In 1930, Frederick T. Wood edited The Poems of Henry Carey for The Scholartis Press: Eric Partridge Ltd., London. The copy I borrowed from the Fondren Library hasn’t circulated since 1946. Wood’s edition was the first attempt, almost two centuries after the poet’s death, to collect all of Carey’s known work. In his introduction, Wood suggests Carey may have been “the most completely forgotten of them all.” As he puts it: “It is a feature of history that it can show a number of mystery personages who from time to time make their appearance as it were from nowhere, pass dimly across the literary horizon, and then vanish.” Carey’s better lines have a raucous, defiant charm. In “The Surly Peasant,” he treads on Edward Lear’s turf:
“Let whimsical monarchs of state
Imagine themselves to be great;
With my spade in my hand
Sole monarch I stand
Of twenty good acres of land.
“A fig for your sir or your madam;
Our origin all is from Adam;
Then why should I buckle,
Palaver or truckle
To any pragmatical chuckle?”
It may be doggerel, but it’s honest fun, without aspirations to anything grander. Humor is tethered in time and place, and doesn’t always travel well, but certain themes endure.
Here is “The Rival Lap-Dog”:
“Corinna, pray tell me
Why thus you repell me,
When humbly I sue for a kiss;
While Dony at pleasure
May kiss without measure,
And surfeit himself with the bliss?
“How hard’s my misfortune,
That I must importune,
For what I must still be deny’d;
While the rapturous duty
I owe to your beauty
Must be by a lap-dog supplied.”
Carey never resorts to what comedians used to call “working blue,” which is a shame. A little smut would perk things up. See also “An Ode in Praise of Coffee” (“Thou sacred liquour of nectarous taste”) and “Love à la Mode” (“If she loves you—then forsake her; / ’Tis the modish way of wooing”). My favorite in Wood’s edition is the final poem, “The Author’s Quietus (Address’d to his Dear Friend, Jemmy Worsdale)":
“This itch of scribbling has no end, no ease,
Damn’d if you fail, and envy’d if you please;
Uncertain pleasure for most certain pain:
Well, Solomon says right, All things are vain;
’Tis better that a man should eat and drink.
Here! — Take away this ugly pen and ink!
Come, James! — let’s have a bottle and a bit;
There's something solid in that kind of wit.”