Barnabe Googe Criticism - Essay

Rosemond Tuve (essay date 1947)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Tuve, Rosemond. Introduction to The Zodiake of Life, by Marcellus Palingenius, translated by Barnabe Googe, pp. v-xxiv. New York: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1947.

[In the following excerpt, Tuve praises Googe's translation of Palingenius's Zodiake, a philosophical poem studied by many of the translator's most important Renaissance contemporaries.]

The especial interest of [The Zodiake of Life] lies in what we know of its readers. A few of those readers were men of greater genius and originality than its writer. The greatest number of them were students who studied it as a school-book, in Latin, or read Googe's translation because they were interested in a “most learned” and “pregnant introduction into Astronomie, & both philosophies.” This characterization of the book by Gabriel Harvey indicates the nature of its influence upon English thought.

Among Renaissance Latin poems it enjoyed in England a popularity perhaps rivaled only by Mantuan's eclogues; it did not, like Mantuan, form men's styles, but it helped to shape the thinking of very many 16th and 17th century English writers and readers. This facsimile is a somewhat belated recognition of the importance of a poem which was prescribed as a textbook in many schools; which had more than sixty editions, ten of them in England; which was praised by Bruno; which was so admired by one of England's outstanding mathematical scientists—Thomas Digges—that he learned its 11th book “bie hart”; which appeared in Googe's English translation (first partial, then complete) in five editions from 1560 to 1588, gathering many praises, even such a one as the critical Harvey's inclusion of it among books whose translators had not wronged their authors.1 One should add that Shakespeare probably studied it.2


Such reasons as these for our re-reading of a book make its writer and its translator of far less interest to us than the content and qualities of the book itself. This is fortunate, for we are not even sure of the identity of the writer, and would know little more about him if we were, while its translator is a figure of small magnitude, even to the literary historian who is caught by the fact that his eclogues did much to establish the pastoral genre in the vernacular.

The usual identification of Palingenius with Pier Angelo Manzolli of Stellata, near Ferrara, may be accepted if the reader pleases; it helps one to no further knowledge. The dedication to Ercole II Duke of Ferrara is translated by Googe in the 1576 edition; and one fact about Palingenius' life seems certain: that his bones were exhumed and burnt, and his book placed upon the Index in 1558, among writings of heretics of the first class. All other facts about him are questioned: his identity, his connection with the unorthodox group which gathered about Renée de France, his profession of medicine, the date when his book appeared (?1531 or ca. 1535).3 Thus, by a strange irony, which would not have displeased an author who is most powerful when most sardonic, Palingenius lives only in this one book, and he disobligingly died before what he said in it could bring him to his death. Nor was he destroyed by the second and symbolic death to which his book did bring him; his bones were burned and his book was reprinted—some thirty times before the end of the century.

Barnabe Googe's stature as a writer is not great, yet we must think that he added to it by translating Palingenius, and therein agree with the men of some repute who made this claim for him in their commendatory verses. These are not uninformative to one who is interested in contemporary critical attitudes and intellectual interests, offering a perspective through which the figure of Googe takes on new dignity. We may boggle at assenting to Carlile's comparison of Googe to Chaucer, but Googe's own tribute to the latter is humble and just enough. The references to Chaucer remind us, as do Harvey's marginalia, that that poet was read with great seriousness; one need not be surprised that these commenders took pleasure alike in Palingenius' and in Chaucer's “astronomy,” in Googe's and in Chaucer's Englishing of foreign works, in Palingenius' book Scorpius and in Chaucer's high arguments of free will. foreknowledge, and destiny. In sum, the commendatory verses and various prefatory epistles here reprinted help us not only to measure contemporary appraisals of Googe and Palingenius but to define more accurately the attitudes of the 1560's with regard to poets and poetry: the high hopes; the zeal in placing knowledge within reach of the unlearned; the pride in English men of eloquence and learning; the sense of the poet's responsibilities; the still firm unwinking faith (which was to help mould English poets and critics for a century to come) in the power of a philosophical poetry of high seriousness; therewith, the fair estimate of a mediaeval poet like Chaucer which, though unaided by scholarly findings, yet took account of aspects not seen by an Arnold.

Much of what there is to be known about Googe can be found in the prefatory materials here reproduced from the various editions4; we learn thence of his connection with Christ's College, Cambridge and New College, Oxford, his residence at Staple Inn, his connection with Cecil, his encouragers, his critics, his strongly Protestant admiration of Palingenius, the earnestness which made him begin such a work at 19 and finish it at 25. It is to be remembered that he did this despite the not inconsiderable interruptions of a journey abroad, a betrothal and marriage effected in the teeth of family opposition to which even his lady had succumbed, and the publication of the book for which literary history has remembered him: the Eglogs, epytaphes, and sonettes of 1563.

The numerous prefatory materials give a view of the young author of that more famous volume which is not unprepossessing. He has enthusiasm and determination, if he lacks urbanity. His defense of poetry is as typical of his period as is Sidney's, however less forcefully and beautifully he phrases the same didactic ideal and the same emphasis on scriptural precedent (To Cecil, 1561; To the Reader, 1565). His ranking of Chaucer with Homer, Virgil, and Ovid is part of a patriotic zeal for the English tongue and for those who had written in it with fine and filed phrases equalling the ancients'. One need not read heavy solemnity into his lighter verses; there is a humor not entirely unintended in the vision of the 19-year-old Googe faced by the Muses with the choice of translating Aratus for Urania, or Lucan for Melpomene, or Palingenius for Calliope (The Preface, 1560).

We may feel that Calliope might well have rewarded him with a little more of her sweetness of tone. Yet we must admit that he follows with honesty and intelligence his theory of translation; it is that workable one which gave us the great Elizabethan translations—not always to follow the strict order of word for word and verse for verse, but yet no whit to swerve “from the perfect minde of the autoure” (Preface to the Reader, 1565). One will note improvement in the translation as he grew older, in the direction of compression, particularity, and exactness. Even earlier, there is something to be said for a youth of 20 who for his translation of the Zodiake was included by Donne's uncle, Jasper Heywood, in that group of “Mineruaes men, And finest witts” who contributed lustre to the London Inns of Court by their translations of important foreign works.5

His earliest such contribution was not his last. A translation by Googe of Naogeorgus' Popish kingdome came out in 1570. Later, a busy official life in Ireland, though it prevented him from finding time for proper revision (To Cecil, 1576), deterred him no more than it did Spenser, whom he very probably knew, from that odd and strenuous Elizabethan combination of patriotic services to the English tongue and to the English empire, pen in one hand and (one must suppose) sword in the other. Perhaps the duties were not onerous; but still there can have been neither tranquility nor libraries in the bogs and fens to encourage Googe's other two translations during those years: one of Conrad Heresbach's Foure bookes of husbandry in 1577, one of Lopez de Mendoza's Proverbes in 1579 (cf. also STC 1970, Andrew Bertholdus' The wonderfull and strange effects of a new terra sigillata, translated by ‘B. G.,’ 1587).

Googe returned from Ireland in 1585, and died in 1593/4; of his eight children two younger sons were more conventionally academic than their father: Robert, a Fellow of All Souls, and Barnabe, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. One builds up an estimate of the man—it may be, in the absence of information—much like one's estimate of his book here reproduced. It was not a great achievement. It commands esteem.


This poem is in the tradition of mediaeval philosophical poetry—already a “tradition,” of course, by the time of the Middle Ages. Accordingly the scope of the poem is encyclopaedic, its purpose serious, its structure far from the simple organization of narrative, and its tone ironic or satirical, hortatory, descriptively violent or florid or macabre, according to the demands of the themes treated in the course of the argument.6

Like many poems of the Renaissance other than the Faerie Queene, it uses the poetic conventions of a Confessio Amantis, a Roman de la Rose, an Anticlaudianus or Archithrenius, a Divine Comedy. It is set in a “vision” framework, with various guiding spirits to explain and to instruct the author. Its mythological apparatus—pagan and Christian, “historical” and fanciful—is an eclectic composite (or, as other readers might put it, a hodge-podge). Myths and mythological figures are allegorized so as to heighten their significance; Proserpina's reign is an exemplum against Pride, Mercury is a messenger from a hell too crowded because so many friars must be accommodated, Timalphes son of Jove and Arete is the author's guide through visions and discussions elucidating the nature of earthly and heavenly love (Cancer) or of earthly and heavenly wisdom (Sagittarius).

The conflict between concepts is dramatized. Nature and Fortune bear in their persons the heavy weight of centuries of speculation; Arete (compare Jonson's and Wither's use of her) puts down the argument of Epicure. The individuation of universals by rhetorical means induces some of the chief traits of style, and floods the pages with lively portrayals of Gluttony, Idleness, Pride—portrayals which in their number and their verisimilitude are far too rich and strong for our less robust modern taste.

An awareness of the poetic theory which dictated the use of these conventions is the first condition for any just judgment of the poem. The author dreams and argues his way through to Truth; he has assuredly, as Donne recommends, wound around and around that steep and craggy mountain (cf. Aries, 57), but his purpose is unwavering. He is sternly didactic and is no more afraid of a careful philosophical argument than of a heavily sensuous one; nor does he hesitate to take sides in the contemporary quarrel, but castigates those who would relegate Poetry to the irresponsible domain of lies and marvels. He has no regard, and no respect, for the reader who is unwilling to bring his full reason to bear, including Judgment as well as Imagination; such a reader is cast unceremoniously out among the other “twolegd Asses” who live with but half their faculties, those who live for riches, or court-honour, or some other partial end. The modern reader of Googe's Palingenius must face the same stern requirements.

The functional but lavish use of poetic device and rhetorical ornament, the conception of poetic inspiration, are all in decorous accord with the primary aim. Invocations call upon Urania or the Holy Ghost, according to the demand of the matter. There is more than a plenty of sententious admonition, of Polonius-like set-pieces—there are essays on the commodity of friendship, maxims on conduct; there are “characters” etched with vigorous detail, like that vivid night-piece in Taurus, of the man of business tossing and turning in his bed, and discussing his investments with himself in sleepless agitation of phrase. There is conscious use of the rhetorician's divisions: arguments “distributed” according to the delightful, the honest, the useful, with each of these generals divided into its specials; discourses enriched by “circumstances”: of a pestilence, of a husbandman's contented life.

Rhetorical amplification serves its traditional purpose of giving dramatic immediacy to imagined situations: the rich man is killed by his servant “In bed a sleepe and snorting fast” (13), the deceived man like a fish follows the twirling thread in a fast and doleful dance. Googe's marginal glosses underline the rhetorical and logical intentions of the text: they state an underlying syllogism (162); they carefully maintain the distinction between “similitude” and “comparison”; they call attention to “example” and “periphrasis,” to “a pleasaunt Antithesis” (218) or “an application of a comparison” (136), or to many an elaborate descriptio (of person, of place, of season).

The distinctions thus signalized are typical of the author's careful adjustment of his imagery to his purpose. In accord with Renaissance practice, in the writing of expository or persuasive discourse in poetic form, similitudes generally furnish a logical argument from analogy, expanded images are common, and radical or homely images are used without any sense that decorum is thereby disturbed. To love God as an equal would be like knitting a knot of amity between a silly flea and a mighty elephant (66); man should feed within his tether (22); a wife can supply the want of “a Dormouse for the night” (16). Far-fetched or dissonant images are not objected to; carpenters, large and small flies, organ-playing, usefully enter discussions of man's reasonableness, bought justice, the mind's structure. As one might expect because of the dialectical purpose and nature of much of the discourse, we may note the habits, though we miss the power and economy, of the Metaphysical poet. Simpler images match simpler concepts or purposes; in portions utilizing the fashionable genre of pastoral, mere properties breed images, and the author can find nearly as many shades of “whiteness” for a lady as could Herrick. Ordinarily, however, multiplied parallels enforce the statement of a fairly abstruse concept. Sometimes indeed they obscure it with tumbling waterfalls of analogies. But at least a certain lively concreteness characterizes the style of an author who, to make a point concerning the intelligibility of Fortune's action, needs to refer to wormwood, snow, tree limbs, amber, magnets, diamonds, basins, crocks and pitchers (146). These habits in the use of imagery are normal for writing in this kind, or writing with these purposes to assist.

The decorum observed is that of the genre written in; the tone is properly that of the mean or of the base style; thus purpose and subject set the conditions, in accordance with contemporary theory. Either style admits occasional archaisms, and of course idiomatic and colloquial language (“scotfree”—31, impune; “gredy snudge”—63, avarus; “heaveners”—219, caelicoli; “some sir Johns”—66, quidam). The roughness of satire is endorsement for violence of diction, and is partially responsible for the frequency of the figure meiosis, the diminisher (Puttenham's “disabler”): the grasping man is “a two leggde Mole,” monks are “porklings,” war is compared to Jupiter's skimming his unclean pots, and some false ideas of the movement of the spheres are derided as condemning the gods to the labor of a slavey in a bakehouse (199, 181, 190, 215). No innovation in poetic, nor rebellion against Petrarchan sweetness, need be postulated; indeed, Googe would be an odd channel for either. All these characteristics, as well as the pronounced irony and bitterness of certain passages, are quite within 16th century theory.

In many other ways the book reflects the two periods, separated by a quarter-century, which combined to produce it in the form in which it here appears. It is a mine of Renaissance commonplaces, most of them with a long history in mediaeval or classical literature. Many an inexperienced writer of the school “themes” recommended by the rhetorics of the period, many a hurried sermon-writer, and many a journeyman poet must have found useful its tree and flower lists, its comparisons of life to a stage-play, with the accompanying description of the Ages of Man, its distinctions between Reason as the sun and Opinion as the moon, its vivid collections of images describing Death and his threatening speeches. Many conventional images which we know best in Sidney, Shakespeare, Chapman, Spenser, are here in more abbreviated or more diluted form: Sleep as brother or picture of Death, Sleep as the leveller, the world as an inn, as a cherry fair, the great and the low suffering differently the winds of Fortune as do the high tree and the low shrub.8 References are made topical or modernized: a gloss identifies the crafty fox-hearted man with “Machiuales or worldlings” (170); a bawd is “mother Bee” (76; cf. Gammer Gurton's Needle, III.3.74); or Googe may note in a gloss: “He wrote this before the discouerie of the new Indies” (116).

The marginal glosses are largely informative, except for sighs of “in these dayes to trewe” (185), or pious hopes that “God graunt it be not found” so in England (194), or except for occasional warning comment on the text. Advice on praying to the saints, for example, is to be “read, but not folowed,” though Googe's text keeps honestly to its Catholic original (175). Some of the information indicates the type of reader anticipated. Mythological references are explained for him; he is told when the text represents the “opinion Peripateticall” (99), or when the arguments are “ab effectibus” or “a minore ad maius” (113, 228). Or parallel passages in Cicero are recalled to his mind, or famous controversies such as that over the Pelagian heresy. Many of the marginal aids are interesting as indication of the range and type of authorities to whom the student of 1576 was sent for further discussion of important matters: Varro, Cardan, Plato, Plotinus, Lactantius, Macrobius, Peter Martyr, Pliny, Petrarch (the De remediis, as one would expect). To smile at the schoolmaster showing through Googe's marginal notes would be unbecoming in the modern reader, who frequently needs what they contain.

The commendatory verses (p. 242) by Abraham Fleming (who himself translated Virgil's Bucolics and Georgics, 1575, 1589), are evidence of Googe's connection with a group of rather solemn and well-meaning translators of the period. The marginal commentary may also seem to typify a certain youthful pedantry in the author, and Googe as a translator worked in a metre which many have vilified. Yet he at least had sufficient energy of mind to attack not only a book of the length and philosophical difficulty of the Zodiacus, but also three very different volumes almost equally edifying. Even in the earliest work one does not find him careless; and...

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Paul E. Parnell (essay date April 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Parnell, Paul E. “Barnabe Googe: A Puritan in Arcadia.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology LX, no. 2 (April 1961): 273-81.

[In the following essay, Parnell discusses themes in Googe's eight-part Eclogues, which he considers a moralizing pastoral poem that denounces sensual love as well as the pastoral tradition itself.]

In the history of the pastoral, Barnabe Googe occupies a small but interesting place. He represents a moment in the history of taste when one nationality, confronted with an enticing but exotic literary form, experiments with it hopefully in order to adapt it to its own literary climate. The pastoral poem, for a sturdy...

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Alan Stephens (essay date 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Stephens, Alan. Introduction to Selected Poems of Barnabe Googe, pp. 7-21. Denver: Allan Swallow, 1961.

[In the following excerpt, Stephens examines Googe's style and the literary inspiration for his poetry in Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets.]


Barnabe Googe's Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets, … appeared in 1563. Googe was then twenty-three years old. It will be well to examine the tradition which informed Googe's poems, for that tradition is alien to most contemporary readers.

Googe's education had prepared him to serve in the government (he was the son of the Recorder of Lincoln, and a kinsman and retainer...

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Douglas L. Peterson (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Peterson, Douglas L. “The Early Elizabethans.” In The English Lyric from Wyatt to Donne: A History of the Plain and Eloquent Styles, pp. 120-63. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967.

[In the following excerpt, Peterson analyzes several of Googe's poems, paying special attention to their thematic and literary indebtedness to poetry from Tottel's Miscellany.]

Most of the good poems written in the two decades following the appearance of Tottel's Miscellany in 1557 are to be found among the works of Barnabe Googe, George Turbervile, and George Gascoigne.1 Of these three poets only Gascoigne continued to write verse over a period...

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Frank B. Fieler (essay date 1968)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Fieler, Frank B. Introduction to Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonnettes by Barnabe Googe, pp. v-xxii. Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1968.

[In the following excerpt, Fieler discusses Googe's life and the poetry from his Eclogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets, arguing that Googe's greatest literary achievement is his influence on the development of plain style lyrics in the century after his death.]


Barnabe Googe (1540-1594)1 was one of that large group of Elizabethan civil servants with Puritan religious preferences, who assiduously spent their spare time translating continental works for the greater...

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William E. Sheidley (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Sheidley, William E. “A Timely Anachronism: Tradition and Theme in Barnabe Googe's ‘Cupido Conquered.’” Studies in Philology 69, no. 2 (1972): 150-66.

[In the following essay, Sheidley discusses the styles and themes in “Cupido Conquered.”]

It is now commonplace to emphasize the continuity of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance and to stress the conservatism and authoritarianism of Elizabethan culture at the expense of the older and still not entirely discredited view of the English sixteenth century as an age of exuberant expansion and experimentation. Though it is not easy to reconcile modern statements of these opposing positions,1...

(The entire section is 6542 words.)

J. D. Alsop (essay date December 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Alsop, J. D. “The Dramatis Personae in Barnabe Googe's Critique of the Marian Persecution.” Notes and Queries 28, no. 6 (December 1981): 512-16.

[In the following essay, Alsop argues that the shepherds in Googe's third eclogue, a broad critique of religious problems of the day, were modeled on real-life Englishmen, the identity of whom cannot fully be established.]

Barnabe Googe's third eclogue, published in 1563 in Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes, was a mixed critique of social and religious problems in Marian England set in the form of a pastoral dialogue between two shepherds, Menalcas and Coridon.1 The latter, when asked for news from...

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William E. Sheidley (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Sheidley, William E. “Barnabe Googe in His Time—and Afterwards,” and “The Later Translations: Images of Life.” In Barnabe Googe, pp. 16-27; 100-17. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.

[In the first excerpt which follows, Sheidley examines Googe's literary reputation and poetic style. In the second, he discusses themes and style in the final six works Googe translated.]



Almost entirely forgotten for over a hundred years, Googe and his works were exhumed by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiquarians and bibliophiles.1...

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Mark Eccles (essay date autumn 1985)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Eccles, Mark. “Barnabe Googe in England, Spain, and Ireland.” English Literary Renaissance 15, no. 3 (autumn 1985): 353-70.

[In the following essay, Eccles reviews Googe's life and principal writings.]

“Most of the good poems written in the two decades following the appearance of Tottel's Miscellany in 1557,” as Douglas L. Peterson says, “are to be found among the works of Barnabe Googe, George Turbervile, and George Gascoigne.”1 Edwin A. Greenlaw pointed out possible influences of Googe's Eglogs (1563) on Spenser's Shepheardes Calender, including the strong religious element, the complaint against the times and the...

(The entire section is 10368 words.)

Simon McKeown and William E. Sheidley (essay date 2001)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McKeown, Simon and William E. Sheidley. Introduction to The Shippe of Safegarde (1569), by Barnabe Googe, pp. xiii-xxxiv. Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1989.

[In the following excerpt, McKeown and Sheidley analyze Googe's The Ship of Safegarde, which they see as a moralizing poem extolling the rewards of a virtuous life and the superiority of Protestantism over Catholicism.]

In 1569 the London printer William Seres, renowned mainly for producing books of prayers and devotions, published a slim octavo volume entitled A newe Booke called the Shippe of safegarde.1 This work, ascribed on the title-page...

(The entire section is 8885 words.)