1662 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Thomas Overbury

Thomas Fuller, in History of the Worthies of England (1662) 2:359-60.



SIR THOMAS OVERBURY, Knight, son to Sir Nicholas Overbury, one of the Judges of the Marches, was born at Bourton on the Hill in this County [Gloucestershire], bred in Oxford, and attained to be a most accomplished Gentleman, which the happiness of his Pen, both in Poetry and Prose doth declare. In the latter he was the first writer of Characters of our Nation, so far as I have observed.

But if the great parts of this Gentleman were guilty of Insolency and Petulancy, which some since have charged on his Memory; we may charitably presume that his reduced age would have corrected such juvenile extravagancies.

It is questionable, whether Robert Carre Earl of Somerset were more in the favour of King James, or this Sir Thomas Overbury in the favour of the Earl of Somerset, until he lost it by disswading that Lord from keeping company with a Lady (the Wife of another person of Honour) as neither for his credit here, or comfort hereafter.

Soon after Sir Thomas was by King James designed Embassador for Russia. His false friends perswaded him to decline the employment, as not better than an Honourable Grave. Better lie some dayes in the Tower, than more months in a worse prison. A Ship by Sea, and a barbarous cold Country by land. Besides they possessed him, that within a small time, the king should be wrought to a good opinion of him. But he who willingly goes into a prison out of hope to come easily out of it, may stay therein so long till he be too late convinced of another judgment.

Whilst Sir Thomas was in the Tower, his refusal was represented to the king as an Act of high contempt; as if he valued himself more than the Kings service. His strict restraint gave the greater liberty to his enemies to practise his death, which was by poyson performed.

Yet was his Blood legally revenged, which cost some a violent, and others a civil death, as deprived of their Offices. The Earle was soon abated in King James's affection (O the short distance betwixt the cooling and quenching of a Favourite!) being condemned and banished the Court. The death of this Worthy knight did happen Anno Dom. 1615.