Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Cavalier Lyrists > Thomas Carew
  Noble Numbers Sir John Suckling  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

I. Cavalier Lyrists.

§ 9. Thomas Carew.


Thomas Carew, who came of the Cornish branch of the Carew family, was the younger son of Sir Matthew Carew, master in Chancery, and of Alice, daughter of Sir John Rivers, a lord mayor of London. The date of his birth is uncertain, but 1598 is the generally accepted year. He was educated at Corpus Christi college, Oxford, but left the university without a degree, and, in 1614, was reading law in the Middle Temple. A little later, he became secretary to Sir Dudley Carleton, British ambassador at Venice. In 1616, Carleton was sent as ambassador to The Hague, and was accompanied by his secretary; but, after a few months’ service there, Carew, for reasons not fully known, threw up his post and returned to England. In the October of the same year, he is described by his father as “wandering idly about without employment.” In 1619, he was with lord Herbert of Cherbury at the French court, and, soon after the accession of Charles I, he won the king’s favour, who made him his sewer in ordinary, and a gentleman of his privy chamber; he also bestowed upon him the royal domain of Sunninghill, near Windsor.   29
  The following years of his life seem to have been spent chiefly among the courtiers of Whitehall and the wits of the town. He was “of the tribe of Ben,” and numbered Suckling, D’Avenant, George Sandys and Aurelian Townsend among his friends and acquaintances. Anthony à Wood bears witness to his “delicacy of wit and poetic fancy,” and Clarendon describes him as “a person of pleasant and facetious wit”; from Suckling’s well-known reference to him in A Session of the Poets, it would seem as though he were looked upon as the poet laureate of the court, though the official laureate at this time was Ben Jonson.   30
  In 1634, he wrote his elaborate masque; Coelum Britannicum; it was undertaken at the royal command, and was performed at Whitehall on the Shrove Tuesday of that year. Other poems followed, but, in 1638, his life came suddenly to an end. Two years after his death, his poems were collected and published: insufficient care was taken with this edition; for, while some of Carew’s poems were omitted from it, other poems which were not his—including Ben Jonson’s famous “Come, my Celia, let us prove,” and two of Herrick’s lyrics 4 —found a place in it.   31
  The right of Carew to stand next to Herrick among the Caroline lyrists can scarcely be questioned, and the two poets have a good deal in common. Had Herrick not been transported, in the year 1629, from the gilded chambers of Whitehall to the thatched cottages of Dean Prior, the resemblance between them, doubtless, would have been still greater. For, up to that date, in spite of a certain inequality in age and breeding, they must have come under very much the same influences, and moved in the same social circles. They never mention one another, but they can hardly have failed to meet, if not in the precincts of the court, then in the society of their tribal lord, Ben Jonson, whose intellectual sovereignty they alike acknowledge. In both, the artistic sense was strong, and the atmosphere of Carew’s lyrics to Celia is curiously like that of many of Herrick’s to Julia. Finally, both poets render the homage of complimentary verse to the king, to the duke of Buckingham, to John Crofts, the king’s cup-bearer, and to Lucy Hay, countess of Carlisle, whose beauty is the theme of many a cavalier lyrist, and who, two centuries after her death, became the heroine of Browning’s Strafford. But residence in Devonshire widened immeasurably the horizon of Herrick’s poetic vision, and enabled him to find, in festooned maypoles and primrose glades, new themes for song of which Carew remained throughout his life wholly ignorant.   32
  Carew resembles Herrick, again, in the fact that his poems furnish us with an easy transition from the Elizabethan lyric to that of the seventeenth century; but, whereas Herrick approaches nearest to the earlier manner in those poems in which he reproduces the youthfulness and romantic glow of the best miscellany-lyrics—for example, Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love—Carew’s sympathy is with the more artificial lyricism of the sonnet. In his Elegy upon the Death of Dr. Donne, he rightly estimates the achievement of the great lyric reformer in purging the muses’ garden of “pedantic weeds” and “the lazy seeds of servile imitation”; yet, in such a poem as the following, he keeps very closely to the Petrarchian manner of the sonneteers, against which Donne declared open warfare:
       
I’ll gaze no more on her bewitching face,
Since ruin harbours there in every place.
For my enchanted soul alike she drowns
With calms and tempests of her smiles and frowns.
I’ll love no more those cruel eyes of hers
Which, pleas’d or anger’d, still are murderers.
For if she dart, like lightning, through the air
Her beams of wrath, she kills me with despair.
If she beholds me with a pleasing eye,
I surfeit with excess of joy and die.  5 
In the main, however, and for evil as well as for good, Carew belongs to the classical school of seventeenth century lyrists who followed in the steps of Jonson. His indebtedness to Anacreon and the masters of Roman lyric, apparently, was far less profound than that of Jonson or Herrick, and his classicism, therefore, is almost entirely confined to those qualities of style—structural proportion, smoothness and lucidity of diction and the avoidance of fantastic conceit—which the author of The Forest and Underwoods had striven, and striven successfully, to introduce into English lyric poetry. Carew’s love-poems are not always free from that hyperbole which was then the fashion; and, in his Elegy upon the Death of Dr. Donne, admiration for his hero leads him to imitate the discordia concors of that masterful genius. But sanity of taste is strong in Carew, and it keeps him free from those aberrations and excesses which have left their impress upon much of the lyric poetry, both secular and religious, of his day. Above all, he has a fine sense of structure in poetry, and this gives to his verses both shapeliness in the parts and unity in the whole. This structural beauty is attained by methods which are as simple as they are successful. Thus, he is the master of the lyric of two stanzas in which the second stanza is nicely balanced with the first, in much the same way that octave and sestet balance one another in the Petrarchian sonnet:
       
Mark how the bashful morn, in vain,
Courts the amorous marigold
With sighing blasts and weeping rain;
Yet she refuses to unfold.
But when the planet of the day
Approacheth, with his powerful ray,
Then she spreads, then she receives
His warmer beams into her virgin leaves.
So shalt thou thrive in love, fond boy!
If thy tears and sighs discover
Thy grief, thou never shalt enjoy
The just reward of a bold lover.
But when, with moving accents, thou
Shalt constant faith and service vow,
Thy Celia shall receive those charms
With open ears, and with unfolded arms. 6 
But if Carew’s workmanship is almost always successful, it is very seldom triumphant. In it, as in everything else, he lacks boldness. He never attempts the daring intricacies of rime in which Herrick delights, nor have any of his songs the rhythmic beauty attained, with such apparent ease, by Ben Jonson in his “Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears,” from Cynthia’s Revels. And this lack of boldness, this unwillingness to reach beyond his grasp, is characteristic of Carew’s work throughout. It is true that he has left us at least a dozen songs—such as “Ask me no more where Jove bestows,” “Sweetly breathing vernal air,” “He that loves a rosy lip,” “Fair copy of my Celia’s face” and so forth— which are wellnigh perfect in their kind; but, when the contents of his volume of verses are judged as a whole, it must be confessed that, in thought and in feeling, they are somewhat commonplace and conventional. His imaginative power is weak, and he has very little intensity of emotion. There is not much intensity, perhaps, in Hesperides; but Herrick possesses a quality which goes far to compensate for its absence—the charm of personality and self-revelation. This, however, is almost entirely absent from the poems of Carew. That decorous and well-disciplined courtier keeps himself, for the most part, under perfect control, and is only too ready to barter away sincerity of expression for the mask of gallantry and conventional compliment. On one occasion, however, he dares to be himself; and the result is The Rapture, a poem of audacious sensuality, but more fraught with passion and imaginative vision than anything else he has left us. Elsewhere, the tone of his poetry is studiously moral, and, in his masque, Coelum Britannicum, he is almost puritanical in his austerity. Here, Mercury banishes Pleasure from the court, and sets in her place Truth, Wisdom and Religion. Pleasure is denounced as a “bewitching siren, gilded rottenness,” that has
       
With cunning artifice display’d
Th’ enamell’d outside and the honied verge
Of the fair cup where deadly poison lurks.
In The Rapture, all this is changed. Decorum is swept aside, and Carew, letting his imagination work its will with him, gives himself up to that orgy of the senses which we meet with also in some of the elegies of Donne.
  33
  Carew has been described as the founder of the school of courtly amorous poetry; but it seems probable that, if we could place the Hesperides poems in their due chronological order, the prestige of priority would rightly belong to Herrick. Yet it seems natural to regard Carew as the leader of that school, because, unlike Herrick, he is, from first to last, a cavalier, and rarely strays far from the precincts of Whitehall. Once or twice, it is true, we find him removed from court, and engaged in praising, after the manner of Jonson’s Penshurst, and Martial’s verses To Bassus, on the Country-House of Faustinus, 7  the lavish hospitality practised by Stewart courtiers while residing at their country-seats; and, on one occasion, too, we find him singing the glories of an English spring. The verses entitled The Spring are graceful and harmonious; but the extent of his acquaintance with the ways of nature may be judged by the fact that he represents the “drowsy cuckoo” hibernating, along with the humble-bee, in some hollow tree! Carew’s true place of abode is the city and the court, where, polishing and re-polishing his elegant verses, he renders homage to his royal master, pays amorous suit to his Celia, celebrates with wedding-song or epitaph the marriage or decease of noble lords and ladies and wins from his contemporaries the fitting title of the laureate of the court. Invited by his friend, Aurelian Townsend, to commemorate in verse the death of the great Gustavus Adolphus, he finds his laureate muse unfit for the heroic strain which the occasion demanded, and, declaring that he must leave the hero of Leipzig, Wurtzburg and the Rhine to some prose chronicler, he bids his friend join with him in extolling the joys of tourneys, masques and theatres:
       
What though the German drum
Bellow for freedom and revenge, the noise
Concerns not us, nor should divert our joys.
Nor ought the thunder of their carabines
Drown the sweet airs of our tuned violins.  8 
  34

Note 4. See supra, p. 7. [ back ]
Note 5Murdering Beauty. [ back ]
Note 6Boldness in Love. [ back ]
Note 7Epigrammata, III, 58. [ back ]
Note 8Upon the Death of the King of Sweden. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Noble Numbers Sir John Suckling  
 
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