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ON THE POETICAL WORKS OF GEORGE WITHER.
The poems of G. Wither are distinguished be convicted of a libel when he named no by a hearty homeliness of manner, and a names but Hate, and Envy, and Lust, and plain moral speaking. He seems to have Avarice, is like one of the indictments in the passed his life in one continued act of an Pilgrim's Progress, where Faithful is innocent self-pleasing. That which he calls arraigned for having “railed on our noble his Motto is a continued self-eulogy of two Prince Beelzebub, and spoken contemptibly thousand lines, yet we read it to the end of his honourable friends, the Lord Old Man, without any feeling of distaste, almost the Lord Carnal Delight, and the Lord without a consciousness that we have been Luxurious.” What unlucky jealousy could listening all the while to a man praising have tempted the great men of those days to ! himself. There are none of the cold particles appropriate such innocent abstractions to in it, the hardness and self-ends, which themselves ? render vanity and egotism hateful. He seems Wither seems to have contemplated to a to be praising another person, under the degree of idolatry his own possible virtue. mask of self: or rather, we feel that it was He is for ever anticipating persecution and indifferent to him where he found the virtue martyrdom ; fingering, as it were, the flames, which he celebrates ; whether another's to try how he can bear them. Perhaps his bosom or his own were its chosen receptacle. premature defiance sometimes made him His poems are full, and this in particular is obnoxious to censures which he would other one downright confession, of a generous self- wise have slipped by. seeking. But by self he sometimes means a The homely versification of these Satires is great deal,—his friends, his principles, his not likely to attract in the present day. It country, the human race.
is certainly not such as we should expect Whoever expects to find in the satirical from a poet “ soaring in the high region pieces of this writer any of those peculiarities of his fancies, with his garland and his which pleased him in the satires of Dryden singing robes about him ;" * nor is it such or Pope, will be grievously disappointed. as he has shown in his Philarete, and in some Here are no high-finished characters, no nice parts of his Shepherds Hunting. He seems traits of individual nature, few or no to have adopted this dress with voluntary personalities. The game run down is coarse humility, as fittest for a moral teacher, as general vice, or folly as it appears in classes. our divines choose sober grey or black; but A liar, a drunkard, a coxcomb, is stript and in their humility consists their sweetness. whipt; no Shaftesbury, no Villiers, or The deepest tone of moral feeling in them Wharton, is curiously anatomised, and read (though all throughout is weighty, earnest, upon. But to a well-natured mind there is and passionate) is in those pathetic injunea charm of moral sensibility running through tions against shedding of blood in quarrels, them, which amply compensates the want of in the chapter entitled Revenge. The story those luxuries. Wither seems everywhere of his own forbearance, which follows, is bursting with a love of goodness, and a highly interesting. While the Christian hatred of all low and base actions. At this sings his own victory over Anger, the Man day it is hard to discover what parts of the of Courage cannot help peeping out to let poem here particularly alluded to, Abuses you know, that it was some higher principle Stript and Whipt, could have occasioned the than fear which counselled this forbearance. imprisonment of the author. Was Vice in Whether encaged, or roaming at liberty, High Places more suspicious than now ? Wither never seems to have abated a jot of had she more power ; or more leisure to that free spirit which sets its mark upon his listen after ill reports ? That a man should
writings, as much as a predominant feature whose singing furnishes pretence for an occaof independence impresses every page of our sional change of metre: though the sevenlate glorious Burns ; but the elder poet syllable line, in which the main part of it is wraps his proof-armour closer about him, written, is that in which Wither has shown the other wears his too much outwards ; himself so great a master, that I do not is thinking too much of annoying the foe to know that I am always thankful to him for be quite easy within ; the spiritual defences the exchange. of Wither are a perpetual source of inward Wither has chosen to bestow upon the sunshine, the magnanimity of the modern is lady whom he commends the name of Arete, not without its alloy of soreness, and a sense or Virtue ; and, assuming to himself the of injustice, which seems perpetually to gall character of Philarete, or Lover of Virtue, and irritate. Wither was better skilled in there is a sort of propriety in that heaped the “sweet uses of adversity;" he knew measure of perfections which he attributes how to extract the "precious jewel” from to this partly real, partly allegorical personthe head of the “toad,” without drawing any age. Drayton before him had shadowed his of the “ugly venom along with it. The mistress under the name of Idea, or Perfect prison notes of Wither are finer than the Pattern, and some of the old Italian lovewood notes of most of his poetical brethren. strains are couched in such religious terms The description in the Fourth Eclogue of his as to make it doubtful whether it be a misShepherds Hunting (which was composed tress, or Divine Grace, which the poet is during his imprisonment in the Marshalsea) addressing. of the power of the Muse to extract pleasure In this poem (full of beauties) there are from common objects, has been oftener two passages of pre-eminent merit. The quoted, and is more known, than any part of first is where the lover, after a flight of his writings. Indeed, the whole Eclogue is rapturous commendation, expresses his wonin a strain so much above not only what der why all men that are about his mistress, himself, but almost what any other poet has even to her very servants, do not view her written, that he himself could not help with the same eyes that he does. noticing it; he remarks that his spirits had been raised higher than they were wont, through the love of poesy.” The praises of
Nay, I muse her servants are not
Pleading love; but 0! they dare not. Poetry have been often sung in ancient and
And I therefore wonder, why in modern times ; strange powers have been
They do not grow sick and die. ascribed to it of influence over animate and
Sure they would do so, but that,
By the ordinance of fate, inanimate auditors; its force over fascinated
There is some concealed thing, crowds has been acknowledged ; but, before
So each gazer limiting,
He can see no more of merit, Wither, no one ever celebrated its power at
Than beseems his worth and spirit. home, the wealth and the strength which this For in her a grace there shines, divine gift confers upon its possessor. Fame,
That o'er-daring thoughts confines,
Making worthless men despair and that too after death, was all which
To be loved of one so fair. hitherto the poets had promised themselves
Yea, the destinies agree,
Some good judgments blind should be, from their art. It seems to have been left
And not gain the power of knowing to Wither to discover that poetry was a
Those rare beauties in her growing.
Reason doth as much imply : present possession, as well as a rich reversion,
For, if every judging eye, and that the Muse had promise of both
Which beholdeth her, should there lives,-of this, and of that which was to
Find what excellences are,
Would be captive to affections.
She for lovers should not rest." panegyric protracted through several thousand lines in the mouth of a single speaker, The other is, where he has been comparing but diversified, so as to produce an almost her beauties to gold, and stars, and the most dramatic effect, by the artful introduction of excellent things in nature ; and, fearing to some ladies, who are rather auditors than be accused of hyperbole, the common charge interlocutors in the scene; and of a boy, against poets, vindicates himself by boldly
“Sometime I do admire
taking upon him, that these comparisons are on Cuzzoni, to my feeling at least, very delino hyperboles ; but that the best things in ciously; but Wither, whose darling measure nature do, in a lover's eye, fall short of those it seems to have been, may show, that in excellences which he adores in her.
skilful hands it is capable of expressing the
subtilest movements of passion. So true it “ What pearls, what rubies can Seem so lovely fair to man,
is, which Drayton seems to have felt that it As her lips whom he doth love,
is the poet who modifies the metre, not the When in sweet discourse they move, Or her lovelier teeth, the while
metre the poet ; in his own words, that She doth bless him with a smile ? Stars indeed fair creatures be ;
“It's possible to climb;
To kindle, or to stake;
Altho' in Skelton's rhime.".
• A long line is a line we are long repeating. In the Of a starry winter's night?
Shepherds Hunting take the following-
“ If thy verse doth bravely tower,
As she makes wing, she gets porcer ;
Yet the higher she doth soar,
She's affronted still the more,
'Till she to the high'st hath past,
Then she rests with fame at last.”
What longer measure can go beyond the majesty of
this ! what Alexandrine is half so long in pronouncing Which I do mine own rude way,
or expresses labour slowly but strongly surmounting Sometimes setting forth her glories
difficulty with the life with which it is done in the By unheard of allegories "-&c.
second of these lines ? or what metre could go beyond
these from PhilareteTo the measure in which these lines are
“ Her true beauty leaves behind written the wits of Queen Anne's days
Apprehensions in my mind contemptuously gave the name of Namby Of more sweetness, than all art
Or inventions can impart, Pamby, in ridicule of Ambrose Philips, who
Thoughts too deep to be expressid, has used it in some instances, as in the lines And too strong to be suppress’d.”
UNDER ASSUMED SIGNATURES, PUBLISHED IN “ THE REFLECTOR."
MR. REFLECTOR, I was born under the enough with rural objects to understand shadow of St. Dunstan's steeple, just where tolerably well ever after the poets, when they the conflux of the eastern and western in- declaim in such passionate terms in favour habitants of this two-fold city meet and of a country life. justle in friendly opposition at Temple-bar. For my own part, now the fit is past, I The same day which gave me to the world, have no hesitation in declaring, that a mob saw London happy in the celebration of her of happy faces crowding up at the pit door great annual feast. This I cannot help look- of Drury-lane Theatre, just at the hour of ing upon as a lively omen of the future great six, gives me ten thousand sincerer pleasures, good-will which I was destined to bear than I could ever receive from all the flocks toward the city, resembling in kind that of silly sheep that ever whitened the plains solicitude which every Chief Magistrate is of Arcadia or Epsom Downs. supposed to feel for whatever concerns her This passion for crowds is nowhere feasted interests and well-being. Indeed I consider so full as in London. The man must have a myself in some sort a speculative Lord Mayor rare recipe for melancholy who can be dull of London : for though circumstances un- in Fleet-street. I am naturally inclined to happily preclude me from the hope of ever hypochondria, but in London it vanishes, arriving at the dignity of a gold chain and like all other ills. Often, when I have felt Spital Sermon, yet thus much will I say of a weariness or distaste at home, have I myself in truth, that Whittington with his rushed out into her crowded Strand, and Cat (just emblem of vigilance and a furred fed my humour, till tears have wetted my gown) never went beyond me in affection cheek for unutterable sympathies with the which I bear to the citizens.
multitudinous moving picture, which she I was born, as you have heard, in a crowd. never fails to present at all hours, like the This has begot in me an entire affection for scenes of a shifting pantomime. that way of life, amounting to an almost The very deformities of London, which insurmountable aversion from solitude and give distaste to others, from habit do not rural scenes. This aversion was never in- displease me. The endless succession of terrupted or suspended, except for a few shops where Fancy miscalled Folly is supyears in the younger part of my life, during plied with perpetual gauds and toys, excite a period in which I had set my affections in me no puritanical aversion. I gladly beupon a charming young woman. Every man, hold every appetite supplied with its proper while the passion is upon him, is for a time food. The obliging customer, and the obliged at least addicted to groves and meadows and tradesman—things which live by bowing, purling streams. During this short period and things which exist but for homagedo of my existence, I contracted just familiarity not affect me with disgust; from habit I perceive nothing but urbanity, where other attained by the same well-natured alchymy men, more refined, discover meanness: I love with which the Foresters of Arden, in a the very smoke of London, because it has beautiful country, been the medium most familiar to my vision.
“ Found tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, I see grand principles of honour at work in
Sermons in stones, and good in everything." the dirty ring which encompasses two combatants with fists, and principles of no less Where has spleen her food but in London ! eternal justice in the detection of a pick- Humour, Interest, Curiosity, suck at her pocket. The salutary astonishment with measureless breasts without a possibility of which an execution is surveyed, convinces being satiated. Nursed amid her noise, her me more forcibly than a hundred volumes of crowds, her beloved smoke, what have I been abstract polity, that the universal instinct of doing all my life, if I have not lent out my man in all ages has leaned to order and good heart with usury to such scenes ! government. Thus an art of extracting morality from
I am, Sir, your faithful servant, the commonest incidents of a town life is
ON BURIAL SOCIETIES ; AND THE CHARACTER OF AN UNDERTAKER.
MR. REFLECTOR,—I was amused the other handles, with wrought gripes; the coffin to day with having the following notice thrust be well pitched, lined, and ruffled with fine into my hand by a man who gives out bills crape ; a handsome crape shroud, cap, and at the corner of Fleet-market. Whether he pillow. For use, a handsome velvet pall, saw any prognostics about me, that made three gentlemen's cloaks, three crape hathim judge such notice seasonable, I cannot bands, three hoods and scarfs, and six pair of say; I might perhaps carry in a countenance gloves ; two porters equipped to attend the (naturally not very florid) traces of a fever funeral, a man to attend the same with band which had not long left me. Those fellows and gloves ; also, the burial fees paid, if not have a good instinctive way of guessing at exceeding one guinea." the sort of people that are likeliest to pay “Man," says Sir Thomas Browne, “is a attention to their papers.
noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave.” Whoever drew up this little
advertisement certainly understood this “ BURIAL SOCIETY.
appetite in the species, and has made abun“A favourable opportunity now offers to dant provision for it. It really almost inany person, of either sex, who would wish to duces a tædium vitæ upon one to read it. be buried in a genteel manner, by paying Methinks I could be willing to die, in death one shilling entrance, and two-pence per to be so attended. The two rows all round week for the benefit of the stock. Members close-drove best black japanned nails,—how to be free in six months. The money to be feelingly do they invite, and almost irrepaid at Mr. Middleton's, at the sign of the sistibly persuade us to come and be fastened First and the Last, Stonecutter's-street, Fleet- down! what aching head can resist the market. The deceased to be furnished as temptation to repose, which the crape shroud, follows :-A strong elm coffin, covered with the cap, and the pillow present ; what sting superfine black, and furnished with two rows, is there in death, which the handles with all round, close drove, best japanned nails, wrought gripes are not calculated to pluck and adorned with ornamental drops, a hand- away? what victory in the grave, which the some plate of inscription, Angel above, and drops and the velvet pall do not render at Flower beneath, and four pair of handsome least extremely disputable ? but above all,