Robert Herrick



Floris Delattre, Robert Herrick (Paris, 1912).


The Complete Poems of Robert Herrick, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 3 vols (London, 1876).


Hesperides The Poems and other Remains of Robert Herrick now first collected, ed. W. Carew Hazlitt, 2 vols (London, 1869).


The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick, ed. L.C. Martin (Oxford, 1956).


F. W. Moorman, Robert Herrick: A Biographical & Critical Study (London, 1910).


The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, ed. J. Max Patrick (New York, 1963; 2nd edition, 1968).


Autograph Literary Manuscripts

Only one undisputed literary manuscript in Robert Herrick's own hand is known to survive. It is an early elegy written by Herrick as a student in 1619 on the death of one of his contemporaries at Cambridge, John Browne, and is preserved on a single leaf, bound with another poem on the same subject by R. Constable, among the Harley manuscripts in the British Library (*HeR 305). The manuscript, which is an unsigned autograph fair copy and probably the paper officially submitted on behalf of Herrick's college, Trinity Hall, was first identified by P.J. Croft and published by him in 1973.


A limited number of other examples of Herrick's hand can be discovered, by which this identification can be confirmed. Chief among them is a series of sixteen undated autograph letters signed by Herrick, written from Cambridge, between c.September 1613 and 1616 or 1617, to his wealthy uncle and guardian, Sir William Herrick, one of them also signed by his brother Thomas. All are petitioning Sir William for money, from the inheritance which he held on Robert's account, towards his support or to pay the bills of booksellers. Fourteen of these letters are preserved in the main archive of the Herrick family of Beaumanor, formerly in the Leicestershire Record office (DG. 9/2422-2435) and now in the Bodleian (MS Eng. c. 2278), and are edited in Martin, pp. 445-53 (see *HeR 416-429). These letters were offered for sale at Sotheby's, 15 December 1988, lot 14 and are extensively illustrated in the sale catalogue (pp. 13-23). Facsimiles of certain of the letters also appear in Farmer's edition of the Texas ‘Herrick’ MS (see below), p. 4, and in IELM, II.i (1987), Facsimile XXIII, after p. xxiv.

A fifteenth letter in the series is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library (*HeR 430). A sixteenth letter, one unrecorded by Martin and allegedly dating from ‘1610’ (viz. 1616), is now known only from a facsimile printed in 1829 (*HeR 431).

Herrick's signature in these various letters appears variously as ‘Robert Herick’, ‘R Hearick’, ‘Robert Hearick’, ‘Robin Hearick’ and ‘Robert Hearicke’. Facsimile examples of these signatures have also appeared in such publications as Grosart (frontispiece); Hazlitt, p. ix; John Nichols, The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, II, ii (1798), Plate CV, facing p. 613; George Walton Scott, Robert Herrick (London, 1974), p. 93; and Ray Rawlins, The Guinness Book of Autographs (London, 1977), p. 105.


Other documents signed by, or closely associated with, Herrick — some of them unknown to his biographers — are found in various archives (HeR 432-449). The Herrick family papers formerly in the Leicestershire Record Office (DG. 9/2405-2438), described and largely illustrated in Sotheby's catalogue for 15 December 1988, lots 15-20 (pp. 24-38), and now in the Bodleian (MSS Eng. hist. c. 1292-1307), include various legal and financial documents relating to the poet, including papers signed by his father, Nicholas (d.1592), and his uncle and guardian, Sir William Herrick (1562-1653). Formerly among them, but now returned to the Leicestershire Record Office (*HeR 432) is the sixteen-year-old poet's indenture of apprenticeship to his uncle, dated 25 September 1607 and bearing his earliest known signature (‘Robert Hericke’).

Yet another substantial portion of the Herrick family archive came to light earlier in 1968, when it was described (with facsimile examples) as item 27 in Hofmann and Freeman's sale catalogue No. 25. Comprising nearly 1,200 letters and documents bound in eleven volumes, these papers are all now also preserved in the Bodleian (MSS Eng. hist. b. 216, c. 474-484) and a detailed typescript calendar was prepared in 1972 by P.M. Pugh. The papers contain one document signed by the poet: a portion of Sir William Herrick's autograph account book recording four payments to his nephew who signed it in receipt (*HeR 433).

On 19 March 1612/13, the poet appeared in the Court of Aldermen, sitting in the Guildhall as the Orphans' Court, where he was ‘adjudged by inspeccion to be of the full age of xxity yeres and upwards’ and where he acknowledged having received a total of £424 8s of his inheritance from his uncle (who, however, retained control of the money). He signed three statements to this effect in registers now preserved in the London Metropolitan Archives (HeR 434-435). The same registers were also signed at other times by his brothers Thomas, Nicholas and William and by his sister Mercie when they variously came of age. These and related records, formerly in the Corporation of London Record Office, were discovered by Mark Eccles and discussed by him in ‘Herrick's Inheritance’, N&Q, 230 (March 1985), 74-8.

Herrick's move to Cambridge — where in 1613 he became a fellow-commoner of St John's College, transferring to Trinity Hall in 1616 — is represented not only by his letters mentioned above and by the autograph Harley poem of 1619 but also by two signatures in the University Subscription Books (HeR 437-437.5).

Some nine or ten years later, as ‘Chaplayne to the late Duke of Buckingham in ye Isle of Reis’, Herrick submitted to Charles I a petition for the vicarage of ‘Deane’ (viz. Dean Prior) in Devon (HeR 438). This petition was successful and Herrick was duly appointed vicar of Dean Prior until his ejection during the Civil War — an ejection which took place not in 1647, as has been commonly supposed (see Martin, p. xvi), but before 25 March 1646, by which time his successor, John Syms, was officially installed (see Syms's journal in the British Library, Add. MS 35297, f. 178v rev.).

The original parish register of Herrick's church during these years is still preserved there — in what is now the largely rebuilt Church of St George the Martyr of Dean Prior. The register is complete from 1557 to 1738 and naturally contains entries over these years by a large number of different parish clerks and, possibly, rectors. One hand which occurs on seven pages during the 1630s (*HeR 439-445) bears a considerable resemblance to Herrick's hand (witness such features as the footed r, Greek and secretary forms of e, capitals C, F, G, H and R [as in Robert], and a certain versatility of letter formation), although, at the same time, it has a sufficient number of dissimilar features (such as peculiar formations of A, d, f, h, I, L, N, P, y and z) to leave the identification uncertain. If the hand be not Herrick's, it must be accounted an interesting coincidence that a new parish clerk, with a handwriting somewhat similar to Herrick's and quite dissimilar to that of earlier clerks of the parish, should be appointed at just about the time that Herrick himself became rector and when he obviously had access to this register.

With the Restoration of Charles II, Herrick submitted a petition to the House of Lords, on 23 June 1660, requesting the revenues of his vicarage, which had been sequestered during the Commonwealth period (*HeR 446). The petition was successful and he recovered his vicarage, where he stayed until his death in 1674.

Three further documents relating to clerical matters, signed by him and preserved in the Devon Record Office at Exeter bear further witness to his later years at Dean Prior (*HeR 447-449). Yet other Dean Priory parish records relating to Dean Prior in this period are preserved in the same record office — such as the Overseers of the Poor Accounts for c.1610-57 (PO1) and the Settlement Certificates for 1622-99 (PO4-11), as well as parish accounts relating to churchwardens, constables and other officials in 1567-99 (PW 1) — though neither these nor the main parish register after 1636 bear any trace of Herrick's hand. This is despite the fanciful belief once entertained by the Rev. C.J. Perry Keene, who was Vicar of Dean Prior from 1878 to 1926, that an Elizabethan scribbling (‘thou art my god and sauiour one yt I awaie all waye’) on the end-leaf of the last-named set of accounts (PW1) was Herrick's ‘confession of belief’, these accounts being supposedly found by Herrick ‘as loose sheets’ and sewn together by him ‘roughly, with fine strong thick thread’ because he was ‘quick to see their value’.

The Texas ‘Herrick’ Manuscript

Another alleged identification of Herrick's hand is somewhat more controversial. In 1965, at Sotheby's, P.J. Croft claimed to have identified beyond doubt the hand of Robert Herrick in a Phillipps manuscript, a miscellany of c.1612-24, which was subsequently acquired by the University of Texas (see the description below for University of Texas at Austin, HRC 79).

This miscellany (it is not in any sense a ‘commonplace book’) is, as Croft has rightly observed, a manuscript of some importance — because it appears to contain closely contemporary copies of poems and other works (some of a distinctly ‘underground’ nature) which were in current manuscript circulation and were possibly entered here just as they were received, and because detailed study of the manuscript could well throw light on the nature of miscellany compilation at Cambridge and elsewhere in this period. Croft's identification of the ‘Herrick hand’ in the manuscript would appear to rest on a limited numberof ‘personal and identifying characteristics whose perception is at least partly a matter of intuition developed by experience’; on the assumption that all other known examples of the poet's hand ‘are written in a comparatively formal version of Herrick's hand’, whereas the entries in the Texas MS ‘tend to be much more cursively written’; and on the corresponding hypothesis that, given the opportunity to write informally and with speed, then Herrick would naturally adopt the style found in the Texas MS. Croft points to the ‘underlying identity of this rapid cursive’ which ‘can be sensed in the slope and in such individual forms as f, g, and Italic long s [and] …Greek e’. Because a letter by Bishop Williams in the manuscript is completed in the ‘Herrick hand’, and since Herrick speaks in a later poem to Williams (Martin (p. 52) of unkindness he had received from him in the past, then, according to Croft, the Texas MS ‘suggests that he may at this period have been employed as secretary’ to Williams. Croft further views a change by the Herrick hand in The Welcome to Sack (line 74) as an authorial revision and he claims that several poems written entirely in this hand can ‘now be attributed to Herrick beyond reasonable doubt’, his authorship being especially ‘unquestionable’ for two songs on p. 253 (illustrated in Croft's Autograph Poetry in the English Language, 1973, I, 33) where ‘the character of the writing suggests that Herrick may be here dashing them off in the heat of composition’.

Doubts may be cast on Croft's claims on various accounts. Granted some similar features in the Texas MS (such as the slope to the right and certain of the formations of d, Greek e, s, t, b, g, A and J), it is questionable whether such resemblances are really idiosyncratic rather than generic in nature, while, on the other hand, there are a number of dissimilarities (such as the Texas scribe's forms of h, k, L, N, Q, B, D and f, as well as superscript th and his use of ampersands and contractions such as p for per) which Croft overlooks (or else tacitly, and doubtfully, dismisses as mere variants of Herrick's known formations). In the Texas MS there is little sense of deliberation in the forming of any of the words and none of Herrick's stylistic flourishes, his characteristic pen strokes leading into or running out of words. Perhaps the single most characteristic letter form to be found in Herrick's writing — his r with a pronounced foot-serif — is nowhere to be found in the Texas ‘Herrick hand’ (although, curiously enough, it occurs in most of the other scripts in the manuscript). Croft dismisses the foot-serif as ‘the addition of …a stock “calligraphic” feature.’ In fact, on the contrary, this was a normal (and indeed invariable) feature of Herrick's writing and it is the atypical form of the r in the Texas MS, involving a quite different movement of the pen, which he would have been obliged to ‘adopt’. Croft also seriously minimises not only the number of extant examples of Herrick's hand available for comparison (see above) but also the variety of scripts to be found therein. The holographs, ranging over a period from 1607 to 1663, cannot be uniformly stereotyped as ‘formal’, either stylistically or with regard to the speed with which they were written. Their style, which is predominantly italic with some admixture of secretary, ranges from a comparatively free, somewhat angular cursive, leaning to the right and with elongated ascenders and descenders, to a comparatively small, tight, rounded script, with variations of individual letter forms apparently adopted (like the different forms of his signature and certain of his spellings) as the mood took him. This flexibility contrasts sharply with the hand in the Texas MS, which (with rare exceptions, such as variant forms of p and f) has a relentless uniformity and, in fact, shows little of Herrick's palpable sense of style and penmanship.

However cursive this hand, there is, moreover, no reason to suppose that any work whatsoever in the Texas MS is in the hand of its author. The manuscript is, from start to finish, a set of copies and there is no evidence of authorial revision at any point. The poem on p. 343, for instance (‘Now all the news vpo th'xchange is of the golde lady’), a poem which Croft does not suggest was composed by Herrick, is scarcely less rapidly written than the ‘exercises’ on p. 253 which he thinks were Herrick's, while the changes to which Croft draws attention in The Welcome to Sack are found in other sources (as is the earlier version of line 74) and could easily have been made after consultation with some other copy (a practice of scribal emendation far from rare in miscellanies of this period). Such emendations would, too, be wholly consistent with the nature of the Texas scribe's alterations and additions elsewhere in the manuscript, which suggest a somewhat fussy, academic tinkering (see, for instance, the Latin quotation with which he glosses a word on p. 203). Identification of handwriting (even if correct) is never good reason alone to establish authorship of poems in miscellanies such as this in any case, while, as Croft himself partly admits, there are certainly no clear stylistic affinities between any unattributed poems in this manuscript and Herrick's known poems. The suggestion concerning Bishop Williams can, too, be accounted no more than conjecture.

This discussion could be extended considerably, but, in short: Croft's identification is at best unproven, at worst misleading speculation. In the absence of reliable supporting evidence, a direct association between this manuscript and Robert Herrick would seem to be unlikely.

Manuscripts of Herrick's Verse

Whatever the true identity of the Texas manuscript, it is evident that a number of Herrick's poems, particularly those from his Cambridge and London days, had considerable circulation in manuscript, being copied and recopied in miscellanies and songbooks long before he saw fit to collect, revise and publish them himself in 1647-8. One slightly earlier attempt to publish a collection was made on 29 April 1640, when Andrew Crooke made application in the Stationers' register to publish ‘The severall Poems written by Master Robert Herrick’ (see Martin, p. xv). Herrick himself may have had something to do with this, but it could just as easily have been an unauthorized (and abortive) project by a publisher simply to print some of the manuscript verse currently available. That Hesperides and Noble Numbers were regarded by Herrick as the definitive text of his poems is suggested by one short poem, His request to Julia (Martin p. 21), in which he writes (with what sincerity, one can only speculate):

Julia, if I chance to die

Ere I print my Poetry;

I most humbly thee desire

To commit it to the fire:

Better 'twere my Book were dead,

Then to live not perfected.

Contemporary manuscript texts of Herrick's poems nevertheless have considerable value on several accounts. Manuscripts contain the texts of poems by Herrick in the form in which they were generally known to his contemporaries over a period of twenty years or more. They contain early, unrevised versions, perhaps originally never intended for publication, and enable a view to be taken of the evolution of Herrick's texts and of his poetic craft. Because the 1647-8 volume is essentially a mature poet's (perhaps generous) selection of his own works, manuscripts provide the only textual witnesses to a number of poems which were excluded from that selection or which, in some instances, were published in highly abridged form. The possibility should also at least be considered by editors that those texts which the poet happened to have to hand in 1647-8 were not necessarily his original, uncorrupted versions (compare, for instance, the trouble Donne had to find good texts of his own poems in 1611). It could be argued that variant readings in the printed volume should not automatically be accepted in preference to manuscript texts in every instance. Readers might, in any case, be forgiven for sometimes preferring earlier readings in particular poems.

Of the various mid-seventeenth-century manuscripts recorded in the entries below, seven contain fairly substantial collections of Herrick's poems (i.e. more than ten poems each). They may be briefly listed as follows, with the delta numbers originally supplied in IELM:

Bodleian, MS Don. c. 57. ‘Probert MS’: HeR Δ 1. Includes twelve poems by or attributed to Herrick in musical settings.

Bodleian, MS Eng. poet. c. 50. ‘Daniell MS’: HeR Δ 2. Includes 19 poems by or attributed to Herrick (and second copies of six of them).

British Library, Add. MS 53723. ‘Henry Lawes MS’: HeR Δ 3. Includes 14 poems by or attributed to Herrick in Henry Lawes's musical settings.

Harvard, fMS Eng 626. ‘St John MS’: HeR Δ 4. Includes 16 poems by or attributed to Herrick.

Huntington, HM 198, Part I. ‘Haslewood-Kingsborough MS’ (I): HeR Δ 5. Includes eleven poems by or attributed to Herrick.

National Library of South Africa, Cape Town, MS Grey 7 a 29. ‘Grey MS’: HeR Δ 6. Includes 14 poems by or attributed to Herrick.

Yale, Osborn MS b 197. ‘Alston MS’: HeR Δ 7. Includes 13 poems by or attributed to Herrick.

The Canon

Since, as already noted, many of Herrick's poems were excluded from the edition of 1647-8, the complete canon has by no means been established with certainty. Any survey must take into account a variety of attributions to Herrick made by past editors on assorted evidence and it is likely that each new editor will have his or her own version of the canon. In view of this, entries below are classified in two categories: (1) Poems published in Hesperides and Noble Numbers (HeR 1-290), and (2) Other poems by or attributed to Herrick (HeR 291-415). The latter group includes poems ranging from virtually certain attributions (such as the Chorus in his own hand (*HeR 305) and poems invariably ascribed to Herrick in fairly reliable contemporary sources) to poems whose attributions are little more than modern editorial guesses based on stylistic affinities. The second category includes, in effect, all those ‘Additional Poems’ printed in Martin (pp. 404-44), with the exception of eighteen poems (on pp. 423-39) ‘Attributed to “R. H.” in a Seventeenth-Century Manuscript’: viz. poems which occur on pp. 251-9 and 287-97 in a verse miscellany of c.1634 which was later Phillipps MS 9536 and is now in the Rosenbach Museum & Library (MS 239/27). Martin's attribution of these poems, which ‘betray inferiority in style and art’, has been disputed in R.G. Howarth, ‘Attributions to Herrick’, N&Q, 203 (June 1958), 249, where it is plausibly suggested that ‘R. H.’ might be Robert Heath, and also in John M. Ditsky, ‘A Case of Insufficient Evidence: L.C. Martin's “R. H.” Poems and Herrick’, Ball State University Forum, 11 (1970), 54-9. The poems have also been omitted from Patrick's edition and from Martin's own Oxford Standard Authors edition in 1965.

On the other hand, additions to Martin's version of the canon comprise two poems attributed to Herrick in more recent scholarly articles (HeR 320-2, HeR 332-52) and one further, apparently unpublished, poem ascribed to Herrick in the noteworthy Grey MS (HeR 323-7). These additions include the fine verses King Oberon his Cloathing (HeR 332-52), the composition of which is obviously related to one of Herrick's fairy poems (they were published together in 1634). The verses have been traditionally ascribed to Herrick's college friend Sir Simeon Steward (or Stewart), although Hazlitt and, more recently, Norman K. Farmer, Jr. have suggested that Steward may have been only an early copyist rather than their author (one of Henry King's poems, for instance, is ascribed to Steward for possibly similar reasons: see KiH 616). Contrary evidence that Steward was indeed known as an original poet himself in the 1620s is provided by references among the poems of Sir Mildmay Fane (d.1629) now at Harvard (fMS Eng 645): see T.G.S. Cain, ‘Robert Herrick, Mildmay Fane, and Sir Simeon Steward’, English Literary Renaissance, 15 (1985), 312-17. Thus the circumstances of authorship and possibility of collaboration remain open to investigation.

The general uncertainty of seventeenth-century manuscript ascriptions elsewhere is illustrated by instances of known poems by Herrick being ascribed to such poets as Corbett (HeR 47) and even, in one notable instance, to Philip Massinger (HeR 205), while Herrick's own name could be affixed even to a poem by Donne (DnJ 3682). The equal uncertainty of modern attribution is exemplified by the series of discussions of ‘Two Poems by Herrick?’ in Notes & Queries (Vol. 200, September 1955, 380-1; November 1955, 500; Vol. 201, February 1956, 89; Vol. 207, October 1962, 394; and Vol. 223, October 1978, 446), where some fourteen lines printed in Joshua Poole's compilation The English Parnassus (1657) were attributed to Herrick by R.G. Howarth, but then found to be largely extracts from Joshua Sylvester, Sir Philip Sidney and Ben Jonson. Six couplets beginning ‘Dote not on that which may but cause thy woe’, which appear in Huntington, HM 904, f. 13, are tentatively assigned to Herrick on stylistic grounds in Jenijoy La Belle, ‘The Huntington Aston Manuscript’, The Book Collector, 29 (Winter 1980), 542-67 (p. 554). However, it is evident that attributions of this kind could be adduced almost indefinitely.

Answer Poems

Besides Lord Westmorland's answer poem to Herrick's A Christmas Carroll to the Earle of WestmorLand recently discovered by Tom Cain (see HeR 305.5), a few other verse responses to Herrick may be mentioned. A hitherto unrecorded ‘answer’ to another of Herrick's ‘Christmas’ poems — presumably, to A Christmas Caroll, sung to the King in the Presence at White-Hall (‘What sweeter musick can we bring’): Martin, pp. 364-5 — occurs in an autograph collection of poems by John Cotton presented to his mother Lady Alice Cotton, c.1648-55. Cotton's poem, in British Library Add. MS 10307, f. 30r-v, is headed ‘To his ingenious Freind Mr. Robert Hirricke. An Ode in answere to his Christmas Caroll’ (beginning ‘See, see,/How every hoary-headed Tree’). Two other little-known poems addressed to Herrick in the 1620s are also found among Mildmay Fane's autograph verse at Harvard (fMS Eng 645) and are quoted by T.G.S. Cain in English Literary Renaissance, 15 (1985), 312-17.


An exemplum of Grosart's edition of Herrick (1876) containing copious notes by the Rev. Charles Percival Phinn (d.1906) is in the British Library (11601.k.26) and was used by Martin (see his pp. v-vi). Letters concerning Hazlitt's edition of 1869 are among his collections in the British Library (Add. MS 38900, passim). Other sources that throw some light on Herrick or his circle are cited notably in Delattre (pp. 511-17); and in Karl Josef Höltgen's articles ‘Herrick, the Wheeler Family, and Quarles’, Review of English Studies, NS 16 (1965), 399-405, and ‘Herrick and Mrs. Wheeler’, TLS (17 March 1966), p. 228.

Peter Beal