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F Richard Crashaw, whose works are comprised in the ensuing pages, little is known; and for that little we are mainly
beholden to the industry of Wood, upon whose curt notice in the Fasti Oxonienses was founded the more elaborate memoir by Hayley in Kippis' edition of the Biographia Britannica, which served as the sole unvaried authority until the subject was treated by the Rev. Robert Aris Willmott in the first series of Lives of the English Sacred Poets. Both in the records of those educational establishments where, in his youth, he was trained, and of that holy retreat in which he closed his maturer years, have searches been fruitlessly made, in the hope that some additional fact, however minute, might be discovered. I am, therefore, obliged to recapitulate in few words what is already familiar to every one; referring the reader to the elegant and more copious sketch by Mr. Willmott.
According to the scanty sources of information, Crashaw was the son of William Crashaw, B.D., a divine of some eminence in his time,* and preacher at the Temple. The date of his birth has not been ascertained, but it may have been about 1616; since, the first steps of his education having been taken at the Charterhouse, on the foundation of which he was placed by Sir Randolph Crew and Sir Henry Yelverton, he was elected a scholar of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, March 26, 1632, and became a Fellow of Peterhouse in the same University, in 1637; having removed to that College on the 20th of March previous. His Bachelor's degree was taken in 1633. In 1641 he is recorded by Wood as one of the persons incorporated that year at Oxford; but to what degree admitted is not stated, as his name does not appear in the public register, and Wood's authority
the private observation of a certain Master of Arts, that was, this year, living in the University." Wood, however, adds :-“ Afterwards, he was Master of Arts, in which degree it is probable he was incorporated.” Beyond these features of his academical career, we are certain of nothing save of its termination ; which happened during the Great Rebellion in 1644, when the Earl of Manchester, under the authority of Parliament, “ reformed” (as they were pleased to style it) the University, by expelling such members as refused to subscribe the Covenant. On this occasion Crashaw was one of the sixty-five Fellows ejected. After the loss of his fellowship, having embraced the
The tone of his religious sentiments, very different from those of his son, may be gathered from the titles of his printed discourses; e. g. “ The Bespotted Jesuite: whose Gospell is full of blasphemy against the Blood of Christ,” &c., 1641, 4to. Catholic religion, he repaired to Paris : and in this city he was found by Cowley in a state of destitution, about 1646. To the friendship of this amiable brother-poet he was indebted for sympathy and relief, and an introduction to the exiled queen, Henrietta Maria, from whom he also received what small aid her own limited finances would allow, with recommendatory letters to persons of influence at Rome. There he is said to have become secretary to Cardinal Palotta, and soon thereafter to have been appointed one of the Canons of the Church of Loretto. This preferment he only held for a very short space; dying and being interred at Loretto about 1650. Such is the faint outline of his life.
Among the patrons of Crashaw, in his altered circumstances, the Countess of Denbigh appears to have been prominent. His gratitude is expressed by his dedication to her of the Carmen Deo Nostro, “ in hearty acknowledgement of his immortal obligation to her goodness and charity,” and by his efforts to bring her within the pale of the Catholic Church. Whether they were successful or not I cannot ascertain. This lady was Elizabeth, daughter and coheir of Edward Bourchier, Earl of Bath, and third of the four wives of Basil, second Earl of Denbigh, whom she predeceased in 1670. I had hoped to have found some traces of Crashaw among the archives at Newnham Paddox; but Viscount Fielding, having kindly directed a search to be made, informs me that no document relating to him exists there.
Our ideas of the personal character of Crashaw must be formed from his writings, the enthusiastic affection of Cowley, and the friendship of Selden. To the former of such sources the editor of the edition of 1649 justly points, while referring to the last line of his verses on Bishop Andrews' portrait :
“ Look on the following leaves, and see him breathe." The qualities which recommended him to the esteem of two such men as those now named, can have been of no common order, and make the absence of materials for his biography the more truly to be deplored.
As a poet, his works have ever been appreciated by those most qualified to decide upon their sterling beauties,* and have suggested to others (too frequently without acknowledgment) some of their finest imageries. In every volume of any pretensions to taste, designed to offer specimens of English poetry, extracts are to be found; yet, with the exception of being partially, and by no means accurately, printed in the bulky and inconvenient collections of Chalmers and Anderson, it is somewhat remarkable that, in an age when familiarity with our Old English Authors is so eagerly sought, a full reprint should have been deferred till now. Of those which have preceded it, the following is a list :
Epigrammata Sacra, published anonymously at Cambridge, 1634, 8vo.
Steps to the Temple, London, 1646, 12mo.
The same, with additions and a frontispiece, London, 1648, 12mo.
Carmen Deo Nostro, Paris, 1652, 8vo. with beautiful plates.
Among such I would particularly name the Rev. Robert Aris Willmott, above mentioned.