Page images

was mayor, and his uncle dean, of Norwich. His father sat in Parliament for Reigate, was knighted at Theobalds in 1616, and held a lucrative post in the royal household at the same time as Carew. After a promenade in polite learning at Cambridge (Trinity) he passed to Gray's Inn, and so to Paris and Italy. In 1632 he returned to London, after a term of service under the great captain of that age, Gustavus Adolphus, and plunged into all the prodigalities of the court. In feather-headedness, and also, it must be added, in licence, he seems to have been a true prototype of Rochester and Buckingham. At one time he was all for gaming, and won or lost thousands at cribbage—a game he is said to have invented-or ninepins; at another time the black eyes of the ladies attracted him, and he made a magnificent entertainment in London, at which he presented all the young beauties with silk stockings and garters. Cudgelled into a handful by an irate rival, he turned philosopher, travelled about with a cartload of books, discussed learned themes with Falkland and Boyle, and championed Shakespeare against the classics. In January, 1639, he raised a troop of horse, magnificently accoutred, for the Scots campaign. But his scarlet and gold contingent fled, like the rest of the army, without striking a blow; and Suckling's own coach was captured by Leslie full of magnificent clothes.

Suckling remained a staunch royalist to the end, and Charles placed much reliance upon him, though he was scarcely a man of the type that one would repose great trust in at an extremity. He rallied to the Queen in the same spirit as the French officers rallied round Marie Antoinette in July, 1789. But the "army plot" failed ignominiously, and Suckling fled in May, 1641, to Paris. The deplorable end of the rich, gay, and witty, but spendthrift, knight is thus related by Aubrey:

"Anno (1641) he went to France, where, after some

time being come to the bottome of his fund that was left, reflecting on the miserable and despicable condition he should be reduced to, having nothing left to maintain him, he (having a convenience for that purpose lyeing at an apothecarie's house in Paris) tooke poyson, which killed him miserably with vomiting. He was buryed in the Protestants' churchyard. This was (to the best of my remembrance) 1646." Aubrey's recollection of the year of his death is unquestionably wrong, since an elegy upon the "incomparable" Suckling appeared in 1642; and it is probable that the poet met his death in the early summer of that year.

In The Session of the Poets Suckling hits off, with an audacity which we could ill spare, the foibles of all the most celebrated wits among his contemporaries, conspicuously Ben Jonson, Tom Carew, Will Davenant, Tobie Matthew, and the author himself. The idea was imitated in the next generation by Rochester (Trial for the Bayes) and Sheffield (Election of a Poet Laureate); subsequently by Byron, Leigh Hunt, and many others. The famous Ballad upon a Wedding, commencing, "I tell thee, Dick, where I have been," addressed, says tradition, to Dick Lovelace, and written upon the marriage of Roger Boyle to Lady Margaret Howard at Northumberland House, Charing Cross, has already seen the light in Wittes Recreations of 1640. Hallam remarks sagely of Suckling that though deficient in imagination, he left former song writers far behind in gaiety and ease. It is not equally clear, he adds, that he has ever been surpassed since. Of wits about town he was at least the facile princeps of his day:

In music made of morning's merriest heart.

If we admit that Suckling did not excel in imagination, it must be conceded that he had the gift of fancy in the most superlative degree. To no feebler endowment can we

attribute the delight which the sportive and frolicsome humour of the "ballad " never fails to produce. The artful simplicity of its stanzas reaches its climax in the figure of the bride dancing, when :



Her feet beneath her petticoat,
Like little mice, stole in and out.

But the distribution of excellence through every part of this remarkable jeu d'esprit is such that we can scarce equal it out of John Gilpin. The wit, insouciance, and airy levity of minor lyrics, such as:


'Tis now, since I sat down before

That foolish fort, a heart

(Time strangely spent!) a year or more;
And still I did my part;

Out upon it, I have loved
Three whole days together;

I prithee, send me back my heart
Since I cannot have thine,

can hardly be approached in occasional poetry until we come on to Prior and Praed. As a playwright “natural easy Suckling," as Millamant called him, was rather dull, and his dramas are precious only inasmuch as they harbour a few poems of price, such as "Why so pale and wan, fond lover?"

What seems to have struck Suckling's contemporaries— and it is really a priceless gift-was the directness and vivacity of his diction and the airy persiflage which he substituted for the distressful yearning of the conventional Elizabethan lover. Wither's best songs are distinguished by a charming simplicity, Lovelace's by a brave and gallant spirit, Suckling's are marked by a gay and sparkling impu

dence. This was to become the Musa Proterva of Sedley and Rochester.1

1 The best edition of Suckling is still Selections, with life and critical remarks by the Rev. Alfred Suckling, 1836. An edition for the Muses' Library is in preparation by Hamilton Thomson. See Dict. Nat. Biog. Suckling is well represented in W. J. Linton's charming anthology, Rare Poems of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 1883,



"Thoughts too deep to be expressed,
ington, Pordage, and Traherne.
-George Wither.

Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan-Wither and Quarles-Habington, Pordage, and Traherne.

THERE is something the least bit unpleasant about the avowed epicureanism of parson Herrick and the outspoken contempt which he expressed for the "salvages" who were his parishioners, whether or no Kingsley's ideal be true, and it be

Better to have the poet's heart than brain,
To feel than write; but better far than both
To be on earth a poem of God's making.

It is with a sense of wholesome contrast that we turn from the celebrator of Anthea's instep to the saintly and singleminded George Herbert. It is like passing from the atmosphere of a revel and the capping of verselets over the wine cups to the serenity of Herbert's own "Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright!"

George Herbert was born at Montgomery Castle on April 3rd, 1593 (the same year as his proud biographer Izaak), being the fourth son of Sir Richard, and younger brother of Edward, famous as Lord Herbert of Cherbury, destined to become a pioneer of English deism. George had only reached his fourth year when his father died; the rest of his childhood passed "in a sweet content" under the care of a mother whose virtues he never tired of expounding; he was taught at Westminster and Trinity College, Cam

« PreviousContinue »