Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Lesser Caroline Poets > Summary
  John Cleiveland  


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

IV. Lesser Caroline Poets.

§ 19. Summary.

Sufficient stress has been laid on beauties, throughout this chapter, to make it, though with some general reiteration, fair to draw attention chiefly, in conclusion, to the warning which the whole group more or less, and these last two members of it especially, supply, and which makes the study of it almost indispensable in order to a thorough comprehension of English literature. There are beauties in almost all these writers; charming and poignant beauty in some parts of some of them; and specially characteristic beauty—beauty that you do not find in other periods; nor can it be denied that both their merits and their faults arose from a striving after that daring and headstrong vein which had made the fortune of the great Elizabethans. But there is one power to whom, almost without exception, they neglected to pay attention: and she avenges herself with prompt severity. Now this power was criticism.   41
  In some respects, they were very excusable. They could hardly yet know that prose was a far more suitable medium for novel and romance writing than verse; the discovery was not fully made till nearly a century after their time. But most of them, from Chamberlayne downwards, might surely have known that, whether you tell a story in verse or prose, you should tell it intelligibly and clearly; with, at any rate, distinct sequence, if not with elaborate plot; and in language arranged so as to convey thought, not to conceal it. They were not to blame for adopting the overlapped form of couplet: they were to blame for letting reasonable and musical variety overflow into loquacious disorder. Although there may be more difference of opinion here, they were not to blame for adopting the “metaphysical” style, inasmuch as that style lends itself to the sublimest poetic beauty; but they were to blame for neglecting to observe that, when it is not sublime, it is nearly certain to be ridiculous. So, again, their practice of fantastically cut and broken lyric, and their fingering of the common and long measures, were wholly admirable things in themselves; but, at the same time, they were apt to make their verse “not inevitable enough”—to multiply its examples in a mote-like and unimportant fashion. To take the two capital examples just dwelt upon: in another age, Benlowes would probably either not have written at all or have been a religious and satiric poet of real importance; while it may be taken as certain that Cleiveland’s satiric, if not his lyrical, powers would have been developed far more perfectly if he had been born a generation or two generations later. And those later generations, though they lost something that both Benlowes and Cleiveland had fitfully, and that shows far better in Chamberlayne and Stanley and Hall, benefited, both consciously and unconsciously, by the faults of the school we have been studying.   42

  John Cleiveland  

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