"Milton was forced to wait until the
world had done admiring Quarles."
                                —Horace Walpole

Life of Francis Quarles (1592-1644)
By John Butler

Portrait of Quarles           Descended from an old Essex family, Francis Quarles was born at the manor house of Stewards, in Essex, in May 1592. He was left an orphan early, and was educated first at Christ's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1608) and at Oriel College, Oxford. Then, as did so many others, he went on to Lincoln's Inn to study law, which he apparently took up as a profession. In 1613, he joined the Earl of Arundel's mission to escort Elizabeth, the daughter of James I, to Heidelburg to marry the Elector Palatine. Quarles went abroad again in 1615, and when he returned to England he soon got married (1618). He and his wife had eighteen children, and they were often very poor, but it was at this point that he turned his energies to writing.
          As a man, Quarles was cheerful but reticent, morally-earnest and totally sincere in what he did, determined to serve God, his King and his family to the best of his ability. In 1639 he was appointed Chronologer of the City of London, and when the Civil War broke out he employed his time writing books and pamphlets in the royalist cause. Quarles was a very determined royalist, and his political writings, particularly the Enchiridion (1640), were highly-regarded by royalists whilst his poetry was loved by puritans!   In 1644 the Long Parliament ordered Quarles's house to be searched for "subversive" writings and all his manuscripts were burned. His popularity among the puritans was such that it preserved him from a personal attack, and he died of natural causes on September 8, 1644, and was buried in the church of St. Olave, Silver Street. At his death his wife and nine surviving children were left in poverty. Quarles's widow, Elizabeth, continued to issue works by her husband as well as oversee reprintings of his other works. A steady stream of posthumous Quarles rained upon a receptive public until 1649, the year of Charles I's execution.
          Quarles's first important work was A Feast for Worms (1621), a cheerful little paraphrase of the Book of Jonah whose rather lugubrious title was one of many more such to come from his pen. The paraphrase was in verse, which Quarles augmented with pious verse-meditations and weighty moral poems of his own. He found a readership, and he relentlessly wrote for it, producing similar paraphrases on the books of Esther (1621), Job (1624), Jeremiah (1624), Psalms (1625) and a work on Samson (1631). All these works emphasised suffering, pain, anguish and general despondency as their themes, interspersed with moralising passages in verse and prose.
          Quarles took some time out from the generally gloomy to write a long verse-romance developed out of Sidney's Arcadia, Argalus and Parthenia (1629), which also enjoyed great success and has as its theme the triumph of love and faithfulness over death. He followed this up in 1630 with Divine Poems (a collection of the Biblical paraphrases), adding more edifying verse-piety in Divine Fancies (1632).
          Quarles was not finished yet. In the 1630's he went back to Essex and began work on what was to become his best-known and most popular work—his best-selling Emblems (1635), lavishly-illustrated and containing five books of meditative verse. The poems are introduced by a scriptural motto, then a commentary based on quotations from various sources, and at the end closure is achieved with a short didactic epigram. The visual impact is supplied by the centre-piece, the emblem itself. Quarles says that "an emblem is but a short parable," and the verse puts the visual into the mental. The words and pictures, complementing each other, may then be said to have a double impact upon the reader.
          He followed Emblems up with another scarcely less-successful book of the same genre, Hieroglyphics of the Life of Man (1637). After 1637, Quarles's output was mostly political pamphlets and books, followed by posthumous works. Of the latter, we might mention Solomon's Recantation (1645), to which Quarles's wife contributed a rather touching biographical account of her husband, and the tragedy of The Virgin Widow (1649), his solitary drama. Herschel Baker, who included Quarles in his Later Renaissance in England anthology (1973) declared that Quarles's "blend of facile versifying and assertive piety was bound to be successful" in his own times (193). Baker and many others before and after him have seen Quarles as a poet who appealed to ordinary people even if he himself was not one of them.

Editions of Quarles's works and Criticism

Various poems can be found in any good anthology of the period,
from Nerschel Baker in 1973 to Alastair Fowler in 1997. The following
is a list of other works and complete editions, such as they are.

Freeman, David, Ed. Argalus and Parthenia. Washington: Folger Books, 1988.
Grosart, A.B. Collected Works of Francis Quarles. 3 volumes. London, 1880-81.
Hassan, Masoodul. Francis Quarles: A Study of his Life and Poetry. Aligarh, 1966.
Holfgren, Karl Josef. Francis Quarles 1592-1644. Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1978. [in German]
Horden, J., Ed. Hosanna, or Divine Poems on the Passion of Christ. Liverpool University Press, 1960.
Horden, J. Francis Quarles: A Bibliography of His Works to the Year 1800. Oxford Bibliographical Society, {1934}, 1948.
Horden, J. "Edmund Marmion's Illustrations for Quarles's Argalus and Parthenia," Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 2 (1954): 55-62.
Quarles, Francis. Complete Works in Prose and Verse. AMS Press, 1970 (repr.).
Quarles, Francis. Emblemes 1635. Scholars Facsimilies & Reprint, 1999.
Quarles, Francis. Hieroglyphikes 1637. Menston: Scolar Press Facsimiles, 1978.
Tyner, Raymond. "Francis Quarles: A Study of his Literary Ancestry and Contemporary Setting as a Religious Poet," Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1955.


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