Hesperides, by Robert Herrick

Appendix iii.

Poor Robin’s Almanack.

Herrick’s name has been so persistently connected with Poor Robert’s Almanack that a few words must be said on the subject. There is, we are told, a Devonshire tradition ascribing the Almanack to him, and this is accepted by Nichols in his Leicestershire, and “accredited” by Dr. Grosart. The tradition apparently rests on no better basis than Herrick’s Christian name, and of the poems in the issues of the Almanack which I have seen, it may be said, that, while the worst of them, save for some lack of neatness of turn, might conceivably have been by Herrick — on the principle that if Herrick could write some of his epigrams, he could write anything — the more ambitious poems it is quite impossible to attribute to the author of the Hesperides. But apart from opinion, the negative evidence is overwhelming. Of the three earliest issues in the British Museum, 1664, 1667 and 1669 (all in the annual collections of Almanacs, issued by the Stationers’ Company, and all, it may be noted, bound for Charles II.), I transcribe the title-page of the first. “Poor Robin. 1664. An Almanack After a New Fashion wherein the Reader may see (if he be not blinde) many remarkable things worthy of Observation. Containing a two-fold Kalendar, viz. the Iulian or English, and the Roundheads or Fanaticks: with their several Saints daies and Observations, upon every month. Written by Poor Robin, Knight of the burnt Island and a well-willer to the Mathematicks. Calculated for the Meridian of Saffron Walden, where the Pole is elevated 52 degrees and 6 minutes above the Horizon. London: Printed for the Company of Stationers.”

In the 1667 issue the paragraph about the Pole runs: “Where the Maypole is elevated (with a plumm cake on the top of it) 5 yards 3/4 above the Market Cross”. The mention of Saffron Walden had apparently been ridiculed, and the author in this year joins in the laugh, and in 1669 omits the paragraph altogether. But what had Herrick at any time to do with Saffron Walden, and why should the poet, whose politics, apart from some personal devotion to Charles I., were distinctly moderate, mix himself up with an ultra-Cavalier publication? Also, if Herrick be “Poor Robin” we must attribute to him, at least, the greater part of the twenty-one “Poor Robin” publications, of which Mr. H. Ecroyd Smith gave a list in Notes and Queries, 6th series, vii. 321–3, e.g., “Poor Robin’s Perambulation from the Town of Saffron Walden to London” (1678), “The Merrie Exploits of Poor Robin, the Merrie Saddler of Walden,” etc. These have been generally assigned to William Winstanley, the barber-poet, on the ground of a supposed similarity of style, and from “Poor Robin” having been written under a portrait of him. Mr. Ecroyd Smith, however, attributes them to Robert Winstanley (born, 1646, at Saffron Walden), younger brother of Henry Winstanley, the projector of the Eddystone Lighthouse. He assigns the credit of the “identification” to Mr. Joseph Clark, F.S.A., of the Roos, Saffron Walden, but does not state the grounds which led Mr. Clark to his conclusion, in itself probable enough. In any case there is no valid ground for connecting Herrick either with the Almanack or with any of the other “Poor Robin” publications.

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