Imágenes de página

to follow his example. Swift, indeed, while sneering at Wither, manifested his taste and discernment by including Dry den in the censure.

In more recent times, critics have not been wanting, equally unkind, and equally uninformed, with respect to the object of their ridicule. Even the amiable and learned Bishop Percy had nothing better to say of the author of the Shepherd's Resolution, and other pastorals, indisputably among the finest of the kind in our language, than that he had " distinguished himself in youth by some pastoral pieces that were not inelegant." Ritson, while confessing that Wither's more juvenile productions would not discredit the first writer of the age, could not refrain from adding, that by " his long, dull, puritanical rhymes, he obtained the title of the English Bavius." This appellation has never been traced beyond Ritson, and may be considered the dull invention of his own pen. The prejudice of Swift and of Ritson has found inheritors in our own day. Mr. D'Israeli, whose ingenuity and talent have met with the praise they deserve, was only able to discover that "this prosing satirist has, in some pastoral poetry, strange to say, opened the right vein*." Yet, this "prosing satirist" had written, in the morning of his days, poems, with which the juvenile efforts of Dryden, of Pope, or of Cowley, can bear no comparison; affording examples of versification singularly correct and musical, and breathing the manly fervour of pure and idiomatic English. Other names of equal influence might be added to this list; but it is pleasing to reflect, that amid all the clamour of petulant ignorance, some hands have been held up in the poet's favour. Dr. Southey, in one of his latest works, has not been ashamed to find in the neglected leaves of Wither, "a felicity of expression, a tenderness

* Quarrels of Authors, vol. 2, p. 254.

of feeling, and an elevation of mind*." A word of kindness, from one who has "built up the tombs" of so many of our elder poets in a beautiful criticism, ought to be adequately esteemed. Sir Egerton Brydges and Mr. Park have also exerted themselves in the poet's cause, and to their many and careful labours the writer of the following memoir has already acknowledged his obligations.

George Wither was born at Bentworth, near Alton, in Hampshire, and, according to Anthony Wood and Aubrey, on the 11th of June, 1588; but Dalrymple and Park, upon the authority of a copy of Abuses Stript and Whipt, in the possession of Mr. Herbert, have fixed the poet's birth in 1590. The register of baptisms at Bentworth affords no assistance, the earliest entry being in 1603. But a conclusive evidence in support of Wood and Aubrey is furnished by Wither himself, in a pamphlet entitled Salt upon Salt, where he says, in August, 1658,—

When I began to know the world and men,
I made records of what I found it then,
Continuing ever since to take good heed
How they stood still, went back, or did proceed;
Till of my scale of time ascending heaven,
The round I stand in maketh ten times seven.

The "ten times seven" will carry his birth back to 1588.

George Wither, the poet's father, was descended from the Withers of Manydowne, near Wotton St. Lawrence, ia the county of Hants, where one of the family was recently residing.

He had three sons, George, James, and Anthony. The poet's mother was Ann Serle t.

* Memoir of Taylor, in Lives of Uneducated Poets.

t An account of the pedigree of Wither's ancestors has been given by Sir Egerton Brydges, in the first volume of the Restituta, from the visitation book of Hampshire, in 1634. The family, which originally came from Lancashire, had been seated in Hampshire many years before the birth of the poet. In 1810, the representative of another branch of

George received his early education in the neighbouring village of Colemore, under John Greaves, a celebrated schoolmaster "of those parts," whose merits the young poet honoured in an epigram annexed to Abuses Stript and Whipt, and regretted his inability to do more than repay,

In willingness, in thanks, and gentle words, the affectionate interest and care of the tutor.

His father appears to have been in opulent circumstances, for, many years after, the poet spoke of the easy luxury of his youthful days;—

When daily I on change of dainties fed,

Lodged, night by night, upon an easy bed,

In lordly chambers, and had wherewithall,

Attendants forwarder than I to call,

Who brought me all things needful; when at hand,

Hounds, hawks, and horses were at my command.

Then choose I did my walks on hills or vallies,

In groves near springs, or in sweet garden allies:

Reposing either in a natural shade,

Or in neat harbours, which by art were made,

Where I might have required, without denial,

The lute, the organ, or deep sounding vial,

To cheer my spirits; with what else beside

Was pleasant, when my friends did thus provide,

Without my cost or labour.

Britain's Remembrancer, canto 3.

In the spring of ] 603, Wither was sent to Magdalen College, Oxford*, and entered under John Warner, after

the family. Wither Bramstone, Esq.,was residing in the adjoining parish of Deane. "Wither's family," Southey writes to Sir Egerton Brydges, April 8, 1830, "is now inosculated with a branch of mine. My late uncle Mr. Hill, married a sister of Mr. Bigge.Wither, of Manidown, and the children of that marriage are now my wards."

* Not 1604, as Wood, Park, Ritson, &c, assert. Wither's own wordf are, that he was sent to Oxford

The very spring before I grew so old,
That I had almost thrice five winters told.

Abuses Whipt and Stript. Of James Wither, ion of John Wither, of Manydown, who died in 1627, at the age of 28, a Fellow of New College, Oxford, a memorial is placed within the cloisters, near the chapel.

wards Bishop of Rochester, a sound logician, and a good and ripe scholar. He confessed in later times, that if he had not reaped all the advantages of a collegiate education, it was not because he had been "ill entered:" he left the school of Greaves, no stranger to "Lilly's Latin, or Camden's Greek." His poetical talents were speedily developed. While at Magdalen College he is thought to have composed the graceful Love-Sonnet printed in Ritson's Ancient English Songs. Mr. Park has questioned the genuineness of this poem; but Ritson attributed it to Wither, upon the authority of Hearne, of whom Dr. Bliss has remarked, with great truth, that he rarely affirms anything without sufficient reason. That the song was written at college, is proved by the allusions to the academical costume, and the summer excursions to Medley, " a large house between Godstow and Oxford, very pleasantly situated just by the river," and rendered still more attractive to the poetic mind by the visits of the fair and unfortunate Rosamond. This house has long been removed.

Anthony Wood insinuates that our poet acquired a little learning at the University, "with much ado."

Wither, who rarely concealed either his errors or his virtues, afterwards confessed, that upon his arrival at " the English Athens," he "fell to wondering at each thing he saw," and passed a month in noting the palaces, temples, cloisters, walks, and groves. The "Bell of Osney," and "old Sir Harry Bath," and the forest of Shotover were not forgotten. In the midst of those agreeable occupations, he never " drank at Aristotle's well." But at length he says, the kind affection of his tutor

From childish humours gently called me in,
And with his grave instructions did begin
To teach; and by his good persuasion sought
To bring me to a love of what he taught.

He found it easier to "practise at the tennis-ball" than to comprehend the mysteries of logic; his understanding was confused by the rules of "old Scotus, Seton, and new Keckerman." This state of stupor continued a considerable time, and it was not until Cynthia "had six times lost her borrowed light," that being ashamed to find himself outstripped by every little ignorant " dandiprat," he devoted his mind in earnest to master the difficulty. A little determination will accomplish great things. He soon felt his "dull intelligence" begin to open, and was astonished to discover that he

perceived more

In half an hour, than half a year before.

These pleasing occupations were soon to be interrupted.

Wither had been at Oxford about two years, and was beginning to love a College-life, when he was suddenly removed by his friends, and taken home "to hold the plough." He alludes to this unwelcome change in Abuses Whipt and Stript, where he speaks of returning in discontent to "the beechy shadows of Bentworth*.* But he held the plough with no willing hand, and much of his time seems to have been occupied in wandering about the pleasant country around Alton, whose neighbourhood has been invested with a peculiar interest by the reputed partiality of Spenser, who, in this "delicate sweet air" is said to have "enjoyed his Muse and writ good part of his versest." In the sequestered grassy lanes of Bentworth, a poet might dream away the summer-hours in the serenest meditations. But Wither's sojourn at home was imbit

* But now ensues the worst—I setting foot
And thus digesting learning's bitter root.
Ready to taste the fruit; then when 1 thought
I should a calling in that place have sought,
I found that I, for other ends ordained,
Was from that course perforce to be constrained.

Abuses Whipt and Stript, p. 5. t According to Aubrey, who received the information from his friend, Mr. Samuel Woodford, who lived near Alton.

« AnteriorContinuar »