Hesperides, by Robert Herrick

Appendix ii.

Herrick’s Fairy Poems and the Description of the King and Queene of Fayries Published 1635.

The publisher’s freak, by which Herrick’s three chief Fairy poems (“The Fairy Temple; or, Oberon’s Chapel,” “Oberon’s Feast,” and “Oberon’s Palace”) are separated from each other, is greatly to be regretted. The last two, both dedicated to Shapcott, are distinctly connected by their opening lines, and “Oberon’s Chapel,” dedicated to Mr. John Merrifield, Herrick’s other fairy-loving lawyer, of course belongs to the same group. All three were probably first written in 1626 and cannot be dissociated from Drayton’s Nymphidia, published in 1627, and Sir Simeon Steward’s “A Description of the King of Fayries clothes, brought to him on New-yeares day in the morning, 1626 [O. S.], by his Queenes Chambermaids”. In 1635 there was published a little book of a dozen leaves, most kindly transcribed for this edition by Mr. E. Gordon Duff, from the unique copy at the Bodleian Library. It is entitled:—

“A | Description | of the King and Queene of | Fayries, their habit,

fare, their | abode pompe and state. | Beeing very delightfull to

the sense, and | full of mirth. | [Wood-cut.] London. | Printed

for Richard Harper, and are to be sold | at his shop, at the

Hospitall gate. 1635.”

Fol. 1 is blank; fol. 2 occupied by the title-page; ff. 3, 4 (verso blank) by a letter “To the Reader,” signed: “Yours hereafter, If now approved on, R. S.,” beginning: “Courteous Reader, I present thee here with the Description of the King of the Fayries, of his Attendants, Apparel, Gesture, and Victuals, which though comprehended in the brevity of so short a volume, yet as the Proverbe truely averres, it hath as mellifluous and pleasing discourse, as that whose amplitude contains the fulnesse of a bigger composition”; on fol. 5 (verso blank) occurs the following poem [spelling here modernised]:—

“Deep-skilled Geographers, whose art and skill

Do traverse all the world, and with their quill

Declare the strangeness of each several clime,

The nature, situation, and the time

Of being inhabited, yet all their art

And deep informèd skill could not impart

In what set climate of this Orb or Isle,

The King of Fairies kept, whose honoured style

Is here inclosed, with the sincere description

Of his abode, his nature, and the region

In which he rules: read, and thou shalt find

Delightful mirth, fit to content thy mind.

May the contents thereof thy palate suit,

With its mellifluous and pleasing fruit:

For nought can more be sweetened to my mind

Than that this Pamphlet thy contentment find;

Which if it shall, my labour is sufficed,

In being by your liking highly prized.

“Yours to his power,

“R. S.”

This is followed (pp. 1–3) by: “A Description of the Kings [sic] of Fayries Clothes, brought to him on New–Yeares day in the morning, 1626, by his Queenes Chambermaids:—

“First a cobweb shirt, more thin

Than ever spider since could spin.

Changed to the whiteness of the snow,

By the stormy winds that blow

In the vast and frozen air,

No shirt half so fine, so fair;

A rich waistcoat they did bring,

Made of the Trout-fly’s gilded wing:

At which his Elveship ‘gan to fret

The wearing it would make him sweat

Even with its weight: he needs would wear

A waistcoat made of downy hair

New shaven off an Eunuch’s chin,

That pleased him well, ’twas wondrous thin.

The outside of his doublet was

Made of the four-leaved, true-loved grass,

Changed into so fine a gloss,

With the oil of crispy moss:

It made a rainbow in the night

Which gave a lustre passing light.

On every seam there was a lace

Drawn by the unctuous snail’s slow pace,

To which the finest, purest, silver thread

Compared, did look like dull pale lead.

His breeches of the Fleece was wrought,

Which from Colchos Jason brought:

Spun into so fine a yarn

No mortal wight might it discern,

Weaved by Arachne on her loom,

Just before she had her doom.

A rich Mantle he did wear,

Made of tinsel gossamer.

Beflowered over with a few

Diamond stars of morning dew:

Dyed crimson in a maiden’s blush,

Lined with humble-bees’ lost plush.

His cap was all of ladies’ love,

So wondrous light, that it did move

If any humming gnat or fly

Buzzed the air in passing by,

About his neck a wreath of pearl,

Dropped from the eyes of some poor girl,

Pinched, because she had forgot

To leave clean water in the pot.”

The next page is occupied by a woodcut, and then (pp. 5, misnumbered 4, and 6) comes the variation on Herrick’s “Oberon’s Feast”:—


“Now they, the Elves, within a trice,

Prepared a feast less great than nice,

Where you may imagine first,

The Elves prepare to quench his thirst,

In pure seed pearl of infant dew

Brought and sweetened with a blue

And pregnant violet; which done,

His killing eyes begin to run

Quite o’er the table, where he spies

The horns of watered butterflies,

Of which he eats, but with a little

Neat cool allay of cuckoo’s spittle.

Next this the red-cap worm that’s shut

Within the concave of a nut.

Moles’ eyes he tastes, then adders’ ears;

To these for sauce the slain stags’ tears,

A bloated earwig, and the pith

Of sugared rush he glads him with.

Then he takes a little moth,

Late fatted in a scarlet cloth,

A spinner’s ham, the beards of mice,

Nits carbonadoed, a device

Before unknown; the blood of fleas,

Which gave his Elveship’s stomach ease.

The unctuous dew-laps of a snail,

The broke heart of a nightingale

O’ercome in music, with the sag

And well-bestrutted bee’s sweet bag.

Conserves of atoms, and the mites,

The silk-worm’s sperm, and the delights

Of all that ever yet hath blest

Fairy-land: so ends his feast.”

On the next page is printed: “Orpheus. Thrice excelling, for the finishment of this Feast, thou must music it so that the Deities may descend to grace it.” This is succeeded by a page bearing a woodcut, then we have “The Fairies Fegaries,” a poem occupying three more pages followed by another woodcut, and then “The Melancholly Lover’s Song,” and a third woodcut. The occurrence of the Melancholy Lover’s Song (the well-known lines beginning: “Hence all you vain delights”) in print in 1635 is interesting, as I believe that The Nice Valour, the play in which they occur, was not printed till 1647, and Milton’s Il Penseroso, which they suggested, appeared in 1645. But the verses are rather out of place in the little Fairy–Book.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55