Crashaw, Richard (DNB00)
|←Cranwell, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 13
CRASHAW, RICHARD (1613?–1649) poet, only child of William Crashaw, B.D. [q. v.], by his first wife, was bom in London about 1613, and was baptised by James Ussher, afterwards primate of Ireland. His mother, whose name is not known, died in the poet's infancy, but his father's second wife, who died in 1620, when Richard was only seven years old, received the praise of Ussher, who preached her funeral sermon, for 'her singular motherly affection to the child of her predecessor.' Crashaw was educated at the Charterhouse, on the nomination of Sir Henry Yelverton and Sir Randolf Crewe, and inscribed two early Latin poems to Robert Brooke, a master there, to whom he acknowledged all manner of obligations. He lost his father, a sturdy puritan, in 1626. On 6 Julv 1631 he was admitted to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, although he did not matriculate (as a pensioner) till 26 March of the following year. He cultivated at the university a special aptitude for languages, and became proficient in five 'besides his mother-tongue, viz. Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, and Spanish.' He was fond of music and drawing, and his religious fervour was always marked. In St. Mary's Church he spent many hours daily, composing his religious poems, and there, 'like a prinutive saint, ofiered more prayers in the night than others usually ofier in the day.' Tne death of a young friend, William Herries or Harris, of Pembroke Hall, in 1631 deeply affected Chushaw, who wrote many poems to his memory. Another friend, James Stanninow, fellow of Queens' College, who died early in 1636, is also commemorated in his verse. His tutors at Pembroke proved congenial to him. John Toumay,one of the fellows, he describes in a Latin poem as an ideal guardian, and the ; master of the college. Benjamin Laney, also received from him the highest praises. In 1634 Crashaw proceeded B.A., and in the same year published anonymously at the university press his first volume (wholly in Latin), entitled ' Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber,' and dedicated it to Laney. Earlier Latin elegiacs of comparatively small interest had been contributed to the university collections on the king's recovery from smallpox in 1632 ; on the king's return from Scotland and on the birth of James, duke of York, both in 1633. But the epigrams (185 in all), published when the author was barely twenty-one, denote marvellous capacity. They include the famous verses Qso. xcvi.) on the miraculous conversion of the water into wine at Cana (John ii. 1-11), whose concluding line ('Nympha pudica Deum vidit et erubuit') is perhaps better known in Aaron Hill's translation than in the original. The conceits are often very whimsical, but there are many signs of nne classical taste, and very few of immaturity. In 1636 Crashaw migrated to Peterhouse. He was elected a fellow there in 1637, and proceeded M.A. in 1638. Joseph Beaumont the poet [q. v.] was his contemporary at Peterhouse, and they discussed together their poetical projects. Crashaw's piety increased, and he contemplated taking Anglican orders, but the growth of puritanism, which revolted him, and his intimacy with friends who inclined to Roman Catholicism, led to the abandonment of the design. Robert Shelford, also of Peterhouse, a beneficed clergyman of Kingsfield in Suffolk, who protested against the identification of the pope with antichist, had great infiuence with him and in a poem prefixed to Shelford's ‘Five Pious and Learned Discourses’ (1635) Crashaw denounces those who dissociate art from religious worship, or attack the papacy as ‘a point of faith.’ The career of the Spanish saint Teresa, ‘foundresse of the reformation of the discalced Carmelites, both men and women,’ who died 14 Oct. 1582 and was canonised 12 March 1622, attracted him and confirmed in him Roman catholic tendencies. But probably more responsible for the development of his religious temper was his intimacy with Nicholas Ferrar, whose community at Little Gidding, called ‘the Protestant Nunnery,’ Crashaw often visited before Ferrar's death in 1637. In 1641 Wood states that Crashaw was incorporated at Oxford, but in what degree he does not state. Wood's authority is not the university register, but ‘the private observations of a certain master of arts that was this year living in the university.’ While his religious convictions were still unsettled, the civil war broke out; the chapel at Peterhouse, whose beauty inspired many poems, was sacked 21 Dec. 1643, and the parliamentary commissioners insisted on all the fellows taking the solemn league and covenant. Crashaw, with five other friends at Peterhouse, declined the oath and was expelled. One of them was Beaumont, who retired to Hadleigh to write his poem ‘Psyche,’ and regretted that Crashaw was not with him to revise it. Crashaw meanwhile spent a short time in Oxford and London, and then made his way to Paris. Abraham Cowley, who was in Paris at the time as secretary to Lord Jermyn, had made Crashaw's acquaintance some ten years before, and he discovered Crashaw in Paris in 1646 in great distress. There can be no doubt that the poet had then formally entered the Roman catholic church. He had just addressed letters in verse to his patroness, Susan Feilding, countess of Denbigh, sister of the great Duke of Buckingham, urging her to take a like step. Cowley introduced Crashaw to Queen Henrietta Maria, then in Paris, whom Crashaw had already addressed in complimentary poems published in university collections. She readily gave him introductions to Cardinal Palotta and other persons of influence at Rome, and according to Prynne a purse was made up for him by her and other ladies. To Italy Crashaw went in 1648 or 1649. The cardinal received him kindly, but gave him no higher office than that of attendant. John Bargrave [q. v.], writing some years later, says that about 1649, when he first went to Rome, ‘there were there four revolters to the Roman church that had been fellows of Peterhouse with myself. The name of one of them was Mr. R. Crashaw, who was one of the seguita (as the term is): that is, an attendant or [one] of the followers of the cardinal, for which he had a salary of crowns by the month (as the custom is), but no diet. Mr. Crashaw infinitely commended his cardinal, but complained extremely of the wickedness of those of his retinue, of which he, having the cardinal's ear, complained to him. Upon which the Italians fell so far out with him that the cardinal, to secure his life, was fain to put him from his service, and procuring him some small employ at the Lady's of Loretto, whither he went on pilgrimage in summer time, and overheating himself, died in four weeks after he came thither, and it was doubtful whether he was not poisoned’ (Bargrave, Alexander VII, Camden Soc.) On 24 April 1649 Crashaw, by the influence of Cardinal Palotta, was admitted as beneficiary or sub-canon of the Basilica-church of Our Lady of Loreto, but he died before 25 Aug. following, when another person was appointed in his place. He was buried at Loreto. There is nothing to confirm Bargrave's hint of poison. News of his death was slow in reaching England. Prynne, in his ‘Lignea Legenda,’ 1653, who wrote with bitter contempt of Crashaw's ‘sinful and notorious apostacy and revolt,’ speaks of him as still living when his book was published, and states, with little knowledge, that ‘he is only laughed at, or at most but pitied, by his few patrons [in Italy], who, conceiving him unworthy of any preferment in their church, have given him leave to live (like a lean swine almost ready to starve) in a poor mendicant quality.’ In Dr. Benjamin Carier's ‘Missive to King James,’ reissued by N. Strange in 1649, a list of the names of recent English converts to catholicism appears, and among other entries is the following: ‘Mr. Rich. Crashaw, master of arts, of Peterhouse, Cambridge, now secretary to a cardinal in Rome, well knowne in England for his excellent and ingenious poems’ (p. 29). Cowley wrote a fine elegy to his friend's memory.
In 1646, just before Crashaw left England, a volume of his verse was published in London. It was in two parts, consisting respectively of sacred and secular poems, each with a separate title-page. The first title ran, ‘Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems. With other Delights of the Muses,’ London (printed for T. W. by Humphrey Moseley), 1646. The second title was, ‘The Delights of the Muses and other Poems, written on severall occasions,’ with the same imprint. ‘The Preface to the Reader,’ which opens the volume, is by an anonymous friend of Crashaw, and supplies some biographical de- tails ‘impartially writ of this learned young Gent (now dead to us).’ The editor gave the book its title. ‘Reader, we stile his sacred Poems stepes to the Temple, and aptly, for in the Temple of God under His Wing he led his life in St. Marie's church, neere St. Peter's Colledge.’ The first poem is ‘Saint Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper,’ and the sacred section includes the translation of Marino's ‘Sospetto d'Herode’ and the hymn to St. Teresa. In the secular section appear the elegies on William Herries, a simple epitaph on himself, translations from Latin, Greek, and Italian, and ‘Musick's Duell,’ adapted, like Ford's ‘Lover's Melancholy,’ from a Latin fable, composed to illustrate the style of Claudian, by Strada, a jesuit schoolmaster. A few Latin poems are also printed in both sections. In 1648 the collection was reissued by Moseley, with large additions, as ‘the second edition wherein are added divers pieces not before extant.’ A few of the ‘humane’ poems which had been printed in error with the sacred section were here put in their proper place, but no poem of any length was added. In 1652 there appeared in Paris a third edition, which excels the first two in bibliographical interest. Twelve vignette engravings, all treating of sacred subjects, after Crashaw's own designs, appear in this volume, and in Douce's copy at the Bodleian there is another design substituted for the ordinary one attached to the poem ‘O Gloriosa Domina,’ which is met with in no other known copy. Thus thirteen drawings by Crashaw are known in all, and show him a capable draughtsman. The title of this volume ran: ‘Carmen Deo Nostro Te Decet Hymnus. Sacred Poems. Collected, Corrected, Avgmented, Most humbly presented to my Lady, The Covntesse of Denbigh, By her most deuoted seruant, R. C. In hea[r]ty acknowledgement of his immortall obligation to her Goodness & Charity. At Paris, By Peter Targa, Printer to the Archbishope ef [of] Paris in S. Victors Streete at the Golden sunne, mdclii.’ It seems probable that Crashaw prepared this edition for the press while in Paris. The poet's friend Thomas Carre [q. v.] contributes prefatory verses in which he claims the honour of having published all Crashaw's verses. This edition excludes the translation of Marino and ‘Musick's Duell.’ Two poems addressed to the Countess of Denbigh appear here for the first time. The first of them, ‘A Letter from Mr. Crashaw to the Countess of Denbigh. Against Irresolution and Delay in matters of Religion,’ was reprinted separately in London in 1653. In 1670 a very carelessly edited collection of the poems was issued in London as ‘the second edition.’ It has no critical value, and this was reprinted later on as ‘the third edition,’ without date, by the booksellers Bently, Tonson, Saunders, and Bennet. A second edition of Crashaw's ‘Latin Epigrams,’ under the title of ‘Richardi Crashawi Poemata et Epigrammata,’ appeared with many additions in 1670. A selection of Crashaw's printed poems, edited by Peregrine Phillipps, was published in 1775, and in 1858 Mr. W. B. Turnbull prepared a new edition of the whole. In 1872 the fullest edition, with translations of the Latin poems, was issued privately by Dr. A. B. Grosart. In the 1641 edition of Bishop Andrewes's sermons lines upon the bishop's picture by Crashaw are prefixed, of which a Latin rendering appears in the collected edition of Crashaw's poems, and another piece of commendatory verse was contributed to Isaakson's ‘Chronologie.’ Crashaw also contributed to the Cambridge University collections, not only of 1632 and 1633, but of 1635 (on the birth of Princess Elizabeth), of 1637 (on the birth of Princess Anne), and of 1640 (on the birth of Prince Henry).
Besides these printed poems, Crashaw left a mass of verse in manuscript, only a part of which has been preserved. A volume in the Tanner MSS. at the Bodleian, in the handwriting of Archbishop Sancroft, includes, among many poems by other hands, ‘Mr. Crashaw's poems transcrib'd from his own copie before they were printed: amongst wch are some not printed.’ There are here some twenty pieces both in Latin and English by Crashaw, which were first printed in Dr. Grosart's edition in 1872. None add much to the poet's reputation, and most of the English poems appear to be early work. An appreciative English epigram on two of Ford's plays, ‘Lover's Melancholy’ and the ‘Broken Heart,’ has most literary interest. Early copies of a few of Crashaw's poems also appear in MSS. Harl. 6917–18.
Crashaw's sacred poems breathe a passionate fervour of devotion, which finds its outlet in imagery of a richness seldom surpassed in our language. Coleridge says that ‘Crashaw seems in his poems to have given the first ebullience of his imagination, unshapen into form, or much of what we now term sweetness.’ This is in great part true, but in such secular poems as ‘Musick's Duell’ and ‘Wishes to his supposed mistress,’ of which the latter is printed in an abbreviated form in Mr. F. T. Palgrave's ‘Golden Treasury’ there is an undoubted sweetness and artistry which Coleridge seems to overlook. Mr. Swinburne refers to ‘the dazzling intricacy and affluence in refinements, the supple and cunning implication, the choiceness and subtlety of Crashaw,’ and these phrases adequately describe his poetic temper. Diffuseness and intricate conceit, which at times become grotesque, are the defects of Crashaw's poetry. His metrical effects, often magnificent, are very unequal. He has little of the simple tenderness of Herbert, whom he admired, and to whom he acknowledged his indebtedness. Marino, the Italian poet, encouraged his love of quaint conceit, although the gorgeous language of Crashaw in his rendering of Marino's ‘Sospetto d'Herode’ leaves his original far behind. Selden's remarks in his ‘Table Talk’ that he converted ‘Mr. Crashaw’ from writing against plays seems barely applicable to the poet who admired Ford's tragedies and was free from all puritanic traits. The remark probably refers to the poet's father (cf. Cole, Athenæ Cantab.)
The fertility of Crashaw's imagination has made him popular with succeeding poets. Milton's indebtedness to Crashaw's rendering of Marino in the ‘Hymn to the Nativity’ and many passages of ‘Paradise Lost’ is well known. Pope, who worked up many lines in the ‘Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard’ and elsewhere from expressions suggested by his predecessor, read Crashaw carefully, and showed some insight into criticism when he insisted on his inequalities in a letter to H. Cromwell (17 Dec. 1710), although little can be said for his comment: ‘I take this poet to have writ like a gentleman, that is, at leisure hours, and more to keep out of idleness than to establish a reputation, so that nothing regular or just can be expected from him’ (Pope, Works, ed. Courthope and Elwin, vi. 109, 116–18). Coleridge says that the poem on St. Teresa inspired the second part of ‘Christabel.’ Some interesting coincidences between Crashaw and Shelley are pointed out by Mr. D. F. M'Carthy in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 2nd ser. v. 449, 516, vi. 94.[Cole's Athenæ Cantab. f. 18; Crashaw's poems, collected by Dr. A. B. Grosart, 1872, and the other editions mentioned above; art. by William Hayley in Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica; Winstanley's Poets, 1687; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ii. 4; Dodd's Church History; Coleridge's Literary Recollections (1836); Lloyd's Memoirs; Todd's Milton; Retrospective Review, i. 225; Willmott's Lives of the English Sacred Poets; Gosse's Seventeenth-Century Studies, where Crashaw is compared with a German contemporary, Spe.]