The poems upper left and right relate to verses 6 and 7 of Psalm 39. The second poem upper right relates to part of a poem on a former tomb in the church of St. Andrew, Holborn, London, which was published in: J. Stow and J. Mottley, A Survey of the cities of London and Westminster, borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent, London 1733. It was located on the south wall of the choir by the tombs of Richard Aldworth and his wife Elizabeth, deceased 1603.
My Turtle gone,
all Joy is gone from me,
I’ll mourne a while,
and after flee:
For Time brings
youthfull Youths to age,
And Age brings
Death, our Heritage.
Sadly the tombs no longer exist. Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the church from the foundations between 1684 and 1687, but the publishing date of the survey suggests that the tomb was still there in the early part of the 18th century. However, the church was destroyed during the blitz.
Whilst it is unclear where the central poem comes from, the second to last verse appears to relate to one of the oldest and most well known notions of mankind.
And as thow woldst be done vnto
So to th neighbour always doo
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” features prominently in many religions, philosophies and ethics. In England, this notion was referred to as the “Golden rule” from the 1670s onwards.
The poems all touch on the themes death, age, youth and time, which is illustrated by the dashing young man standing to the left, opposite an older bearded man holding a skull in his right hand and a prayer book in his left. There is another skull by his feet. Hovering above the men and between the poems is Father Time, holding his attributes a scythe and hourglass.
The young noble man bears a resemblance to a portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), dated 1575 in the National Portrait Gallery. De Vere was a courtier and poet, and prominent among the literary circle of his day. If the young noble man were indeed de Vere, the poems in the present lot could point to his poetry, he wrote sonnets and was interested in re-working psalms. Or perhaps de Vere’s presence between moralising and admonitory poems is a reference to the scandals surrounding the Earl during his lifetime.