1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Quarles

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787; 1810) 1:lx-lxii.



It is the fate of many to receive from posterity that commendation which, though deserved, they missed of during their lives; others, on the contrary, take their full compliment of praise from their contemporaries, and gain nothing from their successors; a double payment is rarely the lot of any one. In every nation few indeed are they who, allied, as it were, to immortality, can boast of a reputation sufficiently bulky and well founded to catch, and to detain, the eye of each succeeding generation as it rises. The revolutions of opinion, gradual improvements, and new discoveries, will shake, if not demolish, the fairest fabrics of the human intellect. Fame, like virtue, is seldom stationary; if it ceases to advance, it inevitably goes backward; and speedy are the steps of its receding, when compared with those of its advances.

Non possunt primi esse omnes omni in tempore;
Summum ad gradum cum claritatis veneris,
Consistis aegre, et quum discendas decides:
Cecidi ego: cadet qui sequitur. Laus est publica.
Dec. Laberius.

Writers who do not belong to the first class, yet are of distinguished merit, should rest contented with the scanty praise of the few for the present, and trust with confidence to posterity. He who writes well leaves a [Greek characters] behind him: the partial and veering gales of favour, though silent perhaps for one century, are sure to rise in gusts in the next. Truth, however tardy, is infallibly progressive; and with her walks justice. Let this console deserted genius; those honours which, through envy or accident, are withheld in one age, are sure to be repaid with interest, by taste and gratitude in another. These reflections were more immediately suggested by the memory of Quarles, which has been branded with more than common abuse, and who seems often to have been censured merely from the want of being read. If his poetry failed to gain him friends and readers, his piety should at least have secured him peace and good-will. He too often, no doubt, mistook the enthusiasm of devotion for the inspiration of fancy; to mix the waters of Jordan and Helicon in the same cup was reserved for the hand of Milton; and for him, and him only, to find the bays of Mount Olivet equally verdant with those of Parnassus. Yet, as the effusions of a real poetical mind, however thwarted by untowardness of subject, will be seldom rendered totally abortive, we find in Quarles original imagery, striking sentiment, fertility of expression, and happy combinations; together with a compression of style that merits the observation of the writers of verse. Gross deficiencies of judgment, and the infelicity of his subjects, concurred in ruining him. Perhaps no circumstance whatever can give a more complete idea of Quarles's degradation than a late edition of his Emblems; the following passage is extracted from the Preface: "Mr. Francis Quarles, the author of the Emblems that go under his name, was a man of the most exemplary piety, and had a deep insight into the mysteries of our holy religion. But, for all that, the book itself is written in so old a language, that many parts of it are scarce intelligible in the present age; many of his phrases are so affected, that no person, who has any taste for reading, can peruse them with the least degree of pleasure; many of his expressions are harsh, and sometimes whole lines are included in a parenthesis, by which the mind of the reader is diverted from the principal object. His Latin mottos under each cut can be of no service to an ordinary reader, because he cannot understand them. In order, therefore, to accommodate the public with an edition of Quarles's Emblems, properly modernised, this work was undertaken." Such an exhibition of Quarles is chaining Columbus to an oar, or making John Duke of Marlborough a train-band corporal. His Enchiridion, Lond. 1658, consisting of select brief observations, moral and political, deserves republication, together with the best parts of his other works. Had this little piece been written at Athens, or at Rome, its author would have been classed with the wise men of his country. The most striking remarks in it are, 31, 39, 57. Cento 1; 9, 16. Cento 2; 2, 14, Cento 3; 28, 84, Cento 4. — Our author was cupbearer to the Queen of Bohemia, secretary to the Primate of Ireland, and chronologer to the City of London; in the mention of which latter office, his widow, in her Life of him, says, "which place he held to his death, and would have given that city (and the world) a testimony that he was their faithful servant therein, if it had pleased God to blesse him with life to perfect what he had began." — His sufferings, both in mind and estate, during the civil wars, were considerable. Winstanley tells us, he was plundered of his books and some rare manuscripts, which he intended for the press. Mr. Walpole and Mr. Granger have asserted, that he had a pension from Charles the First, though they produce no authority: it is not improbable, as the king had taste to discover merit, and generosity to reward it. Wood, in mentioning a publication of Dr. Burges, which was abused by an anonymous author, in a pamphlet called A Whip, and answered by Quarles, styles our author "an old puritanical poet, the sometimes darling of our plebeian judgments." — Philips says of his works, that "they have been ever, and still are, in wonderful veneration among the vulgar." Theat. Poet. p. 45, edit. 1660. — He was born at Stewards, in the parish of Rumford in Essex, in 1592; and died, the father of eighteen children, in September 1644. He was buried in St. Leonard's, Foster-lane. His death was lamented, in a copy of Alcaics, by J. Duport, Greek professor to the University of Cambridge, and one of the first writers of that tongue this country has produced. See A Relation of the Life and Death of Mr. Francis Quarles, by Ursula Quarles, his Widow; to which these verses are subjoined. See Lloyd's Mem. p. 621; Fuller's Worthies, p. 335. In an obscure Book of Epigrams, by Thomas Bancroft, there is one addressed to Quarles, in which he intimates that he had been pre-occupied in a subject by our poet. Ep. 233. B. 1. 1639.