1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Habington

Samuel Egerton Brydges, "Memoir of William Habington" Censura Literaria 10 (1809) 190-201.



William Habington, a poet and historian of the last century, seems to have received less notice from posterity than he deserves. The principal particulars of his life and family are to be found in Wood's Athenae, II. 110; and Nash's Worcestershire, I. 588. I shall select such as appear necessary to the illustration of his character and writings.

Richard Habington of Brockhampton, in Herefordshire, of a very ancient family, had three sons; Richard, the eldest, of Brockhampton, left a daughter and coheir Eleanor, who marrying Sir Thomas Baskerville left a daughter and heir Eleanor, wife of John Talbot of Longford in Shropshire, father by her of John, 10th Earl of Shrewsbury. John Habington, second son, was Cofferer to Queen Elizabeth. In fifth of that Queen's reign he bought the manor of Hindlip, in Worcestershire. He was born 1515; rebuilt the mansion about 1572, and died 1581. By Katherine daughter of John Wykes of Morton_Jeffreys he left issue Thomas Habington his eldest son, born at Thorpe in Surry, 1560; godson of Q. Eliz. who after having studied at Oxford, and travelled to Rheims and Paris, connected himself on his return with those who laboured to release Mary Queen of Scots; and contrived many hiding holes in his curious old seat, lately remaining. On the discovery of Babington's conspiracy, 1586, for which his brother Edward, a dangerous and turbulent man, suffered death, (see a minute account of it in Camden's history of this reign, in Kennet, II. 515-518) he fell under strong suspicions, and was committed prisoner to the Tower, where he remained six years, and is said only to have saved his life by being Elizabeth's godson. Here he consoled himself by deep study, and treasured up the principal part of that learning by which he was afterwards distinguished. He was at length permitted to retire to Hindlip, and married Mary eldest daughter of Edward Parker Lord Morley, (by Elizabeth daughter and sole heir of Sir William Stanley, Lord Montegle) the descendant of the learned Henry Parker, Lord Morley, temp. Hen. VIII of whom see Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, I. 92. Notwithstanding his escape, he could not help being so far implicated in the Gunpowder Plot as to conceal Garnet, Oldcorn, and others in his house, for which he was condemned to die, but by the intercession of his brother-in-laws Lord Morley, who was the means of its discovery by communicating a letter of warning, supposed to have been written by his sister, (Mrs. Habington) he was again saved; and pardoned on condition of never stirring out of Worcestershire. He made good use of his future time; entirely addicting himself to study; and living to the great age of 87, Oct. 8, 1647. During this period, he collected the materials for the history of his native county, on which Dr. Nash's excellent Collections are built. Wood says he had seen part of these MSS. and that "every leaf was a sufficient testimony of his generous and virtuous mind, of his indefatigable industry, and infinite reading."

William Habington, his eldest son, was born at Hindlip, Nov. 5, 1605, was educated in the Jesuits' College at St. Omers, and afterwards at Paris, and in the first of these was earnestly invited to take upon him the habit of the order; but excused himself and left them. After his return from Paris he was instructed by his father in history, and became an accomplished gentleman. He married Lucy daughter of William Herbert first Lord Powis by Eleanor daughter of Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland by Katherine daughter and coheir of John Neville, Lord Latimer.

History has preserved but little of his character, but while nothing contradictory to them is recorded, we have a right to deduce the colour of it from his writings. From these he appears to have been distinguished for connubial felicity, for a love of retirement and study, and for the elegance and dignity of his sentiments. In 1635, when he was thirty years old, he published in 8vo. a little volume of poems, entitled Castara, under which name he celebrates his wife. This kind of title was the fashion of the day: thus Lovelace immortalized his mistress under the name of Lucasta. The third edition of Castara, in 1640, duodec. now lies before me. It is divided into three parts; the first is "THE MISTRESS," prefaced by a prose description: this consists of verses addressed to her before marriage. The second part, is "THE WIFE," prefaced in a similar manner. This part is followed by "THE FRIEND," containing eight elegies on the death of his kinsman, the Hon. George Talbot, who must have been one of the three younger sons of John Talbot of Longford, whose names are not mentioned in Collins's Peerage, Vol. III. p. 27. The third part, is the "HOLY MAN," and consists of paraphrases of the Psalms.

In the author's prefatory address to the public, he says, that "love stole some hours from business and his more serious study." But he does not claim from hence the sacred name of poet, like those "who can give no nobler testimony of twenty years employment than some loose copies of lust happily expressed." To that, "he shall not dare by this essay to lay any title, since more sweat and oil he must spend, who shall arrogate so excellent an attribute." The praise he lays a very just claim to, is that of a chaste Muse. "Had I slept," says he, "in the silence of my acquaintance, and affected no study beyond that which the chace or field allows, poetry had then been no scandal upon me, and the love of learning no suspicion of ill husbandry. But what malice begot in the country upon ignorance, or in the city upon criticism, shall prepare against me, I am armed to endure." — "I think even these verses will have that proportion in the world's opinion, that heaven hath allotted me in fortune; not so high as to be wondered at, nor so low as to be contemned."

After the preface follow some verses to him by George Talbot beforementioned, in which he says,

—We two are knowne
To th' world as to ourselves, to be but one
In blood as study: and my careful love
Did never action worth my name, approve,
Which serv'd not thee.

Afterwards he says,

—I boldly can
Stile thee more than good poet, — a good man.

Habington's sixth poem is addressed "to his honoured friend Mr. E. P." [Endymion Porter] whom he describes "not always in the shine of kings," sometimes retiring to the holy shade of the Muses. The seventh to Castara, in praise jf content and the calm happiness of the country at Hindlip, is exquisitely delicate, and poetical. Warton, in his edition of the "Juvenile poems of Milton," p. 45, refers to a passage in this beautiful ode: but appears to have been himself unacquainted with these poems, the passage having been pointed out by Mr. Bowle; otherwise his candour, taste, and accuracy, could never have been guilty of talking of "an obscure poet, John Habington." He very properly calls what he cites an elegant triplet." The tenth poem is addressed "to the honourable his much-honoured friend R. B. Esq." [Robert Brudenell] afterwards 2d Earl of Cardigan, a man, who lived to the great age of 96, being born March 5, 1607, and did not die till July 16, 1703: he had the misfortune to be father to the infamous Countess of Shrewsbury, (widow of George Talbot's younger brother, Earl Francis) who held the Duke of Buckingham's horse in the disguise of a page, when he fought and killed her husband. Her sister, the Countess of Westmoreland, died in 1739 at the age of 91.

While you dare trust the loudest tongue of fame,
The zeale you beare your mistresse to proclaim,
To th' talking world: I in the silentst grove,
Scarce to myself dare whisper that I love.
Thee titles, Brud'nell, riches thee adorne;
And vigorous youth, to vice not headlong borne,
By th' tide of Custome: which I value more
Than what blind superstition's fools adore;
Who greatnesse in the chaire of blisse enthrone,
Greatnesse we borrow, vertue is our own.

The 13th poem is "to the right honourable the Countesse of Ar" who must have been Margaret, daughter of William Douglas, Earl of Morton, wife of Archibald 8th Earl of Argyle. The 19th is

"A Dialogue betweene Hope and Feare."
Feare. Checke thy forward thoughts, and know
Hymen only joynes their hands,
Who with even paces goe,
Shee in gold, he rich in lands.

Hope. But Castara's purer fire,
When it meetes a noble flame,
Shuns the smoke of such desire,
Joynes with love, and burnes the same.

Feare. Yet obedience must prevaile,
They, who o're her actions sway,
would have her in th' ocean saile,
And contemne thy narrow sea.

Hope. Parents lawes must beare no weight,
When they happinesse prevent;
And our sea is not so streight,
But it roome bath for content.

Feare. Thousand hearts as victims stand,
At the altar of her eyes
And will partiall she command,
Onely thiue for sacrifice?

Hope. Thousand victims must returne;
Shee the purest will designe:
Choose Castara which shall burne,
Choose the purest, that is mine.

In a short address "to The Thames," p. 32, he speaks of "Faire Seymors, on the banks of Marlow." P. 43, is a poem "to Seymors, the house in which Castara resided."

In p. 39, a poem to Mr. George Talbot begins with the following noble lines:

Thrice hath the pale-fac'd empresse of the night,
Lent in her chaste increase her borrowed light
To guide the vowing marriner: since mute,
Talbot, th'ast beene, too slothfull to salute
Thy exil'd servant. Labour not t' excuse
This dull neglect: love never wants a muse.
When thunder summons from eternall sleepe
Th' imprison'd ghosts, and spreads o' th' frighted deepe
A veile of darknesse; penitent to be
I may forget, yet still remember thee,
Next to my faire, under whose eye-lids move,
In nimble measures, beauty, wit, and love.

In p. 50, are some lines to Lady Eleanor Powis, Castara's mother, in which he appeals to the superiority of her judgment over the glitter of wealth and station; and demands, if rich with a little, they may not be lifted by mutual love, to a greatness above what riches can confer. He dares not, he says, when he surveys the beauty of Castara's hand, ascribe the brightness of its veins to the blood of Charlemaigne, which flows in them through her, or the united streams of Marmion, Rosse, Parr, Fitzhugh, and St. Quintin, which add their lustre to the Pembroke family. Would that Castara were the daughter of some mountain-cottager, who could leave her no other dower than what she derived from the bounty of nature! He would then lead her to the temple, rich in her own wealth.

—Then all who vaunt
That fortune, them t' enrich made others want,
Should set themselves out glorious in her stealth,
And trie if that could parallel this wealth.

P. 52, is a poem, "To the honourable Mr. Wm. E." reprinted in Headley's 2d vol. pp. 19, 20.

In another poem, "To Castara, on the Vanity of Avarice," p. 56, he says,

I'de rather like the violet grow
Unmarkt i' th' shaded vale,
Than on the hill those terrors know
Are breath'd forth by an angry gale;
There is more pompe above, more sweete below.

The verses, p. 58, are to his "honoured friend and kinsman, R. St. Esquire." "It does not give me pain, says he, if what I write is held no wit at court. Let those who teach their muse the art of winning on easy greatness, or the spruce young lawyer, 'who is all impudence and tongue,' endeavour to divulge their fames, by which the one may get employ, and the other fees, I embrace silence, and that fate which placed my birth so happily, that I am neither depressed by want, nor flattered by riches into pride. Why are some poets always railing, and steeping their rhymes in gall; as if there was no crime that called so loudly for the vengeance of heaven as the poverty of a few writers? It is true, that Chapman's reverend ashes have been mingled with the vulgar dust for want of a tomb; yet we need not despair, that some devout lover of poetry may yet build him a monument.

Since Spencer hath a stone; and Drayton's browes
Stand petrefied; th' wall, with laurell bowes
Yet girt about; and nigh wise Henries hearse,
Old Chaucer got a marble for his verse.
So courteous is Death; Death poets brings
So high a pompe to lodge them with their kings;
Yet still they mutiny.

"If some please their patrons with hyperboles, or mysterious nonsense, and then complain, if they are not noticed, that the state neglects men of parts; and seem to think all other kinds of excellence unworthy of reputation, let us set so just a value on knowledge, that the world may trust the sentence of a poet.

I write to you, Sir, on this theame, because
Your soule is cleare, and you observe the lawes
Of poesie so justly, that I chuse
Yours onely the example to my muse.
And till my browner haire be mixt with grey,
Without a blush, Tie tread the sportive way
My muse directs; a poet youth may be,
But age doth dote without philosophie."

The 1st part closes at pp. 65-67, with a poem so simple, so chaste, so elegant, harmonious, and happy, as to exceed my powers of praise.

"The Description of Castara."
Like the violet, which alone
Prospers in some happy shade,
My Castara lives unknowne,
To no looser eye betray'd,
For shee's to herselfe untrue,
Who delights i' th' publicke view.

Such her beauty, as no arts
Have enricht with borrowed grace,
Her high birth no pride imparts,
For she blushes in her place.
Folly boasts a glorious blood,
She is noblest, being good.

Cautious, she knew never yet,
What a wanton courtship meant:
Not speaks loud to boast her wit,
In her silence eloquent.
Of herselfe survey he takes,
But 'tweene men no difference makes.

She obeyes with speedy will,
Her grave parents' wise commands.
And so innocent, that ill,
She nor acts, nor understands.
Women's feet runne still astray,
If once to ill they know the way.

She sailes by that rocke, the court,
Where oft honour splits her mast:
And retir'dnesse thinks the port,
Where her fame may anchor cast.
Vertue safely cannot sit,
Where Vice is enthron'd for wit.

She holds that dayes pleasure best,
Where sinne waits not on delight
Without Maske, or ball, or feast,
Sweetly spends a Winter's night.
O're that darknesse, whence is thrust,
Prayer and sleepe oft governs lust.

She her throne makes reason climbe,
While wild passions captive lie;
And each article of time,
Her pure thoughts to heaven flie:
All her vows religious be,
And her love she vowes to me.

[To be continued.]