1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Herrick

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 5 (1822) 157-58.



Little more than the name of Robert Herrick was known, and nothing like a just appreciation of his merits existed, at the time when Dr. Drake published his Literary Hours. Mr. Ellis, had, it is true, in his Specimens of early English Poetry, previously given four pieces from his works, but they are a very inadequate representation of the varied excellences of the poet. The author of the Literary Hours made more copious extracts from them, and entered into a more detailed criticism on their merits: but we conceive he has not done such ample justice to Herrick as he really deserves. Some very beautiful specimens he has selected, but a great many he has left to waste their sweets in the desert of the bibliographer's library. It is with the view of supplying this omission, as well as of embellishing our pages with the rare and singular things which the volume affords, that we have been induced to make an anthology from his works; for which we are sure such of our readers as are yet unacquainted with them will render us no common thanks.

While the phlegmatic grace and pedantry of Waller, and the grace without pedantry of Carew, have been the subjects of general observation, the varied modulation and exquisite harmony of Herrick's muse have been totally neglected. He, who excels both, not only in the structure of his verse, but in the more essential requisites of poetry, is less known than either. And there are blemishes in this collection of poems, which may, in some measure, account for the negligence with which it has been treated, and which, in our stricter system of manners, present an invincible obstacle to its being received into general favour. The blemishes, to which we allude, are the indelicacy and occasional coarseness of expression which we sometimes find in his works. This deformity, however, also characterizes the productions of Carew, who, in proportion to their number and extent, oversteps the bounds of decency and decorum almost as frequently as Herrick. But, forgetting the impurities of our author, and estimating the chaster effusions of his felicitous genius, we do not hesitate to pronounce him the very best of English Lyric Poets. He is the most joyous and gladsome of bards; singing, like the grasshopper, as if he would never grow old. He is as fresh as the spring, as blithe as summer, and as ripe as autumn. We know of no English poet who is so "abandonne," as the French term it, who so wholly gives himself up to his present feelings, who is so much heart and soul in what he writes, and this not on one subject only but on all subjects alike.