1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Cartwright

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 9 (1824) 160-61.



Mr. William Cartwright has had many biographers; all differ in respect to the exact time of his birth. Lloyd affirms, that he was born in 1615, and was the son of a Mr. Thomas Cartwright, of Burfurd, in Oxfordshire — others, that he was the son of Mr. William Cartwright, and that he was born at Northway, in Gloucestershire, in 1611; that his father has dissipated a large fortune, and became an inn-keeper at Cirencester. Both these accounts differ from those of his publisher, who says he died, at the age of thirty, in 1643. However this may be, it is spoken of with certainty, that he was a king's scholar at Westminster, and was thence chosen student of Christ's College, Oxford, in the year 1631, where he took his degrees of bachelor and master of arts. He afterwards became proctor of the university, and lecturer on metaphysics, and was a poet and divine, all before the young age of thirty, when he was cut off by a fever then prevalent in the University. William Cartwright seems to have been one of those characters, who possess that happy mixture of talent, virtue, and gracefulness, which attracts at once admiration and love. A greater proof of it we cannot well have, than that which the little volume before us affords [Comedies, etc.], which unlike many others, without any effort of the author, (it being published eight years after his death,) gives fifty-six poetical effusions from loving friends and fellow-collegians, in token of admiration for his poetry, and in honor of his memory. — His pleasant and facetious publisher tells us, Ben Jonson said of him, "My son Cartwright writes all like a man." He was a favourite with Charles and his queen, and during his illness they frequently and anxiously inquired after him, an attention surely to be expected, for, independent of the pleasure the queen received from his dramatic pieces, she never gave a child to the world, without its being welcomed by Cartwright's muse. His plays we shall leave for another number, and proceed to give our readers some specimens of his poems, which form about a fifth part of the volume. Taken generally, they may be said to be sensible, pure, and fanciful, certainly sometimes wanting in melody of versification, and without powerful imagery, but also with little conceit. The subjects are not such as to call forth the former, being mostly epistles of compliment, but in which we might have expected to find a full crop of the latter.