- John Suckling (poet)
Sir John Suckling (
February 10 1609– June 1 1642) was an English Cavalier poetwhose best known poem may be "Ballad Upon a Wedding". He is well known as a Carpe Diem or Cavalier poet, and also as the supposed inventor of the card game cribbage.
He was born at
Whitton, in the parish of Twickenham, Middlesex, and baptized there on February 10 1609. His father was Sir William Suckling, a courtier and his mother was Elizabeth Cranfield, sister of Sir Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex. The poet inherited his father's estate at the age of eighteen. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1623, and was enrolled at Gray's Innin 1627. He was intimate with Thomas Carew, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Nabbesand especially with John Halesand Sir William Davenant, who later furnished John Aubreywith information about his friend.
In 1628 he left
Londonto travel in Franceand Italy, returning before the autumn of 1630, when he was knighted. In 1631 he volunteered for the force raised by the Marquess of Hamilton to serve under Gustavus Adolphusin Germany. He was back at Whitehallin May 1632; but during his short service he had been present at the Battle of Breitenfeld and in many sieges. His poetic talent was only one of many accomplishments, but it commended him especially to Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. He says of himself ("A Sessions of the Poets") that he "prized black eyes or a lucky hit at bowls above all the trophies of wit." He was the best card-player and the best bowler at court. Aubrey says that he invented the game of cribbage, and relates that his sisters came weeping to the bowling green at Piccadillyto dissuade him from play, fearing that he would lose their portions.
In 1634 great avalanche was caused in his old circle by a beating which he received at the hands of Sir John , a rival suitor for the hand of the daughter of Sir John Willoughby; and it has been suggested that this incident, which is narrated at length in a letter (
November 10 1634) from George Garrard to Strafford, had something to do with his beginning to seek more serious society. In 1635 he retired to his country estates in obedience to the proclamation of June 20 1632enforced by the Star Chamberagainst absentee landlordism, and employed his leisure in literary pursuits. In 1637 "A Sessions of the Poets" was circulated in manuscript, and about the same time he wrote a tract on Socinianism entitled "An Account of Religion by Reason" (pr. 1646).
As a dramatist Suckling is noteworthy as having applied to regular drama the accessories already used in the production of masques. His "Aglaura" (pr. 1638) was produced at his own expense with elaborate scenery. Even the lace on the actors' coats was of real gold and silver. The play, in spite of its felicity of diction, lacks dramatic interest, and the criticism of
Richard Flecknoe("Short Discourse of the English Stage"), that it seemed "full of flowers, but rather stuck in than growing there," is not altogether unjustified. " The Goblins" (1638, pr. 1646) has some reminiscences of "The Tempest"; "Brennoralt", or the "Discontented Colonel" (1639, pr. 1646) is a satire on the Scots, who are the Lithuanian rebels of the play; a fourth play, "The Sad One", was left unfinished owing to the outbreak of the Civil War. Suckling raised a troop of a hundred horse, at a cost of £12,000, and accompanied Charles on the Scottish expedition of 1639. He shared in the earl of Holland's retreat before Duns, and was ridiculed in an amusing ballad (pr. 1656), in "Musarum deliciae", "on Sir John Suckling's most warlike preparations for the Scottish war."
He was elected as member for
Bramberfor the opening session (1640) of the Long Parliament; and in that winter he drew up a letter addressed to Henry Jermyn, afterwards earl of St Albans, advising the king to disconcert the opposition leaders by making more concessions than they asked for. In May of the following year he was implicated in an attempt to rescue Strafford ( Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford?) from the Tower and to bring in French troops to the king's aid. The plot was exposed by the evidence of Colonel George Goring, and Suckling fled beyond the seas. The circumstances of his short exile are obscure. He was certainly in Parisin the summer of 1641. One pamphlet related a story of his elopement with a lady to Spain, where he fell into the hands of the Inquisition. The manner of his death is uncertain, but Aubrey's statement that he put an end to his life by poisonin May or June 1642 in fear of poverty is generally accepted.
Suckling's reputation as a poet depends on his minor pieces. They have wit and fancy, and at times exquisite felicity of expression. "Easy, natural Suckling," Millamant's comment in Congreve's "The Way of the World" (Act iv., sc. i.) is a just tribute to their spontaneous quality. Among the best known of them are the "Ballade upon a Wedding," on the occasion of the marriage of Roger Boyle, afterwards
Earl of Orrery, and Lady Margaret Howard, "I prithee, send me back my heart," "Out upon it, I have loved three whole days together," and "" from "Aglaura". "A Sessions of the Poets," describing a meeting of the contemporary versifiers under the presidency of Apollo to decide who should wear the laurel wreath, is the prototype of many later satires.
A collection of Suckling's poems was first published in 1646 as "Fragmenta aurea". The so-called "Selections" (1836) published by the Rev. Alfred Inigo Suckling (author of the "History and Antiquities of Suffolk" [1846–1848] with "Memoirs" based on original authorities and a portrait after Van Dyck) is really a complete edition of his works, of which WC Hazlitt's edition (1874; revised ed., 1892) is little more than a reprint with some additions. "The Poems and Songs of Sir John Suckling", edited by John Gray and decorated with woodcut border and initials by Charles Ricketts, was artistically printed at the Ballantyne Press in 1896. In 1910 Suckling's works in prose and verse were edited by A. Hamilton Thompson. For anecdotes of Suckling's life see
John Aubrey's "Brief Lives" ( Clarendon Pressed., ii.242).
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