« AnteriorContinuar »
lot of poets. But the Earl's palace was a "Castle of Indolence" to Browne, and his agricultural employments also contributed to withdraw him from the service of the Muse. At any rate, his manhood never realized the promise of his youth. He is not popular, and never 'will be; yet we may say of him, in his own words, that he was
A gentle shepherd, born in Arcady,
That well could tune his pipe, and deftly * play
The nymphs asleep with rural minstrelsy.
The song of the bird among the dewy grass, or the faint shadow of a flower upon the water, were inspirations to him. His genius was not of the highest order, but it was pure and gentle; and some of his smaller lyric poems are marked by a Grecian delicacy and finish. One specimen from his Original Poems, first published by Sir Egerton Brydgest will not be unacceptable :—
Yet one day's rest for all my cries,
One hour among so many;
Yet never met with any.
O Death! to make him thine—
Or else that he had mine.
To poems like this, we may apply Dryden's remark, in the dedication of the iEneid, that the sweetest essences are always confined in the smallest glasses^. The Happy Life, in the same collection, is not less beautiful.
* Deftly—neatly, dexterously, t from a MS. volume among the Lansdowne MSS. in the British Museum.
} While residing at Oxford with his pupil, Browne received the degree of Master of Arts, with this honourable notice in the Public Register .— Vir omni Mimand literatura et honarum artium cognitione instructus,
Browne has expressed his high opinion of Wither's poetry in Bri
The precise period of Withers imprisonment has not been ascertained; but he was evidently in the Marshalsea during the earlier spring and summer months; for Alexis, in the third eclogue, condoles with him for the loss of his liberty during the pleasant season,
"When every bushy vale
His confinement is said by Wood to have increased his poetical reputation, especially among the puritanical party, who cried him up the more "for his profuse pouring forth of English rhime." Upon this "long-eared crew," the exquisite melody of the Shepherd's Hunting must have been entirely lost. The fifth eclogue is dedicated to Master W. F., of the Middle Temple, a friend whom Wither seems to have met at the rooms of Browne. W. F., who, in the Shepherd's Hunting, is represented under the name of Alexis, was unremitting in his attentions to the poet during his abode in the Marshalsea; and in the third eclogue his visits are gratefully remembered :—
Alexis, you are welcome, for you know
You cannot be but welcome where I am;
You ever were a friend of mine in shew,
And I have found you are, indeed, the same.
Upon my first restraint you hither came,
And proffered me more tokens of your love
Wither did not quietly endure his incarceration. In 1614, he addressed a satire to the King, written with great vigour and freedom. The following indignant lines have all the boldness and strength, without the music, of Dryden's happiest efforts :—
tannia's Pastorals, although the value of the praise is not increased by the inclusion of that dull writer, Davies:—
Davies and Wither, by whose Muses' power,
A natural day to me seems but an hour,
And could I ever hear their learned lays,
Ages would turn to artificial days.
Brit. Past., b. 2, song 2. VOL. I. I
Do I not know a great man's power and might,
In spite of innocence can smother right,
Colour his villainies to get esteem,
And make the honest man the villain seem?
I know it, and the world doth know 'tis true,
Yet I protest if such a man I knew,
That might my country prejudice, or thee,
Were he the greatest or the proudest he,
That breathes this day ; if so it might be found
That any good to either might redound,
I, unappalled, dare in such a case
Rip up his foulest crimes before his face,
Though for my labour I were sure to drop
Into the mouth of ruin without hope.
He grieves only that he had been hitherto " so sparing"
of his censure—
I'd have my pen so paint it where it traces,
The last line is an example of a Scriptural truth, most felicitously and appropriately applied. This satire bears a close resemblance in several expressions, and in its general tone, to passages in Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humour, of which a surreptitious edition appeared in 1603.
The most accomplished courtier of the Augustan age could not have exceeded the graceful elegance of the following lines to James:—
C While here my muse in discontent doth sing
Withers liberation from prison has been generally attributed to the influence of this satire; but Mr. Collier very properly observes, that lie could never learn on what authority the assertion rested. Certainly not on the authority of Wither himself; and it is scarcely reasonable to suppose that a poem of so much severity should have obtained a remission of the punishment awarded to a milder and even less obnoxious composition. I am induced, by a passage in the fourth book of the Emblems, to ascribe his release to the friendly interposition of the Earl of Pembroke, who he tells the successor to the title (Philip), when the king, "by others misinformed," took offence at "his free lines,"
—— found such means and place,
And in the Scholler's Purgatory he stated, many years earlier, that as soon as he had an opportunity to justify his honest intentions, and to give reasons for his questionable expressions, he was restored to the "common liberty," as he persuaded himself, with the good favour of the King and of all those that restrained himi.
* Yet I confess that the following passage, from Salt upon Halt, does not countenance this belief:—
Thou hast, moreover, from the menacing And dreadful wrath of an incensed king, Delivered me without a mediator, Or back receding in the smallest letter, From truths averred. It is impossible to reconcile the conflicting statements respecting Wither's liberation. Taylor, in the Aqua Musa, asserted that he was released against his will, and that when they subsequently met, after having " used complimental courtesy," Wither advised him, in order to improve his fortune, to write satires and get imprisoned as he had done. It is not likely that the Water-poet had any grounds for this declaration. A man who came out of jail a beggar, could hardly be said to have improved his condition.
t It would appear that Wither's imprisonment originated with the Privy Council, for he expresses his belief that his sufferings were unknown to " that honourable Council which committed him.
The gift bestowed upon him by the king, was the patent for his Hymns and Songs of the Church. The origin of this privilege Wither has explained. "For before I had license to come abroad again into the world, I was forced to pay expenses so far beyond my ability, that ere I could be clearly discharged, I was left many pounds worse than nothing, and to enjoy the name of liberty, was cast into a greater bondage than before. Wherefore, coming abroad again into the world, accompanied thither with those affections which are natural to most men, I was loth (if it might conveniently be prevented) either to sink below my rank, or to live at the mercy of a creditor. And, therefore, having none of those helps, or trades, or shifts, which many others have to relieve themselves withal, I humbly petitioned the king's most excellent Majesty, (not to be supplied at his, or by any projectment to the oppression of his people,) but that, according to the laws of nature, I might enjoy the benefit of my own labours, by virtue of his royal privilege. His Majesty vouchsafed my reasonable request with addition of voluntary favour, beyond my own desire*."
The publication of the Hymns and Songs of the Church did not take place until some years after.
He had also a share in the Shepherd's Pipe, which,
* The king's patent bears date the 17th day of February, 1622-3. "James, by the grace of God. To all and singular printers, booksellers. Whereas our well-beloved subject George Withers, gentleman, by his great industrie and diligent studie hath gathered and composed a book, entituled Ilymnes and Sondes of the Church, by him iaithfullie and brieflie translated into lirick verse, which said booke being esteemed worthie and profitable to be incerted in convenient manner and due place into everie English Psalme-book in meeter; we give and grant full and free licence, power, and privilege unto the said George Withers, his executors and assigns, onelie to imprint, or cause to be imprinted, for the term of fifty and one years, &c. Witness ourself at Westminster the 17th day of February, reg. 20, 1622-3."—Rymer's Fordera, v. xvii. 454, where the patent is printed at length. It also states that the privilege was given for Wither's further "encouragement in such his endeavours."