throne, Prince Henry Frederick. Henry was only 12 when the Virginia Company was established in 1606, but by 1610 the Prince was already by most accounts a precocious and promising young man. Furthermore, he was given growing political responsibilities for English exploration and colonization. In his biography of the short-lived prince, Roy Strong describes the way Henry was frequently portrayed, sometimes at his own urging, as a new chivalric ideal. At age 16, for example, Henry insisted on playing a starring role in the public spectacle of the Barriers (a tournament on foot). Ben Jonson’s Arthurian-themed masque for the occasion gave Henry the role of Meliadus, “lord of the isles,” and featured a character representing the spirit of chivalry. In the political context of the day, these yearnings suggested an aggressive, martial, and imperialist role for Prince Henry. As Strong describes it, Jonson’s masque, “overtly casts the Prince into a revival of Elizabethan chivalry that in its wildest fantasies could see England at the head of a pan-Protestant, European, anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish crusade” (151). Later in the same year prince Henry was made a Knight of the Bath in a public ceremony accompanied by more allegorical references to his role as the champion of English chivalric aspirations. Prince Henry’s particular interest in the Virginia colony was a central part of his growing public persona. By 1609 he was already taking responsibility for guiding some of the decisions of the Council for Virginia, including the appointment of Sir Thomas Dale as the Marshall. His connection with the colony is attested in numerous ways, not least of which are the number of geographical names paying tribute to him, from Cape Henry to the settlement of Henrico. The prince was also fascinated by the search for the Northwest Passage and was clearly involved with the 1612 expedition. In December of the preceding year, the Venetian ambassador, who naturally tracked such events closely, passed on news of the expedition, adding,

“Hopes are very high, and it is thought that it will be a blow to Spain. There are those who tell the Prince of the discovery of a continent much more handy and much richer than Virginia. The Prince listens graciously and guides all his actions toward lofty aims.” (CSP Venice 265)

7> The following year he notes, “To the ears of the Prince, who is keen for glory, come suggestions of conquests far greater than any made by the Kings of Spain” (861). From these hints it is clear not only that Henry was “keen for glory” but more importantly that he was surrounded by advisors who were themselves keen to encourage the Prince. In some ways Prince Henry was as much the victim of expansionist propaganda as anyone else. At the very least, the information we have about him and his counselors suggests that anyone who disbelieved in the merits of overseas expansion would have an uphill battle.

8> As for Samuel Daniel, his role at court might have given him the opportunity to counsel Prince Henry, but it seems clear that he would have done so as an outsider. Daniel’s relationship with the court was partially conflicted by this stage in his life. He had been one of the first poets to welcome James I to his new kingdom, presenting him with a Panegyricke Congratulatory (later published in 1603). In 1605 he dedicated his tragedy, Philotas, to prince Henry, and in 1607 he was made a groom of the Queen’s privy chamber, a purely nominal role but one that he proudly attached to his name in print. On the other hand, he also retired to the country as early as 1604 and seldom returned to London. He was much occupied with writing his prose history of England and with revising his earlier work, and he seems to have been unenthusiastic about the few masques he was asked to create for court festivities (DNB, Rees 148). His patronage also was mainly with Queen Anne, not with any male members of the royal family. All of his masques are written for the Queen and her ladies. Although still middle-aged by our standards, Daniel also clearly represented an older generation, especially an older generation of poets. John Pitcher, in his study of the Brotherton manuscripts (including the epistle to Prince Henry) thinks that this changing role of poetry is the source of his growing alienation:

“Poetry, or at least his poetry, had become an irrelevance in the court: … a poet writing in the traditions of Spenser and Sidney, and living on as a remnant of another time (his own description of himself in 1605) was overwhelmed by the disaster and depravity of the Jacobean court.” (vii)

9> The distance in Daniel's relationship with court is particularly apparent in his late masque, Tethys festival, or the Queene’s wake, written (reluctantly) to celebrate Prince Henry’s induction as a Knight of the Bath in June, 1610. The work includes a tentative attempt to caution the Prince against an expansionist policy. As in Jonson's Barriers, the Prince is referred to in the masque as Meliadus, lord of the isles. The figure of Tethys, the sea goddess sends him first the sword of Astraea (the goddess of justice, not war, and one of Queen Elizabeth's old avatars) and then a scarf, which apparently represents “the zone of love and amitie.” The scarf is intended to warn him not to enlarge his dominions too far:

“Let him not passe the circle of that field,
But thinke Alcides pillars are the knot
For there will be within the large extent
Of these my waves, and watry Government
More treasure, and more certaine riches got
Then all the Indies to Iberus brought,
For Nereus will by industry unfold
A Chimicke secret, and turn fish to gold.” (The order and solemnitie F1)

10> The last two lines refer to English fisheries, which had recently received a boost in the form of restrictions against foreigners. But the real force of the passage is in the reference to the pillars of Alcides (Hercules) or the strait of Gibraltar, the traditional ne plus ultra of the classical world. Since the Renaissance coat of arms of Spain included the same pillars enwrapped with the contradictory motto “plus ultra” (the same pillars and motto whose presence on coins minted in the New World gave rise to the dollar sign), Daniel is implicitly asking Prince Henry not to compete with Spain over foreign conquests, clearly one of the Prince's dearest hopes. Some evidence suggests that Daniel's masque was not popular. Few copies were printed, and Daniel was not asked to write again for several years. In any case, however, the masque of Tethys, even if it post-dates Daniel's epistle to the Prince, suggests that Daniel's position on foreign policy was well known.

11> Daniel’s “Epistle to Prince Henry” itself acknowledges its place as part of a discussion of foreign policy, and in many ways Daniel pretends to be giving purely rational advice.
[iii] He begins by allowing that, “There be great Prince, such as will tell you howe / Renown’d a thing it is, for States t’inlarge / Their governments abrode” (lines 1-3).[iv] When it comes time for him to disagree, he begins following sections by alluding to rational, measured judgment:

“But yet weigh you, with that discearning beame / Of inquisition” (15-16)
Examin whither ever any state…” (31)
Weigh if great Charles…” (39) [my emphasis]

12> The repetition of “weigh” suggests an almost modern cost/benefit analysis, one that offers a pragmatic rather than an ethical critique of colonization. Initially, thus, Daniel appears to disapprove only of far-flung plantations. “Colonise neere home, we may doe,” he says, presumably meaning Ireland (116). The epistle’s first main objection to New World ventures is also sensibly economic. Those in favor of expansion frequently mentioned gold as a key benefit, but Daniel suggests that bullion alone can actually impoverish a country by driving up prices. “The excessive vayne of gould,” he says, “hath but inhanc’d the rate / Of things that doe, but as they did, conteyne” and asks if England “Had not more / Of men that time, when we had less of gould” (26, 30). The English were familiar with inflation, especially over Daniel’s lifetime. Historians Henry Brown and Sheila Hopkins think English inflation was due to factors other than foreign coin, but Daniel is on firmer historical ground when he mentions Charles V of Spain who, despite a huge influx of gold and silver was “still a borrower, even poore / Ingag’d in somes, he never could restore” (44).

13> So far it might seem as though Daniel’s epistle is really just a pragmatic prose argument that happens to be in verse, but he quickly moves away from the measured language of costs and benefits and begins to articulate a more profound challenge to the very idea of colonialism. The real danger of foreign gold, for Daniel, is not poverty but wealth, which he fears will enact a dangerous transformation on the English character. States begin to fail, he says,

“ . . . when dilisiousnes
The child of wealth was borne, that doth abate
Men by increasing of their substances
Or what rich Treasorous state, hath not undone
The Conquerer, and wonne those, who hath wonne;
If Indea may not unto Christendome
As Fatall be, as Asia was to Rome.” (32-38)

14> The idea that Rome was ruined by excess wealth and Asian luxury dates back at least to Augustine’s City of God. For Prince Henry and his advisors, however, Daniel’s allusion would have been an unpleasant reminder, since the English like many other Europeans saw themselves as inheritors of Rome. For Daniel, the expansion of wealth and knowledge indicated bigger problems. He speaks of “intising Curiositie” and claims that “Superfluous wealth, as well as knowledge, doth / Deprive men of the Paradice of rest” (65-68). Unlike a straightforward economic analysis, this criticism supposes the success of foreign ventures, not their failure. Daniel is really attacking the larger meta-narrative of imperial conquest at its own fault lines.

15> As Daniel warms to this topic, he goes on to imagine in some detail exactly how the imperial narrative will destroy itself:

“I grant that time, their turne must bring about
When the universal wheele of things shall move
Unto that point, and those rude lands throughout
Th’Europian arts and Customes shall approve;
And they shall curious grow, and delicate
(Which we call Civill) and enjoy their part
Of our vaine glories, putting of[f] the state
Of nature to be suted unto art:
When we perhaps, arriv’d unto a more
Then Asiatique weaknes, by the trade
Of superfluities bred by their store
And our ymmoderate humors, may be made
A prey unto some Gothicq barbarous hand.” (75-87)

16> Here the very civilizing process that was so publicly advertised as the promise of England’s plantation in the New World and England’s gift to the native Virginians becomes curiosity and delicacy, and the fruitfulness of the land, which Drayton extolled as needing no labor, becomes merely a store of “superfluities.” English heroism, to the extent it appears at all, has sunk to the level of “ymmoderate humors.” The reference to humors, combined with the opposition between “Gothicq” and “Asiatique” reflects an ongoing early modern fear about the English national character, which had always seen itself as caught between northern barbarism, “full of virtuous courage, rude, unmanerlye, terrible, cruell, fierce” and southern hypercivility, “effeminate, shrynkinge at the least mishappe that that happeneth” (Lemnius 13). The path Daniel is imagining leads to a kind of sardonic inversion of the traditional concept of translatio imperii:

“That shall lay wast our glorie, ruynate
All these erected monuments, that stand
Fraile witnesses of our more fraile estate:
The earth being still the Center, as it was
About which all theis revolutions turne
Where we behould ruynes, and raisings pass
From East to west, succeeding in their turne.” (88-94)

17> What lies behind his worries is a deep suspicion that the inevitable “turn” of history renders imperial ambitions of any kind hollow.

18> The closing lines of the epistle are aimed at a Prince who was certainly harboring such imperial ambitions. They make it clear that Daniel's real enemy is the kind of inflated promissory language of poems like Drayton's well-known ode to the “Brave Heroyque Mynds,” of the Virginia voyage. In contrast, Daniel suggests that imperial ambitions are a kind of distraction from the Prince's true future as a leader and governor:

“The learning of your state, is that which is
Your art of arts, and skill in other kinds
May but perplex you more, and sted you less,
Few letters serve for great heroicq mynds.” (236)

19> By echoing Drayton’s “heroic minds” the final line suggests that the battle will take place over (or in) the mind of the Prince.

20> History does not appear to record Prince Henry’s response to Daniel’s letter, if indeed there was any formal answer. Certainly the plans for the Virginia colony continued unabated. Depending on the exact date of the original letter, however, (the manuscript we have is a copy) it is possible that Prince Henry’s recommendation of Sir Thomas Dale as the marshall of the colony in 1609 may have owed something to Daniel’s ideas. If anyone could stave off the collapse of the imperial enterprise, it would be Dale, whose leadership was notoriously strict and military. As for Daniel himself, the epistle was one of his last attempts to influence political opinion. After the Prince’s death in 1612 Daniel remained practically in retirement, ever more alienated from events at court. In some ways, Daniel’s epistle is a final gambit for the ear of the future monarch. In it he struggled not just against a young prince’s keenness for glory but also against an overwhelmingly popular meta-narrative and one heavily promoted in the popular imagination. Daniel challenges this narrative on its own ground, not by contradicting it but by calling upon the fears built into the narrative itself. He shows the Prince in vivid terms what might become of the English if they got the empire they sought.


[i] According to Strong, he received an honorary ten pounds per year from Prince Henry.

[ii] “le speranze sono grandissime et tengono debbi esser un colpo importante alla Spagna. Vi è chi ha detto a S.A. di haver scoperto un continente più oportuno et ricco della Virginia. Ascolta il Principe gratamente et incamina tutte le sue attioni ad altissimi fini.”

[iii] It is possible that Daniel was actually officially asked to comment on specific proposals for military adventurism put before Prince Henry and others at court. In his attempt to date the manuscript, John Pitcher mentions a text by Robert Cotton that was printed much later (1655) but clearly refers to a period before 1612 (the year Prince Henry died) (Pitcher 20). The title of this work is An answer made by command of Prince Henry to certain propositions of warre and peace delivered to His Highnesse by some of his military servants. It seems unlikely that this answer was made by command while Daniel's was unsolicited. It is more likely that the Prince did in fact solicit advice specifically from those whom he knew were likely to be opposed to the majority of opinions being expressed around him. Cotton's answer, however, is far more positive than Daniel's, leaving Daniel as the only one prepared to contradict the entire premise of colonization itself.

[iv] The text is drawn from the facsimile of the manuscript in Pitcher, John. Samuel Daniel: The Brotherton Manuscript: A Study in Authorship. (Leeds: U of Leeds, 1981) All references are to this copy and will be noted by line number in parentheses.

Works Cited

Brown, Henry Phelps, and Sheila V. Hopkins. A Perspective of Wages and Prices. New York: Methuen, 1981.

Cotton, Robert. An answer made by command of Prince Henry to certain propositions of warre and peace delivered to His Highnesse by some of his military servants. London, 1655.

Crashaw, William. A sermon preached in London before the right honorable the Lord LaWarre, Lord Gouernour and Captaine Generall of Virginea, and others of his Maiesties Counsell. London, 1610.

Daniel, Samuel. The order and solemnitie of the creation of the High and mightie Prince Henrie. London, 1610.

Drayton, Michael. Poems lyrick and pastorall Odes, eglogs, the man in the moone. London, 1606.

Lemnius, Levinus. Touchstone of Complexions. London, 1576.

Office, Great Britain Public Record et al. Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts, Relating to English Affairs, existing in the archives and collections of Venice. Volume 12. London: Mackie, 1905.

Pitcher, John. Samuel Daniel: The Brotherton Manuscript: A Study in Authorship. Leeds: U of Leeds, 1981.

Rees, Joan. Samuel Daniel: A Critical and Biographical Study. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1964.

Stephen, Leslie et al. “Samuel Daniel.” The Dictionary of National Biography. London: MacMillan, 1908. 475-481.

Strong, Roy C. Henry, Prince of Wales, and England's Lost Renaissance. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1986.

Virginia Company. “Londons Lotterie: With an incouragement to the furtherance thereof, for the good of Virginia, and the benefite of this our natiue Countrie; wishing good fortune to all that venture in the same..” (1612). University of Santa Barbara: English Broadside Ballad Archive, Pepys 1.190-191.

Ian MacInnes is Professor of English at Albion College, where he teaches courses in Elizabethan poetry, Milton, and early modern women writers. He has published essays on human and animal bodies in Shakespeare and is at work on a larger project on animal bodies and national identity in early modern England.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Two (2009): Dialogues & Exchanges

No comments: