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  The metaphysical fashion His knowledge of Spanish and Italian literature  

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

II. The Sacred Poets.

§ 5. Crashaw’s relation to Herbert.


The anonymous preface to Crashaw’s Steps to the Temple (1646) introduces the author with the words, “Here’s Herbert’s second, but equall.” In the same volume, Crashaw pays a tribute to his predecessor in the lines which he sent to a gentlewoman with a copy of The Temple:
       
Know you faire on what you look;
Divinest love lyes in this booke.
But there is hardly a poem by Crashaw which recalls Herbert, and the two men are widely different in temperament and genius. Crashaw’s debt to the older poet is not so much technical as spiritual. The memory of Herbert’s self-consecration was still fresh at Cambridge, when The Temple was issued from a Cambridge press in Crashaw’s second year at Pembroke, and that memory was specially treasured by Crashaw’s friends at Little Gidding. 2 
  10
  Richard Crashaw was born in 1612 or 1613. 3  He never knew his mother; his step-mother was commended by Ussher for “her singular motherly affection to the child of her predecessor,” but she, too, passed quickly out of his life. His father, William Crashaw, was a noted preacher, who spent his substance in buying books and publishing his own contributions to the Roman controversy. The contrast between the father’s anti-papal vehemence and the son’s ardent Catholicism has often suggested that Richard’s change of religion was a reaction from his father’s teaching. But, apart from the fact that Richard was only fourteen when his father died, there must also be noticed another strain in the writings and character of the elder Crashaw. The violent controversialist of The Jesuittes Gospel concerns us less than the mystically-minded editor of A Manuall for true Catholickes. In the Manuall (1611), William Crashaw thought fit to gather, out “of the most misty times of Popery,” many ancient devotions for the sick and the dying, such as the eloquent “Go forth, o Christian soule.” The man who could see the beauty of these prayers through the mists of prejudice, and, in spite of violent disagreement with their doctrines, could translate a Jesuit’s hymns to the Virgin, has some share in the authorship of the hymns to St. Teresa and the Magdalene.   11
  From Charterhouse, Richard Crashaw was elected to a scholarship at Pembroke hall, Cambridge, on 6 July, 1631, and, in the following autumn, he commemorated the death of a fellow of his college, William Herrys, in a sheaf of elegies, Latin and English. The English poems, especially the second, Death, what dost? o hold thy Blow, show the influence of Jonson, though there is already revealed something of the high colour and passionate note which distinguish Crashaw’s later work. In the earlier years of his academic life, as was natural, he gave more attention to Latin than to English verse, and, in the year of taking his first degree, he published Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber, with dedicatory odes to his school and college preceptors. One of the odes, in praise of his tutor, John Tournay, who had recently incurred the vice-chancellor’s censure for maintaining the insufficiency of faith alone, shows that Crashaw was passing under high church influences. This sympathy is still more noticeable in the lines On a Treatise of Charity, which were prefixed to the Discourses, put forth in the following year by “Robert Shelford, of Ringsfield in Suffolk, Priest,” a book denounced by Ussher as “rotten stuff.” After an eloquent defence of the relation of art to religion, Crashaw ends with ten vigorous lines which were omitted from all subsequent issues of his poems. He attacks “the zealous ones” who make it “a point of Faith” to call the pope “Anti-Christ”;
       
What e’re it be,
I’m sure it is no point of Charitie.
Crashaw’s election to a fellowship at Peterhouse, on 20 November, 1636, 4  caused him to make his home there for the greater part of the next eight years. There was much that was congenial to him in that society; another poet, Joseph Beaumont, was elected in the same year, and Crashaw’s Latin poems show his interest in Cosin’s schemes for the decoration of the new chapel. Of his Cambridge life and interests, little can be gathered except from his poems and from the anonymous editor’s preface to Steps to the Temple. This preface is not wholly trustworthy evidence; 5  but there is no reason to doubt its witness to Crashaw’s living a recluse and ascetic life, and imitating the nightly vigils of the Gidding community. As he afterwards told his friend, Thomas Carre, he was known in Cambridge days as “the chaplaine of the Virgine myld.” His indifference about food and drink is noted by both his editors; Carre calls him “a very bird of paradice” for his unworldliness. For vacant hours, he had other pursuits besides poetry, but all of them artistic. His skill in “drawing, limning, graving” is exemplified in the designs which he prepared for Carmen Deo Nostro.
  12
  Already, his ardent temperament gave a warmth to his devotional writing such as has been rarely seen in any English writer. The canonisation of St. Teresa in 1622 produced much literature about her, and a wide circulation of her books. “When the author was yet among the protestantes,” as he shows in An Apologie, her writings moved him to impassioned utterance:
       
Thine own dear bookes are guilty. For from thence
I learn’t to know that love is eloquence.
He was conscious that Englishmen would regard his interest in the Spanish mystic as requiring excuse, but he boldly claims Teresa for his “soul’s countryman”:
       
O’t is not Spanish, but’t is heav’n she speaks.
  13

Note 2. Crashaw contributed to Ferrar and Herbert’s Hygiasticon, 1634. [ back ]
Note 3. 1612 is preferable to 1613. His father states in The Honour of Vertue (1620), that Ussher had preached at Richard’s baptism “eight years afore.” His age at the time of his election to Pembroke on 6 July, 1631, is given as 18, which, if it simply implies his age at his last birthday, would, also, allow of the date 1612. [ back ]
Note 4. Grosart, vol. 1, p. xxxi, gives the Latin document of his admission as fellow, but understands it as referring only to his joining the college, and assigns his fellowship to 1637, after a year’s residence at Peterhouse. Other writers have followed Grosart. [ back ]
Note 5. It can hardly be written by a Cambridge man, because of the evident confusion between “St. Maries Church neere St. Peters Colledge,” where the poet is said to have “lodged under Tertullian’s roofe of angels,” and the new chapel of the college with its famous angel roof which the parliamentary agent, William Dowsing, destroyed in December, 1643. See Walker, T. A., Peterhouse, pp. 109, 110. [ back ]

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  The metaphysical fashion His knowledge of Spanish and Italian literature  
 
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