Cartwright, William (1611-1643) (DNB00)

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CARTWRIGHT, WILLIAM (1611–1643), dramatist and divine, born in September 1611 at Northway, near Tewkesbury, was the son of a William Cartwright who, after squandering a fair inheritance, had been reduced to keep an inn at Cirencester. This is Wood's account (Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 69), and is probably true; but Lloyd (Memoirs, ed. 1668, p. 423) states that he was born on 16 Aug. 1615, and that his father was a Thomas Cartwright of Burford in Oxfordshire. He was sent first to the free school at Cirencester and afterwards, as a king's scholar, to Westminster, whence he was chosen in 1628 student of Christ Church, Oxford. Having taken the degree of M.A. in 1635, he entered into holy orders, and became (in Wood's words) ‘the most florid and seraphical preacher in the university.’ The lectures that he delivered as metaphysical reader (in succession to Thomas Barlow [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Lincoln) were greatly admired. On 1 Sept. 1642 he was nominated one of the council of war, and on 16 Sept. he was imprisoned by Lord Say, but released on bail. In the following October Bishop Duppa appointed him succentor in the church of Salisbury; and on 12 April 1643 he was chosen junior proctor of the university. He died at Oxford on 29 Nov. 1643, of a malignant fever (called the camp-disease), and was buried on 1 Dec. at the upper end of the north aisle of Christ Church Cathedral. The king, who was then at Oxford, being asked why he wore black on the day of Cartwright's funeral, replied that ‘since the muses had so much mourned for the loss of such a son it would be a shame for him not to appear in mourning for the loss of such a subject.’ Fell said of him, ‘Cartwright was the utmost man could come to;’ and Ben Jonson declared ‘My son Cartwright writes all like a man.’ Langbaine gives him this character: ‘He was extreamly remarkable both for his outward and inward endowments; his body being as handsome as his soul. He was an expert linguist, understanding not only Greek and Latin, but French and Italian, as perfectly as his mother-tongue. He was an excellent orator, and yet an admirable poet.’ Lloyd is still more enthusiastic in his praise: ‘To have the same person cast his net and catch souls as well in the pulpit as on the stage! … A miracle of industry and wit, sitting sixteen hours a day at all manner of knowledge, an excellent preacher in whom hallowed fancies and reason grew visions and holy passions, raptures and extasies, and all this at thirty years of age!’

Cartwright's plays and poems were collected in 1651 by Humphrey Moseley in one vol. 8vo. No less than fifty-six copies of commendatory verses are prefixed, among the contributors being Dr. John Fell, Jasper Mayne, Henry Vaughan the Silurist, Alexander Brome, Izaak Walton, &c. There is nothing in the volume to support the re- putation that Cartwright gained among his contemporaries for extraordinary ability. There are four plays of which the ‘Ordinary’ is the best; and the rest of the volume chiefly consists of complimentary epistles, love-verses, and translations. The ‘Royal Slave, a Tragi-Comedy,’ which had been printed separately in 1639 and 1640, was performed before the king and queen by the students of Christ Church on 30 Aug. 1636. Henry Lawes wrote the music to the songs, and among the actors was Richard Busby, who ‘approv'd himself a second Roscius.’ The play was mounted at considerable cost (the actors appearing in Persian costume), and gave such satisfaction that the court ‘unanimously acknowledg'd that it did exceed all things of that nature which they had ever seen.’ The queen was so charmed with the ‘Royal Slave’ that in the following November the king's company was ordered to represent it at Hampton Court; but the performance of the professional players was judged far inferior to that of the amateurs. The ‘Ordinary,’ which had been included in all the editions of Dodsley's old plays, is a lively comedy of intrigue, containing some amusing satire on the puritans. The other plays are: ‘The Lady-Errant, a Tragi-Comedy,’ and ‘The Siege, or Love's Convert, a Tragi-Comedy.’ Among the poems are an elegy on Ben Jonson, that had previously appeared in ‘Jonsonus Virbius,’ 1638; two copies of commendatory verses on Fletcher, which had been prefixed to the 1647 folio of Beaumont and Fletcher, and commendatory verses on two plays of Thomas Killigrew, ‘Claricilla’ and ‘The Prisoners.’ In one of the verse-addresses to Fletcher, Cartwright writes:—

Shakespeare to thee was dull, whose best wit lies
I' th' ladies' questions and the fools' replies.

In most copies there are blanks at pp. 301, 302, 305, where the lines are too royalist in sentiment for the times. Cartwright's other works are: 1. ‘An Offspring of Mercy issuing out of the Womb of Cruelty, or a Passion Sermon preached in Christ Church,’ 1652, 8vo. 2. ‘November, or Signal Dayes observed in that Month in relation to the Crown and Royal Family,’ 4to, written in 1643, but not published until 1671. At the end of Dr. John Collop's ‘Poesis Rediviva,’ 1656, Humphrey Moseley announced for speedy publication a volume of ‘Poemata Græca et Latina’ by Cartwright, but the promise was not fulfilled. A portrait of Cartwright by Lombart is prefixed to the collected edition of his plays and poems, 1651.

[Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 69–72; Fasti, i. 468, 478, ii. 56; Lloyd's Memoirs, ed. 1668, pp. 422–5; Langbaine's Dramatick Poets, with Oldys's MS. annotations; Welsh's Alumni Westmonasterienses, ed. 1852, pp. 100–1; Evelyn's Diary, ed. 1850, i. 421; Corser's Collectanea.]

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