Benlowes, Edward (DNB00)
BENLOWES, EDWARD (1603?–1676), poet, the son and heir of Andrew Benlowes of Brent Hall, Essex, was admitted at or about the age of sixteen gentleman commoner of St. John's College, Cambridge, matriculating on 8 April 1620. On leaving the university he travelled with a tutor on the continent, visiting seven courts of princes. Wood says that he returned tinged with Romanism ; ' but according to Cole he had been bred in the Roman catholic religion from his earliest years. On the death of his father he became possessed of the estate of Brent Hall, but being a man of a very liberal disposition he contrived 'to squander it mostly away on poets, flatterers (which he loved), in buying of curiosities (which some called baubles), on musicians, buffoons, &c.' (Wood). He often gave his bond for the payment of debts contracted by his friends, and on one occasion, being unable to meet the obligation he had incurred, was committed to prison at Oxford. To his niece at her marriage he granted a handsome portion, and many poor scholars experienced his bounty. When he left Cambridge he made a valuable donation of books to St. John's College. Among his friends he numbered many distinguished men. In 1638 Phineas Fletcher dedicated to him 'The Purple Island.' Sir William Davenant, Quarles, Payne Fisher, and others, dedicated works to him or complimented him in epigrams. Benlowes' chief work is entitled 'Theophila, or Love's Sacrifice, a divine poem. Written by E. B. Esq. Several parts thereof set to fit aires, by Mr. J. Jenkins,' 1652, fol. The poem is divided into thirteen cantos, most of which are preceded by large plates of Hollar and others. Prefixed to the first canto, which is entitled the 'Prelibation to the Sacrifice,' is an engraving of a full-length figure (presumably the author) seated at a writing-table. The volume is valued rather for the engravings than for the text ; but a reader who is not dismayed by the author's conceits and extravagances will be rewarded by finding passages where subtlety of thought is joined to felicity of diction. Later writers were exceedingly severe on Benlowes's poetry. Warburton pronounced him to be not less famous for his own bad poetry than for patronising bad poets, and Butler in his 'Remains in Verse and Prose' (ii. 119, ed. 1769) has a most ruthless attack upon him. Benlowes' name had fallen into such oblivion that the editor of Butler's 'Remains,' E. Thyer, imagined the reference was to Sir John Denham. But at the time of its publication 'Theophila' was greatly applauded, and Wood mentions that a whole canto of it was turned into Latin verse in one day by the youthful John Hall of Durham, so much were his 'tender affections ravished with that divine piece.' Benlowes spent the last eight years of his life at Oxford, studying much in the Bodleian Library, and enjoying 'conversation with ingenious.' By his profuse liberality he had exhausted his patrimony, and at the close of his life he had to endure much privation. In his mature years he abandoned Roman Catholicism, and became a zealous protestant. His niece was an equally zealous catholic, and since Benlowes insisted on disputing 'against papists and their opinions,' an estrangement arose between them. The old poet, who in his early days had been named by way of anagram 'Benevolus,' on account of his generosity, 'for want of conveniencies required fit for old age, as clothes, fewell, and warm things to refresh the body, marched off in a cold season, on 18 Dec. at eight of the clock at night, an. 1676, aged 73 years or more' (Wood). A collection was made among the scholars who remembered his former condition, and the body was given an honourable burial in St. Mary's Church, Oxford. There is a portrait of him in the master's lodge at St. John's College, Cambridge, and another in the Bodleian Library.
The following is a list of his works : 1. 'Sphinx Theologica, seu Musica Templi, ubi Discordia Concors,' Cantab. 1626, 8vo (2nd ed. 1628). 2. 'Lusus Poeticus Poetis,' London, 1635, 8vo ; ten leaves of Latin verse addressed to Charles I, sometimes bound up with the first edition of Quarles's 'Emblems.' 3. 'A Buckler against the feare of Death, or Pyous and Proffitable Observations, Medytations and Consolations on Man's Mortality, by E. B., minister in G. B.,' London, 1640, 8vo. 4. 'Honorifica Arraorum Cessatio sive Pacis et Fidei Associatio,' Feb. 11 an. 1643, 8vo. 5. 'Chronosticon Decollationis Caroli Regis,' 1648 ; a poem printed in red and black. 6. 'The Summary of Divine Wisdome,' 1667, 4to; ten leaves. 7. 'Threno-Thriambeuticon,' 1660, 4to ; Latin poems on the Restoration, printed on one side of a large sheet (some copies Avere printed on white satin). 8. 'Oxonii Encomium,' Oxford, 1672 ; four sheets in folio. 9. 'Oxonii Elogia,' Oxford, 1673; a single large sheet. 10. 'Magia Cælestis,' Oxford, 1673 ; a single large sheet. 11. 'Veridica joco seria,' Oxford, 1673; a Latin poem (against the pope, papists, &c.) on one side of a large sheet. To Sparke's 'Scintillula Altaris,' 1652, he prefixed a copy of commen- datory verses, and to John Sictor's 'Panegyricon inaugurale . . . Richardi Fenn,' 1637, 4to, he contributed a Latin poem in praise of the lord major, the city, and the citizens. Wood mentions an undated copy of verses, entitled *'Truth's Touchstone,' dedicated to his niece, Mrs. Philippa Blount, and 'Annotations for the better confirming the several Truths in the said poem.' 'A Glance at the Glories of Sacred Friendship, by E. B., Esq.,' London, 1657, a large sheet in verse, has also been assigned to Benlowes.
[Wood's Fasti, ii. 358-9, ed. Bliss; Cole's MS. Athenæ; Baker's History of St. John's College, Cambridge, ed. Mayor, 340, 1108; Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica, ii. 250-8; Hazlitt's Handbook; Hazlitt's Collection and Notes.]