1765 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Wither

Thomas Percy, in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765; 1927) 3:188.



This beautiful old song ["The Shepherd's Resolution"] was written by a poet, whose name would have been utterly forgotten, if it had not been preserved by Swift, as a term of contempt. Dryden and Wither are coupled by him like the Bavius and Maevius of Virgil. Dryden, however, has had justice done him by posterity: and as for Wither, though of subordinate merit, that he was not altogether devoid of genius, will be judged from the following stanzas. The truth is, Wither was a very voluminous party-writer: and as his political and satyrical strokes rendered him extremely popular in his life-time; so afterwards, when these were no longer relished, they totally consigned his writings to oblivion.

George Wither was born June 11, 1588, and in his younger years distinguished himself by some pastoral pieces, that were not inelegant; but growing afterwards involved in the political and religious disputes in the times of James I. and Charles I. he employed his poetical vein in severe pasquils on the court and clergy, and was occasionally a sufferer for the freedom of his pen. In the civil war that ensued, he exerted himself in the service of the Parliament, and became a considerable sharer in the spoils. He was even one of those provincial tyrants, whom Oliver distributed over the kingdom, under the name of Major Generals; and had the fleecing of the county of Surrey: but surviving the Restoration, he outlived both his power and his affluence; and giving vent to his chagrin in libels on the court, was long a prisoner in Newgate and the Tower. He died at length on the 2d of May, 1667.

During the whole course of his life, Wither was a continual publisher; having generally for opponent, Taylor the Water-poet. The long list of his productions may be seen in Wood's Athenae. Oxon. vol. ii. His most popular satire is intitled, Abuses whipt and stript, 1613. His most poetical pieces were eclogues, intitled, The Shepherd's Hunting, 1615, 8vo. and others printed at the end of Browne's Shepherd's Pipe, 1614, 8vo. The following sonnet is extracted from a long pastoral piece of his, intitled, The Mistresse of Philarete, 1622, 8vo. which is said in the preface to be one of the Author's first poems; and may therefore be dated as early as any of the foregoing.