Monday, 2 April 2012

Loved I Not Honour More

To Lucasta. Going to the Warres:
...I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more...

These words are so familiar and yet can you tell me who wrote them? 
The author belongs to a movement collectively known as the Cavalier Poets. Their number included Ben Johnson, Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and the romantically named Richard Lovelace, who penned the above lines.
At a time when poets, such as John Donne, were taking poetry to a metaphysical level, the cavalier poets occupied the other end of the spectrum. Their poetry is characterised " the ideal of a man who is at once lover, soldier, wit, man of affairs, musician and poet..." (ref) but not, as the metaphysical poets would have it, a pattern of Christian chivalry. Their poetry has a certain colloquial earthiness about it and they shared one thing in common:  during the English Civil War, they fought for the King. They truly were “cavalier” poets.
As a teenager I sighed over Richard Lovelace...the name alone was enough to send my romantic, young soul into a tail spin. He epitomised the concept of "cavalier" - young, broodingly handsome, a gallant soldier and a poet and a man of honour who would leave his beloved to go off and fight for his beliefs. Sigh...
Richard as a young man
Richard’s life followed a pattern of an upper class young man of the time. Born in 1618, he was well educated at Charterhouse and at Oxford. By the age of nineteen he was already writing poetry and plays. He was described by a contemporary, Anthony Wood  as “... the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld; a person also of innate modesty, virtue and courtly deportment, which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city, much admired and adored by the female sex..."  
At the age of thirteen Richard went into service at the court of Charles I, becoming a “Gentleman Wayter Extraodinary” and after completing his education at Oxford  returned to court “...After he had left the University, he retired in great splendour to the court, and being taken into the favour of George, Lord Goring, afterwards Earl of Norwich, was by him adopted a soldier, and sent in the quality of an ensign, in the Scotch expedition, an. 1639...”
He served with distinction under George Goring during the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 – 1640 (the conflict between England and Scotland over the adoption of the Episcopal doctrine).  He returned home to Kent in 1640 where he settled down to his life as a respectable gentleman.
The tumultuous politics of the time soon engulfed him and in April 1642 he presented the pro-royalist, anti-parliamentary Petition of Kent to the House of Commons. This resulted in his first term of imprisonment, during which he wrote probably his most famous work To Althea: from Prisonne”: 
...Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such Liberty....

Although released at the start of the war in 1642, the conditions of his parole,  placed on him by his captors, made it impossible for him to actively engage in the first civil war. Instead he committed his wealth and men to the lost cause. Frustrated beyond measure, he went over to the continent and once more served with Lord Goring in Holland and Germany (see my previous blogs on the Thirty Years War). He was wounded at the battle of Dunkirk and returned to England in 1647. It is not clear what part he played in the second civil war (1648), but whatever it was, it was sufficient to warrant a second term of imprisonment.
Richard the romantic soldier
On his release from prison, he published arguably his most famous poem, written in 1640, “To Lucasta: Going to the Warres” (quoted above). 
Financially ruined by his support of the royalist cause, Lovelace lived in poverty for the rest of his life and died in 1658 at the age of 40. 
Anthony Wood writes “...After the murther of king Charles I. Lovelace was set at liberty, and, having by that time consumed all his estate, grew very melancholy (which brought him at length into a consumption), became very poor in body and purse, was the object of charity, went in ragged cloaths (whereas when he was in his glory he wore cloth of gold and silver), and mostly lodged in obscure and dirty places, more befitting the worst of beggars and poorest of servants...
He was buried at St. Bede’s in London, one of the churches lost during the Great Fire of 1666.
During his lifetime, Lovelace wrote over 200 poems and some plays, both comedy and tragedy. He wrote "... to praise a friend or fellow poet, to give advice in grief or love, to define a relationship, to articulate the precise amount of attention a man owes a woman, to celebrate beauty, and to persuade to love..." 
His contemporary, William Winstanley (the Man Who Saved Christmas), thought highly of him and wrote; "...I can compare no Man so like this Colonel Lovelace as Sir Philip Sidney, of which it is in an Epitaph made of him;
Nor is it fit that more I should aquaint
Lest Men adore in one
A Scholar, Souldier, Lover, and a Saint

Post Script:  You may wonder about the beloved Lucasta? She is thought to have been Lucy Sachaverell to whom he was betrothed and who he nicknamed “Lux Casta”. Believing him killed at the Battle of Dunkirk, the faithless Lucy married another.
The group Fairport Convention put the words of To Althea from Prison to music. I am sure Richard would have approved (although I'm not sure about the Canadian geese!).


Suzi said...

Fascinating post,
Makes me wish I wrote in your era too- well, almost!LOL!
Suzi Love

Alison Stuart said...

Thanks, Suzi

It is a fascinating period. Any time you want to dip your toe outside the Regency pool, let me know!


Anita Davison said...

Oh dear, I'm definitely intellectually backward, as the only part of this post I identified with was Fairport Convention - whom I love. Thanks for educating me Alison.

Jenny Haddon said...

I agree with you about Lovelace, a hero who gave everything for the Stuart cause and did not count the cost.

Have to admit that I look at the Stuarts and the men they ruined (Montrose being the one closest to my heart)and think that the latter deserved a better cause.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought "To Althea from Prison" a most beautiful lyric, but when I borrowed Lovelace's collected poems from the library, I was disappointed to find that nothing else he wrote comes near to that and "To Lucasta"

Kate Bunting (Derby, UK)

Alison Stuart said...

Anita...I would never call you "intellectually backward"!!! I obviously spent way too much time as a youngster sighing over poetry books. That...and a very good English Lit teacher.

Alison Stuart said...

Jenny...That is way this period is so fascinating to write about. The poignancy of the lost cause writes itself. I think intellectually I am a parliamentarian but as a writer it is so much more fun to write about the royalists. I am intending to do a blog in the future about one of the most tragic men of Charles' cause. Viscount Falkland (Lucius Cary) who saw the folly of his cause and was powerless to do anything about it - except die.

Alison Stuart said...

Anon...I have to agree with you. I reread some of his poetry in researching the blog and most of it is pretty sickly stuff but the two that survive, still resonate after all these years. He could have just faded into the annals of the forgotten but yet he is still remembered and as a writer, what more could he want?

Deborah Swift said...

What a lovely post. And yes, I'm a bit of a Fairport Convention fan too, it was really nice to revisit that. I've recently been looking at 17th century women poets too, like Mary Wroth and Aemelia Lanyer. Just shows that women could pen their thoughts in verse just as well as the men.