1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Herrick

Phi, "Robert Herrick" The Literary Chronicle 8 (19 August 1826) 523.



MR. EDITOR,

Among the earliest delights of my youth was the pleasure of perusing the works of our olden bards: their quaintness charmed me, their simplicity delighted me, their deep-thought improved me, nor is my former rapture abated, when I occasionally solace myself with their brilliant pages. Robert Herrick ever claimed my most intense admiration, and last week I again renewed my acquaintance with him, through the introduction of a new and beautiful edition, lately published by Mr. Pickering. It is truly charming to hear the jolly bard sing of those Christmas wassails, and May-day sports, which alas! will never again visit these lands. Empty-headed fashion has banished innocent amusement, and an insatiate desire of gain the heartiness of old English hospitality. Herrick is the historian of mirth, mark his preface to his Hesperides:—

I sing of brooks, of blossomes, birds, and bowers,
Of April, may, of June, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.

Is not this delightful! the very orthography of the word "blossomes" seems to give an additional charm to the passage. How heartily he enters in his theme. There is not a flower unnoticed by him with exquisite originality and fancy; nature's history is writ in his lays, and sparkles in native beauty. He has not, till, within these late years, received that share of praise which is due to him, and even now he is comparatively unknown. Many modern misses, whilst warbling Cherry Ripe, are not aware that the words were written nearly 200 years ago, by this author. How charming is the following:—

THE TEAR SENT.
Glide, gentle streams, and beare
Along with you my tear,
To that coy girl
Who smiles, yet slays
Me with delayes,
And strings my tears as pearle.

See, see she's yonder set
Making a caskanet
Of maiden flowers;
There, there present
This orient
And pendant pearle of ours.

This is but one of many gems. Metastasio has a sweet song on the same subject, but our Robert has of course the originality.

TO VIOLETS.
Welcome, maids of honour,
You doe bring
In the spring,
And wait upon her.

Yet thou thus respected,
By and by
Ye doe lie,
Poore girls neglected.

Never had a Christmas meeting so merry a chronicler than Robert Herrick. The Maypole, and, in fact, all the periodical pleasures of our ancestors claimed his muse, and well adapted was she to portray their frolicksome gambols. I could extract hundreds of stanzas glowing with beauty, and pure as the unalloyed delights they immortalize. Could poor Herrick rise from his tomb, and behold the decrease of those sports and pleasures which gave him so much joy, how would his soul grieve at the inauspicious change? Thou, sweet month, May! while speaking of thee, his verse became as verdant as thy meads; and in proportion to thy beauty, so was his. Hear this strain, thou sluggard, and leave the sleepy bliss of thy bed, for the exhilarating one of the morning:—

Get up, get up, for shame, the blooming morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
See how Aurora throwes her faire
Fresh guilted colours through the aire;
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herbe and tree.
Each flower has wept and bowed towards the east,
Above an hour since, and you not dressed,
Nay! not so much as out of bed;
When all the birds have mattens seyd,
And sung their thankfull hymens; 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Many of the "merrie" customs which used to distinguish our forefathers, are narrated with exquisite fidelity in Herrick's verse. Alas! these pleasures will never again rear their innocent heads. — Sylvan mirth has bowed before crowded formality, and the laughing joys of the Greenwood Tree are succeeded by pent up delights, injurious to health and unbenign in their influence. I take leave of our jolly bard, recommending him to those who love nature, and treasure up the reminiscences of once "merrie Englond."