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date: 25 September 2023

Herrick, Robertfree

(bap. 1591, d. 1674)

Herrick, Robertfree

(bap. 1591, d. 1674)
  • Tom Cain

Robert Herrick (bap. 1591, d. 1674)

by William Marshall, pubd 1648

Herrick, Robert (bap. 1591, d. 1674), poet, was born in 'the Golden-cheap-side' (Poetical Works, 316). This was Goldsmith's Row on the south of Cheapside, between Bread Street and the Eleanor Cross, 'the most beautiful frame of fayre houses and shoppes that bee within the Walles of London, or elsewhere in England' (Stow, 1.345). The fifth surviving child of Nicholas Herrick (or Heryck) (1542–1592) and Julian Stone (1561–1629), he was baptized in St Vedast's, Foster Lane, on 24 August 1591.

Family and early years

The Herricks were wealthy Leicester ironmongers, but Nicholas had been apprenticed in London as a goldsmith to Edward Gylberd. Julian's father was a London mercer, William Stone. At Robert's birth, Nicholas was a successful jeweller and moneylender, but before he was two Robert was effectively deprived of both parents. On 9 November 1592, two days after making his will 'of perfecte memorie in soule but sicke in Bodie' (Herrick family papers, Leics. RO, DG 9/2406), his father allegedly 'did throwe himself forthe of a garret windowe … whereby he did kill and destroye himself' (deed poll, ibid., DG 9/2410). Harsh laws concerning suicide, including burial outside hallowed ground, were then strictly enforced, and it was probably through the influence in the city of Julian's family in particular (her brother-in-law Stephen Soame was sheriff in 1593, lord mayor in 1598) that Nicholas was hurriedly buried in St Vedast's next day, apparently in an unmarked grave.

Nicholas's presumed suicide clearly haunted Robert, whose poetry shows an obsession with the proper rites of burial that goes beyond the uncharacteristically sombre poem addressed to Nicholas's 'reverend shade' thirty-five years ('seven lustres') later, in which he apologizes for not doing 'the Rites to thy Religious Tombe' since he did not know 'Whether thy bones had here their Rest, or no' (Poetical Works, 27). Nicholas's family pressed for a verdict of accidental death. On 13 November the privy council, alerted that 'the matter is by som endevored to be found casuall' (APC, 1592, 290–91), warned the lord mayor that no verdict should be reached until the royal almoner, to whom a suicide's estate was forfeit, had collected evidence. The almoner, Richard Fletcher, bishop of Bristol (father of John, whose 'Incomparable Playes' Herrick was to praise over fifty years later), settled for the relatively small sum of £220 'whither the death … be found by the Coroners enquest to have been casuall & accidentall or ells a wilfull murdering & making away of himself' (23 Nov 1592; Herrick family papers, Leics. RO, DG 9/2410). The coroner's verdict is lost, but Fletcher's decision freed an estate worth £3053 (excluding doubtful and desperate debts), of which Nicholas left one-third to his wife, and two-thirds to be divided among his six children, with his brothers Robert and William as overseers.

The will was challenged by Julian: the elder Robert noted in 1602 'a suite … concerninge the validitie of the testator's will and revokinge an administration of the testators goodes formerly Comitted to Julian Hericke … upon supposition that he died intestate' (Herrick family papers, Leics. RO, DG 9/2415). In March 1593 an agreement was reached between Robert and William, on behalf of the children, and Julian, who accepted £1300, rather more than a third of the residual estate, in full settlement. Nicholas's brothers agreed to 'have fowre childeren of the said Nicholas and Julian with their portions' while 'the sayd Julian shall have tow other of the childeren with theire portions as shee shall best like' (ibid., DG 9/2413). Julian kept the newly born William and her only surviving daughter, Mercy. She lived initially with her sister Christian Campion at Hampton, and subsequently with another sister, Anne Soame, at Little Thurlow, Suffolk.

Robert, still only about nineteen months old, and his elder brothers Nicholas and Thomas were thus henceforth brought up by their uncles, in practice by the London-based William Herrick. The effective loss of both parents may have been less traumatic than might be assumed, since Robert had probably been boarded out with a wet-nurse, a normal course in wealthy London families, and one indicated in his case by an undated note from Julian asking William to 'send for the courall from Robardes nource and send it me for Will' (Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. hist. c.474, fol. 110). William Herrick, having been apprenticed to Nicholas, had by 1593 begun his own immensely successful business as goldsmith, jeweller, and moneylender. In 1596 he married Joan May, a lady of strong presbyterian leanings. Through her, Robert acquired the future privy councillor Humphrey May as an adoptive uncle, and the poet Tom May as adoptive cousin.

Robert's childhood in this household must have had a pious presbyterian slant. He later wrote of the law's intent:

To free the Orphan from that Wolfe-like-man,Who is his Butcher more then Guardian

Poetical Works, 201but, though the birth of William's and Joan's own twelve children between 1598 and 1615 would have diverted attention from their nephews, these lines are not necessarily autobiographical. William did, however, put all three nephews to apprenticeships, while designing more gentlemanly careers for most of his own sons. This suggests some inequality of treatment, as does the fact that the nephews are rarely mentioned in surviving family documents. It is significant in a poet so conscious of family relationships that Herrick never addresses poems to William, the elder Robert, or any member of their families, while addressing several to his mother's relatives.

Herrick did nevertheless receive a sophisticated education before being apprenticed to William in September 1607. A poem written about 1611–12 to his brother Thomas (Poetical Works, 34), some time before he went to Cambridge, bears witness to this. It invokes a wide range of classical authors, and imitates Ben Jonson's then-unpublished 'To Sir Robert Wroth', suggesting that he knew Jonson before his presumed contact with the latter's circle in the mid-1620s. The tradition that Herrick received this education at Westminster is groundless, as is one that he lived at Hampton. It is more likely that, like William's own sons, he went to the nearby Merchant Taylors' School, but no registers survive for the years 1598–1603 when Herrick is most likely to have been there. All that is certain is that his reading was wide, and his characteristically easy use of literary allusion well established, by the time he was twenty.

Apprenticeship and Cambridge

If Herrick did leave school in 1602–3 he may, like his father and William, have worked in his uncle's shop before his apprenticeship began. Since William records payments to Herrick's cousin, William Pearson, for his 'apparill' and diet in 1611–12 (Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. hist. c.474, fol. 117), it seems that by the time he was nineteen, and perhaps earlier, Herrick was lodging with Pearson, who worked for William. Bound for ten years, he had served only five when, in the early summer of 1613, he entered St John's College, Cambridge, as a fellow-commoner. At least two of his Soame uncles had been students there, one, Robert, twice becoming vice-chancellor. The change of career followed Herrick's coming of age. In March 1613 the City's orphan court (chaired by Sir Stephen Soame) recognized his majority, he being twenty-one 'and upwards' and Robert acknowledged his inheritance of £424 8s., which William immediately borrowed back, paying Robert a quarterly allowance of £10 as interest during his time at Cambridge.

In return for higher fees and a gift of silver plate, fellow-commoners shared dining privileges and other marks of status with the fellows. Robert was establishing his gentlemanly rank at one of the most expensive colleges in Cambridge. His cousin Richard Stone (Poetical Works, 185) followed him to St John's as a fellow-commoner in 1614, as over the next two years did the future earl of Northumberland, Algernon Percy, and Sir Clipseby Crewe, son of the lord chief justice, who became a patron and friend. A still more important patron, Mildmay Fane, later the second earl of Westmorland, was at Emmanuel in 1618. Other Cambridge friends or patrons included Thomas Southwell (ibid., 53), George Parry (ibid., 322), William Alabaster (ibid., 256), and perhaps Edward Sackville, earl of Dorset (ibid., 187). Oliver Cromwell, Hugh Peters, Oliver St John, James Shirley, John Cosin, and Gilbert Sheldon were also contemporaries. Herrick's tutor was probably William Beeston, but more significant was another fellow near his own age, the Devonian John Weekes, who had graduated in 1612. They were to remain close friends at least until the publication of Hesperides in 1648 (ibid., 132, 321). Still connected with St John's was another fellow, John Williams, whom Herrick later accused of being 'unkind' in some unspecified way (ibid., 52, 413), and who was in 1613 just beginning his upward climb at court.

Herrick's only surviving prose dates from these years: fifteen letters to Sir William Herrick (Poetical Works, 445–53) request money in a tone reflecting the deferential attitude of nephews to guardians in early modern England. Their obsequiousness obscures the fact that they are mainly reminders of the interest due on his inheritance. Although an income of £40 a year made Herrick a relatively wealthy student, it was not enough to keep him in style at St John's. Simonds D'Ewes, a fellow-commoner there in 1618, found that £50 a year caused him 'much want and discontent' (Autobiography, 1.118–19). In 1616 Herrick asked Sir William 'whether it were better for me to direct my study towards the lawe or not' (Poetical Works, 452) and migrated to the smaller and cheaper Trinity Hall, apparently not as a fellow-commoner. Here again his career intersected with that of an upwardly mobile courtier politician, Sir Robert Naunton, who resigned his fellowship that year. Herrick may have intended to move on to an inn of court, but instead, after graduating BA on 10 April 1617, he stayed on to take his MA in July 1620, although residence for the MA was no longer necessary. He may have stayed still longer: he was described as a fellow of Trinity Hall at his ordination in 1623. He was not a fellow, but possibly kept a room there after graduation, like his friend Sir Simeon Steward (ibid., 126). He is still listed in the college steward's accounts as owing over £10 in 1630.

Few poems can be dated to these years (only a tiny proportion of the 1400 poems in Hesperides can be dated), but the beginnings of a reputation are detectable. In 1619 Herrick contributed a poem on behalf of Trinity Hall (his only surviving holograph poem, BL, Harley MS 367, fol. 154) to a memorial collection for John Browne, a fellow of Gonville and Caius. Manuscript miscellanies belonging to the Spelman, Alston, St John, and Daniell families, all of which have Cambridge connections, contain a substantial number of his poems (Beal, 532–3). Another manuscript miscellany from this period, the 'Herrick Commonplace Book' (Texas MS), contains, along with two Herrick poems, entries in a hand which may be his. There are, however, further entries in many other hands, suggesting it was widely circulated. The case for Herrick's association with the miscellany, if not ownership of it, however, is strengthened by the fact that it contains common material with the Alston manuscript (Yale University, Osborn collection, b 197). The Alstons were a Suffolk family, connected to St John's and Trinity Hall. The Soames also owned a number of estates in Suffolk, the main one at Little Thurlow, from where Herrick's sister Mercy (Poetical Works, 269) married John Wingfield (ibid., 131) in 1611. The Wingfields, and Herrick's mother, subsequently lived at Brantham, a few miles away, and Robert must have visited both places in the 1620s, being in touch also with the Crofts at Saxham (ibid., 267) and the Alstons at Sudbury.

Ordination and the Île de Ré expedition

It was in Peterborough, the cathedral city near Cambridge, that the next documented step took place: Herrick and Weekes were ordained deacon and priest by Bishop Thomas Dove on 24 and 25 April 1623. Ordinations on successive days were common during this period, but the ordination of the two friends at the same time implies that some opportunity had opened for them. Both were in their early thirties, suggesting a career in the church was not their first choice, though Herrick's 'Farwell unto Poetrie' (Poetical Works, 410) suggests he took his vows seriously. Since neither man was presented to a living, they probably became domestic chaplains. Weekes later described himself and his wife as combining to form an 'epicene chaplain' to Endymion Porter (CSP dom., 1633, 230). Herrick dedicated a number of poems to Porter, but in April 1623 the latter was in Spain. Though both could nevertheless have been appointed to his household, the influence of Herrick's family, or of such Cambridge contemporaries as Crewe, Fane, Sackville, Naunton, or Williams, may have helped him to a chaplaincy elsewhere. All that is clear is that he was in London in January 1624, when he sent 'A New-Yeares Gift' (Poetical Works, 126) to Sir Simeon Steward, and in July 1625, when he wrote the 'Nuptiall Song' (ibid., 112) for Crewe's marriage to Jane Pulteney in Westminster. In 1625 Richard James, in The Muses Dirge, gave the unpublished Herrick his first recorded praise: perhaps having read the splendid 'Nuptiall Song', he lamented that James I had not been celebrated by 'Some Jonson, Drayton, or some Herick'. In 1626 Mildmay Fane addressed two friendly poems to Herrick, one of which places him in London (Poetry, 58–9, 61).

In July 1627 Herrick and Weekes were chaplains to the duke of Buckingham on the ill-fated expedition to relieve the Huguenots at La Rochelle (cf. Herrick's petition of 1630, TNA: PRO, SP 16/173/93). It is possible that they had been in Buckingham's service before this: several influential patrons could have promoted the connection, but since Buckingham came from Leicestershire, contact could have come through the Herrick family there. Porter, John Mennes, James Smith, and a future patron, Viscount Scudamore, were also associated with the expedition, all returning safely in November, unlike the 4000 Englishmen sacrificed to international protestantism on the islands of Ré and Oléron. Weekes almost immediately became rector of Shirwell in north Devon, but Herrick probably continued in Buckingham's service until the latter's assassination in August 1628 left him looking for a new place, which he was to find, like Weekes, in Devon.

Dean Prior

Herrick was presented to the vicarage of Dean Prior, on the southern edge of Dartmoor, in September 1629. A previous vicar, Scipio Stukeley, had been Weekes's uncle, while the patron of the living, Sir Edward Giles, was also related to Weekes (Herrick was himself very distantly related to Giles, through the marriage of his cousin Tobias to Elizabeth Yarde). In 1629, however, Dean Prior was in the king's gift, its incumbent, Barnaby Potter, having become bishop of Carlisle. Charles approved Herrick's appointment on 1 October, and he was instituted by Joseph Hall, bishop of Exeter, on 26 October 1629, in the London house of Hall's patron, the earl of Norwich.

Valued at £21 a year, Dean Prior was not a rich living: nearby Buckfastleigh was valued at £29, while Weekes's parish at Shirwell was worth over £30. Compared with this, let alone the £700 a year that Robert's presbyterian cousin Richard Heyrick later received as warden of Manchester College, Dean Prior did not represent worldly success for the 38-year-old poet. It did, however, represent security, and Herrick, typically Romanizing his experience, was to celebrate the 'beloved privacie' of his 'poore Tenement' (Poetical Works, 200), as well as cursing 'the dull confines of the drooping West' (ibid., 242). The Île de Ré expedition, Buckingham's assassination, Weekes's move to Shirwell, and his mother's impending death may all have contributed to the move, which in any case he may have seen as merely a stepping-stone.

Since Potter held the vicarage in commendam until Michaelmas 1630, Herrick did not move there until late that year. The 'Mr Robbert Hyrick' who was meanwhile recommended to Lady Vere by the puritan John Davenport in January 1629 (Letters of John Davenport, ed. I. Calder, 1937, 29, 31) was probably his cousin, the same who married Jane Gibbons at St Clement Danes in June 1632. Between 24 August 1629, when she made her will, and 5 November 1629, when it was proved, Julian Herrick died at Brantham, leaving most of her estate to the two children she had brought up, William and Mercy. Robert and Nicholas (Thomas presumably having died) received only a token ring each (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/156/97). Herrick was probably at Whitehall in May 1630, when his pastoral on the birth of Prince Charles was 'Presented to the King, and Set by Mr. Nic: Laniere' (Poetical Works, 85). About June 1630 he wrote an epitaph on the death of his niece Elizabeth (ibid., 145), which, placed in St Margaret's, Westminster, appeared as his first published poem in the 1633 continuation of Stow's Survey (Stow, 812). A poem on the approaching death of his younger brother William (Poetical Works, 73), dating from early November 1630 (William was buried on 8 November), implies that Herrick was then still in London, and probably living with William in Westminster. William's death prompted a poem to Porter (ibid., 72) describing William as 'The staffe, The Elme, the prop, the shelt'ring wall' of Herrick's vine, a role he hoped Porter would now take on.

If Herrick did stay in London until November 1630, William's widow, Elizabeth, may have travelled with him to Dean Prior, where she was to keep house for him until her death in 1643 (Poetical Works, 13, 23). Herrick's other female company in Dean Prior was his maid, Prudence Baldwin (ibid., 151), who outlived him, dying in 1678, but for whom he nevertheless wrote a graceful epitaph at least thirty years premature (ibid., 262). 'His Grange, or Private Wealth' (ibid., 246) adds details of a number of pets and fowls, but fails to mention his curate, William Greene, who may also have accompanied him to Devon in November, since his hand, confusingly similar to Herrick's, first appears in the parish register for that year, continuing until 1636. Greene also signed the bishop's transcripts for 1630, 1632, and 1634, and appeared with Herrick before the bishop's visitation of 22 March 1631, the earliest date at which Herrick can definitely be placed in Dean Prior. At the 1638 visitation, however, Herrick was alone.

In Devon, Herrick supplemented his aristocratic patrons by more modest local ones: apart from Giles and his relatives at nearby Dean Court, such gentry as John Weare (Poetical Works, 201), John Warr (ibid., 48), John Merrifield (ibid., 90), and Thomas Shapcot (ibid., 119) were:

Writ in the Poets Endlesse-Kalendar:Whose velome, and whose volumne is the Skie.

ibid., 168Less fortunate parishioners were recorded by name in epigrams which imitate Martial and Jonson. Greene and his successors as curates made regular visits to London possible for Herrick, and it was probably from there, for example, that Herrick wrote on the imprisonment of John Williams (ibid., 52) in or about 1637. If so, he was back in Dean Prior for the visitation of 1638, and in September 1639, when he married Lettice Yarde, the great-niece of Sir Edward Giles, to Henry Northleigh, a ceremony followed, perhaps uniquely, by a second, more classical one, composed and conducted by Herrick in the porch of the house, presumably Dean Court, where the marriage was consummated (ibid., 124).

An undated note in the domestic state papers (TNA: PRO, SP 16/474/77) from 'Mr Delles man' (Laud's secretary, William Dell) endorsed 'abt mr Henrique: a minister' suggests that a long and eventful visit to London followed this wedding. The informer's report that 'Thomsen Parsons hath had a Bastard lately shee was brought to bedd at Greenwch.' is followed by a statement whose contiguity implies Herrick played some part in this event:

Mr Herrique a Minister possest of a very good Living in Devonshire hath not resided thereon having noe Lycence for his non-residence & not being Chapline to any Noble man or man qualifyed by Law as I heare, his Lodging is at Westminster in the little Amrie at Nicholas Weilkes his house where the said Thomsen Parsons lives.


A further implication is that Herrick had been living in the Little Almonry for some time. Born in 1618, Thomasin was the daughter of John Parsons (d. 1623), organist at Westminster Abbey. Herrick had written on Thomasin's beauty as a child (Poetical Works, 304), and, more amorously, to her elder sister Dorothy (ibid., 186).

It was probably on this visit that Herrick began moves to publish his poems. Though they had achieved considerable manuscript currency, apart from the adventitious publication of the epitaph on Elizabeth, only four had appeared in print, all probably unauthorized: in 1635 'Oberon's Feast' (Poetical Works, 119) was in A Description of the King and Queen of Fayries, and in 1640 Benson added three poems, along with those of other 'excellent gentlemen', to his edition of Shakespeare's poems. Then, in April 1640, Andrew Crooke entered for publication 'The severall Poems written by Master ROBERT HERRICK' (Arber, Regs. Stationers, 4.483). It may have been Crooke's publication of Jonson, Shirley, Fletcher, and Killigrew that same year that led Herrick to him, or him to Herrick, and the installation of Prince Charles (to whom the volume was to have been dedicated) as prince of Wales would have made the moment timely. The edition never appeared, perhaps because of the information given to Dell. Herrick must have returned to Dean Prior, probably before the opening of the Long Parliament in November, and witnessed from there the movement towards civil war.

Civil war and publication of Hesperides

Devon was a centre of conflict during the war. Herrick's loyalties were royalist, as were those of most of his local patrons, but poems such as 'Liberty' (Poetical Works, 153) show that he understood what was at stake. A number of poems witness that:

Sick is the Land to'th' heart; and doth endureMore dangerous faintings by her desp'rate cure

ibid., 214while others offer comfort to and confidence in the king and queen. Family sickness counterpoised that of the land: in April 1643, a few days before he congratulated 'brave Hopton' on the first royalist victory in the south-west (ibid., 310), he buried his sister-in-law Elizabeth (ibid., 23). Conflict came closest to Dean Prior when in January 1646 Cromwell surprised the royalist cavalry at Bovey Tracey, and then moved on to Totnes, while Fairfax took Dartmouth. The tide of parliamentary success swept Herrick away with it: by 25 March 1646, before Exeter surrendered, the county commissioners had replaced him with a presbyterian minister, John Syms, who was to remain in place until 1660.

Homeless and without income, Herrick's first move was to Weekes at Shirwell:

To whose glad threshold, and free doorI may a Poet come, though poor.

Poetical Works, 321By 1647 he was in London, which he greeted enthusiastically as his true home, from which he had been:

by hard fate sentInto a long and irksome banishment.

ibid., 242By the time his welcome to the king was sung at Hampton Court in August 1647 (ibid., 300), the printing of his poems, as Hesperides, or, The Works both Humane & Divine of Robert Herrick Esq., was already under way. It was published in 1648, probably early in that year, and sold by John Williams at the Crown and by Francis Eglesfield at the Marigold, both in St Paul's Churchyard. Copies were also printed for Thomas Hunt at Exeter, implying the existence of a local market. Although Herrick spent some time at the last minute composing epigrams to fatten the religious part of his collection, 'His Noble Numbers', he presented himself on the main title-page as a lay gentleman, 'Robert Herrick Esq.', and presumably lived thus in London. The striking bust engraved by Marshall as frontispiece, also denies any clerical connections: placed in profile on a classical altar, it shows a heavy, thickset man wearing a toga, with a strong neck, a thin moustache, a prominent hooked nose, and a mass of curly hair which is suspiciously full for a man of about fifty-six. It is possible that hair and nose are exaggerated as suitably Roman characteristics, but in other respects the portrait is sufficiently idiosyncratic to suggest that it is an authentic likeness.

Walker implies that Herrick remained in London from 1647 to 1660, and writes that 'having no Fifths paid him [he] was subsisted by Charity' (Walker, 263). Some of this charity came from Fane, to whom Herrick addressed a 'Christmas Carroll' in 1647. Fane sent £5 that November, and apparently paid £2 quarterly until 1660. To this was added an 'Annual Charity' from Viscount Scudamore, and probably something from Henry Pierrepoint, the 'gallant Newark' bracketed with 'Noble Westmorland' (Fane) as having a 'large heart and long hand' (Poetical Works, 301). Herrick's only surviving brother, Nicholas, a Levant merchant in London whose travels he celebrates (ibid., 330), would have been an obvious supporter and host, more so than Sir William Herrick, long retired to Leicestershire, whose sympathies were no longer royalist. Those of the Soame and Stone families were, however, and Sir William Soame (ibid., 131) at Little Thurlow and Sir Richard Stone at Stukeley were also probably supporters of their cousin. Two earlier patrons could not have helped him much: Crewe, with whom Herrick seems in any case to have quarrelled (ibid., 161), died in 1648, and Porter in 1649.

Even though he saw Hesperides as a definitive life's work, it is unlikely that Herrick stopped writing after its publication. Very little has survived, however: apart from the 'Christmas Carroll', he contributed to the Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647 (Poetical Works, 415), and to the elegies on Hastings in Lachrymae musarum of 1649 (ibid., 416). When this elegy, his last known poem, was written he still had twenty-five years to live, years which from 1660 are partially documented by the Exeter diocesan records. Despite having sworn never to return to Dean Prior until 'Rockes turn to Rivers, Rivers turn to Men' (ibid., 29), he was one of the 570 clergy who petitioned the House of Lords in 1660 to secure the revenues of their livings while awaiting restitution. That came in September with the Act for Settling Ministers. Aged sixty-nine, Herrick returned to Dean Prior, where he was again supported by a curate, David Mole, who described himself as a 'lecturer' (chanter 151, 41, Devon RO) and who had been curate at nearby South Brent since 1633. Herrick signed a certificate of orthodoxy for an Edward Goswell on 12 October 1661 (basket D/67/99, Devon RO), and subscribed to the Act of Conformity in August 1662, but did not appear before the bishop's visitation of November that year, or ever again: in August 1665 and 1668 he was represented by David Mole, the bishop excusing him; while in 1671, apparently without a curate, he was excused as extremely aged ('valde senex'). In August 1674 a new curate, ‘Mr Colwell’, represented him. It was presumably Colwell who buried him at the church of St George the Martyr, Dean Prior two months later, when the parish register records 'Robert Herrick Vicker was buried the 15th day of October'.


It has been argued that in 1648, aged about fifty-six, and with publication probably coinciding with the second civil war, Herrick launched Hesperides at an inauspicious time, his poetry too old-fashioned and too harmonious for 'the untuneable Times' (Poetical Works, 84). The evidence does not wholly support this. Wood remembered that Hesperides made some impact, and that Herrick's poems 'made him much admired in the time when they were published, especially by the generous and boon loyalists' (Wood, 2.122–3). The dedication to Prince Charles and the explicitly royalist poems suggest why Hesperides was timely for such readers, as less obviously does Herrick's emphasis on the continuity and shaping powers of ceremony, ritual, and tradition, and on the importance of friendship and family loyalty. Even the harmonies of the well-tuned lyric must have had a powerful nostalgic impact on readers whose world had been turned disharmoniously upside down. Seventy-five poems from Hesperides were included in the 1650 edition of the anthology Witt's Recreations, with ten more in 1663, and Herrick continued to appear in anthologies and songbooks throughout the century. He was praised as 'Yong Herric' in Musarum deliciae (1655, 2), and in Naps upon Parnassus (1658) as the only English lyric poet comparable to Horace (sig. A3v). But Hesperides did not establish him as the distinctive master of lyric that he undoubtedly was, and he was largely unknown throughout the eighteenth century. Herrick was willing to wait, however, making clear that Hesperides was aimed more at a future than a present audience:

That each Lyrick here shall beOf my love a Legacie,Left to all posterity.

Poetical Works, 88Posterity has not always known how to take the legacy: critics have found Herrick's characteristic virtues of playfulness, generosity, gracefulness, self-mockery, the very ease of his verse, difficult to deal with. A similar anxiety about such 'trivial' qualities informs both Edward Phillips's description, 'now and then a pretty Floury and Pastoral gale of Fancy' interrupted by 'trivial passages' (Theatrum poetarum, 1675, 62), and F. R. Leavis's judgment that Herrick is merely 'trivially charming' (Revaluation, 1936, 36). His high reputation in Victorian times was, conversely, all too often based on a view of him as a simple poet of an innocent world of daffodils, quaint customs, and blossoming village beauties which itself trivialized his achievement.

Containing almost 1400 poems, probably almost all that he could find to print in 1647, Hesperides was and remains the only effort by an important English poet to publish his entire œuvre in one organized collection. For despite the appearance of being a 'heterogeneous mass' (Nichols, 2/2.634) Hesperides is organized: with its versified 'Argument' (Poetical Works, 5), and even its versified errata, and bounded by addresses 'To his Booke', it consciously imitates that enclosed garden, outside time, after which it was named. In this and other respects the struggle with 'Times trans-shifting' (The Argument of his Book, ibid.) is Herrick's most characteristic and most profound preoccupation. Not only does he explore all the ways in which 'Poetry Perpetuates the Poet' (ibid., 265), but his lyrics typically pin down a transient moment, as in 'The Comming of Good Luck' (ibid., 100), or, most unusually at this date, transplant the material of biography—family, friends, his maid, his parishioners, his dog—into his timeless garden. Consequent upon this latter process is a fictionalizing of Herrick as a character whose Anacreontic, genial, and self-mocking persona dominates Hesperides. Other poets, notably his greatest mentors, Horace and Jonson, had projected versions of themselves in their work, but Herrick was the first English poet to do so in such a thoroughgoing way. He was deeply original too in the ways he deployed his strategies against 'Times trans-shifting'. His awareness of the importance and continuity of ceremony, and of the ways in which rituals and calendar customs order inchoate experience, informs poems like 'Corinna's going a Maying' (ibid., 67), 'The Hock-Cart' (ibid., 101), and 'Ceremonies for Candlemasse Eve' (ibid., 285). These three poems also display his almost pantheistic insight into the interpenetration of human and natural worlds, and of the time-defeating forces of regeneration at work in both of them. The last lines of each also display, in their very different ways, his acceptance that in the end age and death cannot be defeated, that both human and natural worlds must 'glide / Into the Grave' (To Blossoms, ibid., 176).


  • The poetical works of Robert Herrick, ed. L. C. Martin (1956)
  • Leics. RO, Herrick family papers, DG 9/2405–2439
  • bishop's visitations, Devon RO, Chanter 218
  • Sir William Herrick's papers, Bodl. Oxf., MSS Eng. hist. b. 216, c. 474–484
  • F. Delattre, Robert Herrick: contribution à l'étude de la poésie lyrique en Angleterre au dix-septième siècle (1912)
  • J. Nichols, The history and antiquities of the county of Leicester, 4 vols. (1795–1815)
  • U. Texas, Texas MS, MS file (Herrick, R) works B
  • P. Beal and others, Index of English literary manuscripts, ed. P. J. Croft and others, [4 vols. in 11 pts] (1980–), vol. 2, pt 1, pp. 527–66
  • W. A. Littledale, ed., The registers of St Vedast, Foster Lane, and of St Michael le Quern, London, 1, Harleian Society, register section, 29 (1902)
  • J. Tuckett, Devonshire pedigrees recorded in the herald's visitation of 1620 (1859–61)
  • W. Camden, The visitation of the county of Leicester in the year 1619, ed. J. Fetherston, Harleian Society, 2 (1870)
  • J. Walker, An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and sufferings of the clergy of the Church of England, 2 pts in 1 (1714)
  • The poetry of Mildmay Fane, ed. T. Cain (2001)
  • Warren's book (collectanea ad collegium, sive, Aulam sanctae Trinitatis), ed. A. Dale (1911)
  • Bishop Joseph Hall's register, 1627–37, Devon RO, Chanter 22
  • parish register, Church of St George the Martyr, Dean Prior
  • subscriptions book, Exeter diocese, Devon RO, Chanter 131
  • bishops' transcripts, Dean Prior, Devon RO, reel 12 [microfilm]
  • subscriptions book, 1, 1613–38, CUL
  • Parl. Arch., Main papers collection, HL, 23 June 1660
  • ordination register, diocese of Peterborough, Northants. RO
  • T. Cain, ‘Herrick's ‘Christmas carol’: a new poem and its implications for patronage’, English Literary Renaissance, 29 (1999), 131–53
  • M. Eccles, ‘Herrick's inheritance’, N&Q, 230 (1985), 74–8
  • H. Clifford, ‘The inventory of Nicholas Herrick, goldsmith’, Apollo, 147 (Jan 1998), 19–24
  • W. Pole, Collections towards a description of the county of Devon, ed. J. W. De La Pole (1791)
  • M. Gibson, A view of the ancient and present state of the churches of Door, Home-Lacy, and Hempsted (1727)
  • The autobiography and correspondence of Sir Simonds D'Ewes, ed. J. O. Halliwell, 2 vols. (1845)
  • R. Rollin, ‘Robert Herrick’, Seventeenth-century British nondramatic poets: second series, ed. M. Thomas Hester, DLitB, 126 (1993), 168–81
  • W. A. Copinger, The manors of Suffolk, 7 vols. (1905–11), vol. 5
  • E. Hageman, Robert Herrick: a reference guide (1983) [bibliography]
  • M. Moroney, ‘Recent studies in Herrick’, English Literary Renaissance, 29 (1999), 154–76 [bibliography]


  • BL, ‘Chorus’, Harley MS 367, fol. 154
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. and related material, MSS Eng. hist. b. 216, c. 474–484
  • Leics. RO, family papers, DG 9/2405–2439
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Sir William Herrick, MS Eng. c. 2278
  • Devon RO, Exeter diocesan records, chanter 22, 131, 218
  • U. Texas, Texas MS, works B


  • W. Marshall, line engraving, pubd 1648, NPG [see illus.]
  • N. Schiavonetti, line engraving (after unknown artist), NPG
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E. Arber, ed., , 5 vols. (1875–94)
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National Portrait Gallery, London
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J. Venn & J. A. Venn, , 2 pts in 10 vols. (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8)
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Dictionary of Literary Biography
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British Library, London
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University of Texas, Austin
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A. Wood, , 2 vols. (1691–2); 2nd edn (1721); new edn, ed. P. Bliss, 4 vols. (1813–20); repr. (1967) and (1969)
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