By right of one or two of his earlier pieces, — more particularly his Mistress of Philarate, and his Shepherd's Hunting, written during his first imprisonment, — he might have been mentioned among the Spenserians or Arcadians. He was personally intimate with Browne, Drayton, and other poets; and had a hand in at least one of the eclogues of Browne's Shepherd's Pipe; and in his own poems just mentioned there is something of the sweet sensuousness and graceful fancy found in Browne's poetry. By his contemporaries, indeed, these poems were thought to show more of true poetic fancy than any of his other writings; and recent critics, in their anxiety to resuscitate Wither, have relied chiefly on these and on a few of his select lyrics. The favourite quotation from him is from the fourth eclogue of his Shepherd's Hunting, in which he celebrates the power of poesy to console even the tenant of a prison.
In my former days of bliss,
Her divine skill taught me this,—
That from everything I saw
I could some invention draw,
And raise pleasure to her height
Through the meanest object's sight (....)
This "faithful though an humble swain" was of distinctive repute among Beaumont's associates by 1615: no less for the lyric ease of his Shepherd's Hunting, or of his
Shall I wasting in despair
Die because a woman's fair?—
than for the "plain, moral speaking" of the Abuses Stript and Whipt that in 1613-14 had brought him a year's imprisonment in the Marshalsea. Jonson later "personates" him as Chronomastix, or whipper of the times, in a masque at Court; and Beaumont's, and Fletcher's friend, Massinger, introduces him by allusion, in his Duke of Milan, about 1620, "I have had a fellow," says the Officer in Act III, ii, of that play—
That could endite forsooth and make fine metres
To tinkle in the ears of ignorant madams,
That for defaming of great men, was sent me
Threadbare and lousy.