Robert Ayton

An argument with King James

This poem appears similar in tone to Ayton's other 'courtly' verses (see d1_AytR_008, d1_AytR_009, and d1_AytR_016), which could potentially date it to c.1606. However, the reference at line 9 to the illegal poaching of deer and stag ('Non damam aut cervum nocturna fraude peremi') suggests this should be dated to around 1623, when Henry Field (alias Smith), an under-keeper of Theobald's Park, and his brother-in-law Roger White were found to be stealing deer from the park. When it emerged that they were supported by a number of members of the court, the investigation was quashed. If this is evidence of the date, then the poem refers to Ayton's (ultimately unsuccessful) suit for the provostship of Eton college, which became vacant on the death of Thomas Murray on 9 April 1623 and was filled by Sir Henry Wotton on 22 July 1624 after extensive wrangling and canvassing by a range of competitors. Verses by Ayton arguing his suitability for the post, chiefly by punning on the similarity of his name to 'Eton', are appended (mistakenly) to d1_AytR_023. The full history of the episode is recounted in detail in Gullans (ed.), Ayton, pp. 59-70. Metre: elegiac couplets.

[71]

Expostulatio cum Iacobo Rege

1Ergo etiam immeritos ditant ubi praemia larga
sparsa manu, solus praemia nulla feram?
Ergo etiam incautis veniunt ubi munera sortis
lapsa sinu; vacuus munere solus ero?
5Heu qua labe reo, quo sonti crimine sors est
blanda parens aliis, dura noverca mihi!
Certe ego nil feci quod nunc atrocius audit,
aut Majestatis crimen olere solet.
Non damam aut cervum nocturna fraude peremi,
10sed colui sacrum ceu tibi Phoebe pecus. 1
Non hausi infames fumos quos India mittit,
guttureque attractos reddere nare docet.
Non mihi de Catharo melior sententia, quam de
Papicola, ob maculas sordet uterque suas.
15Sed si Pierias coluisse impensius artes, 2
crimen apud sciolos degeneresque fuit:
si personato nescire obducere fuco
verba, sed ingenuo quidlibet ore loqui:
si nolle obsequio servili fingere frontem,
20sed simulare nihil, dissimulare nihil:
haec si crimen habent, fateor pejora merenti
sors mihi blanda parens, nulla noverca fuit.

[71]

An argument with King James

Is it the case that, when great rewards are distributed by hand and enrich the unworthy, I alone shall bear no rewards? Is it also the case that, when the gifts of fortune slip from a purse and come to the heedless, I alone shall be without a gift? Through what criminal dishonour, through what guilty crime do I have fortune as a hostile step-mother while others have her as a kindly parent? Without doubt I have done nothing that seems particularly bad, nor anything that usually resembles an injury against the king's dignity. I have neither hunted deer nor stag illegally at night, but rather I have tended the sacred herd, just as if for you, Phoebus. a Nor have I drawn in the infamous smoke b which India emits, and which it instructs to blow out of the nose after it has been drawn in through the throat. Nor do I think the opinions of the Cathars c better than those of the Papists: each is worthless because of their faults. Yet, if it was a fault to have too lavishly worshipped the Pierian arts d amid the pretentious and ignoble; to not know how to mask one's words with a dissembling deceit, but to speak in every way from an honest mouth; if it is a fault to not wish to erect a facade of obsequious servility, but to rather dissemble in no way, and affect nothing: if these things contain fault, I confess, fortune was a kind parent to me who deserved worse things; she was not a hostile step-mother.

Notes:


Original

1: See Virgil, Georgics III.2, and Ovid, Metamorphoses I.580 for Apollo as guardian of flocks.

2: Cf. Statius, Silvae II.2.112.

Translation

a: See introduction.

b: Tobacco. See also d1_AytR_004.

c: Christian sect that flourished in France and northern Italy between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, but perhaps here metonymic for extreme presbyterianism or puritanism.

d: ie, poetry.