Rev. Robert Herrick

John Nott?, "Ancient English Poetry. Robert Herrick" The Cabinet NS 1 (January-February 1809) 22-24, 112-17.

No. I.

Under this title, it is intended to present the admirers of genuine poetry with the most beautiful of the productions of the ages of Elizabeth, James I. and Charles I. Since the publication of Mr. Ellis's Specimens, more persons than a few collectors of old books have discovered that our best editions of the English Poets are far from containing all our best pieces of English poetry. Dr. Johnson's edition, indeed, omits Chaucer and Spenser; Bell's includes no other of the old English poets but these two; and even Anderson's omits many ancient productions of sterling excellence. It would never be discovered, from any of our editions of the British Poets, that the age of Elizabeth was the most poetical of this poetical nation; and it would not be sufficiently manifest that the age of Charles I. produced as many poets as wits. The truth is, that our early poets, actually possessing many conceits, have gained credit for many more; and under this imputation all their feeling and fancy have lain buried and undisturbed for centuries. The recent publication of Mr. Ellis has, however, convinced the merely modern reader that "full many a gem" is "borne" by "the dark unfathom'd caves of ocean;" and it is for the purpose of depositing these gems in our CABINET, that the present article is instituted. Mr. Ellis's Specimens have given us only a taste of the rich banquet that is yet prepared for us: it shall be the task of our numbers to spread for our readers a regular table of the same fare.

But we must often say to the collector, who honours our pages with a perusal, "coenabis bene," only "si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam coenam." We trust that the well-known liberality, which presides in the collections of the present day, will assist us to present our readers with every thing valuable, that Mr. Ellis and other selectors [author's note: From the list of these selectors, we shall except Mrs. Cooper and Mr. Headley, as their works are now exceedingly scarce.] have not given, in the poems of, among others, Gascoigne, Marlowe, Sir Henry Wotton, and Marston, of the reign of Elizabeth; Burton, Thomas Heywood, Wither, and Shirley, of the reign of James; and Habington, Randolph, Lovelace, Alexander Brome, Sir Robert Howard, Herrick, and Stanley, of the reign of Charles.

As one of not the least beautiful, and of the most rare, of these poets, we commence with extracts from the "Hesperides, or the Works, both humane and divine, of Robert Herrick, Esq. 1648." — From the poems of Herrick there are a few beautiful extracts in the Censura Literaria, vol. iii. p. 234, as well as in Mr. Ellis's Specimens, vol. iii. p. 307, none of which will of course be repeated here. Herrick was a multifarious writer, his volume containing epistles, and effusions of loyalty, satire, religion, and love. His epistles are, for their day, easy and spirited; his loyal poems are now utterly unalluring; his satires are confined to epigrams in imitation of Martial, and are often stingless, and sometimes obscene; "his noble numbers, or his pious pieces, wherein (amongst other things) he sings the Birth of his Christ, and sighes for his Saviour's suffering on the Crosse," are laboured and conceited; but his love-poems, though often indecent, and sometimes pedantic, contain many effusions of true tenderness and rich poetry. It will be from these last that our selections will be principally made.

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 cots 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 shepherdling;
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.
But, for the court, the country-wit
Is despicable unto it.
Stay then at home, and do not go,
Or fly abroad to seek for woe.
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.

To me my Julia lately sent
A bracelet richly redolent:
The beads I kiss'd, but most lov'd her
That did perfume the pomander.

Some asked me where the rubies grew,
And nothing did I say;
But with my finger pointed to
The lips of Julia.
Some ask'd how pearls did grow, and where,
Then spoke I to my girl
To part her lips, and shew'd them there
The quarelets of pearl.

Under a lawn, than skies more clear,
Some ruffled roses nestling were;
And snuggling there they seem'd to lie
As in a flow'ry nunnery.
They blush'd, and look'd more fresh than flowers
Quicken'd of late by pearly showers;
And all because they were possess'd
But of the heat of Julia's breast,
Which, as a warm and moisten'd spring,
Gave them their ever flourishing.

A sweet disorder in the dress,
Kindles in cloaths a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown,
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there,
Enthralls the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly;
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tye
I see a wild civility;
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Ill write, because I'll give
You critics means to live;
For should I not supply
The cause, th' effect would die.

No. II.

It was the intention of the present Selector to have culled from Herrick every thing valuable, which his volume contains; but his beauties spring up in such profusion, that it is found impossible, in the limits of a Magazine, to give more than a specimen of them. The Selector, however, has determined to reprint such of the poems of Herrick, as deserve to last, in a separate volume, which he takes this opportunity of announcing to those of his readers, in whom the present specimens may excite a desire to know more of their elegant author. The Selector has been not a little induced to this undertaking by the recommendation of Dr. Drake, in his Literary Hours, of which the third volume contains three excellent essays on the genius of Herrick, and some beautiful specimens of his writings. The present Selector did not happen to meet with these essays till after the compilation of his last article; otherwise he should have omitted the first poem it contains, since that is to be found among Dr. Drake's specimens. The following poems have certainly never been before selected. They are not presented to the reader as the best which have not been given before of Herrick's whole volume, but as fair specimens of that better half of the poet, which will form the contents of the Selector's intended volume. This volume will of course comprise every thing valuable of Herrick, whether it has been before reprinted or not; and will probably be entitled, "A Selection of such of the Poems of Robert Herrick, Esq. as deserve to last."

If, after rude and boist'rous seas,
My wearied pinnace here finds ease;
If so it be I've gain'd the shore
With safety of the faithful oar;
If, having run my bark on ground,
Ye see the aged vessel crown'd;
What's to be done, but on the sands
Ye dance, and sing, and now clap hands.
The first act's doubtful; but we say
It is the last commands the play.

Be not proud, but now incline
Your soft ear to discipline.
You have changes in your life,
Sometimes peace, and sometimes strife;
You have ebbs of face, and flows,
As your health or comes or goes;
You have hopes, and doubts, and fears,
Numberless as are your hairs.
You have pulses that do beat
High, and passions less of heat.
You are young, but must be old;
And, to these, you must be told,
Time, ere long, will come and plow
Loathed furrows in your brow;
And the dimness of your eye
Will no other thing imply,
But you must die
As well as I.

Here down my wearied limbs I'll lay,
My pilgrim's staff, my weed of grey,
My palmer's hat, my scallop's shell,
My cross, my cord; and all farewell.
For having now my journey done,
Just at the setting of the sun,
Here I have found a chamber fit,
(God and good friends be thank'd for it!)
Where if I can a lodger be
A little while from tramplers free;
At my up-rising next, I shall,
If not requite, yet thank ye all.
Mean while, the holy-rood hence fright
The fouler fiend, and evil spright,
From scaring you or your's this night!

After the rare arch-poet Jonson died,
The sock grew loathsome, and the buskin's pride,
Together with the stage's glory, stood
Each like a poor and pitied widowhood.
The cirque profan'd was, and all postures rack'd;
For men did strut, and stride, and stare, not act.
Then temper flew from words; and men did squeak,
Look red, and blow, and bluster, but not speak.
No holy rage, or frantic fires, did stir,
Or flash about the spacious theatre.
No clap of hands, or shout, or praises-proof,
Did crack the play-house' sides, or cleave her roof.
Artless the scene was; and that monstrous sin
Of deep and arrant ignorance came in;
Such ignorance as their's was, who once hiss'd
At the unequall'd play, the Alchymist.
Oh! fie upon them! Lastly, too, all wit
In utter darkness did, and still will, sit,
Sleeping the luckless age out, till that she
Her resurrection has again with thee.

A willow garland thou didst send
Perfum'd, last day, to me,
Which did but only this portend,
I was forsook by thee.
Since so it is, I'll tell thee what;
To-morrow thou shalt see
Me wear the willow; after that,
To die upon the tree.
As beasts unto the alters go
With garlands drest; so I
Will, with my willow-wreath, also
Come forth and sweetly die.

Shut not so soon; the dull-ey'd night
Has not as yet begun
To make a seizure on the light,
Or to seal up the sun.
No marigolds yet closed are,
No shadows great appear,
Nor doth the early shepherd's star
Shine like a spangle here.
Stay but till my Julia close
Her life-begetting eye;
And let the whole world then dispose
Itself to live or die.

Here a solemn fast we keep,
While all beauty lies asleep.
Hush'd be all things; no noise here
But the toning of a tear,
Or a sigh of such as bring
Cowslips for her covering.

O Jealousy, thou art
The canker of the heart;
And mak'st all hell
Where thou dost dwell;
For pity he
No fury or no fire-brand to me!
Far from me I'll remove
All thoughts of irksome love;
And turn to snow
Or crystal grow,
To keep still free,
O soul-tormenting Jealousy, from thee!

Here, here I'll live,
And somewhat give
Of what I have
To those who crave.
Little or much,
My alms is such;
But if my deal
Of oil or meal
Shall fuller grow,
More I'll bestow:
Mean time, be it
Ev'n but a bit,
Or else a crumb,
The scrip hath some.

Thus I
Pass by,
And die,
As one
And gone;
I'm made
A shade
And laid
I' th' grave;
There have
My cave
Where tell
I dwell.

Dew sat on Julia's hair,
And spangled too,
Like leaves that laden are
With trembling dew;
Or glitter'd to my sight,
As when the beams
Have their reflected light
Danc'd by the streams.

Reach, with your whiter hands, to me
Some crystal of the spring;
And I about the cup shall see
Fresh lilies flourishing.
Or else, sweet nymphs, do you but this;
To th' glass your lips incline;
And I shall see by that one kiss
The water turn'd to wine.

Ask me why I send you here
This sweet infanta of the year?
Ask me why I sent to you
This primrose, thus bepearl'd with dew?
I will whisper to your ears
The sweets of Love are mix'd with tears.

Ask me why this flow'r does shew
So yellow-green, and sickly too?
Ask my why the stalk is weak
And bending, yet it doth not break?
I will answer, these discover
What fainting hopes are in a Lover.

I dare not ask a kiss,
I dare not beg a smile,
Lest having that, or this,
I might grow proud the while.

No, no; the utmost share
Of my desire shall be
Only to kiss that air,
That lately kissed thee.

Be the mistress of my choice
Clean in manners, clear in voice;
Be she witty, more than wise,
Pure enough, tho' not precise;
Be she shewing in her dress,
Like a civil wilderness,
That the curious may detect
Order in a sweet neglect;
Be she rolling in her eye,
Tempting all the passers-by,
And each ringlet of her hair
An enchantment, or a snare,
For to catch the lookers-on,
But herself held fast by none;
Let her all Lucrece all day be,
Thais in the night to me;
Be she such as neither will
Famish me, nor overfill.

What will ye, my poor orphans, do
When I must leave the world and you?
Who'll give ye then a shelt'ring shed,
Or credit ye, when I am dead?
Who'll let ye by their fire sit,
Altho' ye have a stock of wit,
Already coin'd to pay for it?
I cannot tell; unless there be
Some race of old humanity
Left (of the large heart and long hand)
Alive, as noble Westmoreland
Or gallant Newark, which brave two
May fost'ring fathers be to you.
If not, expect to be no less
Ill us'd, than babes left fatherless.

This prediction of poor Herrick has unhappily proved too true. It is time, however, to falsify it, and to give its veracity to another prediction of the same poet, which he made upon himself, with Horace, and with so large a share of Horace's right to it; "Thou shalt not die.