A Note on Richard Crashaw
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[ 379 A Note on Richard Crashaw1 No higher compliment can be paid to this book than to say that in editing and in production it is worthy of the fine series of seventeenth-century poets of which it is a member. Memorable in this series are Saintsbury’s “Caroline Poets” (without which Benlowes, Cleveland, and King would be almost inaccessible), Grierson’s “Donne,” Margoliouth’s “Marvell,” and Professor Martin’s own “Vaughan.”2 This edition of Crashaw was much needed. Heretofore the only scholarly edition was that of Waller, in 1904.3 It was a good edition for its time; but the text was neither well established nor complete ; and for an ordinary reader it had the disadvantage that one sometimes had to hunt to find the poem one wanted. Mr. Martin has collated the texts and gives the variants, without disfiguring the pages of a very handsomeandpracticalbook .Hisnotesdeserveparticularattention,forCrashaw is a poet who needs notes – not for reading for pleasure – but if we wish to study him in relation to his time. Poets of that age made use of each other pretty freely; Crashaw for one was well read (thanks partly to his father’s library) in the Italian and Latin poetry of his time, which was Legion.4 Mr. Martin’s notes give many interesting parallels. If there is anything more to be discovered about Crashaw, it will be in the way of further derivations. Having given due praise to the edition, I must confess to some disappointment with the introduction. It gives a very dense summary of the facts, and includes an extremely interesting letter written by Crashaw.5 But Mr. Martin seems over-anxious not to use too much space: on the other hand the one critical opinion on which he ventures does not seem to me happy. PerhapsIexpected,indefaultofanycriticalbiographyofCrashaw,something that would take its place; something as good as Grierson’s capital study of Donne in his edition of that poet above mentioned. We are still left with no first-rate criticism of Crashaw in English. The best study of Crashaw that I know, and a very fine and suggestive essay, is that by Mario Praz in his Secentismo e Marinismo in Inghilterra.6† “When we survey,” says Professor Martin, “the remarkable development of Crashaw’s genius close up to the end of his life, in circumstances that must often have been trying and distracting in the extreme, his ‘unfulfilled renown’ becomes indeed comparable with that of those other two English 1928 380 ] poets whose work his own in some ways strangely foreshadows, and who, like him, found in Italy a retreat and a final resting place” [xxxvii]. (I wish Mr. Martin had saved a line or two by saying Keats and Shelley straight out, instead of searching for a fine phrase.) Now this remark might lead to several false inferences. Crashaw lived to be about thirty-seven; so he had some good years more than Keats or Shelley in which to develop.7 A man can go far between twenty-seven and thirty-seven. Mr. Martin is therefore unfair to Keats and Shelley. But moreover Crashaw’s verse is, as one would expect, far more mature than that of either of these poets; and I do not find in the poem on which he bases this suggestion, the “Letter to the Countess of Denbigh,” the evidence of promise that Mr. Martin finds in it.8 It is indeed a fine poem, but it is the work of a mature master, and promises nothing but more of the same kind. Crashaw is, I believe, a much greater poet than heisusuallysupposedtobe;KeatsandShelleyare,intheiractualaccomplishment , not nearly such great poets as they are supposed to be. But nothing that Crashaw wrote has the promise that is patent in Hyperion or The Triumph of Life.9 We must try of course always to distinguish promise from performance; both must be taken into account in judging a poet, and they must be kept separate. We can only say that Keats and Shelley would probablyhavebecomegreaterpoets ,poetsonamuchgreaterscale,thanCrashaw; judging them on their accomplishment only, Crashaw was a finished master , and Keats and Shelley were apprentices with immense possibilities before them. So much for one question. Next, in what way can Crashaw be said to “foreshadow” Keats and Shelley? As for Keats, I simply do not know what Mr. Martin means, I see so little resemblance. With Shelley, there are obvious and striking resemblances, though I think very superficial ones. To suggest , as...