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high-sheriff of the county, he lost no time in seizing upon the goods of " Master Denham and Master Tichborne."
Both of these estates, however, were at the time untenanted, and the " goods which were Master Denham's," were, by an order of some sequestrators, taken out of Withers hands, and put into the possession of Denham's w ife, who, "as do many other delinquents," the poet indignantly complained, found much more favour than he " did who had been ever faithful to the State." "For when my wife and children," he continues, "had been cruelly driven out of their habitation, and robbed of all they had, by her husband and his confederates, and when, by virtue of the forementioned order, I justly entered upon the house of the said Denham, purposing to harbour my said wife and children therein, Mistress Denham, having long before deserted the house, and left there only some tables, with such-like household-stuff, was, upon false suggestions, put again, by order, into possession of the house, because, as her charitable patron alleged, she was a gentlewoman, big with child, and had a fancy to the place*."
Aubrey has given a rambling account of this occurrence. "In the time of the civil war, Geo. Withers, the poet, begged Sir John Denham's estate of the Parliament, in whose cause he was a captain of horse. It happened that G. W. was taken prisoner, and was in danger of his life, having written severely against the king. Sir John Denham went to the king, and desired his Majesty not to hang him, for that while G. W. lived, he should not be
* " Ordered that the humble petition of Anne, the wife of John Denham, Esq., be referred to the examination of the Committee of this House for sequestration, or any three of them; and that in the mean time they shall have full power to deliver unto her child-bed linen and such other necessaries as they shall see fit."—Journals of the House of Commons, 11th May, 1643.
the worst poet in England*." It seems likely that our poet's captivity took place after the battle of Edge-hill, on the 23rd of October, 1642, for we learn from Clarendon, that a very considerable number of the Parliament's cavalry officers were taken after that engagement t,
A similar act of malicious kindness was performed by Henry Martin, when he saved the life of Sir William Davenant; but in Denham's request there was a bitterness that spoke of the lost fields at Egham. The name of Denham frequently recurs in the life of Wither. At this time his talents were not in much repute, although the Sophy, which gave rise to Waller's witty saying, that he broke out, like the Irish rebellion, threescore thousand strong, when nobody suspected it, was published in 1642 % and, according to Aubrey, "did take extremely." Soon after the battle of Edge-hill, his well-known poem of Cooper's Hill is said to have been printed at Oxford, "on a sort of brown paper, for there they could get no better." But this story, which has been always unhesitatingly credited, is not reconcileable with the fact of an edition of the poem having been published in London, by Thomas Walkley, in August, 1642.
The poetical fortune of Denham offers a singular contrast to that of his rival. While Wither has been long forgotten, except by a few students of our old poetry, the works of Denham have been carefully examined, and his life written by one who touched nothing he did not adorn. Yet Johnson, it must be confessed, was too favourable in his estimate of the poet's genius; his claim to the invention of a species of poetry, to which the great critic has
* M. Lefevre-Couchy, the writer of the article on Wither in the Biographie Universelle, remarks on this anecdote, with pleasing simplicity, Wither ne fut done paspendu.
t History of the Rebellion, 4to. ed., Oxford, vol. ii. pt. 1, p. 77.
t Aubrey says it came out in 1640. I suppose he meant it was acted in that year.
applied the name of local, may, probably, be allowed*; but Wither and Brown had already furnished specimens of more beautiful description than anything in Denham. Pope formed a truer estimate of his merits, when he styled him "Majestic Denham," an appellation to which the occasional dignity of his manner, particularly in the lines upon the Earl of Strafford, fully entitle him. In more peaceful times his Muse might have given utterance to a grander strain. The happier efforts of his pen are still remembered with pleasure, and the portrait left of him by his friend Aubrey, places the poet before us in an interesting light. "He was of the tallest, but a little incurveting at his shoulders, not very robust. His hair was but thin and flaxen, with a moist curl. * * * His eye a kind of light goose gray, not big, but it had a strange piercingness, not as to shining and glory (but like a Momus) when he conversed with you, he looked into your very thoughts."
On the 25th of July 1643, the House of Commons directed the knights and burgesses of Middlesex and Surrey to summon Wither before them, and inquire what money or goods he had received upon the Orders of the 9th of February, and from whom, and what lands he possessed. The loss of his property, and the interruption of his agricultural occupations involved him in great distress; he was fined and imprisoned, and on him was "laid the censure" merited by others. Nothing remained for his support but "the poor household furniture within his door." His friends forsook him as "a faulty man," and his enemies
* The four lines, which since their commendation by Dryrien, have been so often celcbiated, are not found in the first London edition of Cooper's Hill. They stand thus:—
O could my verse freely and smoothly run
As thy pure flood, heaven should no longer know
Her old Kridanus; thy purer stream
Should bathe the gods, and be the poet's theme.
grew bold and insolent in proportion. His afflictions cannot be told more touchingly than in his own narrative:—
To add yet further to my great afflictions,
God with a sickness (spreading forth infections)
Visits my house, and drove all those from thence
Who were some comfort to my indigence.
My children were all sick of that disease,
Their single keeper, to her little ease,
Was their poor mother; whilst, as sad as she,
I thought whereby they might supported be,
And we who served were awhile before,
With sixteen household servants, sometimes more,
Had then but one boy, who sick also lay,
And one poor woman hired by the day.
Westrow Revived, 1653.
To support his family, he had already disposed of his plate, and his wife had "ript away" the silver and the "lace of gold" from her garments, and exchanged her ornaments for daily bread. Even the dishes that held their meat were also sold; and last of all they parted with the " precious stones, the jewels, and the rings," which had been given to them as "tokens of respect" from various distinguished persons. In this melancholy condition, yet still relying upon the Divine Providence, Wither says that he walked out and met his friend Mr. Westrow, who, touched by his calamities, presented him with twenty pounds. Westrow's charity did not relax; the twenty pounds gradually grew to "twenty hundred crowns and more," which he advanced without desiring a bond, or bill, or note
To testify the lending of one groat:
And when Wither sent a full acknowledgment of all he had received, Westrow returned it to him, with an injunction that he should tell no man of the transactions between them. By this seasonable help he was enabled to recover some money detained from him "in a private hand," and he carried something to his friend every year in liquidation of the debt*.
Westrow died in 1653, and Wither honoured his memory with a poem, apparently inspired by unfeigned gratitude and esteem. Walker, in his History of Independency, has not left so favourable a picture of this individual; he numbers him with those persons who had enriched themselves, from poverty and a low degree, and says he was worth nothing until he became "a captain and a parliament man, when he got the Bishop of Worcester's manor of Hartlerow, which proved he had two good and beneficial omcest." Wither indignantly repelled this accusation against his friend, and represents him as one who,
Living, walk'd upright in crooked ways,
Lord Essex also endeavoured to alleviate the poet's distresses. On the 12th of September, 1643, he issued a a warrant for immediate payment of 287/. 12*., and on the 13th of the same month another warrant for the further sum of 2941.; and on the 3rd of March in the following year, for the like payment of 190?f
Wither lent the cause he had adopted the aid of his pen as well as his sword. About the first year after the commencement of the war, he wrote the Mercurius Rusticus, a country messenger, in imitation of the "Weekly Intelligencers. The newspapers published during the civil
* In 1659 Wither had not forgotten his friend. "When I was much poorer than at present I am, God raised me up a friend, who, knowing hy what means I was necessitated, (and how unlikely I was to repay him,) Drought nevertheless unto me without my asking ought (without obliging hy a note under my hand, and without so much as requiring a promise of repayment), 500/., by parcels at several times during the continuance of »y wants."—Epistolium-Vagum Prosa Metricum, p. 5.
t Walker's History of Independency, p. 171, ed. 1660.
t Recited in the report of Colonel Dove's Committee, to which Wither's claims were referred.—Journal of the House of Commons, January 2nd, 1650.