1870 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry Francis Cary

Edward Edwards, in Lives of the Founders of the British Museum (1870) 544-45.



Mr. CARY was the grandson of Mordecai CARY, Bishop of Killaloe, and the son of a Captain in the British Army, who at the time of Henry CARY'S birth was quartered at Gibraltar, where the boy was born on the sixth of December 1772. He was educated at Birmingham and at Christ Church, Oxford. It was in his undergraduate days at Christ Church that he began to translate the Inferno, although he did not publish his first volume until he had entered his thirty-third year, and had established himself in "the great wen" as Reader at Berkeley Chapel (1805). CARY'S Dante soon won its way to fame. Among other blessings it brought about his life-long friendship with COLERIDGE and with the Coleridgian circle. He now became an extensive contributor to the literary periodicals. In 1816, he was made Preacher at the Savoy. In 1825, he offered himself to the Trustees of the British Museum as a candidate for the Keepership of the Department of Antiquities in succession to Taylor COMBE. That office was given, with great propriety, to Mr. Edward HAWKINS, who had assisted Mr. COMBE, and had, in fact, replaced him during his illness. But Mr. CARY had met with encouragement — especially from the Archbishop of CANTERBURY — and kept a bright look-out for new vacancies. In May or June 1826, he wrote to his father that he had learnt that the office of Assistant Librarian in the Department of Printed Books was vacant. It had been, he added, held by a most respectable old clergyman of the name of BEAN, and Mr. BEAN was just dead. Within a week or two, Mr. CARY was appointed to be his successor. By a large circle of friends the appointment was hailed as a fitting tribute to a most deserving man of letters.

The homely rooms in the Court-yard of the Museum allotted to the Assistant-Keeper of the Printed Book Department were soon the habitual resort of a cluster of poets. The faces of COLERIDGE, ROGERS, Charles LAMB, and (during their occasional visits to London) those of SOUTHEY and of WORDSWORTH, became, in those days, very familiar at the gate of old Montagu House. COLERIDGE had always loved CARY, and when the charms of long monologues, delivered at the Grove to devout listeners, withheld him from visits, the correspondence between Highgate and Bloomsbury became so frequent and so voluminous, that he is said to have endeavoured to persuade Sir Francis FREELING that all correspondence to or from the British Museum ought to be officially regaled as "On His Majesty's Service," and to be franked, to any weight, accordingly. But those love-enlivened rooms were, in a very few years, to be darkly clouded. CARY lost his wife on the twenty-second of November 1832, and almost immediately afterwards — so dreadful was the blow to him — a look of "mere childishness, approaching to a suspension of vitality, marked the countenance which had but now beamed with intellect." Such are the words of his fellow-mourner.