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After an anxious search in all the accessible sources of' information, I am able to tell little of one of whom every lover of poetry must desire to know so much. The time of his birth and of his decease is involved in equal mystery.
Crashaw was born in London. His father was an eminent Divine, and Preacher at the Temple. His works, however, brought him more fame than profit, and he confessed that he had spent his patrimony in buying books, and his time in scribbling them. At the close of the reign of Elizabeth he had also been deprived of a "little "vicarage*." But his learning and virtues procured for him the esteem of many learned and excellent ment, and particularly of Sir Randolph Crew, and Sir Henry Yelvertonf, by whom his son Richard was placed on the foundation of the Charter House School, where he highly distinguished
* A Discourse on Popishe Corruption Requirinse a Kingly Reformation; among the MS. Books in the Royal Library. See Casly's Catalogue.
t He was intimate with Archbishop Usher, as an extract from a letter to that Prelate will show:—"I lent you Josseline de Vitis Archiep. Cant., in folio, which you said you lent to Dr. Mocket, and I believe it; yet I could never get it, and now I find my book at Mr. Edwards his shop, in Duke Lane, and he saith he bought it with Dr. Mocket's library, but I cannot have it. Happily you might, by your testimony, prevail to get it me, for I charged him not to sell it. I pray think of it as you go that way. Thus longing to see you, and till you send me word what day you will be here, I commend us unto God, and am, Yours in Christ,
William Crashaw." Appendix to Parr's Life of Usher.
t Sir Henry Yelverton was appointed Solicitor-General soon after 1613, and Attorney-General in 1616. In 1625, he was one of the Judges of the King's Bench, and subsequently of the Common Pleas. A curious narrative, written by hmiself, "of what passed on his being restored to the King's favour, in 1609," is printed in the fifteenth volume of the Archeologia, p. 27.
himself under Brooks, a celebrated master of that day, whom he afterwards addressed in an epigram, full of attachment and respect. I had hoped, from a reference to the Registers of the School, to have determined the period of his admission, but they contain no entry before 1680. How long he continued there is equally uncertain. He was elected a scholar of Pembroke Hall, March 26, 1632*, and yet we find him lamenting the premature death of his friend, William Herrys, a fellow of the same College, which happened in the October of 1631. Herrys had been originally entered of Christ's, and his relations were persons of property and consideration, in the county of Essex. Crashaw calls him the sweetest among men, and mourned liis fate in five epitaphs, one of which was in Latin.
In 1633 he took his Bachelor's Degree, and, in 1634, published anonymously, a volume of Epigrammata Sacra, inscribed to Benjamin Laney, the Master of Pembroke Hall. In the civil war, Laney was deprived of his situation, and suffered much persecution and many hardships for his loyalty.
The guides of the poet's youthful studies were always esteemed, and their memory preserved in his heart. Of Mr. Tournay, the tutor of Pembroke, he spoke in grateful language, as of one who merited his respect t.
* From the College Register, quoted in Cole's MSS.
t Tutori Summe Observandn.—" We have had some doings here of late about one of Pembroke Hall, who preaching in St. Mary's, about the beginning of Lent, upon that text James ii, 22, seemed to avouch the insufficiency of faith to justification, and to impugn the doctrine of our 11th article, of Justification by faith only; for which he was convented by the Vice-Chancellor, who was willing to accept of an easy acknowledgment: but the same party preaching his Latin sermon, pro Gradu, the last week, upon Rom. iii, 28, he said, he came not palinodiam canere, sed eandem cantilenam canere, which moved our Vice-Chancellor, Dr Love, to call for his sermon, which he refused to deliver. Whereupon, upon Wednesday last, being Barnaby Day, the day appointed for the , admission of the Bachelors of Divinity, which must answer Die Comitiorum, he was stayed by the major part of the suffrages of the Doctors of the faculty. * * * The truth is, there are some Heads among us
In 1635 he prefixed a copy of verses to Robert Shelford's Five Pious and Learned Discourses. Shelford was of Peterhouse, and Rector of Ringsfield, in Suffolk. Crashaw's lecommendation of this work requires notice, for it was considered to advocate doctrines inimical to the established church. Archbishop Usher condemns it with indignation, in a letter to Dr. Ward, Sept. 15, 1635. "But, while we strive here to maintain the purity of our ancient truth, how cometh it to pass that you at Cambridge do cast such stumbling-blocks in our way, by publishing into the world such rotten stuff as Shelford hath vented in his Five Discourses; wherein he hath so carried himself utfatnosi Pemi amanuensem possu agnoscere. The Jesuits of England sent over the book hither to confirm our papists in their obstinacy, and to assure them that we are now coming home to them as fast as we can. I pray God this sin be not deeply laid to their chargo, who give an occasion to our blind thus to stumble*." This fact enables us to trace the gradually growing inclination of Crashaw to the Roman Catholic faith. His mypt.ir.nl nud enthusiastic manner of life, indeed, powerfully predisposed him to lend a willing ear to the gorgeous deceptions of a poetical religion. Every day he passed several hours in the solitude of St. Mary's Church, "In the temple of God, under his wing, he led his life in St. Mary's Church, near St. Peter's College, under Tertullian's roof of angels; there he made his nest more gladly than David's swallow near the house of God; where, like a primitive saint, he offered more prayers in the night, than others usually offer in the dayt."
that are great abettors of M. Tournay, the party above mentioned, who, no doubt, are backed by others."— Letter from Ward of Sidney Coll., June, 1634, to Archbishop Usher. Life by Parr, p. 470.
* Master Shelford hath of late affirmed in print, that the Pope was never yet defined to be the Antichrist by any Synode—Huntley's Breviate, third edition, 1637, p. 308.
t Pref. to Steps to the Temple, 1646.
On the 20th of November, 1636, he removed to Peterhouse, of which he was made fellow in 1637, and Master of Arts in the following year. Of his occupations in these seasons of tranquillity, the only fruits are to be found in his poems; but his various acquirements prove him to have been something more than a dreamer. In
1641, Wood says that he took degrees at Oxford. He also entered into Holy Orders, and soon became a_preacher of great energy and power. His richness_jaL3iction, and animation of style, were well calculated to render him an effective minister of the Gospel.
Stormy days were swiftly coming on. In August,
1642, the University had testified its loyalty by sending the public plate to the King to coin into money; and Cromwell, then member of Parliament for the Town of Cambridge, is supposed to have succeeded in intercepting a portion of the treasure. An act of devotion to the royal cause was not likely to be forgotten. In 1644, the University was converted into a garrison for the Parliament, principally under the superintendence of Cromwell. "That his soldiers," says Mr. Godwin, "were not debauched or licentious, is shown by the most indubitable testimony:" and he proceeds to confirm his assertion in a strange manner, by admitting that they frequently displayed the fervour of their zeal, in the demolishing of images and painted windows. The hand of the spoiler was, of a truth, stretched out with impunity; the beautiful grove of Jesus College was cut down, and the precious collection of coins taken away from St. John's. But the animosity of the
* Sectaries was not exhausted in these excesses. In the same year they prepared to introduce those changes into the system of the University, which their defenders affirm to have been demanded by the circumstances of the times. The direction of these alterations was intrusted to the Earl of Manchester, whose courtly elegance and winning affability have gained the applause of Clarendon. Crashaw was ejected from his fellowship on the 8th of April, 1644, and was succeeded by Howard Beecher. Joseph Beaumont, the author of Psyche, was banished on the same day.
Whether he endured this unexpected calamity with patience and resignation, we are left to conjecture. Cambridge had been his abode for twelve years: his own College was full of old familiar faces, and every spot in its neighbourhood must have been endeared by delightful associations. He had besides been accustomed so long to indulge the romance of his imagination, that the intelligence of his dismissal startled him like a hasty awakening from a pleasant dream. How he supported himself after leaving Cambridge is not known; his friends were as poor and helpless as himself. About this time he is considered by Carter to have seceded from the Protestant Church*. Carter, after mentioning his conversion, adds, that "though a person of exalted piety, yet he was a disgrace to the list." We must not be too harsh in our censure of his conduct. The seed of error that took deep root in the poet's bosom had also sprung up and flourished for a little while in the breasts of Jeremy Taylor and Chillingworth, who were both, for a short period, Catholics. In the Legenda Lignea, Crashaw is termed an active ring-leader, and his motives are attacked with great virulence and malignity :—
"Master Crashaw (son to the London Divine), and sometimes Fellow of St. Peterhouse, in Cambridge, is another slip of the times that is transplanted into Rome. This peevish, silly seeker, glided away from his principles in a poetical vein of fancy, and an impertinent curiosity: and finding thai_-xejS£S jind.. measured flattery took and much pleased some female wits, Crashaw crept by degrees into favour and acquaintance with some court ladies * *,
* History of the University of Cambridge. VOL. I. X