Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Cavalier Lyrists > Influence of Jonson
  The classical lyric Robert Herrick  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

I. Cavalier Lyrists.

§ 4. Influence of Jonson.


Jonson’s attitude towards the classical lyric differed widely from that of his predecessors. Caring nothing at all for quantitative measures, he was conscious, in spite of his Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme, of the value of rime in English lyric verse; what he admired most of all in the lyric of Rome or Greece was its sense of proportion and structural beauty, its restraint, lucidity and concision of style and its freedom from extravagance and mannerism. It is well known that several of his most famous songs are faithful transcripts of classical models; elsewhere—as, for instance, in the songs from The Masque of Augures or from Mercury Vindicated—he reproduces much of the atmosphere of the ancient world. And, even where there is neither direct imitation nor the reproduction of a classic atmosphere, his lyrics, in virtue of their style, show a certain classic feeling, which was immediately recognised by his contemporaries and successors, one of whom, contributing his meed of praise to the dead laureate in Jonsonus Virbius, speaks of his lyrics as
       
Tuned to the highest key of ancient Rome,
Returning all her music with his own.
  5
  Jonson was the first, and, in some ways, the greatest of English literary dictators, and his influence, during the declining years of his life, upon the circle of poets, dramatists and others who gathered about him in the Apollo chamber of the Devil tavern, at Temple Bar, was of the strongest. It is apparent in the lyrics of the dramas and masques of the Jacobean age. In Elizabethan days, the dramatic lyric, thanks to the “wood-notes wild” of Shakespearean song, had, in the main, resisted the influence of the Italian art lyric and remained true to the principles of the old folk-song. But, after the withdrawal of Shakespeare from the stage, the classical lyric, as attuned by Ben Jonson, becomes supreme in drama. The later dramatic songs of Heywood and Fletcher, and those of Ford and Shirley, almost without exception, have a classical ring in them, which brings them very near to the manner of Jonson, and removes them far away from the lyrics of Amiens, Feste, or Ariel. And, when we turn from the lyrics in the dramas to those which were sung in the banqueting chamber at Whitehall, the influence of Jonson is again felt. As we shall see presently, it is everywhere apparent in the lyrics of Herrick and Carew, and its presence is likewise felt in those of Cartwright, Randolph and Waller. We recognise it in the orderly structure and finished grace of their lyrics, and in the substitution of the language of courtly gallantry, which Jonson had caught from the masters of Roman lyric, for the language of prostrate adoration, which dominates the Petrarchian school of poetry.   6
  Yet the Petrarchian influence died hard in England. Habington still clung to the old ideals, and, in many of his lyrics to Castara, we hear the accents of the sonneteers. So, too, in the main, did Thomas Stanley, who, in spite of the fact that he was a good classical scholar, and translated some of Anacreon’s odes into English verse, shows, in his best work, more of the spirit of medieval chivalry than of Augustan Rome. And the same may be said, again, of Richard Love-lace: in virtue of his associations, he belongs to the school of cavalier lyrists, whose foremost representatives are Carew and Suckling; but his songs to Lucasta owe little or nothing to Jonson or the lyrists of antiquity. His affected conceits and his sins against what is now held to be good taste are, perhaps, those of his own age; but the chivalrous temper of his songs, and the worship which he pays to her whose beauty enthralls him, are very like what we meet with in Petrarch and in the renascence sonneteers who followed Petrarch’s example.   7

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  The classical lyric Robert Herrick  
 
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