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  • "Art Reflexive":The Poetry, Sermons, and Drama of William Strode (1601?-1645)
  • Adam Smyth

William Strode, perhaps more than any other early modern poet, has experienced a remarkable shift in literary prominence. In the early to mid-seventeenth century, particularly in the 1630s, Strode's poetry was the most commonly transcribed material in manuscript commonplace books and miscellanies, and in Oxford, Cambridge, and the Inns of Court his verse was hugely popular. Strode's elegant lyric "On Chloris Walking in the Snow" ("I saw faire Chloris walke alone"), which describes the transformation of a "wanton" snowflake into a tear and then a gem as it touches the breast of a beauty, was perhaps the most popular poem in the seventeenth century behind Herrick's "Gather ye Rose-Buds," in terms of the number of manuscript transcriptions, printed versions, imitations, parodies, translations, and musical settings.1 The astonishing popularity of this single [End Page 436] verse has led one critic to label Strode "virtually a man of one poem,"2 but the prominence of Strode's poetry in the first half of the seventeenth century attests to more numerous contributions. Neither were Strode's verses confined to a narrow university world: in seventeenth-century printed miscellanies—crucial indexes of the popular standing of writers, particularly among readers of cheap(er) London books—Strode's verses appear more frequently than the work of any other poet, including Ben Jonson, John Donne, and Thomas Carew.3

However, after the mid-seventeenth century Strode virtually disappeared from the literary landscape. He is not mentioned in Edward Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum (1675), nor in William Winstanley's Lives of the English Poets (1687). Even the brief note in Gerard Langbaine's An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) presents a partial account which emphasizes only Strode's sermons (those "more Serious Studies") while casting his poetry as the transient product of youth.4 In the twentieth century, Strode received scant critical attention. His poems were edited in 1907, and although his editor Bertram Dobell declared he had "rescue[d] from oblivion another undeservedly forgotten poet," his enthusiastic edition is highly erratic.5 Avery thorough but unfortunately unpublished thesis from 1966 by Margaret Forey constitutes the only sustained treatment of Strode and the only reliable edition of his poetry.6 The fact that today William Strode the (royalist) poet is often confused with his parliamentarian namesake and cousin stands as an expression of Strode's critical effacement.7 As if to emphasize Strode's [End Page 437] minimal presence, one rare critical consideration of his verse judges that Strode "was responsible for some small contribution to the development of poetic understatement."8 It is harder to imagine slighter praise.

How might we account for this massive shift in prominence? Dobell ascribes Strode's disappearance to "fate or chance,"9 but the more prosaic reason is that Strode's poetry, unlike the work of those poets he most closely resembles—Richard Corbett, Thomas Randolph, and William Cartwright—was never printed in a single edition organized around his name, during or soon after his lifetime. The early modern canon as constructed by current scholarship is still overwhelmingly a canon of writers printed in the period. Some of Strode's poetry did reach the press but only in either university collections or later printed miscellanies, where Strode was just one (often uncited) contributor among many.10 Three of Strode's sermons were printed, along with speeches to King Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria,11 and Strode's dramatic composition, The Floating Island, was printed nineteen years after its single 1636 performance. The printer's preface to this text suggests a published edition of Strode's poetry might soon follow: "If you bid this [printed play]welcome, you'l be gainers by it; for then you'l encourage us to publish other Pieces of this Authors, which (we dare say) will convince you to say (what the best and most knowing of this Nation have confessed) that our Author was one of the most judicious wits of [End Page 438] England."12 Evidently, The Floating Island did not receive sufficient welcome, and this promised edition of Strode's poetry...


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