Imágenes de página

war have long since passed into the collections of antiquarians, and are become almost inaccessible even to the scholar. The witty Cleveland called the diurnals of that day, a history in sippets. So much brutality of insolence and cruelty of invective could only have been endured in a season of universal anarchy and confusion. The severity of the Royalists was, however, in some measure, redeemed by a vein of learning and wit. Wither touches pleasantly upon some of the most popular papers of the time. "Though I am not so witty as my friend Britannicus, nor bring you narratives that so well deserve the whetstone as Monsieur Aulicus*, nor come so furnished with novelties as Master Civicus, nor so supplied with passages as the Weekly Intelligencer, nor am at leisure to sum up occurrences as the Accomptant, &c. &c.;" he was afterwards ashamed of his periodical scribbling, and never renewed his visit, although he at first intimated his intention of doing so.

The next production of his soldier-pen was the Campo

* Monsieur Aulicus was Sir John Birkenhead, the prose Butler of the day. He was first brought into notice by Archbishop Laud, whose favour he obtained by some beautiful transcriptions. Birkenhead was at this time a Servitor of Oriel College, but Laud recommended him to a Fellowship at All Souls. When Charles the First held his Court at Oxford, Birkenhead was selected to write the Mercurius Aulicus,which he writ wittily enough, says Aubrey, until the surrender of the town in 1646. But this is not strictly true. During a considerable period the paper was written by Dr. Peter Heylin, though not with equal humour or spirit. Wither was the frequent object of Birkenhead's ridicule. In a highlyamusing pamphlet, entitled Two Centuries of Paul's Churchyard, in which the Libri Theologici, Politici, Historici, Sec. are divided into classes, we find in the third class, among other interesting announcements, the following: Aristotle's Works in, English Metre, by George Wither. Wither was never attacked with impunity; and in the Great Assizes holden in Parnassus, published in 1643, and abscribed to his pen, Sir John Birkenhead is severely handled.

The reader will find a full and interesting notice of the newspapers printed during the civil war, in the British Bibliographer, vol. 1., p. 513; Appendix to Chalmers's Life of liudtliman, and the Introduction to CromweUiana.

Aubrey, after describing Birkenhead "of middling stature and great goggle eyes," adds, rather needlessly, that he was not of a "sweet aspect." Musse, or Field Musings, written while he was "in arms for the King and Parliament." The king and the parliament was a phrase constantly in the mouth of the republicans, even while they were using every means to overthrow the monarchy. Through the Field Musings are scattered several interesting anecdotes of the writer's military life. His colonel, he tells us, was Middleton, a valiant Scot, on whose left flank he led his own troop to the charge*. His fare and lodging were of the true martial kind; he had the open fields for his quarters, and was very happy to find a comfortable bed in a "wellmade barley-cock," with the starry sky for his canopy and curtains. Yet even here, amid the din and tumult of arms, he prophesied the fall of nations, and prepared for publication his own views of the Bible, and the mysteries of the Apocalypse.

But Withers tergiversation did not pass unnoticed: an opponent rose up in the person of the Water-poet. Honest John Taylor was now at Oxford, whither he had fled from the persecutions of his enemies in London; and he tells us, in that strange but amusing medley, Mad verse, Sad verse, Glad verse, and Bad verse, that upon his arrival at Oxford, he found the king and a large party of nobility in "Christ Church garden," and that the monarch, on perceiving him, immediately came towards him, and "put forth his royal hand strait," which, says Taylor, with no small exultation,

On my knees I humbly kneel'd and kist.

This mark of the king's favour lent a fresh vigour to his feelings, and he applied the lash with an unsparing

* A description of the poet's Sag is given by Prestwich in his ResPublica, p. 35. Captain George Withers, the poet—gules; in saltier a sword bladed proper, hilted or; over which a golden pen; over both in fess, ascroll, and thereon Pro Rege, Lege, Grege,—fringed argent and gules. See also p. 04.

hand to the political dereliction of his former friend. He entitled his reply to the Campo-Musae, Aqua Musse, or Cacofago, Cacodsemon, Captain George Wither wrung in the Withers*. The contents of the poem are not more euphonious than the title. In the preface he declares, that he had loved and respected Wither thirty-five years, lecause he thought him " simply honest," and takes leave of him in a strain of no common malevolence and scorn. The Skuller, as Ben Jonson called him, possessed a vocabulary rich in epithets of abuse.

If Wither's narrative be true, and of his veracity no doubt can be fairly entertained, he was at this period esteemed a person of considerable political influence. In the Cordial Confection he tells the following singular anecdote :—That during the King's residence at Oxford, he received two letters from Lord Butler, which, at the time of writing the Confection, in 1659, were still preserved among his papers, offering to settle half of his estate upon the poet, only as a small earnest of greater rewards from Charles himself, if he would embrace the royal cause t. This offer was rejected. Of Lord Butler I know nothing. Butler was the family name of the Marquis of Ormond, whose devotion to his royal master has been commemorated by Clarendon and Burnet. But he could not have been at Oxford, and his son Thomas, Earl of Ossory, was only a boy.

Before the publication of the Field-Musings, Wither

* Printed at Oxford, 1644. The author of fthe Agua-MustE was not together free from the charge of fickleness. Of Wither's Motto which we have before seen him praising as a " better book," he now said, And in his Motto did with brags declare. That in himself all virtues perfect were. Taylor had not forgotten his alienated friend in 1645. In the Rebels Anathematized, Sfc, published in that year, he speaks of Wither, that dainty darling of the dolts.

t I was invited to that side by two letters from the Lord Butler* which I think are yet among my papers.—Cordiul Confection, p. 32.

had disbanded his troop; his reasons are briefly given in the Nil Ultra :—

But so divisions them enraged

Who were in that contest engaged

And such ill consequents presaged.

That I my troop did soon disband;

And hopeless I should ought essay

Successful in a martial way,

My sword and arms quite flung away,
And took my pen again in hand.

He declared in " the speech without door," delivered July 9,1644, that he had served the republic in a military capacity while he had anything to serve it with, and had kept his horses until they had "twice eaten out their heads." A MS. note, in a contemporary hand-writing in the copy of the speech among the King's pamphlets, says that the author was at the time Poet Laureat, a title never claimed or even mentioned by Wither himself.

Our poet did not again take up his sword. He had told Lord Essex in the dedication of the Field-Musings, that his pen would probably strengthen the Parliament army more than a regiment of horse; and he showed himself quite as active in one employment as he had been in the other. Polemical pens are rarely idle or exhausted. In the same year he addressed "Letters of Advice" to all the counties and corporations of England, particularly Southampton and Surrey, "touching the choice of Knights and Burgesses and in the following year he lifted up a "Voice of Peace," tending, as he hoped, to the pacification of God's wrath, and the healing of the wounded commonwealth. But they whose assistance had contributed to raise the storm, possessed no power either to mitigate or allay it; and observers, like Wither, who expected the cloud would have dissolved in a little harmless lightning, turned away in doubt and fear from its threatening aspect. He waited for peace, but he waited in vain*.

* Opobahamum Anglicanum, August, 1646.


He was himself soon to fall under the vindictive malice of the party with whom he had sided. At the close of

1645, or the beginning of 1646, he was ejected from the magistracy of Surrey, to which he had been appointed by the Long Parliament, principally, as he suspected, through the interest of Sir Richard Onslow and his friends, "who found it pertinent to the establishing their designs on the Government, that he should be put out of the commission.'' Wither did not often conceal his sentiments, whether of love or hatred, and he immediately retaliated on his enemy in a very bitter pamphlet,—Justiciarius Justificatus; or, The Justice Justified,—in which he vindicated his conduct in the execution of his duty, having, he declared, neither delayed nor perverted justice, " nor put any man to so much cost for it as the expense of one clerk's fee."

This attack enraged Onslow, and on the 10th of April,

1646, he complained of the pamphlet to the House of Commons; and Wither, who happened to be at the door, where his petitions caused him to be a frequent attendant, being called in, avowed himself the author. Upon this it was resolved, "That Mr. G. Wither be forthwith sent for as a delinquent by the Serjeant-at-Arms;" and having been brought in a second time, after he had "kneeled awhile," the Speaker informed him of the intention of the House to refer the consideration of the pamphlet to the Committee of Examinations. On the 4th of May, Mr. Whittacre, and some other members of that committee, were directed to send for Wither, and to inquire into the truth of his allegations. The following extract from the Journal of the House of Commons for the 7th of August, 1646, will not be uninteresting :—

"Mr. Whittacre reports the state of the examinations concerning a pamphlet written and published by Mr. George Withers, intituled Justiciarius Justificatus; and concerning

« AnteriorContinuar »