Friday, October 16, 2009
Memorial Poem to Sir Francis Vere by Cyril Tourneur with dedication to the Earl of Oxford
On October 16, 1609, a book was registered at the Stationers’ Hall, called, “A Funerall Poeme. Upon the death of the most worthie and true souldier, Sir Francis Vere, Knight. Captaine of Portsmouth, &c. L. Gouernour of his Maiesties Cautionarie Towne of Briell in Holland, &c.”
The author was Cyril Tourneur (c.1575-1626) whose father, Captain Richard Turner, served in Holland at the same time as Sir Francis Vere and Sir Horatio Vere. We have evidence that Cyril himself saw some service there in 1613. Prior to that it is assumed he was living in London.
Tourneur has left us with a very limited set of works: one long poem, The Transformed Metamorphosis (1600), is often described as deeply imitative of Shakespeare. He wrote elegies for Sir Francis Vere (1609) and for Prince Henry, the doomed Stuart heir (1613). He is credited with only two plays, The Revenger's Tragedy (1607) and The Atheist's Tragedy (1611); Revenger, however, is now often credited to Middleton, leaving Atheist’s as the principal “certain” dramatic work of Tourneur.
Tourneur was also associated with various members of the Cecil family and left an unpublished MS with an intriguing title, The Character of Robert, Earl of Salisburye, Lord High Treasurer of England, "ritten by Mr Sevill Tumour." The text was discovered within a larger MS in possession of one Lord Mostyn and is descibed in Hist. MSS. Commission, 4th Report, appendix, p. 361. I haven’t seen this work, but I would like to. Usually books called “The character of…” are filled with personal details, scandals, dirt, etc., not easily found elsewhere.
Cyril Tourneur’s association with both the Vere family and the Cecil family, and his emergence as an imitator of Shakespeare, gives me pause to consider that he might have known the inside story --- the one we are now trying to reconstruct.
The 1609 elegy to Francis Vere begins with a one-page dedication. It is ambiguously written and may be designed to honor Francis, or his nephew, Henry, the 18th Earl of Oxford, or the 1604-deceased 17th Earl of Oxford. This dedication has never been discussed before, not by Miller, the Ogburns, Chiljan, or myself in previous articles. The principal source for finding and identifying dedications is the book, Index of dedications and commendatory verses in English books before 1641, by Franklin B. Williams, 1962. In that book, Williams lists this opening dedication in Tourneur’s 1609 elegy as pertaining to Henry, 18th Earl of Oxford. My thinking at the moment is that while Henry is probably the obscure but overt dedicatee, his father, Edward de Vere (17th Earl) is, in fact, the covert dedicatee. Let’s read the text:
DEDICATED TO HIS
TO THE INHERENT
HONOVR OF THE HEROYQVE
HOPE OF NOBILITIE, THE
EARLE OF OXFORD, &c.
FROM WHOSE NOBLE-FAMILIE,
THIS IMMORTALL WOR-
THIE, HATH THE HO-
NOVR TO BE
In most other works, when a book is dedicated to a known, living nobleman, that man’s name and titles are delineated explicitly. Thus, the only path to reading this as pertaining to Henry (born February 23, 1593, and therefore age 16 in October 1609) would lie in the words, “…which ascends to the inherent honour of the heroyque hope of nobilitie, the Earl of Oxford, etc.”
But one can read this another way. In the first section, “Dedicated to his living memorie which ascends to…” would seem to refer to the recently deceased Sir Francis. But how does the living memory of Francis ascend to his nephew? Francis is honored in section three with, “this immortall worthie,” descended from the same noble family. I propose that section one honors Edward, 17th Earl, section two honors Henry 18th Earl, and section three (and the poem that follows) honors the soldier, Sir Francis.
Next consider the layout of the dedication. There are three sections, each in the shape of a “V” or inverted triangle. This is the exact same shape as the famous dedication to the 1609 Sonnets. The number of lines in each triangle differs. In the Sonnets, the sequence is the famous 6, 2, 4. Here we have 3, 4, 5. Add ‘em up. Each dedication has twelve lines! Is it possible that Tourneur is drawing readers’ attentions to a similarity? Consider that the typesetter has gone out of his way to stretch the last section into five lines and has played with the justification of letters (kerning) to create the three triangles.
There are also some lines in the elegy where Tourneur seems to be thinking of Edward de Vere’s poems, and his legacy:
“His Minde was like an Empire, rich and strong,
In all defensive pow'r against the wrong,
That civill tumult or invasive Hate Might
raise against the peace of her estate.”
“In all his gestures and his Countenance,
He did so pleasing a consent expresse
Of Noble Courage, and free Cherefulnesse;
That his assurance had the pow'r to raise
The most deiected spirit into praise
And imitation of his worth. And thus,
By meanes Heroique and iudicious,
He did incline his armies gen'rous part
With love unto the practise of Desart.
And in that moouing Orbe of active warre;
His high command was the transcendent Starre,
Whose influence, for production of mens worthes,
Did gouerne at their militarie Birthes”
“Offences done against his owne estate,
(Which alwayes doth more strongly aggravate
The weight of iniurie to private sense,
Then publique apprehension of offence;
And stirres mens passions more;) have oftentimes
Subduc'd the Malefactors for those crimes,
Into the hands of lustice: where he might
With approbation and consent of right…”
“Upon the instant of his waking, hee
Did with such life, and quicke dexteritie,
His troupes direct; the seruice execute;
As practis'd Printers, Sett and Distribute
Their Letters: And more perfectly effected;
For what he did, was not to be corrected.”
“His praise may iustly (then) extend thus farre;
Hee was a Man, fit both for Peace and Warre.
Whose Monument, while Historie doth last;
Shall neuer be forgotten or defac'd.
These lines are all in elegiac praise of Francis, but one cannot escape the feeling that Cyril Tourneur was talking about the loss of two Veres, one in 1604, and one in 1609.