Richard Crashaw - The university scholar

Pembroke College, photo by Monsarc, available through Creative CommonsThere is a twenty year gap between George Herbert's birth and that of Richard Crashaw in 1613. We could view Crashaw, therefore, as being a second generation Metaphysical poet. It is possible that the publication of Herbert's poetry in 1633 whilst Crashaw was an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Cambridge, drew him towards writing religious poetry rather than love poetry.

Crashaw’s early years

  • Crashaw’s father, Dr William Crashaw, was a noted Puritan preacher and writer, who was very strongly anti-Catholic. As we shall see, Richard went to the opposite extreme.
  • His mother died while he was a child, and his father seems to have died before Richard became a student.
  • His secondary education was at Charterhouse, which in those days was a school in the centre of London.


At Cambridge Crashaw was not only an excellent classicist but also became fluent in French, Spanish, and Italian. After graduating in 1634, he had a volume of Latin poems published. He decided to become a University scholar and teacher and in 1636 was made a fellow of Peterhouse college. Fellows were senior members of the college teaching staff. In those days, they had to belong to the Church of England, and remain unmarried.


Whilst at Cambridge, Crashaw made friends with Abraham Cowley, who became a well-known minor poet. He seems to have visited Little Gidding, the nearby Anglican community run by Nicholas Ferrar, whom Herbert had also known. Cambridge at this time was in reaction against Puritanism and had become quite influenced by High Church Anglicanism. Certainly, Crashaw had dropped his Puritan upbringing and was becoming High Church, as was his friend, Cowley.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.