Cleveland, John (DNB00)
|←Cleveland, Augustus||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11
CLEVELAND, JOHN (1613–1658), the cavalier poet (whose name is properly spelt Cleiveland, from the former residence of the family in Yorkshire), was born at Loughborough, Leicestershire, in June 1613, and baptised on the 20th of the same month, as appears from the church register of SS. Peter and Paul (now known as All Saints). The poet's father, Thomas, was usher at Burton's Charity School from 1611 to 1621 (as proved by the Burton's Charity accounts), for which he received the stipend of 2l. half-yearly. The head-masters during that period were John Dawson and Woodmansly. Thomas Cleveland (father of John) must have been of straitened means, as appears from entries of small payments from 1611 to 1621 in the Burton's Charity accounts. The last recorded payment to him is on Lady day 1621. He also assisted the rector of Loughborough, John Browne the elder, whose will was dated 21 Feb. 1622-3, and was in 1621 presented to the living of Hinckley, a small market town in Leicestershire. As a royalist, he was dispossessed by the parliament in 1644-5; his congregation was dispersed by the committee of Leicester. He died in October 1652, 'and was a very worthy person, and of a most exemplary life' (Walker, Sufferings of the Clergy, p. 221).
John's early years were spent at Loughborough, and afterwards at Hinckley, where he was educated under the Rev. Richard Vynes, who is mentioned as 'the Luther of the presbyterians' (Nichols, Leicestershire), and as 'a man of genius and learning.' David Lloyd declares that Cleveland's natural fancy owed much of its culture to the Greek and Latin exercises which were superintended by Vynes, 'who was afterwards distinguished among the presbyterians, as his scholar was among the cavaliers' (LLoyd, Memoires, p. 617). In his fifteenth year Cleveland went to Cambridge, and was admitted, 4 Sept. 1627, at Christ's College, where he remained until he took the degree of B. A. in 1631 (Richardson, List of Graduates). He was then transplanted to St. John's College, there elected fellow on 27 March 1634, proceeded M.A. in 1635 (Baker, Hist. St. John's Coll. Cambridge, p. 294), and was unanimously admitted 24 March 1639-40 as 'legista' (ib. p. 295). Cleveland did not take orders, and within six years after election to his fellowship it was necessary to choose either law or physic, in accordance with the statutes. Cleveland not only pursued the 'law line,' but was admitted on that of physic on 31 Jan. 1642 (Alex. Chalmers). He lived at Cambridge nine years, 'the delight and ornament of St. John's society. What service as well as reputation he did it, let his orations and epistles speak; to which the library oweth much of its learning, the chapel much of its pious decency, and the college much of its renown' (Clievelandi Vindiciæ). One of his orations, addressed to Charles I when on a visit to Cambridge in 1641, gratified the king, who called for him, gave him his hand to kiss, and commanded a copy to be sent after him to Huntingdon. In 1637 Cleveland was incorporated M.A. at Oxford (Wood, Fasti Oxon.) When Cromwell was a candidate for the representation of Cambridge in the Long parliament, Cleveland vehemently opposed him, and, when the future Protector was returned by a majority of one, declared publicly that 'that single vote had ruined both church and kingdom.' The master and several of the fellows were ejected by the parliamentary visitors (Baker, p. 225). By order dated 13 Feb. 1644-5, the Earl of Manchester 'directed Anthony Houlden to be admitted in Cleveland's place, which was done 17 Feb.' Cleveland, whose father also suffered for his loyalty, had been one of the college tutors until his ejection, and was highly respected by his pupils, several of whom became eminent. Among them were John Lake, afterwards bishop of Chichester (Thoresby, Vicaria Leodensis, p. 99), and Dr. Samuel Drake, S.T.B., vicar of Pontefract. Long afterwards these two men edited their instructor's poems. Cleveland went to the royalist army at Oxford. His sportive sallies of verse, his sound scholarship, and his frank, generous disposition made him a favourite not only with the learned but with the military. Promoted to the office of judge-advocate under Sir Richard Willis, the governor, he remained with the garrison of Newark until the surrender. His appointment was noticed by the opposite faction thus in the 'Kingdome's Weekly Intelligencer,' No. 101, p. 811, for Tuesday, 27 May 1645: 'But to speak something of our friend Cleveland, that grand malignant of Cambridge, we hear that now he is at Newark, where he hath the title of advocate put upon him. His office and employment is to gather all college rents within the power of the king's forces in those parts, which he distributes to such as are turned out of their fellowships at Cambridge for their malignancy.' He has been commended for his skilful and upright conduct in the difficult office at so disturbed a time. He 'was a just and prudent judge for the king, and a faithful advocate for the country.' Unwearied in labours, inexhaustible in jests and playful sarcasms, he kept up the spirits of all around him. Comparatively few of his political poems have come down to us. That on 'The King's Disguise,' and the prose answer which he drew up to the summons of the besiegers of Newark, are specimens of his skill. He concludes the letter: 'When I received my commission for the government of this place, I annexed my life as a label to my trust.' His loyalty never decayed, nor did he despond in evil days. He avowed his readiness to resist to the last, but he found that 'the king's especial command, when first he surrendered himself into the hands of the Scots, made such stubborn loyalty a crime.' We are assured that Cleveland foresaw, and declared beforehand, that shameful sale of his sovereign's blood three days before the king reached the Scottish army. He expressed his loyal indignation in that memorable outburst entitled 'The Rebel Scot,' which has never been forgiven in the north, and which expressed his disgust and loathing for the treachery and arrogance of the Scots. He says of them, with biting sarcasm, in memorable words, 'praying with curst intent'—
O may they never suffer banishment!
He asserts that it is only their ravenous hunger which makes 'the Scots errant fight, and fight to eat.' He shows how even their scrupulosity in religion springs from their empty stomachs. His final couplet aroused the utmost anger : —
A Scot, when from the gallows-tree got loose,
Answers were attempted by Barlow and others. The best are some manuscript lines by Andrew Marvell on Douglas, the 'loyal Scot,' during the Dutch war, only part of which appears in his printed works. Many poems were attributed to Cleveland which he would have disdained to write, but also many of the best occasional satires of the day came from him, and these still lack careful editing and identification. The surrender of Newark threw him out of employment, and although left at liberty, except during one brief interval, he was almost destitute. He found hospitality among the impoverished cavaliers. He gave in requital his services as tutor and the delight of his companionship. He was obliged to be circumspect, and cautiously limit the exercise of his wit so as not to gall the dominant powers. His brother William was in equal difficulties, but lived to find reward and brief preferment after the Restoration, becoming rector of Oldbury and Quatt, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire. He died in 1666, and left a son who was great-grandfather of Dr. Thomas Percy, bishop of Dromore and editor of the 'Reliques.' Aubrey relates that 'after the king was beaten out of the field, he (John Cleveland) came to London, where he and Samuel Butler of the same society had a club every night' (manuscript in Museo Ashmol. cit.) That any such regular club was maintained is improbable, but there was certainly friendship between the men. In November 1655 Cleveland was seized at Norwich. He had been reported by one Major-general Haines. The charges are five in number: '1. Gives no account of his reason for being at Norwich, "only he pretends that Edward Cooke, Esq., maketh use of him to help him in his studies." 2. Confesses that he hath lived in strict privacy at Mr. Cooke's. 3. At Cooke's house, "a family of notorious disorder," royalists and papists resort. 4. That Mr. Cleaveland liveth in a genteel garb, yet he confesseth that he hath no estate but 20l. per annum allowed by two gentlemen, and 30l. per annum paid by Mr. Cooke. 5. Mr. Cleaveland is a person of great abilities, and so able to do the greater disservice.' The charge is dated 10 Nov. 1655. Cleveland was sent to Yarmouth, and there imprisoned for three months, until he obtained release at the order of Cromwell, to whom he had written a manly and characteristic letter devoid of servility or arrogance. He obtained freedom without sacrifice of principle and independence.
Having obtained release he continued to live retired from the world. Apparently he never pursued the practice of physic, but depended chiefly on teaching for his support. Next he tried successfully to publish his early writings. Before 1656 the small volume of 'Poems by J. C.' was extensively circulated. In that year they were reissued by 'W. S.,' probably William Sheares, who next year printed the 'Petition.' This edition claims to have 'additions never before printed' (108 pp. with eight separately numbered, 'The Character of a Diurnall-Maker'). There are thirty-six poems; a few are loyal elegies on Charles I, Strafford, and Laud, and there are some sharp satires on 'The Mixt Assembly,' 'Smectymnuus, or the Club Divine,' the 'Scots Apostasie,' and the 'Hue and Cry after Sir John Presbyter,' such as had so galled his political foes. One of the elegies was written 'on the memory of Mr. Edward King, drowned in the Irish seas,' whom Milton also mourned in his 'Lycidas.' Probably nearly all the amatory poems had been of similarly early date, written while at Christ's College and St. John's. He went to live at Gray's Inn, 'after many intermediate stages (which contended emulously for his abode as the seven cities for Homer's birth).' He had not long resided there before 'an intermittent fever seized him, whereof he died, a disease at that time epidemical.' This was on Thursday, 29 April 1658. His body was removed to Hunsdon House, and carried thence on Saturday, May day, for burial in the parish church of St. Michael Royal on College Hill. Mr. Edward Thurman performed the service. The Rev. Dr. John Pearson (afterwards bishop of Chester, expositor of the Creed) preached the funeral sermon. Thomas Fuller ranks Cleveland among Leicestershire worthies as 'a general artist, pure latinist, exquisite orator, and eminent poet. His epithets were pregnant with metaphysics, carrying in them a difficult plainness, difficult at the hearing, plain at the considering thereof. Never so eminent a poet was interred with fewer (if any remarkable) elegies upon him.' Samuel Butler's grief and affection needed no public outcry. He is probably alluded to, with his care for his friend's reputation, in the preface by E. Williamson to 'J. Cleaveland revived' (21 Nov. 1658; the second edition, 1666), when he mentions 'certain poems in manuscript received from other of Mr. Cleveland's near acquaintance, which when I sent to his ever-to-be-honoured friend of Gray's Inn, he had not at that time the leisure to peruse them; but for what he had read of them he told the person I intrusted that he did believe them to be Mr. Cleaveland's, he having formerly spoken of such papers of his, that were abroad in the hands of his friends, whom he could not remember.' In 1677 Obadiah Blagrove printed the volume 'Clievelandi Vindiciæ; or, Cleveland's Genuine Poems, Orations, Epistles, &c., purged from the many false and spurious ones that had usurped his name. … Published according to the author's own copies.' The dedication to Francis Turner, D.D., master of St. John's College, Cambridge, is signed by J. L. and S. D. (Lake and Drake, already mentioned), who were doubtless the writers of the 'Short Account of the Author's Life' which followed, with one of the five elegies. We may safely accept the contents of this volume as genuine, but it is far from containing all Cleveland's extant writings. Guthrie records the saying of General Lesley, when Cleveland had been brought before him, charged with having some political poems in his pocket: 'Is this all ye have to charge him with?' said the general; 'for shame! let the poor fellow go about his business and sell his ballads' (Biog. Brit. p. 631). Milton's nephew, Edward Phillips, in 1675 wrote disparagingly of him, being evidently jealous of this rival of his own dead uncle's fame (Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum).
To the 1661 edition of 'Poems by John Cleavland [sic], with Additions never before printed,' is prefixed a copperplate portrait, probably authentic, showing a pleasant, handsome face, with long curling hair, well curved eyebrows, and expression combining thoughtful gravity and intellect with a genial smile of mirthfulness. It is declared to be 'Vera et viva effigies Johannis Cleeveland.' The portrait is in an oval, formed by palm-leaves. In the 'Vindiciæ' also is a copperplate portrait, which Granger mentions as 'in a clerical habit,' and 'probably fictitious, because he was never in orders.' But the dress seems to indicate a lawyer's gown, and he wears a collar not exclusively ecclesiastical. This portrait of Cleveland is pleasing, of good features, though large and some what heavy. Another portrait, accounted genuine, is engraved in Nichols's 'Select Collection of Miscellaneous Poems,' vol. vii. 1781, from an original painting by Fuller, in possession of Bishop Percy of Dromore. His printed works may fail to sustain his former reputation in the opinion of those who cannot make allowance for their evanescent or ephemeral character. His influence on Butler is not difficult to trace. Aubrey writes: 'That great poet has condescended to imitate or copy Cleveland in more instances than occurred to Dr. Grey in his notes upon Hudibras.' Those who fail to recognise the genius of Samuel Butler are naturally blind to the merits of Cleveland, whom Eachard styles 'the first poetic champion of the king.' He loved the anagram of his name, 'Heliconean Dew.'
Cleaveland Revived, 1666, and other editions; letters in the Loughborough Advertiser of 18 and '25 April and 2 May 1872, signed W., i.e. William George Dymock-Fletcher; Rectors of Loughborough, p. 20, 1882; Mr. Dymock-Fletcher's manuscript parish registers of Loughborough; private memoranda from Mr. Dymock-Fletcher relating to Burton's Charity records at Loughborough.]