Page images
PDF
EPUB

upon him undeserved censure, and the former undeserved praise. He was unquestionably a very eminent and notorious, as well as a very caustic satirist. i . ■ ,

Morton. Of course you refer to his "Abuses stript and whipt." An immense number of pages of the British Bibliographer, or Restituta, I forget which, are occupied by a list of his productions.

Bourne. They were excessively numerous: in 1660, at the end of his Fides Anglicana, a prose tract, he himself furnishes a catalogue of no less than eighty-two pieces in prose and verse that had flowed from his pen; the list you speak of far exceeds that number. He states that his catalogue is incomplete, as his memory could not retain all the titles: besides, he published several other tracts after that date, as he continued to scribble on down nearly to the day of his death in 1667. According to Wood he was then seventy-nine years old,having been born in the memorable year of the Spanish Armada.

Morton. For his satires he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea, and afterwards, as is stated, liberated in consequence of publishing another satire to the king, justifying his first production.

Bourne. So it is said, but I never could learn on what authority the assertion rested. I believe it is a fact, that the satire to the king was written while he was in confinement, and that he was released soon afterwards.

Elliot. Most likely, then, it depends merely upon inference. '.

Bourne. You may judge from the following lines in that satire to the king, that the author was not very humble or contrite for his past offences.

"But know I'me he that entred once the list
Gainst all the world to play the Satyrist:
Twas I that made my measures rough and rude,
Dance arm'd with whips amidst the multitude,
And vnappalled with my charmed Scrowles
Teaz'd angry Monsters in their lurking holes.
I'ue plaid with Wasps and Hornets without feares,
Till they grew mad and swarmd about my eares.
I'ue done it, and me thinkes tis such braue sport,
I may be stung, but nere be sorry for't;
For all my grief is, that I was so sparing
And had no more in't worth the name of daring."

Elliot. Those lines are very fearless and spirited, but I do not think King James, notwithstanding Mr. Disraeli's vindication of him, was quite the man to liberate the poet who justified instead of apologizing for his crime.

Bourne. Some lines rather of a petitioning character are inserted; but still even there the author maintains that he was in the right. He says,"But why should I thy fauour here distrust That haue a cause so knowne, and knowne so just?Which not alone my inward comfort doubles But all suppose me wrong'd that heare my troubles. .

Nay, though my fault were Reall, I beleiue
Thou art so Royall, that thou wouldst forgiue;
For well I know thy sacred Maiesty
Hath euer been admir'd for Clemencie,
And at thy gentlenesse the world hath wondred,
For making sunshine where thou mightst haue
thundred." .

Morton. That savours a little of flattery, does it not?

Bourne. Were it written by any man but Wither, I should think so too, perhaps; but being from his free pen, I take it as a testimony of some value in behalf of the character of James I.

Morton. Wither was imprisoned more than once: according to the sketch of his life in the British Bibliographer, he was sent to the Tower.

Bourne. Yes, many years afterwards: he was confined there for three years, and was forbidden the use of pen, ink, and paper. Regarding one of his political tracts, called " the Perpetual Parliament," I found the following story in the "Tales and Jests of Mr. Hugh Peters," 16CO, which I have not any where seen extracted, and which serves to show, among many other testimonies, that poor Wither, from his political principles more than from any other cause, was not very highly esteemed by his contemporaries.

"How Mr. Peters jeered the Poet Withers. "George Withers hauing wrote a poem in which he predicted the continuance of a free state, called it the Perpetual Parliament; a little after the Parliament was dissolued, and Mr. Peters meeting the said Mr. Withers told him he was a pitifull Prophet and a pitifull Poet, otherwise he had not wrote such predictions for a pitifull Parliament."

Morton. Which story, I feel little doubt, is a mere malignant fabrication; for Peters would not have dared to say, nor Wither endured to hear what is there stated.

Bourne. I am of your opinion. I forgot to mention, that among the eighty-two pieces Wither enumerates as his in 1660, are many in MS. which are stated to have been lost: one of them must have been very curious, "The pursuit of Happiness, being a character of the extravagancy of the Authors Affections and Passions in his youth." He was a very bold man in politics, and did not scruple to put into Oliver Cromwell's own hands four addresses or remonstrances on his " duties and failings."

Morton. His excellence as a poet, and especially as a pastoral poet, is now, I believe, admitted. . Bourne. By all who know any thing about him; but there is still a great number who, when his name is mentioned, cover their ignorance of his merit under the cloak with which the authors of Hudibras, the Dunciad, and the Battle of the Books, have furnished them.

Elliot. He seems to be a man about whom, and whose writings, a strong and peculiar interest may be felt.

Bourne. As a poet, using the word in its latitude, he wants fancy and imagination, though his versification is usually uncommonly easy, and his thoughts just and natural: his chief talent was for satire and moral instruction, and of this you will be able to judge by a few short specimens from his "Abuses stript and whipt," the first edition of which, dated in 1613, is here.

Elliot. I hope you do not intend to abridge your extracts too much.

Bourne. You shall regulate their length yourself: Wither's Pastorals, his "Mistress of Philarete" and many other pieces, have been often criticised, but the satires before us have been comparatively little quoted, though, in my opinion, deserving quite as much, if not more, attention. The first thing to be remarked is the curious dedication of the book (perhaps in imitation of Marston), to himself, " whom (he says) next God, my Prince and Country I am most engaged vnto."

Morton. Not being able, I suppose, to gain a patron for his severity.

Bourne. That is one of the reasons he assigns: among some epigrams that precede the satires, is one "to the Satyromastix," which shows the fearlessness with which he undertook and completed his labours. It contains the following lines:

« PreviousContinue »