It is only within a short period, that due attention has been paid to the minor poets of the seventeenth century; round the names of Shakspeare, Jonson, Cowley, Milton, Waller, Denham and Dryden, a lustre so brilliant had been diffused, that the reputation of numerous poets of the same age was nearly lost in their splendour. In the course of the last thirty years, however, a spirit of literary research, and a warm partiality for the whole body of our elder poetry, have been strongly awakened; the works of Davies and of Hall, of Phineas and Giles Fletcher, of Browne and Carew, of Suckling and Marvel, have been republished; various and well-selected extracts, from a multitude of authors contemporary with these, have likewise made their appearance in the Collections of Percy, of Headley, and of Ellis; and Anderson, in his edition of the British Poets, has, with great propriety, introduced many a neglected though highly poetic writer of this period.
Notwithstanding these exertions, however, there still remain involved in partial obscurity some votaries of the Muse, who deserve a better fate. I would particularly mention, as entitled to rank foremost in the list, the names of George Wittier, James Shirley, and ROBERT HERRICK. Of the two former, some beautiful, portions have been given to the world, by Percy, Gilchrist, and Ellis, yet much is left highly worthy of preservation. Wither was a most versatile and voluminous writer, extremely unequal, and, for the most part, very coarse and colloquial in his language, yet are there dispersed, through his bulky tomes, and especially through his Juvenilia, many passages admirably picturesque, and many amatory songs of great elegance. Of these, a very pleasing little volume might be made, and I have understood it is the intention of Mr. Southey, to present such a selection to the public. Shirley, having been principally known as a dramatic poet, his smaller pieces, which were printed in 1646, were comparatively little noticed; they merit republication.
If Wither and Shirley, however, may be said to have been unjustly neglected, the charge will apply, with much greater truth, to the productions of Robert Herrick, a poet scarce even known by name, and of whom, until very lately, the brief notices of Phillips, Anthony Wood, and Grainger, were all that preserved his existence from oblivion. It was in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1796 and 1797, that the greater part of the lovers of poetry of the present age first learnt, that our bard had ever written; here are given some additional events and anecdotes of his life, and in the "Specimens of the Early English Poets," are four extracts from his volume of poems.
This includes all which has been hitherto done, toward rendering this forgotten poet the justice he deserves [author's note: I should have observed that Winstanley has also mentioned Herrick in his Lives of the Poets, but he h as servilely and even literally copied Phillips]. The perusal of his worm-eaten book, which was lately placed in my hands by a very estimable and ingenious friend [author's note: Dr. Henry Reeve], has induced me to come forward, with the view of presenting to the public such specimens of his poetical powers, as will probably excite no little curiosity as to the means, by which merit, so decided, in the departments he embraced, could, for such a length of time, be merged in the deepest obscurity. After premising, therefore, what is known of the life of our author, I shall annex some general observations on his Writings and Genius, which, I trust, will be fully confirmed, by the many beautiful lines his volume will enable me to produce.
ROBERT HERRICK, though of a family of some consequence and antiquity in Leicestershire, was born in London, being the fourth son of Nicholas Herrick, of St. Vedast, Foster-Lane, by Julia Stone, his wife. The poet himself, indeed, has recorded his birth-place, and the christian name of his mother.
The golden Cheapside, where the earth
Of Julia Herrick gave me birth.
[Hesperides, page 375.]
He was baptized August 24th, 1591 [author's note: Mr. Ellis has unaccountably placed the birth of Herrick in the year 1623. See his Chronological list of Poets], but of what College he became a member, whether of Oxford or Cambridge, remains somewhat doubtful. Anthony Wood says he was elected Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, from that of St. John's, in the year 1628, but a correspondent in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1797, whose initials are J. N. affirms Wood to have been mistaken; there was, indeed, he observes, a Robert Herrick, of St. John's, at Oxford, who was a Lieutenant in the army, and died at Wesel, in 1639; but Robert, the poet, he attempts to prove, was a Fellow-commoner of St. John's College, Cambridge, from 1615 to 1617; in corroboration of which assertion, he produces a note of hand and two letters, signed by the poet, written at Cambridge, and addressed to his uncle Sir William Herrick; the last letter is dated Trinitie Hall, Cambridge, to which college he had removed, according to his own account, from motives of economy, and with the view, likewise, of studying the law.
Upon what authority these documents are founded is not mentioned; nor can the question be settled by any reference to the poetry of our author, for, though many of his pieces are addressed to his friends and relations, no information escapes as to the place of his education. It is certain, however, that if he commenced the study of the law, he soon afterwards relinquished it, and entered into the church, for, through the patronage of the Earl of Exeter, he was, on October 1st, 1629, presented by Charles the First, (on the promotion of Dr. Barnaby Potter to the bishopric of Carlisle,) to the vicarage of Dean-Prior, in Devonshire [author's note: Rymer, Foed. tom xix, page 138]. He was then, says Eugenio [author's note: A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxvi. page 461], M.A. though Anthony Wood declares he could not find that he had ever taken a Degree.
In this retreat he spent nineteen years undisturbed, and the greater part of his volume of poems was, probably, composed during this period. There is one piece, however which bears a date earlier than his acceptance of the vicarage by two years, "A Dialogue betwixt Horace and Lydia, translated anno 1627, and set by Mr. Ro. Ramsey," and which was, perhaps, the first attempt, to naturalize this celebrated Ode. His residence in Devon, notwithstanding his being beloved and admired by the neighbouring gentry for his wit, his learning, and his genius, appears by no means to have been rendered agrecable to him, and he has vented his spleen against the county in several parts of his work. The following lines., which paint his discontent, and allude to the fertihty of his genius in this situation, are, as illustrative of a part of his life, worthy of quotation:
More discontents I never had
Since I was born, than here
Where I have been, and still am sad,
In this dull Devonshire:
Yet justly too I must confess,
I ne'er invented such
Ennobled numbers for the Press,
Than where I loath'd so much.
In another part of his volume he has still more emphatically expressed his dislike of the neighbourhood of his vicarage. In a little poem, entitled "His returne to London," he exclaims,
From the dull confines of the drooping West,
To see the day spring from the pregnant East,
Ravisht in spirit, I come, nay more, I fly
To thee, blest place of my Nativitie!—
London my home is: though by hard fate sent
Into a long and irksome banishment;
Yet since call'd back, henceforward let me be
O native country, repossest by thee!
For, rather than I'll to the West return,
I'll beg of thee first here to have mine urn.
And in his "Farewell to Dean-Bourn,'' he applies to its inhabitants, the harsh epithets of "a rocky generation."
A people currish; churlish as the seas,
And rude almost as rudest savages.
"This Farewel to Dean-Bourn," observes a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, "is still remembered by some old people of that parish, though very imperfectly, it never having been committed to writing, but, like Ossian's Poems, conveyed from father to son by oral instruction" [author's note: Vol. lxvi, part ii. page 736].
Whatever foundation there may have been for these querulous invectives, it is probable the period he passed at Dean-Prior was the happiest of his life, for, when ejected from his vicarage in 1648, in consequence of the civil wars, he found himself, on retiring to to London, where he had no fifths paid, involved in want. It was during this year, and, perhaps, shortly after his arrival in town, that he published his volume of Poems, under the title of "Hesperides, or the Works, both Humane and Divine, of Robert Herrick, Esq. London, 1648." It is a thick duodecimo, containing 398 pages, to which are annexed, occupying 79 pages more, and bearing date a year anterior to the Hesperides, "His Noble Numbers: or his Pious Pieces, wherein, (amongst other things) he sings the Birth of Christ, and sighes for his Saviour's suffering on the Crosse." Prefixed is an engraving of his head, (a shoulder piece) by Marshall, with several devices, as two angels bringing chaplets of laurel, Pegasus on Parnassus, Helicon, &c. &c. and the following complimentary lines, signed J. H. C.
Tempora cinxisset foliorum densior umbra:
Debetur genio laurea sylva tuo.
Tempora et ilia tibi mollis redimisset oliva;
Scilicet exciudis versihus arma tuis.
Admisces antiqua novis, jucunda sevenis:
Hinc juvenis discat, foemina, virgo, senex.
Ut solo minores Phaebo, sic majores unus
Omnibus, ingenio, mente, lepore, stylo.
This collection of Poetry rendered him very popular in his day, and especially, remarks Wood, with the generous and boon Loyalists, among whom he was numbered as a sufferer. It displays, likewise, a very extended and familiar intimacy with the learned and with the patrons of Literature, and which could only have been obtained and supported by frequent visits to the capital. He seems early to have acquired the friendship of Ben Jonson, and to have greatly lamented his loss. That he had frequently enjoyed his society is evident from the following stanza.
Say how, or when
Shall we thy Guests
Meet at those Lyric feasts,
Made at the Sun,
The Dog, the triple Tunne?
Where we such clusters had,
As made us nobly wild, not mad;
And yet each verse of thine
Out-did the meat, out-did the frolic wine.
He was, likewise, it is presumed, a favourite with the celebrated John Selden, who appears, from the lines I am about to quote, to have been a great admirer of his genius; they are addressed "To the most learned, wise, and Arch-Antiquary, M. John Selden."
I who have favour'd many, come to be
Grac'd now at last, or glorified by thee.
—that the world may know it,
Whom they neglected, thou hast crown' d a Poet.
To Endymion Porter, who died abroad in the Court of Charles the Second, and was a great patron of poets and literary men, a few of his pieces are devoted, and are pleasing tributes of gratitude and respect. He cultivated also the friendship of Denham, to whom he has addressed some couplets on his "Prospective Poem," probably his far-famed Cooper's Hill, and which, from their style, clearly intimate, that a mutual regard had taken place between the poets. A connection too, of the most cordial kind, existed between our author and Charles Cotton, well known for his wit and humour, and for his translation of Montaigne. The little poem written by Herrick, in honour of this ingenious writer, betrays the warmth of his affection, and is, at the same time, composed with energy and simplicity.
As a considerable portion of the poetry of Herrick is of the Lyric species, the assistance of the sister art of Music was frequently and with the celebrated Composers of his time, lie was, therefore, intimately acquainted. The two Lawes, Henry and William, Goutire, Laniere, Wilson and Ramsay, are all noticed in his works. To Henry Lawes, the first musician of his age, the friend of Waller and of Milton, and by whom his memory has been immortalised, he appears to have been particularly attached. The lines addressed "To M. Henry Lawes, the excellent Composer of his Lyricks," speak the high idea he entertained of his musical talents.
Touch but thy Lyre, my Harry, and I hear
From thee some raptures of the rare Goutire:
Then, if thy voice commingle with the string,
I hear in thee the rare Laniere to sing,
Or curious Wilson.
On William too, the brother of Henry, the disciple of Giovanni Coperario, and who was killed at the siege of Chester the 26th of September, 1645, he has some elegiac verses. William was even thought superior to his brother, and Dr. Fuller asserts, that he made above thirty several sorts of music for voices and instruments; neither was there any instrument, then in use, but he composed to it so aptly, as if he had studied that only [author's note: Worthies of Wilts, page 457]. James Goutire and Dr. John Wilson, were highly celebrated for their performance on the lute, on which instrument they excelled all the Englishmen of their time. The latter frequently played before Charles I. who usually "leaned, or laid his hand on his shoulder," and listened to him with great attention [author's note: Wood's Fasti, 2 Col. 41. and Grainger, vol. ii, page 367]. Nicholas Laniere was one of the private music to Charles I. he had likewise merit as a painter, and both composed the symphonies to, and painted the scenes for the masques, written by Ben Jonson for the court. One of the earliest productions of Herrick, "A Pastoral upon the Birth of Prince Charles," is set by this Italian.
It does not appear, that after the year 1648, the date of the Hesperides, our poet paid much attention to the Muses. He was, however, a contributor to the "Lachrymae Musarum, expressed in Elegies upon the Death of Henry Lord Hastings," 1650, but the poem he has written for this Collection, and which is entitled "The new Charon," adds not a single laurel to his wreath. A tradition also is said to prevail at Dean-Bourn, that he was the original author of Poor Robin's Almanack, which was first published about the year 1661 or 1662, but nothing corroborative of this surmise is, I believe, to be found.
Twelve or thirteen years must have elapsed before he was restored to his vicarage, which, it is probable, after so many years of penury and neglect, he was, notwithstanding all his poetical abuse, very willing to revisit. This event took place shortly after the Restoration in 1660 [author's note: Walker's Suffering of the Clergy, page 267]. He had, in the mean time, resided in St. Anne's Parish, in Westminster, and one John Syms, according to the Register of Dean Prior, occupied the benefice from 1648 to 1658. I have not been able to obtain any information as to the period of our author's death, neither Wood, Grainger, nor succeeding biographers, having noticed this event. There is reason to suppose, however, that he lived to enjoy his re-acquired preferment some years, and died the Vicar of Dean Prior.
I have already mentioned, that the talents displayed in his "Hesperides," had obtained him popularity among his contemporaries, and the poetry of the times, therefore, has not neglected to record the pretensions, and the characteristic merits of the bard. In the "Musarum Deliciae." published in 1655, he is thus mentioned;
— old sack
Young Herrick took to entertain
The Muses in a sprightly vein.
To this liquor, indeed, it appears, from several parts of the Hesperides, that our author was uncommonly partial; in page 86, for instance, he declares,
—thy isles shall lack
Grapes, before Herrick leaves Canarie sack;
Thou mak'st me airy, active to be born,
Like Iphyclus, upon the tops of corn,
Thou mak'st me nimble, as the winged hours,
To dance and caper on the heads of flowers,
And ride the sun-beams.
In a singular Satire, likewise, called "Naps upon Parnassus, &c." 1658, he is again noticed in the following quaint lines.
He was but a sour-ass,
And good for nothing but Lyrick;
There's but one to be found
In all English ground
Writes as well; — who is hight Robert Herrick.
The few succeeding writers [Not having had an opportunity of consulting the biographical compilation of Jacobs, I know not whether he includes any detail of our poet. Cibber has not mentioned him], however, who have recorded the labours of Robert Herrick, say but little in his favour. Edward Phillips, who published his Theatrum Poetarum in 1675, after observing, that he was "not particularly influenced by any nymph or goddess, except his maid Prue," admits, that "a pretty flowery and pastoral gale of fancy, a vernal prospect of some hill, cave, rock, or fountain, but for the interruption of other trivial passages, might have made up none of the worst poetic landskips" [author's note: Theatrum Poetarum, page 162]. Winstanley, in general the mere copyist of Phillips, ventures to esteem him "one of the scholars of Apollo of the middle form, yet something above George Wither," and, after quoting four of the worst lines in his book, declares, "I account him, in Fame, much of the same rank, as he was of the same standing, with one Robert Heath, the author of a poem entitled Clarastella" [author's note: Lives of the most Famous English Poets, page 166 and 167, published in 1687. Heath printed his Clarastella in 1650]. Anthony Wood says nothing more, than that "these two books of poetry (namely, his Hesperides and his Noble Numbers,) made him much admired in the time when they were published;" and Grainger, when repeating the satiric observation of Phillips on the poet's Maid, has been so obliging as to furnish us with an additional sarcasm; "it appears," remarks he, "from the effects of her inspiration, that Prue was but indifferently qualified for a tenth muse."
One chief cause of the neglect into which the poetry of Herrick has fallen, is its extreme inequality, it would appear he thought it necessary to publish every thing he composed, however trivial, however ridiculous or indecorous. The consequence has been, that productions, which Marlowe or Milton might have owned with pleasure, have been concealed, and nearly buried, in a crude and undigested mass. Had he shewn any taste in selection, I have no doubt the fate of his volume, though reduced two thirds of it present size, had been widely different. Perhaps there is no collection of poetry in our language, which, in some respects, more nearly resembles the Carmina of Catullus. It abounds in Epigrams disgusting and indecent, in satirical delineations of personal defects, in frequent apologies for the levity of his Muse, and repeated declarations of the chastity of his life; it is interspersed, also, with several exquisite pieces of the amatory and descriptive kind, and with numerous addresses to his friends and relations, by whom be appears to have been greatly beloved. The variety of metre he has used in this work is truly astonishing; he has almost exhausted every form of rhymed versification, and in many he moves with singular ease and felicity.
It has been observed by Mr. Headley, that Waller is too exclusively considered as the first man, who brought versification to any thing like its present standard. Carew's pretensions to the same merit, are seldom sufficiently either considered or allowed [author's note: Headley's Biographical Sketches, p. 39]. I may venture, I think, to introduce Herrick to my reader, as having greatly contributed toward this mechanical perfection. Many of his best effusions have the sweetness, the melody and elegance of modern compositions. He was nearly, if not altogether, contemporary with Carew, for, if the account of Clarcndon, who had been intimate with him, be correct, Carew lived fifty years [author's note: Clarendon's Life and Continuation, vol. 1. page 36], and as we know that he died in 1639, he must have been born only a year or two anterior to Herrick. It is true Carew's Poems were published earlier, being given to the world shortly after his death, probably in the year 1640 or 1641, for the second edition of his Works bears date 1642; but a Herrick's productions were all written before 1648, and many of them twenty, or, perhaps, thirty years previous to this period, it is obvious he could have been no imitator of the friend of Clarendon, but must have been indebted merely to his own exertions and genius, for the grace and polish of his versification. I consider likewise, the two little Poems, entitled the "Primrose" and the "Inquiry," which were first published in Carew's Works, and afterwards appeared among the Poems of Herrick, to have certainly belonged to the latter, and to have been attributed to Carew by the Editor's mistake. In the first place it is not probable that Herrick, who certainly superintended and arranged his own productions, and who must have been familiar with the volume of his ingenious rival, would have republished these pieces as his own, if he had not possessed a prior claim to them; and, secondly, the Poem termed the "Enquiry," by the Editor of Carew, is, in Herrick, addressed to a beloved Mistress, to "Mrs. Eliz. Wheeler," under the name of the lost Shepherdesse [author's note: Vide Hesperides, page 120], and by the nature of its variations from the copy in Carew, bears indubitable marks of being the original, from whence those lines were taken, and which, being probably written early, and circulated in Manuscript by Herrick's friends, might easily, from a general resemblance of style and manner, be mistaken, by the Editor, for a genuine production of Carew.
If, in point of versification, Herrick may enter into competition with either Carew or Waller, he will be found still more competent to contend with them as to sentiment and imagery. It has been justly observed, that "Carew has the ease, without the pedantry of Waller" [author's note: Headley, vol. i. Biographical Sketches, page 39]; the remark will apply with equal propriety to Herrick. His amatory poems unite the playful gaiety of Anacreon with the tender sweetness of Catullus, and are altogether devoid of that mythological allusion and cold conceit, which, in the pages of Waller, so frequently disgust the reader. There is a vein also of rich description in the poetry of Herrick, undiscoverable in the productions of the two other poets, and which resembles the best manner of Milton's Minora and Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd. Nor has he been unsuccessful in imitating the Horatian style and imagery, of which I shall give a specimen, while, at the time, the morality of another portion of his lyrics, breaths an air of the most pleasing melancholy. I hesitate not, therefore, to consider him in the same degree superior to Carew, as Carew most assuredly is to Waller, whose versification, as I have elsewhere observed, has alone embalmed his memory.
In bringing forward proofs of the justness of the general observations I have now given, on the merits of the poetry of Herrick, will be necessary to throw them under some arrangement, and the following will, perhaps, best answer our purpose, viz. AMATORY, ANACREONTIC, HORATIAN, MORAL and DESCRIPTIVE.
The taste for AMATORY Poetry at the period when Herrick flourished, appears to have been very gross and defective; it was either loaded with ideas coarse and vulgarly obscene, or was vitiated by metaphysical or mythological conceits. Elegance, delicate voluptuousness, or pathos, were in vain sought for where they were most required. It was our author, with his contemporaries Wither, Shirley and Carew, who re-introduced a style of composition in this province, more consonant to Nature's genuine feelings. Cowley, and his disciples in general, wrote only to excite surprise, and those who adopted a more intelligible and familiar manner, as Sir John Suckling and others, were rather celebrated for an easy and sportive levity, that for that impassioned sentiment, which should peculiarly distinguish the strains of Love. It is singular but true, that more than forty years anterior to the period we are speaking of, viz. the period of 1640, a purer taste prevailed in this species of poetry; many of the songs of Shakspeare and Fletcher are exquisitely beautiful, and in the Pastorals of Drayton may be found various passages, which speak the language of passion and simplicity [author's note: They were published with the following quaint title, "Idea. The Shepherd's Garland; fashioned in nine Eglogs. Rowland's Sacrifice to the Nine Muses. London, 1593" 4to.].
Though the production of poems of this kind may be deemed by many an easy and a trifling task, it is certain, that few of our poets have pre-eminently excelled in imparting to these little pieces, the grace and interest they are susceptible of. In the Collections of Amatory poetry we already possess, it is seldom that more than one or two compositions are ascribed to the same author, and it was not, indeed, until the appearance of the rustic Burns, that Bard of Nature and of Love, that we could boast of a writer of eminent genius, who had paid due attention to this department of Lyric poetry, and had brought forward numerous specimens of undoubted excellence. Nor when we consider the difficulties to be encountered in the attempt is this to be wondered at. "The poetical description of a fair form," observes an elegant critic, "requires the comparison of every kindred object of delight, and the richest colouring that art can bestow. The expression of emotions, on the other hand, must be conducted upon a simple plan; the feelings of the soul must declare themselves in artless touches of nature and the real symptoms of passion; and the poets hand must only appear in the delicacy of his strokes, and the softness and harmony of his versification" [author's note: Aikin on Song-Writing, pages 106 and 107].
When such are the obstacles to be overcome, that even in the most polished stage of society, and when taste has become infinitely more correct and chaste, it is no common occurrence to meet with amatory poetry of superior merit, surprise and pleasure must surely be excited by the singular purity of style, sweetness of versification, and warmth of sentiment, which characterize the following extracts from a poet, who wrote at the commencement of the seventeenth century.
Bid me to live, and I will live
Thy Protestant to be:
Or bid me love, and I will give
A loving heart to thee.
A heart as soft, a heart as kind,
A heart as sound and free,
As in the whole world thou can'st find—
That heart I'll give to thee.
Bid that heart stay, and it will stay,
To honour thy decree:
Or bid it languish quite away,
And it shall do so for thee.
Bid me despair, and I'll despair
Under yon Cypress tree:
Or bid me die, and I will dare
E'en death, to die for thee.
Thou art my life, my love, my heart,
The very eyes of me:
And hast command of every part,
To live and die for thee.
The melody of these lines, cannot, I think, for the measure in which they are written, be easily exceeded. The second and fifth stanzas have peculiar merit, and the burst of passion in the last must be felt by every one.
As Herrick alike excels in the light and sportive, as in the more serious and impassioned effusion, I shall, for the sake of variety, alternate them, and the next composition which presents itself, can lay claim to no ordinary originality and elegance: it is entitled
THE KISS, A DIALOGUE.
1. Among thy fancies, tell me this,
What is the thing we call a kiss?
2. I shall resolve you what it is.
It is a creature born and bred
Between the lips, all cherry red,
By love and warm desires fed,
Chor. And makes more soft the Bridal Bed.
1. Has it a speaking virtue? 2. Yes;
1. How speaks it, say? 2. Do you but this,
Part your join'd lips, then speaks your kiss;
Chor. And this love's sweetest language is.
1. Has it a body? 2. Aye, and wings,
With thousand rare encolourings;
And as it flies, it gently sings,
Chor. Love, honey yields; but never stings;
In the ensuing little Dialogue, which is supposed to take place between Herrick and his favourite mistress, Amarillis, there is much pastoral simplicity, a very easy flow in the versification, and the terminating stanza is neat and pointed.
Herr. My dearest Love, since thou wilt go,
And leave me here behind thee;
For love or pity let me know
The place where I may find thee.
Amarill. In country meadows pearl'd with dew,
And set about with lilies;
There filling maunds with cowslips, you
May find your Amarillis.
Herr. What have the meads to do with thee,
Or with thy youthful hours?
Live thou at court, where thou may'st be
The Queen of men, not flowers.
Let country wenches make them fine
With posies, since its fitter
For thee with richest gems to shine,
And like the stars to glitter.
Amarill. You set too high a rate upon
A Shepherdess so homely;
Herr. Believe it, dearest, there's not one
I' th' court that's half so comely.
I prithee stay. (Amar.) I must away:
Herr. Let's kiss first, then we'll sever;
Ambo. And though we bid adieu to day,
We shall not part for ever.
Numerous short poems and votive hymns re to be found in this Collection, and which, in their structure and style, bear a striking resemblance to the ancient Greek epigram. They are, like it, devoid of point and satire, and either delineate rural scenery, or are addressed to some Nymph, God or Goddess, with votive offerings. Among a vast variety of these dedicated to Venus, Bacchus, Cupid, Apollo and Neptune, to Meadows, Sycamores, Fountains, &c. &c. I have selected the following "Short Hymn to Venus" as a specimen of the manner in which they are executed. The second line of this little morsel possesses much terseness and felicity of expression, and the whole, with many similar poems of equal merit, prove, that our author had cultivated a taste for the peculiar graces of Antiquity, for the chaste and simple beauties of the Greek Anthologia.
Goddess I do love a Girl
Ruby-lipt, and tooth'd with pearl:
If so be, I may but prove
Lucky in this Maid I love;
I will promise there shall be
Myrtles offered up to Thee.
For sweetness of versification, purity of and amorous tenderness of sentiment, there is no piece in the volume of Herrick which exceeds "His Covenant or Protestation to Julia." The lines I have distinguished by Italics are in the poets best manner, and breathe .the most delicate spirit of endearment.
Why dost thou wound, and break my heart,
As if we should for ever part?
Hast thou not heard an oath from me,
After a day, or two, or three,
I would come back and live with thee?
Take, if thou dost distrust that vow,
This second protestation now.
"Upon thy cheek that spangl'd tear,
Which sits as Dew of Roses there;
That tear shall scarce be dry'd before
I'll kiss the threshold of thy door.
Then weep not Sweet; but thus much know,
I'm half return'd before I go."
A Naivete and playfulness of a very fascinating kind, at once elegant and apposite, distinguish the poem called "The Bracelet," and evince the powers of the writer in depicting the gaieties of love.
Why I tie about thy wrist,
Julia, this my silken twist;
For what other reason i'st,
But to shew thee how in part,
Thou my pretty Captive art?
But thy Bond-slave is my heart!
'Tis but silk that bindeth thee,
Snap the thread, and thou art free:
But 'tis otherwise with me.
I am bound, and fast bound so,
That from thee I cannot go:
If I could, I would not so.
The voluptuous pathos of the following little poem addressed "To Julia," is perfectly in the style of Tibullus, and, though consisting but of four lines, more powerfully impresses the heart than many pages of modern amatory poetry.
JULIA, when thy Herrick dies,
Close thou up thy poet's eyes;
And his last breath, let it be
Taken in by none but thee.
The spirit of this closing couplet has been caught by Pope in his Eloisa. She is represented calling on Abelard to pay her the last sad offices, and exclaims, with enthusiastic fondness,
Suck my last breath, and catch my flying soul.
Of the succeeding production, which will dose our specimens of the poet in this province of his muse, though many more might with propriety be adduced, there cannot, I should imagine, be any difference of opinion. It is, though in its plan an imitation of the Passionate Shepherd of Marlowe, without servility or plagiarism, either in sentiment or description. In the latter respect it is, without doubt, superior to its prototype, and the couplets distinguished by the Italic letter demand particular approbation.
Live, live with me and thou shalt see
The pleasures I'll prepare for thee:
What sweets the country can afford
Shall bless thy bed, and bless thy board.
"The soft sweet moss shall be thy bed,
With crawling woodbine overspread;
By which the silver-shedding streams
Shall gently melt thee into dreams.
Thy clothing next shall be a gown
Made of the Fleeces purest down.
The tongues of kids shall be thy meat;
Their milk thy drink; and thou shalt eat
The paste of filberts for thy bread
With cream of cowslips buttered:
Thy feasting tables shall be hills
With daisies spread, and daffadills;
Where thou shalt sit, and Red-breast by,
For meat shall give thee melody."
I'll give thee chains and carkanets
Of primroses and violets.
A bag and bottle thou shalt have
That richly wrought, and this as brave;
So that as either shall express
The Wearer's no mean Shepherdess.
At sheering times, and yearly wakes,
When Themilis his pastime makes,
There thou shalt be; and be the wit,
Nay more, the feast, and grace of it.
On holy-days, when Virgins meet
To dance the heys with nimble feet,
Thou shalt come forth, and then appear,
The Queen of Roses for that year.
And, having danc'd 'bove all the best,
Carry the garland from the rest.
In wicker baskets Maids shall bring
To thee my dearest Shepharling,
The blushing apple, bashful pear,
And shame-fac'd Plum, all simp'ring there:
Walk in the groves, and thou shalt find
The name of Phillis in the rind
Of every straight, and smooth-skin tree;
Where kissing that, I'll twice kiss thee.
To thee a sheep-hook I will send,
Be-pranck'd with ribbands, to this end,
This, this alluring hook might be
Less for to catch a sheep, than me.
Thou shalt have possets, wassails fine,
Not made of ale, but spiced wine;
To make thy Maids and self free mirth,
All sitting near the glitt'ring hearth.
Thou shall have ribbands, roses, rings,
Gloves, garters, stockings, shoes and strings
Of winning colours, that shall move
Others to lust, but me to love.
These, nay and more, thine own shall be;
If thou wilt love, and live with me.
Of ANACREONTIC Poetry there are numerous specimens in the volume of Herrick. Many of these are extremely beautiful, and there are many likewise, which, without the smallest regret, may be consigned to utter oblivion. Herrick, however, seems to have entertained a more correct idea of the style and genius of Anacreon, than the generality of those who have since attempted to imitate the lively Grecian. The songs of revelry and mirth, descriptive of the joys of wine, form only a part of the productions of the Teian Bard; he abounds also in the most delicate delineations of beauty, touched, indeed, with a pencil light as air, but picturesque, and guided by the finest taste. They are miniatures, in fact, which, though occupying a small space, are wrought with perfect symmetry, and glow with the richest tinting.
The English poet has evidently copied both these modes of composition, and if, as might be expected, he fail to rival his favourite, he has yet presented us with imitations which merit much praise, and are, in general, undoubtedly superior to the efforts of his contemporaries. Of the first species, the following lines upon himself may be considered as a proper example.
Borne I was to meet with Age,
And to walk Life's pilgrimage.
Much I know of Time is spent,
Tell I can't, what's resident,
Howsoever, cares adieu!
I'll have nought to say to you:
But I'll spend my coming hours,
Drinking wine, and crown'd with flowers.
Of the second, what he has termed "The Vision," I hesitate not to bring forward as a happy proof, that he understood and felt the characteristic beauties of Anacreon.
Sitting alone, as one forsook,
Close by a silver-shedding brook;
With hands held up to Love, I wept;
And after sorrows spent, I slept:
Then in a Vision I did see
A glorious form appear to me:
A Virgin's face she had; her dress
Was like a sprightly Spartaness.
A silver bow with green silk strung;
Down from her comely shoulders hung:
And as she stood, the wanton Air
Dandled the ringlets of her hair.
Her legs were such Diana shows,
When tuck'd up she a hunting goes;
With buskins short'ned to descry
The happy dawning of her thigh:
Which when I saw, I made access
To kiss that tempting nakedness:
But she forbade me, with a wand
Of Mirtle she had in her hand;
And chiding me, said, Hence, remove,
Herrick, thou art too coarse to love.
The picture here lively and elegantly drawn, with so much minuteness, indeed, and spirit, as to bring the object immediately to the eye.
In my selection of pieces under this head, it would be deemed unpardonable were I to omit the exquisite morsel entitled "The Captiv'd Bee." In this, perhaps, more than in any other production, Herrick may be pronounced truly Anacreontic.
As Julia once a slumb'ring lay,
It chanc'd a Bee did flie that way,
After a dew, or dew-like shower,
To tipple freely in a flower.
For some rich flower, he took the lip
Of Julia, and began to sip;
But when he felt he suck'd from thence
Honey, and in the quintessence:
He drank so much he scarce could stir,
So Julia took the Pilferer.
And thus surpris'd, as Filchers use,
He thus began himself t' excuse:
Sweet Lady-Flower, I never brought
Hither the least one thieving thought:
But taking those rare lips of yours
For some fresh, fragrant, luscious flowers:
I thought I might there take a taste,
Where so much syrop ran at waste.
Besides, know this, I never sting
The flower that gives mc nourishing:
But with a kiss, or thanks, do pay
For Honey, that I bear away.
This said, he laid his little scrip
Of honey, 'fore her Ladyship:
And told her, as some tears did fall,
That, that he took, and that was all.
At which she smil'd; and bade him go
And take his bag; but thus much know,
When next he came a pilfering so,
He should from her full lips derive,
Honey enough to fill his hive.
Confessedly difficult as it is to assume, with grace and ease, the HORATIAN garb, our author has, in more than one instance, exhibited himself to advantage in the costume of the Roman poet. That mixture of voluptuous epicurism and serious thought, which particularises many of the odes and some of the epistles of Horace, he has caught with much effect in his "Address to his friend Mr. John Wicks," nor in his "Ode to Sir Clipseby Crew" has he shewn less skill in imitating the still lighter graces of this fascinating bard. The former of these pieces will convey to the reader an adequate idea of our author's merit in this arduous department.
Is this a life, to break thy sleep?
To rise as soon as day doth peep?
To tire thy patient Ox or Ass
By noon, and let thy good days pass,
Not knowing this, that Jove decrees
Some mirth t' adulce man's miseries?
No; 'tis a life, to have thine oil,
Without extortion, from thy soil
Thy faithful fields to yield thee grain,
Although with some, yet little pain:
To have thy mind, and nuptial bed,
With fears, and cares uncumbered:
A pleasing Wife, that by thy side
Lies softly panting like a bride.
This is to live, and to endear
Those minutes, Time has lent us here.
Then, while Fates suffer, live thou free,
As is that air that circles thee.—
Time steals away like to a stream
And we glide hence away with them.
No sound recalls the hours once fled,
Or roses, being withered.
Nor us, my friend, when we are lost,
Like to a dew, or melted frost.
Then live we mirthful, while we should,
And turn the iron age to gold.
Let's feast and frolic, sing and play
And thus less last, than live our day.
Whose life with care is overcast,
That man's not said to live, but last:
Nor is't a life, seven years to tell,
But for to live that half seven well:
And that we'll do; as men, who know,
Some few sands spent, we hence must go,
Both to be blended in the Urn,
From whence there's never a return.
Had Herrick adopted any arrangement or classification for his poetry, it would probably have experienced a kinder fate. The reader would then have had the opportunity of choosing the department most congenial to his taste, and without incurring the risque of being seduced into the perusal of matter offensive to his feelings. At present so injudiciously are the contents of his volume disposed, and so totally divested of order and propriety, that it would almost seem the poet wished to pollute and bury his best effusions in a mass of nonsense and obscenity. Nine persons out of ten who should casually dip into the collection, would, in all probability, after glancing over a few trifling epigrams, throw it down with indignation, little apprehending it contained many pieces of a truly moral and pathetic, and of an exquisitely rural and descriptive strain. Such, however, is the case, and I have, therefore, assigned sections in these papers to specimens of a MORAL and DESCRIPTIVE cast.
It has already been observed, that Herrick closes his book with seventy-nine pages of religious poetry, to which is prefixed a separate title page, under the quaint and alliterative appellation of "His Noble Numbers or His Pious Pieces." From these, it might naturally be supposed, the examples I have to bring forward would be drawn. Our bard, however, like many others who have attempted divine themes, has completely failed to infuse into their structure the smallest portion of poetic fire. It is, therefore, to "Hesperides," I am solely indebted for the instances I have selected, and these form only a portion of what might be produced, under this head, with equal honour to his memory.
At the commencement of his work are a series of addresses to his Muse, his Book and verses, one of which, for its imagery, its smoothness of versification, and its pleasing delineation of the bard's content and unambitious mind, is peculiarly worthy of trancription.
HERRICK TO HIS MUSE.
Whither, Mad Maiden! wilt thou roam?
Far safer 'twere to stay at home:
Where thou may'st sit, and piping please
The poor and private Cottages.
Since Cotes and Hamlets best agree
With this thy meaner Minstrelsy.
There with the Reed, thou may'st express
The Shepherds fleecy happiness:—
There on a hillock thou may'st sing
Unto a handsome shepardling;
Or to a Girl that keeps the Neat,
With breath more sweet than Violet.
There, there perhaps, such lines as these
May take the simple Villages.
Stay then at home, and do not goe
Or fly abroad to seek for woes
Contempts in Courts and Cities dwell;
No Critic haunts the Poor man's Cell:
Where thou may'st hear thine own lines read
By no one tongue, there censured.
That man's unwise will search for ill,
And may prevent it, sitting still.
Though the greater part of the productions of Herrick be of a light and amatory kind, no one who has perused his works will hesitate in giving a decided preference to those pieces, which are devoted to pathetic or descriptive subjects. They are such, indeed, as speak highly in favour of his sensibility and genius, and ought, most assuredly, to rescue his name from oblivion. Neither Carew nor Waller, in fact, have any thing which equals the tender melancholy pervading some of these effusions and more especially the two following, whose metre also I consider as happily adapted to convey the pensive ideas of the poet.
Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
Why do ye fall so fast?
Your date is not so past;
But you may stay yet here awhile,
To blush and gently smile;
And go at last.
What, were ye born to be
An hour or half's delight;
And so to bid good-night?
'Twas pity Nature brought ye forth
Merely to shew your worth,
And lose you quite.
But you are lovely Leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne'er so brave:
And after they have shown their pride,
Like you a while: They glide
Into the Grave.
The concluding lines of the first and third stanzas of this beautiful little piece, are peculiarly impressive and pleasing.
The second poem, though on a similar topic, and expressing a similar complaint, is varied in its imagery, and possesses a more elaborate versification. It leaves, likewise, the same feelings of humility and sorrow the mind, which, by inducing us to repose on the promises of superior power, are friendly to the best interests of man.
Fair Daffadills, we weep to see
You haste away so soon:
As yet the early-rising Sun
Has not attain'd his Noon.
Until the hasting day
But to the Even-Song;
And, having pray'd together, we
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a Spring;
As quick a growth to meet Deccay,
As you, or any thing.
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the Summer' rain;
Or as the pearls of Morning's dew
Ne'er to be found again.
The cultivation of DESCRIPTIVE Poetry had, during the prior half of the he seventeenth century, been much circumscribed, by a growing fondness for metaphysical imagery and conceits. What Donne had introduced, Cowley and Clieveland established as a fashion, and the eighteenth century had dawned, before this unnatural mode of composition ceased to acquire admirers. Some illustrious examples, however, were not wanting before the year 1650, which evince a very accurate and tasteful conception of rural and picturesque scenery. Burton, about 1600, prefixed to his "Anatomy of Melancholy" some admirably descriptive verses, under the title of the Abstract of Melancholy, and which are supposed to have given rise to the still more exquisite poems, in a similar measure, by the author of Paradise Lost. in 1613 and 1627 were published the Polyolbion and the Nymphidia of Drayton; in 1616 the Pastorals of Browne, and, above all, in 1643, the Il Penseroso and L'Allegro of Milton.
Compared with these masterly productions, the descriptive pieces scattered through the Hesperides of Herrick, may appear to deserve little notice. They are, however, not only immediately subsequent in the order of time, but are possessed of no small portion of merit. They may be divided into those which describe the pleasures and employments of rural life, or delineate the imaginary sports and occupations of the fairy tribe, or the more formidable orgies of witchcraft.
The felicity of rural life bath ever been a favourite topic with poets of every age, and it is consequently a task of much difficulty to avoid what may be termed hereditary imagery. In the following poem Herrick may certainly be traced in the snow both of Virgil and Horace, yet a considerable portion remains, which may justly be ascribed to the genius and observation of the English poet.
THE COUNTRY LIFE.
Sweet Country life, to such unknown,
Whose lives are others, not their own!
But serving Courts, and Cities, be
Less happy, less enjoying thee.
Thou never plow'st the Ocean's foam
To seek, and bring rough pepper home:
Nor to the Eastern Ind dost rove
To bring from thence the scorched Clove.
Nor, with the loss of thy lov'd rest,
Bring'st home the Ingot from the West.
No, thy Ambition's Master-piece
Flies no thought higher than a fleece:
Or how to pay thy Hinds, and clear
All scores; and so to end the year:
But walk'st about thine own dear bounds,
Not envying others larger grounds:
For well thou know'st, 'tis not th' extent
Of Land makes life, but sweet content.
When now the Cock, the Plowman's Horn;
Calls forth the lilly-wristed Morn;
Then to thy corn-fields thou dost go,
Which though well soil'd, yet thou dost know,
That the best compost for the Lands
Is the wise Master's Feet and Hands.
There at the plough thou find'st thy team,
With a Hind whistling there to them;
And cheer'st them up, by singing how
The Kingdom's portion is the plough.
This done, then to the enamel'd meads
Thou go'st; and as thy foot there treads,
Thou see'st a present God-like power
Imprinted in each herb and flower:
And smell'st the breath of great-ey'd kine,
Sweet as the blossoms of the vine.
Here thou behold'st thy large sleek Neat
Unto the Dew-laps up in meat:
And, as thou look'st, the wanton Steer,
The Heifer, Cow and Ox draw near
To make a pleasing pastime there.
These seen, thou go'st to view thy flocks
Of sheep, safe from the Wolf and Fox,
And find'st their bellies there as full
Of short sweet grass, as backs with wool,
And leav'st them, as they feed and fill,
A shepherd piping on a hill.
For Sports, for Pageantry, and Plays,
Thou hast thy Eves, and Holydays:
On which the young men and maids meet,
To exercise their dancing feet
Tripping the comely country round,
With daffadills and daisies crown'd.
Thy Wakes, thy Quintels, here thou hast,
Thy May-poles too with garlands grac'd:
Thy Morris-dance; thy Whitsun-ale;
Thy Shearing-feast, which never fail.
Thy Harvest-home; thy Wassail
That's tost up after Fox i' th' Hole,
Thy Mummeries; thy Twelfe-tide Kings
And Queens; thy Christmas revellings:
Thy Nut-brown mirth; thy Russet wit;
And no man pays too dear for it.
To these, thou hast thy times to go
And trace the Hare i' th' treacherous snow:
Thy witty wiles to draw, and get
The lark into the trammel net:
Thou hast thy Cockrood, and thy Glade
To take the precious pheasant made:
Thy lime-twigs, snares, and pit-falls then
To catch the pilfering birds, not men.
O happy life! if that their good
The Husbandmen but understood!
Who all the day themselves do please,
And younglings, with such sports as these;
And, lying down, have nought t' affright
Sweet sleep, that makes more short the night.
To this specimen might be added many more of similar merit, under the title of Harvest Home, The Wake, The Wassail, &c. &c. and which display a very curious list of the sports and pastimes of our ancestors.
That species of poetry which is employed in painting the imaginary existence and manners of fairies, elves and goblins, and which Shakpeare and Jonson delighted to indulge in, is frequently to be found in the volume of Herrick. He appears, indeed, to have been alive to all the superstitions of his age, and his Collection abounds with amulets and charms against the fiends and spectres of gothic mythology.
In ancient times, the Watchman who cried the hours used to recite benedictions, in order to drive away from the house the fairies and demons of the night. Shakspeare, in his Cymbeline, alludes to a superstition of this kind, where he represents Imogen, on going to rest, exclaiming
From fairies, and the Tempters of the night,
Guard me, beseech ye!
And Milton, in his Penseroso, introduces
—the Belman's drousy charm,
To bless the doors from nightly harm,
a ceremony which Herrick has repeatedly described, and for which, in his thirty-ninth page, he appears to have given a form, very probably for the purpose of being chaunted before his own door.
From noise of Scare-fires rest ye free,
From Murders Benedicitie.
From all mischances that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night:
Mercy secure ye all, and keep
The Goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
Even in his amatory strains he has taken every opportunity of inserting imagery, drawn from similar resources. He thus commences a Night-Piece to Julia.
Her eyes the Glow-worm lend thee,
The shooting stars attend thee;
And the Elves also,
Whose little eyes glow,
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.
There are, likewise, several poems in the Hesperides, which are employed in describing the more sombrous and terrific agency of Witchcraft. As a specimen of these, I present the reader with the following singular production.
The Hag is astride,
This night for to ride;
The Devil and she together:
Through thick, and through thin,
Now out, and then in,
Though ne'er so foul be the weather.
A thorn or a burr,
She takes for a spur:
With a lash of a bramble she rides now,
Through brakes and through briars,
O'er ditches, and mires,
She follows the Spirit that guides now.
No beast, for his food,
Dares now range the wood;
But husht in his lair he lies lurking:
While mischiefs, by these,
On Land and on Seas,
At noon of Night are a working.
The storm will arise,
And trouble the skies;
This night, and more for the wonder,
The ghost from the tomb
Affrighted shall come,
Call'd out by the clap of the thunder.
Our poet, however, seems more particularly to have delighted in drawing the manners and costume of the fairy world, peopled by beings of a gentle kind, and avowedly the friends of man. He has devoted several of his most elaborate poems to these sportive creations of fancy. Under the titles of The Fairy Temple, Oberon's Palace, The Fairy Queen, and Oberon's Feast, a variety of curious and minute imagery is appositely introduced. I shall transcribe the last mentioned piece, in order to convey a just idea of the mode in which these capricious yet elegant delineations are executed.
A little mushroom table spread,
After short prayers, they set on bread;
A moon-parcht grain of purest wheat,
With some small glit'ring grit, to eat
His choice bits with; then in a trice
They make a feast less great than nice.
But all this while his eye is serv'd,
We must not think his ear was starv'd;
But that there was in place to stir
His spleen, the chirring Grashopper;
The merry Cricket, puling Fly,
The piping Gnat for minstrelsy.
And now, we must imagine first,
The Elves present to quench his thirst;
A pure seed-pearl of infant dew,
Brought and besweetned in a blue
And pregnant violet, which done,
His kitling eyes begin to run
Quite through the table, where he spies
The horns of papery Butterflies,
Of which he eats, and tastes a little
Of that we call the Cuckoes spittle.
A little Fuz-ball-pudding stands
By, yet not bless'd by his hands,
That was too coarse; but then forthwith
He ventures boldly on the pith
Of sugred rush, and eats the sagg
And well be strutted Bee's sweet bag:
Gladding his palate with some store
Of Emit's eggs; what would he more?
But beards of Mice, a Newt's stew'd thigh,
A bloated Earwig, and a Fly;
With the Red-capt-worm, that's shut
Within the concave of a nut,
Brown as his tooth. A little Moth,
Late fatned in a piece of cloth:
With whithered cherries; Mandrake's ears
Mole's eyes; to these, the slain Stag's tears
The unctuous dewlaps of a Snail;
The broke-heart of a Nightingale
O'ercome in music; with a wine,
Ne'er ravish'd from the flattering Vine,
But gently prest from the soft side
Of the most sweet and dainty Bride,
Brought in a dainty daizie, which
He fully quaffs up to dewitch
His blood to height; this done, commended
Grace by his Priest; The feast is ended.
I have thus endeavoured, by various extracts and remarks, to place the neglected merit of this unfortunate bard in its proper light. He has attempted, it is true, no production of any considerable length, nor has he ventured into the lofty regions of the epic or dramatic Muse. The joys of Love and Wine, pictures of country life and manners, or playful incursions into the world of ideal forms, where
Trip the light fairies and the dapper elves,
form the chief subjects of his poetry. Of these, some are written in a style and metre, which display no inferior command of language and versification, whilst their elegance, their tenderness or imagery is such, as to excite a well-founded admiration.
Unfortunately, like most authors of the age in which he lived, he has been totally inattentive to selection, and has thrown into his book such a number of worthless pieces, that those which possess decided merit, and which are few, if compared with the multitude which have none, are overlooked and forgotten in the crowd. Out of better than fourteen hundred poems, included in his Hesperides and Noble Numbers, not more than one hundred could be chosen by the hand of Taste. These, however, would form an elegant little volume, and would perpetuate the memory and the genius of HERRICK.