North American Scholar
Study at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, 1589; admitted to Middle Temple, 23 Oct. 1596.
- Professional Experience:
Shareholder Virginia Company, third charter, 1611; council, Virginia colony, 1624.
A Relation of a Journey Begun Anno Domini 1610 (1615); Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished, Mythologized, and Represented by Figures (1626; ed. Karl K. Hulley & Stanley T. Vandersall [Lincoln, NE, 1970]); A Paraphrase upon the Psalms of David (1636); A Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems (1638); Hugo Grotius, Christ's Passion (trans.) (1640); A Paraphrase upon the Song of Solomon (1641, 1642); Poetical Works, ed. Richard Hooper (London, 1872).
As the first item of Roman literature is the translation of Livius Andronicus, so the first piece of American literature is the translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses by George Sandys. He was "the first man in America to devote himself seriously to literature and scholarship" (A. C. Gordon). Sandys had traveled the Mediterranean in 1610, the year of his mother's death, and made so important a record of the ethnography and geography of the area that it was used by Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, and John Milton. A friend of Charles I, to whom he dedicated all his works, and a gentleman of his bedchamber, Sandys came to America in 1621 with Sir Francis Wyatt, the governor, as treasurer of the Virginia company. Failing to be named governor of Bermuda in 1619, he devoted his efforts to Virginia. When Virginia became a crown colony in 1624, he was made a member of the council. He returned to England in 1631.He had published books 1-5 of his translation of the Metamorphoses into heroic couplets in 1621 and completed the remaining ten on the voyage and while in America, gaining him the distinction of being "the first American poet writing in English" (Davis). The translation, which ran to eight editions before 1700, contains the same number of lines as the original. Following his return to England, he translated Aeneid 1 in 1632. Dryden called him "the best versifier of the former age"; his skills in compression and antithesis greatly influenced both Dryden and Pope, who said that English poetry "owes much of its present beauty" to Sandys. His Ovid is also the chief source of John Keats' knowledge of mythology. His diction was uniquely Latinate and he even attempted to imitate Latin syntax. In America, Sandys had great influence on the classicizing tendency of American poetry that continued through Longfellow in the North and was especially persistent in the South, even as late as the poetry of Allen Tate.In England he continued to be a figure at court, representing the colonies and standing at the center of a group of poets that included Falkland and Ben Jonson. His poetry often deals with his life in America. After 1640 he divided his time among London, Oxford, and his estate at Boxley in Kent.
Archibald Churchill Gordon, DAB 16:344-6; DNB 17:779-82; Richard Beale Davis, American Writers before 1800, ed. James A. Levernier & Douglas R. Wilmes (Westport, CT, 1983) 1272-4 (with bibliography).
- Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.