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Other RELIGIOUS POETS:-QUARLES; HERBERT; HERRICK ;
The growth of the religious spirit in the early part of the seventeenth century is shown in much more of the poetry of the time as well as in that of the two Fletchers. Others of the most notable names of this age are Quarles, Herrick, Herbert, and Crashaw. Francis Quarles, who died in 1644, was one of the most popular as well as voluminous writers of the day, and is still generally known by his volume of Emblems. His verses are characterized by ingenuity rather than fancy, but, although often absurd, he is seldom dull or languid. There is a good deal of spirit and coarse vigour in some of his pieces, as for instance in his well-known Song of Anarchus, portions of which have been printed both by Ellis and Campbell, and which may perhaps have suggested to Cowper, the great religious poet of a later day, his lines called The Modern Patriot. Quarles, however, though he appears to have been a person of considerable literary acquirement, must in his poetical capacity be regarded as mainly a writer for the populace. George Herbert, a younger brother of the celebrated Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was a clergyman. His volume, entitled The Temple, was first published soon after his death in 1633, and was at least six or seven times reprinted in the course of the next quarter of a century. His biographer, Izaak Walton, tell us that when he wrote, in the reign of Charles II., twenty thousand copies of it had been sold. Herbert was an intimate friend of Donne, and no doubt a great admirer of his poetry; but his own has been to a great extent preserved from the imitation of Donne's peculiar style, into which it might in other circumstances have fallen, in all probability by its having been composed with little effort or elaboration, and chiefly to relieve and amuse his own mind by the melodious expression of his favourite fancies and contemplations. His quaintness lies in his thoughts rather than in their expression, which is in general sufficiently simple and luminous. Robert Herrick, who was also a clergyman, is the author of a thick octavo volume of verse, published in 1648, under the title of Hesperides. It consists, like the poetry of Donne, partly of love verses, partly of pieces of a devotional character, or, as the two sorts are styled in the title-page, Works Human and Divine. The same singular licence which even the most reverend persons, and the purest and most religious minds, in that age allowed themselves to take in light and amatory poetry is found in Herrick as well as in Donne, a good deal of whose singular manner, and fondness for conceits both of sound and sense, Herrick has also caught. Yet some both of his hymns and of his anacreontics--for of such strange intermixture does his poetry consist--are beautifully simple and natural, and full of grace as well as fancy.* Richard Crashaw was another clergyman, who late in life became a Roman Catholic, and died a canon of Loretto in 1650. He is perhaps, after Donne, the greatest of these religious poets of the early part of the seventeenth century. He belongs in manner to the same school with Donne and Herrick, and in his lighter pieces he has much of their lyrical sweetness and delicacy; but there is often a force and even occasionally what may be called a grandeur of imagination in his more solemn poetry which Herrick never either reaches or aspires to.t
CARTWRIGHT; RANDOLPH; CORBET.
All the poetical clergymen of this time, however, had not such pious muses. The Rev. William Cartwright, who died at an early age in 1643, is said by Anthony Wood to have been “a most florid and seraphic preacher;” but his poetry, which is mostly amatory, is not remarkable for its brilliancy. He is the author of several plays, and he was one of the young writers who were honoured with the title of his sons by Ben Jonson, who said of him, “My son Cartwright writes all like a man.” Another of Ben's poetical sons was Thomas Randolph, who was likewise a clergyman, and is also the author of several plays, mostly in verse, as well as of a quantity of other poetry. Randolph has a good deal of fancy, and his verse flows very melodiously; but his poetry has in general a bookish and borrowed air. Much of it is on subjects of love and gallantry; but the love is chiefly of the head, or, at most, of the senses—the gallantry, it is easy to see, that merely of a fellow of a college and a reader of Ovid. Randolph died under thirty in 1634, and his poems were first collected after his death by his brother. The volume, which also contains his Plays, was frequently reprinted in the course of the next thirty or forty years; the edition before us, dated 1668, is called the fifth.
* A complete reprint of the Hesperides was brought out at Edinburgh, under the care of Mr. Maitland, in 2 vols. 8vo. in 1823; and there are also London reprints of later date. A small selection from Herrick's poetry, in one volume, had been published in London before the appearance of the complete Edinburgh edition.
+ Upon the subject of these and other religious puets of the seventeenth century, see Lives of Sacred Poets, by the Rev. Robert Aris Willmott, 12mo. Lon. 1834; and an article on The Character and Progress of Religious Poetry, in the Church of England Quarterly Review for January, 1837, No. I. pp. 171-229.
One of the most remarkable among the clerical poets of this earlier half of the seventeenth century was Dr. Richard Corbet, successively - Bishop of Oxford and of Norwich. Corbet, who was born in 1582, became famous both as a poet and as a wit early in the reign of James; but very little, if any, of his poetry was published till after his death, which took place in 1635. The first edition of his Poems appeared in 1647, and there were others in 1648 and 1672; but the most complete collection of what he has left us is that published by the late Octavius Gilchrist in 1807. A notion of what sort of man Bishop Corbet was may be gathered from some anecdotes of him preserved by Aubrey, who relates, among other things, that after he was a doctor of divinity he sang ballads at the Cross at Abingdon : “On a market day," Aubrey writes, “ he and some of his comrades were at the tavern by the Cross (which, by the way, was then the finest in England; I remember it when I was a freshman; it was admirable curious Gothic architecture, and fine figures in the niches ; 'twas one of those built by King .... for his Queen). The ballad-singer complained he had no custom - he could not put off his ballads. The jolly doctor puts off his gown, and puts on the ballad-singer's leathern jacket, and, being a handsome man, and a rare full voice, he presently vended a great many, and had a great audience.” Aubrey had heard, however, that as a bishop “ he had an admirable grave and venerable aspect.” Corbet's poetry, too, is a mixture or alternation of gravity and drollery. But it is the subject or occasion, rather than the style or manner, that makes the difference ; he never rises to anything higher than wit; and he is as witty in his elegies as in his ballads. As that ingredient, however, is not so suitable for the former as for the latter, his graver performances are worth very little. Nor is his merriment of a high order ; when it is most elaborate it is strained and fantastic, and when more natural it is apt to run into buffoonery. But much of his verse, indeed, is merely prose in rhyme, and very indifferent rhyme for the most part. His happiest effusions are the two that are best known, his Journey into France and his ballad of The Fairies' Farewell. His longest and most curious poem is his Iter Boreale, describing a journey which he took in company with other three university men, probably about 1620, from Oxford as far north as Newark and back again. Two lines in this piece might almost pass for having suggested Byron's couplet in Don Juan,
Let not a monument give you or me hopes,
Since not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops : Corbet, moralizing upon the tombless grave of Wolsey at Leicester, exclaims :
If thou art thus neglected, what shall we
Hope after death, who are but shreds of thee ? At a village near Loughborough our travellers were obliged to procure a guide to conduct them through the intricacies of that unknown country to Bosworth ; and next morning the landlord of the inn in which they passed the night in the latter town mounted his horse and accompanied them to the neighbouring battle-field. Then comes a passage of some interest :
Mine host was full of ale and history;
From this passage we learn, not only, as has been remarked, that Shakespeare's Richard III. was originally represented by the famous fellow-actor of the poet, Richard Burbage, but also that both the play and the performers were already familiarly known in the country as well as in London. It may be supposed indeed that the town of Bosworth would be one of the first places in which this particular drama was represented out of the metropolis.
As a sample of Corbet's humour, we may give his description of the landlady of their inn at Warwick :
Oh, there an hostess was,
This, then, was harder fortune than they met with in a previous instance, where, if the charge was rather high, the personal attractions of the landlady afforded some compensation in the eyes of the four Oxford clerks :
'Twas quickly morning, though by our short stay