To Lucasta. Going to the Warres:
...I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more...
These words are so familiar and yet can you tell me who wrote them?
The author belongs to a movement collectively known as the Cavalier Poets. Their number included Ben Johnson, Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and the romantically named Richard Lovelace, who penned the above lines.
At a time when poets, such as John Donne, were taking poetry to a metaphysical level, the cavalier poets occupied the other end of the spectrum. Their poetry is characterised "...by the ideal of a man who is at once lover, soldier, wit, man of affairs, musician and poet..." (ref) but not, as the metaphysical poets would have it, a pattern of Christian chivalry. Their poetry has a certain colloquial earthiness about it and they shared one thing in common: during the English Civil War, they fought for the King. They truly were “cavalier” poets.
As a teenager I sighed over Richard Lovelace...the name alone was enough to send my romantic, young soul into a tail spin. He epitomised the concept of "cavalier" - young, broodingly handsome, a gallant soldier and a poet and a man of honour who would leave his beloved to go off and fight for his beliefs. Sigh...
|Richard as a young man|
At the age of thirteen Richard went into service at the court of Charles I, becoming a “Gentleman Wayter Extraodinary” and after completing his education at Oxford returned to court “...After he had left the University, he retired in great splendour to the court, and being taken into the favour of George, Lord Goring, afterwards Earl of Norwich, was by him adopted a soldier, and sent in the quality of an ensign, in the Scotch expedition, an. 1639...”
He served with distinction under George Goring during the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 – 1640 (the conflict between England and Scotland over the adoption of the Episcopal doctrine). He returned home to Kent in 1640 where he settled down to his life as a respectable gentleman.
The tumultuous politics of the time soon engulfed him and in April 1642 he presented the pro-royalist, anti-parliamentary Petition of Kent to the House of Commons. This resulted in his first term of imprisonment, during which he wrote probably his most famous work “To Althea: from Prisonne”:
...Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such Liberty....
Although released at the start of the war in 1642, the conditions of his parole, placed on him by his captors, made it impossible for him to actively engage in the first civil war. Instead he committed his wealth and men to the lost cause. Frustrated beyond measure, he went over to the continent and once more served with Lord Goring in Holland and Germany (see my previous blogs on the Thirty Years War). He was wounded at the battle of Dunkirk and returned to England in 1647. It is not clear what part he played in the second civil war (1648), but whatever it was, it was sufficient to warrant a second term of imprisonment.
|Richard the romantic soldier|
Financially ruined by his support of the royalist cause, Lovelace lived in poverty for the rest of his life and died in 1658 at the age of 40.
Anthony Wood writes “...After the murther of king Charles I. Lovelace was set at liberty, and, having by that time consumed all his estate, grew very melancholy (which brought him at length into a consumption), became very poor in body and purse, was the object of charity, went in ragged cloaths (whereas when he was in his glory he wore cloth of gold and silver), and mostly lodged in obscure and dirty places, more befitting the worst of beggars and poorest of servants...”
He was buried at St. Bede’s in London, one of the churches lost during the Great Fire of 1666.
During his lifetime, Lovelace wrote over 200 poems and some plays, both comedy and tragedy. He wrote "... to praise a friend or fellow poet, to give advice in grief or love, to define a relationship, to articulate the precise amount of attention a man owes a woman, to celebrate beauty, and to persuade to love..."
His contemporary, William Winstanley (the Man Who Saved Christmas), thought highly of him and wrote; "...I can compare no Man so like this Colonel Lovelace as Sir Philip Sidney, of which it is in an Epitaph made of him;
Nor is it fit that more I should aquaint
Lest Men adore in one
A Scholar, Souldier, Lover, and a Saint
Post Script: You may wonder about the beloved Lucasta? She is thought to have been Lucy Sachaverell to whom he was betrothed and who he nicknamed “Lux Casta”. Believing him killed at the Battle of Dunkirk, the faithless Lucy married another.
The group Fairport Convention put the words of To Althea from Prison to music. I am sure Richard would have approved (although I'm not sure about the Canadian geese!).