1690 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Thomas Overbury

Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (1690-91; 1721) 1:388-89.



THOMAS OVERBURY, Son of Nich. Overbury of Boorton on the Hill near to Morton in Marsh in Gloucestershire Esq; by Mary his Wife Daughter of Giles Palmer of Compton-Scorfen in the Parish of Ilmington in Warwickshire, was born at Compton-Scorsen in the house of his Mother's Father, and educated partly in Grammar Learning in those parts. In Michaelmass Term an. 1595, he became a Gent. Comm. of Queen's Coll. in the year of his age 14, where by the benefit of a good Tutor and severe discipline, he made great proficiency in Logic and Philosophy. In 1598, he, as a Squire's Son, took the degree of Bach. of Arts, which being compleated by Determination in the Lent following, he left the University, and settled hour a time in the Middle Temple, where he had before been entred in order to study the municipal Laws. Afterwards he travelled for a time, and returned a most accomplished Person, which the happiness of his Pen both in Poetry and Prose doth declare. About the time of the Coronation of King Jam. I. he became familiar with Sir Rob. Carre kt. of the Bath, who perceiving him to be a Person of good Parts and Abilities, and withal sober and studious, did take him nearer to him, and made him his Bosom Friend. Soon after Carre being in great favour with the King, he not only procured Overbury to be Knighted at Greenwich 19 June 1608, but his Father to made one of the Judges in Wales about that time. But so it was that a familiarity being made between Carre then Viscount Rochester, and the Lady Frances Daughter of Thomas Earl of Suffolk and Wife of Robert E. of Essex, it did so much distaste Overbury, who knew her to be a Woman of no good reputation, that he endeavoured out of pure affection and friendship to dissuade Carre from her Company, fearing withal (upon very good grounds then on foot) that he might in the end marry her, and so consequently ruin his honour and himself, adding that if he went on in that business, he would do well to look to his standing. Which advice Carre taking impatiently, because thereby he had touch'd the Lady in her honour, discovered all to her. Whereupon she thinking that he might prove a great obstacle to their enjoyment of each other, and to the marriage then design'd, she never ceased, till she had procured his overthrow. It happening therefore about that time, that Overbury being designed to be sent Embassador into Russia, or as others say to the Arch-Duke in the Netherlands, by the King, which was proposed to him by the Lord Chancellor, and the Earl of Pembroke; Carre, (whose Counsel he asked) advised him to refuse the Service, by making some fair excuse. Which advice he followed, supposing that it did proceed out of kindness; but for his refusal he was committed to the Tower 21 Apr. 1613. Soon after he being closely confin'd, she by her instruments endeavoured to work his ruin by Poyson, (the particulars of which are now too many to enumerate) but Nature being very strong in Overbury, it was repell'd by breaking out in botches and blains on his Body. At length by poison'd Clyster given to him under pretence of curing him, he was dispatch'd in Sept. following. But before two months were past, all being discovered, his Death was closely examined, and several Persons being found guilty of, and consenting to, it, were afterwards executed, viz. Sir Jervice Elwaies Lieutenant of the Tower consenting, Rich. Weston and James Franklin, who attended Overbury in his Chamber, and gave him the Meats and Broths wherein the Poyson was mingled, and Anne Turner Widow, the preparer of them, actually concerned in the matter. Some time after, Carre, then Earl of Somerset, and his Lady Frances before-mentioned, were brought to their tryals for contriving his Death, and hiring others to make him away; who being both found guilty, had the Sentence of Death passed on them, but through the Clemency of the King being spared, they were only banished the Court. As for our Author Overbury, who in learning and judgment excelled any of his years (which, as 'twas generally thought, made him while living in the Court to be proud, to overvalue himself, undervalue others, and affected, as 'twere, with a kind of insolence,) hath written [list omitted]. He yielded up his last breath, occasioned by Poison, as I have before told you, on the 13 Sept. in sixteen hundred and thirteen, and was buried, as some Authors say, "presently and very unreverently in a pit digged in an obscure and mean place." But the Register of the Tower-Chappel, dedicated to S. Peter ad vincula, saith he was buried in the said Chappel 15 Sept. an 1613. as I have been informed by the Letters of that learned Gent. Sir Edw. Sherburne, Knight, late Clerk of his Maj. Ordnance and Armorics within the Kingdom of England. Over his Grave tho' no memory by writing was ever put, yet Ben. Johnson's Epigram written to him will eternize it, and other verses by the Wits of his time, set before his Poem called A Wife, and in particular that Epigram written by Owen the Welsh Bard, running thus.

Uxorem culto describis carmine, talem,
Qualem oratorem Tullius, ore potens.
Qualem describis, quamvis tibit nuberet Uxor,
Aequalis tali non foret illa viro.