Herrick, Robert (DNB00)
|←Heron, Robert (1765-1854)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 26
|Herries, Charles John→|
HERRICK, ROBERT (1591–1674), poet, fourth son of Nicholas Herrick, a goldsmith in Cheapside, by his wife Julian Stone, was baptised at the church of St. Vedast, Foster Lane, on 24 Aug. 1591. His father, who came of an ancient Leicestershire family of Heyricks or Eyrickes, died in November 1592 of injuries caused by a fall from an upper window of his house. It was suspected that the fall was not accidental; and Dr. Fletcher, bishop of Bristol, laid claim, as high almoner, to all his goods and chattels. The matter being referred to arbitration, the bishop was ultimately awarded 220l. out of the estate in full satisfaction of his claim. Two days before his death, or on the very day of his death, the elder Herrick had drawn up a will, leaving one-third of his property (which realised 5,000l.) to his wife, and two-thirds among his children. There were six surviving children, and a seventh (William) was posthumously born. From some verses ‘To the reverend shade of his religious Father’ it appears that the poet was long ignorant of his father's burial-place.
Their uncle, William, afterwards Sir William Hericke or Herrick [q. v.], became guardian to the children. On 25 Sept. 1607, Robert, who had probably been educated at Westminster School, was bound apprentice to his uncle for ten years. He did not serve out his apprenticeship, for in 1613 he was a fellow-commoner of St. John's College, Cambridge. Fourteen letters, chiefly applications for money, addressed by him from Cambridge to his uncle, are preserved at Beaumanor. It may be gathered from these letters that he was allowed (from his share of the property left by his father) 10l. a term for his expenses at college, that he found the allowance insufficient, and that the uncle supplemented it by grants (or loans) from his own pocket. ‘I could wish,’ writes Herrick, ‘chardges had leaden wings and Tortice feet to come vpon me; sed votis puerilibus opto.’ On one occasion he declares that his pecuniary troubles force him to neglect his studies, ‘whereas if you would be pleased to furnish me with so much that I might keepe beforehand with my Tutor, I doubt not but with quicke dispatch to attaine to what I ayme.’ With the twofold object of reducing his expenditure and of devoting himself to legal studies, he migrated in 1616 to Trinity Hall, where he proceeded B.A. in 1616–17, and commenced M.A. in 1620. From account-books preserved at Trinity Hall it appears that as late as 1629–30 he was in the hall's debt. Dr. Grosart contends that the entries in the steward's books refer to the poet's cousin, Robert Herrick, a son of Sir William Herrick; but there is no evidence to show that the cousin, who was educated at Oxford, studied at Trinity Hall.
On 2 Oct. 1629, shortly after his mother's death, Herrick was admitted to the living of Dean Prior, near Ashburton, Devonshire. Much of his poetry was written before he settled in Devonshire. Accustomed to cheerful society, he found the lonely life at Dean Prior irksome. He wistfully recalled the ‘lyric feasts,’ presided over by Ben Jonson, at ‘the Sun, the Dog, the Triple Tun.’ But he frankly acknowledged that his best poetry was written at Dean Prior. Wood says that he ‘became much beloved by the gentry in those parts for his florid and witty discourses.’ His household was directed by his devoted maid ‘Prue’ (Prudence Baldwin), whose epitaph he composed. In his ‘Grange or Private Wealth’ he sings of his spaniel ‘Tracy,’ his pet-lamb, his cat, goose, cock, and hen. A tradition survived early in the nineteenth century (Quarterly Review, August 1810) that he had a ‘favourite pig, which he amused himself by teaching to drink out of a tankard.’ Another tradition is that he once threw his sermon at the congregation, cursing them for not paying attention. In one of his poems he describes his parishioners as
A people currish; churlish as the seas;
And rude almost as rudest savages.
Several of his epigrams (more coarse than witty) appear to be directed against obnoxious neighbours. On the other hand, he has poems in praise of Devonshire friends.
In 1647 Herrick, a devoted royalist, was ejected from his living and retired to London. The poem on ‘His returne to London’ expresses his enthusiastic delight at being released from his ‘long and dreary banishment.’ London was the place of his nativity, and he vowed to spend in London the rest of his days. In his ‘Farewell to Dean-Bourn’ he declared that he would not go back to Devonshire until ‘rocks turn to rivers, rivers turn to men.’ Settling in St. Anne's, Westminster, he assumed the lay habit. Walker (Sufferings of the Clergy, p. 253) states that, ‘having no fifths paid to him,’ he ‘was subsisted by charity until the Restoration.’ It is to be noticed that his uncle, at Beaumanor, was still living, that other relatives were well-to-do, and that he had a large circle of wealthy friends.
On 24 Aug. 1662 Herrick was restored to his living; and the church register at Dean Prior records that ‘Robert Herrick, vicker, was buried ye 15th day of October 1674.’ A collateral descendant, W. Perry-Herrick, esq., of Beaumanor Park, erected in 1857 a monument to his memory in Dean Prior Church.
Few contemporary notices of Herrick are found, but there is ample evidence to show that his poetry was appreciated. Many of his poems were published anonymously in the later editions of ‘Witts Recreations’ (1650 and onwards). The compilers of ‘Wits Interpreter,’ ‘The Academy of Compliments,’ ‘The Mysteries of Love and Eloquence,’ and other seventeenth-century miscellanies, laid him under contribution. Several pieces were set to music by eminent composers—Henry Lawes, Lanière, Wilson, and Ramsay. The first of his poems that found its way into print was ‘King Obrons Feast,’ published anonymously in ‘A Description of the King and Queene of Fayries, their habit, fare, their abode, pompe, and state,’ London, 1635, 8vo. On 4 Nov. 1639 was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register’ ‘An addicion of some excellent Poems to Shakespeares Poems by other gentlemen’ (Arber, Transcript, iv. 487), and among these additional pieces is mentioned ‘His Mistris Shade, by R. Herrick,’ which was printed anonymously in Shakespeare's ‘Poems,’ 1640, and was afterwards included, with some curious textual variations, in ‘Hesperides’ (where it is headed ‘The Apparition of his Mistresse calling him to Elizium’). In 1640 ‘The Several Poems written by Robert Herrick’ was entered, but not published. In 1648 appeared a collected edition of his poems: ‘Hesperides: or, The Works both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick, Esq.,’ 8vo. The divine poems form a separate part, with a fresh title-page dated 1647, ‘His Noble Numbers: or, His Pious Pieces, Wherein (amongst other things) He sings the Birth of his Christ: and sighes for his Saviour suffering on the Crosse.’ The collection was dedicated to Charles, prince of Wales, afterwards Charles II. The edition was issued with Herrick's sanction (though there is no attempt at any arrangement of the poems), and has a portrait of the author by William Marshall. In 1647 Herrick had prefixed commendatory verses (not included in ‘Hesperides’) to the folio of Beaumont and Fletcher; and in 1649 he was one of the contributors to ‘Lacrymæ Musarum,’ a collection of memorial verses on the death of Henry, lord Hastings. He is not known to have published anything after 1649. There is a tradition that he was the original projector of ‘Poor Robin's Almanac;’ but this is a mistake. ‘Poor Robin’ was the nom de plume of Robert Winstanley of Saffron Walden (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. vii. 321–3). Verses of Herrick are occasionally quoted in the almanac; and in ‘Hesperides’ he playfully styled himself ‘Robin’ Herrick. A few—very few—manuscript poems, not included in ‘Hesperides,’ may with some probability be assigned to Herrick; but Mr. Hazlitt (Appendix to Herrick's Works in the ‘Old Authors' Library’) has claimed for him poems that can clearly be shown to belong to other writers.
Herrick was practically forgotten until Nichols in 1796–7 drew attention to his poetry in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ Nichols was followed by Dr. Nathan Drake, who devoted some papers to Herrick in ‘Lite- rary Hours;’ and in 1810 Dr. Nott published ‘Select Poems from the “Hesperides,”’ which was reviewed by Barron Field in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ Aug. 1810. In 1823 a complete edition, 2 vols., worthily edited by Thomas Maitland, lord Dundrennan, was published at Edinburgh, the ‘remainder’ copies being issued (with a fresh title-page) by William Pickering in 1825. Pickering's edition of 1846 contains a memoir by S. W. Singer; later editions are by Edward Walford, 1859; by William Carew Hazlitt, 1869, 2 vols., with additional information of interest; by Dr. Grosart, 3 vols., 1876; by A. W. Pollard, with introduction by A. C. Swinburne (in ‘Muses' Library’), 1891, 2 vols. Selections from Herrick (‘Chrysomela’) were edited by Francis Turner Palgrave in 1877.
Herrick reminds us at one time of the Greek epigrammatists; at another of Catullus, or Horace, or Martial; now of Ronsard, and then of Ben Jonson. But he is always original. He polished his verses carefully, but they never smell of the lamp. A consummate artist, he successfully attempted a variety of metrical experiments. But apart from its formal excellence his poetry has a fresh natural charm that the simplest may appreciate. Some of his poems (particularly his ‘Litany’) were handed down orally at Dean Prior when he had been forgotten by the critics. Though he professed a distaste for his Devonshire vicarage, no poet has described with equal gusto the delights of old English country-life—the wakes and wassails, the Christmas and Twelfth-tide sports, the May-day games and harvest-homes. In his ‘Hesperides’ he is the most frankly pagan of English poets, but his ‘Noble Numbers’ testify to the sincerity of his Christian piety.
[Memoirs by Maitland, W. Carew Hazlitt, and Dr. Grosart; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 520; Quarterly Review, August 1810; Retrospective Review, August 1822.]