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An occasional resemblance has been pointed out between the style of "Wither and Churchill; but Wither was as inferior to that ill-judging writer in the general fertility and poignancy of his invective as he was superior in what alone can render satire effective, or even justifiable, the wish to benefit our fellow-men. Churchill's genius was only surpassed by his profligacy; and while we acknowledge the justice of Cowper's eulogy upon his talents, we almost regret that it was ever bestowed.
Wood said of the notorious John Lilburne, that if he had been left alone in the world, "John would be against Lilburne, and Lilburne against John." Wither partook of this quarrelsome disposition. In a postscript to the Motto, he exclaims,—
Quite thro' this Island hath my Motto rung,
But, although no person had answered his challenge, his enemies, hoping to "move his choler and his patience shake," had hired some rhymers
The only known work to which his allusion can apply was Taylor's Motto, published in 1621, and playfully dedicated to Every Body, as Withers had been to Any Body*.
* In 1625 was printed at Oxford, an "Answer to Wither's Motto, without a frontispiece; wherein nec habeo, nec careo, nec euro, are neither approved nor confuted, but modestly controuled or qualified by F. G., Esq." The object of this tract, according to Park, (Brit. Bib., v. 1. p. 189,) is to point out some contradictory passages in Wither's Motto, which either the timidity or ignorance of the writer prevented him from doing effectually. From the manner in which Wither alludes to the Motto in the Prmmonition to Britain's Remembrancer, it seems probable that the'.'Balladry' particularly referred to has been lost. His words are, " Against my Hotto, though (as I forespake) it redounded to their own shame, so raged my adversaries, that not content with my personal troubles, they sought the disparagement of that book by a libellous Of Taylor, or to speak of him in more familiar terms, the Water-poet, a most interesting account has been given by Dr. Southey, in his notice of uneducated poets. He was an honest right-hearted man, a sincere and devoted loyalist, and a very good poet for a waterman. He was also no mean scholar, having read Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and Tasso, of course in translations, besides many worthies of his own country. He wrote also with great facility. His Motto, we leam from his own narrative, was written in "three days at most;" but so far was its author from entertaining any feeling of enmity, or even rivalry against Wither, that he distinctly says,
This Motto in my head at first I took
It is scarcely necessary to say that this " better book" was Wither's Motto.
The earliest extant copy of Fidelia bears the date of 1619; but we are told by the publisher, George Norton, that it had long since "been imprinted for the use of the author, to bestow it on such as had voluntarily requested it in way of adventure*." Mr. Park thinks that it was privately circulated, perhaps with a hope of a pecuniary return, in order to assist the writer during his imprisonment in the Marshalsea. The title may have been suggested by Spenser, who had bestowed the appellation upon Faith in the Fairy Queen. Fidelia is described as the "fragment of some greater poem, and discovers the modest affections of a discreet and constant woman shadowed under the name of Fidelia." The charm of the epistle
answer thereunto. * * * And then, also, it was very gloriously fixed on the gate of my lodging, as it it had been some bill of triumph. But it proved a ridiculous pamphlet, and became more loss and disgrace unto the divulgers thereof than 1 desired."
* It also appeared in 1620,1622,1633, and lastly under the editorship of Sir Egerton Brydges, in 1815. George Morton kept a shop at the sign of the Red Bull, near Temple Bar.—Brit. Bibliog., v. 1, p. 184.
consists in its domestic tenderness, and in the natural air of melancholy fondness breathing through every line. The influence of the absence of a beloved object upon the fairest scenes of nature has rarely been portrayed with more truth or pathos. The hawthorn her friend had trimmed, the bank on which he lay near a shady mulberry, and the twilight harbours where the shadows seemed to woo
The weary lovesick passenger to sit,
are all affectionately remembered*.
In the same year appeared the■ Preparation for the Psalter, a specimen of a voluminous commentary upon the Psalms, which the author never completed. Yet even here the polemical spirit of the Satirist occasionally manifests itself. Wither, unfortunately, did not sufficiently remember that he stood upon Holy Ground. To the Preparation he prefixed what he calls a Sonnet, forming a very spirited paraphrase upon the 148th Psalm; Merrick's version will read coldly after it;—
Come, O come, with sacred lays,
• Annexed to Fidelia are two sonnets, Hence away, thou Siren, leave me, and Shall 1 wasting in Despair, both of which have been reprinted in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The second song Park thinks had its prototype in Browne's Britannia s Pastorals, but he assigns no reason for giving the priority of invention to Browne. The beauty of these sonnets has been universally acknowledged. Shall 1 wasting in Despair, which Ben Johnson parodied, was a general favourite during the Author's life-time. Numerous imitations of it have been pointed out. These poems were subsequently incorporated into Fair Virtue, with some alterations, as Park has observed, not always for the better.
Let such things as do not live,
Come, ye sons of human race,
From the earth's vast hollow womb,
So shall He from Heaven's high tower
In the Preparation to the Psalter, Wither announced intention of dividing the Treatise upon the Psalms into fifteen Decades. The Exercises upon the First Psalm were published in 1620, and inscribed to Sir John Smith, Knt., only son of Sir Thomas Smith, Governor of the East India Company, from whom the poet had received many tokens of regard. The Exercises upon the nine following Psalms, we are told in the Fides Anglicana, were lost. In 1621 he published the Songs of the Old Testament, translated into English measures, afterwards reprinted in the Hymns and Songs of the Church.
One of the most beautiful and least known of his early productions, is Fair Virtue, the mistress of Philarete, which, although not circulated until 1622, is described as one of his " first poems, and composed many years agone." The MS. having been secretly "gotten out of the author's custody by a friend of his," came into the hands of Harriot, the bookseller, who having obtained a license for it, intended to print it without any further inquiry: but hearing the name of "Wither mentioned as the real author, he applied to him for permission to affix his name to the titlepage, a request he found the poet unwilling to comply with, "fearing that the seeming lightness of such a subject might somewhat disparage the more serious studies" he had since undertaken. These particulars are gathered from the address to the reader, professedly written by Marriot, but in reality furnished to him, at his own desire, by the poet himself. Wither at length consented to the anonymous publication of the poem, and introduced it with these singular and characteristic remarks:—" When I first composed it I well liked thereof, and it well enough became my years; but now I neither like nor dislike it. That, therefore, it should be divulged, I desire not; and whether it be, or whether (if it happen so) it be approved or no, / care not. For this I am sure of, that however it be valued, it is worth as much as I prize it at; likely it is, also, to be as beneficial to the world, as the world