1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Quarles

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:129.



The writings of FRANCIS QUARLES (1592-1644) are more like those of a divine, or contemplative recluse, than of a busy man of the world, who held various public situations, and died at the age of fifty-two. Quarles was a native of Essex, educated at Cambridge, and afterwards a student of Lincoln's Inn. He was successively cup-bearer to Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, secretary to Archbishop Usher, and chronologer to the city of London. He espoused the cause of Charles I., and was so harassed by the opposite party, who injured his property, and plundered him of his books and rare manuscripts, that his death was attributed to the affliction and ill health caused by these disasters. Notwithstanding his loyalty, the works of Quarles have a tinge of Puritanism and ascetic piety that might have mollified the rage of his persecutors. His poems consist of various pieces — Job Militant, Sion's Elegies, The History of Queen Esther, Argalus and Parthenia, The Morning Muse, The Feast of Worms, and The Divine Emblems. The latter were published in 1645, and were so popular, that Phillips, Milton's nephew, styles Quarles "the darling of our plebeian judgments." The eulogium still holds good to some extent, for the Divine Emblems, with their quaint and grotesque illustrations, are still found in the cottages of our peasants. After the Restoration, when everything sacred and serious was either neglected or made the subject of ribald jests, Quarles seems to have been entirely lost to the public. Even Pope, who, had he read him, must have relished his lively fancy and poetical expression, notices only his bathos and absurdity. The better and more tolerant taste of modern times has admitted the divine emblemist into the "laurelled fraternity of poets," where, if he does not occupy a conspicuous place, he is at least sure of his due measure of homage and attention. Emblems, or the union of the graphic and poetic arts, to inculcate lessons of morality and religion, had been tried with success by Peacham and Wither. Quarles, however, made Herman Hugo, a Jesuit, his model, and from the "Pia Desideria" of this author, copied a great part of his prints and mottoes. His style is that of his age — studded with conceits, often extravagant in conception, and presenting the most outre and ridiculous combinations. There is strength, however, amidst his contortions, and true wit mixed up with the false. His epigrammatic point, uniting wit and devotion, has been considered the precursor of Young's Night Thoughts.