Richard Crashaw

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Richard Crashaw
Born c. 1612–1613
London, England
Died 21 August 1649(1649-08-21) (age 36)
Loreto, March of Ancona, Papal States (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, teacher, and Anglican cleric, who was among the major figures associated with the metaphysical poets in seventeenth-century English literature.

Crashaw was the son of an eminent Puritan clergyman and Anglican divine who earned a reputation as a hard-hitting Protestant pamphleteer and critic of Roman Catholicism. After his father's death, Crashaw was educated at Charterhouse School and Pembroke College, Cambridge. After taking a degree, Crashaw taught as a fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge and began to publish religious poetry that expressed a distinct mystical nature and an ardent Christian faith.

Crashaw was ordained as a clergyman in the Church of England, but his theology and practice embraced the Catholic heritage of Anglicanism and the High Church ritual reforms enacted by Archbishop Laud. During these years, the University of Cambridge was a hotbed for these reforms and Royalist political principles—ideological positions that were violently opposed and suppressed by the Puritan forces during the English Civil War (1642–1651). When Oliver Cromwell took control of the city in 1643, Crashaw was ejected from his teaching post and forced into exile abroad—first finding refuge in France and later Italy where he found employment as an attendant to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Maria Pallotta at Rome. While in exile he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. In April 1649, Cardinal Pallotta appointed Crashaw to a minor benefice as canon of the Shrine of the Holy House at Loreto where he died suddenly four months later.

Crashaw's poetry, although often categorized with those of the contemporary English metaphysical poets, exhibits similarities with the Baroque poets and influenced in part by the works of Italian and Spanish mystics. It draws parallels "between the physical beauties of nature and the spiritual significance of existence".[1] Though his body of work is of uneven quality, 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]


Early life[edit]

Thomas Sutton bequeathed money to maintain a chapel, hospital, and school at the London Charterhouse, a former Carthusian monastery, where Crashaw studied from 1629 to 1631.

Richard Crashaw was born in London, England, circa 1612 or 1613. He is the only son of Anglican divine William Crashaw (1572–1626). The exact date of his birth and the name of his mother are not known, but it is thought that he was born either during Advent Season in 1612 or near the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January) in 1613.[3] It is possible that Richard Crashaw was baptised by James Ussher, later the Archbishop of Armagh.[4] His father—a Cambridge-educated clergyman who was appointed as a preacher at London's Inner Temple—was born in or near Handsworth, a village near Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, and came from a prosperous family.[5][6] It is thought that Crashaw's mother, his father's first wife, died during her son's infancy.[2] William Crashaw's second wife, Elizabeth Skinner, whom he married in 1619, died the following year in childbirth.

William Crashaw wrote and published many pamphlets advocating Puritan theology and sharply critical of Roman Catholicism. He was "a man of unchallenged repute for learning in his day, an argumentative but eloquent preacher, strong in his Protestantism, and fierce in his denunciation of 'Romish falsifications' and 'besotted Jesuitries'".[2] Despite this opposition to Catholic thought, the elder Crashaw was attracted by Catholic devotion as exhibited by his translation of verse by Catholic poets.[7] While there is nothing certain about young Richard's early education, it is thought he benefited from his father's private library, which contained many Roman Catholic works and was described as "one of the finest private theological libraries of the time".[8][9] At an early age, he could have been exposed to works including Bernard of Clairvaux‍ '​s Sermons on the Song of Songs, the life of Catherine of Siena, the Revelations of Saint Bridget, and the writings of Richard Rolle.[10]

William's death in 1626 rendered Richard an orphan when he was 13 or 14 years old. However, England's attorney general, Sir Henry Yelverton and Sir Ranulph Crewe, a prominent judge, friends and colleagues of his late father through the Inner Temple, were appointed as the young orphan's guardians. The two men supported Richard's entry into the Charterhouse School in 1629 and subsequently entry into Pembroke Hall, Cambridge in 1631 where he formally matriculated the following year.


The Old Court at Pembroke College, Cambridge

From 1629 to 1631, Crashaw attended the Charterhouse School in London. The school was established on the grounds of a former Carthusian monastery. At Charterhouse, Crashaw was a pupil of the school's headmaster, Robert Brooke, required students to write epigrams and verse in Greek and Latin based on the Epistle and Gospel readings from the day's chapel services.[11] Crashaw continued this exercise as an undergraduate at Cambridge and a few years later would assemble many these epigrams for his first collection of poems, Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber (trans. "A Book of Sacred Epigrams"), published in 1634.

According to clergyman and editor Alexander Grosart, Crashaw was "as thoroughly Protestant, in all probability, as his father could have desired" before his graduation from Pembroke Hall in 1634.[12] During the course of his education, Crashaw gravitated to the High Church tradition in Anglicanism, particularly towards the ideals and ritual practices that emphasized the church's Catholic heritage and were advocated by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud, with the support of King Charles I, reoriented the practices of the Church of England with a programme of reforms that sought "beauty in holiness", and sought to incorporate "more reverence and decorum in church ceremonial and service, in the decoration of churches, and in the elaboration of the ritual".[13] This movement, called Laudianism, rose out of the influence of the Counter-Reformation. The University of Cambridge was a centre of the Laudian movement at the time of Crashaw's attendance.

Richard formally matriculated as a scholar at Pembroke on Easter, 26 March 1632.[2][6] at a time that the college's master was the Rev'd Benjamin Lany, an Anglican clergyman and friend of William Crashaw. Early in his career, Lany shared many of the elder Crashaw's Puritan beliefs. However, Lany's beliefs evolved toward more High Church practices. It is likely that Richard was under Lany's influence while at Pembroke.[4] It is also thought that at this time, Crashaw became acquainted with Nicholas Ferrar and participated in Ferrar's religious community at Little Gidding, near the city of Cambridge, noted for its adherence to High Church rituals centered around Ferrar's model of a humble spiritual life of devoted to prayer and eschewing material, worldly life. Little Gidding became criticized by its Puritan detractors as a "Protestant Nunnery".

Pembroke Hall (now known as Pembroke College) conferred on Crashaw a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in 1634. This degree was promoted to a Master of Arts in 1638 by Cambridge, and through incorporation ad eundem gradum by the University of Oxford in 1641.[6]

Cambridge Fellow[edit]

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[14] 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.[14] 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 (trans. "A Book of Sacred Epigrams")[15]
  • 1646: Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, With other Delights of the Muses[16]
  • 1648: Steps to the Temple, Sacred Poems. With The Delights of the Muses[17] (an expanded second edition)
  • 1652: Carmen Deo Nostro (trans. "Hymns to Our Lord", published posthumously)[18]
  • 1653: A Letter from Mr. Crashaw to the Countess of Denbigh Against Irresolution and Delay in matters of Religion[19]
  • 1670: Richardi Crashawi Poemata et Epigrammata (trans. "Poems and Epigrams of Richard Crashaw")[20]

Modern editions[edit]

  • The Poems, English, Latin, and Greek, of Richard Crashaw edited by L. C. Martin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927); second edition, revised, 1957).
  • The Complete Poetry of Richard Crashaw edited by George Walton Williams (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970).


  1. ^ Editors, "Richard Crashaw", Encyclopaedia Britannica (online edition, last updated 21 February 2013). Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Cornelius Clifford, "Richard Crashaw", The Catholic Encyclopedia Volume 4. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908). Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  3. ^ Albert J. Gerlitz, "Richard Crashaw, c. 1613-1649", The Age of Milton: An Encyclopedia of Major 17th-century British and American Authors edited by Alan Hagar. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004), 93.
  4. ^ a b Edmund W. Gosse, "Richard Crashaw", in Eliakim Littell and Robert S. Littell (editors), Littell's Living Age, Volume 157, No. 2027 (Boston: Littell & Co., 28 April 1883), 195–204.
  5. ^  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1888). "Crashaw, William". Dictionary of National Biography 13. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  6. ^ a b c "Crashaw, William (CRSW588W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  7. ^ Itrat Husain, The Mystical Element in the Metaphysical Poets of the Seventeenth Century (New York: Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1948), 159–192, at 160.
  8. ^ LC Martin, 1957, xvi
  9. ^ Jack Dalglish, Eight Metaphysical Poets (Oxford: Harcourt/Heinemann Education Publishers, 1961), 155.
  10. ^ Austin Warren, Richard Crashaw: A Study in Baroque Sensibility (London: Faber and Faber, 1939), 210–11. fn. 2
  11. ^ (Martin, 1957, xx, 415)
  12. ^ Grosart, vol ii, introduction to the works of crashaw, p. xlii.
  13. ^ Husain, at 159
  14. ^ a b Pope Alexander the Seventh and the College of Cardinals by John Bargrave, edited by James Craigie Robertson (reprint; 2009)
  15. ^ Richard Crashaw, Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber (Cambridge: Printed by T. Buck & R. Daniel, 1634).
  16. ^ Richard Crashaw, Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, With other Delights of the Muses (London: Printed by T. W. for Humphrey Moseley, 1646).
  17. ^ Richard Crashaw, Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, With other Delights of the Muses (London: Printed for Humphrey Moseley, 1648). (second edition, expanded)
  18. ^ Richard Crashaw, 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)
  19. ^ Richard Crashaw, A Letter from Mr. Crashaw to the Countess of Denbigh Against Irresolution and Delay in matters of Religion (London: s.n., 1653). (published posthumously)
  20. ^ Richard Crashaw, Richardi Crashawi Poemata et Epigrammata (Cambridge: Ex Officina Joan. Hayes, 1670). (published posthumously)

External links[edit]