Imágenes de página

satire, but the first professed English, satirist was Bishop Hall, whose Toothless Satires were printed in 1597Warton, in this instance, is not implicitly to be followed. Chaucer and Skelton, in particular, had long before furnished specimens of unconcealed and bitter satire; and Gascoigne's Steele Glas, expressly entitled a satire, was published in 1576, twenty years before the first appearance of Hall's poems. The eloquent Bishop, indeed, considered himself the first adventurer in this path of poetry*; but Mr. Beloe, in the Anecdotes of Literature, and Mr. Collier, in the Poetical Decameront, have both ingeniously attempted, and with apparent success, to establish the prior claims of Thomas Lodge and Dr. Donne. But if Hall was second in point of time, he was first in merit. So much elegance of thought, enforced by such vigour of delineation, and felicity of style, had not been often seen in our poetry.

Hall was followed, in 1598, by Marston, with his "rough-hew'd rhymes," his bitter personalities, his lifelike sketches, and the choice pictorial epithets that won the youthful ear of Milton. Both attacked the vices and follies of the times—Hall, with the scholastic severity of one acquainted with vice only by contemplating its effects in others; and Marston, with a vigour and warmth of colouring that betokened a familiarity with the scenes he described. His invectives against crime are frequently only incentives to its commission, unintentionally, we are told, on the author's part, and yet not less dangerous on that account. Warton has excellently remarked, that when Vice is led forth to be sacrificed at the shrine of Virtue, the victim should not be too richly drest. Marston often

* I first adventure, follow me who list,

And be the second English satyrist.—Prolog, to Sat, t Upon every subject connected with the history of our poetry, Mr. Collier is to be listened to with the respect due to his inquiring industry and acuteness of judgment.

bound the garland upon her head. Compared with Bishop Hall, his rhythm is more copious and disengaged, and, although not so carefully modulated, flows with a more sustained energy and power.

After Marston may be mentioned Samuel Rowlands, whose Letting of Humour's Blood appeared in 1600. Sir Walter Scott, who reprinted the poem in 1814, says that he anatomizes in his rugged numbers the follies of the time in which he lived, with a vigour of ridicule not inferior to that of Hall or Donne.

Wither wrote his Satire under the excitement of disappointed expectations. Instead, however, of lamenting his misfortunes, he rejoiced that God by "dashing his hopes," had called him to himself again. Considered as the production of a young man, neither prepared by study nor experience for the task, this Satire merits our approbation*. In the Address to the Reader, we are cautioned not to look "for Spenser's or Daniel's well-composed numbers, or the deep conceits of now flourishing Jonson." He purposely avoided speaking in "dark parables," and rejected as useless, all " poetical additions and feigned allegories."

Warton says that Withers poem is characterized by a vein of severity unseasoned by wit; but wit, in the common acceptation of the word, has never been thought necessary to the formation of a satirist. We find little of it in Juvenal, and still less in Johnson's noble imitation of his manner. The vices and crimes of men are not to be cured or restrained by laughter. The light arrows of mirthful irony and humour make no impression on their coat of steel; it is only by the "mailed and resolved hand'' of virtuous indignation that their coverings can be rent away, and their natural deformity and loathsomeness

* When be this book composed, it was more
Than he had read in twice twelve months before.

lntruduct. to Abuses, &c.

exposed. If Wither had not the hand to do this, he had at least the desire, and he came up to Milton's idea of the duties, of a satirist, hy striking high, and adventuring courageously "at the most eminent vices among the greatest persons;" and he afforded an example, in his own person, that if a satire was not always "born out of a Tragedy," it frequently terminated in one*.

Appended to the Satire are several epigrams addressed to various individuals, and among others to Lord Ridgeway, whom Wither commemorates as the first that " graced and gratified his Muse." Henry, Earl of Southamptont, the patron of Shakspeare, and one of the founders of Virginia; William, Earl of Pembroke, of whose almost universal generosity to poets I shall have another opportunity of speaking; and Lady Mary Wroth, the niece of Sir Philip Sidney, and the authoress of a long and tedious romance, written in imitation of the Arcadia, entitled UraniaJ.

At the end of Abuses, &c, is a poem called the Scourge, in which Wither appears to have gratified his malignity at the expense of his honesty. Wood, who had never seen the Scourge, speaks of it as a separate publication, but it forms a postscript to the edition of Abuses Whipt and Stript, in 1615, and from the terms in which the Author refers to it, it may be supposed to have occupied the same

* Apology for Smectymnuus. t Braithwaite, in the Scholar's Medley, calls him "learning's best favourite."

t Shenslone was thankful that his name presented no facilities to the punster. Lady Wroth could not boast of the same immunity. In her case, however, the ingenuity of flattery alone was evinced. Davies, of Hereford, in his Twenty-nine Epigrams, addressed to contemporary poets, has one inscribed to the "all-worthily commended Lady Mary Wroth," whose name, he says, in the abstract, is not Wroth, but WorrA. Ben Jonson inscribed two of his Epigrams, and a Sonnet in the Underwoods to this Lady, and he also dedicated to her his exquisite comedy of the Alchemist.

place in the earlier edition. The following attack upon

an upright and honourable man cannot be justified. JL*

And prithee tell the B. Chancellor, "I Iaa^- ^^f**^
That thou art sent to be his counsellor, ? {jjs*** ^-i*)**
And tell him if he mean not to be stript, ^tJ^1^^
And like a school-boy once again be whipt,
His worship would not so bad minded be,
As to pervert judgment for a scurvy fee.

The individual here alluded to must have been Lord Ellesmere, a man whose excellence of heart and purity of mind obtained the suffrages of his contemporaries. He died in 1616, and James received the seals with his own hand from the expiring Chancellor. Hacket says of him, in the Life of Archbishop Williams, that he never did, spoke, or thought anything undeserving of praise. It is a singular fact that Lord Bacon and Bishop Williams, who both partook of his generous patronage, should have succeeded him in his high office. The poet Donne, who, on his return from Spain, had become Secretary to Lord Ellesmere, was deprived of the benefit of the connexion by his secret marriage with the daughter of Sir George More*.

The Satire produced, it is to be feared, no salutary effects upon the public morals, but it sent the imprudent author to the Marshalsea prisont. Of the sufferings he endured there, Wither has left an affecting account in the Scholler's Purgatory. "All my apparent good intentions," he says, "were so mistaken by the aggravation of some

• Ben Jonson, who as Mr. Gifford has observed, knew Lord Ellesmere, and judged him well, has in more than one place, recorded his worth ; he describes him, in the Discoveries, as " a grave and great orator, best when he was provoked;" and he also eulogized the purity of the Chancellor's judgments in one of the most beautiful of his epigrams, and in the Underwoods, made him the theme of his praise. Taylor says, in the Aqua-Mvse, 1644, p. 7, of Wither,

Tis known that once, within these thirty years,

Thou wert in jail for slandering some peers. One of these must have been Ellesmere.

t Not, as Aubrey believed, to Newgate.

ill affected towards my endeavours, that I was shut up from the society of mankind, and, as one unworthy the compassion vouchsafed to thieves and murderers, was neither permitted the use of my pen, the access or sight of acquaintance, the allowances usually afforded other close prisoners, nor means to send for necessaries befitting my present condition: by which means I was for many days compelled to feed on nothing but the coarsest bread, and sometimes locked up four-and-twenty hours together, without so much as a drop of water to cool my tongue: and being at the same time in one of the greatest extremities of sickness that was ever inflicted upon my body, the help both of physician and apothecary was uncivilly denied me. So that if God had not, by resolutions of the mind which he infused into me, extraordinarily enabled me to wrestle with those and such other afflictions as I was then exercised with all, I had been dangerously and lastingly overcome. But of these usages," he adds, " I complain not; He that made me, made me strong enough to despise them."

Withers account of his sufferings may have been somewhat exaggerated; for Taylor, the Water-poet, who knew him well, informs us that multitudes of people came to him "in pilgrimage during his imprisonment," and provided him with every necessary. But though multitudes might have made a pilgrimage to the Marshalsea, it does not follow that either they or their offerings were admitted to the prisoner. Indeed the banishment of his friends, and the "exclusion from the Sacred Rites," were the constant subjects of the poet's lamentation.

But it was not in his heart to be idle, or to yield to the depressing influence of his fortune; he seemed to experience, in its fullest meaning, the sentiment afterwards expressed by the accomplished Lovelace, when confined in the Gatehouse at Westminster;

« AnteriorContinuar »