Carew was the son of Sir Matthew Carew, master in chancery, and his wife, Alice (Ingpenny), widow of Sir John Rivers, Lord Mayor of the City of London. The poet was probably the third of the 11 children of his parents, and was born in West Wickham in London, in the early part of 1595.
He was 13 years old in June 1608, when he matriculated at Merton College, Oxford. He earned a B.A. early in 1611, and proceeded to study at the Middle Temple. Two years later his father complained to Sir Dudley Carleton that he was not doing well. He was therefore sent to Italy, as a member of Sir Dudley's household, and when the ambassador returned from Venice, he seems to have kept Thomas Carew with him, for he was working as secretary to Carleton, at the Hague, early in 1616. However, he was dismissed in the autumn of that year for levity and slander; he had great difficulty in finding another job.
In August 1618 his father died, and Carew entered the service of Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, in whose train he travelled to France in March 1619; it is believed that he remained with Herbert until Herbert's return to England, at the close of his diplomatic missions, in April 1624. Carew "followed the court before he was of it," not receiving the definite commitment of the chamber until 1628.
While Carew held this office, he displayed his tact and presence of mind by stumbling and extinguishing the candle he was holding to light Charles I into Queen Henrietta Maria's chamber, because he saw that Lord St. Albans had his arm round her majesty's neck. The king suspected nothing, and the queen heaped favours on the poet. Probably in 1630, Carew was made "server" or taster-in-ordinary to the king. To this period may be attributed his close friendships with Sir John Suckling, Ben Jonson and Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon; the latter described Carew as "a person of pleasant and facetious wit." John Donne, whose celebrity as a court-preacher lasted until his death in 1631, exercised a powerful if not entirely healthy influence over the genius of Carew. In February 1633 a masque by the latter, Coelum Britanicum, was acted in the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and was printed in 1634.
The close of Carew's life is absolutely obscure. It was long supposed that he died in 1639, and this has been thought to be confirmed by the fact that the first edition of his Poems, published in 1640, seems to have a posthumous character. But Clarendon tells us that "after fifty years of life spent with less severity and exactness than it ought to have been, he died with the greatest' remorse for that licence." If Carew was more than 50 years of age, he must have died during or after 1645, and in fact there were final additions made to his Poems in the third edition of 1651. Walton tells us that Carew in his last illness, being afflicted with the horrors, sent in great haste to "the ever-memorable" John Hales (1584-1656); Hales "told him he should have his prayers, but would by no means give him then either the sacrament or absolution."
Carew's poems are sensuous lyrics. They open to us, in his own phrase, "a mine of rich and pregnant fancy." His metrical style was influenced by Jonson and his imagery by Donne, for whom he had an almost servile admiration. Carew had a lucidity and directness of lyrical utterance unknown to Donne. It is perhaps his greatest distinction that he is the earliest of the Cavalier song-writers by profession, of whom John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, was a later example, poets who turned the disreputable incidents of an idle court-life into poetry which was often of the rarest delicacy and the purest melody and colour.
The longest of Carew's poems, "A Rapture," would be more widely appreciated if the rich flow of its imagination were restrained by greater reticence of taste. A testimonial to his posterity is that he was analyzed by 19th century critics such as Charles Neaves, who even two centuries later found Carew on the sensuous border of propriety.
Poems By Thomas Carew, Esquire, is a collection of lyrics, songs, pastorals, poetic dialogues, elegies, addresses, and occasional poems. Most of the pieces are fairly short; the longest,"A Rapture," is 166 lines, and well over half are under 50 lines. The subjects are various: a number of poems treat love, lovemaking, and feminine beauty. Several of the poems, including "An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne" are memorial tributes; others, notably "To Saxham," celebrate country-house life; and a few record such events as the successful production of a play ("To my worthy Friend, M. D'Avenant, upon his Excellent Play, The Iust Italian") or the marriage of friends ("On the Marriage of T.K. and C.C. the Morning Stormie").
Many of the songs and love poems are addressed to the still-unidentified 'Celia,' a woman who was evidently Carew's lover for years. The poems to Celia treat the urgency of courtship, making much of the carpe diem theme. Others commend Celia through simile, conceit, and cliche. The physical pleasures of love are likewise celebrated: "A Rapture"graphically documents a sexual encounter through analogy, euphemism, and paradox, while "Loves Courtship" responds to the early passing of virginity.
A number of Carew's poems are concerned with the nature of poetry itself. His elegy on John Donne has been praised as both a masterpiece of criticism and a remarkably perceptive analysis of the metaphysical qualities of Donne's literary work. English poet and playwright Ben Jonson is the subject of another piece of critical verse, "To Ben. Iohnson, Upon Occasion of His Ode of Defiance Annext to His Play of The New Inne." This poem, like the elegy on Donne, is concerned with both the style and substance of the author's literary works as well as with personal qualities of the author himself. Among Carew's occasional, public verse are his addresses to ladies of fashion, commendations of the nobility, and laments for the passing of friends or public figures, such as Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.
by Edmund Gosse
Among the Royalist lyrists of the seventeenth century Carew takes a foremost place. In genius he is surpassed by Herrick only, and in age he is the first of that gallant band of cavalier song-writers of whom Rochester is the last. Born in the flush of the Elizabethan summer, when the whole garden of English poetry was ablaze with blossom, he lived to hand down to his followers a tradition of perfume and dainty form, that vivified the autumn of the century with a little Martin’s summer of his own. The lyrists of the school of Carew preserved something of the brave Shakspearean tradition when the dramatists of the school of Shirley had completely lost it, and the transition from romanticism to classicism was more gently made in this order of writing than in any other.
It is the special glory of Carew that he formularised the practice of writing courtly amorous poetry. Strains very similar to his own had appeared in the works of older poets, as in The Forest of Ben Jonson and in the plays of Fletcher, but always casually; it was Carew who seized this floating improvisation, and made an art of it. As there were Anacreontic poets before Anacreon, so there were octosyllabic addresses to Julia or Celia before Carew; yet we grant to him the praise of the invention, since he gave his best work, and not, as others had done, his lightest to it.
In his elegiac lines on Donne, Carew joins the chorus of eulogy with more than customary earnestness, and claims for that great man the title of king among the English poets. Yet no one of Donne’s contemporaries was less injuriously affected by the presence of that most crabbed and eccentric genius than Carew, whose sweet and mellow Muse neither rises into the dangerous heights nor falls into the terrible pitfalls haunted by her audacious sister. A certain tendency to conceit was the sin not of one school but of the age, and Carew’s trivialities have none of the vehemence or intellectual perversity of Donne’s.
In company with Herrick, this thoroughly sensual poet draws his pet concetti from the art of the kitchen, and offends us most by being reminded of his dinner as he walks abroad;—
- ‘No more the frost
- Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream
- Upon the silver lake or crystal stream,’
are phrases that justly excite our ridicule, but they are far removed from the heavy machinery of symbolism with which Donne, and a whole host of imitators after him, sought to involve their simplest fancies in sublimity. Carew was far too indolent to trouble himself with the rhetoric of the schools or to speculate upon the conduct of the mind. He loved wine, and roses, and fair florid women, to whom he could indite joyous or pensive poems about their beauty, adoring it while it lasted, regretting it when it faded.
He has not the same intimate love of detail as Herrick; we miss in his poems those realistic touches that give such wonderful freshness to the verses of the younger poet; nor does he indulge in the same amiable pedantry. But the habit of the two men’s minds was very similar; both were pagans and given up to an innocent hedonism; neither was concerned with much beyond the eternal commonplaces of bodily existence, the attraction of beauty, the mutability of life, the brevity and sweetness of enjoyment. In the hands of the disciples the strings of the lyre became tenser, the garlands less luxuriant, and when we reach Sedley and Rochester we find little trace left of Herrick and Carew save the brisk, elegant versification, and the courtly turn of compliment.
It is unfortunate that Carew was never persuaded to attempt a long poem. His masque of Coelum Britannicum, which was undertaken in company with Inigo Jones to grace a royal visit, has the customary faults of pieces of this kind. It is abstract in interest, fragmentary in form, and the separate passages of verse have little charm of fancy. The best poem of Carew, "The Rapture", is also the longest, yet does not reach the length of two hundred lines. Unhappily its beauties are presented to us with so much enthusiasm and with so little reticence, that no adequate citation from it can be laid before the general reader. But it gives the student a finer impression of Carew’s powers than he would gain from any other piece, and betrays narrative and descriptive qualities that would have risked nothing in competition with Browne or with Giles Fletcher.
It is, of course, by his lyrics alone that Carew is known to the ordinary reader of poetry. His songs are extremely mellifluous and well-balanced; he has an unusual art of sustaining his flight through an entire lyric, so that his poems are not strings of more or less pretty stanzas, but organic structures. It is in this that he excels Habington, Lovelace, and even Suckling, whose separate stanzas are often as graceful as his, but who rarely succeed in maintaining the same elegance of language throughout.
It would seem that this admirable instinct for form led Carew to compose with great care, and to polish his verses assiduously. Sir John Suckling upbraids him with the "trouble and pain" with which his muse brought forth children, and hazards the criticism that a laureate poet should be easy and free. We can only wish that Suckling himself had been a more conscientious artist, and a less free and easy rhymester; but the remark is interesting as showing us the stumbling-block on which the later Cavalier lyrists fell. They were such fine gentlemen that they disdained to cultivate their art and live laborious days, and we suffer as we search here and there for gems of spontaneous song amid the rubbish-heap that their carelessness has bequeathed us. To Carew, as to Webster before him, the impertinence of his contemporaries can have mattered little in comparison with the satisfaction he must have felt in his work as an artist.
The claim of Carew to a place among the artificers of our language must not be overlooked. In his hands English verse took a smooth and flexible character that had neither the splendours nor the discords of the great Elizabethan school, but formed an admirable medium for gentle thought and florid reverie. The praise that Voltaire gave to Waller might be transferred to Carew if it were not that to give such praise to any one writer is uncritical. But Waller might never have written, and the development of English verse would be still unbroken, whereas Carew is a necessary link between the Elizabethans and Prior. He represents the main stream of one of the great rivers of poetic influence proceeding from Ben Jonson, and he contrived to do so much because he remained so close to that master and yet in his particular vein excelled him. He is sometimes strangely modern. Such verses as those beginning—
- ‘As Celia rested in the shade
- With Cleon by her side,’
have all the character of the eighteenth century. Carew is thus a transitional figure. He holds Shakspeare with one hand and Congreve with the other, and leads us down the hill of the seventeenth century by a path more flowery and of easier incline than any of his compeers. Yet we must never forget, in considering his historical position, that his chief merit lies, after all, in his fresh colouring and sincere and tender passion.
Carew has long been recognized as a notable figure in English literary history. His earliest critics - chiefly other poets - evidently knew his work from the many manuscripts that circulated. Among many others, two of the most celebrated writers of the age, Sir John Suckling and William Davenant, paid tribute to Carew, playfully admiring his poetic craftsmanship.
Carew's reputation, however, experienced a slow but steady decline during the second half of the 17th century. Despite some interest in Carew in subsequent years, not until the 20th century did critics offer a re-examination of Carew's place in English literary history. F.R. Leavis wrote in 1936: "Carew, it seems to me, has claims to more distinction than he is commonly accorded; more than he is accorded by the bracket that, in common acceptance, links him with Lovelace and Suckling."
More recently, Carew's place among the Cavalier Poets has been examined, as have his poetic affinities with Ben Jonson and John Donne; "A Rapture" has been scrutinized as both biography and fantasy; the funerary poetry has been studied as a subgenre; evidence of Carew's views concerning political hierarchy has been found in his occasional verse; and love and courtship have been probed as themes in the 'Celia' poems. By the end of the twentieth century, Carew has been recognized as an important poet representative of his time and a master lyricist. According to Edmund Gosse, "Carew's poems, at their best, are brilliant lyrics of the purely sensuous order."
Seven of his poems ("Song," "Persuasions to Joy: a Song," "To His Inconstant Mistress." "The Unfading Beauty," "Ingrateful Beauty threatened," "Epitaph On the Lady Mary Villiers," and "Another") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.
- Poems, by Thomas Carew, Esquire. London: Iohn Dawson for Thomas Walkley, 1640;
- 2nd edition revised & enlarged, London: Iohn Dawson for Thomas Walkley, 1642;
- 3rd edition, revised & enlarged, London: Humphrey Moseley, 1651.
- A Selection from the Poetical Works. London: John Evans for Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, 1810.
- The Poems of Thomas Carew (edited by William Carew Hazlitt). London: Whittingham & Wilkins for the Roxburghe Library, 1870.
- The Poems of Thomas Carew (edited by Arthur Vincent). London: Routledge / New York: Dutton, 1898; London: Lawrence & Bullen / New York: Scribner, 1899; Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.
- Cælum Britanicum. A masque at White-Hall in the Banquetting-House, on Shrove-Tuesday-Night, the 18 of February, 1633. London: Thomas Walkley, 1634.
- Poems, Songs, and Sonnets: Together with a masque. London: T. Davies, 1772.
- The Poems and Masque (edited by Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth). London: Reeves & Turner, 1893.
- The Poems of Thomas Carew: With his masque "Coelum Britannicum" (edited by Rhodes Dunlap). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949.
- ↑ from Edmund W. Gosse, "Critical Introduction: Thomas Carew (1595?–1639?)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Apr. 10, 2016.
- ↑ Alphabetical list of authors: Brontë, Emily to Cutts, Lord. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919). Bartleby.com, Web, May 16, 2012.
- ↑ Search results = au:Thomas Carew, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. WEb, Feb. 6, 2016.
- Carew in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900: Song ("Ask me no more, where Jove bestows"), "Persuasions to Joy: A song," "To His Inconstant Mistress" "The Unfading Beauty," "Ingrateful Beauty Threatened," "Epitaph on the Lady Mary Villiers," "Another"
- Selected Poetry of Thomas Carew (1595?-by 1640) at Representative Poetry Online.
- Thomas Carew 1595-1640 at the Poetry Foundation.
- Carew in The English Poets: An anthology: Song: ‘Ask me no more where Jove bestows’, "A Prayer to the Wind," "The Cruel Mistress," "A Deposition from Love," "Disdain Returned," "Celia Singing," "The Lady to Her Inconstant Servant," "A Pastoral Dialogue," Extract from "The Rapture", "Epitaph on the Lady Mary Villiers," Song: ‘Would you know what ’s soft?’,"The Protestation," "In Praise of His Mistress"
- Thomas Carew at Poets' Corner
- Thomas Carew at PoemHunter (35 poems)
- Thomas Carew at Poetry Nook (129 poems)
- Audio / video
- Thomas Carew in the Encyclopædia Britannica
- Thomas Carew at NNDB
- Thomas Carew (1594-1640) at Luminarium.
- Critical Introduction by Edmund Gosse
- Thomas Carew in the Cambridge History of English and American Literature.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Original article is at "Carew, Thomas"
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