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Lesser Caroline Poets
> Thomas Stanley
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.
Lesser Caroline Poets
§ 10. Thomas Stanley.
Much more various and extensive, and of more diffused excellence, though no one piece of it may be so generally known as Tell me no more, is the work of Thomas Stanley, who, again, is a typical figure of the time. His great-grandfather was a natural son of the third earl of Derby; but his descendants had maintained position and wealth. Stanleys father was a knight, and his mother Mary was one of the Kentish Hammonds whom we shall meet again in this chapter, and who were to be of continued literary distinction. The poet first had, as private tutor, a son of Fairfax, translator of Tasso, and then went to Pembroke college, Cambridge, which he left for the grand tour. Coming home just at the beginning of the civil war, he did not take any active part in politics or fighting, but settled himself in the Temple, married soon, used his not inconsiderable wealth for the benefit of numerous literary friends and died in 1678. He holds no small place in English literary history on more grounds than one, as editor of Aeschylus, as author of the first serious English
History of Philosophy,
which was long a standard, and (our present concern) as a poet both original and in translation as well as a copious translator in prose. His original poetical work is mainly comprised in two volumes, issued, respectively, in 1647 and 1651; but, five years later than the last date, he allowed a musician, John Gamble, to set a large number of his poems and gave him some not yet printed. The two volumes also contain numerous translations from poets ancient and modern, while Stanley also Englished the whole or part of prose and poetical work by Theocritus Ausonius, the pseudo-Anacreon, Bion, Moschus, Johannes Secundus, Preti, Marino, Boscan, Gongora, Montalvan and others.
The mere list of Stanleys works may suggest an industrious pedant, curiously combined with a butterfly poet. But his work actually possesses very considerable charm. It is possible to lay too much stress on his selection of classical poets for translation, as indicating a decadent character; but, undoubtedly, the favour and the prettiness of such things as
Cupida Cruci Affixus,
the rather uncanny grace of
were much akin to the general tendency of Caroline poetry. He has transferred them all well, though not, perhaps, with sufficient discrimination of the original styles; and he has certainly succeeded in maintaining throughout his original verse a very high level of favour and of prettiness themselves. Anthony à Wood called him smooth and genteel; but, if one compares his work with that of smooth and genteel poets in the eighteenth century or with the Jerninghams and Spencers and Haynes Baylys of the early nineteenth, there will be found a notable, though, perhaps, not easily definable, difference. Such lines as these, taken at an absolutely haphazard first opening:
Chide, chide no more away
The fleeting daughters of the day
Nor with impatient thoughts outrun
The lazy sun
of poetry about them which is something more than smooth and genteel; and this will be found pretty evenly suffused. And, when Sir Egerton Brydges, who (among other good deeds to this group) reprinted Stanley nearly a hundred years ago, commended one of his songs as very elegant with all the harmony of modern rhythm, he might have told us where modern rhythm had attained the peculiar harmony of this time, which Stanley attains throughout. Excluding translations and mere commendatory epistles, there are, perhaps, fifty or sixty pieces with the characteristic titles of the time
The Blush, The Kiss, To Clarissa, To Celia
and so on. The subjects or objects matter little; but the poetry deals with them (to exaggerate a little) in the way described by Orsino in the opening lines of
as breath stealing and giving odour. In fact, these Caroline poets are as the bank of violets spoken of by the duke, and Stanley is not the least sweet patch of it.
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