1690 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Wither

Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (1690-91; 1721) 2:391-92.



GEORGE WITHER Son of George Wither, the first Son by a second venter, of the House of Wither of Manydowne near to Wotton S. Laurence in Hampshire, was born at Bentworth near to Alton in the said County, on the eleventh day of June 1588, (30 Eliz.) educated in Gram. learning under the noted School-master to those parts called Joh. Greaves of Colemore, sent to Magd. Coll. in the Year 1604 or thereabouts, where being put under the tuition of Joh. Warner, (afterwards B. of Roch.) whom, if I mistake not, he serv'd, made some proficiency with much ado in Academical learning; but his geny beign addicted to things more trivial, was taken home after he had spent about three Years in the said House, and thence sent to one of the Inns of Chancery in London, afterwards to Lincolns Inn, to obtain knowledge in the municipal Law. But still his geny hanging after things more smooth and delightful, he did, at length, make himself known to the World (after he had taken several rambles therein) by certain Specimens of Poetry; which being dispersed in several hands, became shortly after a public Author, and much admired by some in that age for his quick advancement in that Faculty. But so it was, that he shewing himself too busy and satyrical in his Abuses stript and whipt, was committed Prisoner to the Marshalsea, where continuing several Months, was then more cried up, especially by the puritanical Party, for his profuse pouring forth of English rhime, and more afterwards by the vulgar sort of People for his prophetical Poetry, in regard that many things were fancied by them to come to pass, which he pretended to predict. In 1639 he was a Captain of Horse in the Expedition against the Scots, and Quarter-master Gen. of the Regiment wherein he was Captain, viz. of that Regiment of, or next under, the Earl of Arundel, General of the Forces in the said expedition. But this our Author, who was always from his Youth puritanically affected, (sufficiently evidenced in his Satyrs) sided with the Preb. in the beginning of the Civil Wars rais'd by them, an 1642, became an Enemy to the King and Regality, sold the Estate he had, and with the Moneys received for it rais'd a Troop of Horse for the Parliament, was made a Captain and soon after a Major, having this motto on his Colours, Pro Rege, Lege, Grege: but being taken Prisoner by the Cavaliers, Sir Jo. Denham the Poet (some of whose land at Egham in Surrey Wither had got into his clutches) desired his Majesty not to hang him, "because that so long as Wither lived," Denham "would not be accounted the worst Poet in England." About that time he was constituted by the said Long Parliament a Justice of Peace in Quorum for Hampshire, Surrey, and Essex, (which Office he kept 16 Years) and afterwards was made by Oliver Major Gen. of all the Horse and Foot in the County of Surrey, in which employment he licked his fingers sufficiently, gaining thereby a great Odium from the generous Royalist. After the King's Restoration in 1660, he lost all the Lands that had belonged to Royalists and Bishops, which he before had either bought, or had conferr'd upon him for the love and zeal he had to the "blessed Cause." And being then look'd upon as a dangerous Person to the King and State, especially for a scandalous and seditious libel that he had then dispersed, was committed Prisoner to Newgate; and afterwards, upon his own confession, and the Oaths of two Persons, that he was the Author of it, he, by order of the H. of Commons, was sent in custody, and committed close Prisoner to the Tower of London, to be debarr'd Pen, Ink, and Paper, and about the same time (24 of March 1661-2) an Impeachment was ordered to be drawn up against him. In both which Prisons he continued three Years and more, wrote several things by the connivance of the Keeper, of which some were afterwards made public, yet could never refrain from shewing himself a Presbyterian Satyrist. He began very early, being precisely educated from his Childhood, to express and publish those conceptions, which the affections and inclinations to youth had awakened in him, endeavouring to season them with Morality and Piety, as Subjects of that nature are capable of; suiting them to the capacities of young men, who delight to see their own natural passions, represented as 'were in a glass; wherein they not only meet with some better things than they looked for, but with such notions also therewith mixed, as insinuated into their Hearts that seasoning which made them much delighted with his Poems, and rendered him so generally known, that thousands, especially such Youths that were puritanically educated, were desirous to peruse his future writings, and to take better heed of that, whereof else perhaps they had taken little or no notice, while others of generous education, and of more solid parts, looked upon them as the effects of a crazed brain, and esteemed Taylor the Water-Poet a fit match for him with his wild and rambling rhimes. The things that he hath written and published are very many, accounted by the generality of Scholars mere scribbles, and the fancies of a conceited and confident, if not enthusiastical mind. The titles of them follow [list omitted]. At length, after this our Author George Wither had lived to the age of 79 Years, mostly spent in a rambling and unsettled condition, concluded this life on the second day of May in sixteen hundred sixty and seven: Where upon his body was buried betwe[e]n the east door and south end of the Church, (which stands north and south) belonging to the Savoy Hospital in the Strand near London. One George Wither was a Dignitary in the Church and a Writer, before the former George was born, as I have told you in the Fasti an. 1565, but what relation there was between them, I cannot tell.