Thomas Carew 1595?-1640
English poet and masque writer.
Carew is closely associated with the Cavalier Poets, an informal group of early seventeenth-century English lyricists. All of these writers—Carew, Robert Herrick, Sir John Suckling, and Richard Lovelace—valued urbane wit and precise diction in their poems, and most—Herrick is the exception—had intimate ties with the court of Charles I. Carew is best known for his courtly masque Coelum Britannicum, love poetry, a small group of songs, several elegies, and erotic verse, most notably “A Rapture.” Overall, Carew is viewed as a significant transitional figure in English lyric poetry whose work epitomizes the light, elegant Cavalier style and features a witty rejuvenation of conventional forms in the period between the English high Renaissance and the subsequent Restoration era.
Carew was born in 1594 or 1595, probably in West Wickham, Kent. His father, Matthew Carew, was a master in Chancery; his mother, Alice Ingpen Ryvers, was the daughter and granddaughter of lord mayors of London. Nothing is known of Carew's boyhood and early schooling until he entered Merton College, Oxford, in June 1608 at age thirteen. He took his bachelor of arts degree in January 1611. The following year he was admitted to the Middle Temple, presumably to be trained for a legal career. Around this time Carew's father suffered devastating financial reverses, prompting Carew to leave the Middle Temple and enter the service of Sir Dudley Carleton, English ambassador to Venice, in 1613. In Venice, Carew was exposed to Italian literature and began learning European languages. He traveled with Sir Dudley's embassy to The Hague in March 1616 but returned to London several months later, having been relieved of his duties. By late 1616, Carew had begun to make his way at the court of Charles I. In 1619 he traveled with Sir Edward Herbert (later Lord Herbert of Cherbury) to Paris, where he wrote several poems, acquired fashionable manners, and apparently came to know Italian poet Giambattista Marino, whose lyrics Carew may have used as models for some of his own. Around this time Carew likely met “Celia,” the subject and addressee of many of his love poems. By the early 1630s Carew's place at court was firmly fixed. He was named Gentleman of the Privy Chamber Extraordinary and later made Sewer (“Cup-Bearer”) in Ordinary to Charles I. His masque, Coelum Britannicum, was performed at court in 1633. Many anecdotes survive concerning Carew's “life scandalous” as a courtier. He evidently cared little for religion and certainly endured painful bouts of syphilis. Meanwhile, he continued to write poetry, acquiring a reputation as a gifted lyricist. In 1639 Carew accompanied Charles on his expedition against Scotland. He died early in 1640, possibly as a result of hardships he suffered during the northern winter. His only collection of poetry appeared posthumously in the year of his death.
Major Works of Poetry
Poems. By Thomas Carew, Esquire is a collection of lyrics, songs, pastorals, poetic dialogues, elegies, addresses, and occasional poems. Most of the pieces are fairly short—the longest, “A Rapture,” is 166 lines, and well over half are under 50 lines. The subjects are various: a number of poems treat love, lovemaking, and feminine beauty. Several of the poems, including “An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne” are memorial tributes; others, notably “To Saxham,” celebrate country-house life; and a few record such events as the successful production of a play (“To my worthy Friend, M. D’Avenant, upon his Excellent Play, The Iust Italian”) or the marriage of friends (“On the Marriage of T. K. and C. C. the Morning Stormie”). Many of the songs and love poems are addressed to the still-unidentified “Celia,” a woman who was evidently Carew's lover for years. The poems to Celia treat the urgency of courtship, making much of the carpe diem theme. Others commend Celia through simile, conceit, and cliché. The physical pleasures of love are likewise celebrated: “A Rapture” graphically documents a sexual encounter through analogy, euphemism, and paradox, while “Loves Courtship” responds to the early passing of virginity. A number of Carew's poems are concerned with the nature of poetry itself. His elegy on John Donne has been praised as both a masterpiece of criticism and a remarkably perceptive analysis of the metaphysical qualities of Donne's literary work. English poet and playwright Ben Jonson is the subject of another piece of critical verse, “To Ben. Iohnson, Upon Occasion of His Ode of Defiance Annext to His Play of The New Inne.” This poem, like the elegy on Donne, is concerned with both the style and substance of the author's literary works as well as with personal qualities of the author himself. Among Carew's occasional, public verse are his addresses to ladies of fashion, commendations of the nobility, and laments for the passing of friends or public figures, such as Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.
Carew has long been recognized as a notable figure in English literary history. His earliest critics—chiefly other poets—evidently knew his work from the many manuscripts that circulated. Among many others, two of the most celebrated writers of the age, Sir John Suckling and William Davenant, paid tribute to Carew, playfully admiring his poetic craftsmanship. Carew's reputation, however, experienced a slow but steady decline during the second half of the seventeenth century. Despite some interest in Carew in subsequent years, not until the twentieth century did critics offer a reexamination of Carew's place in English literary history. F. R. Leavis wrote in 1936: “Carew, it seems to me, has claims to more distinction than he is commonly accorded; more than he is accorded by the bracket that, in common acceptance, links him with Lovelace and Suckling.” More recently, Carew's place among the Cavalier Poets has been examined, as have his poetic affinities with Ben Jonson and John Donne; “A Rapture” has been scrutinized as both biography and fantasy; the funerary poetry has been studied as a subgenre; evidence of Carew's views concerning political hierarchy has been found in his occasional verse; and love and courtship have been probed as themes in the “Celia” poems. By the end of the twentieth century, Carew has been recognized as an important poet representative of his time and a master lyricist. According to Edmund Gosse, “Carew's poems, at their best, are brilliant lyrics of the purely sensuous order. They open to us, in his own phrase, ‘a mine of rich and pregnant fancy.’”