Carew and the Cavaliers
lunes, 20 de octubre de 2014
Carew and the Cavaliers
From Legouis and Cazamian's History of English Literature (The End of the Renascence, II: Poetry from 1625 to 1660).
1. Long Poems which were Failures.—At the death of James I, in 1625, Spenser's influence was almost exhausted, surviving only in Milton. It was Ben Jonson and especially John Donne who now had disciples and imitators. Poets were numerous down to the Restoration, but, except for Milton, they were the poets of the anthologies whose memory lives only in slight lyrics or collections of small poems.12 and to name them will sufficiently show how abundant was the production in this unfortunate genre.
The ambition to write works on a vast scale had not died out, but the efforts to realize it were failures. The epical ambition which was then common to Europe, and which produced more than one pitifully abortive poem in France, was no more successful in England. Long romances in verse and attempts at classical epics constitute what is dead in the literature of the time; their titles and the names of almost all their authors are forgotten. They have been collected only by the historical zeal of the present day, They consist of metrical romances, like Patrick Hannay's Sheretine and Mariana (1622), the Leoline and Sydanis (1642) of Sir Francis Kynaston, who had previouly modernized Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and W. Chamberlayne's Pharonnida, in six books (1659). There are also mythological narratives; Shackerley Marmion's Cupid and Psyche (1637) and William Bosworth's Arcadius and Sepha (1651): long, religious narratives like Edward Benlowes's Theophila, in nine cantos (1652), and epics like Davenant's Gondibert (1650), which is in quatrains, and Cowley's Davideis (1656), which is classical in manner and has a Hebrew theme.
Invariably poetic qualities and readable passages are scattered here and there in these ambitious works, but on the whole they were stillborn, and have no importance in literary thistory save that a path leads over their graves to Milton's Paradise Lost.
If dead poetry be left on one side, and the attempt be then made to classify the poets of the middle seventeenth century, they are seen to fall into two main groups, separated by the differences which make the history of this troubled period. There are first the secular poets, all in the Royalist ranks and therefore known as Cavaliers, and secondly there are religious poets, subdivided into the Anglicans and the Puritans. The division is social rather than literary, but it is simple and convenient, and corresponds sufficiently to the diversity of inspiration.
2. Thomas Carew (1598?-1639). –The poet who first, before the Civil War, showed what the spirit of the Cavaliers was to be, and first was affected by the combined influence of Jonson and Donne, was Thomas Carew, a gentleman of the court of Charles I who was a reputed wit. He was a courtly and polished love-poet whom his rivals suspected of working long at his elegant verses. The logical good order of the classicists rules his mind even when, in his poems to Celia, he returns to a theme of the Petrarchists. He can isolate a thought, follow it up faithfully and balance its several parts, and many of his light sets of verses have won, in consequence, a place in anthologies. He has little sensibility—he had indeed a reputation for dryness—but his sensual ardour enables him to avoid the coldness of gallantry. Such, in any case, is the character betrayed by his longest poems and his masterpiece, The Rapture, unfortunately no less indecent than the verses of Aretino. It is an invitation to Celia to flout 'the Giant Honour' and enjoy forbidden pleasures without scruple. The paradise he paints to her is one of the most licentious even of those inspired by the Italian Renaissance. His attack on honour recalls Sidney's Astrophel and especially Donne's Elegies. He is also inspired by the speeches of Petronius in the anonymous tragedy Nero (Act IV, sc. vii), but in libertine audacity he outdoes his models.
Carew is connected with Donne by the fine elegy with which he honoured his memory. The poem has more feeling than is customary with Carew and is, moreover, one of the best pieces of criticism written in this period. No one has pointed out more accurately than Carew what was new in Donne, his contempt for outworn ornament and his need of personal and virile expression. Yet Donne left few traces upon his style. If Carew has none of the master's flashes of genius, he escapes the worst faults of his style. In his commendatory verses he shows that his thought was vigorous and direct, especially in those to Georges Sandys, who, after translating Ovid, gave up secular poetry and translated the Psalms. Carew confesses that he dare not greet 'the holy place with his unhallowed feet', but that his muse, like 'devout penitents of old', stays 'humbly waiting at the porch,' listening to the sacred strains. Yet he thinks that one day his eyes,
That brine which they for sensual love did weep.
The poem is beautiful, and so restrained that it seems sincere. It is consistent with Clarendon's account of the poet's edifying death.
His was, however, a death-bed conversion. All his poetry is the work of an amorist, such as Milton despised. He writers 'persuasions' to love, madrigals, complaints and reproaches, addressed to a mistress, lines to his 'inconstant mistress,' who shall be 'damned for ther false apostasy,' to Celia singing, to Celia when he sends her red and white roses:
The paleness of a fainting lover;
In the red, the flames still feeding
On my heart with fresh wounds bleeding.
In the famous song, Ask me no more, he finds all the beauties of nature united in his mistress—the rose of June
These flowers, as in their causes, sleep;
the 'golden atoms of the day' which 'enrich her hair,' the nightingale's song:
She winters, and keeps warm her note.
The theme is commonplace, but in the harmonious quatrains of this song it is turned with perfect elegance.
Carew's work is slight, much distilled, but some warmth of imagination and a certain fancy temper its coldness. The style and the versification are so polished that Waller and Denham the acknowledged pioneers of the classical school, could hardly improve on them.
3. The Cavalier Poets. —Carew is the typical court poet. Sir John Suckling (1609-42) 3 typifies the Cavaliers, their loyalty, dash, petulancy, frivolity, easy morals, and wit. Rich, spendthrift, valiant, a gamester and a gallant, an amateur of the drama who wrote four not unsuccessful plays, and a faithful admirer of Shakespeare, Suckling mocked at the pains which Carew took to polish his verses. He was himself an improviser, one whose work is very unequal but who writers with irresistible swing. It is his light, impertinent tone which characterises him. He recalls Donne when he rallies woman on her capriciousness or himself on his inconstancy; but while he has the master's hyperbole he leaves his metaphysics alone. He discharges his mockery in the form of little, swiftly moving, neatly turned songs, irony sometimes hiding the madrigal, as in Out upon it. His easy and flippancy are French rather than English, and it has been thought that a sojourn which he made in France before he was twenty influenced his muse. Less slight than the rest of his work is the Ballad upon a Wedding in which a farmer describes, in picturesque language, a wedding at which he has been present. Here there are many lively and homely descriptive touches, as well as wit and spirit. Suckling puts new life and freshness into the conventional epithalamium. Not until Thomas Moore did any one else show such skill at writing charming verses about nothing. 'Natural, easy Suckling,' as Congreve's Millamant calls him, whose life was short and who versified only as a pastime, had a considerable production. Beneath his apparent frivolity there was, as his poems prove, romantic generosity, and even, as his letter to Henry Jermyn shows, a power of reflecting on politics. His treatise, An Account of Religion by Reason, in which he combats the Socinian heresies, is proof that he also cared for religion. The contrasts in him are characteristic of a time in which libertinage often rubbed shoulders with piety.
Richard Lovelace (1618-58)4 was neither so correct as Carew nor so natural as Suckling. This most handsome Cavalier whose figure fascinated the ladies, this faithful follower of the king who was twice imprisoned and finally ruined for the cause, so that he ended his short life in the most abject poverty, was a very unequal poet. In his Lucasta (1649) the cold, hyperbolical compliments of the degenerate sonneteers occur side by side with Donne's obscure extravagance. The lack of art in his work is as apparent as its mannerisms, and almost all of it has been forgotten. But it was his fortune to make two or three songs in which his sense of honour is in manly alliance with his love. It was he who wrote to Althea from prison:
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such liberty.
It was he who wrote 'to Lucasta on going to the wars':
Loved I not honour more.
Because of these few short poems, Lovelace has the glory of having expressed the ideal of the Cavalier.
He shares it with Montrose (1612-50), the noble Scottish champion of Charles I, whose brilliant victories were followed by disaster, death, and quartering, if the Royalist hero of Scotland really wrote the fine loyalist verses attributed to him.
John Cleveland (1613-58),5 a Royalist like these other poets, who, unlike them, was of humble origin, was very different from them. He was, above all, a satirist, and he enjoyed in his own century a popularity which his vigour and his wit deserved. But his countless slight topical allusions make him difficult to read to-day. He was, moreover, one of Donne's most determined imitators, and conceits abound in his poems. The best known of them is The Rebel Scot, a fiery attack on the nation which had just delivered Charles I to the Parliament. This satirist, with his rude style, often, while turning an epigram, wrote such isolated couplets as Dryden affected, and in spite of his metaphysical strangeness he blazed the track of political satire for that poet. He did not, however, write only satires. He composed love-poetry in which a touch of real nature varies, from time to time, the extravagant gallantry, and he made some curious lyrical essays in which he was one of the first poets to realize the value of the anapaest.
It is tempting to connect Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648), 6 George Herbert's elder brother, with these Royalist poets. He is, because of his curious Autobiography, better known for his prose than for his verses, which contain a suble quintessence of poetry. His handsome person, his extravagant valour, his passion for duelling, and his refined gallantry made him a representative Cavalier, and his Ode upon a Question moved, whether Love should continue for ever, gives him a high place among the Petrarchists and the disciples of Sir Philip Sidney.
4. Robert Herrick. —Midway between the Cavaliers and the Anglicans, Robert Herrick (1591-1674),7 the most gifted and the most exquisite of all these poets, has place. The anacreontiscism of the poetry of his youth makes him one of the Cavaliers, and since, at the age of thiry-eight, he accepted a Devonshire living and did his best to convert his muse, he is also to be numbered among the Anglicans. His only collection of poems, the Hesperides, published in 1648, contains his 'works both human and divine.' The former consist of 1,129 short sets of verses, the latter of only 271, and the proportion may be taken to that in which his inspiration was secular and sacred.
The son of a London goldsmith, who from Cambridge returned to London and a life of dissipation, who in the reign of James I, while his youth lasted, was a frequenter of the literary taverns, this lover of wine, women and song, and 'son' of Ben Jonson, was induced to take orders only for the sake of a livelihood. When he bade a sad farewell to London and his muse and departed to his living of Dean Prior, in Devonshire, he resolved, like a man of honour, to be a good parson. But he had no enthusiasm for his new duties. The change was too great for this charming rhymester cast up among the savages. He petted both his muse and a few of his female parishioners. Then, little by little, helped by his recollections of pastorals, he acquired a taste for the rich countryside in which he found himself and for the ways of rustic life. He became attached also to his church and his little vicarage; he trusted in the good people's God, to whose infinite indulgence he could leave the frolics of his youth and certain lapses of his maturity, whose anger would not be roused because the very secular Hesperides were printed side by side with the Holy Numbers [Noble Numbers]. 'Jocund his muse was, but his life was chaste,' he said of himself. It was self-flattery. His portrait at the beginning of the Hesperides shows a torso like that of a merry Priapus, a sensuous, mocking mouth beneath an aquiline nose, a head bristling with crisp, luxuriant hair, a chest left bare. This is a real pagan from a garden where Cupids dance in a ring, while Pegasus, standing on a hillock, is poised for flight.
Herrick's works are by themselves an anthology, a collection of short poems brought together on no principle and without any order. He adopts 'sweet disorder' as an aesthetic principle, loves it in poetry as much as in woman's dress. He goes further and mingles the coarsest epigrams with poetry that is winged and delicate. Every contradiction of his mobile spirit, all his fleeting feelings and thoughs, are grouped haphazard. Even his 'many dainty mistresses' sometimes clash, and we can only hope that, if they were real, they were successive. He hates monotony, sharing the national craving for variety so conspicuous in the drama. He alternates the pretty with the ugly, the fragant with the evil-smelling. But nothing really counts in his works except its quality of exquisiteness, of which there is in profusion.
On occasion, Herrick was capable of sustained effort. He has some epithalamiums and some rustic pieces, like the Hock Cart, or Harvest Home, which have spirit and savour. One of the most famous of his poems is Corinna's going a-Maying, which contains five fourteen-line stanzas. It is among the most charming of songs of the dawn, fragant with flowers, rich as a poem by Spenser, and it has the merest hint of the ingenious fancy of the metaphysical poets:
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora.
This poem has become the classic of all the English songs on May.
But Herrick's truest imprint is on that multitude of tiny poems which seem to be made of a breath of air—charming madrigals, love-fancies, addresses to flowers, brief epitaphs. The light joy of a frivolous heart, a fancy pleased by whatever has grace or beauty; the tenous melancholy of a reveller who remembers how ephemeral is that which charms him; such are his moods, and to the latter of them he returns again and again as he watches the flowers in his garden—the roses, the daffodils, the blossoms of the fruit-trees, the meadows whih 'have been fresh and green' and are left 'to lament.' The esssence of this mood is in a trifle about cherry-blossoms:
And perfume the air awhile;
But, sweet things, ye must be goine,
Fruit, ye know, is coming on;
Then, ah! then, where is your grace,
Whenas cherries come in place?
Never again did a poet of the west have so light a touch. The secret seems to be kept by Japan or China.
His epitaphs are endlessly graceful. They do not weigh down the graves on which they are but poised with the delicate grace of flowers, for instance this upon a child:
That they would each primrose-tide
Duly, morn, and evening, come,
And with flowers dress my tomb.
Having promised, pay your debt,
Maids, and here strew violets.
When this voluptuary was in bed with fever he called on music to dispel his pain:
My pains asleep;
And give me such reposes
That I, poor I,
May think thereby
I live and die
Everywhere his simplicity is seasoned with a strangeness—Mad Maid's Song, Grace for a Child, The Night-piece, to Julia. He is inspired by the Anthology and by Jonson, who had made fine translations from it; but while Jonson took extreme pains, Herrick seems to sing spontaneously. He can be reminiscent, recalling Marlowe's pastoral or Shakespeare's fairies or Herbert's pious verses, but whatever he takes is transposed and lightened. He reverses La Fontaine's otherwise just verdict on the English, that they 'think profoundly.' Herrick thinks, feels, and writes lightly. He touches nothing; he barely skims its surface. For he was without moral sense. He knew only delicate enjoyment, neither satiety, passion, nor remorse. He is the most epicurean of the moderns. His life, in the time of the Civil War and so near to Milton, seems a defiance. His metres, fluid as water, and his delicately varied stanzas, are surprising in their proximity to regularized verse, to the couplet which Waller and Denham fixed and stabilized and which increasingly became the vehicle of didacticism. Herrick, born in the Elizabethan age, was in the succeeding period the perfect artist in slight verse, while Milton, with his sovereign art, reigned over grander poetry.
5. The Anglican and Catholic Poets. Herrick, a pagan clergyman, represents no more than the lax Anglicanism of his time. The renewal of faith within the Catholic Church, provoked by the Protestant attacks, had its counterpart in England in the revived fervour of the Anglican clergy whom the Presbyterians attacked. We have seen the effects of their stimulated zeal in the prose of preachers and controversialists, and it also left its mark on poetry. Hooker had exemplified Anglican weightiness and the Anglican grasp of political principles. In the seventeenth century the ardour of many Anglicans reached even to mysticism. The pious fervour shown under James I by the brothers Phineas and Giles Fletcher became widespread under Charles I and during the persecutions of the Commonwealth. Reason became the ally, sometimes the subordinate, of imagination and sentiment. Fancy and a certain singularity were added to them, partly in consequence of the changed literary models. Poets were inspired no longer by Spenser but by Donne, whose influence was even more marked on the pious poets than on the Cavaliers.
This double tendency perceptible under Charles I and during Laud's tenure of power, on the one hand towards the restoration of the religious practices, the material accompaniments and the very millinery of Catholic ritual, and on the other towards a renewal of monastic asceticism, was combined with a taste for the metaphysical element in the sometimes truly beautiful and always curious writings of such as Herbert, Crashaw, Vaughan, and Traherne.
1. E. Gosse, Seventeenth Century Studies (1883); B. Wendell, The Seventeenth Century in English Literature (1904).
Collections of verse: Cavalier and Courtier Lyrists (Canterbury Poets, 1891); G. Saintsbury, Seventeenth Century Lyrists (undated); J. H. Massingham, A Treasury of Seventeenth Century English Verse (1919; H. J. C. Grierson, Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century (1921).
2. Minor Poets of the Caroline Period, ed. Saintsbury, 3 vols. (Clarendon Press, 1906-21).
3. Poems, Plays, and Other Remains of Sir John Suckling, ed. Hazlitt, 2 vols. (1892); The Works of Sir John Suckling, ed. Thompson (1910).
4. Lucasta, ed. Hazlitt (2nd ed. 1897).
5. Edited by Saintsbury in Minor Poets of the Caroline Period, vol. iii; The Poems of John Cleveland, ed. Berdan (1911).
6. His poems were published by Collins in 1881, and were edited by G. C. Moore Smith for the Clarendon Press (Poems English and Latin) in 1923.
See Rémusat, Herbert de Cherbury (Paris, 1874).
7. Hesperides, ed. by Pollard, with introduction by Swinburne, in the Muses' Library, 2 vols. (1891); by Saintsbury in the Aldine Poets Series, 2 vols. (1893); by Rhys in Everyman's Library (1908); by F. W. Moorman (1921).
See F. W. Moorman, Robert Herrick, a Biographical and Critical Study (1910); F. Delattre, Contribution à l'étude de la poésie anglaise au XVIIe siècle (1910; the capital work on Herrick).