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The Mysterious Mr. Grimald

I am in the middle of a project to transcribe and ‘translate’ and annotate a selection of works by Nicholas Grimald. The more I learn about him, the more mysterious he becomes. Grimald was one of only three poets credited by name in the first edition of Tottel’s Miscellany in 1557 – the first published anthology of English verse, along with Thomas Wyatt (“the elder”) and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Wyatt and Howard were well-known persons of their time period, and history has well established reputations as important and influential poets, but who is this Grimald person?

Grimald was unusually well represented in the Miscellany – with 40 pieces in the first ‘A’ edition. Why so many? One school of thought is that it was actually Grimald who edited the collection for Richard Tottel the printer. At the time the collection was published, he was the only one of the named poets still living – Thomas Wyatt died in 1542 and Henry Howard was beheaded in 1547, one of many casualties of the paranoia of Henry VIII.

Also mysteriously, all but 10 of Grimald’s works were eliminated from the second, ‘B’ edition of the Miscellany. Those that remained were identified only as a group by ‘N.G.’, and in later editions, not identified at all.

Several reasons have been proposed for this – ranging from the fact that Grimald was a commoner and not a member of court, to his association with an out of favor Protestant bishop (Ridley) during a time of resurgence of Catholic power under Queen Mary I. The N.G. might well ahve stood for something more like persona non grata.

He was really better known as a translator than a poet. He is also somewhat of a dark figure – he recanted his faith to save his own head from the chopping block – literally - and at least one source suggests he turned traitor to his friends and ratted them out to the Catholic authorities – with dire consequences. The Tudor penchant for beheadings continued unabated under the reign of ‘Bloody’ Mary with something like 800 more victims.

Another theory is Tottel decided that in such turbulent times it was better to take a more anonymous approach to both the authorship and subject matter (the individuals who were the objects of the poems) in the Miscellany. With all the affairs and intrigue (and machinations, murder and mayhem) at court, perhaps the fewer names named, the better. Even the respected Thomas Wyatt saw his name first altered to “the elder” after his son’s role in a rebellion against Queen Mary, then effaced altogether.

As reading material, Grimald’s works can be tough going at times. There words are often unfamiliar. The spelling archaic and sprinkled with regional quirks. And the poems are, after all, nearly five centuries old – written half a century before Shakespeare’s plays. His unusual word order and frequent classical allusions can sometimes puzzle a modern reader (even one armed with the 1928 “Glossarial Dictionary”).For all that, I was amused to find that one of Grimald’s pieces was actually set to music in the 19th century.

Take a look at, (and if you can, read aloud) some lines sampled from Grimald’s works. I have modified these for the most part to current spelling. Notice the flowing alliterations of many lines in The Garden,

THE issue of great Jove, draw near you, Muses nine:
Help us to praise the blissful plot of garden ground so fine.
The garden gives good food, and aid for leech's* cure: [doctor]
The garden, full of great delight, his master doth allure.
Sweet salad herbs be here, and herbs of every kind;
The ruddy grapes, the seemly fruits be here at hand to find.
Here pleasance* wanteth not, to make a man full fain**: [pleasure… willing]
Here marvelous the mixture is of solace, and of gain.
To water sundry seeds, the furrow by the way
A running river, trilling down with liquor, can convey.
Behold, with lively hue, fair flowers that shine so bright:
With riches, like the orient gems, they paint the mould* in sight. [soil]
Bees, humming with soft sound, (their murmur is so small),
Of blooms and blossoms suck the tops, on dewed leaves they fall
The creeping vine holds down her own bewedded elms:
And, wandering out with branches thick, reeds folded overwhelms.
Trees spread their coverts wide, with shadows fresh and gay:
Full well their branched boughs defend the fervent sun away.
Birds chatter, and some chirp, and some sweet tunes do yield:
All mirthful, with their songs so blithe, they make both air and field.
The garden it allures, it feeds, it glads the sprite*: [spirit]
From heavy hearts all doleful dumps the garden chaseth quite.
Strength it restores to limbs, draws, and fulfills the sight:
with cheer revives the senses all, and maketh labor light.
O, what delights to us the garden ground doth bring?
Seed, leaf, flower, fruit, herb, bee, and tree & more than I may sing.

By the way, here are a few unedited lines from another poem by Grimald:

So foon doo thee conftrayn enuyous fates?
Oh, with that wit, thofe maners, that good hert,
Woorthy to lyue olde Neftors yeres thou wert.
You wanted outward yies : and yet aryght
In ftories, Poets, oratours had fight.
Whatfo you herd, by liuely voyce, expreft,
Was foon repofde within that mindefull breft.

Or, in modern spelling:

So soon do thee constrain envious fates?
Oh, with that wit, those manners, that good heart,
Worthy to live old Nestor’s years thou wert,
You wanted outward eyes: and yet aright
In stories, Poets, orators had sight.
Whatso you heard, by lively voice expressed,
Was soon reposed within that mindful breast.

All for now,


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