1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Thomas Overbury

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 74.



SIR THOMAS OVERBURY was born in 1581, and perished in the Tower of London, 1613, by a fate that is too well known. The compassion of the public for a man of worth, "whose spirit still walked unrevenged amongst them," together with the contrast of his ideal Wife with the Countess of Essex, who was his murderess, attached an interest and popularity to his poem, and made it pass through sixteen editions before the year 1653. His Characters, or Witty Descriptions of the Properties of sundry Persons, is a work of considerable merit; but unfortunately his prose, as well as his verse, has a dryness and quaintness that seem to oppress the natural movement of his thoughts. As a poet he has few imposing attractions: his beauties must be fetched by repeated perusal. They are those of solid reflection, predominating over, but not extinguishing, sensibility; and there is danger of the reader neglecting, under the coldness and ruggedness of his manner, the manly but unostentatious moral feeling that is conveyed in his maxims, which are sterling and liberal, if we can only pardon a few obsolete ideas on female education.