Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Lesser Caroline Poets > Theophila or Love’s Sacrifice
  Edward Benlowes John Cleiveland  


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

IV. Lesser Caroline Poets.

§ 17. Theophila or Love’s Sacrifice.

Some ten or a dozen different publications are attributed to Benlowes—the use of initials instead of the full name causing doubt—but all of them, except one, are short, most are unimportant and several are in Latin. His title to fame—if any—and the head and front of his offending, lie in a long and singular poem entitled Theophila or Love’s Sacrifice, published in 1652 in a folio volume of 268 pages, illustrated rather lavishly, but with such differences in different copies as to make the book something of a bibliographical crux. This, however, matters little to us. The title, to those acquainted with the literature of the time and group, but not with the book itself, might naturally suggest a romance of the kind discussed in the beginning of this chapter. It is, however, nothing of the kind. Theophila is merely a name for the soul: and the titles of the several cantos—“Praelibation,” “Inamoration,” “Disincantation,” and so on—will at once suggest the vein of theological mysticism which is worked here, though there are large digressions of various kinds, especially in satiric denunciation of fleshly vices. Had there not been a bee in Benlowes’s bonnet, the poem might have ranked as a third to those of More and Beaumont—not, perhaps, much more read than it has been, but respected. Unfortunately, that bonnet was a mere hive. In the first place, he selected for his main (not quite his exclusive) medium the exceedingly peculiar stanza of which an example is given below, a triplet of ten, eight and twelve syllables. This combination, which, at the end of others, and so concluding a longer stave, is sometimes successful enough, is, by itself, when constantly repeated, curiously ugly. In the second, the lack of clear arrangement which, as we have seen, is common to almost all the group, becomes more intolerable than ever in a half psychological, half theological disquisition. But his sins become more flagrant still in respect of composition of phrase as distinguished from arrangement of matter; and they rise to their very highest in the selection and construction of phrase itself.   32
  It would sometimes appear as if his sole concern was to be wilfully and preposterously odd. He wishes to denounce drunkenness:
Cheeks dyed in claret seem o’ the quorum
When our nose-carbuncles like link-boys blaze before ’em.
He has a mind to hit at the inconsistency of the extreme reformed sects, so he calls them “Proteustants.” Butler was particularly wroth with the extraordinary coinage hypocondruncieus. In a long description of a bedizened courtezan, there occurs this wonderful stanza:
She ’d coach affection on her cheek: but why?
Would Cupids horses climb so high
Over her alpine nose t’ o’erthrow it in her eye?
In short, there is no extravagance of conceit or word-play at which he blenches.
  And yet, Benlowes is not a mere madman or a mere mountebank. He has occasionally, and not very seldom, beautiful poetic phrase; and he manages to suffuse long passages, if not whole cantos, with a glow of devotional atmosphere and imagery which is not very far inferior to Crashaw’s. He seems, sometimes, to have a dim and confused notion of the mixture and contrast of passion and humour which makes the triumph of Carlyle and Browning; but he never can bring it off, for want, no doubt, of absolutely transcendent genius, but, still more, for want of moderate and moderating self-criticism. He only partially knows what to attempt; and he does not in the least know what not to attempt.   34

  Edward Benlowes John Cleiveland  

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