Richard Lovelace (1618-1657). Painting by William Dobson (1611-1646), circa 1645. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Richard Lovelace (1618-1657) was an English poet and soldier, "whose graceful lyrics and dashing career made him the prototype of the perfect Cavalier."[1]

Life[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Lovelace, son of Sir William Lovelace, was educated at Oxford, where he is described by Anthony Wood as "the most amiable and beautiful person that eye ever beheld." An enthusiastic royalist, he spent his whole fortune in support of that cause. For presenting "the Kentish petition" in favor of the King, he was imprisoned in 1642, when he wrote his famous song, "When Love with unconfinéd wings." After his release he served in the French army, and was wounded at Dunkirk. Returning, he was again imprisoned, 1648, and produced his Lucasta: Epodes, odes, etc. He lives in literature by a few of his lyrics which, though often careless, are graceful and tender. He died in poverty.[2]

On a surer foundation than the permanence of his poetry rests the chivalrous repute in which his life has been held. The Adonis of the court, "the handsomest man of his time," he rejected a courtier's career for the profession of arms, and his heroism, rather than his rhyme, challenged the oft-quoted comparison with Sir Philip Sidney.[3] His best known works are "To Althea, from Prison" and "To Lucasta, Going to the Warres."

Family[edit | edit source]

Lovelace was of an old Kentish family, which had held the manor of Bethersden since 1367, and was closely allied to the Lovelaces of Kingsdown and Canterbury, and more remotely to the Lovelace family of Hurley in Berkshire. Sir William Lovelace, who was admitted at Gray's Inn in 1548, and called to the bar in 1551, was M.P. for Canterbury in 1562 and again in 1572 (Official Returns), and played a somewhat prominent part in his last parliament (D'Ewes, Journals of Parliament under Elizabeth, pp. 178 sq.) He was raised to the rank of sergeant-at-law in Easter term 1561, took a large share in Kentish affairs, and was buried in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral on 1 April 1577 (Archæolog. Cantiana. x. 197–200).[4]

His son, the poet's grandfather, Sir William Lovelace (1561–1629), knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1599, was a correspondent of Sir Dudley Carleton (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–18), and was buried at Bethersden, 12 Oct. 1629. The poet's father, also Sir William, "of Woolwich" (1584–1628), served bravely in the Low Countries under Sir Horace Vere (Collins, Letters and Memorials, ii. 322), was knighted by James I, and was killed at the siege of ‘Grolle’ in Holland, leaving a widow and a large family (Eg. MS. 2553).[4]

Youth and education[edit | edit source]

Lovelace's exact birthplace is unknown, but it is documented that it was either Woolwich, Kent, or Holland. In 1629, when Lovelace was 11, he went to Sutton’s Foundation at Charterhouse School, then located in London.[5] However, there is not a clear record that Lovelace actually attended; it is believed that he studied as a “boarder” because he did not need financial assistance like the “scholars”. He spent 5 years at Charterhouse, 3 of them rooming with Richard Crashaw. On 5 May 1631, Lovelace was sworn in as a “Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary” to the King. This was an “honorary position for which one paid a fee”.[5]

He then went to Gloucester Hall, Oxford, where he matriculated 27 June 1634, "being then accounted the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld’ (Wood), a person also "of innate modesty, virtue, and courtly deportment which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city, much admired and adored by the female sex."[6]

In 1636 when the king and queen were for some days at Oxford, he was "created, among other persons of quality, master of arts, though but of two years' standing; at which time his conversation being made public, and consequently his ingenuity and generous soul discovered, he became as much admired by the male as before by the female sex." He was incorporated at Cambridge in the following year.[6]

Lovelace had already written The Scholar: A comedy, which was acted with applause during his residence at Gloucester Hall (1636), and afterwards repeated at the Whitefriars, Salisbury Court; he had also commenced writing occasional poetry, contributing verses to the Musarum Oxoniensium Charisteria (1638), and commendatory verses to Anthony H[odges]'s English version of The Loves of Clitophon and Leucippe (1638).[6]

Early career[edit | edit source]

Leaving Oxford, Lovelace "repaired in great splendour to the court," but soon sought active employment in the field. He was appointed ensign in the regiment of his patron George, lord Goring (Peacock, Army Lists, p. 76), in the 1st Scottish expedition of 1639; in the 2nd expedition "he was commissionated a captain in the same regiment, and in that time wrote a tragedy called The Soldier, but never acted because the stage was soon after suppressed" (Wood). Neither of his plays appears to be extant.[6]

After the pacification of Berwick, being then over 21, Lovelace returned to Kent and took possession of his family property at Bethersden, Chart, Halden, Shadoxhurst, and Canterbury, worth at least 500l per year. He was put on the commission of the peace for the county, and in April 1642 was chosen at the Maidstone assizes to deliver to the parliament the famous Kentish petition in the king's behalf framed by Sir Edward Dering and other royalists. On 29 April a great meeting was held on Blackheath to back the petition, which Lovelace had the temerity to present to the Houses on the following day, though he was aware of its resemblance to a previous petition from Kent presented in March on behalf of the bishops and liturgy, and ordered by parliament to be burnt by the common hangman on 7 April. When questioned before the House, he was unable to expressly deny a knowledge of the fate of the earlier document.[6]

1st imprisonment[edit | edit source]

He was accordingly, on 30 April 1642, committed to the Gatehouse at Westminster (D'Ewes, Journals in Harl. MS. 163, f. 489; Verney Papers (Camd. Soc.), 1845, p. 175; Parliaments and Councils of England, 1839, p. 384). There "he wrote that celebrated song called 'Stone Walls do not a Prison make'."[6]

On 17 June 1642, his companion in misfortune, Sir William Boteler, having already petitioned and been set at liberty, he prayed for discharge upon bail "in order that he might serve against the rebels in Ireland" (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. App. p. 29; his petition is quoted in full, Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vi. 122). His request was promptly complied with, and he was bailed on the security of William Clarke of Rotham (Wrotham) and Thomas Flood of Ottom (Otham), the principal in the sum of 10,000l. the sureties in 5,000l. apiece, his bail being accepted 21 June 1642 (Commons' Journals, ii. 629, 635).[6]

Freedom[edit | edit source]

Lovelace was thus freed after about 7 weeks' imprisonment on condition of not stirring out of the lines of communication without a pass from the speaker. He, nevertheless, furnished his brothers, Francis and William, with men and money for the king's cause, and his youngest brother Dudley with means to study tactics and fortifications in Holland. In the meantime he lived expensively in London, and seems to have been on terms of friendship with many of the wits of the day.[6]

Among his associates were Lawes and Gamble the musicians, before whose volumes of Ayres he wrote verses; Gideon Ashwell, Glapthorne, who dedicated his Whitehall, a Poem with Elegies, to his "noble friend and gossip Captaine Lovelace;" Lenton and his friend Cockain, Rawlins, Hall, the Cottons, Sir Peter Lely, on whose portrait of Charles I he wrote some of his best lines; Tatham, the city poet, who wrote "an invitation to his lov'd Adonis (Lovelace) being then in Holland" (Ostella, 1650, 4to); Andrew Marvell; and most probably Suckling, who is supposed to have apostrophised him in his famous "I tell thee, Dick, where I have been." (Hazlitt, xxxii. n.)[6]

On 4 August 1645 Lovelace seems to have purchased some property at Smarden in Kent (Archæol. Cantiana, x. 211), and shortly afterwards he again appears to have taken up arms on behalf of the king. In the autumn of this year Thomas Willys, a clerk of the crown in chancery, was taken prisoner by a Captain Lovelace, presumably the poet (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. App. p. 107).[7]

Lovelace subsequently joined Charles in Oxford, and after the surrender of that city in 1646 left England (probably in the train of Prince Rupert who sailed in July), raised a regiment for the service of the French king, then at war with Spain, became its colonel, and received a wound at Dunkirk when that town was captured by Condé in October 1646.[7]

2nd imprisonment[edit | edit source]

Returning to England in 1648, he and his brother Dudley, who had served as a captain under him, were committed to Petre House in Aldersgate (cf. Dugdale, Troubles, 1681, p. 568), having very possibly aggravated their political offense by taking some share in the riots and "distempers" of Kent in June of that year.[7]

Lovelace spent his 2nd confinement "framing for the press" his Lucasta: Epodes, odes, sonnets, songs, &c.; o which is added Aramantha, a Pastoral, by Richard Lovelace, Esq., London … to be sold by Thos. Evvster at the Gun in Ivie Lane, 1649. The volume is dedicated to Lady Anne Lovelace, the wife of his distant kinsman, the 2nd Lord Lovelace of Hurley, and has commendatory verses by, among others, Francis Lovelace, Andrew Marvell, and Francis Lenton. Prefixed is a portrait of a lady engraved by Faithorne, after Sir Peter Lely.[7]

The name "Lucasta" is supposed to be a contraction of "Lux Casta," and was possibly an imaginary personage, after whom, in accordance with the familiar practice of the time, he called his poems. Wood, however, identifies "Lucasta" with a certain Lucy Sacheverell, who "upon a stray report that Lovelace was dead of his wound received at Dunkirk, soon after married." Hunter surmises, not improbably, that she was a daughter of Ferdinando (aged 20 in 1619), a natural son of Henry Sacheverell of Warwickshire, by Lucy, daughter of Sir Henry Hastings of Newark (cf. Harl. MS. 1167, fol. 160).[7]

Last years[edit | edit source]

Lovelace was released by warrant issued from the council of state on 10 December 1649 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649, p. 529). In the same year the manor of Lovelace-Bethersden passed by purchase to Richard Hulse (Hasted). He had now "consumed his whole patrimony in useless attempts to serve his sovereign." Whereupon "he grew," says Wood, "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."[7]

Hazlitt has questioned the truth of Wood's picture of Lovelace's penury on the erroneous assumptions that "Lovelace's daughter Margaret" conveyed an estate at Kingsdown to her husband, Mr. Henry Coke, and that Gunpowder Alley was not a mean locality. The Margaret Lovelace in question was not the poet's daughter,[7] but a cousin of his father (married in 1630, when the poet was 12), while Gunpowder Alley was a known haunt of indigent refugees, lurking papists, and delinquents. The conjecture that after the loss of Lucasta, Lovelace consoled himself by marrying Althea, is equally gratuitous.[3]

Alms were conveyed to him from Charles Cotton and others, but he sank and died in 1658 in a mean lodging in Gunpowder Alley, between Shoe Lane and Fetter Lane, close to the spot where a little more than a century later Thomas Chatterton was given a pauper's funeral. Lovelace was buried at the west end of St. Bride's, a church burnt in the fire of 1666.[3]

Writing[edit | edit source]

As a poet Lovelace is known almost exclusively by his best lyrics. Popularly his name is more familiar than those of his contemporaries, Carew, Suckling, Randolph, and Waller, who are at most points his superiors. This is due partially, no doubt, to the fact that his poems not being very accessible except in anthologies, few have courted disappointment by perusing his minor pieces.[3]

A writer in the 1883 Encyclopædia Britannica, while admitting the intricacy and tortuosity of his thought as well as his syntax, asserts that in intellectual force as well as elaborate workmanship, Lovelace more nearly approaches Donne than any other disciple. "The wine of his poetry is a dry wine, but it is wine and not an artificial imitation."[3]

William Winstanley, who praised much of Richard Lovelace's works, thought highly of him and compared him to an idol – "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

"To Althea" was considered by contemporaries a masterpiece. In a 17th-century manuscript anthology, which belonged to Dr. Bliss, it is followed by an unsigned "Answer" (Add. MS. 22603, f. 16); it was closely imitated and expanded in an "excellent old song" entitled "Loyalty Confined," originally printed in Lloyd's Memoires (1668, 96), and traditionally ascribed to Sir Roger L'Estrange, though attributed in the ‘British Museum Catalogue’ to Lovelace himself (the internal evidence favours L'Estrange's authorship); and it clearly inspired the fine lines written by Pellison-Fontanier in the Bastile in 1662.[7]

"To Althea" began a new lease of life when reprinted in his Reliques by Percy, who made several conjectural emendations, which have since been universally condemned. From Percy's time the lyrics of Lucasta have been twice edited, familiarised in numerous authologies, frequently set to music, and occasionally borrowed from, notably by Thomas Campbell, who owed the fine phrase "sentinel stars set their watch in the sky" to Lovelace, and by Byron, whose "Music breathing from the face" clearly owes somthing to Lovelace's "Song of Orpheus."[7]

In 1659 Lovelace's brother Dudley published Posthume Poems of Richard Lovelace, esq., dedicated to John, afterwards 3rd lord Lovelace, with a portrait of the author designed by his brother Francis, and 2 other plates; perfect copies are very rare. The poems do not enhance the poet's reputation, containing, with some good lines, a large proportion of the alloy which was not entirely absent from Lucasta. Appended are elegies by Charles Cotton, James Howell, and others.[3]

Whether Lovelace is a mere reckless improvisatore, or the most fastidious of the concettists, may be open to argument, but it is tolerably certain that to the majority of readers his minor lyrics will remain as poetry unintelligible. If none of his song-writing contemporaries, with the possible exception of Wither, could have surpassed the exquisite "Tell me not (sweet) I am unkind," few could have written short pieces so inelegant or so vapid as some of the Posthume Poems.[3]

Critical introduction[edit | edit source]

by Edmund Gosse

It may safely be said that of all the Royalist lyrists Lovelace has been overestimated the most, as Carew has been the most neglected. The reason of this is not hard to find. Carew was a poet of great art and study, whose pieces reach a high but comparatively uniform standard, while Lovelace was an improvisatore who wrote two of the best songs in the language by accident, and whose other work is of much inferior quality. A more slovenly poet than Lovelace it would be difficult to find; his verses have reached us in the condition of unrevised proofs sent out by a careless compositor; but it is plain that not to the printer only is due the lax and irregular form of the poems. It did not always occur to Lovelace to find a rhyme, or to persist in a measure, and his ear seems to have been singularly defective.

To these technical faults he added a radical tastelessness of fancy, and an excess of the tendency of all his contemporaries to dwell on the surroundings of a subject rather than on the subject itself. His verses on "Ellinda’s Glove" must have been remarkable even in an age of concetti. The poet commences by calling the glove a snowy farm with 5 tenements; he has visited there to pay his daily rents to the white mistress of the farm, who has gone into the meadows to gather flowers and hearts. He then changes his image, and calls the glove an ermine cabinet, whose alabaster lady will soon come home, since any other tenant would eject himself, by finding the rooms too narrow to contain him. The poet, therefore, leaves his rent, 5 kisses, at the door, observing, with another change of figure, that though the lute is too high for him, yet, like a servant, he is allowed to fiddle with the case. Such trivialities as these were brought into fashion by the wayward genius of Donne, and continued in vogue long enough to betray the youth of Dryden. In Lovelace we find the fashion in its most insipid extravagance.

Yet there are high qualities in the verses of Lovelace, though he rarely allows us to see them unalloyed. His language has an heroic ring about it; he employs fine epithets and gallant phrases, 2 at least of which have secured the popular ear, and become part of our common speech. "Going to the Wars", his best poem, contains no line or part of a line that could by any possibility be improved;[8] "To Althea" is less perfect, but belongs to a higher order of poetry. The 1st and 4th stanzas of this exquisite lyric would do honour to the most illustrious name, and form a treasure of our literature. It is surprising that a poet so obscure could for once be so crystalline, and that the weaver of gossamer conceits could contrive to be so tenderly sincere.

The romantic circumstances under which Lovelace wrote these lines have given to them a popular charm. The imprisonment under which he was suffering was brought upon him in the unselfish performance of duty. He had been chosen by the whole body of the county of Kent to deliver the Kentish petition to the House of Commons; the result was, doubtless, what he expected, the petition being burned by the Common Hangman, and he himself, on the 30th of April, 1642, thrown into the Gatehouse Prison.

The romantic career of Lovelace must be taken into consideration when we blame the defects of his poems. He was born to wealth and station, he was generously educated, and he became a favourite with the royal family while he was but a youth. During the brief period of his prosperity he lived the life of a spoiled child. He was the handsomest man of his generation, he was addressed under the name of Adonis, and he spent his time in reading Greek poetry, in playing and singing, and in feats of arms. His manners were, we are told "incomparably graceful."

Yet, born into that iron age, his career closed in the most tragic way: It being reported that he was killed, his betrothed married another man; and after wasting all his substance in the recklessness of despair, this darling of the Graces died in extreme want, and in a cellar. A life of only forty years spent in such vicissitudes gave little opportunity for that retirement from the world which scholarship and art require. His hasty verses were thrown off at a heat, and the genius in them is often rather a spark than a steady flame.

In the curious verses entitled "The Grasshopper," we seem to possess an instance of his hurried and jejune mode of composition. He commences by addressing the grasshopper, in lines of unusual dignity and pregnancy, but he presently forgets this, and, without any sign of transition, recommences "Thou best of men and friends," this time plainly addressing the friend, Charles Cotton, to whom the ode was sent. It is difficult to believe that he ever himself read over his lines, for it could not fail to occur to him, had he done so, that the same object could not be spoken to as "Poor verdant fool" and as "Thou best of men and friends." But when we consider with what nonchalance the lyrical poets of the 17th century composed and then neglected their effusions, the surprising thing is not that these have reached us in so inaccurate and fragmentary a form, but that they have reached us at all.[9]

Recognition[edit | edit source]

Several of Lovelace's songs were set to music by contemporaries. Among the contents of Lucasta are "To Lucasta, going to the Warres," set to music by John Laniere; "To Aramantha, that she would dishevell her haire," set by Henry Lawes; "The Scrutinie," set by Thomas Charles, and reprinted in Wit's Interpreter, 1662; "The Grasshopper" and "To Althea, from Prison," set by John Wilson.[7]

6 of his poems ("To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," "To Lucasta, Going beyond the Seas," "Gratiana Dancing," "To Amarantha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair," "The Grasshopper," and "To Althea, from Prison") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[10]

There is a portrait of Lovelace in the Dulwich gallery (a bust, in armor, with red scarf and long dark hair), which goes to justify Aubrey's description of him as "a handsome man but prowd" (Lives, ii. 433). This portrait, which was engraved (by Clamp) for Harding's Biographical Mirror, was exhibited at South Kensington in 1866. In the print room at the British Museum there are 2 engraved portraits of Lovelace, which possess special interest; one by Richard Gaywood, in the character of Orpheus, playing on the lyre and surrounded by the beasts of the forest, the other an extremely fine and rare print by William Hollar. There is also at Dulwich a nameless portrait which may be Lucasta, and which certainly resembles the engraved portrait of her.[3]

Publications[edit | edit source]

  • Lucasta. London: Tho. Harper, and are to be sold by Tho. Ewster, 1649
    • (facsimile edition), Menston, UK: Scolar Press, 1972.
  • Lucasta: Posthume poems. London: William Godbid for Clement Darby, 1659.
  • Lucasta: Epodes, odes, sonnets, songs, &c. &c. To which is added, Aramantha, a pastoral. Chiswick, UK: Press of C. Whittingham, 1817.
  • Lucasta: The poems of Richard Lovelace, Esq., now first edited, and the text carefully revised (edited by William Carew Hazlitt). London: J.R. Smith, 1864; London: Reeves & Turner, 1897.
  • Songs and Sonnets. New York: R.H. Russell, 1901.
  • The Poems of Richard Lovelace: Lucasta, etc. London: Hutchinon, 1906.
  • Lucasta: The poems of Richard Lovelace, Esq. Chicago: Caxton Club, 1921. Volume II
  • The Poems of Richard Lovelace (edited by C.H. Wilkinson). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1925.
  • Lucasta, et cetera: Love poems. Mount Vernon, NY: Golden Eagle Press, 1948.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[11]

Poems by Richard Lovelace[edit | edit source]


"To Althea, from Prison" by Richard Lovelace (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

  1. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  •  Seccombe, Thomas (1893) "Lovelace, Richard" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 34 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 168-171 . Wikisource, Web, Feb. 7, 2018.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Richard Lovelace, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Feb. 7 2018.
  2. John William Cousin, "Lovlace, Richard," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 245. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 7, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Seccombe, 171.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Seccombe, 168.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Weidhorn, Manfred. Richard Lovelace. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Seccombe, 169.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Seccombe,170.
  8. It is curious, however, that the beautiful figure of the first stanza is to be found in Habington’s, "To Roses in the bosom of Castara".
  9. from Edmund W. Gosse, "Critical Introduction: Richard Lovelace (1618–1658)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Apr. 10, 2016.
  10. Alphabetical list of authors: Jago, Richard to Milton, John, Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 19, 2012.
  11. Search results = au:Richard Lovelace, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 8, 2016.

External links[edit | edit source]

Audio / video

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Lovelace, Richard

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.