Bards are held up as the best illustration of the Britons' ability to survive the upheavals of Roman and Saxon marauders.
And yet the poet deflates these three encomia to the bards by following each one of them with a reminder that the notion of an uncorrupted bardie historical tradition was quite suspicious.
Two important factors in Drayton's pondering of this question were Taliesin and Merlin; Drayton shows himself quite interested in the two - or, more properly, three - bards.
For sixteenth-century monumental historians such as John Bale, John Leland, David Powel, Humphrey Lhuyd, and Thomas Churchyard,(18) these three bards presented an opportunity; named as poet/prophets, they could be reconceptualized into historians.
After reminding us of Caesar's statement about the druids and Greek letters, Price asserts that "Brytannis longe ante Caesaris tempora non desuerit literarum subsidium," and puts forward druids and bards as the purveyors of British history.
In Song 4, Drayton, preparing to sing Wales, "Nurse of all the British race" (108), identifies himself with the power of Taliesin: "Fill me a bowie of Meath, my working spirit to raise: / And ere seven Bookes have end, I'le strike so high a string, / Thy Bards shall stand amaz'd with wonder, whilst I sing; / That Taliessen, once which made the Rivers dance, / And in his rapture raiz'd the Mountaines from their trance, / Shall tremble at my Verse, rebounding from the skies; / Which like an earth-quake shakes the Tomb wherein he lies" (112-18).
With Taliesin and Merlin, as with bards in general, Drayton finally proves unable to contend with antiquarianism.
On the other hand, the standing of bards as purveyors of culture was much enhanced by the fact of their survival; that they had always been there - i.
In the invocation (to the bards, as we recall), when Drayton speaks of metempsychosis, "as those Druides taught, which kept the British rites," he is careful to remind us that this is a heathen doctrine: "But their opinions faild, by error led awry, / As since cleere truth hath shew'd to their posteritie" (1.
Drayton acknowledged the antiquarians and many were his friends, but their notion of anachronism was hateful to him and he struggled against it, using the best tools at his command: bards and druids.