1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Thomas Overbury

Philip Neve, in Cursory Remarks on Ancient English Poets (1789) 26-28.



Sir Thomas Overbury was the son of Nicholas Overbury, Esquire, of Burton, in Glostershire. In 1595, his 14th year, he became Gent. Com. of Queen's, Oxford; and, in 1598, A. B. For some time he resided in the Middle Temple; and then went abroad. On his return, he became intimate with K. James's favorite, Sir Robert Carre, (afterwards Earl of Somerset); and, when Carre informed him of his design to marry the Countess of Essex, dissuaded him from it, with some imputations on the Countess' chastity. When Carre communicated to her Overbury's intelligence, she, with a refinement of malice, procured Overbury to be appointed to a foreign embassy; at the same time prompting Carre to dissuade him from accepting it, to the intent that he might offend the King. Overbury, rejecting the appointment, was, 21st April 1613, committed to the Tower; and there, by a confederacy of Carre and the Countess, Sir Gervas Yelvis (Lieutenant of the Tower), Anne Turner, Franklin, Weston, and an apothecary, poisoned, the October following.

In Overbury's poem, The Wife, the sentiments, maxims, and observations, with which it abounds, are such as a considerable experience, and a correct judgment on mankind alone could furnish. The topics of jealousy, and of the credit, and behaviour of women are treated with great truth, delicacy, and perspicuity. The nice distinctions of moral character, and the pattern of female excellence here drawn, contrasted, as they were, with the heinous and flagrant enormities of the Countess of Essex, rendered this poem extremely popular, when its ingenious author was no more. From the first year of its publication, in 1614, to the year 1622, it went through eleven impressions; and is, in that latter edition, celebrated by twenty-five copies of commendatory verses; amongst which, two, from the initials, and the general satire on the sex, appear to be by Fletcher.

In Overbury's Characters are some of the manners of the times preserved, with very just delineation; as the Courtier, the Affectionate Traveller, &c. And the Wise-Man, the Old-Man, and others, are drawn with considerable force of description.