Carew and Herrick

Critic: Charles Neaves
Source: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. XLV, No. CCLXXXIV, June, 1839, pp. 782-94. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 13
Criticism about: Thomas Carew (1595?-1640)

Genre(s): Elegies; Lyric poetry; Love poetry; Masques; Petrarchan sonnets

[In the excerpt below, Neaves favorably reviews the forms and themes of Carew's poetry.]

The names which we prefix to this article [Thomas Carew and Robert Herrick] have been often united together, as the representatives of kindred as well as contemporary genius, and the objects of similar and nearly equal commendation. The poets to whom they belong, have indeed several points of mutual resemblance in their history and character. Both of them must be ranked in the class of minor poets, as well for the number and compass of their several compositions, as for the elevation of excellence to which they aspired. Both contributed in no inconsiderable degree to smooth the versification and polish the language of English poetry; and both descended to dishonour the muse, and degrade their own fair fame, by sullying the purity of their style with impurity of sentiment. The civil commotions and fanatical severities which overtook or followed closely after the periods in which they lived, had the effect of alike consigning both of them to contempt or forgetfulness: and neither regained his just position in literary estimation till long after the cessation of those causes that originally operated to deprive them of celebrity. But with these features of strong similarity, we can discover also many striking marks of diversity between them, and we conceive that a very different measure of praise is due to the one and the other, whether we regard the objects at which they respectively aimed, or the degree of success which attended their attempts. In point of manliness of thought, tenderness of feeling, dignity of manner, and soundness of taste, we consider Carew to be very greatly superior to his competitor. (p. 782)

A gentleman by birth, and a courtier by his sovereign's favour, Carew seems naturally to have turned his poetical talents chiefly to those lighter subjects that would be most acceptable to the immediate circle in which he was placed; yet so that the attainments of the scholar, and the observation of the man of travel, gave at once solidity and finish to his compositions. Love was, perhaps, his principal and most prominent theme; and that not always of the purest or most poetical kind. Yet, although we may be shocked by his occasional violations of virtue and propriety, and may wonder at the incongruities which we find linked together in his verses, we are bound to say that, unless many of his offensive compositions have been suppressed, the proportion which they bear to his whole works is smaller than might have been expected from a man of pleasure, in an age where virtue itself was not always accompanied with delicacy. The omission of half a dozen pieces, and of a few lines in half a dozen more, would render Carew's volume as inoffensive as it is delightful. The licentiousness of Carew is not the rule, but the exception: he has for the most part written worthily of women and of love: and there are many true and touching exhortations to mental dignity and virtue, which should more than compensate or correct his occasional errors.

What shall we say of that style of gallantry and compliment with which women were wont to be addressed as beings of a superior and almost sacred order? We do not ridicule, but approve and delight in it, believing that it flowed from a right source, and fulfilled a salutary purpose. It has ever been the mark of a noble spirit to treat the softer portion of humanity not only with tenderness, but with homage and reverence. Our German ancestors believed that a sanctum aliquid resided in the female breast, and a form of the same feeling has diffused among their best descendants that devotion and fidelity of attachment which gives to life its dearest enjoyments, and to society its surest solidity. Bacon has pointed out to us the generosity that inspires the inferior creation when they find themselves maintained by the countenance of man, who, to them, is instead of a god or melior natura. So, not to speak it profanely, woman is to us as a melior natura, in whom the image of the heavenly character is less defaced, and from whose presence we derive or renew those kinder and purer feelings, which the toil and travel of business and the world would otherwise exclude. Cruel and callous should many of us indeed be, if we did not ever and anon seek, with reverential docility, in the converse of meek-hearted women and innocent children, that softening of the soul without which we should lose our human feelings, and be converted each of us into something worse than the fox or wolf. In a rude or a sensual age, this influence is peculiarly necessary to purify and elevate the passions; but even in a period like the present, of false liberality and cold calculation, when, as we think, the mere intellectual part of the female mind is unduly advanced over the heart and imagination, a return to the loving worship of that moral grace, that simple rectitude, and that pure affection, of which woman is to us the earthly impersonation, would be a strong remedy against the evils we suffer. We rejoice, therefore, to recur to those tributes of tender and submissive admiration, which taught the poets of the school of romantic love to represent the fair forms of their mistresses, and the gentle minds which animated them, as something more nearly allied to divinity than we that are of coarser clay.

Carew contains many elegant verses of this class.... (pp. 782-83)

We like the manner in which Carew handles the ten-syllable couplet. Without denying that the noblest examples of that admirable and truly English form of versification are to be found in Dryden and Pope, and without advocating a different standard from what their practice has set up, we can read with pleasure the laxer verses of the older school, where the sentiment is less exposed to that Procrustean operation which a correspondence with the completed rhyme so commonly involves, and which nothing but a masterly genius can wholly avoid or conceal. Carew's lines run on with almost the freedom of blank verse. But they please our ear, and the recurrence of the full close, after a temporary suspension of the regular movement, produces in us something like what we feel in music from the melting of passing discords into perfect harmony. (pp. 784-85)

Carew's love thoughts do not, perhaps, display the same fancy, and are in a similar degree exempt from the same profusion of conceits, which characterise some other poets of his time,--Donne who preceded, or Cowley who followed him. Yet we meet in him both faults and beauties of this description. There is a prettiness in the following lines, which conveys a pleasing image, and is no unnatural effort of fancy in a lover longing for the presence of one beloved. They are from a song entitled "To his Mistress confined," but in what circumstances of durance the lady was placed we are not informed.

O, think not Phobe, 'cause a cloud

Doth now thy silver brightness shroud,

My wandering eye

Can stoop to common beauties of the sky;

Rather be kind, and this eclipse

Shall hinder neither eye nor lips;

For we shall meet

With our hearts, and kiss, and none shall see't.

Nor canst thou in thy prison be

Without some living sign of me;

When thou dost spy

A sunbeam peep into the room, 'tis I:

For I am hid within a flame,

And thus into thy chamber came,

To let thee see

In what a martyrdom I burn for thee.

There is dignity as well as aptness in the following illustration of the misery of one who becomes a stranger and an exile from a heart once fondly thought to be for ever his own.

Hard fate! to have been once possest

As victor, of a heart

Achieved with labour and unrest,

And then forced to depart.

If the stout foe will not resign

When I besiege a town,

I lose but what was never mine:

But he that is cast down

From enjoy'd beauty, feels a woe

Only deposed kings can know.

Next to the love verses of Carew, we would place some of his compositions in the department of epitaph and elegy. Poetry of this kind requires a happy union of fancy and feeling, ingenuity and simplicity. It will be dull if it is not pointed: it will be flippant if the point is not sheathed and softened by tenderness and dignity. (p. 785)

We ought not to close our notice of Carew, without adverting to his Masque of the Colum Britannicum, which, by some critics, has been highly commended. We confess, however, we are not inclined to allow it very great merit, and suspect that the share which Inigo Jones had, along with Carew, in the invention of this spectacle, must have yielded more entertainment than that of his coadjutor. The poetry is chiefly in blank verse, and affords another proof that this form of versification, so admirably suited for the development of vigorous and pregnant poetical faculties, is destined, in inferior hands, to degenerate into that dulness and insipidity which Johnson seems to have thought were its natural characteristics. (p. 790)

Source: Charles Neaves, "Carew and Herrick," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. XLV, No. CCLXXXIV, June, 1839, pp. 782-94. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 13.