“The Fable of O” – Written by Edward de Vere, the Future Earl of Oxford at Age 10 in 1560?

This is the frontispiece of a book published anonymously in 1560, when Edward de Vere, the future Earl of Oxford, was ten years old.  Had he written it?  Had he created this work as a boy?

The Fable of O - 1560 - The original frontispiece had borders filled in with rude woodcuts, undoubtedly an expensive private project

The full title is THE FABLE OF Ovid treating of Narcissus, translated out of Latin into English Metre, with a moral ther(e)unto, very pleasante to re(a)de.  [Note: CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LARGER VIEWS]

Two years later, at age twelve upon his father’s death, Oxford would become a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth living at Cecil House in London — where a famous translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (containing the Narcissus tale), from Latin into English, would be carried out.  This work would be attributed to Oxford’s maternal uncle, Arthur Golding, the puritanical scholar who also lived there during part of that time; and decades later it would become known as Shakespeare’s favorite classical source.

"The 15 Books of P. Ovidius Naso, entitled Metamorphosis, translated out of Latin into English meeter, by Arthur Golding, Gentleman" - 1567

Did the teenage Edward de Vere actually compose the youthful, spirited, sensual translation of the fifteen books that comprise Ovid’s Metamorphoses as by Golding, published partially in 1565 and fully in 1567?

And as preparation, had he already been copying and translating Ovid’s stories from childhood?  If so, perhaps he worked upon various English versions Ovid’s stories, including this translation of Narcissus, and had it printed in 1560 at age ten as a limited edition – not with his name on it, but with a title page bearing a top line reading The Fable of O … as a little private joke … indicating The Fable of Oxford.

[In a letter to Lord Burghley in 1576 at age twenty-six, Oxford would refer to gossip about his wife being unfaithful as “the fable of the world.”]

In the “Moralization of the Fable” that follows the translation, the same writer refers to “youthful years,” perhaps referring to his own young age:

A careles lyfe thus led in youthfull yeares

A wilfull waye be seemeth well to take;

So this same witte as wilde desire him stirs

Unconstantely, for luste and pleasures sake;

From this to that his vaine inventions wake

A restless time in nedless worke doth spende,

Till that hereof he findes the foolish ende.

I recommend the edition by John Frederick Nims (1913-1999), which was reprinted by Paul Dry Books in 2000 with an essay by Jonathan Bate, who writes of the “Golding” work:

“It is certainly the most famous translation of Ovid into English.  It was the English Ovid from the time of its publication in 1567 until about a decade after the death of Shakespeare in 1616 – the Ovid, that is, for all who read him in English during the greatest period of our literature.  And in its racy verve, its quirks and oddities, its rugged English gusto, it is still more enjoyable, more plain fun to read, than any other Metamorphoses in English.”

Sounds to me like the rugged boyish gusto of the spirited young Shakespeare himself…

[To find the original text of The Fable of O, see W.E. Buckley (Ed); Cephalus and Procris; Narcissus; Roxburghe Club; 1882]

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