Born: c. 1557
Birthplace: London, England
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: The Tears of Fancie
English lyrical poet, born in London, probably in 1557. He proceeded to Oxford, and while quite a young man enjoyed a certain reputation, even abroad, as a Latin poet. His De remedio amoris, which was perhaps his earliest important composition, is lost, and so is his "piece of work written in the commendation of women-kind", which was also in Latin verse. He came back to London and became a law student. The earliest publication by Watson which has survived is a Latin version of the Antigone of Sophocles, issued in 1581. It is dedicated to Philip Howard, earl of Arundel, who was perhaps the patron of the poet, who seems to have spent some part of this year in Paris. Next year Watson appears for the first time as an English poet in some verses prefixed to Whetstone's Heptameron, and also in a far more important guise, as the author of the Passionate Centurie of Love. This is a collection or cycle of 100 pieces, in the manner of Petrarch, celebrating the sufferings of a lover and his long farewell to love. The technical peculiarity of these interesting poems is that, although they appear and profess to be sonnets, they are really written in triple sets of common six-line stanza, and therefore have eighteen lines each. It seems likely that Watson, who courted comparison with Petrarch, seriously desired to recommend this form to future sonneteers; but in this he had no imitators. Among those who were at this time the friends of Watson we note Matthew Royden and George Peele. In 1585 he published a Latin translation of Tasso's pastoral play of Aminta, and his version was afterwards translated into English by Abraham Fraunce (1587). Watson was now, as the testimony of Thomas Nashe and others prove, regarded as the best Latin poet of England. In 1590 he published, in English and Latin verse, his Meliboeus, an elegy on the death of Sir Francis Walsingham, and a collection of Italian Madrigals, put into English by Watson and set to music by William Byrd. Of the remainder of Watson's career nothing is known, save that on the 26th of September 1592 he was buried in the church of St. Bartholomew the Less, and that in the following year his latest and best book, The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained (1593), was posthumously published. This is a collection of sixty sonnets, regular in form, so far at least as to have fourteen lines each. Edmund Spenser is supposed to have alluded to the untimely death of Watson in Colin Clout's Come Home Again, when he says:
Amynta's quite is gone and lies full low,
Having his Amaryllis left to moan.
He is mentioned by Meres in company with Shakespeare, Peele and Marlowe among "the best for tragedie", but no dramatic work of his except the translations above mentioned has come down to us. It is certain that this poet enjoyed a great reputation in his lifetime, and that he was not without a direct influence upon the youth of Shakespeare. He was the first, after the original experiment made by Sir Thomas Wyat and Surrey, to introduce the pure imitation of Petrarch into English poetry. He was well read in Italian, French and Greek literature. Watson died young, and he had not escaped from a certain languor and insipidity which prevent his graceful verses from producing their full effect. This demerit is less obvious in his later than in his earlier pieces, and with the development of the age, Watson, whose contemporaries regarded him as a poet of true excellence, would probably have gained power and music. As it is, he has the honor of being one of the direct forerunners of Shakespeare (in Venus and Adonis and in the Sonnets), and of being the leader in the long procession of Elizabethan sonnet-cycle writers.
The English works of Watson, excepting the madrigals, were first collected by Edward Arber in 1870. Thomas Watson's "Italian Madrigals Englished" (1590) were reprinted (edited by F. J. Carpenter) from the Journal of Germanic Philology (vol. II, No. 3, p. 337) with the original Italian, in 1899.
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