Page images

the fashion; since we find readers who are still fond of it, perhaps, because it is no longer the fashion. Wither is, we understand, an especial favourite with an eminent critic of the present day So, also, is Donne. This writer belongs to the class of metaphysical critics, who find beauties where no one else can, and this may be said to be characteristic of his mind. He does not like to see the game lie panting at his feet, but to hunt it down for himself through tangled bushes and crooked bye-paths. Precisely in proportion as a thing is unintelligible or uninteresting to common apprehensions, it seems to please him. It thus becomes a discovery of his own,-a singular acquisition in point of taste, which nobody can or will dispute with him.--an.enclosure on the waste of learning, from which he derives little profit, but the credit of defending it against all impugners. His select and favourite passages are so many dulcineas, of which, in the first place, he need not be jealous; and which, besides, afford him an endless opportunity of breaking a lance with almost every one he meets, and of signalizing his perverse ingenuity, by maintaining them to be the fairest offspring of the Muses. A contemporary writer has designated this race of critics, as

the Occult School,—the Veré Adepti. “ They discern,” he adds, “ no beauties but what are concealed from superficial eyes,- overlook all those that are obvious to the vulgar part of mankind. They see farther into a millstone than most others. If an author is utterly unreadable, they can read him for ever: his intricacies are their delight, his mysteries are their study. They judge of works of genius, as misers do of hidden treasure—it is of no value unless they have it all themselves. They will no more share a book than a mistress with a friend. If they suspected their favourite volumes of delighting any eyes but their own, they would immediately discard them from their list. Theirs are superannuated beauties, that every one else has left off intriguing with. This is not envy or affectation, but a natural proneness to singularity, a love of what is odd and out of the way. They must come at their pleasures with difficulty, and support admiration by an uneasy sense of ridicule and opposition. They despise those qualities in a work which are cheap and obvious. They like a monopoly of taste, and are shocked at the prostitution of intellect, implied in popular productions. Pure pleasures are in their judgement cloying and insipid. Nothing goes down with them but what is caviare to the multitude. They are eaters of olives, and readers of black-letter. Yet they sometimes smack of genius, and would be worth any money, were it only for the variety of the thing."

It is curious enough (and a confirmation of the tenour of the foregoing remarks) that Wither, in the preface to his Emblems, excuses himself for not having run so much as might be expected of him, into the recondite and fantastic style of his age. The passage is worth noting :

“I take little pleasure," he says, “in rhymes, fictions, or conceited compositions for their own sakes; neither could I ever take so much pains, as to spend time to put my meanings into other words, than such as flowed forth without study: partly because I delight more in matter, than in wordy flourishes; but chiefly because those wordy conceits, which by some are accounted most elegant, are not only, for the greater part, empty sounds and impertinent clinches in themselves, but such inventions as do sometime also obscure the sense to common readers; and serve to little other purpose, but for witty men to shew tricks to one another; for the ignorant understand them not, and the wise need them not. So much of them, as without darkening the matters to them that most need instruction, may be made use of to stir up the affections, win attention, or help the memory, I approve and make use of to those good purposes, according as my leisure and the measure of my faculties will permit."

Wither was born in 1588, at Bentworth, in Hampshire, and died in 1667, aged seventy-nine. For publishing, in 1613, a satire, called Abuses Stript and Whipt, he was confined in the Marshalsea prison, where he remained several years, and where he composed some of his best works; among others, the Shepherd's Hunting. There is a portrait of him, at the age of twenty-one, prefixed to his poems, with this inscription round the margin: “I grow AND WITHER, BOTH TOGETHER !" The emblem might be applied to the prematureness and caducity of his fame. The costume of this portrait is also a striking comment on the texture of his writings. He seems, in himself, a lively, good-looking young man; but from the fashionable appendages, in which he is disguised, resembles an armadillo tricked out in point-lace. His person had as little to do with his dress, as his genius with his ordinary style!

Having cleared the way by these general remarks, we shall proceed to give two rather long extracts, to satisfy the reader of the justness both of our censure and our praise. The first passage we shall quote is one of the best in his faulty manner. It is his account of the Passions, in the character of a pack of hounds, from the Shepherd's Hunting. Philarete thus speaks:

“My friends, I will : you know I am a swain,
That kept a poor flock on a barren plain ;
Who, though it seems I could do nothing less,
Can make a song, and woo a shepherdess,

And not alone, the fairest where I live
Have heard me sing, and favours deign'd to give;
But, though I say't, the noblest nymph of Thame
Hath grac'd my verse unto my greater fame.
Yet, being young, and not much seeking praise,
I was not noted out for shepherds’ lays ;
Nor feeding flocks, as you know others be:
For the delight that most possessed me
Was hunting foxes, wolves, and beasts of prey,
That spoil our folds, and bear our lambs away.
For this, as also for the love I bear
Unto my country, I laid by all care
Of gain, or of preferment, with desire
Only to keep that state I had entire.
And, like a true grown huntsman, sought to speed
Myself with hounds of rare and choicest breed,
Whose names and natures ere I further go,
Because you are my friend, I'll let you

My first esteemed dog that I did find,
Was by descent of old Acteon's kind ;
A brache, which if I do not aim amiss,
For all the world is just like one of his;
She's named Love, and scarce yet knows her duty,
Her dam's my lady's pretty beagle, Beauty,
I bred hér up myself with wond'rous charge,
Until she grew to be exceeding large,
And wax'd so wanton, that I did abhor it,
And put her out amongst my neighbours for it.
The next is Lust, a hound that's kept abroad
’Mongst some of mine acquaintance, but a toad
Is not more loathsome: ’tis a cur will range
Extremely, and is ever full of mange;
And 'cause it is infectious, she's not wont
To come among the rest, but when they hunt.
Hate is a third, a hound both deep and long;
His sire is true, or else supposed wrong.
He'll have a snap at all that pass him by,
And yet pursues his game most eagerly.
With him goes Envy coupled, a lean cur,
And yet she'll hold out, hunt we ne'er so far;
She pineth much, and feedeth little too,
Yet stands and snarleth at the rest that do.
Then there's Revenge, a wond'rous deep-mouth'd dog,
So fleet, I'm fain to hunt him with a clog,

Yet many times he'll much out-strip his bounds,
And hunts not closely with the other hounds :
He'll venture on a lion in his ire;
Curs’d Choler was his dam, and Wrong his sire.
This Choler is a brach, that's very old,
And spends her mouth too much to have it hold:
She's very testy; an unpleasing cur,
That bites the very stones, if they but stir ;
Or when that ought but her displeasure moves,
She'll bite and snap at any one she loves.
But my quick scented'st dog is Jealousy,
The truest of this breed's in Italy.
The dam of mine would hardly fill a glove,
It was a lady's little dog, call'd Love;
The sire a poor deformed cur, nam'd Fear,
As shagged and as rough as is a bear :
And yet the whelp turn'd after neither kind,
For he is very large, and near-hand blind.
Far-off he seemeth of a pretty colour,
But doth not prove so, when you view him fuller.
A vile suspicious beast, whose looks are bad,
And I do fear in time he will


mad. To him I couple Avarice, still poor; Yet she devours as much as twenty more; A thousand horse she in her paunch can put, Yet whine, as if she had an empty gut; And having gorg'd what might a land have found, She'll catch for more, and hide it in the ground. Ambition is a hound as greedy full, But he for all the daintiest bits doth cull; He scorns to lick up crumbs beneath the table, He'll fetch from boards and shelves, if he be able; Nay, he can climb, if need be; and for that With him I hunt the martin and the cat ; And yet sometimes in mounting he's so quick, He fetches falls are like to break his neck. Fear is well-mouth'd, but subject to distrust; A stranger cannot make him take a crust : A little thing will soon his courage quail, And 'twixt his legs he ever claps his tail. With him, Despair now often coupled goes, Which by his roaring mouth each huntsman knows. None hath a better mind unto the game; But he gives off, and always seemeth lame.

My blood-hound Cruelty, as swift as wind,
Hunts to the death, and never comes behind;
Who, but she's strapt and muzzled too withall,
Would eat her fellows, and the prey and all.
And yet she cares not much for any food,
Unless it be the purest harmless food.
All these are kept abroad at charge of many,
They do not cost me in a year a penny.”

This prolix allegory, however quaint, is ingenious and sensible. The reader lends it a doubtful approbation; but the following lines come and go to the heart.

“ See'st thou not, in clearest days,
Oft thick fogs cloud heaven's rays ;
And that

vapours which do breathe
From the earth's gross womb beneath,
Seem not to us with black steams
To pollute the sun's bright beams,
And yet vanish into air,
Leaving it, unblemish’d, fair?
So, my Willy, shall it be
With Detraction's breath on thee :
It shall never rise so high,
As to stain thy poesy.
As that sun doth oft exhale
Vapours from each rotten vale ;
Poesy so sometime drains
Gross conceits from muddy brains;
Mists of envy, fogs of spite,
"Twixt men's judgements and her light :
But so much her power may do,
That she can dissolve them too.
If thy verse do bravely tower,
As she makes wing she gets power ;
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 :
Let nought therefore thee affright,
But make forward in thy flight;
For, if I could match thy rhyme,
To the very stars I'd climb;
There begin again, and fly
Till I reach'd eternity.

« PreviousContinue »