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The stock of the Fords, however, is known to have been highly respectable: they appear to have settled at an early period in the north-west of Devonshire, and to have possessed considerable property in the contiguous parishes of Ashburton, Ilsing
From an extract of the Baptismal Register of Ilsington, it appears that John (our author) was baptized there on the 17th April, 1586; and as he became a member of the Middle Temple, November 16, 1602, he could scarcely have spent more than a term or two (if any) at either of the Universities : there was, however, more than one grammarschool in the immediate vicinity of his birthplace, fully competent to convey all the classical learning which he ever possessed, and of which, to say the truth, he was sufficiently ostentatious in his earliest work, though he became more reserved when age and experience had enabled him to compare his attainments with those of his contemporaries. It appears
from Rymer's Fædera,* that the father of our poet was in the commission of the peace. Whether this honourable situation was procured for him by the interest of his wife's father, the famous Lord Chief Justice Popham, cannot be told; it may, however, be reasonably surmised, that his connexion with one of the first law-officers of the crown led to the course of studies subsequently pursued by both branches of the family. Popham was made attorney-general in 1581; and in 1592 he was advanced to the rank of chief justice of the King's Bench, which he held for many years; so that his patronage, which must have been considerable (as he appears to have been in some favour both with Elizabeth and her successor), probably afforded many facilities to his young relatives in the progress of their studies, and opened advantages of various kinds.
* Tome xviii. p. 575.
Our poet had been preceded in his legal studies by his cousin John Ford, son of an elder brother of his father's family, to whom he appears to have looked up with much respect, and to have borne an almost fraternal affection; this gentleman was entered at Gray's Inn; but Popham seems to have taken his young relation more immediately under his own care, and placed him at the Middle Temple, of which he had been appointed treasurer in 1581.
It is probable that Ford was not inattentive to his studies; but we hear nothing of him till 1606 (four years after his admission), when he published “ Fame's Memorial, or the *Earl of Devonshire deceased,” &c. an elegiac poem, in 4to. which he dedicated to the countess, his widow.
* As one of Ben Jonson's beautiful and magnificent masks has in some degree connected the names of this ill-fated pair with our dramatic history, a short account of them, for which the reader is indebted to the former editor of Ford, will not be misplaced.
Charles Blount, eighth Lord Mountjoy, was a man of great eminence, and wbile a commoner (for he did not succeed to the title till 1594) followed the profession of arms with honour, and held a command in the fleet which defeated the Spanish armada. His extraordinary merits did not escape the quick eye of Elizabeth, who gave him various tokens of her favour, and thus exposed him to the envy of Essex. In 1600, the queen constituted him lord lieutenant of Ireland, when he repulsed the Spaniards with great bravery at Kinsale. In truth, the whole of his conduct with regard to that agitated country was meritorious in the highest degree, and as such fully acknowledged by her as well as by James, who, on his accession, conferred on him the same important office, and very shortly afterward (July, 1603) made him a knight of the garter, and created him Earl of Devonshire. “ Certainly,” says his secretary, Morrison," he was beautiful in his person as well as valiant, and learned as well as wise." And Camden styles him, “a person famous for conduct, and so eminent in courage and learning, that in these respects he had no superior, and but few equals." It is distressing to pursue his history. About two years after his prosperous career in Ireland (December 25, 1605), he married Lady Rich, with whom,
Why he came forward in so inauspicious a cause cannot
probably, he had never ceased to converse; and by this one step, which, according to our notions, and probably his own, was calculated to repair, in some measure, the injury which the lady's character had sustained, ruined both her and himself. There is something in this which is not easily explained. While the earl maintained an adulterous commerce with the lady, all went smoothly; but the instant he married her, he lost the protection of the court, and the estimation of the public. “The king,” says Sanderson, “was so much displeased thereat, as it broke the earl's heart; for his majesty told him that he had purchased a fair woman with a black soul.” Hearts are not always broken in the way supposed; but there was more than enough to depress the lofty spirit of this great earl in the sudden blow given to his reputation. He died a few months after his marriage, “soon and early," as Chamberlaine says, “ for his years (forty-three), but late enough for himself: and happy had he been if he had gone two or three years since, before the world was weary of him, or that he had left his scandal behind him."
Penelope, Countess of Devonshire, was the daughter of Walter, first Earl of Essex, and the beloved sister of Robert, the unfortunate favourite of Elizabeth, and the victim of her fears and jealousies. There was a family intimacy between the Devereuxes and the Mountjoys, which seems to have facilitated the meetings of this beautiful young creature with Sir Charles Blount, and led, as in the usual mode, to a mutual attachment and a promise of marriage. In those “ blessed days,” marriages among the great were not quite so easily managed as at present; the queen regarded the state with a strange mixture of envy and spleen; and the accursed court of wards eternally troubled “the current of true love." Lady Penelope was forced, with a heart full of affection for Mountjoy, into the arms of Lord Rich, a man whom she appears to have regarded with peculiar aversion. Thus far she was more sinned against than sinning; but she seems to have thought her private engagement of a more binding character than her vow at the altar; and the usual consequences followed. After a few miserable years with Lord Rich, she deserted him, partly or wholly, and renewed her connexion with her first lover, to whom she bore several children.
There must have been something peculiar in this lady's case; perhaps the violence put upon her early affections
wrought some pardon or pity for her; for she lost no caste, even under Elizabeth, and she was one of the first ladies selected by her council to proceed to Holyrood House, and conduct the wife of the new monarch to Whitehall. Her accompiishments wer of the highest kind, and in every splendid and graceful measure she appears among the foremost. To Ann she made herself very agreeable, from her first introduction; and the queen's partiality to her is noted with an evident tincture of displeasure by the high-born and high-spirited Lady Ann Clifford, at this period a young woman. It seems uncertain whether Lady Rich was actually and legally divorced from her husband, or whether the separation took place in consequence of articles drawn up between themselves; but though Mountjoy returned from Ireland in 1603, he did not marry the countess till cwo years after
now be known. He was a stranger to both parties; yet he appears to bewail the death of the earl, as if it had been attended with some failure of professional hope to himself. Elegies” and “Memorials” were sufficiently common at that period, and indeed long after it; but the authors steadfastly looked to the surviving heir for pay or patronage, in return for their miserable dole of consolation; and our youthful poet sets out with affirming (and he deserves the fullest credit) that his muse was unfeed. Be this as it may, it argued no little spirit in him to advocate an unpopular cause, and step forward in the sanguine expectation of stemming the current of general opinion: not to add that the praise which he lavishes on the Earl of Essex could scarcely fail to be ill-received by the lord chief justice, who was one of those commissioned by the queen to inquire into the purport of the military assemblage at his house, was detained there by the troops during the crazy attempt of this ill-starred nobleman to raise an insurrection, and was finally a witness against him for the forcible detention.
“ Fame's Memorial” adds little or nothing to the poet's personal history. It would seem, if we might venture to understand him literally (for he takes especial pains to keep all but those familiarly acquainted with him in complete ignorance of his story), that he had involved himself in some unsuccessful affair of love, while at home, with a young lady, whom he at one time calls the cruel ward, so that she appears as Lady Rich in the mask of Blackness, and in the splendid procession from the tower to Whitehall, where she walks, "by especial commandement,” immediately after the Countess of Shrewsbury,
Lycia, and, at another, the cruel subtle Lycia. He wishes that she were less wise; and in truth she does exhibit no unfavourable symptom of good sense in “confining her thoughts to elder merits," instead of “solacing” her youthful admirer, who, at the period of first taking the infection into his eye,
could not have reached his eighteenth year. Yet he owes something to this pursuit. He had evidently wooed the lady (herself a muse) in verse, and symptoms of wounded vanity occasionally appear at the inflexibility of this second Lyde, to whose obstinate ears he sang in vain : yet the attempt gave him some facility in composition; for though he evinces little of either taste or judgment, his lines flow smoothly, and it may be said of him, as it was of a greater personage,
He caught at love, and fill'd his arms with bays. In consequence of the lady's blindness or obduracy, Ford declares his intention of “ travailing till some comfort reach his wretched heart forlorn.” This is merely a rhetorical flourish; for the travail which he contemplated appears to be the labour and pains employed to divert the current of his thoughts, on the “lamentation for this
He found, however, better resources against illrequited love, than “perpetual lamentation” for one who was not unwillingly forgotten by his contemporaries, in the pursuit of the law, to which he prudently adhered ; a circumstance which he never forgets, nor ever suffers his patrons to forget, as if he feared to pass with them more for a poet than a man of business.