1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Peter Heylyn

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 141-43.



Dr. Heylin, in his history of the Presbyterians, tells a story of Wither's conduct at this time, so indicative of profane and sacrilegious impiety, that I confess myself unable to give it credit. Heylin says, "that Martin, then member for Berks, having commanded the Sub-dean of Westminster to bring him to the place where the Regalia were kept, made himself master of the spoil; and, having forced open a great iron chest, took out the crown, the robes, the swords, and sceptre, belonging anciently to King Edward the Confessor, and used by all our kings at their inaugurations, with a scorn greater than his lusts and the rest of his vices, he openly declares that there would be no further use of these toys and trifles, and in the folly of that humour invests George Withers (an old Puritan Satyrist) in the royal habiliments, who, being thus crowned and royally arrayed (as right well became him), first marched about the room with a stately garb, and afterwards, with a thousand apish and ridiculous actions, exposed these sacred ornaments to contempt and laughter. Had the Abuse been Stript and Whipt, as it should have been, the foolish fellow might have passed for a prophet, though he could not be reckoned for a poet."

Heylin, though an upright and bold-spirited man, was a most intemperate and prejudiced writer. Educated under a zealous Puritan, Mr. Neubury, he was, nevertheless, a most intolerant enemy of the sect. The History of the Presbyterians, it should also be remembered, was written under circumstances tending to deepen every feeling of animosity. The destruction of his incomparable library, the loss of his preferment, and the untimely death of his friend and patron, Archbishop Laud, were sufficient to arouse all the bitterness of his nature. It is not impossible that during Heylin's residence at his living at Arlesford, which was almost immediately adjoining the birth-place of Wither, some cause of dissension might have arisen between the poet and himself.