Dekker made his name as a jobbing playwright in the 1590s, working for the impresario Philip Henslowe, in whose account book he is first mentioned in 1598. He collaborated widely with other playwrights such as Ben Jonson and John Marston. Upon James’s accession in 1603, Dekker collaborated with Jonson and Thomas Middleton on a pageant for the king’s royal entry into London, which was delayed by plague until 1604.
This extract comes from Dekker’s pamphlet 1603: The Wonderful Year, which provided a journalistic account of the plague, Elizabeth’s death, and James’s accession. Dekker blended a variety of literary genres, including reportage, poetry, and imaginative prose. This extract moves seamlessly from James’s proclamation into panegyric of the new king.
Upon Thursday it was treason to cry ‘God save King James, King of England, and upon Friday high treason not to cry so. In the morning no voice heard but murmurs and lamentation, at noon nothing but shouts of gladness and triumph. Saint George and Saint Andrew that many hundred years had defied one another, were now sworn brothers: England and Scotland (being parted only with a narrow river, and the people of both empires speaking a language less differing than English within it self, as though providence had enacted, that one day those two nations should marry one another) are now made sure together, and King James’s coronation is the solemn wedding day. Happiest of all thy ancestors (thou mirror of all princes that ever were or are) that at seven of the clock wert a king but over a piece of a little land, and before eleven the greatest monarch in Christendom. Now silver crowds
Of blissful angels and tried martyrs tread
On the star-ceiling over England’s head:
Now heaven broke into a wonder, and brought forth
Our omne bonum from the wholesome north
(Our fruitful sovereign) James, at whose dread name
Rebellion swooned, and (ever since) became
Grovelling and nerveless, wanting blood to nourish,
For Ruin gnaws her self when kingdoms flourish.
Now are our hopes planted in regal springs,
Never to wither, for our air breeds kings:
And in all ages (from this sovereign time)
England shall still be called the royal clime.
Most blissful monarch of all earthen powers,
Served with a mess of kingdoms, four such bowers
(For prosperous hives, and rare industrious swarms)
The world contains not in her solid arms.
O thou that art the meter of our days,
Poet’s Apollo! deal thy Daphnean bays
To those whose wits are bay-trees, ever green,
Upon whose high tops, Poesy chirps unseen:
Such are most fit, to apparel kings in rhymes,
Whose silver numbers are the Muses chimes,
Whose spritely characters (being once wrought on)
Out-live the marble th’are insculp’d upon:
Let such men chant thy virtues, then they fly
On Learning’s wings up to eternity.
As for the rest, that limp (in cold desert)
Having small wit, less judgement, and least art:
Their verse! tis almost heresy to hear,
Banish their lines some furlong, from thine ear:
For tis held dangerous (by Apollo’s sign)
To be infected with a leprous line.
O make some adamant act (ne’re to be worn)
That none may write but those that are true-borne:
So when the worlds old cheeks shall race and peel,
Thy acts shall breath in epitaphs of steel.