Richard Fanshawe. The Poems and Translations of Sir Richard Fanshawe. Vol. 1.  Ed. Peter Davidson. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1997. xlii + 383 pp.  ISBN 019811737X Cloth.
Jerome de Groot
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

De Groot, Jerome. "Review of The Poems and Translations of Sir Richard Fanshawe. Vol. 1." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.2 (September, 1998): 21.1-5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-2/rev_degr.html>.

  1. In verses written to celebrate reading Sir Richard Fanshawe’s Il Pastor Fido, John Denham admired the poem by comparing it with what had come before, the "labour’d births of slavish brains." Denham celebrates Fanshawe’s "new and nobler way," his break with traditional methods of translation and move towards a new and thinly veiled political mode of rendering foreign writings. Peter Davidson’s new edition of Fanshawe (1608-1666) confidently exposes Denham’s intentional misreading and misrepresentation of the poet and the poem, correcting the commonplace assumption that Fanshawe was father to the "new" practice of Royalist translation that burgeoned in the 1640s. This modest reclamation of Fanshawe from historiographical caricature is merely part of Davidson’s general reassessment of the poet and his work, subtly changing our view of this highly influential but little considered writer. Davidson is not resistant to Denham’s politicization of Fanshawe, rather he locates Fanshawe as a writer of political verse where often he is seen as merely a translator. His readings of the 1648 volume Il Pastor Fido are resonant and authoritative, seeing the poet appropriating Classical and Continental texts to reflect upon current and contemporary events. Fanshawe’s practice of translation is seen as an adjunct to his poetry rather than as the whole, culminating in his vision which parallels Charles II (then Prince of Wales) with Augustus when young, wisely ruling his pacified country. The later translations are given sympathetic and sensitive readings, the editor alert to the problems of physical and artistic exile.

  2. This is a readable, useful edition, executed with minimum fuss. Fanshawe is fortunate to have an editor so sensitive to his poetry, able to bring a great depth of knowledge to bear in his exegeses. Davidson’s own translations are neat and modest, with the emphasis on a utilitarian accuracy. The commentary is brief but provides a reasonable mix of interpretation, contextualisation and information. The notes are unfussy, the analogues quietly locating Fanshawe’s poems in their literary and cultural tradition. His early influences are charted and ascribed (with particularly interesting reference to his involvement with the Spenserian circle congregating around Thomas May). Davidson’s annotations judiciously add to an understanding of Fanshawe’s text rather than intrusively espousing any doctrinaire point of view. The poems are arranged chronologically, a practice "dictated by the strong unity of the collections in which he himself published them" (xxxii). Here, as throughout the edition, Davidson’s authoritative editorial policy is backed up by solid critical analysis.

  3. The scholarly apparatus is satisfyingly unmuddled and enables the reader a precise view of Fanshawe’s text. The textual introduction untangles the complexities of the various versions in a fashion thorough enough for the bibliographic expert, yet so logically argued as to inform the understanding of the relative layperson. There is very little modernising emendation, and the majority of variants are recorded. This textual clarity is achieved at the expense of applying to Fanshawe’s manuscripts some of the more intriguing ideas circulating in Manuscript studies recently. Whilst describing the various sources well, Davidson doesn’t attempt cross-readings of autograph manuscripts in the way that pioneers like John Kerrigan and Mary Hobbs have suggested. It would have been interesting to see the manuscript poems (especially the early unpublished verse) contextualised within the miscellanies they derive from, although the stemma is exhaustive and solidly thought out. Obviously the editor has been bound by lack of time and space, as the Fanshawe manuscripts are large and varied. However, in neglecting to consider this element of the texts the opportunity of considering the potentially intriguing poetic relationships these manuscripts might have flagged is lost. There is likewise little consideration of the circulation of the manuscripts, despite the fact that there is an indication in some of the newly unearthed letters that Fanshawe was part of a specific literary circle or society ("For your Verses I must confess I received them before in sommer, but cannot yet determine inso nice a Controversie, and indeed am loath to proceed to judgement in a Cause where both yours are at Stake" [329]).

  4. One of the most useful aspects of the volume is this new and previously unpublished material, comprising eight letters covering a period of some twenty-six years between 1640-66. The new information gives valuable new insight into Fanshawe’s biography and casts more doubt over the accuracy of Lady Anne Fanshawe’s Memoirs as an accurate account of her husband’s life. The letters point to interesting new relationships and interpretations of events, more of which will come to light when the Fanshawe Papers at Valence House are catalogued and can be profitably consulted. The letters and Davidson’s notes suggest Fanshawe’s membership of a variety of overlapping circles in intellectual society, an interesting sidelight into the circumstances of poetic consumption and composition during the Caroline period and after.

  5. It can only be a good thing that the obscured Cavalier poets of the 1640’s and 50’s be brought back into our critical consciousness and given sensitive and scholarly treatment. In conjunction with the recent edition of Cowley, and the forthcoming Waller, Davidson’s Fanshawe project rescues these poets from earlier confused and confusing selections, allowing us to see more clearly the topography of mid-seventeenth century cultural life. What faults there are in the volume are easily defended, and Davidson must be applauded for providing a clear, authoritative platform to base further work on.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

1998-, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).

(LH, RGS, 24 July 1998)