Nahum Tate

1652-1715; b. Dublin, son of a dissenting clergyman called ‘Faithful Teate’, rector of Ballyhaise who informed on the 1641 rebels and fled Co. Cavan in consequence; ed. TCD, listed as scholar under the name Teate in 1668; BA 1672; moved to London to become writer, dropping the intermediary ‘e’; published poems in 1677; Brutus of Alba, or the Enchanted Lovers (1678), a first play; another which served as libretto for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689), appeared in 1678; well-known for adaptations of Elizabethan drama, particularly Shakespeare; The Sicilian Usurper or the History of Richard II (1680) making Richard sympathetic and stressing Bolingbroke’s usurpation, was withdrawn after one performance; issued The History of King Lear (1681), in which he removed the Fool, married Cordelia to Edgar and restored Lear to two thirds of his kingdom; this version held the stage until William Macready returned to Shakespeare’s text in 1838; Coriolanus renamed The Ingratitude of a Commonwealth (1681), with deepened violence and a ‘bloodbath conclusion’ (critic); adapted others including Chapman, Marston, Fletcher and Webster; all but two hundred lines of the second part of Dryden’s anti-Whig satire Absalom and Achitophel (1682) were actually by him; assisted with the translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris, appending to the latter a version of Frascastoro’s Syphilis: Sive Morbus Gallicus [sic], a poem on venereal disease; appt. poet laureate after Shadwell, having been preferred by his patron the Earl of Dorset, 1692; confirmed by Queen Anne and appt. historiographer-royal, 1702; with Nicholas Brady, issued A New Version of the Psalms (1696 [var. 1659]), ‘approved by his Majesty at Kensington’, and famously containing “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night”; attacked by Alexander Pope in The Dunciad (1728); d., in debt, London, 12 Aug. 1715. RR ODNB DIW OCEL ODQ CAB FDA OCIL

[ top ]

Original Edns., Brutus of Alba; or, The Enchanted Lovers (London 1678); Loyal General (London 1680); The Sicilian Usurper (London 1681); Lear (London 1681); Ingratitude of a Commonwealth (1682); the second part of Absalom and Achitophel (Lon 1682); Duke and No Duke (London 1685); New Versions of the Psalms, with Nicholas Brady (London 1696); Essay on Psalmody (London 1710); also A Congratulatory Poem To his Royal Highness Prince George of Denmark, upon the glorious successes at sea, by N. Tate; to which is added a happy memorable song, on the fight hear Audenarde (London: Henry Hills 1708), 8o [TCD]; Panacea - A Poem on Tea (1700).

Dublin imprints, The Book of Common Prayer ...] (Dublin: George Grierson 1750), folio, with metrical psalms appended; A New Version of the Psalms of David. By N. Tate and N. Brady (Dublin: George Grierson 1751), folio [copies in Marsh’s Library].

Modern reprints, Nahum Tate, The History of King Lear, ed. and intro. by James Black (London: Arnold 1976).

[ top ]

Christopher Spencer, Nahum Tate (NY: Twayne 1972); Christopher Spencer, ‘A Word for Tate’s Lear’, in Studies in English Literature, 3 (Spring 1963), pp.241-52; Black, ‘the Influence of Hobbes on Nahum Tate’s King Lear, in Studies in English Literature 7 (Summer 1967), pp.377-85; H. F. Scott-Thomas, ‘Nahum Tate and the Seventeenth Century, in English Literary History, 1 (1934), p.270.

[ top ]

Peter Kavanagh, The Irish Theatre (1946), Son of ‘Faithful Teate’, a clergyman at Ballyhaise, Co. Cavan, who betrayed the insurgents of 1641 and had to leave [?]Cavan; Nahum b. Dublin, ‘poor and despised’ (Baker); but poet laureate in 1692; probably lost that post to Nicholas Rowe, and ‘died in the Mint’ (obit. notices, Johnson, et al.). Remembered for his poetical version of the Psalms, he was also a dramatist, Brutus of Alba or the Enchanted Lovers (DG July 1678); The Loyal General (DG Dec. 1679); The Sicilian Usurper, or the History of Richard the Second (DL 1681); The History of King Lear (DG March 1681); The Ingratitude of a Common-wealth or the Fall of Caius Martius Coriolanus (DL Dec. 1681); A Duke and No Duke (DL 1684); The Island Princess (DL April 1687); Injur’d Love or the Cruel Husband (unacted), 1707; Dido and Aeneas (1688-90).

Maurice Craig remarks that in the libretto of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, by Tate, occurs the couplet, ‘Thus, on the fatal banks of Nile./Weeps the deceitful crocodile’, and comments, poor Tate, a Trinity man, is almost the archetypal ‘bad poet’ slighted (like many others) by Pope, and entered in the ODNB as a poetaster ... But is it really such bad poetry. it certainly sticks in the memory, but not surely for quite the same reason as the classically bad lines of poetry ... ‘ (Craig, The Elephant ... &c., 1990, p.41)

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (1984), Nahum Tate, hymns and psalms, also shared in versions of Ovid’s Art of Love and Remedy of Love, besides supplementing the latter with a trans. of Fracastoro’s Latin poem on venereal disease, Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus [sic] (1686). His collaborator in a standard metrical trans. of the Psalms, Nicholas Brady, DD, grad. TCD, produced Proposals for a Translation of Virgil’s Aeneids in Blank Verse in 1713, and followed it with an undistinguished version of the whole Aeneid (1729). Also notes Nahum Tate’s libretto for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689) [p.91].

A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), lists “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night” [22], “The Penance” [23].

Ulster Libraries: Belfast Central Public Library holds Psalms (Belfast 1833)

[ top ]

Sundry dictionaries: Dictionary of National Biography regards Panacea - A Poem on Tea (1700) as his chief original poem. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1953 & edns.) cites him with Nicholas Brady under Tate, presenting 3 items incl. extract from Dido and Aeneas and “Shepherds”. Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.592.

Brian Cleeve & Anne Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985), cites A Duke and No Duke (1685), and Injured Innocence (1707), plays of little merit; adapted Shakespeare’s King Lear; poet laureate after Shadwell; Panacea, or A Poem upon Tea (1700); The Innocent Epicure, or The Art of Angling. Metrical psalms with Nicholas Brady; the 1703 Supplement to the New Version, which contains ‘While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night’, was done by Tate alone.

Charles A. Read, The Cabinet of Irish Literature (London, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast & Edinburgh: Blackie & Son [1876-78]); cites “Absolom [for Absalom] and Chitophel”; “The Voyager”; “The Choice”; “To a Desponding Friend”; “The Second Chapter of Job”; “The Man of Wisdom”; “Upon an Anatomy” [all vol. 1, pp.82-85].

Encyclopaedia Britannica (1949 Edn.), His father, called Faithful Teate [sic], wrote a quaint poem on the Trinity called Ter Tria; Tate’s name connected with one or two original plays and a long series of adaptations from Shakespeare and the Elizabethans; he mangled versions of other men’s plays and the famous New Version of the Psalms of David (1696) in which he collaborated with Nicholas Brady, supplement licensed in 1703; commissioned by Dryden to write the 2nd Pt. of Absalom and Achitophel, though the ports of Thomas Shadwell and [another] are attributed to Dryden; poems include Panacea, a Poem on Tea; in spite of consistent Toryism succeeded Shadwell as laureate in 1692; died in precincts of the Mint, Southwark, where he had taken refuge from his creditors, 12 Aug. 1715.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1: calls his Shakespearean handiwork ‘the most famous adaptation of King Lear in history’ [Christopher Murray, ed.; 502]; cites Tate’s version of the Psalms, e.g., for King James Version, ‘Like as the hart desireth the water brooks’ (Ps. 42.1), Tate writes ‘As pants the hart for cooling streams’; “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night” [407]; Letter to Bishop William King [984-85]; BIOG, 492, 1009.

[ top ]