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after the Restoration, ho joined in the universal welcome
to the King, and, " wanting better gifts," brought
A little cluster of those grapes that grew
an offering he had intended to present with his own hand, had not the difficulty of gaining access to the royal presence prevented him. It is only just to remark that the congratulation was unblemished by the gross flattery which characterized similar productions; and he honestly declared^ that knowing nothing of the virtues of Charles, he was unable to write a panegyric in their praise.
But a new storm was already gathering over the poet's head. The church-lands he had purchased of the Parliament were forcibly seized, before the King's commissioners had time to decide upon the merits of the question; and the remainder of his stock and goods was taken away in the night. In the Fides Anglicana, or a Plea for the Public Faith of these Nations, he dwelt upon his wrongs with considerable ingenuity*. The right of the prelates to the lands of which they had been despoiled was of course unquestionable, but the summary mode employed to dispossess him was contrary to the Royal Declaration.
Wither's situation, at this time, offers a singular contrast to that of his old enemy, Sir John Denham. While our poet was sitting in his solitary chamber on the morning of the Coronation-day, Denham, we are told by Pepys, was leading a party of friends into the Abbey.
The loss of his lands formed only a small portion of Wither's calamity. While engaged in writing a political address t to the Members of Parliament, his room was suddenly entered, and the MS. taken from him, together
* He says in the Speculum Speculativum—
I bought these lands without offending
My conscience, or a wrong to them intending.
t Vox Vulgi, being a welcome home from the Counties, Cities, and Boroughs, to their prevaricating Members.
with a large bag full of books and letters, which was carried away by a porter. He says that the seizure was made without any legal authority, but it appears to have been effected under a warrant from Secretary Nicholas*. This must have taken place at the beginning of August 1661, for on the 12th of that month he addressed a poem to his friends, from " Mr. Northrops, one the King's Messengers, in Westminster," where, he adds, he was "civilly used." On the 22nd he was removed to Newgate, and soon after petitioned the " Lord Mayor and the rest of the Commissioners of the Peace, and Gaol Delivery, for the city of London," to admit him to bail. His request was refused, and he returned to his cell and consoled himself with the prospect of soon seeing his wife, who seems to have been living in Hampshire; but on the day before that appointed for her arrival, he received the intelligence of her severe and dangerous illness. Never, he exclaimed, in the anguish of his grief, had he known imprisonment until that hour, when he learnt the sickness of his wife, and called to mind his own inability to assist her or relieve her wants.
Despoiled of all she had
Excepting what might make her heart more sad,
The date of his marriage has not been discovered. That it did not take place very early in life, is evident from a passage in Britain's Remembrancer, in which he says,
* Rennet's Register, p. 648. t In the Fides Anglicana, p. 37, he speaks of his wife being " necessitated, above fifty miles distant, to keep possession with her maid in a naked house, standing far from neighbours, and much further from honest men:'' and in the Epistle at liantiome he declared, that he knew no person in authority, within many miles of his residence in Hampshire with whom he could more comfortably converse than with an open enemy.—P. 13.
after ridiculing the preposterous foreign fashions of the times,
I hope that she
Who shall be mine (if any such there be)
Canto vi. p. 178.
In the Topographical Miscellanies, quoted by Park, he is conjectured to have been united to Catherine Chester, of AVoolvesly, near Winchester, in 1657. But this lady has no claim upon our poet. We learn from Aubrey, that b.3 married Elizabeth Emerson, of South Lambeth, who was a "great wit, and could write in verse too." Her talents, and virtues were her only dowrv, for he says, in Salt upon Salt,
Nor by wiving,
Which is to some a sudden way of thriving,
Of her domestic tenderness and excellence, Wither has left many interesting memorials. As "woman, mistress, mother, wife," she discharged her duty with piety; unwearied in doing good, her hand was ever ready to assist the neighbouring poor; the morning found her " first to wake," at "night her candle went not out." This excellent woman recovered from her illness, and her grateful husband composed a Thanksgiving to God upon the occasion.
The absence of the poet's wife was not his only affliction ;—he was supported in Newgate by some of his relations, who, as he pathetically acknowledged, were scarcely able to maintain themselves; and not unfrequently, in the solitude of his cell, he reflected upon the injury his imprudent conduct had inflicted upon them. The destitute condition of his wife and surviving children was also a frequent subject of meditation and prayer. In the Improvement of Imprisonment are many affecting compositions of this kind: the following very touching verses may be taken as a specimen:—
Thereof be therefore heedful,
Them favour not the less,
In this our great distress.
Out of this Land of Life,
A Husband to my wife*.
When I to them must never
And they be barr'd for ever
Preserve them from each folly,
Which, ripening into sin,
And brings destruction in.
With her besotting wine,
With faith and love divine.
And whilst we live together,
Let us upon Thee call,
For what may yet befall:
So constant let us be,
We may all meet in Thee.
How constantly the spiritual well-doing of his children was his anxious theme, will be seen from an epistle addressed to them from Newgate, 15th of February, 1662.
* In the beautiful letter addressed to his wife by Sir Walter Raleigh, when under the fear of immediate execution, he says, after alluding to the vanity of human life;—" Teach your son, also, to love and fear God while he is yet young, that the fear of Ciod may grow up with him, and then God will be a Husband to you, and a Father to him ;—a Husband and a Father that cannot be taken from you." Quarles, m his Prayers and Meditations, frequently uses the same image.
To my Dearly Beloved Children,
About twenty years now past, though I had then temporal possessions, which I might probably have given and bequeathed, I composed and intended for your legacy, A Soliloquy and Prayer, which I had spread in writing before God on your behalfes ; and I believe it shall continue for ever in his view. But there being but one copy thereof, both you and I were deprived of that composure, when the hook for which I here suffer was taken out of my closet. Therefore being now likely to be so separated from you, how much soever it may concern our temporal or spiritual well-beings, that I may, perhaps, thenceforth never see you more, I send you this sacrifice of praise and prayer, next following, to be instead of that which is lost; for it contains in effect somewhat (as to the petitionary part) of that which was spread before God (as aforesaid) in a larger scroll. Take it into jour serious considerations, and lay it up among your evidences; for it wiU speak to your advantage, when I can speak no more for you; when other men, who can speak for you, will not; when many, perhaps, will speak against you, and when you shall not be able to speak for yourselves.
God sanctify unto you this brief memorandum, and you to his glory, that we may all meet together in Him to our everlasting joy. Be obedient to your mother, the enjoyment of whose company will more than recompense the loss of mine; for God hath endowed her with so much natural prudence and love, that by her counsel (if you despise it not) your posterity may be continued on the earth, until Christ comes to gather together his elect. Remember the counsel of your earthly father, that the promise made by your heavenly Father to the Rechabites may be enlarged to you and your posterity, for your and their personal obedience to God's covenant made with all mankind in Christ Jesus (according to that assisting grace which He vouchsafed), toward the accomplishing of what I have prayed for concerning you. The blessing of God be with you, and farewell.
Your affectionate Father, Newgate, Feb. 15,1662. Geo. Wither*.
On the afternoon of the 24th of March, he was brought from Newgate to the bar of the House of Commons, and the libel having been shown him, he acknowledged "that the same might be in his hand, but that it was but parcel of what he intended; and the other writing being shown
* From the Private Meditations, reprinted 1666, first printed in 1665.