1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Cartwright

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:138.



WILLIAM CARTWRIGHT (1611-1643) was one of Ben Jonson's adopted sons of the muses, and of his works Jonson remarked — "My son Cartwright writes all like a man." Cartwright was a favourite with his contemporaries, who loved him living, and deplored his early death. This poet was the son of an innkeeper at Cirencester, who had squandered away a patrimonial estate. In 1638, after completing his education at Oxford, Cartwright entered into holy orders. He was a zealous royalist, and was imprisoned by the parliamentary forces when they arrived in Oxford in 1642. In 1643, he was chosen junior proctor of the university, and was also reader in metaphysics. At this time, the poet is said to have studied sixteen hours a day! Towards the close of the same year, Cartwright caught malignant fever, called the camp disease, then prevalent at Oxford, and died December 23, 1643. The king, who was then at Oxford, went into mourning for Cartwright's death; and when his works were published in 1651, no less than fifty copies of encomiastic verses were prefixed to them by the wits and scholars of the time. It is difficult to conceive, from the perusal of Cartwright's poems, why he should have obtained such extraordinary applause and reputation. His pieces are mostly short, occasional productions, addresses to ladies and noblemen, or to his brother poets, Fletcher and Jonson, or slight amatory effusions not distinguished for elegance or fancy. His youthful virtues, his learning, loyalty, and admiration of genius, seem to have mainly contributed to his popularity, and his premature death would renew and deepen the impression of his worth and talents. Cartwright must have cultivated poetry in his youth: he was only twenty-six when Ben Jonson died, and the compliment quoted above seems to prove that he had then been busy with his pen. He mourned the loss of his poetical father in one of his best effusions, in which he thus eulogises Jonson's dramatic powers:—

But thou still puts true passion on; dost write
With the same courage that tried captains fight;
Giv'st the right blush and colour unto things;
Low without creeping, high without loss of wings;
Smooth yet not weak, and, by a thorough care,
Big without swelling, without painting fair.