A Person as Eminent for Loyalty and Learning, (his years consider'd) as any this Age has produc'd. One, whose Character has been written by several Pens; and therefore has afforded me, (who fetch my knowledge from Books, more than verbal Information) the larger subject to expatiate on.
The Place of this Author's Nativity, the time, and his Father's Name, are differently represented by those Authors that have mention'd him. Mr. Lloyd says that he was the Son of Thomas Cartwright of Burford in Oxford-shire, and Born Aug. 16. in the year 1615. Mr. Wood says that he was the Son of William Cartwright, and Born at Northway near Tewksbury in Gloucester-shire, in Sept. 1611. and Christened the 26th day of the same Month. That his Father had dissipated a fair Inheritance, he knew not how, and as his last Refuge turn'd Inn-keeper at Cirencester. This Account contradicts the Publisher of his Poems, who says that he Died at Thirty. But however uncertain the place and time of his Birth be; certain it is, that he was bred a King's-Scholar under the Reverend and Learned Dr. Oldbaston: and in the year 1631 was chose Student of Christ-Church College in Oxford, and plac'd under the care of Mr. Terrent. He took his several Degrees, of Bachelor and Master of Arts, and afterwards was chosen by the House as Proctor, and admitted as Junior to Mr. Wake of Magdalen College by the University, the Twelfth of April 1643. and the same year, viz. on the 29th of November, he Died of a Malignant Feaver, which then raign'd, and was that year Fatal to others of his Contemporaries, as Mr. Masters of New-College, Mr. Diggs of All-Souls, and others both Men of the Gown and Sword. He was Buried the first of December in the South-Isle, being lamented not only by all good and learned Men, but even by Majesty itself: the King and Queen having anxiously enquir'd after him all the time of his Sickness, and shewed themselves much afflicted at his Death. On the Ninth of December, Mr. Maplet of the same House, was chose to supply his Place the remaining part of the year.
He was extremely remarkable both for his outward and inward Endowments; his Body being as handsome as his Soul. He was an expert Linguist, understanding not only Greek and Latine, but French and Italian, as perfectly as his Mother-tongue. He was an excellent Orator, and yet an admirable Poet, a Quality which Cicero with all his pains could not attain to. Nor was Aristotle less known to him than Cicero and Vergil: and those heard his Metaphysical Lectures, gave him the Preference to all his Predecessors, the present Bishop of Lincoln excepted. His Sermons were as much admired as his other Composures, and One fitly applied to our Author, that Saying of Aristotle concerning Aeschron the Poet, that He could not tell what Aeschron could not do.
In a word he was of so sweet a disposition, and so replete with all Virtues, that he was beloved by all Learned Men that knew him, and admired by all Strangers: and to close all with the Character the Reverend and Pious Dr. Fell (sometimes Bishop of Oxford) gave of him, Cartwright was the utmost Man could come to.
To speak of his Poetry, there needs no other Character of it in general, then that the ablest Judge of Poetry at that time, I mean Ben Johnson, said with some Passion, My Son Cartwright writes all like a Man.
He writ Four Plays besides other Poems, all which were printed together in octavo, Lond. 1651. accompanied with above Fifty Copies of Verses writ by the most eminent Wits of the University, every One being desirous to appear in the Number of his Friends, and to give a publick Testimony to the world of the Value they had for his Memory.
Ordinary, a Comedy: I know not where this Play was acted, but I remember part of the second Scene of the first Act, between the Widow Pot-luck, Slicer, and Hear-say, is transcrib'd by the Composer of Wits Interpreter, in his Love-Dialogues, under the Title of the Old Widow. pag. 81.
Lady Errant, a Tragi-Comedy, of which I can give no Account where acted, only that it is esteem'd by some a good Comedy.
Royal Slave, a Tragi-Comedy; presented to the King and Queen by the Students of Christ Church in Oxford, Aug. 30. 1636. Presented since to both Their Majesties at Hampton-Court by the King's Servants. This Play gave such Content to Their Majesties, and the whole Court, as well for the stately Scenes, the Richness of the Persian Habits, the excellency of the Songs, (which were set by that admirable Composer, Mr. Henry Lawes, Servant to his Majesty King Charles the First; in his publick and private Musick:) as for the noble Stile of the Play it self, and the ready Address and graceful Carriage of the Actors (amongst which Dr. Busby, the famous Master of Westminster School approv'd himself a second Roscius); that they unanimously acknowledged that it did exceed all things of that Nature which they had ever seen. The Queen in particular so much admired it, that in November following, she sent for the Habits and Scenes to Hampton-Court: she being desirous to see her own Servants represent the same Play, (whose profession it was) that she might the better judge of the several Performances, and to whom the Preference was due. The Sentence was universally given by all the Spectators in favour of the Gown: tho' nothing was wanting on Mr. Carthwright's side, to inform the Players as well as the Scholars, in what belong'd to the Action and Delivery of each Part.
Siege, or Love's Convert, a Tragi-Comedy; where acted I know not, but 'tis dedicated by the Author to King Charles the First, by an Epistle in Verse. The Story of Misander, and Leucatia, is founded on that of Pausanias and Cleonice, in Plutarch's Life of Cymon. The Injunction which the Rich Widow Pyle laid upon her Lovers is borrow'd from Boccace's Novels. Day 9th, Nov. 1.
Amongst his Poems, there are several concerning the Dramatick Poets and their Writings, which must not be forgot: as those two Copies which he writ on Mr. Thomas Killegrew's Plays, The Prisoner, and Claracilla; Two Copies on Fletcher, and One in Memory of Ben Johnson, which are so Excellent that the Publisher of Mr. Carthwright's Poems speaks as in a Rapture in the Preface; viz. "What had Ben said, had he read his own Eternity in that lasting Elegy given him by our Author."
Besides these Poems, our Author has extant other Pieces on different Subjects, as a Sermon, printed Lond. 1652. and a Book which I never saw, but is mentioned by Mr. Wood under this Title; Dies in Mense Novembri maxime notabiles Coronam nempe & familiam regiam spectantes. Lond. 1671.
'Tis not possible for me in this place, to enumerate all the Praises given him by the Learned of those Times in which he liv'd: only give me leave to insert part of one Copy, by which the Reader may judge of the Rest. The Lines were writ by John Leigh Esq. to the Stationer (Mr. Mosely) on his printing Mr. Carthwright's Poems. After he has nam'd all the admirable Poems, set forth by the aforesaid Bookseller; with the just Commendation of each Author, he says thus of Mr. Carthwright;
But after all thou bring'st up in the Rear,
One that fills every Eye, and every Ear,
Carthwright, rare Carthwright to whom all must bow,
That was best Preacher, and best Poet too;
Whose Learned Fancy never was at rest,
But always labouring yet labour'd least:
His Wit's Immortal, and shall Honor have,
While there's or Slavish Lord, or Royal Slave.