1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Cartwright

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:277-81.



WILLIAM CARTWRIGHT, a Gentleman eminent for learning. The place of his birth, and his father's name, are differently assigned by authors, who have mentioned him. Mr. Loyd says, that he was son of Thomas Cartwright of Burford in Oxfordshire, and born August 16, in the year 1615; Mr. Wood , that he was the son of William Cartwright, and born at Northway, near Tewksbury in Gloucestershire in September 1611, that his father had dissipated a fair inheritance he knew not how, and as his last refuge turned inn-keeper at Cirencester; when living in competence, he procured his son, a youth of a promising genius, to be educated under Mr. William Topp, master of the free school in that town. From thence he was removed to Westminster school, being chosen a King's scholar, when compleating his former learning, under the care of Mr. Lambert Osbaldiston, he was elected a student in Christ Church in Oxford, in 1628, under the tuition of Mr. Jerumael Terrent, having gone through the classes of logic and philosophy with unwearied diligence, he took the degrees of Arts, that of Master being compleated in 1605. Afterwards he entered into holy orders, and gained great reputation in the university for his pathetic preaching.

In 1642 he had the place of succentor in the church of Salisbury, conferred on him by bishop Duppa, and in 1643 was chosen junior proctor of the university; he was also metaphysical reader, and it was generally said, that those lectures were never performed better than by Mr. Cartwright, and his predecessor Mr. Thomas Barlow of Queen's College, afterwards lord bishop of Lincoln. This ingenious gentleman died of a malignant fever, called the Camp-disease, which then reigned in Oxford, and was fatal to many of his cotemporaries, in the 33d year of his age, 1643. His death was very much lamented by all ranks of men, and the king and Queen, then at Oxford, frequently enquired after him in the time of his sickness, and expressed great concern for his death. Mr. Cartwright was as remarkable for the endowments of his person as of his mind; his body (as Langbaine expresses it) "being as handsome as his soul. He was, says he, an expert linguist, understanding not only Greek and Latin, but French and Italian, as perfectly as his mother tongue; an excellent orator, and at the same time an admirable poet, a quality which Cicero with all his pains could never attain." The editor of his works applies to him the saying of Aristotle concerning Aeschron the poet, "that he could not tell what Aeschron could not do," and Dr. Fell, bishop of Oxford, said of him, "Cartwright was the utmost a man can come to." Ben Johnson likewise so highly valued him, that he said, "My son Cartwright writes all like a man." There are extant of this author's, four plays, besides other poems, all which were printed together in 1651, to which are prefixed above fifty copies of commendatory verses by the most eminent wits of the university.

Langbaine gives the following account of his plays;

1. Ordinary, a Comedy, when and where acted is uncertain.

2. Lady Errant, a Tragi-Comedy; there is no account when this play was acted, but it was esteemed a good Comedy.

3. Royal Slave, a Tragi-comedy, presented to the King and Queen, by the students of Christ Church in Oxford, August 30, 1636; preferred since before both their Majesties at Hampton Court by the King's servants. As for the noble stile of the play itself, and the ready address, and graceful carriage of the students (amongst which Dr. Busby, the famous master of Westminster school, proved himself a second Roscius) did exceed all things of that nature 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, whole 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 specators in favour of the gown, though nothing was wanting on Mr. Cartwnght's side to inform the players as well as the scholars, in what belonged to the action and delivery of each part.

4. Siege, or Love's Convert, a Tragi-Comedy, when acted is not known, but was dedicated by the author to King Charles I. by an epistle in verse.

Amongst his poems, there are several concerning the dramatic poets, and their writings, which must not be forgot; as these two copies which he wrote 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. Cartwright's poems speaks of them with rapture in the preface, viz. "what had Ben said had he read his own Eternity, in that lasting elegy given him by our author." Mr. Wood mentions some other works of Cartwright's; 1st. Poemata Graeca et Latins. 2d. An Offspring of Mercy issuing out of the Womb of Cruelty; a Passion Sermon preached at Christ Church in Oxford, on Acts ii. 23. London, 8vo. 1652. 3d. On the Signal Days of the Month of November, in relation to the Crown and Royal Family; a Poem, London 1671, in a sheet, 4to. 4th. Poems and Verses, containing Airs for several Voices, set by Mr. Henry Lawes.

From a Comedy of Mr. Cartwright's called the Ordinary, I shall quote the following Congratulatory Song on a Marriage, which is amorous, and spirited.

I.
While early light springs from the skies,
A fairer from your bride doth rise;
A brighter day doth thence appear,
And make a second morning there.
Her blush doth shed
All o'er the bed
Clear shame-faced beams
That spread in streams,
And purple round the modest air.

II.
I will not tell what shrieks and cries,
What angry pishes, and what fies,
What pretty oaths, then newly born,
The list'ning bridegroom heard there sworn:
While froward she
Most peevishly
Did yielding light,
To keep o'er night,
What she'd have proffer'd you e're morn.

III.
For, we know, maids do refuse
To grant what they do come to lose.
Intend a conquest, you that wed;
They would be chastly ravished;
Not any kiss
From Mrs. Pris, if that you do
Persuade and woo:
No, pleasure's by extorting fed.

IV.
O may her arms wax black and blue
Only by hard encircling you:
May she round about you twine
Like the easy twisting vine;
And while you sip
From her full lip
Pleasures as new
As morning dew,
Like those soft tyes, your hearts combine.