Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Lesser Caroline Poets > Henry King
  Leonard Lawrence; Arnalte and Lucenda Thomas Stanley  


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

IV. Lesser Caroline Poets.

§ 9. Henry King.

Of lyrists proper, the one writer of whose work at least one piece is almost universally known, is Henry King, bishop of Chichester. King—who was a Westminster boy and Christ Church man, and who successively held all the lesser dignities of the Anglican church as prebendary of St. Paul’s, archdeacon of Colchester, canon of Christ Church and dean of Rochester, before his elevation to the bench—was a friend of Donne, Jonson and Walton, and was acquainted with many other men of letters. But his own literary fortunes have been rather unlucky. For, when, nearly seventy years ago, Hannah undertook the republication of King’s Poems (1657 and later), he at first limited his design to religious pieces, then intended to do the whole, but, finding his biographical and bibliographical material too great for that whole in one volume, promised a second, which he never found time to publish. It therefore happens, by a most singular chance, that the only poem by King which everyone knows will be looked for in vain in the only extant edition, properly so called, of his works. This piece, “Tell me no more how fair she is,” cannot, indeed, claim to be of the most absolutely exquisite among the many exquisite lyrics of this period. But there are few piecee which unite a sufficient dose of this peculiar exquisiteness with so complete an absence of all the faultier characteristics—obscurity, preciousness, conceit, excessive sensuousness, “metaphysical” diction, metrical inequality; and, consequently, there is hardly one which can be more fitly put before the average reader as a sample of the style. His other pieces are inferior relatively, but do not deserve the positive sense which is sometimes given to the word. His elegies are sometimes fine; and The Legacy, The Exequy, Silence, The Dirge, have caught almost more of the quieter spirit and manner of Donne than has the work of any other poet, though they have not Donne’s intensity, or his magic.   19
  There is, however, yet another piece attributed to King which has considerable interest both in itself and as illustrating a peculiarity of the time. There was still, on the one hand, a certain shyness in regard to the formal publication of poetry, and, on the other, the inveterate habit of handing about MS. copies of verses, with the result that ill-informed persons entered them in their albums, and piratical, or, at least, enterprising, publishers issued them in collections, under different names. The instance at present referred to is the curious batch of similes for the shortness and instability of life sometimes entitled Sic Vita and, in its best form, beginning
Like to the falling of a star.
They are, in the same form, attributed, also, to Francis Beaumont; and they either served as models to, or were continued by, some half-score similar pieces—some of them attributed to well-known persons like Browne and Quarles, some anonymous or belonging to a schoolmaster named Simon Wastell. There can be no doubt that King was quite equal to composing the best of them; but his authorship is a question of less interest than the way in which the circumstances illustrate the manners and tastes of the time.

  Leonard Lawrence; Arnalte and Lucenda Thomas Stanley  

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