1687 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Quarles

William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687) 155-58.



Francis Quarles, son to James Quarles, Esq, was born at Stewards at the Parish of Rumford, in the County of Essex, and was bred up in the University of Cambridge, where he became intimately acquainted with Mr. Edward Benlowes, and Mr. Phineas Fletcher, that Divine Poet and Philosopher, on whose most excellent Poem of the Purple Island, bear these Verses of Mr. Quarles, which if they be as delightful to you in the reading, as to me in the writing, I question not but they will give you content.

Mans Body's like a House, his greater Bones
Are the main Timber; and the lesser ones
Are smaller splints: his ribs are laths daub'd o're
Plaister'd with flesh and blood; his mouth's the door,
His throat's the narrow entry, and his heart
Is the great Chamber, full of curious art:
His midriff is a large Partition-wall
'Twixt the great Chamber, and the spacious Hall:
Is often but half sod for want of heat:
His Spleen's a vessel Nature does allot
To take the skum that rises from the Pot:
His lungs are like the bellows, that respire
In every Office, quickening every fire:
His Nose the Chimney is, whereby are vented
Such fumes as with the bellows are augmented:
His bowels are the sink, whose parts do drain
All noisome filth, and keep the kitchen clean:
His eyes are Christal windows, clear and bright;
Let in the object and let out the sight.
And as the Timber is or great, or small,
Or strong, or weak, 'tis apt to stand or fall:
Yet is the likeliest Building sometimes known
To fall by obvious chances; overthrown
Oft times by tempest, by the full mouth'd blasts
Of Heaven; sometimes by fire, sometimes it wasts
Through unadvis'd neglect: put ease the stuff
Were ruin-proof, by nature strong enough
To conquer time, and age; put case it should
Ne'er know an end; alas! our Leases would;
What hast thou then, proud flesh and blood, to boast?
Thy daies are evil, at best; but few, at most;
But sad, at merriest; and but weak, as strongest;
Unsure, at surest, and but short, as longest.

He afterwards went over into Ireland, where he became Secretary to the Reverend James Usher, Arch-bishop of Armagh: one suitable to his disposition, having a Genius byassed to Devotion; Here at leisure times did he exercise himself in those ravishing delights of Poetry, but (alwaies with the Psalmist) his heart was inditing a good matter; these in time produced those excellent works of his; viz. his Histories of Jonas, Esther, Job, and Sampson; his Sions Songs and Sions Elegies, also his Enchyridion, all of them of such a heavenly strain, as if he had drank of Jordan instead of Helicon, and slept on Mount Olivet for his Pernassus. He had also other excursions into the delightful walks of Poetry, namely, his Argalus and Parthenia, a Science (as himself saith) taken out of Sir Philip Sidney's Orchard, likewise his Epigrams, Shepherds Oracles, Elegies on several persons, his Hieroglyphicks, but especially his Emblems, wherein he hath Out-Alciated Alciatus himself. There hath been also acted a Comedy of his called, The Virgin Widdow, which passed with no ordinary applause. But afterwards the Rebellion breaking forth in Ireland (where his losses were very great) he was forced to come over; and being a true Loyalist to his Sovereign, was again plundered of his Estate here, but what he took most to heart (for as for his other losses he practiced the patience of Job he had described) was his being plundered of his Books, and some rare Manuscripts which he intended for the Press, the loss of which, as it is thought, facilitated his death, which happened about the year of our Lord, 1643. to whose memory one dedicated these lines by way of Epitaph.

To whom that understand themselves so well,
As what, and who lies here, to ask, I'll tell,
What I conceive Envy dare not deny,
Far both from falsehood, and from flattery.

Here drawn to Land by Death, doth lie
A Vessel fitter for the Skie,
Than Jason's Argo, though in Greece
They say, it brought the Golden Fleece.
The skillful Pilot steer'd it so,
Hither and thither, too and fro,
Through all the Seas of Poverty,
Whether they far or near do lie,
And fraught it so with all the wealth
Of wit and learning, not by stealth,
Or piracy, but perchance got
That this whole lower World could not
Richer Commodities, or more
Afford to add unto his store.
To Heaven then with an intent
Of new Discoveries, he went
And left his Vessel here to rest,
Till his return shall make it blest.
The Bill of Lading he that looks
To know, may find it in his Books.