Corbet, Richard (DNB00)

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CORBET, RICHARD (1582–1635), bishop successively of Oxford and Norwich, and poet, born in 1582, was son of Vincent Corbet, a gardener or nurseryman of Ewell, Surrey. He was educated at Westminster School, whence he proceeded to Broadgates Hall, afterwards Pembroke College, Oxford, in Lent term 1597–8. In 1598 he was elected a student of Christ Church, and proceeded B.A. on 20 June 1602 and M.A. on 9 June 1605. Wood says that in his young days he was ‘esteemed one of the most celebrated wits in the university, as his poems, jests, romantic fancies, and exploits, which he made and perform'd extempore, shew'd.’ Aubrey says that ‘he was a very handsome man, but something apt to abuse, and a coward.’ He took holy orders, and his quaint wit in the pulpit recommended him to all ‘ingenious men.’ In 1612, while proctor of the university and senior student of Christ Church, he pronounced funeral orations at Oxford on Prince Henry and Sir Thomas Bodley; the latter was published in 1613. Corbet was for some years vicar of Cassington, Oxfordshire, and James I made him one of the royal chaplains in consideration of his ‘fine fancy and preaching.’ When preaching before the king at Woodstock on one occasion Corbet broke down, and a university wag wrote a poem, which was very popular, describing the awkward misadventure (Wit Restor'd, 1658). In 1616 he was recommended for election to the projected Chelsea College, and on 8 May 1617 he was admitted B.D. at Oxford. In 1618 he made a tour in France, which he humorously described in an epistle to his friend Sir Thomas Aylesbury, and in 1619 the death of his father left him a little landed property in the city of London. He was early in 1620 appointed to the prebend of Bedminster Secunda in the cathedral of Salisbury, which he resigned on 10 June 1631 (cf. Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 656), and to the vicarage of Stewkley, Berkshire (1620), which he held till his death. On 24 June 1620 he was installed dean of Christ Church, at the early age of thirty-seven, and was then friendly with the powerful Duke of Buckingham. On 9 Oct. 1628, when the deanery was required by the Earl of Dorset for Brian Duppa [q. v.], Corbet was elected to the vacant see of Oxford, and was translated to the see of Norwich on 7 May 1632. He preached before Charles I at Newmarket on 9 March 1633–4 (Strafford Papers, i. 221), and contributed 400l. to the rebuilding of St. Paul's in 1634. Corbet was strongly opposed to the puritans, and frequently admonished his clergy for puritan practices. On 26 Dec. 1634 he turned the Walloon congregation out of the bishop's chapel, which had been lent to them for their services since 1619. He died at Norwich on 28 July 1635, and was buried in his cathedral.

Throughout his life Corbet was famed for his conviviality. Stories are told of his merrymaking in London taverns in youth in company with Ben Jonson and other well-known dramatists, and of the practical jokes he played at Oxford when well advanced in years. It is stated that after becoming a doctor of divinity he put on a leathern jerkin and sang ballads at Abingdon Cross. When bishop he ‘would sometimes,’ writes Aubrey, ‘take the key of the wine-cellar and he and his chaplain (Dr. Lushington) would go and lock themselves in and be merry. Then first he layes down his episcopal hat—“There layes the Dr.” Then he putts off his gowne—“There lyes the bishop.” Then 'twas “Here's to thee, Corbet,” and “Here to thee, Lushington.”’ Wood says that Corbet ‘loved to the last boy's play very well,’ and Aubrey, who describes his conversation as ‘extreme pleasant,’ gives some very entertaining examples of it. Ben Jonson was always on intimate terms with him, and repeatedly stayed with him at the deanery of Christ Church. Jonson wrote a poem on Corbet's father (printed in Ben Jonson, Underwoods), which attests the dramatist's affectionate regard for both father and son. Corbet appears to have built a ‘pretty house’ near Folly Bridge, Oxford, where he often stayed after leaving Christ Church.

Corbet's poems are for the most part in a rollicking satiric vein, and are always very good-humoured, with the single exception of his verses ‘upon Mrs. Mallet, an unhandsome gentlewoman that made love to him.’ The well-known ‘Fairies Farewell,’ a graceful and fanciful piece of verse, is his most serious production. The ‘Iter Boreale,’ an account of the holiday tour of four Oxford students in the midlands north of Oxford, is the longest, and probably suggested Brathwaite's ‘Drunken Barnabees Journal.’ One of Strafford's correspondents describes Corbet as ‘the best poet of all the bishops of England.’ The poems were first collected and published in 1647, under the title of ‘Certain Elegant Poems written by Dr. Corbet, bishop of Norwich,’ with a dedication to ‘the Lady Teynham.’ A part of this collection appeared in 1648, under the title of ‘Poetica Stromata,’ and it is probable that that volume was edited by some of the bishop's friends. In 1672 the former collection was reissued with a few additions, some typographical corrections, and a dedication to Sir Edmund Bacon of Redgrave. In 1807 Mr. Octavius Gilchrist republished all Corbet's printed poems, and added several from Ashmolean and Harleian MSS., together with the funeral oration on Prince Henry from an Ashmolean MS. and a complete memoir. Alexander Chalmers reprinted Gilchrist's volume in his collection of the poets. In ‘Notes and Queries’ (3rd ser. ii. 494–5) is a version of Corbet's poem on the Christ Church bell—‘Great Tom’—printed from an Ashmolean MS., which is far longer than any other printed version. Some verses before Richard Vaughan's ‘Waterworks’ (1610), subscribed Robert Corbett, are attributed to the bishop. A manuscript volume of satires in the library of Canterbury Cathedral, dated about 1600, and entitled ‘The Time's Whistle, a New Daunce of the Seven Sins and other poems, compiled by R. C., Gent.,’ was printed for the first time by J. M. Cowper for the Early English Text Society in 1871. Mr. Cowper suggested that the author—‘R. C., Gent.’—was the bishop. Internal evidence gives some support to the theory, but the description of the author and the date of the collection destroy it.

Corbet married Alice, daughter of Leonard Hutton, vicar of Flower, Northamptonshire, by whom he had a daughter, Alice, and a son, Vincent (b. 10 Nov. 1627). Some exquisitely tender lines, addressed to the latter when three years old, are printed among Corbet's poems, but young Corbet disappointed his father's hopes. ‘He went to school at Westminster with Ned Bagshawe,’ writes Aubrey, ‘a very handsome youth, but he is run out of all and goes begging up and down to gentlemen.’

A portrait of Corbet by Cornelius Jansen is in Christ Church Hall, Oxford.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 594–6; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), i. and ii.; Welch's Alumni Westmonast. pp. 67–8; Corser's Collectanea; Ritson's English Poets; Gilchrist's Memoir; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24489, ff. 104–8; Cowper's preface to Time's Whistle (Early English Text Soc.), 1871; Aubrey's Lives of Eminent Persons, ii. 290–4; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Retrospective Review, xii. 299–322; Thom's Anecdotes and Traditions (Camd. Soc.) p. 30; Black's Cat. Ashmolean MSS.]

S. L. L.