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Robert Herrick
by [?]


A LITTLE over three hundred years ago England had given to her a poet of the very rarest lyrical quality, but she did not discover the fact for more than a hundred and fifty years afterward. The poet himself was aware of the fact at once, and stated it, perhaps not too modestly, in countless quatrains and couplets, which were not read, or, if read, were not much regarded at the moment. It has always been an incredulous world in this matter. So many poets have announced their arrival, and not arrived!

Robert Herrick was descended in a direct line from an ancient family in Lincolnshire, the Eyricks, a mentionable representative of which was John Eyrick of Leicester, the poet’s grandfather, admitted freeman in 1535, and afterward twice made mayor of the town. John Eyrick or Heyricke–he spelled his name recklessly–had five sons, the second of which sought a career in London, where he became a goldsmith, and in December, 1582, married Julian Stone, spinster, of Bedfordshire, a sister to Anne, Lady Soame, the wife of Sir Stephen Soame. One of the many children of this marriage was Robert Herrick.

It is the common misfortune of the poet’s biographers, though it was the poet’s own great good fortune, that the personal interviewer was an unknown quantity at the period when Herrick played his part on the stage of life. Of that performance, in its intimate aspects, we have only the slightest record.

Robert Herrick was born in Wood street, Cheapside, London, in 1591, and baptized at St. Vedast’s, Foster Lane, on August 24 of that year. He had several brothers and sisters, with whom we shall not concern ourselves. It would be idle to add the little we know about these persons to the little we know about Herrick himself. He is a sufficient problem without dragging in the rest of the family.

When the future lyrist was fifteen months old his father, Nicholas Herrick, made his will, and immediately fell out of an upper window. Whether or not this fall was an intended sequence to the will, the high almoner, Dr. Fletcher, Bishop of Bristol, promptly put in his claim to the estate, “all goods and chattels of suicides” becoming his by law. The circumstances were suspicious, though not conclusive, and the good bishop, after long litigation, consented to refer the case to arbitrators, who awarded him two hundred and twenty pounds, thus leaving the question at issue–whether or not Herrick’s death had been his own premeditated act–still wrapped in its original mystery. This singular law, which had the possible effect of inducing high almoners to encourage suicide among well-to-do persons of the lower and middle classes, was afterward rescinded.

Nicholas Herrick did not leave his household destitute, for his estate amounted to five thousand pounds, that is to say, twenty-five thousand pounds in to-day’s money; but there were many mouths to feed. The poet’s two uncles, Robert Herrick and William Herrick of Beaumanor, the latter subsequently knighted (1) for his usefulness as jeweller and money-lender to James I., were appointed guardians to the children.

(1) Dr. Grosart, in his interesting and valuable Memorial Introduction to Herrick’s poems, quotes this curious item from Win-wood’s Manorials of Affairs of State: “On Easter Tuesday [1605], one Mr. William Herrick, a goldsmith in Cheapside, was Knighted for making a Hole in the great Diamond the King cloth wear. The party little expected the honour, but he did his work so well as won the King to an extraordinary liking of it.”

Young Robert appears to have attended school in Westminster until his fifteenth year, when he was apprenticed to Sir William, who had learned the gentle art of goldsmith from his nephew’s father. Though Robert’s indentures bound him for ten years, Sir William is supposed to have offered no remonstrance when he was asked, long before that term expired, to cancel the engagement and allow Robert to enter Cambridge, which he did as fellow-commoner at St. John’s College. At the end of two years he transferred himself to Trinity Hall, with a view to economy and the pursuit of the law–the two frequently go together. He received his degree of B. A. in 1617, and his M. A. in 1620, having relinquished the law for the arts.