Edward Benlowes, 1602-1676: A Biography of a Minor Poet

Edward Benlowes, 1602-1676: A Biography of a Minor Poet

Edward Benlowes, 1602-1676: A Biography of a Minor Poet

Edward Benlowes, 1602-1676: A Biography of a Minor Poet

Excerpt

When Edward Benlowes put before the world in 1652 his big poem, Theophila, he commended to the reader "these Intervall Issues of spiritual Recreation" in these words: "If thou thinkest that I have wanted Salt to preserve them to Posterity, know that the very Subject It self is Balsam enough to make them perpetual." In that was the modesty proper to an author's preface, yet at the same time the boast that his work would enjoy a lasting fame. A lively circle of admirers and flatterers, some at least of whom had known the bounty for which Benlowes was renowned, helped to sustain him in the confidence with which he looked towards posterity. Yet when he died in 1676, Anthony à Wood spoke of him as "a great poet of his time," bearing witness in a single phrase both to Benlowes' fame and to the fact that it was already past. Fifteen years later, in his Fasti Oxonienses, Wood repeated his verdict, but, with a significant shift of emphasis, pushed Benlowes a little farther into oblivion with the words: "Much noted in his time, but since not, for the art and faculty of poetry." Benlowes had already, before his death, been excessively ridiculed by Samuel Butler in his Character of "A Small Poet". This was printed among Butler Remains in 1759, and its effect, aided by a gibe of Pope in The Dunciad, was to make Benlowes, in so far as he was heard of at all, an almost legendary example of a bad poet. Yet throughout the nineteenth century his Theophila, by reason of its handsome decorations, continued to be a book-collector's prize, and in 1905 Saintsbury, challenging the traditional verdict, ventured to claim attention for the text. Theophila and two of Benlowes' shorter poems were included in the first volume of Saintsbury Minor Poets of the Caroline Period. Since then the vogue for "metaphysical" poetry has helped to draw him a little way out of his obscurity and caused him to be spoken of with a certain approbation and even with enthusiasm.

As for the man himself, Anthony à Wood was responsible for . . .

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