Page images

time.” Overtures of this kind are, of course, only made to persons who are believed to be open to them. It is plain from his own account that Wither was thus early notorious as a speculator or trader in such securities—as one ready, not precisely to sell himself, his opinions, and his conscience, to the highest bidder, but yet to be gained over if the offer were only made large enough to convert as well as purchase him. There is a great deal of very passable wearing and working honesty of this kind in the world.

The history of Wither's numerous publications has been elaborately investigated by the late Mr. Park in the first and second volumes of the British Bibliographer; many of his poems have been reprinted by Sir Egerton Brydges, and others of his admirers; and an ample account of his life and writings, drawn up with a large and intimate knowledge, as well as affectionate zeal and painstaking, which make it supersede whatever had been previously written on the subject, forms the principal article (extending over more than 130 pages) of Mr. Wilmott's Lives of Sacred Poets (8vo. Lon. 1834). Much injustice, however, has been done to Wither by the hasty judgment that has commonly been passed, even by his greatest admirers, upon his later political poetry, as if it consisted of mere party invective and fury, and all that he had written of any enduring value or interest was to be found in the productions of the early part of his life. Some at least of his political pieces are very remarkable for their vigour and terseness. As a specimen we will give a portion of a poem which he published without his name in 1647, under the title of “ Amygdala Britannica; Almonds for Parrots; a dish of Stone-fruit, partly shelled and partly unshelled; which, if cracked, picked, and well digested, may be wholesome against those epidemic distempers of the brain now predominant, and prevent some malignant diseases likely to ensue : composed heretofore by a wellknown modern author, and now published according to a copy found written with his own hand. Qui bene latuit bene vixit.This fantastic title-page (with the manufacture of which the bookseller may have had more to do than Wither himself) was suited to the popular taste of the day, but would little lead a modern reader to expect the nervous concentration and passionate earnestness of such verses as the following :

The time draws near, and hasteth on,
In which strange works shall be begun;

[ocr errors]

And prosecutions, whereon shall
Depend much future bliss or bale.
If to the left hand you decline,
Assured destruction they divine;
But, if the right-hand course ye take,
This island it will happy make.

A time draws nigh in which you may
As you shall please the chess-men play;
Remove, confine, check, leave, or take,
Dispose, depose, undo, or make,
Pawn, rook, knight, bishop, queen, or king,
And act your wills in every thing :
But, if that time let slip you shall,
For yesterday in vain you call.

A time draws nigh in which the sun
Will give more light than he hath done :
Then also you shall see the moon
Shine brighter than the sun at noon ;
And many stars now seeming dull
Give shadows like the moon at ful).
Yet then shall some, who think they see,
Wrapt in Egyptian darkness be.

A time draws nigh when with your blool
You shall preserve the viper's brood,
And starve your own; yet fancy than?
That you have played the pelican;
But, when you think the frozen snakes
Have changed their natures for your sakes,
They, in requital, will contrive
Your mischief who did them revive.

A time will come when they that wake
Shall dream; and sleepers undertake
The grand affairs; yet, few men know
Which are the dreamers of these two;
And fewer care by which of these
They guided be, so they have ease :
But an alarum shall advance
Your drowsy spirits from that trance.

A time shall come ere long in which
Mere beggars shall grow soonest rich;
The rich with wants be pinched more
Than such as go from door to door;

i Then.

2 As yet.

The honourable by the base
Shall be despited to their face;
The truth defamed be with lies;
The fool preferred before the wise;
And he that fighteth to be free,
By conquering enslaved shall be.

A time will come when see you shall
Toads fly aloft and eagles crawl ;
Wolves walk abroad in human shapes ;
Men turn to asses, hogs, and apes :
But, when that cursed time is come,
Well 's he that is both deaf and dumb;
That nothing speaketh, nothing hears,
And neither hopes, desires, nor fears.

When men shall generally confess
Their folly and their wickedness;
Yet act as if there neither were
Among them conscience, wit, or fear;
When they shall talk as if they had
Some brains, yet do as they were mad;
And nor by reason, nor by noise,
By human or by heavenly voice,
By being praised or reproved,
By judgments or by mercies, moved :
Then look for so much sword and fire
As such a temper doth require.

Ere God his wrath on Balaam wreaks,
First by his ass to him he speaks ;
Then shows him in an angel's hand
A sword, his courses to withstand ;
But, seeing still he forward went,
Quite through his heart a sword he sent.
And God will thus, if thus they do,
Still deal with kings, and subjects too;
That, where his grace despised is grown,

He by his judgments may be known. Neither Churchhill nor Cowper ever wrote anything in the same style better than this. The modern air, too, of the whole, with the exception of a few words, is wonderful. But this

, it's we have said, is the character of all Wither's poetry--of his earliest as well as of his latest. It is nowhere more conspicuous

than in his early religious verses, especially in his collection entitled Songs and Hymns of the Church, first published in 1624. There is nothing of the kind in the language more perfectly beautiful than some of these. We subjoin two of them :

Thanksgiving for Seasonable Weather. Song 85.
Lord, should the sun, the clouds, the wind,

The air, and seasons be
To us so froward and unkind

As we are false to thee;
All fruits would quite away be burned,

Or lie in water drowned,
Or blasted be or overturned,

Or chilled on the ground.
But from our duty though we swerve,

Thou still dost mercy show,
And deign thy creatures to preserve,

That men might thankful grow :
Yea, though from day to day we sin,

And thy displeasure gain,
No sooner we to cry begin

But pity we obtain.
The weather now thou changed hast

That put us late to fear,
And when our hopes were almost past

Then comfort did appear.
The heaven the earth’s complaints hath heard;

They reconciled be;
And thou such weather hast prepared

As we desired of thee.

For which, with lifted hands and eyes,
To thee


do repay
The due and willing sacrifice

Of giving thanks to-day;
Because such offerings we should not

To render thee be slow,
Nor let that mercy be forgot

Which thou art pleased to show.

Thanksgiving for Victory. Song 88.
We love thee, Lord, we praise thy name,

Who, by thy great almighty arm,
llast kept us from the spoil and shame

Of those that sought our causcless barm:

Thou art our life, our triumph-song,

The joy and comfort of our heart;
To thee all praises do belong,

And thou the God of Armies art.

We must confess it is thy power

That made us masters of the field;
Thou art our bulwark and our tower,

Our rock of refuge and our shield :
Thou taught'st our hands and arms to fight;

With vigour thou didst gird us round;
Thou mad'st our foes to take their flight,

And thou didst beat them to the ground.
With fury came our armed foes,

To blood and slaughter fiercely bent;
And perils round did us inclose,

By whatsoever way we went;
That, hadst not thou our Captain been,

To lead us on, and off again,
We on the place had dead been seen,

Or masked in blood and wounds had lain.

This song we therefore sing to thee,

And pray that thou for evermore
Would'st our Protector deign to be,

As at this time and heretofore;
That thy continual favour shown

May cause us more to thee incline,
And make it through the world be known

That such as are our foes are thine.


Along with Wither ought to be mentioned a contemporary poet of a genius, or at least of a manner, in some respects kindred to his, and whose fate it has been to experience the same long neglect, William Browne, the author of Britannia's Pastorals, of which the first part was published in 1613, the second in 1616, and of The Shepherd's Pipe in Seven Eclogues, which appeared in 1614. Browne was a native of Tavistock in Devonshire, where he was born in 1590, and he is supposed to have died in 1645. It is remarkable that, if he lived to so late a date, he should not have written more than he appears to have

« PreviousContinue »