George Sandys (1578–1644), poet, seventh and youngest son of Edwin Sandys, archbishop of York [q. v.], was born at Bishopthorpe on 2 March 1577–8. George Clifford, third earl of Cumberland, was one of his godfathers. On his father's death in 1588, George, with his two brothers of nearest age, Thomas and Henry, was entrusted to his mother's care, as long as she remained a widow. The archbishop in his will left George an annuity charged on his estate at Ombersley, besides some silver plate and other property.
He expressed a wish that the poet should marry his ward Elizabeth, daughter of John Norton of Ripon, but the marriage did not take place. On 5 Dec. 1589 George and his brother Henry matriculated from St. Mary Hall, Oxford. He seems to have taken no degree. In 1610, the year of his mother's death, he left England on an extended foreign tour. He passed through France just after Henry IV's assassination, and, journeying through north Italy, sailed from Venice to the east. He spent a year in Turkey, in Egypt, where he visited the pyramids, and in Palestine.
Before returning to England he studied the antiquities of Rome under the guidance of Nicholas Fitzherbert. In 1615 he published an account of his travels, with the title 'The Relation of a Journey begun an. Dom. 1610, in Four Books.' The volume was dedicated to Prince Charles, under whose auspices all Sandys's literary work saw the light. Sandys was an observant traveller. Izaak Walton noticed in his 'Compleat Angler' (pt. i. ch. i.) Sandys's account of the pigeon-carrier service between Aleppo and Babylon.
His visit to the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem inspired an outburst of fervent verse—'A hymn to my Redeemer'—whence Milton derived hints for his 'Ode on the Passion' (stanza vii). The volume was adorned with maps and illustrations, and at once became popular. Editions, with engraved title-pages by Delaram, are dated 1621, 1627, 1637, 1652, and 1673. An extract, 'The Relation of Africa,' i.e. Egypt, appeared in Purchas's 'Pilgrimes,' 1625, pt. ii. Sandys's accounts of both Africa and the Holy Land figure in John Harris's 'Navigantium et Itinerantium Bibliotheca,' 1705 (vols. i. and ii.).
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Like his brother Sir Edwin, Sandys interested himself in colonial enterprise. He was one of the undertakers named in the third Virginia charter of 1611. He took shares in the Bermudas Company, but disposed of them in 1619 when his application for the post of governor was rejected in favour of Captain Nathaniel Butler. In April 1621 he was appointed by the Virginian Company treasurer of the company, and sailed to America with Sir Francis Wyat, the newly appointed governor, who had married Sandys's niece Margaret, daughter of his brother Samuel. When the crown assumed the government of the colony, Sandys was nominated a member of the council (26 Aug. 1624), and was twice reappointed (4 March 1626 and 22 March 1628).
He seems to have acquired a plantation and busied himself in developing it, but was repeatedly quarrelling with his neighbours and with the colonial council (cf. Sandys's letters among Duke of Manchester manuscripts in Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. ii.). In 1627 he complained to the privy council in London that he had been unjustly treated. On 4 March 1627–8 Governor Francis West and the colonial council informed the privy council that Sandys had defied the rights of other settlers (Cal. State Papers, America and West Indies, 1594–1660, p. 88). A special commission 'for the better plantation of Virginia' was appointed by the English government on 22 June 1631, and Sandys petitioned for the post of secretary, on the ground that he had 'spent his ripest years in public employment' in the colony. His application failed, and he apparently abandoned Virginia soon afterwards.
While in America Sandys completed a verse translation of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses,' which he had begun in England. On 27 April 1621—when he was on the point of setting out—Matthew Lownes and William Barrett obtained a license for the publication of 'Ovides Metamorphosis translated into English verse by Master George Sandes' (Arber, Stationers' Registers, iv. 53). In the same year 'the first five books' of the translation was duly published by Barrett, and the volume reached a second edition. The title-page was engraved by Delaram, and Ovid's head in an oval was prefixed. Haslewood described a copy of the second edition (Brydges, Censura Lit. vi. 132), but no copy of that or of the first is now known. The remaining ten books were rendered by Sandys into English verse during the early years of his stay in Virginia. Two, he says, were completed 'amongst the roaring of the seas' (Neill, Virginia Vetusta, 1888, pp. 124–6). Michael Drayton, whose acquaintance he had made in London, addressed to him, soon after his arrival in Virginia, an attractive epistle in verse, urging him to 'go on with Ovid as you have begun with the first five books.'
The completed translation appeared in London—printed by William Stansby—in 1626; it was dedicated to Charles I. William Marshall engraved the title-page; on the back of the dedication is a medallion portrait of Ovid. A biography of the poet with some of the laudations bestowed on him by early critics forms the preface; a full index concludes the volume. On 24 April 1621 Charles I granted Sandys exclusive rights in the translation for twenty-one years. A reprint appeared in 1628. An elaborate edition in folio appeared at Oxford in 1632, under the title of 'Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished, mythologized, and represented in Figures.
An Essay to the Translation of Virgil's "aeneis." By G. S., imprinted at Oxford by John Lichfield.' In an address to the reader Sandys refers to this as the 'second edition carefully revised.' The engraved title-page, although resembling in design that of 1626, is new; it was the work of Francis Clein, and was engraved by Salomon Savery. Each of the fifteen books, as well as the 'Life of Ovid,' is preceded by a full-page engraving. The first book of the 'Aeneid' is alone attempted. The copy in the Bodleian Library, which lacks the engraved title, was the gift of Sandys. Later editions are dated 1640, fol., and 1656, 12mo—'the fourth edition.'
Soon after returning from Virginia Sandys became a gentleman of the privy chamber to his patron Charles I. At court he first seems to have met Lucius Cary, second viscount Falkland, who held a similar post. Sandys soon joined the circle of Falkland's friends at Great Tew (Aubrey, Lives in Letters from the Bodleian, ii. 349). Sandys often stayed at no great distance from Tew, at Carswell, near Witney, the residence of Sir Francis Wenman, who had married Sandys's niece Anne, daughter of Sir Samuel Sandys.
But Sandys's latest years were mainly spent at Boxley Abbey, near Maidstone, the residence of another niece, Margaret, widow of Sir Francis Wyatt. There Sandys engaged in an interesting series of poetic paraphrases of the scriptures. When Richard Baxter visited Boxley Abbey 'it did him good,' he wrote, '.... to see upon the old stone wall in the garden a summer-house with this inscription in great golden letters, that in this place Mr. G. Sandys, after his travaile over the world, retired himself for his poetry and contemplations.' Sandys's 'Paraphrase upon the Psalmes and upon the Hymnes dispersed throughout the Old and New Testaments' was licensed for the press on 28 Nov. 1635.
On 2 Dec. 1635 a grant of exclusive rights in the volume for fourteen years was issued to Sandys, provided 'the book be first licensed.' It was published in a small octavo in 1636 with a verse dedication to the king and queen and a long commendatory poem by his friend Falkland, and a shorter eulogy by Dudley Digges. The work reappeared in folio in 1638 (printed by Matthew Camidge) as 'A Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems,' with the same dedication. In this edition not only Falkland and Digges, but also Henry King, Sidney Godolphin, Thomas Carew, Francis Wyatt, and 'Edward' (i.e. Edmund) Waller, with two others, supplied commendatory verse. Music was added by Henry Lawes, and the volume concluded with Sandys's fine original poem, which he entitled 'Deo opt. Max.' Some portions of Sandys's version of the psalms were reissued in 1648 in 'Choice Psalmes put into Musick for Three Voices,' a volume to which Henry Lawes and his brother William were the chief musical contributors. Sandys's 'Psalms' was popular with cultured readers. In 1644 the Rev. D. Whitby, in a printed sermon (Oxford, 1644, p. 26), expressed regret that his version 'should lie by,' owing to the popularity of Sternhold and Hopkins's version. Sandys's 'Psalms' was one of the three books which occupied Charles I while he was in confinement at Carisbrooke.
In 1640 Sandys published—with yet another dedication to the king—'Christ's Passion, a Tragedy with Annotations [in prose].' It is a translation in heroic verse from the Latin of Grotius. An edition of 1687 is embellished with plates. Sandys's final work, 'A Paraphrase of the Song of Solomon,' in eight-syllable couplets, appeared in 1641, with the author's customary dedication to the king.
Meanwhile, in 1638, Sandys had resumed his political connection with Virginia by accepting from the legislative assembly the office of its agent in London. Misunderstanding his instructions, he petitioned the House of Commons in 1642 for a restoration of the old London company with the old privileges of government, only reserving to the crown the right of appointing the governor of the colony. The legislative assembly, on 1 April 1642, passed a solemn declaration deprecating a revival of the company, and on 5 July following Charles I assured the assembly that he had no intention of sanctioning the company's re-establishment (Neill, Virginia Carolorum, Albany, N. Y., 1886).
In 1641 Fuller saw Sandys in the Savoy, 'a very aged man with a youthful soul in a decayed body.' He died, unmarried, at Boxley in the spring of 1644. The register of Boxley church records his burial in the chancel there, and describes him as 'Poetarum Anglorum sui saeculi facile princeps.' Matthew Montagu in 1848 placed a marble tablet to his memory, with a laudatory inscription. An elegy appeared in Thomas Philpot's 'Poems' (1646).
Sandys's rendering of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' has chiefly preserved his name in literary circles. A writer in 'Wits Recreations' (1640) congratulated Ovid on 'the sumptuous bravery of that rich attire' in which Sandys had clad the Latin poet's work. He followed his text closely, and managed to compress his rendering into the same number of lines as the original—a feat involving some injury to the poetic quality and intelligibility of the English. But Sandys possessed exceptional metrical dexterity, and the refinement with which he handled the couplet entitles him to a place beside Denham and Waller. In a larger measure than either of them, he probably helped to develop the capacity of heroic rhyme.
He was almost the first writer to vary the caesura efficiently, and, by adroitly balancing one couplet against another, he anticipated some of the effects which Dryden and Pope brought to perfection. Both Dryden and Pope read Sandys's Ovid in boyhood. Dryden in later life, on the ground that Sandys's literal method of translation obscured his meaning, designed a new translation of the 'Metamorphoses,' which Sir Samuel Garth completed and published in 1717. Pope, who liked Sandys's Ovid 'extremely' (Spence, Anecdotes, p. 276), in very early life tried his hand on the same theme (Pope, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, i. 104), but subsequently ridiculed Garth's efforts to supersede the older translator in a ballad called 'Sandys's Ghost, or the proper New Ballad on the New Ovid's "Metamorphoses"' (ib. iv. 486).
'Selections from the Metrical Paraphrases' of Sandys appeared, with a memoir by Henry John Todd, in 1839. 'The Poetical Works of George Sandys, now first collected,' by the Rev. Richard Hooper, was published in Russell Smith's 'Library of Old Authors' in 1872. The translation of Ovid is not included.
A fine portrait of Sandys, showing a handsome, thoughtful face, is preserved at Ombersley, and has been engraved.
A prose work attacking the Roman catholic faith, entitled 'Sacrae Heptades, or Seaven Problems concerning Anti-Christ, by G. S.,' 1626, is very doubtfully assigned to Sandys. It is dedicated 'To all kings, princes, and potentates, especially to King Charles and to the King and Queen of Bohemia, professing the fayth.'
[Wood's Athenae; Hunter's manuscript Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 24489, p. 214; Brown's Genesis of the United States, with portrait, p. 820; Hooper's Memoir in Sandys's Collected Poetical Works, 1872.]
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 by Sidney Lee, Volume 50. pg 290-293