A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X

CAROLINE POETRY

THERE are few periods of poetical development in English literary history which display in a comparatively narrow compass such well-marked and pervading individuality as the period of Caroline poetry, beginning, it may be, a little before the accession of Charles I., but terminating as a producing period almost before the real accession of his son. The poets of this period, in which but not of which Milton is, are numerous and remarkable, and at the head of them all stands Robert Herrick.

Very little is really known about Herrick's history. That he was of a family which, distinguished above the common, but not exactly reaching nobility, had the credit of producing, besides himself, the indomitable Warden Heyrick of the Collegiate Church of Manchester in his own times, and the mother of Swift in the times immediately succeeding his, is certain. That he was born in London in 1591, that he went to Cambridge, that he had a rather stingy guardian, that he associated to some extent with the tribe of Ben in the literary London of the second decade of the century, is also certain. At last and rather late he was appointed to a living at Dean Prior in Devonshire, on the confines of the South Hams and Dartmoor. He did not like it, being of that class of persons who cannot be happy out of a great town. After the Civil War he was deprived, and his successor had not the decency (my friend Dr. Grosart, constant to his own party, makes

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