1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Wither

Samuel Egerton Brydges, Restituta or ... English Literature Revived 1 (1814) 491-93.



As long as simplicity is a primary quality of genius; as long as natural sentiments shall be of more general and more permanent attraction than the perverted operations of whimsical learning or whimsical manners; as long as the inexhaustible verdure and variety of fields and forests is more delightful than the formal ingenuity of a Dutch garden; so long will the easy and unstudied charms of Wither's muse prevail over the laborious triflings of Donne, and Crashaw, and Herbert.

That Wither was not often lax, prosaic, flat, and vulgar, no one will assert: that in his Juvenilia at least, he was often highly poetical, no one who has a genuine taste will venture to deny.

But even where his poems have not the merit of good poetry, they are always illustrative of the manners and history of the times. The unexampled facility of their language makes them less fatiguing than any writings of a similar nature....

There is something surely in Poets most unpropitious to their success in worldly affairs! Wither appears to have paid the price of ambition: yet he always seems to have been poor, and disappointed, and ill-used! Perhaps it may arise from this, among other causes, that Poets' feelings are too little under their command, and that their looks and language betray too vividly the internal movements of their hearts.

An eloquent Essay on the Infelicity of Poets would be full of the strongest interest, and the most affecting instruction. Then we should hang with agonizing sympathy over the sorrows of Dante and Petrarch and Tasso! Over the injuries, the hunger, and the despair of Spenser! Over the blindness, the dangers, and expected condemnation of Milton! Over the frenzy of Collins, the poisoned bowl of Chatterton, and the desponding indignation of Burns, and the melancholy of Cowper!

But what should we say of Wither? If he had the copiousness he wants the dignity of grief. He cannot be altogether freed from the epithet of querulous. There is something beneath the lofty mind of a Poet in the constant interference in the vulgar and dirty squabbles of party animosity. We cannot therefore always pity the insults to which he subjected himself, and the mortifications which he received from the triumph of meaner talents.