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With memoirs and Critical Dissertations,
REV. GEORGE GILFILLA N.
LIFE AND POETRY OF RICHARD CRASHAW.
CONCERNING the life of this true and transcendent genius very little is known. He was born in London, in circumstances highly favourable to the development of his intellectual powers; for his father, although his works brought him no profit, was an able author, as well as an eminent preacher in the Temple, and on terms of intimacy with such men as Sir Randolph Crew and Sir Henry Yelverton, the latter one of the judges of King's Bench. Through their influence, young Richard was placed on the foundation of Charter House School, where Brook a celebrated master of the day, greatly contributed to his improvement. Our poet wrote afterwards a glowing panegyric on him in the shape of an epigram. On the 26th day of March 1632, Crashaw was elected a scholar of Pembroke Hall. He had probably visited that college before, for we find him lamenting the early death of one William Herrys, of Pembroke, which had occurred in October 1631. Herrys was a youth connected with a respectable family in Essex, and distinguished by the sweetness of his temper. Crashaw mourned his loss in five epitaphs, one of them written in Latin. It is a good sign of a student when he praises his teachers; and certainly Crashaw, on this theory, must have been one of the best of scholars, since he has liberally commended almost all his tutors—not only Brook, his early master, but Benjamin Laney, the master of Pembroke Hali, and Mr Tournay, the tutor in the same college. In 1633 he took his Bachelor's degree, and in 1634 he published, without
his name, a volume, entitled, “Epigrammata Sacra,” dedicating it to Laney.
About this time, his strong tendency to mysticism began to develop itself. He prefixed, in 1635, a copy
of verses to Shelford's "Five Pious and Learned Discourses" —a book which Archbishop Usher denounced as grace to the Cambridge press, and as deeply infected with the corruption of Popery. He was wont, too, to pass some hours every day alone in St Mary's Church. “ In the temple of God, under His wing, he led his life in St Mary's Church, near St Peter's College, under Tertullian's roof of angels; there he made his nest more gladly than David's swallow, near the house of God; where, like a primitive saint, he offered more prayers in the night than others usually offer in the day.” On the 20th of November 1636, he removed to Peterhouse–became a fellow the next year—and in 1638 took the degree of Master of Arts. In 1641, according to Wood, he also took degrees at Oxford. He entered—but in what year is uncertain--on holy orders, and became an ardent and powerful preacher.
In 1644, under the domination of the Puritans, who were angry at the sympathy shewn by Cambridge and her children with the king, Crashaw and some others were expelled from their fellowships. Leaving his University, our poet seems at the same time to have forsaken Protestantism. At heart he had been long a Roman Catholic. He is accused of having left the Protestant Church partly from a desire of lucre, and partly to conciliate some Court ladies, such as the Countess of Denbigh, who had become a Papist. The real reason, however, of his perversion lay in the peculiar cast of his imagination, which seemed, as if by a “pre-established harmony," assimilated to the Popish theory of things.
Crashaw did not long continue in England after his expulsion from Cambridge. He repaired to France, where, in 1646, Cowley, at that time secretary to Lord Jermyn, met him, and aided him in his deep poverty. Cowley had been a friend of Crashaw's at Cambridge; and he is said, by some, to have introduced our poet to Henrietta, queen of Charles I.,
but this act of kindness is by others ascribed to Dr Gough and Mr Car. At all events, the queen gave him letters of recommendation to Italy, and there he became secretary to ore of the Roman cardinals. The cardinal's name was Palotta, and Crashaw is said to have loved and commended him, but to have complained bitterly of the “wickedness of his retinue.” His complaint of these creatures of the cardinal reached their master's ear, and the result was that he dismissed Crashaw from his service, and, it is said, procured him some “small employ" at the Lady of Loretto's, where he went on a pilgrimage in the summer-time, and, overheating himself, took a fever, and died. A report, very much wanting confirmation, says that he was poisoned! The date of his death, like that of his birth, is uncertain. That he was dead ere 1652 is manifest from the fact that his friend Thomas Car, to whom his manuscripts had been confided, published a selection from them in that year.
If Crashaw was not generally popular, and if his detractors malignantly defamed him as a “small poet," a "slip of the times," and as a “peevish, silly seeker, who glided away from his principles in a poetical vein of fancy and an impertinent curiosity,” he enjoyed, on the other hand, the praise of some applauded men, and a general “sweet savour" of renown in his day and generation. He is said to have been a universal scholar-versed in the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Italian languages—to have made the Grecian and Roman poets his study-and to have possessed, besides, the accomplishments of music, drawing, engraving, and painting. In his habits, too, he was temperate to severity ; indeed, had he not been so, his poetry would have sunk from a panegyric on God
, into a bitter, unintentional satire on himself.
Wilmott, Cowley, and others, have deplored Crashaw's secession from the Protestant Church. So do we; but less for the sake of that Church than for the sake of Crashaw himself. In deploring his secession, we are in fact only mourning the supra-superstitious tendencies of his nature. We yield to none in opposing and denouncing that grand caricature of Christianity called Popery, in its bigotry, intolerance, affecta