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LIFE OF THOMAS CAREW,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
THIS elegant poet was the younger brother of sir Matthew Carew, a zealous adherent to the fortunes of Charles I. and of the family of the Carews in Gloucestershire, but descended from the more ancient family of that name in Devonshire. He is supposed to have been born in 1589'. According to Anthony Wood, he received his academical education at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, but was neither matriculated, nor took any degree.
After leaving college, he improved himself by travelling, according to the custom of the age, and associating with men of learning and talents both at home and abroad: and being distinguished for superior elegance of manners and taste, he was received into the court of Charles I. as gentleman of the privy chamber, and sewer in ordinary. His wit had recommended him to his sovereign, who, however, Clarendon informs us, incurred the displeasure of the Scotch nation by bestowing upon him the place of sewer, in preference to a gentleman recommended upon the interest of the courtiers of that nation.
He appears after this appointment to have passed his days in affluence and gaiety. His talents were highly valued by his contemporaries, particularly Ben Jonson and sir William Davenant. Sir John Suckling, only, in his Session of the Poets, insinuates that his poems cost him more labour than is consistent with the fertility of real genius. But of this there are not many marks visible in his works, and what sir John mistakes for the labour of costiveness may have been only the laudable care he employed in bringing his verses to a higher degree of refinement than any of his contemporaries.
His death is said to have taken place in 1639, which agrees with the information we have in Clarendon's life. "He was a person of a pleasant and facetious wit, and made many poems (especially in the amorous way) which for the sharpness of the fancy, and the elegance of the language, in which that fancy was spread, were at least equal, if not superior to any of that time: but his glory was, that after fifty years of his life spent with less severity or exactness than it ought to have been, he died with great remorse for that licence, and with the greatest manifestation of christianity, that his best friends could desire." It is pleasing to record such ample atonement for the licentiousness of some of his poems, which, however, his editors have hitherto persisted in handing down to posterity.
It does not appear that any of his poems were published during his life-time, except such as were set to music. The first collection was printed in 12mo. 1640, the second in 1642, the third (not in 1654 as Cibber asserts, but) in 1651, and a fourth in 1670. In 1772 Mr.. Thomas Davies published an edition, with a few notes, and a short character, in which the
MS. note in my copy of the edition 1651, probably on the authority of Clarendon hereafter given.
writer has taken for granted some particulars for which no authority can be found. This edition, with some necessary omissions and corrections, has been principally used on the present occasion. A dialogue, in irregular measure, is printed in Mr. Ellis's Specimens, from a manuscript in the possession of Mr. Malone.
Carew's Coelum Britannicum, at one time erroneously attributed to Davenant, was printed with the first editions of his poems, and afterwards separately in 1651. Langbaine, and Cibber after him, says that our author placed the Latin notes on the front, when printed, but no edition printed in his life-time, is now known. The distich, however, might have been prefixed to the music of the Masque.
Oldys, in his MSS. notes on Langbaine, informs us, that "Carew's Sonnets were more in request than any poet's of his time, that is between 1630 and 1640. They were many of them set to music by the two famous composers, Henry and William Lawes, and other eminent masters, and sung at court in their masques." It may be added that Carew was one of the old poets whom Pope studied, and from whom he borrowed. Dr. Percy honours him with the compliment of being an "elegant, and almost forgotten writer, whose poems deserve to be revised." But no modern critic appears to have estimated his merit with more liberality than Mr. Headley; his opinion however, is here copied, not without suspicion that his enthusiasm may be thought to have carried him too far.
"The consummate elegance of this gentleman entitles him to very considerable attention. Sprightly, polished, and perspicuous, every part of his works displays the man of sense, gallantry, and breeding; indeed many of his productions have a certain happy finish, and betray a dexterity both of thought and expression much superior to any thing of his contemporaries, and on similar subjects, rarely surpassed by his successors. Carew has the ease without the pedantry of Waller, and perhaps less conceit. He reminds us of the best manner of lord Lyttelton. Waller is too exclusively considered as the first man who brought versification to any thing like its present standard. Carew's pretensions to the same merit are seldom sufficiently either considered, or allowed. Though love had long before softened us into civility, yet it was of a formal, ostentatious, and romantic cast; and, with a very few exceptions, its effects upon composition were similar to those on manners. Something more light, unaffected, and alluring, was still wanting; in every thing but sincerity of intention it was deficient. Panegyric, declamatory and nauseous, was rated by those to whom addressed, on the principle of Ruben's taste for beauty, by its quantity, not its elegance. Satire, dealing in rancour rather than reproof, was more inclined to lash than to laugh us out of our vices; and nearly counteracted her intentions by her want of good manners. Carew and Waller jointly began to remedy those defects. In them, gallantry, for the first time, was accompanied by the Graces, the fulsomuess of panegyric forgot its gentility, and the edge of satire rendered keener in proportion to its smoothness. Suckling says of our author in his Session of the Poets, that
"In Lloyd's Worthies, Carew is likewise called 'elaborate and accurate.' However the fact might be, the internal evidence of his poems says no such thing. Hume has properly remarked, that Waller's pieces, aspire not to the sublime, still less to the pathetic.' Carew, in his beautiful Masque, has given us instances of the former; and, in his Epitaph on lady Mary Villers, eminently of the latter."