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1591-1674

A CLERIC, as were Donne, and Herbert, and Crashaw; and how joyously unlike! Nothing in him, except the poet, of the strong-willed, philosophical, remorseful, Dean to be, sensual courtier-soldier that was ; of the earnest, high-bred priest of Bemerton ; of the unworldly enthusiast of Cambridge. Just the cheerful, kindly, easy-going, scholarly parson, of the character pervading English literature and life, from the days of Chaucer--though hardly after his idealto those of Dorsetshire Barnes. At times the type may have been submerged by the passion, the emotions, of Hoopers and Lauds, Baxters, Wesleys, Newtons, Simeons, Newmans; but it has always rested safe from the theological billows above in the reposeful deeps. No hermit was our Robin Herrick, either before, or after, Orders. Pupil and correspondent of rare Ben Jonson, he remembered, with more practical appreciation doubtless than Vaughan, the lyric feasts,

Made at the Sun,
The Dog, the Triple Tun;
Where we such clusters had,

As made us nobly wild, not mad.1 A scholar of 'my beloved Westminster', 'a free-born Roman', that is, of the golden Cheapside ', he ever rejoiced to fly back, whether in fact or fancy, to London, his 'home' always, and

blest place of my nativity. Nevertheless, he was a countryman by instinct. His affection for all country pursuits, traditions, and supersti. tions, was extraordinarily keen. He had, too, country

2

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blood in him, with the resulting right to shelter in good old manor houses from the tempests of theology and politics. To his rural associations, together with his genial heart, and a muse as genial-incapable, each, of sourness from persecution—we owe sketches of an English Arcadia as bright, fresh, and real, as Chaucer himself could have drawn.

A merry England indeed this of Herrick's! In it King Oberon and Queen Titania still held their Court. Luxurious their feastings, ' less great than nice ’, on the pith of sugared rush, mandrake's ears,

and
The broke heart of a nightingale

O’ercome in music; with, to quench royal thirst,

A pure seed-pearl of infant dew,
Brought and besweeten'd in a blue

And pregnant violet.4
And if Oberon has his junketings, why not Corydon his?
If only sweet Phyllis, or, if she be not at hand, as sweet
Anthea, or, in lack of both for life is fleeting—Amarillis,
or Corinna,

fresh and green as Flora, will consent to attend him to the Wake, to ' feast, as others do', on

Tarts and custards, creams and cakes ; or to the garlanded May-pole, ere

All love, all liking, all delight

Lies drown'd with us in endless night.5 Never was there a more companionable poet. Whatever the apparent theme, it is sure speedily to resolve itself into the question :

Where

may I find my shepherdess ? 6

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Seemingly it is easily answered ; so ubiquitous is She ; so eager is the wooer; so well disposed, like Suckling's and like Sheridan's, to discover fascination in the most diverse feminine types. Cupid's pretty cheating wiles ? scarcely were needed to entrap him. We see the favourite of the hour hiding within every garden.8 Nature instructs its ministers to be on the watch to guide her to the evening tryst :

Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee.
The shooting stars attend thee;

And the elves also

Whose little eyes glow

Like the sparks of fire befriend thee. Corydon, or Robin, waxes rapturous over the fair one's dress, the thread about the wrist, the ribbon round the waist, the sheen, the undulations, of the silken frock ; the studied negligence of her attire :

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
And erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoestring, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art

Is too precise in every part.10
Or the object of his worship may be yet more personal :

Some asked me where the rubies grew,

And nothing I did say:
But with my finger pointed to

The lips of Julia.

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Some ask'd how pearls did grow, and where:

Then spoke I to my girl,
To part her lips, and show'd them there

The quarrelets of Pearl.11
It
may
be that

a ringlet of her hair Caught my poor soul, as in a snare ; or that her lips—the same that had erewhile pardonably beguiled a honey-bee to an intoxicating, and misunderstood, sip 13—were taken by him to the fruit market :

Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy.
If so be you ask me where
They do grow, I answer: There,
Where my Julia's lips do smile ;
There 's the land, or cherry-isle,
Whose plantations fully show

All the year where cherries grow.14 Or the witchery is in a voice which strikes mute,15 or in pretty feet, which

Like snails did creep

A little out, and then,
As if they played at Bo-peep,

Did soon draw in again.16
Only-lovers and beloved, all, are warned :
Gather ye

se-buds, while ye may :
Old Time is still a-flying ;
And this same flow'r that smiles to-day

To-morrow will be dying.17 By nature Herrick was an Aeolian Harp. I am tempted, on reading his masterpieces, to believe that, according as the wind of circumstance had played thus or thus on his fancy, he might have written L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, A Midsummer Night's Dream, a Romeo and Juliet, a Faithful

rose

Shepherdess. Nothing could have come strange to him. Question his pathos ; and he replies with an appeal to his brother suddenly reported to be dying :

Life of my life, take not so soon thy flight,
But stay the time till we have bade good night,
Thou hast both wind and tide with thee; thy way
As soon dispatched is by the night as day.
Let us not then so rudely henceforth go
Till we have wept, kiss'd, sigh’d, shook hands, or so.
Pay we our vows and go ; yet when we part,
Then, even then I will bequeath my heart
Into thy loving hands; for I'll keep none
To warm my breast, when thou, my pulse, art gone.
No here I'll last, and walk—a harmless shade-
About this urn, wherein thy dust is laid,
To guard it so, as nothing here shall be

Heavy to hurt those sacred seeds of thee.18 We feel an unlimited reserve of power in all directions, though by preference he sang of love, sometimes metaphysically, as in the delightful dialectics of The Kiss ; 19 oftener jocundly, and with what he admits to be sometimes ' wantonness '-cleanly', as benevolently he qualifies it.20 Not always is love, however, itself mirthful :

The sweets of love are mix'd with tears, 21 Still less is life in general. He was cursed, or blessed, not only with an affectionate heart, but with a tender conscience. His Muse was prone to dwell with grave alarm on thoughts of his own end, and the slenderness of his preparation for meeting it. Death was one thing for an innocent child :

Here a pretty baby lies
Sung asleep with lullabies ;
Pray be silent, and not stir

Th' easy earth that covers her.22
It wore a forbidding aspect to the world-worn poet in the

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