1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Habington

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 288-89.



WILLIAM HABINGTON was born at Hendlip, in Worcestershire, on the 4th or 5th of November, 1605. His name has derived an historical interest from the imputed connexion of his father with the Gunpowder Plot, some of the agents of which he was accused of concealing in his house. But this charge rests on very doubtful authority; and Mr. Nash, the author of the History of Worcestershire, discovered at Hendlip several letters, written by Habington to his wife and friends, declaring his entire ignorance of the conspiracy. William was educated at St. Omer's, and afterwards at Paris. To relieve himself from the solicitations of the Jesuits, who sought to win him to their Order, he returned to England, and finished his studies under the direction of his father, who was a scholar and a man of industry. Through the care of his affectionate tutor, he "grew into an accomplished gentleman;" and at an early age married Lucia, daughter of Lord Powis, and who is said by Winstanley to have been a lady of rare endowments and beauty. Habington seems to have appreciated his good fortune, and to have taken no part in the political tumults that afflicted his country. The insinuation of Wood, that he "did run with the times, and was not unknown to Oliver, the Usurper," is refuted by the character of his poetry, and the nature of his creed. There could be no bond of union between the papist and the puritan. He died November 30, 1654, and was buried in the family vault at Hendlip.

Time has dealt less harshly with his rhymes than with those of more gifted bards. His poems have been twice reprinted within a few years; by Chalmers, in the British Poets, and separately, by C. A. Elton, at Bristol. His own opinion of their merits was very humble. They were at first privately circulated among his friends, and the press afterwards bound "together what fancy had scattered into many loose papers." "Had I slept," he says, "in the silence of my acquaintance, and affected no study beyond what the chase or field allows, poetry had then been no scandal upon me, and the love of learning no suspicion of ill husbandry. If these lines want that courtship which insinuates itself into the favour of great men, best, they partake of my modesty; if satire, to win applause with the envious multitude, they express my content, which maliceth none the fruition of that they esteem happy." The great charm of his writings resides in their purity and domestic tenderness; the religion of his fancy is never betrayed into any unbecoming mirth, or rapturous enthusiasm. He is always amiable, simple, and unaffected: if he has not the ingenuity of some of his rivals, he is also free from their conceits. Gold ceases to be of any real value when it is only fashioned into baubles. His prose, however, excels his verse.