1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Herrick

Isaac D'Israeli, in "Illusions of Writers in Verse" Calamities of Authors (1812); Works (1881) 5:214-15.



If thus great poets pour their lamentations for having devoted themselves to their art, some sympathy is due to the querulousness of a numerous race of provincial bards, whose situation is ever at variance with their feelings. These usually form exaggerated conceptions of their own genius, from the habit of comparing themselves with their contracted circle. Restless, with a desire of poetical celebrity, their heated imagination views in the metropolis that fame and fortune denied them in their native town; there they become half-hermits and half-philosophers, darting epigrams which provoke hatred, or pouring elegies, descriptive of their feelings, which move derision: their neighbours find it much easier to ascertain their foibles than comprehend their genius; and both parties live in a state of mutual persecution. Such, among many, was the fate of the poet HERRICK; his vein was pastoral, and he lived in the elysium of the west, which, however, he describes by the sullen epithet, "Dull Devonshire," where "he is still sad." Strange that such a poet should have resided near twenty years in one of our most beautiful counties in a very discontented humour. When he quitted his village of "Deanbourne," the petulant poet left behind him a severe "farewell," which was found still preserved in the parish, after a lapse of more than a century. Local satire has been often preserved by the very objects it is directed against, sometimes from the charm of the wit itself, and sometimes from the covert malice of attacking our neighbours. Thus he addresses "Deanbourne, a rude river in Devonshire, by which, sometime, he lived:" —

Dean-bourn, farewell
Thy rockie bottom that doth tear thy streams,
And makes them frantic, e'en to all extremes.
Rockie thou art, and rockie we discover
Thy men,—
O men! O manners!—
O people currish, churlish as their seas—

He rejoices he leaves them, never to return till "rocks shall turn to rivers." When he arrives in London,

From the dull confines of the drooping west,
To see the day-spring from the pregnant east,

he, "ravished in spirit," exclaims, on a view of the metropolis—

O place! O people! manners form'd to please
All nations, customs, kindreds, languages!

But he fervently entreats not to be banished again:—

For, rather than I'll to the west return,
I'll beg of thee first, here to have mine urn.

The Devonians were avenged; for the satirist of the English Arcadia was condemned again to reside by "its rockie side," among "its rockie men."

Such has been the usual chant of provincial poets; and, if the "silky-soft Favonian gales" of Devon, with its "Worthies," could not escape the anger of such a poet as Herrick, what county may hope to be saved from the invective of querulous and dissatisfied poets?