Francis Quarles Analysis

Other literary forms

In later life, Francis Quarles (kwahrlz) published a pious work in prose called Enchiridion, Containing Institutions Divine and Moral (1640). This very popular collection of aphorisms on religious and ethical subjects was reissued in an expanded edition the year after its original publication. It is notable for its stylish phrasing and wordplay.

Always strongly royalist in his sympathies, Quarles produced several prose works of a political nature toward the end of his life, as the struggle between king and Commons became more pronounced. Observations Concerning Princes and States upon Peace and Warre (1642) may perhaps be grouped with such works; although it is essentially another collection of pious meditations, it had obvious political implications in such volatile times, similar to those of the poetry in The Shepheards Oracles. More explicitly polemical is The Loyal Convert (1644), a defense of the king’s political and religious position. Of a like nature are The Whipper Whipt (1644) and The New Distemper (c. 1644). The three royalist polemics were republished under the collective title The Protest Royalist in His Quarrell with the Times (1645) shortly after the author’s death.

Among Quarles’s other posthumous publications are Judgement and Mercy for Afflicted Soules: Or, Meditations, Soliloquies, and Prayers (1646; an unauthorized and inaccurate edition of part 2 of this work had been published in 1644 under the title Barnabas and Boanerges: Or, Wine and Oyl for Afflicted Soules). Judgement and Mercy for Afflicted Soules is a book of prose meditations which would today probably be classified as prose poems. Also among the posthumous works, and somewhat surprisingly, is a play—or rather an interlude or masque—called The Virgin Widow: A Comedie (pb. 1649, written in 1641 or 1642). This comedy in mixed prose and verse is less amusing than it might have been, overwhelmed as it is by its strong didactic purpose and allegorical framework.


Nowhere in literary history is the fickleness of fashion more clearly illustrated than in the case of Francis Quarles. As Horace Walpole, looking back on the earlier period from the vantage point of 1757, aptly observed in a letter to George Montagu, “Milton was forced to wait till the world had done admiring Quarles.” In the century of William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, George Herbert, John Milton, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan, and John Dryden, Quarles was by far the most popular poet.

The success of Quarles in his own day can be explained in relation to those very weaknesses that deny him an audience today and mark his productions as mere historical curiosities, for Quarles had a special genius for popularization. His objective throughout his career was to reach a wide audience with an uplifting message. In this objective—so unlike Milton’s appeal to a “fit audience though few”—he succeeded as few authors have; yet his success is exactly analogous to the success of a twentieth century poet such as Rod McKuen. The difference is only that the seventeenth century was profoundly moved by religious and political emotions, whereas in contemporary society it is romantic love alone that can fire the imagination of the general public.


Diehl, Houston. “Into the Maze of Self: The Protestant Transformation of the Image of the Labyrinth.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 16 (Fall, 1986): 281-301. Examines how Quarles’s poetry was a major factor in the change of meaning of the maze in literature. Quarles used the emblem of the maze to mean the soul, or the interior life of the individual.

Gillmeister, Heiner. “Early English Games in the Poetry of Francis Quarles.” In Proceedings of the XI HISPA International Congress, edited by J. A. Mangan. Glasgow: Jordanhill College of Education, 1986. Gillmeister explores Quarles’s use of British games played in the Middle Ages to add metaphorical meaning and structure to his poetry.

Grosse, Edmund. The Jacobean Poets. 1894. Reprint. Charleston, S.C.: BiblioBazaar, 2009. This classic work gives good comprehensive coverage of twelve poets from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The chapter on Quarles provides a short biography and discusses his major works.

Hassan, Masoodul. Francis Quarles: A Study of His Life and Poetry. Aligarh, India: Aligarh Muslim University, 1966. This volume is one of the few modern books on Quarles, and so is valuable to any student of his work. As the title suggests, Hassan provides a comprehensive biography interwoven with an analysis of Quarles’s major works. Includes a bibliography.

Leach, Elsie. “The Popularity of Quarles’s Emblems: Images of Misogyny.” Studies in Iconography 9 (1983): 83-97. Feminist critic Leach describes the moral and divine imagery used by Quarles in his poetry in terms of how it supported the status quo of male domination over women. An interesting and unusual study of the Jacobean era poet. Valuable for serious Quarles scholars.

Wilcher, Robert. “Quarles, Waller, Marvell, and the Instruments of State.” Notes and Queries 41, no. 1(March, 1994): 79. The influence that poets Quarles, Edmund Waller, and Andrew Marvell had on each other and exerted in the development of government is discussed.