Introducing Thomas Watson

watson-wgb-242x300About a year ago, I was indulging in a spot of Shakespearean scholarship, which showed how Shakespeare was connected to the Familists, & had also visited Douay in the 1570s where he seems to have studied with the English Jesuits. In recent days I’ve also been looking at another fellow who visited said College, a certain Thomas Watson, who we can make the most interesting connection to our bard in London, in the year 1589.  His name was Thomas Watson, born in St Olave Parish in 1555. There is a record for him studying at Winchester College in 1567, & when he supplied verses to Greene’s Ciceronis Amor (1589), Watson signed himself an Oxford man – which means that he studied at the that university at some point. This is confirmed by the Oxford antiquarian Anthony à Wood (Athenae Oxonienses 1691) who stated, “Thomas Watson, a Londoner born, did spend his time in this university, not in logic and philosophy, as he ought to have done, but in the smooth and pleasant studies of poetry and romance, whereby he obtained an honourable name among the students of those faculties.” One of these students could well have been William Stanley, who was 6 years younger than Watson & who studied at St Johns.

Watson was a prolific poet, & in a verse preface to his Latin version of the Antone, he gives us more gloss concerning his life; I spent seven or eight years far from my homeland, and learned to speak in diverse tongues. Then I became well versed in Italy’s language and manners, and also thy our tongue and ways, learned France. Wherever I was wafted, I cultivated the Muses as best I could, and Justinian was especially dear. But often Mars troubled Pallas against her will, and wars often interrupted my study. Yet I shunned the camps, save for the camps of Phoebus, which contained the pious Graces together with the Muses. Bartolus, you were a great tome. I was not permitted to carry you about, nor your legal puzzles, learned Baldus. I took up Sophocles, I taught his Muses to grow gentle. I made Latin out of his Greekish verse. Thus, though disturbed, I spent my hours a useful man, I taught Antigone how to speak Latin.

It seems very much that Watson’s time on the continent was a surreptitious escapade in Catholic scholarship. The English College diary at Douay records on October 15, 1576, ‘Dominus Watson went from here to Paris.’ The following May he is back in Douay, where we read ‘August: on the seventh day Master Watson, Master Robinson, Master Griffith, and some others left for England because of the riots.’  It is likely that he met the Italian Jesuit Metteo Ricci during this period, for a system of local memory training he would publish as a treatise in 1585 was identical to the one used by Matteo to wow the Chinese when he was there.

In an earlier post, I also placed Shakespeare in Douay 1575-76, which gives us our first, albeit tentative, connection. Three years later, Watson is living in Westminster, which means he could well have encountered our even chaperoned our young Shakespeare, who was also living in London at the time.  William Stanley may also have met Watson, in Paris 1582, for 14 years after then, in 1596,  the anonymous author of Ulysses upon Ajax  describes a certain, ‘Tom Watson’s jests, I heard them at Paris fourteen years ago: besides what balductum play is not full of them?” 

We now come to the very distinct possibility that in 1589 – when Shakespeare was also in London – that Watson was sharing the same social circle as the bard. In 1589, he had become the tutor to John Cornwallis, son of William, a high-ranking, yet Catholic, advocate of the Queen’s Bench. William also explains how Watson could ‘deuise twenty fictions and knaveryes in a play, which was his daily practyse and his liuing,’ a theatrical bent confirmed in the Palladis Tamia  Francis Meres in 1598, which places Watson amon such eminent company as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Peele, Kyd,  Drayton, Chapman, Dekker, and Jonson as being ‘our best for tragedie.’ Only one of Watson’s plays survive – ‘The Trewe Misterie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke.’ 1589, with its obvious Shakesperean connotations.

That he influenced Shakespeare was also suggested in a sidenote in the Polimanteia (1595), where a certain W. C. describes  a ‘Wanton Adonis’  (Shakespeare had just published Venus & Adonis) as ‘Watson’s heyre.’ Indeed, Watson’s 1585 Latin poem, Amyntas, end with their heroes transforming into flowers, while Watson’s translation of Coluthus’ erotic Raprus Helenae (1586) may also have influenced Shakespeare. One further significant influence Watson had on not just Shakespeare, but on English literature as a whole, was his ‘Passionate Century of Love’ (1582) – the first significant sonnet sequence of the age. These sonnets were actually three comblended sestets – ABABCC – the form which Shakespeare would us for his Venus & Adonis, the  first stanzas of which were written, I believe, in the mid-1580s.

That Shakespeare was actually Watson’s friend can be discerned thro’ analyzing a line in sonnet 32, the full text of which reads;

If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bett’ring of the time,
And though they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love’.

The key line is  ‘ march in ranks of better equipage’ which connects to a statement by Nash, in his preface to Green’s Menaphon (1589) which expresses that Watson’s works, ‘march in equipage of honour.‘ Watson died in 1592, & if I am right, then this sonnet was written after that occasion, & when Shakespeare writes, ‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age, A dearer birth than this his love had brought, To march in ranks of better equipage: But since he died and poets better prove, Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love,’ he is stating that tho’ better exist than Watson, the love he professes in his poetry is worth emulating.

Now then. In the National Archives (PROB 11/118/441 1), there is the Prerogative Court of Canterbury copy of the will of Sir William Cornwallis, from 1611. which tells us that he became owner of an enormous mansion known as Fisher’s Folly in 1588 (on the site of the present Devonshire Suare) described as a huge structure with ‘gardens of pleasure, bowling-alleys and the like.‘ In that same year he employed Thomas Watson as a tutor for his son and heir, John Cornwallis. Also that year we have his daughter, Anne, becoming the author – transcriber rather – of the short anthology of sixteenth century poetry known as the Cornwallis-Lysons manuscript(Folger MS V.a.89).

(Incidentally, another person in the household was Cornelia Cornwallis, one of the younger daughters, who would eventually – in 1601 – marry Sir Richard Fermor of Somerton, Oxfordshire. His auntie, Anne(d.1550), had been the wife of William Lucy (d.1551), & thus the mother of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, Warwickshire, the very estate where the young Shakespeare was caught stealing deer!)

Back to the Cornwallis-Lysons book, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, the prolific nineteenth-century Shakespeare scholar and collector, became convinced that several poems were by Shakespeare. The fellow published the account of his acquisition of the russia leather-bound quarto bearing the large feminine signature, “Anne Cornwaleys her booke,” in a volume entitled, Catalogue of Shakespeare Reliques In the Possession of James Orchard Halliwell, Esq., F.R.S. in the year 1852.’ In it he compares the stanzas of one poem to those in the Passionate Pilgrim, a collection of 20 poems attributed to Shakespeare in 1599.

The lines by Shakespeare are an elegant little poem which appeared first in The Passionate Pilgrim, 1599, a surreptitious publication in which they are most incorrectly given. The present Manuscript offers not only a better arrangement of the stanzas, but also a far superior text, in proof of which we subjoin the last stanza:—

Manuscript

Now hoe, inoughe, too much I fear;
For if my ladye heare this songe,
She will not sticke to ringe my eare,
To teache my tongue to be soe longe;
Yet would she blushe, here be it saide,
To heare her secrets thus bewrayede.

Printed Text

(Poem XIX, The Passionate Pilgrim, 1599)
But soft; enough, too much I fear,
Lest that my mistress hear my song;
She’ll not stick to round me i’ the ear,
To teach my tongue to be so long:
Yet will she blush, here be it said,
To hear her secrets so bewray’d.

In this (manuscript) reading, we get rid of the harsh and false metre of the third (printed) line, and obtain a more natural imagery; the lady wringing, her lover’s ear for betraying her secrets, being certainly a more appropriate punishment for his fault than that of merely whispering (to) him.

Invention has been racked to account for the utter disappearance of the poems of Shakespeare in his own hand. The Rev. Mr. Hunter, in his recently published New Illustrations of the Life and Writings of Shakespeare, ingeniously supposes that the last descendant of the Poet, Lady Barnard (granddaughter of the Stratford citizen) in her over-religious zeal, may have destroyed any writings that remained in her hands. Whatever cause it may be owing, it is a certain fact that, at the present time, not a line of (William Shakspere’s) writing is known to exist. In the absence of his (literary) autographs, any contemporaneous manuscript is of importance; and in this view the present (Cornwallis) one may justly be deemed a literary curiosity of high interest.

In conclusion, I may observe that during a search of ten years later extended to about fifty years and after a careful examination of every collection of the kind I could meet with, either in public or private libraries, the present is the only specimen of any of Shakespeare’s writings I have seen which was written in the sixteenth century. Scraps may be occasionally met with in miscellanies of a later date, but this volume, in point of antiquity, may be fairly considered to be unique in its kind, and as one of the most interesting illustrations of Shakespeare known to exist

The volume also contains an attribution to a certain WS.  This fact, & all the others, really does reinforce a connection between Thomas Watson & Shakespeare that could well have been forged in Douay in the 1570s & carried on to London, 1589. Indeed, Fishers Folly, when Shakespeare came to London in the late 1580s, was originally the possession of the Earl Of Oxford, who made the place the, “headquarters for the school of poets and dramatists who openly acknowledged his patronage and leadership,” a fertile breeding ground indeed.

TEXTUAL COMPARISON

For me, the language, spelling & rhythms of the Shakespeare poem given above, ie;

Now hoe, inoughe, too much I fear;
For if my ladye heare this songe,
She will not sticke to ringe my eare,
To teache my tongue to be soe longe;
Yet would she blushe, here be it saide,
To heare her secrets thus bewrayede.

Have an extremely similar ring to the language, spelling & rhythms of the poem attributed to WS in 1577, which I gave in an earlier post, ie;

W.S. in Commendation of the author begins

Of silver pure thy penne is made, dipte in the Muses well
They eloquence & loftie style all other doth excell:
Thy wisedom great & secrete sense diffusedly disguysde,
Doth shew how Pallas rules thy minde, & Phoebus hath devisde
Those Golden lines, which polisht are with Tagus glittering sandes.
A pallace playne of pleasures great unto the vewers handes.
Thy learning doth bewray itselfe and worthie prayse dothe crave,
Who so thee knew, did little think such learning thee to have.
Here Vertue seems to checke at Vice, & wisedome folly tauntes:
Here Venus she is set at naught, and Dame Diane she vauntes.
Here Pallas Cupid doth detest, & all his carpet knightes:
Here doth she shew, that youthfull impes in folly most delightes.
And how when age comes creeping on, with shew of hoary heares,
Then they the losse of time repent, with sobbes & brinish teares.
Thou Ambodexter playste herein, to take the first rebounde,
And for to shew thy minde at large, in earth doth the same compound.
So that Apollo Claddes his corps all with Morycbus clothes,
And shewes himself still friendliest there, wher most of all he lothes

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