1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Benlowes

Richard Ryan, in Poetry and Poets: being a Collection of the choicest Anecdotes relative to the Poets of every Age and Nation (1826) 1:225-29.



EDWARD BENLOWES, the author of "Theophila, or Love's Sacrifice, a Divine Poem," published in 1652, and the patron of two of the best and most popular poets of the reign of Charles the First, — Quarles, and Phineas Fletcher, is thus unmercifully handled by Butler (the author of Hudibras,) in his Character of a small Poet, in his "Genuine Remains," first published by Thyer, in 1759.

"There was one," says he, "that lined a hat-case with a paper of Benlowes' poetry; Prynne bought it by chance, and put a new demi-castor into it. The first time he wore it, he felt only a singing in his head, which, within two days, turned to a vertigo. He was let blood in the ear by one of the state physicians, and recovered; but, before he went abroad, he wrote a poem of Rocks and Seas, in a style so proper and natural, that it was hard to determine which was ruggeder. There is no feat of activity nor gambol of wit, that ever was performed by man, from him that vaults on Pegasus, to him that tumbles through the hoop of an anagram, but Benlowes has got the mastery of it, whether it be high-rope wit or low-rope wit. He has all sorts of echoes, rebuses, chronograms, &c., besides carwitches, cleriches, and quibbles. As for altars and pyramids in poetry, he has outdone all men that way; for he has made a gridiron and a frying-pan in verse, that, besides the likeness in shape, the very tone and sound of the words did perfectly represent the noise that is made by these utensils, such as the old poet called 'Sartago loquendi.' When he was a captain, he made all the furniture of his horse, from the bit to the crupper, in the beaten poetry, every verse being fitted to the proportion of the thing, with a moral allusion of the sense to the thing: as, the bridle of moderation, the saddle of content, the crupper of constancy; so that the same thing was both epigram and emblem, even as a mule is both horse and ass.

"There was a tobacco-man, that wrapped Spanish tobacco in a paper of verses, which Benlowes had written against the Pope, which, by a natural antipathy that his wit has to any thing Catholic, spoiled the tobacco, for it presently turned mundungus. The author will take an English word, and, like the Frenchman that swallowed water and spit it out wine, with a little heaving and straining, would turn it immediately into Latin: as, 'plunderat ille domos — mille hocopokianay,' — and a thousand such."

"The cream of the jest," says Cole, in his MS. Collections, "is, that Mr. Thyer, the annotator and publisher of these 'Remains,' having never heard of such a person as Mr. Benlowes, gives us the following note upon this passage:

"'As I never heard of any poet of this name, I take it for granted, that this is a cant word for some one that he did not choose to name; and I think it not improbable, that the person meant was Sir John Denham. What suggested to me this conjecture is, Butler's avowed sentiments of that gentleman, and a circumstance which follows in the next paragraph, in which Benlowes is said to have been a captain once, which coincides with the history of Sir John, who, in the beginning of the civil war, was employed in a military capacity in the King's service.'"

Pope is very severe upon him in his "Dunciad," where he says, "Benlowes, propitious still to blockheads, bows;" and Warburton, in his note upon this passage, represents him as a "country gentleman, famous for his own bad poetry, and for patronizing bad poets." In this estimate of his character, we cannot altogether agree, for there are in several of his pieces, of which Wood has enumerated fourteen, and particularly in his "Theophila," many uncommon and excellent thoughts; but his metaphors, it is true, are often strained and far-fetched, and he sometimes loses himself in mystic divinity. In the management of his worldly affairs he appears to have acted with little discretion, having made a shift, although he was never married, to squander away his estate, which amounted to seven hundred or a thousand pounds a-year, on poets, musicians, &c., who, in return for his generosity, used to style him "Benevolus," by way of anagram on his name. He was imprisoned for debt, and died, at the age of seventy-three, in poverty and distress.