Richard Crashaw is traditionally grouped with the “metaphysical poets” of seventeenth century Protestant England because of the “wit,” dramatic immediacy, intellectual energy, meditative concentration, and imaginative daring that he shares with such poets as John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Katherine Philips, and Andrew Marvell. His poetic achievement, however, is in several ways more compatible with the rich and sensuous baroque sensibilities fostered by continental Roman Catholicism than with the rigors of “Protestant poetics” nourished by the cultures of Puritanism and Anglicanism in England.
Crashaw was born in 1612 or 1613, in London, England. London at that time was beginning to seethe with political and religious controversies that would lead to the outbreak of civil war in 1642. Crashaw’s father was a passionately anti-Catholic Puritan minister. By the time Crashaw was fourteen, both his parents had died; he attended the Charterhouse, a fairly new English boarding school, and entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1631. In the growing conflict of the 1620’s and 1630’s between High Church Anglo-Catholicism and the scripturally based autonomous church movements associated with Puritanism, Pembroke was a bastion of High Church beliefs and practices. Crashaw completed his B.A. in 1636 and became a fellow at Peterhouse, another High Church college, where he received his M.A. in 1638, and spent several years teaching and writing. In 1643, he left Peterhouse, when Puritans stripped the High Church colleges of their Catholic practices, teachings, and personnel. In 1646, Crashaw was living in Paris, where he joined the circle of English political and religious refugees gathered around Henrietta Maria, the exiled queen of Charles I. Crashaw had by this time converted to Roman Catholicism and saw his work published in a volume of religious and secular lyrics, Steps to the Temple (1646) and Delights of the Muses (appended to and published with Steps to the Temple), which was revised and enlarged in 1648. Crashaw entertained some hopes for preferment in the Roman Catholic Church on the continent, but despite Henrietta Maria’s influence, he attained only a minor position as canon at the cathedral in Loreto, where he served until his death in 1649. His poetry was republished posthumously in Paris in 1652, with...
(The entire section is 970 words.)