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All worldly joyes go lesse
Scorn no man's love, though of a mean degree ;
Love is a present for a mightie King. But there remains the pervading collocation of cold, worldly sagacity with the fiery zeal, the ecstatic piety, of the Churchman. It is phenomenal. A suspicion will obtrude itself, not so much that the Saint may once have been ever so little of a sinner, as that the original man of the world, of affairs, continued to underlie the preacher, the psalmist!
May he not have been happy in his early death? Had he lived, he could not but have become a Prince of the Church. Statesmanlike, learned, of noble blood, renowned, he must have found protestations, ‘Nolo episcopari', flatteringly overridden. With many-sided powers such as his, he would in the end have ruled. With a rigid, onesided conscience such as his, the Ritualism of a Laud doubled with the Puritanism of a Cotton Mather, he might, for the soul's good, have persecuted. That, in the days which followed, he would himself have suffered for never could he have bowed or bentmatters less; but he would not have been the parish priest of Bemerton, of The Temple, the sweet, the soulsaving, singer we love.
The Temple (or The Church). By George Herbert. Facsimile Reprint of the First Edition. With Introduction by A. B. Grosart. Elliot Stock, 1876. 1 Sepulohre.
2 Affliction (last two lines). 3 Providence.
4 Grieve not the Holy Spirit 5 The Pulley.
6 Jordan. ? The Holy Communion.
8 Redemption. i Humilitie.
11 Clasping of Hands.
If the Roman Congregation which adjudicates on claims to sanctity knew its business, it would long since have beatified Richard Crashaw. Rightly did Cowley in his lovely monody hail him Poet and Saint. The pure, beautiful unworldly spirit ; as unfitted to struggle with circumstances as a nestling shaken out by a gale upon the rough earth; who, but for the kind offices of his brother in exile and genius, might-poet, scholar, artist, musician, linguist, though he was-have, without a protesting murmur, starved to death on the stones of Paris ! Such a 'sport' as that hard age of battlings to the death among antagonisms, political, national, theological, seemed specially adapted to produce in sheer contrariety to itself. Nothing in it of combative humanity and its energies ; all soul and its yearnings. Less of the theologian, even the ecclesiastic, than Herbert, once a man of the world and affairs ; infinitely less than Donne, who never ceased to be ; but formed beyond either to exist, breathe, and sing, in an atmosphere of pure spirit ; a Christian poet-recluse.
A nature like his might have been expected to burst into hymns; as of the Epiphany, with its crowd of fasthurrying fancies; and of meek abdication of all hope unless from one source, like the paraphrase of the Dies Irae. For him, though still a Protestant, nothing was alien in adoration, charmingly extravagant, of the Admirable’ Saint Teresa's self-martyrdom. The sweetness, somewhat cloying, of the shower of fancy accompanying the gift of a prayerbook to a lady hesitating on the margin of Romanism,
was natural in the pietist. When, as rarely, he actually fails, it is through undertaking subjects requiring material sublimity. Thus the Sospetto d’Herode, a poor anticipation of Milton, is, like its Italian original, a jumble of tiresome exaggeration. The picture of Satan, chained to his throne of quenchless fire, is inartistically overladen. The Devil's rage in particular, that a lowly infant, cradled in a manger, should have been chosen as his rival for the sovereignty of earth, is ridiculous. Happily Crashaw's good taste felt the inadequacy of the epic, and the version did not proceed beyond the first book.
His genius was made for suffering, not for doing ; not for profound thought, but for tender feeling. There, too, and more seriously than in service to a Saint Teresa, he was liable to error from lack of a due sense of proportion. Rapt into a Paradise of pious imagination, he strays into the grotesque. In that series of lovely images, The Weeper, angels are told off to draw into their crystal vials water from the Magdalene's eyes for their Master to drink, and for their own wine'! So plenteous is the supply that it furnishes 'two walking baths', 'compendious oceans '. The hymn on the Circumcision, amidst a host of beauties, illustrates the same extraordinary incompetence to bridle fancy. So long, however, as the poet keeps within his own field, he redeems what in another would be bad taste with his irresistible ingenuousness, blissful resignation, dreaming abstraction, incapability of imagining wrong. Every blemish he blots by a beauty. It seems an outrage even to plead excuses for transgressions which arise out of a flood of holy aspiration after absorption of the human into the Divine.
Had he stopped with strains like the Epiphany, the Weeper, the Circumcision, the Anglican laud of Santa Teresa, he would still have been a poet to cherish. Not a sting, not
one drop of venom. None even in the few secular English pieces. None hidden under the excellent diction of the many Classical. But 'bounded', one who had read in him so far might say ; 'a singer with no large repertory; no unexpectedness about his delicate, graceful Muse’. Let any who so think listen, in the Hymn of the Nativity, to the shepherds' enumeration of their wonderings, during their search for the new-born king, where they should find him laid ; how one had imagined
the curl'd drops, soft and slow,
'Forbear,' said I ; be not too bold,
Your fleece is white, but 'tis too cold ’; while another in fancy
saw the obsequious Seraphim Their rosy fleece of fire bestow,
For well they now can spare their wings,
Since Heaven itself lies here below; only for both to find the Heavenly Babe nestling peacefully in the Virgin's bosom :
No, no, your King's not yet to seek
See, see, how soon His new-bloom'd cheek
Sweet choice,' said we, 'no way but so
Not to lie cold, yet sleep in snow !’1 They may go on to the jubilant summons by Heaven to the Madonna :
Rise up, my fair, my spotless one,