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hath been to me, and will be more than those, who like it not, ever deserved at my hands."
The mystery hanging over certain parts of the poem, he refused to clear up, desiring, he said, to see "what Sir Politick Would-be and his companions could pick out of it." The opinion, that he intended to portray the charms and piety of some lady in the neighbourhood of Bentworth, seems to be corroborated by certain " verses written to his loving friend upon his departure," inserted at the end of Fair Virtue, and signed " Phil'arete."
The poem was evidently the production of his youthful Muse, and bears internal evidence of having been composed in the sequestered retirements of Bentworth. It opens with an introduction in heroic metre, unlike his later style, and resembling rather the soft and limpid versification of Browne:—
Two pretty rills do meet, and, meeting, make
Within one valley a large silver lake,
About whose banks the fertile mountains stood,
In ages passed bravely crowned with wood;
Which lending cold sweet shadows gave it grace
To be accounted Cynthia's bathing-place.
And from her father Neptune's brackish court,
Fair Thetis hither often would resort,
Attended by the fishes of the sea,
Which in those sweeter waters came to play.
There would the daughter of the sea-god dive;
And thither came the land-nymphs every eve,
To wait upon her; bringing for her brows
Eich garlands of sweet flowers, and beechy boughs;
For pleasant was that pool; and near it then
Here, you might thro' the waters see the land
All the features of this animated landscape are not yet obliterated. The Ford of Arle, or Arlesford Pond, lying S.W. of the town of that name, is a fine piece of water, covering nearly two hundred acres, and forming a head to the river Itchin. A few years ago boats were kept upon this lake by the proprietors of the neighbouring estates, and "the gaggling wild-goose" might be seen "oft pluming," without any fear, upon the quiet waters:—
North-east, not far from this great pool, there lies
A tract of beechy mountains that arise,
With leisurely ascending, to such height,
As from their tops the warlike Isle of Wight
You in the ocean's bosom may espie,
Tho' near two hundred furlongs hence it lie.
The pleasant way, as up those hills you climb,
Is strewed o'er with marjoram and thyme
Which grows unset. The hedge-rows do not want
The cowslip, violet, primrose, nor a plant
That freshly scents : as birch, both green and tall,
Low swallows on whose bloomings bees do fall,
Fair woodbines, which about the hedges twine,
Smooth privet, and the sharp sweet eglantine,
With many more, whose leaves and blossoms fair,
The earth adorn, and oft perfume the air.
E'en there, and in the least frequented place
Of all these mountains, is a little space
Of pleasant ground, hemmed in with dropping trees,
And those so thick, that Phoebus scarcely sees
The earth they grow on once in all the year,
Nor what is done among the shadows there.
Along these sequestered paths the poet represents "a troop of beauties,"
Known well nigh
meeting, in their wanderings, the
Little flock of Pastor Philarete,
a shepherd's lad, the first who had ever sung his loves to those beechy groves.
They saw him not, nor them perceived he,
For in the branches of a maple-tree
He shrouded sat, and taught the hollow hill
To echo forth the music of his quill,
Whose tattling voice redoubled to the sound,
That where he was concealed they quickly found.
Philarete leads the ladies to a harbour, and they entreat him to sing. At first he refuses, but at length complies, and commences the poem. That a composition abounding in lyrical beauty, should have remained in almost total oblivion from the edition of 1633, until Sir Egerton Brydges' reprint in 1818, certainly reflects no credit upon the editors of our elder poets. Bishop Percy had, indeed, with an impropriety of taste singular in that accomplished scholar, pronounced it " a long pastoral piece; but even the extract given in the Beliques might have tempted the reader to seek the work itself. Into the merits of the poem, however, I cannot enter, being anxious to confine myself to the more religious productions of its author. Viewed as the composition of a very young man, Fair Virtue may safely challenge a comparison with any poetical work in the language, produced at a similar age*. Its perusal may be recommended to every admirer of pure and unaffected poetry. He will find in it passages of natural tenderness, of delightful simplicity, of delicate fancy, and of picturesque description. The versification is varied and musical, and the diction clear and unaffected.
* In a sonnet at the end of Fair Virtue, Wither says, of summers he had seen " twice three times three."
VOL. I. K
"When Philarete had concluded his story, a lady from among the Nymphs, having taken up her lute, commemorates his talents in a little carol, entitled The Nymph's Song. A few stanzas will display its melody and grace:—
Gentle swain, good speed befall thee,
Virtue's lovers shall commend thee,
And perpetual fame attend thee.,
Happy are these woody mountains
For contents are here excelling
More than in a prince's dwelling.
There thy flocks do clothing bring thee;
And thy food out of the fields:
Pretty songs the birds do sing thee;
Sweet perfumes the meadow yields.
Thy affection reason measures
And if night begets thee sorrow,
Seldom stays it till the morrow.
In these lonely groves enjoy thou
From a fortune so assured,
By no temptings be allured.
"Who does not regret that the wish breathed in the concluding stanzas of this song was not realized, that the poet did not continue to dwell in peace among those "lonely groves," by no false visions of ambition or of hope allnred into the tumult of active life, where he could gain nothing to compensate for the serenity and happiness he left behind!
Withers favourite poets, at this time, seem to have been "Sweet Drayton," as he calls him, Thomas Lodge, and Sir Philip Sidney.
Mr. D'Israeli, in his amusing Quarrels of Authors, has not made any mention of the enmity which appears to have subsisted between Wither and Ben Jonson. The latter poet, in his Masque of Time Vindicated, which was represented with great splendour on the 19th of January, 1623, gave utterance to his dislike. Mr. Gifford thinks this poem a "kind of retort courteous" to the scurrilous satires of the day, and Chronomastix a generic name for the herd of libellists; but Wither, in the 7th canto of Britain's Remembrancer, considers the epithet applied particularly to himself. Speaking of the poetasters who delighted to disparage his talents, he says,
The valiant poet they [me] in scorn do call
When he published his Abuses, &c, he spoke in honourable terms of "the deep conceits of now flourishing Jonson;" and it is not improbable that, while a gay and idle member of Lincoln's Inn, he may have quaffed a cup of claret with Ben at his favourite "House of Call," in Friday Street. At any rate their intimacy was soon divided, and frequent expressions of disgust may be found in Wither's poems, at the wine-parties and revellings of Jonson. There was, indeed, no bond of union between them, either in disposition or genius. Jonson, with his recondite learning, his antique imagery, and his ornate language, looked with unconcealed contempt upon the simplicity and homeliness of the Shepherd-poet.
A writer who sought for his treasures among the