Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > The Sacred Poets > His defective powers of self-criticism
  The secular and the sacred poems compared Henry Vaughan’s secular poetry  


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

II. The Sacred Poets.

§ 9. His defective powers of self-criticism.

His defective powers of self-criticism make Crashaw the most unequal of our poets. The Weeper contains some of his best and some of his worst lines. That he had no sureness of touch in reviewing his own work, becomes clear when it is noticed that many of the verses in The Weeper which have alienated his readers were either additions to the original version, or disastrously misplaced. In the revised form, a verse which few can read without distaste is followed by these perfect lines:
Not in the evening’s eyes
When they red with weeping are
For the Sun that dyes,
Sitts sorrow with a face so fair;
No where but here did ever meet
Sweetnesse so sad, sadnesse so sweet.
  Within a few months of Crashaw’s death, the first part of Silex Scintillans had appeared (1650). Henry Vaughan, the elder of twins, was born on 17 April, 1622, at Newton St. Bridget on the Usk, in the parish of Llansantffread near Brecon. His chosen name, Silurist, expresses his intimate love of the Welsh mountains and valleys, with their rocks and streams, woodlands and solitary places, among which he spent his childhood and all the years of his professional life. Both he and his twin-brother Thomas express their debt to Matthew Herbert, rector of Llangattock, who schooled them for six years, before they went up to Jesus college, Oxford, in 1638. 8  He acquired sufficient Latinity to find his chief reading, outside his professional studies and contemporary poetry, in the fathers of the church. He left Oxford for London, with the idea of studying for the law, but, at some date unknown, abandoned it for medicine. The only record of these London days is in the slight little volume of Poems, with the tenth Satyre of Juvenal Englished, which he printed in 1646. Except for some feeling for nature, there is nothing that anticipates the distinctive quality of Silex Scintillans. The love-songs to Amoret, in which he reveals his kinship with Jonson, Donne and Habington, are not original enough to suggest that he would ever have risen above what half a dozen of the court poets were doing at least as well. More interesting is the literary flavour which he tries to give to the book, in the opening poem, with its homage to “Great Ben” and Randolph, and in the Rhapsodis on the Globe tavern. He would have his readers believe that he is of the school of Ben, and seeks inspiration in churchwarden pipes and “royal witty sack, the poet’s soul.” It may be nothing more than a youthful pose, with its suggestion of duns and debts, full cups and the disorderly Strand, but their author took it seriously when, in his preface of 1654, he “most humbly and earnestly” begged that none would read his early poems.   21

Note 8. Doubt has sometimes been thrown on Anthony á Wood’s statement that Henry spent “two years or more in logicals under a noted tutor” at Oxford; but it is confirmed by Vaughan’s letter to Aubrey (Wood’s constant source of information), in which he says that he “stayed not at Oxford to take any degree.” Aubrey’s Brief Lives, vol. II, p. 269. [ back ]

  The secular and the sacred poems compared Henry Vaughan’s secular poetry  

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