1620
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Meditatio Septima.

A Feast For Wormes. Set Forth in a Poeme of the History of Jonah. By Fra. Quarles.

Francis Quarles


Francis Quarles imitates Spenser (or is it the Seven Champions of Christendom?) in a brief and disarming allegory illustrating the powers of prayer over the evil Queen of Babel. Some of the names — "Fidessa," "Charissa" — are obviously adapted from the Faerie Queene. The homely manner of the original is barely recognizable in the version reprinted in Grosart's Victorian edition of Quarles.

Charles Lamb to Robert Southey: "I perfectly accord with your opinion of old Wither; Quarles is a wittier writer, but Wither lays hold of the heart. Quarles thinks of his audience when he lectures; Wither soliloquizes in company from a full heart. What wretched stuff are the "Divine Fancies" of Quarles! Religion appears to him no longer valuable than it furnishes matter for quibbles and riddles; he turns God's grace into wantonness. Wither is like an old friend, whose warm-heartedness and estimable qualities make us wish he possessed more genius, but at the same time make us willing to dispense with that want. I always love W., and sometimes admire Q." 8 November 1798; in Letters, ed. Thomas Noon Talfourd (1837) 1:112. Lamb took a more favorable view of Quarles's poetry as he got to know it better.

John Keble: "most of the distinguished names in the poetical annals of Elizabeth, James I. and Charles I., might be included in the list [of sacred poets]. It may be enough just to recollect Drayton and Cowley, Herbert, Crashaw and Quarles. The mention of these latter names suggests the remark, how very desirable it is to encourage as indulgent and, if we may so term it, catholic a spirit as may be, in poetical criticism. From having been over-praised in their own days, they are come now to be as much undervalued; yet their quaintness of manner and constrained imagery, adopted perhaps in compliance with the taste of their age, should hardly suffice to overbalance their sterling merits. We speak especially of Crashaw and Quarles: for Herbert is a name too venerable to be more than mentioned in our present discussion" Quarterly Review 32 (June 1825) 230.

W. J. Courthope: "Of all the theological 'wits' of Charles I.'s reign, the one who retained most of the mediaeval spirit and of the Jacobean style was Francis Quarles. He was the third son of James Quarles of Stewards, in the parish of Romford, a member of a very ancient family, and was born in 1592. His father, who died in Francis' seventh year, left him an annuity, chargeable on the family estate, which served to pay his expenses at Christ's College, Cambridge, whence he graduated as B.A. in 1608. From Cambridge, according to the account of him given by his widow, he was 'transplanted to Lincoln's Inn, where for some years he studied the laws of England — not so much out of desire to benefit himself thereby, as his friends and neighbours (showing therein his continual inclination to peace) by composing suits and differences among them.' On the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I., to the Elector Palatine, he was made that princess's cup-bearer, and accompanied her to Germany. Returning to England about 1618, he married, in May of that year, Ursula Woodgate, by whom he had eighteen children, and who survived him to write a short memoir of him. In 1620 he published his first work, A Feast for Worms, set forth in a poem of the History of Jonah, the object of which was to enforce the necessity of repentance. This was followed by a series of metrical compositions on Scripture subjects" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 3:202.

There is an allusion to Spenser in Quarles's Argalus and Parthenia (1629): "The rafters of the holy Temple shooke, | As if accursed Archimago's booke | (That cursed Legion) had beene newly read" Grosart (1880) 3:271.



I well record, a holy Father sayes,
"He teaches to deny, that faintly prayes:"
The suit surceases, when desire failes,
But whoso prayes with fervencie, prevailes;
For Pray'rs the key that opens heaven gate,
And findes admittance, whether earl' or late,
It forces audience, it unlockes the eare
Of heavenly God (though deafe) it makes him heare.

Upon a time Babel (the Worlds faire Queene
Made drunke with choller, and enrag'd with Spleene)
Through fell Disdaine, derraigned Warre 'gainst them
That tender Homage to Jerusalem:
A Mayden fight it was, yet they were strong
As men of Warre; The Battaile lasted long,
Much bloud was shed, and spilt on either side,
That all the ground with purple gore was dyde:
In fine, a Souldier of Jerusalem:
Charissa hight, (the Almner of the Realme)
Chill'd with a Fever, and unapt to fight,
Into Justitia's Castle tooke her flight,
Whereat great Babels Queene commanded all,
To lay their siege against the Castle wall;
But poore Tymissa (not with warre acquainted)
Fearing Charissa's death, fell downe, and fainted;
Dauntlesse Prudentia rear'd her from the ground,
Where she lay (pale and sencelesse) in a swound,
She rubb'd her temples (lost in swonny shade)
And gave her water, that Fidissa made,
And said, Cheare up, (deare Sister) though our foe
Hath ta'ne us Captives, and inthrall'd us so,
We have a King puissant, and of might,
Will see us take no wrong, and doe us right,
If we possesse him with our sad complaint,
Cheare up, wee'l send to him, and him acquaint.
Timissa (new awak'd from swound) replies,
Our Castle is begirt with enemies,
And clouds of armed men besiege our walls,
Then suer Death, or worse than Death befalls
To her, (who ere she be) that stirres a foote,
Or dares attempt, this place to sally out:
Alas! what hope have wee to finde reliefe,
And want the meanes that may divulge our griefe?

Within that place a jolly Matron won'd,
With fierie lookes, and drawen-sword in hond,
Her eyes, with age, were waxen wond'rous dim,
With hoary locks, and visage stern, and grim;
Her name Justitia hight; to her they make
Their moane, who (well-advis'd) them thus bespake:

"Faire Maydens, well I wot; y'are ill bedight,
And rue the suffrance of your wofull plight,
But Pitty's fond alone, rankles griefe,
But fruitlesse falls, unlesse it yeeld reliefe:
Cheare up, I have a Messenger in store,
Whose speed is much, but faithfull trust is more,
Whose nimble wings shall cleave the flitting skies,
And scorne the terrour of your enemies,
Oratio hight, well knowne unto your King,
Your message she shall doe, and tydings bring,
Provided that Fidissa travaile with her,
And so (on Christs name) let them goe together.
With that, Fidissa having ta'ne her errant,
And good Oratio, with Justitia's Warrant,
In silence of the midnight, tooke their flight,
Arriving at the Court that very night;
But they were both as any fier hot,
For they did flie as swift, as Cannon shot,
But they (lest suddaine cold should doe them harme)
Together clung, and kept each other warme:
But lo, the Kingly gates were sparr'd, and lockt,
They call'd, but none made answere, then they knockt,
Together joyning both their force in one,
They knockt amaine; Yet answere there was none;
But they that never learn'd to take deniall,
With importunity made further triall;
The King heard well, although he list not speake,
Till they with strokes the gate did wel-nie breake.
In fine, the brazen gates flew open wide;
Oratio moov'd her suit: The King replide,
Oratio was a faire, and welcome ghest;
So heard her suit; so graunted her request.
Fraile Man, observe, In thee the practice lies,
Let sacred Meditation moralize.
Let Pray'r be fervent, and thy Faith intire,
And God will graunt thee more then thy desire.

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