HENRY CONSTABLE (1562-1613), English poet, was born in 1562. His father, Sir Robert Constable, was knighted by the earl of Essex in Scotland in 1570, and was the author of a work On the Ordering of a Camp. The poet went to St John's College, Cambridge, where he took his degree of B.A. in 1580. He was (or now became) a Roman Catholic, and we hear of him next in Paris, whence in 1584 and 1585 he wrote to Walsingham letters which still exist, and which prove Constable to have been in the secret service of the English government. A later correspondence with Essex contains protestations of his loyalty. He was probably still abroad, when, in the autumn of 1592, a London publisher issued Diana, the praises of his Mistress in certain sweet sonnets, by H. C., containing 23 poems. A reissue of this pamphlet in 1594 (misprinted 1584) was greatly enlarged, not merely by more sonnets which may or may not be Constable's, but by eight poems which were certainly the work of Sir Philip Sidney. Published a few weeks after the Delia of Daniel, the original Diana of 1592 claims a very early place in the evolution of the Elizabethan sonnet. In 1598 Constable was sent on a mission from the Pope to Scotland, the idea being that James VI. was to be supported in his claim to the English succession on condition of his setting English Romanists free from the existing disabilities. Constable's mission came to nothing, and he entered the service of the king of France. Later he asked for permission to return to England, but it was refused. In consequence of a surreptitious excursion to London, he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower in 1604. After a manhood spent in almost continuous exile, Henry Constable died at Liege on the 9th of October 1613. The Diana was the only work printed in the poet's life-time; it was augmented from MS. sources by H. J. Todd, in 1813. His Spiritual Sonnets first appeared in 181 5, edited by Thomas Park. Almost the only known pieces by Constable which are not sonnets are the song of "Diaphenia," and the beautiful pastoral canzone on "Venus and Adonis," contained in the England's Helicon of 1600. In 1594 he prefixed four sonnets, addressed to the soul of Sir Philip Sidney, to that writer's Apology of Poetry. A prose work of devotion, The Catholic Moderator (1623), has been attributed to Constable. Who Diana was has never been determined, but it has been conjectured that she may have been Mary, countess of Shrewsbury, who was a distant cousin of the poet. The body of Constable's writing is so small, and its authenticity so little supported by evidence, that it is rash to give a very definite opinion as to its character. But it is evident, from his undoubted productions, that he was much under the influence of the French poets of his time, particularly of Desportes, as well as of Petrarch and Sidney. That Shakespeare was acquainted with Constable's poetry and admired it seems to be certain, and that he borrowed from it, "gives it," as Mr Sidney Lee has said, "its most lasting interest." In the arrangement of his rhymes, Constable usually keeps closer to the Petrarchan model than Daniel and the other contemporary sonneteers are accustomed to do. (E. G.)
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