On His Majestys Recovery From The Smallpox 1633 William Cart

wright (1651) William Cartwright's "On His Majesty's Recovery from the Small-Pox, 1633" represents a strong example of the panegyric, a poem designed to praise an individual, combined with occasional verse, poetry designed to celebrate a particular occasion, the identity of both person and occasion made clear in the title. Most critics judge this celebratory approach to be Cartwright's strongest, with his lyrics and elegies superior to his drama. His staunch Royalist position and his favor at court made his choice of topic predictable, and he proved a favorite of King Charles I.

The poem begins with a beguiling confession by a speaker who wonders how later ages will receive his era's focus on the disease of its ruler. The group of 22

rhyming couplets opens with "I do confess, the over-forward tongue / Of public duty turns into a wrong" but makes clear the term wrong is used ironically, for that tongue is recording not only the king's disease, never specifically identified, but his recovery. Incorporating a muted rhyme in the middle of his fifth line, Cartwright continues,

And after-ages could ne'er conceive

Our happy Charles so frail as to receive

Such a disease.

Here he makes clear that future generations will recall only Charles's strength, meaning his physical constitution, but also alluding to strength of character. Later critics, however, would view Cartwright's poetry, along with that of other poets of the time, as ironic, critical of the king's choices and behavior, but little affecting Charles.

Having effectively ended focus on the illness with the pause forced by the comma that follows the word disease, he completes the fifth line and then focuses again on the burden of those whose duty it is to report, writing,

Which we have made in shouting forth our joys;

And our informing duty only be

A well-meant spite, or loyal injury.

Obviously Cartwright does not see the focus on the monarch's well-being as spiteful but includes such a description in order to correct it, accomplished in the phrase loyal injury. In other words no injury to Charles's reputation was intended by the concern expressed in verse for his physical well-being.

Having completed his apology, Cartwright shifts to more of a panegyric tone. While he continues to retain the topic of the comments made about the king's illness, he uses the conceit of classical references to the heavens to balance any negative connotation. He also demonstrates that Charles's royal personage far outshines those of his reporters, comparing the king to the "Milky-way," while those who reported were only


"small stars fix'd" within that broad celestial sweep. In a second use of figurative language he compares the reporters to faithful turquoises, which Heaven sent

For a discovery, not a punishment;

To show the ill, not make it; and to tell

By their pale looks the bearer was not well.

Again Cartwright employs a midline pause by inserting a semicolon after the term punishment, forcing attention on the phrases that follow.

Cartwright again shifts focus toward the future, suggesting that the king's recovery be the source of an annual celebration and that further "computes," or the calculations of time, be based on "His recovery." In this manner the poet compares his ruler to Christ himself, whose birth established a new method of date calculations. He pursues his suggestion, noting, "Let not the Kingdom's Acts hereafter run / From His (though happy) Coronation, / but from His Heath, as in a better strain. / That plac'd Him on His throne; This makes Him reign."

Cartwright displays the intelligent craftsmanship that made him a favorite of his day. He offers an excuse not only for himself, as court chronicler, but for others who may have written of the king's ailment. He also uses punctuation for emphasis in a manner that asks the reader of his poem to focus attention on the king's strengths, not his illness, intimating what he predicts will happen in the future. Also of note is Cartwright's acceptance of his own immortality through writing and, equally important, through his relationship to the king and the court. His conscious consideration of future generations betrays his hope that his poetry's existence will extend far beyond his own, a desire that was fulfilled.

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