- Born: baptised August 24, 1591, London, England
- Died: buried October 15, 1674 (aged 83), Devon, England
- Notable Works: Hesperides
Robert Herrick (baptised 24 August 1591 – buried 15 October 1674) was an English poet and cleric. While not particularly famous during his lifetime, he wrote over 2,500 poems, about half of which appear in his major work, Hesperides. He is known for his writing style, and many of his poems are love poems and celebrate life. He was heavily influenced by the poet Ben Jonson.
Herrick was ordained into the Church of England in 1623 and later became the vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire. He died in 1674, at the age of 83.
Robert Herrick – Early Life
Robert Herrick was born in Cheapside, London and was the seventh child and fourth son of Julia Stone and Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but he was baptised on August 24, 1591. He was named after an uncle, Robert Herrick (or Heyrick), a prosperous Member of Parliament for Leicester, who had bought the land Greyfriars Abbey stood on after the dissolution of Henry VIII in the mid-16th century.
Nicholas Herrick died in a fall from a fourth-floor window in November 1592, when Robert was a year old. Whether this was suicide or not remains unknown. Herrick’s mother never remarried.
Education and Early Career
It is very likely that Herrick attended The Merchant Taylors’ School. By the age of 16 in 1607, he became apprenticed to his uncle, Sir William Herrick, a goldsmith and jeweller to the king. The apprenticeship ended after only six years, when Herrick, aged 22, gained admission at St John’s College, Cambridge. A lack of money meant that Herrick was forced to transfer to a less expensive college, Trinity Hall. He graduated in 1617.
Between Herrick’s graduation and his appointment as vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire 12 years later, very little is known about his life. What is known, however, is that he became a member of the Sons of Ben, a group centred on an admiration for the works of Ben Jonson, to whom he wrote at least five poems.
Herrick took holy orders and was ordained into the Church of England in 1623 although there is no record of his being assigned to any particular parish. Because he was 32 and of a mature age for this, it may indicate that he was unable to find preferment elsewhere.
In 1627, Herrick became one of the several chaplains who accompanied George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, in a crusade to liberate French Protestants on the Isle of Rhé.
Following this, in 1629, became the vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire. This was a big change for Herrick from his former life and much more pastoral than he had experienced before.
In 1647, in the wake of the English Civil War, Herrick was ejected from his vicarage for refusing the Solemn League and Covenant. He returned to London to live in Westminster, where he depended on the charity of his friends and family. He spent some time preparing his lyric poems for publication and had them printed in 1648 under the title Hesperides; or the Works both Human and Divine of Robert Herrick, with a dedication to the Prince of Wales.
Returning to his post of vicar in Dean Prior during the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Herrick served for 14 more years. The poems he had written celebrating the births of both Charles II and his brother James before the Civil War had obtained him favour.
Herrick lived in Dean Prior from 1662 until his death in October 1674, at the age of 83. His date of death is unknown, but he was buried on 15 October.
Herrick was not a household name during his time, however he did write over 2,500 poems and became well known between 1620–30. About half of these poems appear in his major work and only book Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine (1648), which included His Noble Numbers. Some of his most famous poems include “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” and “Corinna’s going a Maying”.
After Hesperides, his work appeared after that in miscellanies and songbooks; the seventeenth century English composer Henry Lawes and others set some of his songs. Herrick wrote elegies, satires, epigrams, love songs to imaginary mistresses, marriage songs, complimentary verse to friends and patrons, and celebrations of rustic and ecclesiastical festivals.
Style and Influences
Much of Herrick’s poetry was influenced by Ben Jonson and he became a member of the Sons of Ben, a group centred on an admiration for the works of Jonson. He even dedicated five poems to Jonson. He was also heavily inspired by classical Roman writer, and by poems of the late Elizabethan era. This style would have seemed old-fashioned to an audience whose tastes were tuned to the complexities of the metaphysical poets such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell.
While Herrick never married, he wrote many love poems and there were frequent references to lovemaking and the female body in his writings. However, none of his love poems seems to connect directly with any one woman, as can be seen in “Cherry-ripe”, “Delight in Disorder” and “Upon Julia’s Clothes”.
His later poetry was also of a more spiritual and philosophical nature, often around the topics of English country life and its seasons and village customs. He wanted to express that life was short, yet it was beautiful and so was love. Some of his works are also examples of the carpe diem genre.
While Herrick was almost forgotten in the 18th century, and both applauded and criticised in the 19th century, his works finally began to be appreciated in their true form in the latter half of the 20th century. He was long dismissed as a “minor poet”, especially as he did not garner household fame during his time, but his poetry has gone on to be a huge influence to many writers who came after him.
Herrick is remembered for his poetry due to it’s perfect form and style, and the celebration of human sentiments, love and life. His poetry is light and worldly and covers a range of different topics, from a more philosophical nature to writings about country life. His work Hesperides has been studied and applauded for it’s arrangement and artistry and has allowed Herrick to become known as one of the most noteworthy figures of early 17th century English literature.
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