Crashaw, Richard

, an English poet, was the son of the rev. William Crashaw, a divine of some note in his day, and preacher at the Temple church, London. He published several volumes on points controverted between the Roman catholics and protestants, either original or translated; and in 1608, a translation of the Life of Galeacius Caracciolo, marquis of Vico, an Italian nobleman, who was converted by the celebrated reformer Peter Martyr, and forsook all that rank, family, and wealth could yield, for the quiet enjoyment of the reformed religion. Mr. Crashaw also translated a supposed poem of St. Bernard’s, entitled “The Complaint or Dialogue between the Soule and the Bodie of a damned man,1616, and in the same year published a “Manual for true Catholics, or a handfull or rather a heartfull of holy Meditations and Prayers.” All these show him to have been a zealous protestant; but, like his son, somewhat tinctured with a love of mystic poetry and personification.

Our poet was born in London, but in what year is uncertain. In his infancy, sir Henry Yelverton and sir Randolph Crew undertook the charge of his education, and afterwards procured him to be placed in the Charter- house on the foundation, where he improved in an extraordinary | degree under Brooks, a very celebrated master. He was thence admitted of Pembroke-hall, March 1632, and took his bachelor’s degree in the same college, in 1634. He then removed to Peterhouse, of which he was a fellow in 1637, and was admitted to his master’s degree in 1633. In 1634, he published a volume of Latin poem?, mostly of the devotional kind, dedicated to Benjamin Lang, master of Pembroke- hall. This contained the well-known line, which has sometimes been ascribed to Dryden and others, on the miracle of turning water into wine:

Nympha pudica Deum vidit et erabuit.

The modest water saw its God, and blushed.

In 1641, Wood informs us, he took degrees at Oxford. At what time he was admitted into holy orders is uncertain, but he soon became a popular preacher, full of energy and enthusiasm. In 1644, when the parliamentary army expelled those members of the university who refused to take the covenant, Crashaw was among the number; and being unable to contemplate with resignation or indifference, the ruins of the church-establishment, went over to France, where his sufferings and their peculiar influence on his mind prepared him to embrace the Roman catholic religion. Before he left England, he appears to have practised many of the austerities of a mistaken piety, and the poems entitled “Steps to the Temple,” were so called in allusion to his passing his time almost constantly in St. Mary’s church, Cambridge. “There,” says the author of the preface to his poems, “he lodged 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; there he penned these poems,” Steps for happy souls to climb Heaven by.“The same writer informs us that he understood Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, and Spanish, and was skilled in poetry, music, drawing, painting, and engraving, which last he represents as” recreations for vacant hours, not the grand business of his soul."

In 1646, the poet Cowley found Crashaw in France in great distress, and introduced him to the patronage of Charles the First’s queen, who gave him letters of recommendation to Italy. There he became secretary to one of the cardinals at Rome, and was made canon in the church | of Loretto, where he died of a fever, soon after this last promotion, about the year 1650. Cowley’s very elegant and affectionate lines may be seen in the works of that poet. Mr. Hayley remarks, that “fine as they are, Cowley has sometimes fallen into the principal defect of the poet whom he is praising. He now and then speaks of sacred things with a vulgar and ludicrous familiarity of language, by which (to use a happy expression of Dr. Johnson’s), ` readers far short of sanctity, may be offended in the present age, when devotion, perhaps not more fervent, is more delicate. 1 Let us add, that if the poetical character of Crashaw seem not to answer this glowing panegyric; yet in his higher character of saint, he appears to have had the purest title to this affectionate eulogy.” It appears by a passage in Selden’s Table Talk, that Crashaw had at one time an intention of writing against the stage, and that Selden succeeded in diverting him from his purpose. He had not, however, to regret that the stage outlived the church.

Crashaw’s poems were first published in 1646, under the title of, 1. Steps to the Temple. 2. The Delights of the Muses. 3. Sacred Poems presented to the Countess of Denbigh. But Mr. Hayley is of opinion that this third class only was published at that time, and that the two others were added to the subsequent editions. So many republications within a short period, and that period not very favourable to poetry, sufficiently mark the estimation in which this devotional enthusiast was held, notwithstanding his having relinquished the church in which he had been educated. His poems prove him to have been of the school which produced Herbert and Quarles. Herbert was his model, and Granger attributes the anonymous poems, at the end of Herbert’s volume, to Crashaw; but however partial Crashaw might be to Herbert, it is impossible he could have been the author of these anonymoVis poems, which did not appear until after his death, and were written by a clergyman of the church of England known to Walton, who subjoins some commendatory lines dated 1654.

In 1785, the late Mr. Peregrine Phillips published a selection from Crashaw’s poems, with an address in which he attacks Pope, for having availed himself of the beauties of Crashaw, while he endeavoured to injure his fame. Against this accusation, Mr. Hayley has amply vindicated | Pope. That he has horrowed from him is undeniable, and not unacknowledged by himself, but that it should be his intention to injure the fame of a writer whose writings were unknown, unless to poetical antiquaries, and that in a confidential letter to a friend whom he advised to read the poems as well as his opinion of them, is an absurdity scarcely worthy of refutation. Pope enumerates among Crashaw’s best pieces, the paraphrase on Psalm xxiii. the verses on Lessius, Epitaph on Mr. Ashton, Wishes to his supposed Mistress, and the Dies Irae. Dr. Warton recommends the translation from Moschus, and another from Catullus, and amply acknowledges the obligations of Pope and Roscommon to Crashaw. Mr. Hayley, after specifying some of Pope’s imitations of our author, conjectures that the elegies on St. Alexis suggested to him the idea of his Eloisa; but, adds he, “if Pope borrowed any thing from Crashaw in this article, it was only as the sun borrows from the earth, when drawing from thence a mere vapour, he makes it the delight of every eye, by giving it all the tender and gorgeous colouring of heaven.” Some of Crashaw’s translations are esteemed superior to his original poetry, and that of the “Sospetto d' Herod e,” from Marino, is executed with Milton ic grace and spirit. It has been regretted that he translated only the first book of a poem by which Milton condescended to profit in his immortal Epic. The whole was, however, afterwards translated and published in 1675, by a writer whose initials only are known, T. R. Of modern critics, Mr. Headley and Mr. Ellis have selected recommendatory specimens from Crashaw. In Mr. Headley’s opinion, “he has originality in many parts, and as a translator is entitled to the highest applause.” Mr. Ellis, with his accustomed judgment and moderation, pronounces that “his translations have considerable merit, but that his original poetry is full of conceit. His Latin poems were first printed in 1634, and have been much admired, though liable to the same objections as his English.1

1 Biog. Brit, by Mr. Hayley. Johnson and Chalmers’s English Poets, 1810, —Gent. Mag. LXIII, p. 1001.