Thomas Carew (pronounced Carey) was born, possibly at West Wickham, Kent, in either 1594 or 1595.
His father, lawyer Matthew Carew, moved the family to London about 1598. Nothing is known of Carew's education before he matriculated at Merton College, Oxford, in 1608. Graduating B. A. in 1610/11, he was incorporated B. A. of Cambridge in 1612, after which he was admitted to the Middle Temple. From 1613 to 1616 Carew served as secretary to Sir Dudley Carleton on embassies to Italy and the Netherlands. After being fired for making insulting remarks about Carleton and his wife, Carew returned to England for a futile search for employment. In 1619, his father having died the previous year, Carew joined an embassy to Paris headed by Sir Edward Herbert (later Lord Herbert of Chirbury). Possibly, he met there the Italian poet Giambattista Marino.|
In 1622, Carew's first poem was published: verses prefixed to Thomas May's comedy The Heir. In the early 1620s Carew associated with Ben Jonson and his circle, and also frequented the court. In 1630 Carew was made a gentleman of Charles I's Privy Chamber Extraordinary. He was named Sewer in Ordinary to the King (that is, an official in charge of the royal dining arrangements). It is said he was "high in favour with that king, who had a high opinion of his wit and abilities."1
Carew had a reputation for mischief that stayed with him all of his adult life. This reputation did nothing to damage his career as a poet, soldier, and courtier. His society verses, such as "A Divine Mistress" and "Disdain Returned," were prized for their wit. In truth, he was a conscientious poetic craftsman. Though he did not produce a large body of work, he took extraordinary care in shaping each piece. Carew's masque Coelum Britannicum, performed before the king in 1634, though full of jokes and allusions, draws upon an important work by the sixteenth century Italian philosopher Giordano
Much of Carew's poetry was sexually explicit far beyond the norms of his age, and he was a reputed libertine. Yet he translated nine of the Psalms and wrote one of the finest elegies of the period: "An Elegy on the Death of the Dean of St. Paul's Dr. John Donne." It isa solemn tribute to Donne's contribution to English poetry and the English Language. Perhaps the most interesting of Carew's achievements is his verse criticism of his contemporaries. Formal criticism was in its infancy during the early seventeenth century. Carew's commendatory, complimentary, and elegiac poems provide some of the best evidence concerning the literary values of the age.2
"At the end of his life, Carew attempted to make amends to the Church, summoning a prominent vicar to his deathbed. Owing to his profligate life, however, he was
repulsed."3 Carew died on March 23, 1640 and was buried in Saint Dunstan's-in-the-West, Westminster. His Poems were published the same year, to be followed by the second edition "revised and enlarged" in 1642.
- The Dictionary of National Biography.
London: Oxford University Press, 1917 ff. Volume III. 972.
- The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th Ed. Vol. 1.
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993. 1696.
- Crofts, Thomas, ed. The Cavalier Poets: An Anthology.
New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995. 32.
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