Barnabe Googe Critical Essays

Introduction

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Barnabe Googe 1540-1594

(Also Goche, Gougge, Gouche) English poet and translator.

A poet and translator, Googe is best known for Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets (1563), which is considered to be among the earliest collections of modern English poetry. This collection is credited as partially responsible for establishing the eclogue as an English poetic genre and for helping to usher in the plain-style lyrics that were a popular feature of poetry in the next century. As a translator, Googe is noted for his English versions of Marcellus Palingenius's Zodiake of Life (1560) and Conrad Heresbach's Four Books of Husbandry (1577). Googe's reputation, which considerably declined following his death in 1594, has been revived by literary historians who recognize in his work transmissions of both ideas and stylistic practices that would influence such better-known English writers as Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Milton.

Biographical Information

Googe was born in Kent in 1540. His mother died when he was still an infant. He attended Cambridge university, receiving his degree from Christ's College at Cambridge in 1555, and later at the Inns of Court. Two years later his father died, leaving Googe an inheritance of considerable property on the condition that he use his education to provide free counsel to those in need. Unable to gain full control of his inheritance until the death of his stepmother, Googe began work as a civil servant, traveling to Spain in the party of the ambassador in 1561. After a stormy courtship and the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he married Mary Darrell in 1564, with whom he would have nine children. In 1574, his relative Sir William Cecil (who had recently been named Lord Burghley) sent Googe to a post in Ireland. During his years in Ireland, Googe became acquainted with authors Edmund Spenser and Barnabe Riche, as well as composing numerous sketches and letters. In 1582, Googe was appointed provost marshal of Connaught and Thomond, providing him some financial stability but separating him from his family. After the death of his stepmother in 1583-84, he began planning his return to England. He returned to his family home in Lincolnshire in 1585, where he remained until his death in 1594.

Major Works

Googe's major work, Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets, includes many obviously youthful imitations of poems found in Richard Tottel's 1557 Miscellany. Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets is nevertheless distinguished by its inclusion of eight connected eclogues that reject the genre's glorification of sensual love while at the same time employing the pastoral style of this poetic form. The volume's final poem, an allegorical dream sequence entitled “Cupido Conquered” also seeks to show that romantic and sensual passions should be overcome. While Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets is regarded as Googe's most enduring literary achievement, during his lifetime he was known primarily for his translations. In 1560, Googe published a translation of the first three books of Palingenius's Zodiacus vitae, a philosophical poem about nature, the human condition, and the path to spiritual salvation. By 1565, Googe had completed his translation of all twelve books of The Zodiake of Life, which soon became a standard school text. In 1569, Googe published The Ship of Safeguard, an allegorical poem that Googe translated liberally from two Christian legends. Following Queen Elizabeth's excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1570, Googe published The Popish Kingdom; or, Reign of Antichrist, a translation of Thomas Kirchmeyer's anti-Catholic diatribe. In 1577, Googe produced one of his most celebrated translations, Four Books of Husbandry, based on Conrad Heresbach's work on agricultural practices. In addition to translating this volume, Googe also augmented it by introducing numerous prose digressions on food and farming. Over the next decade, Googe translated several more works, including a volume of Latin poetry, a collection of Spanish proverbs, and a work about medicinal herbs.

Critical Reception

Googe intended his translations for the moral and practical education of his countrymen. This was especially the case with Zodiake of Life and Four Books of Husbandry, which drew praise from Googe's Elizabethan contemporaries for their faithfulness to the originals. While Googe was largely forgotten in the century following his death, his poetry was rediscovered in the eighteenth century by literary historians, most of whom condemned his poetic output as unorigional. Only in the twentieth century has the critical assessment of Googe's works become more positive, with critics viewing his lyric poetry as an early example of the plain style favored by later, more prominent poets. Yvor Winters describes “Of Money” as one of the greatest lyric poems of its age, and it has since become one of Googe's most anthologized poems. Nevertheless, studies of Googe's poetry tend to concentrate more on its literary influence than on its intrinsic merits. His poetic output is most often adduced for two purposes: first, to argue for the influence of Tottel's Miscellany, thus demonstrating Googe's importance in leading the transition from religious to personal poetry, and, second, to illustrate his part in introducing the poetic form of the eclogue into English letters.