Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

*

If I love not thy maddest fits
More than all their greatest wits.
And, though some, too seeming holy,
Do account thy raptures folly,
Thou dost teach me to contemn
What makes knaves and fools of them.

One excellence for which all Wither's writings are eminent, his prose as well as his verse, is their genuine English. His unaffected diction, even now, has scarcely a stain of age upon it, but flows on, ever fresh and transparent, like a pebbled rill. As a specimen of his clear and easy narrative style, we will transcribe a few passages from the Introduction to his ‘Abuses Stript and Whipt,” in which, by way of explaining the occasion of the work, he relates the history of his life to that date. After telling us that he had been well grounded at school in the Latin and Greek grammar, he proceeds to give an account of his first experience of Oxford:—

It is the spring of knowledge, that imparts
A thousand several sciences and arts;
A pure clear fount, whose water is by odds
Far sweeter than the nectar of the gods;
Or, for to give ’t a title that befits,
It is the very nursery of wits.
There once arrived, 'eause my wits were raw,
I fell to wondering at each thing I saw ;
And for my learning made a month's vacation
In noting of the place's situation;
The palaces and temples that were due
Unto the wise Minerva's hallowed crew;
Their cloisters, walks, and groves. . . . .
But, having this experience, and withal
Gotten some practice at the tennis ball,
My tutor, telling me I was not sent
To have my time there vain and idly spent,

From childish humours gently called me in, And with his grave instructions did begin To teach; and by his good persuasions sought To bring me to a love of what he taught. Then, after that, he laboured to impart The hidden secrets of the Logic art; Instead of Grammar rules, he read me then Old Scotus, Seton, and new Keckerman. He showed me which the Predicables be, As Genus, Species, and the other three. So having said enough of their contents, Handles in order the ten Predicaments; Next Postpraedicamenta, with Priorum Perhermenias et Posteriorum. He with the Topics opens, and descries Elenchi, full of subtle fallacies: These to unfold indeed he took much pain, But to my dull capacity in vain; For all he spake was to as little pass As in old time unto the vulgar was The Romish rite, which, whether bad or good, The poor unlearned never understood; But of the meaning were as far to seek As Coriat's horse was of his master's Greek, When in that tongue he made a speech at length, To show the beast the greatness of his strength. For I his meaning did no more conjecture Than if he had been reading Hebrew lecture. His Infinities, Individuities, Contraries, and Subcontrarieties, Divisions, Subdivisions, and a crew Of terms and words such as I never knew, My shallow understanding so confounded, That I was gravelled like a ship that's grounded; And, in despair the mystery to gain, Neglecting all, took neither heed nor pain. Yea, I remained in that amazing plight Till Cynthia six times lost her borrowed light. . But then, ashamed to find myself still mute, And other little dandiprats dispute, That could distinguish upon Rationale, Yet scarcely heard of Verbum Personale;

[ocr errors]

Or could by heart, like parrots, in the schools
Stand prattling, these methought were pretty fools;
And therefore, in some hope to profit so,
That I like them at least might make a show,
I reached my books that I had cast about,
To see if I could pick his meaning out;
And, prying on them with some diligence,
At length I felt my dull intelligence
Begin to open, and perceived more
In half an hour than half a year before.
And, which is strange, the things I had forgot,
And till that very day remembered not
Since first my tutor read them, those did then
Return into my memory again:
So that with which I had so much to do
A week made easy, yea, and pleasing too.

Afterwards he betook himself to court:—

But there I viewed another world, methought,
And little hope, or none, of that I sought.
I saw I must, if there I ought would do,
First learn new fashions, and new language too.
If I should have been hung, I knew not how
To teach my body how to cringe and bow;
Or to embrace a fellow's hinder quarters,
As if I meant to steal away his garters.
When any stooped to me with congees trim,
All I could do was stand and laugh at him.
Bless me, thought I, what will this coxcomb do?
When I perceived one reaching at my shoe.
But, when I heard him speak, why I was fully
Possessed we learned but barbarism in Tully.
There was not any street but had a wench
That at once coming could have learned them French.
Grecians had little there to do, poor souls,
Unless to talk with beggarmen in Paul's.
All our school Latin would not serve to draw
An instrument adjudged good in law.
Nay, which is more, they would have taught me fain
To go new-learn my English tongue again;
As if there had been reason to suspect
Our ancient-used Hampshire dialect.

Though still disappointed in his hopes of preferment, he continues to believe that there is a happy time to come—“Which,” he says in conclusion,

— when I have most need of comfort, shall
Send me true joy to make amends for all.
But say it be not; whilst I draw this air,
I have a heart, I hope, shall ne'er despair;
Because there is a God, with whom I trust
My soul shall triumph when my body's dust.
Yet, when I found that my endeavours still
Fell out as they would have 't that wished me ill;
And when I saw the world was grown so coy
To curb me as too young them to employ,
And that her greatness thought she did not want me,
Or found no calling bad enough to grant me;
(And having scaped some envies, which to touch
Unto this purpose appertains not much);
Weighing both bad," and there with also this,
How great a shame and what reproach it is
To be still idle; and because I spied
How glad they would be that my fate envied
To find me so; although the world doth scorn
To allow me action, as if I were born
Before my time; yet e'en to let her see
In spite of Fortune I'd employed be,
Casting preferment's too much care aside,
And leaving that to God, that can provide,
The actions of the present time I eyed,
And all her secret villanies descried.
I stripped Abuse from all her colours quite,
And laid her ugly face to open sight.
I laboured to observe her ways, and then
In general the state and tricks of men.
Wherein although my labour were not seen,
Yet, trust me, the discovery hath been
My great content; and I have for my pain,
Although no outward, yet an inward gain.
In which because I can with all my heart
Allow my countrymen to share a part,

* There seems to be a misprint here.

And cause I think it may do some a pleasure,
On opportunity I’ll now take seizure,
And summon up my Muse to make relation :-
I may be employed ere long;-now 's my vacation.

In all this, too, we may read the character of the man —enthusiastic and sincerely anxious to reform the world, but at once suspicious and vain to an inordinate degree, and ever ready, consequently, to take anything for granted in his own favour or against another, to change his views and his course suddenly and violently, and still, however decidedly or frequently he might have turned his back upon his former self, to continue to believe that he was in the right and every one else in the wrong. Down to the breaking out of the war between the king and the parliament,Wither, although his pious poetry made him a favourite with the puritans, had always professed himself a strong church and state man; even at so late a date as in 1639, when he was above fifty, he served as a captain of horse in the expedition against the Scotch Covenanters; and when two or three years after he took arms on the other side, he had yet his new principles in a great measure to seek or make. It appears not to have been till a considerable time after this that his old admiration of the monarchy and the hierarchy became suddenly converted into the conviction that both one and other were, and had been all along, only public nuisances—the fountains of all the misrule and misery of the nation. What mainly instigated him to throw himself into the commencing contest with such eagerness seems to have been simply the notion which possessed and tormented him all his life, that he was born with a peculiar genius for public affairs, and that things had

« AnteriorContinuar »