John Cleveland Biography | Poet
John Cleveland Biography. Read biographical information including facts, poetic works, awards, and the life story and history of John Cleveland. This short biogrpahy feature on John Cleveland will help you learn about one of the best famous poet poets of all-time.
CLEVELAND (or Cleiveland), JOHN (1613-1658), English poet and satirist, was born at Loughborough, where he was baptized on the 20th of June 1613. His father was assistant to the rector and afterwards vicar of Hinckley. John Cleveland was educated at Hinckley school under Richard Vines, who is described by Fuller as a champion of the Puritan party. In his fifteenth year he was entered at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and in 1634 was elected to a fellowship at St John’s. He took his M.A. degree in 1635, and was appointed college tutor and reader in rhetoric. His Latinity and oratorical powers were warmly praised by Fuller, who also commends the “lofty fancy” of his verse. He eagerly opposed the candidature of Oliver Cromwell as M.P. for Cambridge, and when the Puritan party triumphed there Cleveland, like many other Cambridge students, found his way (1643) to Oxford. His gifts as a satirist were already known, and he was warmly received by the king, whom he followed (1645) to Newark. In that year he was formally deprived of his Cambridge fellowship as a “malignant.” He was judge-advocate in the garrison at Newark, and under the governor defended the town until in 1646 Charles I. ordered the surrender of the place to Leslie; when there is a curious story that the Scottish general contemptuously dismissed him as a mere ballad-monger. He saw Charles’s error in giving himself into the hands of the Scots, and his indignation when they surrendered the king to the Parliament is expressed in the vigorous verses of “The Rebel Scot,” the sting of which survives even now. Cleveland wandered over the country depending on the alms of the Royalists for bread. He at length found a refuge at Norwich in the house of Edward Cooke, but in 1655 he was arrested as being of no particular occupation, and moreover a man whose great abilities “rendered him able to do the greater disservice.” He spent three months in prison at Yarmouth, but was released by order of Cromwell, to whom he addressed a manly appeal, in which he declared his fidelity to the royal house, pointing out at the same time that his poverty and inoffensiveness were sufficient assurance that his freedom was no menace to Cromwell’s government. He was released early in 1656, and seems to have renewed his wanderings, finding his way eventually to Gray’s Inn, where Aubrey says he and Samuel Butler had a “club” every night. There he died on the 29th of April 1658.
Cleveland’s poems were more highly esteemed than Milton’s by his contemporaries, and his popularity is attested by the very numerous editions of his works. His poems are therefore of great value as an index to the taste of the 17th century. His verse is frequently obscure and full of the far-fetched conceits of the “metaphysical” poets, none of whom surpassed the ingenuity of “Fuscara, or the Bee Errant.” His satires are vigorous personal attacks, the interest of which is, from the nature of the subject, often ephemeral; but the energy of his invective leaves no room for obscurity in such pieces as “Smectymnuus, or the Club Divines,” “Rupertismus” and “The Rebel Scot.”
Cleveland’s works are: “Character of a London Diurnal,” a broadside; Monumentum regale ... (1649), chiefly by Cleveland, containing three of his elegies on the king; “The King’s Disguise” (1646); “On the Memory of Mr Edward King,” in the collection of verse which also included Milton’s “Lycidas,” and many detached poems.
For a bibliographical account of Cleveland’s peoms see J.M. Berdan, The Poems of John Cleveland (New York, 1903), in which there is a table of the contents of twenty-three editions, of which the chief are: The Character of a London Diurnal, with Several Select Poems (1647); Poems. By John Cleavland. With additions, never before printed (1659); J. Cleaveland Revived ... (1659), in which the editor, E. Williamson, says he inserted poems by other authors, trusting to the critical faculty of the readers to distinguish Cleveland’s work from the rest; Clievelandi Vindiciae ... (1677), edited by two of Cleveland’s former pupils, Bishop Lake and S. Drake, who profess to take out the spurious pieces; and a careless compilation, The Works of John Cleveland ... (1687), containing poems taken from all these sources. A prefatory note by Williamson makes it clear that only a small proportion of Cleveland’s political poems have survived, many of them having been dispersed in MS. among his friends and so lost, and that he refused to authenticate an edition of his works, although most of the earlier collections were genuine.