1635
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To my most honoured Friend and Kinsman, R. St. Esquire.

Castara. — Carmina non prius Audita, Musarum sacerdos Virginibus. The second Edition. Corrected and Augmented.

William Habington


William Habington, a Catholic writer deciding to pursue a life in retirement, casts a glance on the poets buried in Westminster Abbey; the verses were added in the second edition. "Chaucer, Spenser, and Drayton (d. 1631) are buried in Westminster Abbey. With Ovid, Petrarch, Sidney, and Alexander, the poets mentioned in this poem are the only ones named in Castara" Poems, ed. Kenneth Allott (1948) 176n. A further reference "to Spencers art and Sydnyes wit," was added in the third edition (1640). Castara was anonymously published.

Henry Headley: "William Habington, some of whose pieces deserve being revived" Specimens of Ancient English Poetry (1787; 1810) 1:liv.

John Nichols: "The verses, p. 58, are to his 'honoured friend and kinsman, R. St. Esquire.' It does not give me pain, says he, if what I write is held no wit at court. Let those who teach their muse the art of winning on easy greatness, or the spruce young lawyer, 'who is all impudence and tongue,' endeavour to divulge their fames, by which the one may get employ, and the other fees, I embrace silence, and that fate which placed my birth so happily, that I am neither depressed by merit, nor flattered by riches into pride. Why are some poets always railing, and steeping their rhymes in gall; as if there was no crime that called so loudly for the vengeance of heaven as the poverty of a few writers? It is true, that Chapman's reverend ashes have been mingled with the vulgar dust for want of a tomb; yet we need not despair, that some devout lover of poetry may yet build him a monument" Censura Literaria 10 (1809) 198-99.

Retrospective Review: "Habington's poems went through a second and a third edition in 1635 and 1640, are included in Chalmers's edition of the poets, and, in 1812, were published by Mr. Elton in a separate volume, containing nearly four hundred pages. From these different editions it might reasonably be inferred that his productions possessed some merit.... We do not think these poems, by an means, worthy of revival; all that the author merits is, that a small selection should be made from them, and this justice we shall do him" 12 (1825) 175-76.

W. Davenport Adams: "William Habington, poet (b. 1605, d. 1645), wrote Castara (1634), a series of poems, afterwards included in the collections of Johnson and Chalmers; The Queene of Arragon, a tragi-comedy (1640), and a History of Edward IV. (1640)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 263.

W. J. Courthope: "William Habington was the son of Thomas Habington, the representative of an old family, which had migrated from Brockhampton in Herefordshire to the manor of Hindlip in Worcestershire. His father was a Roman Catholic, and had taken part in the conspiracy of Babington, but escaped with his life (perhaps through his being godson to the Queen), while his younger brother died on the scaffold. He showed at a later date his attachment to his religion by concealing in his house the famous Garnet after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot: on this occasion he owed his pardon to the influence of Lord Monteagle, his wife's brother. He died at the great age of eighty-seven, in 1647. William, his son, was born on the 5th November 1605, and was educated at St. Omer and in Paris. To escape from the importunities of the Jesuits, who wished to enrol him in their order, he returned to England and completed his education under the eye of his father at Hindlip. Between 1630 and 1633 he married Lucy Herbert, younger daughter of William Herbert, first Lord Powys; and to her most of his poems are addressed. He also wrote a play called The Queen of Arragon, and completed a History of Edward IV., King of England, which had been begun by his father. Though it is plain from many allusions in his poems that he moved in Court circles, it does not appear that he took any active part in the Civil War; indeed it is likely that his religion, no less than the bent of his mind, would have excluded him from engaging in the political conflict. We only know of him that he died at Hindlip in 1654, and was buried in the family vault" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 3:265-66.

Herbert E. Cory describes Castara as "a somewhat uneasy, overconscious attempt to fuse the erotic cavalier poetry with religion and Platonism, utterly unlike the fiery Platonism of the Elizabethans" Critics of Edmund Spenser (1911) 111.

Robert Southey transcribed the lines on Spenser into his Common-Place Book (1849-51) 1:438.



It shall not grieve me (friend) though what I write
Be held no wit at Court. If I delight
So farre my sullen Genius, as to raise
It pleasure; I have money, wine, and bayes
Enough to crowne me Poet. Let those witts,
Who teach theyr Muse the art of Parasits
To win on easie greatnesse; or the youngue
Spruce Lawyer who's all impudence and tongue
Sweat to divulge their fames: thereby the one
Gets fees; the other hyre, I'me best unknowne:
Sweet silence I embrace thee, and thee Fate
Which didst my birth so wisely moderate;
That I by want am neither vilified,
Nor yet by riches flatter'd into pride.
Resolve me friend (for it must folly be
Or else revenge 'gainst niggard Destinie,
That make some Poets raile?) Why are their rimes
So steept in gall? Why so obrayde the times?
As if ne sin call'd downe heav'ns vengeance more
The cause the World leaves some few writers poore?
'Tis true, that Chapmans reverend ashes must
Lye rudely mingled with the vulgar dust,
Cause carefull heyers the wealthy onely have,
To build a glorious trouble o're the grave.
Yet doe I not despaire, some one may be
So seriously devout to Poesie
As to translate his reliques, and finde roome
In the warme Church, to build him up a tombe.
Since Spencer hath a Stone; and Draytons browes
Stand petrefied ith' Wall, with Laurell bowes
Yet girt about; and nigh wise Henries herse,
Old Chaucer got a Marble for his verse.
So courteous is Death; Death Poets brings
So high a pompe, to lodge them with their Kings:
Yet still they mutiny. If this man please
His silly Patron with Hyperboles.
Or most mysterious non-sence, give his braine.
But the strapado in some wanto straine;
Hee'le sweare the State lookes not on men of parts
And, if but men con'd, slight all other Arts.
Vaine ostentation! Let us set so just
A rate on knowledge, that the World may rust
The Poets Sentence, and not still aver
Each art is to it selfe a flatterer.
I write to you Sir on this theame, because
Your soule is cleare, and you observe the lawes,
Of Poesie so justly, that I chuse
Yours onely the example of my Muse.
And till my browner hayre be mixt with gray
Without a blush, I'le tread the sportive way
My Muse directs; a Poet youth may be,
But age doth dote without Philosophie.

[pp. 58-60]