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Latin verses by Charles Fitzgeffrey (?1576 - 1638)

The first printed reference to Nashe's death


Fitzgeffrey, who proceeded M.A. at Oxford on July 4, 1600, was already the author of a poem on Sir Francis Drake. (He got a favourable nod for it from Meres in Palladis Tamia - "yong Charles Fitz-Ieffrey, that high-touring falcon.") He seems to have been part of an Oxford-based literary circle as a young man, although in later life he took holy orders. His literary friends included the Mychelbourne brothers, William Vaughan, John Davies of Hereford and Robert Hayman. (Incidentally, does anyone know of any other literary figure of 1590s London apart from Hayman to die and be buried in the new world? For his verse, click here.)

The book of Latin verses in which this tribute to Nashe appears was published in 1601, and is called Caroli Fitzgeofridi Affaniae: sive Epigrammatum libri tres; Ejusdem Cenotaphia. It has epigrams addressed to Michael Drayton, Sir John Harington, Samuel Daniel, William Percy, John Marston, Joseph Hall and Thomas Campion, among others; and epitaphs on Tarleton, Spenser and Nashe. There's no reason of course to think Fitzgeffrey knew any of his subjects personally. For example he addresses an epigram to the satirist Joseph Hall as 'AD IOANNEM HALLUM CANTABRIG' ('To John Hall of Cambridge'), so clearly he couldn't have known him.

Some people have thought the poem may allude to the physical circumstances of Nashe's death - that perhaps he suffered a stroke which left him speechless and paralysed, - but others feel Fitzgeffrey is simply referring to the blanket ban issued by Whitgift which left Nashe stripped of his usual weapons and unable to fend for himself.

The translation below is my own, done with the aid of a good dictionary, a bad memory and a great deal of cribbing from the translation appearing in Nicholl's A Cup of News. For a better one try:

a site that gives a critical text, with translations, of Fitzgeffrey's book. (To see the Nashe epigram choose 'Cenotaphia' from the Table of Contents. He's no. 29)

Anyway, as Nicholl comments, it's a wonderful upbeat epitaph - suggesting that given a fair chance someone as feisty as Nashe could have put the wind up the old Grim Reaper himself.

Thomae Nashe

On Thomas Nashe

  Quum Mors edictum Iovis imperiale secuta
Vitales Nashi extingueret atra faces;
Armatum iuveni linguam calamumque tremendum
(Fulmina bina) prius insidiosa rapit,
Mox illum aggreditur nudum atque invadit inermem
Atque ita de victo vate trophaea refert.
Cui si vel calamus praesto vel lingua fuisset,
Ipsa quidem metuit mors truculenta mori.
   When dismal Death, carrying out Jove's imperial edict
Puts out Nashe's vital fire;
The young man's armed tongue and his terrible pen
- Those twin thunderbolts - he first sneakily takes away.
Then he rushes in and overruns the naked unarmed man
And comes back triumphant, the poet beaten.
Who, if he'd had either his pen or tongue at command
Would have put the fear of death into Death itself.

But Mrs. Duncan-Jones discovered an epitaph by a much greater poet. For Ben Jonson's valedictory verse on Nashe, select here.

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