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LIFE OF RICHARD CORBET, D. D.
BISHOP OF OXFORD AND NORWICH.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
RICHARD, the son of Vincent Corbet, was born at Ewell in Surrey, in the year 1582. His father, who attained the age of eighty, appears to have been a man of excellent character, and is celebrated in one of his son's poems with filial ardour. For some reason, his biographers inform us, he assumed the name of Pointer, or perhaps relinquished that for Corbet, which seems more probable. His usual residence was at Whitton in the county of Middlesex, where he was noted for his skill in horticulture, and amassed considerable property in houses and land, which he bequeathed to his son at his death in 1619.
Our poet was educated at Westminster-school, and in lent-term 1597-8 entered in Broadgate-Hall, (afterwards Pembroke College) and the year following was admitted a student of Christ-Church, Oxford, where he soon became noted among men of wit and vivacity. In 1605, he took his master's degree, and entered into holy orders. In 1612, he pronounced a funeral oration, in Saint Mary's church Oxford, on the death of Henry, prince of Wales, and the following year, another on the interment of that eminent benefactor to learning, sir Thomas Bodley. In 1618 he took a journey to France, from which he wrote the epistle to sir Thomas Aylesbury. His Journey to France, one of his most humorous poems, remarkable for giving some traits of the French character that are visible in the present day.
King James, who showed no weakness in the choice of his literary favourites, made him one of his chaplains in ordinary, and in 1627 advanced him to the dignity of dean of Christ Church. At this time he was doctor of divinity, vicar of Cassington near Woodstock in Oxfordshire, and prebendary of Bedminster Secunda in the church of Sarum.
In 1617, Barton Holliday's play of Technogamia was performed before the king at Woodstock, and being received with indifferent success, various verses were written in excuse of his majesty's entertainment. Among others were some from Corbet who, as Anthony Wood informs us, "had that day preached before the king, with his band starched clean, for which he was reproved by the graver sort, but those who knew him well took no notice of it, for they have several times said, that he loved to the last boys
play very well." This is not the only occasion which the Oxford biographer takes to advert to a levity in Corbet's character which was thought unbecoming his profession.
On the 30th of July 1629, he was promoted to the see of Oxford, and on the 7th of April 1632 was translated to that of Norwich. He married, probably before this time, Alice the daughter of Dr. Leonard Hutton, vicar of Flower, or Flore in Northamptonshire, who had been his contemporary at the university, and with whom he appears to have renewed his acquaintance during his Iter Boreale. By this wife he had a son, named after his grandfather Vincent, to whom he addresses some lines of parental advice and good wishes. Of the rest of his life, little can be now recovered. We have already seen that he invited Ben Jonson to Oxford and procured him a master's degree. He died July 28, 1635, and was buried at the upper end of the choir of the cathedral church of Norwich, with the following inscription on a brass-plate.
Ricardus Corbet, Theologiæ Doctor,
Ecclesia Cathedralis Christi Oxoniensis
Besides his son Vincent, he had a daughter, named Alice. They were both living in 1642, when their grandmother Anne Hutton made her will, and the son administered to it in 1648, but no memorial can be found of their future history. It would appear that his wife died before him, as in his will he committed his children to the care of their grandmother.
His most accurate biographer, Mr. Gilchrist, to whom this sketch is greatly indebted, has collected many particulars illustrative of his character, which are, upon the whole, favourable. Living in turbulent times, when the church was assailed from every quarter, he conducted himself with great moderation towards the recusants, or puritans; and although he could not disobey, yet contrived to soften by a gracious pleasantry of manner, the harsher orders received from the metropolitan Laud. In his principles he inclined to the Arminianism of Laud, in opposition to the Calvinism of Laud's predecessor archbishop Abbot, and it is evident from his poems, entertained a hearty contempt for the puritans, who, however, could not reproach him for persecution. As he published no theological works we are unable to judge of his talents in his proper profession, but his munificence in matters which regarded the church has been justly extolled. When St. Paul's cathedral stood in need of repairs, he not only contributed four hundred pounds from his own purse, but dispersed an epistle to the clergy of his diocese soliciting their assistance. This epistle, which Mr. Gilchrist has published, is highly characteristic of his propensity to humour, as well as of the quaint and quibbling style of his age. The following short specimen comes nearer to our own times, and will be easily understood by the dealers in fashionable chapels.
"I am verily persuaded, were it not for the pulpit and the pews (I do not now mean the altar and the font for the two sacraments, but for the pulpit and the stools as you call them) many churches had been down that stand. Stately pews are now become tabernacles, with rings and curtains to them. There wants nothing but beds to hear the word of God on; we have casements, locks and keys, and cushions: I had almost said, bolsters and pillows: and for those we love the church, I will not guess what is done within them, who sits, stands, or lies asleep, at prayers, communion, &c. but this I dare
say, they are either to hide some vice, or to proclaim one: to hide disorder, or proclaim pride."
Wood has insinuated that he was unworthy to be made a bishop, and it must be owned he often betrayed a carelessness and indifference to the dignity of his public character. Of this we have abundant proof, if credit be due to Aubrey's MSS. in the Ashmolean Museum, from which Mr. Headley made the following extract.
"After he was doctor of divinity, he sang ballads at the Crosse at Abingdon; on a market-day he and some of his comrades were at the taverne by the Crosse, (which, by the way, was then the finest of England: I remember it when I was a freshman: it was admirable curious Gothicque architecture, and fine figures in the nitches; 'twas one of those built by king ......... for his queen.) The ballad-singer complayned he had no custome―he could not put off his ballads. The jolly doctor puts off his gowne, and puts on the ballad-singer's leathern jacket, and being a handsome man, and a rare full voice, he presently vended a great many, and had a great audience.
"After the death of Dr. Goodwin, he was made deane of Christ-Church. He had a good interest with great men, as you may finde in his poems; and that with the then great favourite the duke of Bucks, his excellent wit ever 't was of recommendation to him. I have forgot the story; but at the same time Dr. Fell thought to have carried it, Dr. Corbet put a pretty trick on him to let him take a journey to London for it, when he had alreadie the graunt of it.
"His conversation was extreme pleasant. Dr. Stubbins was one of his cronies; he was a jolly fat doctor, and a very good house-keeper. As Dr. Corbet and he were riding in Lob Lane in wet weather, ('t is an extraordinary deepe dirty lane,) the coach fell, and Corbet said, that Dr. S. was up to the elbows in mud, and he was up to the elbows in Stubbins.
"A. D. 1628, he was made bishop of Oxford; and I have heard that he had an admirable grave and venerable aspect.
"One time as he was confirming, the country people pressing in to see the ceremonie, said he, Beare off there! or I'll confirm ye with my staffe.'-Another time, being to lay his hand on the head of a man very bald, he turns to his chaplaine, and said, 'Some dust, Lushington,' to keepe his hand from slipping. There was a man with a venerable beard: said the bishop, 'You, behind the beard!'
"His chaplaine, Dr. Lushington, was a very learned and ingenious man, and they loved one another. The bishop would sometimes take the key of the wine-cellar, and he and his chaplaine would go and lock themselves in and be merry: then first he layes down his episcopal hood, There layes the doctor;' then he putts off his gowne, There layes the bishop;" then t' was, Here's to thee, Corbet ;'-' Here's to thee, Lushington.""
The following early specimen of his humour was copied by Mr. Gilchrist from a collection of " Mery Passages and Jeastes," Harl. MS. No. 6395: "Ben Jonson was at a tavern, and in comes bishop Corbet (but not so then) into the next room. Ben Jonson calls for a quart of raw wine, and gives it to the tapster. Sirrah!' says he,
carry this to the gentleman in the next chamber, and tell him I sacrifice my service to him.' The fellow did, and in those terms. Friend!' says bishop Corbet, 'I thank him for his love; but pr'ythee tell him from me that he is mistaken, for sacrifices are always burnt.'"
Fuller says of him that he was "of a courteous courage, and no destructive na
Blind Cupid shot not this love-dart; Your reason chose, and not your heart; You knew her little, and when her Apron was but a muckender,
When that same coral which doth deck
Before she was akin to me
Only in soul and amity;
But now we are, since she's your bride,
In soul and body both allyde:
'T is this has made me less to do,
And I in one can honour two.
This match a riddle may be styled,
Many there are I know have tried To make her their own lovely bride; But it is Alexander's lot
To cut in twaine the Gordian knot:
Come, all ye Muses, and rejoice At this your nursling's happy choice: Come, Flora, strew the bridemaid's bed, And with a garland crowne her head; Or if thy flowers be to seek, Come gather roses at her cheek.
Come, Hymen, light thy torches, let, Thy bed with tapers be beset, And if there be no fire by, Come light thy taper at her eye; In that bright eye there dwells a starre, And wise men by it guided are.
In those delicious eyes there be Two little balls of ivory: How happy is he then that may With these two dainty balls goe play. Let not a teare drop from that eye, Unlesse for very joy to cry. O let your joy continue! may A whole age be your wedding-day! O happy virgin! is it true That your deare spouse embraceth you? Then you from Heaven are not farre, But sure in Abraham's bosom are.
Come, all ye Muses, and rejoyce At your Apollo's happy choice.
Raven he was, yet was no gloomie fowle,
Oxforde, thou couldst not binde his outspred wing, My raven flew where bade his princelye kinge; Norwiche must honours give he did not crave, Norwiche must lend his palace and his grave: And that kinde hearte which gave such vertue birth Must here be shrouded in the greedie earth.
Ofte hath thy humble lay-clerke led along,