Richard Crashaw

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Richard Crashaw
Born 1612 or 1613
London, England
Died 21 August 1649 (age 36)
Loreto, March of Ancona (now Italy)
Occupation poet, teacher
Nationality English
Alma mater

Charterhouse School,

Pembroke College, Cambridge
Literary movement Metaphysical poets
Notable works

Epigrammaticum Sacrorum Liber (1634)
Steps to the Temple (1646)
Delights of the Muses (1648)

Carmen Deo Nostro (1652)

Richard Crashaw (c. 1613 – 21 August 1649), was an English poet, styled "the divine," and known as one of the central figures associated with the Metaphysical poets in 17th Century English literature.[1] The son of a prominent Puritan minister, Crashaw was educated at Charterhouse School and Pembroke College, Cambridge. After taking a degree, Crashaw began to publish religious poetry and to teach at Cambridge.

During the English Civil War he was ejected from his college position and went into exile in Italy. While in exile he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

Crashaw's poetry is firmly within the Metaphysical tradition. Though his oeuvre is considered of uneven quality and among the weakest examples of the genre, his work is said to be marked by a focus toward "love with the smaller graces of life and the profounder truths of religion, while he seems forever preoccupied with the secret architecture of things."[2]


Born in London, Richard Crashaw was the son of a strongly anti-Catholic divine, Dr William Crashaw. (1572–1626); his father was, however, attracted by Catholic devotion, for he translated several Latin hymns of the Jesuits. Richard Crashaw went to school at Charterhouse and in July 1631 he was admitted to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he took the degree of B.A. in 1634.[3] The publication of George Herbert's Temple in 1633 seems to have finally determined the bias of his genius in favour of religious poetry, and next year he published his first book, Epigrammatum sacrorum liber, a volume of Latin verses.

In March 1636 he removed to Peterhouse, was made a fellow of that college in 1637, and proceeded to take his M.A. in 1638. Ordained in the Church of England he served as the minister for the Church of St Mary the Less, Cambridge from 1638 to 1643. It was about this time that he made the acquaintance and secured the lasting friendship of Abraham Cowley. He was also on terms of intimacy with Nicholas Ferrar and frequently visited him at his house at Little Gidding. In 1641 he is said to have gone to Oxford, but only for a short time; for when in 1643 Cowley left Cambridge to seek a refuge at Oxford, Crashaw remained behind, and was forcibly ejected from his fellowship in 1644. In the confusion of the English Civil War he escaped to France, where he finally embraced the Catholic faith, towards which he had long been tending and was never ordained a priest in the Catholic Church.

During his exile his religious and secular poems were collected by an anonymous friend, and published under the title of Steps to the Temple and The Delights of the Muses, in one volume, in 1646. The first part includes the hymn to St Teresa and the version of Marini's Sospetto d'Herode. This same year Cowley found him in great destitution at Paris, and induced Queen Henrietta Maria to extend towards him what influence she still possessed. At her introduction he proceeded to Italy, where he became attendant to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Maria Pallotta at Rome[4] and stayed at the Venerable English College. In 1648 he published two Latin hymns at Paris.

He remained until 1649 in the service of the cardinal, to whom he had a great personal attachment; but his retinue contained persons whose violent and licentious behaviour was a source of ceaseless vexation to the sensitive English mystic. At last his denunciation of their excesses became so public that the animosity of those persons was excited against him, and in order to shield him from their revenge he was sent by the cardinal in 1649 to Loreto, where he was made a canon of the Holy House. In less than three weeks, however, he sickened of fever and died, not without grave suspicion of having been poisoned.[4] He was buried in the Lady chapel at Loreto. A collection of his religious poems, entitled Carmen Deo nostro, was brought out in Paris in 1652, dedicated at the dead poet's desire to the faithful friend of his sufferings, the countess of Denbigh. The book is illustrated by thirteen engravings after Crashaw's own designs.

Importance and interpretation[edit]

Crashaw excelled in all manner of graceful accomplishments; besides being an excellent Latinist and Hellenist, he had an intimate knowledge of Italian and Spanish; and his skill in music, painting and engraving was no less admired in his lifetime than his skill in poetry. Cowley memorialized him in an elegy that ranks among the very finest in our language, in which he, a Protestant, well expressed the feeling left on the minds of contemporaries by the character of the young Catholic poet:

"His faith, perhaps, in some nice tenets might
Be wrong; his life, I'm sure, was in the right:
And I, myself, a Catholic will be,
So far at least, dear saint, to pray to thee"

The poetry of Crashaw will be best appreciated by those who can with most success free themselves from the bondage of a traditional sense of the dignity of language. The custom of his age permitted the use of images and phrases which we now condemn as incongruous and unseemly, and the fervent fancy of Crashaw carried this licence to excess. At the same time his verse is studded with fiery beauties and sudden felicities of language, unsurpassed by any lyricist between his own time and Shelley's.[citation needed]

There is no religious poetry in English so full at once of gross and awkward images and imaginative touches of the most ethereal beauty. The temper of his intellect seems to have been delicate and weak, fiery and uncertain; he has a morbid, almost hysterical, passion about him, even when his ardour is most exquisitely expressed, and his adoring addresses to the saints have an effeminate falsetto that makes their ecstasy almost repulsive. The faults and beauties of his very peculiar style can be studied nowhere to more advantage than in the Hymn to Saint Teresa.

Among the secular poems of Crashaw the best are Music's Duel, which deals with that strife between the musician and the nightingale which has inspired so many poets, and Wishes to his supposed Mistress. In his latest sacred poems, included in the Carmen Deo nostro, sudden and eminent beauties are not wanting, but the mysticism has become more pronounced, and the ecclesiastical mannerism more harsh and repellent. The themes of Crashaw's verses are as distinct as possible from those of Shelley's, but it may, on the whole, be said that at his best moments he reminds the reader more closely of the author of Epipsychidion than of any earlier or later poet.

Crashaw's works were first collected, in one volume, in 1858 by William Barclay Turnbull. In 1872 an edition, in 2 volumes, was printed for private subscription by the Rev. AB Grosart. A complete edition was edited (1904) for the Cambridge University Press as Richard Crashaw: Steps To The Temple Delights of The Muses And Other Poems by A. R. Waller. Crashaw's works are now available online.

Crashaw's Latin poem Bulla ("Bubble") served as the inspiration for Elliott Carter's large orchestral work Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei. His poem "Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice" was set to music by the English composer Gerald Finzi. His poem "Come and let us live" translated from the Latin poet Catullus, was set to music by the English composer Samuel Webbe Jr.


  • 1634: Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber (Cambridge: Printed by T. Buck & R. Daniel, 1634).
  • 1646: Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, With other Delights of the Muses (London: Printed by T. W. for Humphrey Moseley, 1646);
  • 1648: Steps to the Temple, Sacred Poems. With The Delights of the Muses (London: Printed for Humphrey Moseley, 1648). (second edition, enlarged)
  • 1652: Carmen Deo Nostro, Te Decet Hymnvs Sacred Poems, Collected, Corrected, Avgmented, Most humbly Presented. To My Lady The Countesse of Denbigh By Her most deuoted Seruant. R.C. In hearty acknowledgment of his immortall obligation to her Goodnes & Charity (Paris: Printed by Peter Targa, Printer to the Archbishope of Paris, 1652). (published posthumously)
  • 1653: A Letter from Mr. Crashaw to the Countess of Denbigh Against Irresolution and Delay in matters of Religion (London, 1653). (published posthumously)
  • 1670: Richardi Crashawi Poemata et Epigrammata (Cambridge: Ex Officina Joan. Hayes, 1670). (published posthumously)


  1. ^ Colin Burrow. "Metaphysical poets (act. c.1600–c.1690)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (Oxford: Oxford University Press) located online here (accessed 8 August 2012).
  2. ^ Clifford, Cornelius. "Richard Crashaw." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 4. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908). located online here (accessed 8 August 2012).
  3. ^ "Crashaw, Richard (CRSW632R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ a b Pope Alexander the Seventh and the College of Cardinals by John Bargrave, edited by James Craigie Robertson (reprint; 2009)

External links[edit]