“...wassail bowls to drink,
Spiced to the brink.”
but sometimes weightier subjects were chosen, when these lighter things failed to satisfy.
Religious Verse.—Three lyrical poets, George Herbert (1593-1633), Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), and Richard Crashaw (1612?-1650?), usually chose religious subjects. George Herbert, a Cambridge graduate and rector of Bemerton, near Salisbury, wrote The Temple, a book of religious verse. His best known poem is Virtue:—
“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so
The bridal of the earth and sky:
The dew shall weep the fall to night;
For thou must die.”
The sentiment in these lines from his lyric Providence has the genuine Anglo-Saxon ring:—
“Hard things are glorious; easy
things good cheap.
The common all men have; that which is rare,
Men therefore seek to have, and care to keep.”
Henry Vaughan, an Oxford graduate and Welsh physician, shows the influence of George Herbert. Vaughan would have been a great poet if he could have maintained the elevation of these opening lines from The World:—
“I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright.”
Richard Crashaw, a Cambridge graduate and Catholic mystic, concludes his poem, The Flaming Heart, with this touching prayer to Saint Teresa:—
“By all of Him we have in thee
Leave nothing of myself in me.
Let me so read my life that I
Unto all life of mine may die.”
His verse, like that of his contemporaries, is often marred by fantastic conceits which show the influence of Donne. Although much of Crashaw’s poem, The Weeper, is beautiful, he calls the eyes of Mary Magdalene:—
“Two walking baths, two weeping
Portable and compendious oceans.”
[Illustration: JOHN MILTON. After a drawing by W. Faithorne, at Bayfordbury.]
His Youth.—The second greatest English poet was born in London, eight years before the death of Shakespeare. John Milton’s father followed the business of a scrivener and drew wills and deeds and invested money for clients. As he prospered at this calling, his family did not suffer for want of money. He was a man of much culture and a musical composer of considerable note.
A portrait of the child at the age of ten, the work of the painter to the court, still exists and shows him to have been “a sweet, serious, round-headed boy,” who gave early promise of future greatness. His parents, seeing that he acted as if he was guided by high ideals, had the rare judgment to allow him to follow his own bent. They employed the best teachers to instruct him at home. At the age of sixteen he was fully prepared to enter Christ’s College. Cambridge, where he took both the B.A. and M.A. degrees.