1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Taylor the Water Poet

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 153-54.



The next production of [George Wither's] soldier-pen was the Campo-Musae, or Field Musings, written while he was "in arms for the King and Parliament." The king and the parliament was a phrase constantly in the mouth of the republicans, even while they were using every means to overthrow the monarchy. Through the Field Musings are scattered several interesting anecdotes of the writer's military life. His colonel, he tells us, was Middleton, a valiant Scot, on whose left flank he led his own troop to the charge. His fare and lodging were of the true martial kind; he had the open fields for his quarters, and was very happy to make a comfortable bed in a "well-made barley-cock," with the starry sky for his canopy and curtains. Yet even here, amid the din and tumult of arms, he prophesied the fall of nations, and prepared for publication his own views of the Bible, and the mysteries of the Apocalypse.

But Wither's tergiversation did not pass unnoticed: an opponent rose up in the person of the Water-poet. Honest John Taylor was now at Oxford, whither he had fled from the persecutions of his enemies in London; and he tells us, in that strange but amusing medley, Mad verse, Sad verse, Glad verse, and Bad verse, that upon his arrival at Oxford, he found the king and a large party of nobility in "Christ Church garden," and that the monarch, on perceiving him, immediately came towards him, and "put forth his royal hand strait," which, says Taylor, with no small exultation, "On my knees I humbly kneel'd and kist." This mark of the king's favour lent a fresh rigour to his feelings, and he applied the lash with an unsparing hand to the political dereliction of his former friend.

He entitled his reply to the Campo-Musae, Aqua Musae, Or Cacofago, Cacodaemon, Captain George Wither wrung in the Withers. The contents of the poem are not more euphonious than the title. In the preface he declares, that he had loved and respected Wither thirty-five years, because he thought him "simply honest," and takes leave of him in a strain of no common malevolence and scorn. The Skuller, as Ben Jonson called him, possessed a vocabulary rich in epithets of abuse.