On turning back to the Universal Magazine for February 1806, I was pleased to see a creditable notice of George Wither, a poet who heavily incurred the popular odium of his own time, and whose name has been hitched into many a sarcastic couplet since. Nor can this excite much surprise, when his republicanism is taken into the account; since the native flowers of Parnassus commonly lose their sweetness when they are suffered to intermingle with the aconite of party-zeal. Wither, however, as has been remarked by one of his most ardent admirers [author's note: See Dalrymple's Excerpts from Juvenilia, p. 11], truly a poet, if poetry be the power of commanding the imagination, when conveyed in measured language and expressive epithets. Of this power his early works bear ample testimony; but that enthusiasm which contributed to constitute him a poet at the age of twenty three, wrought his mind at a later period into a state of political fanaticism, which at length was heightened into prophetic furor. This naturally exposed the writer to obloquy, and his works to general disregard. Anthony Wood, whose loyalty on many occasions was more conspicuous than his candour, has stigmatised Wither as a presbyterian satirist, who wrote and published many things which by scholars were accounted mere scribbles; and by others, the effect of a crazed brain [author's note: Ath. Oxon. II. 392]. In contradiction to this report, I will venture to affirm from actual inspection, that few of his numerous productions can be read without praise, and fewer without profit. Piety and morality were the prevailing guides of his pen, and he assumed the dignity of a national censor with as virtuous an intention perhaps as Cowper; though with a very different result: since he declares in his Fides Anglicana, that he could hardly walk the streets without abusive affronts and provocations. He died, however, as he had lived, a devotee to puritanism.
Two pleasing specimens of his amatory effusions are printed in the Lyre of Love. The following was inserted in Mr. Dalrymple's extracts from the poems of Wither, and may serve to shew the author's manner of treating common ideas.
SONNET UPON A STOLEN KISS.
Now gentle sleep hath closed up those eyes
Which, waking, kept my boldest thoughts in awe;
And free access unto that sweet lip lies,
From whence I long the rosy breath to draw.
Methinks no wrong it were, if I should steal
From those two melting rubies one poor kiss:
None sees the theft, that would the thief reveal;
Nor rob I her of aught which she can miss.
Nay — should I twenty kisses take away,
There would be little sign I had done so:
Why then should I this robbery delay?
Oh! she may wake, and therewith angry grow—
Well, if she do, I'll back restore that one,
And twenty hundred thousand more — for loan.