Monday, March 12, 2012

Marc F. Bertonasco, Crashaw and the Baroque

Macr F. Bertonasco, Crashaw and the Baroque, The University of Alabama Press, University, Alabama, 1971.

Even the fiercely anti-Papal William Crashaw (father of Richard Crashaw), who warns the members of the Virginia Company not to suffer Popery in the colonies, complains that the Papists have surely outdone the Protestants in the composing of edifying books of devotion, so much so that it is sometimes necessary to have recourse to these books, which, were it not for their occasional superstitious passages, would be highly commendable. / Especially interesting is the attitude of the Puritan Baxter concerning Catholic devotional works. In Christian Ecclesiastics he considers the problem of Protestants consorting with Roman Catholics. … assures his readers that they may with good conscience read the many sound devotional books and meditation manuals composed by contemporary Papists. He extends the same liberality to Catholic (even Jesuit) theological treatises on noncontroversial matters. Thus we find that among the theological treatises which Baxter recommends to students affluent enough to afford a private library are a treatise by Suarez and one by Ballarmine, both Jesuits. (44)

The Puritans themselves were capable of florid, fiery religious writing. Especially noteworthy is that fascinating man, Francis Rous, a bitter opponent of the Laudian movement, more Calvinistic than Baxter. … In 1635 Rous published his “Mysticall Marriage or Experimental Discourses of the Heavenly Marriage between a Soul and her Savior.” According to Rous the best way to consider the relationship between the soul and Christ her Savior is that provided by the Holy Spirit Himself in the Song of Songs, for “There is a chamber within us, and a bed of love within that chamber wherein Christ meets and rests with the soule.” …this authors is no rejected maverick; he became Speaker of the Barebones Parliament and a leading Cromwellian peer. Much of this devotional tract consists of complicated analogies, … the coupling of a soul and lust like the intercourse of a woman and a hideous beast. … once Provost of Eton, … (50)

Henceforth, let us be wary, all of us, of the term anima naturaliter Catholica, the epithet which Mario Praz has applied to Crashaw, to set him apart from his countrymen. / Mystical fervor, Baroque sensuousness—both are as abundant here as anywhere in Crashaw, and in Rous too we are stuck by the profusion of ravishing ointments, sweet-tasting substances, and “sweet inebriated ecstasies.” No Italian or French devotional tract which I have read surpasses Rous’ in Baroque exuberance or in bold appropriation of the sexual imagery of the Song of Songs,. … a fiery exuberance and even a lusciousness of imagery amazingly akin to that of Counter-Reformation Catholicism are not infrequently encountered among some segments of English Protestants. And it seems safe enough to suggest that the farther left we move from center, the more likely we are to encounter this fervent religion. (51-2)

…Cowley apologized for Crashaw’s conversion to Roman Catholicism but not for his subject matter, much less for his poetic method. No, it is the neo-classical stomach, not the Puritan one, which finds Crashaw indigestible. (53)

It is interesting that those manifestations of the Baroque which to many of us spear grossly sensuous occur far more frequently in prose and poetry of second and especially third rate merit than in those works of the aristocratic tradition with which critics are far more familiar. It is easy to forget, after all, that the poets who have understandably received the lion’s share of critical attention are not necessarily those most widely read by the seventeenth-century public. It seems certain, for instance, that at least ten Englishmen read and enjoyed the enormously popular, often third rate verse of Quarles for every one who read Comus or even the Steps to the Temple. And Quarles abounds in just those manifestations of the Baroque which have alienated many moderns from Crashaw. (53)

It seems, then, that Crashaw’s debt was not exclusively to Marino and the European Baroque poets. He had recourse, as well, perhaps much more extensively, to a native tradition largely eschewed by his contemporaries in the aristocratic tradition. (54)

It is worth pointing out, also, that continental Baroque borrowings were not always Catholic in origin. It would be interesting, for example, to study the influence of the Genevan emblem boks (on eof which was composed by Theodore Beze himself), a remarkable example of the Puritan Baroque. (55)

And anyone widely acquainted with emblem literature smiles at the traditional equation of Latin or Italian with “sensuous” religious. Actually, it is the Northern emblematists, the Dutch and the Germans especially, who developed the sensuous, erotic elements of the Baroque to their highest peak. Divine Love, disguised as Cupid, armed with heart-piercing arrows and jars of irresistible perfumes, was received far more cordially in the homeland of Erasmus than in the land of Dante, a region which, incidentally, He sis not much frequent. And I know of no passage in Marino which approaches the grossness of, let us say, Quarles’ Epigram No. 47. In a word, we have missed the English Baroque. (55)

…Crashaw’s imagery is almost always purely symbolic. The characteristic Crashaw image is not intended to be visualized vividly; the reader is expected, rather, to dwell on the concept embodied therein. Even those imagistic developments usually labeled grotesque are firmly grounded in thought. Crashaw’s emblematic images fall into two categories: the contracted emblem, a single image into which several related thoughts have been tightly packed; and the extended emblem, characterized by a lavish, leisurely imagistic embellishment which is not redundant—as Crashaw’s critics have maintained—but which subtly, yet significantly, advances the developing thought. (118)

The Baroque especially affected certain segments of seventeenth-century Enlgish Puritans, particularly those far left of center (Godwin, Sterry, Rous, for instance). (119)

Keeping in mind the openness of the religious climate, one need not be surprised that St. Francis de Sales exerted a major influence on Crashaw—on his spiritual formation and on the structure of his religious lyrics. St. Francis is responsible for that suave detachment and objectivity which characterize even Crashaw’s most rhapsodic moments, for the startling absence of so many favorite topics of seventeenth-century spirituality—hell, death, sin; and for his celebration of spiritual heroines who surrender their wills completely to the Divine Spouse. Especially influential was the Salesian method of meditation, which forms the substructure of many religious lyrics. Unlike its Ignatian predecessor, the Salesian method does not stress composition of place, application of the senses, introspection, or the arousing of violent emotions. In fact, it rules out the last two. The Salesian method encourages, instead, a calm, leisurely reflection on various “points” (concepts) in as spiritual a manner as possible, to raise the heart up to God in “affective prayer,” the poetic analogue of which is the rhapsodic flight. Crashaw is a poet-meditator of the Salesian school. (120)


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