1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Herrick

Edmund Gosse, in "Essay on Pastoral Poetry" Complete Works of Spenser, ed. Grosart (1882-84) 3:xxxix-xl.



In Herrick our literature produced a pastoral lyrist, unrivalled as such by any modern author, if indeed antiquity itself produced a maker of brief, homely melodies and harvest-songs, so deeply touched by rural beauty and so exquisitely master of his theme. No Italian Linus can be named who is worthy to contest with, or can plausibly be expected to conquer, our wonderful Devonian Lityerses, in whose sickle-songs, however, there is scarcely any trace of the antique haunting melancholy. The delicious flutings of Herrick are too familiar, and have been too often discussed, to call for analysis here, but on their technically pastoral side it may be noticed how exact and realistic they always are at their best, how justly they value and adopt those touches of exact portraiture, the absence of which in Phineas Fletcher we have just regretted, and how genuinely, under their pagan colouring, and in spite of the southern and wistful temper of their author, they reflect the features of genuine English life. They form a page of our poetic literature which is absolutely unique in character, and the priceless quality of which we are learning to appreciate more and more every year of our lives. Among the other lyrists of that age of sunset, that dolphin-coloured decadence, more or less pastoral songs and dialogues may be found in Carew, Lovelace, and Cartwright; but none of these authors was a pastoral poet in the high sense in which Herrick demands the title.