restricted access Lecture VI: Crashaw
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[ 705 Lecture VI Crashaw I feel some sense of shame at having arranged matters so that, after devoting four lectures solely to Donne, I must condense what I have to say about Crashaw into one. But I would remind you, in extenuation, that what I have undertaken is not a series of lectures on metaphysical poets, but an attempt to deal with three poets as different examples of metaphysical poetry, and of the metaphysical poetry of that age in particular. Donne’s mind is typical of his age, but his poetry is not altogether typical of the poetry of his age; and it was with him a much greater difficulty than with the others, to distinguish that which is peculiar to him from that which is general of the period. I have insisted that Donne is not in any way mediaeval; but he is not a pure type; for he represents the transition from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century; Crashaw represents the more serious aspect of the Caroline mind; and owing to the influences which he absorbed, and the life which he lived, is also more representative of the mind of Europe. But I shall attempt in this lecture – not to enter upon a discussion of his mind and the world in which he lived – for that would distract us from our purpose, and I intend to consider this more fully in written studies – and indeed a book of the length, scope and importance of Sainte-Beuve’s PortRoyal might be written on this subject1 – but merely to indicate his most important differences from Donne. Donne was born in 1573; Crashaw in 1612.2 The difference of nearly forty years is important. By the time that Crashaw was old enough to pick and choose for himself, the currents which had been gathering head in Italy, Spain and France were strong enough to unite with the already-great prestige of Donne in England in forming his generation. Subtract from Donne the powerful intellect, substitute a feminine for a strongly masculine nature, posit a devotional temperament rather than a theological mind, and add the influence of Italian and Spanish literature, take note of the changes in the political and ecclesiastical situation in England, and you have Crashaw. Crashaw was a man of learning, and a man of some intellect ; but he was primarily a devotional, a fervent, temperament; a Roman Catholic, he would have had more in common with Cardinal Newman 1926 706 ] than with Thomas Aquinas.3 The current of feeling that starts with Newman, and passes through Arnold, Ruskin, and Pater to Francis Thompson, Lionel Johnson, Aubrey Beardsley, and even in a degraded and popularised form to Oscar Wilde, had not quite dwindled away. It would be a matter of too much difficulty, and an enterprise of too great extent for my present purpose, to show how sensibility and intellect have been divided against each other since the seventeenth century; I assume this part of my thesis; I only point out that this, like the problem of soul and body discussed in the third lecture, is another dichotomy not found in the trecento; and that Crashaw is one of those who are on the side of feeling rather than thought. There are a few main points to remember about Crashaw. He was born into an atmosphere of religious devotion. He lost his mother, and even his step-mother, very early;4 it is possible that unsatisfied filial cravings are partly responsible for his adoration of St. Theresa. (Incidentally, it is possible that St. Theresa herself suffered from somewhat the same trouble; we remark that in her vision of paradise, the first persons she identified were her father and mother).5 His father had a library stocked at least with the Latin verse of the epoch, and this Latin verse was largely Jesuit in origin.6 For the Jesuits, as I observed in an early lecture,7 had originated a vast campaign of propaganda among persons of culture. On the one hand they did not fail to encourage among their order those members who showed a talent for philosophical speculation or for controversy, but on the other, they realised that an appeal to the sensibility is, for making converts, worth all your philosophy,8 and many of the order were actually engaged in composing verses which are by no means without literary merit. I suppose that, takingitinbulk ,itwouldcomparemorethanfavourablywiththesamenumber of tons of printed verse of today in the vernacular. Jesuitism came...


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