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TO ALTHEA, FROM PRISON.
This soldier's services in the cause of the monarchy cost him not only his fortune, but his liberty. He was cast by the parliamentary party into prison; but his unbroken spirit found utterance in his most famous song :-" To Althea, from prison,”.
'-a strain perfectly characteristic of the cavalier-feeling,-a high-toned loyalty and gallantry and gayety :
“ When Love, with unconfinéd wings,
Hovers within my gates,
To whisper at the grates, –
And fetter'd to her eye,-
Know no such liberty.
With no allaying Thames,-
Our hearts with loyal flames, —
When health and draughts go free,
Know no such liberty.
With shriller throat, shall sing
And glories of my king, -
He is,-how great should be,-
Know no such liberty.
Nor iron bars a cage;
That for a hermitage.
And in my soul am free,
Enjoy such liberty." By the side of the memory of Lovelace let me briefly place that of a poet with as stout a heart, but pledged to the opposite side in the civil wars,—"honest George Wither," the author of so many pieces that literary antiquaries have scarce been able to gather them from their obscurity. The homeliness of his versification places his poetry often below the smooth flow of Lovelace's lyrics ; but the gallantry of the cavalier could not produce strains oi more fervid chivalry in praise of female loveli
The sentiment was never more feelingly and fancifully expressed than when, for instance, in part of a long-sustained strain, he exclaims,
“Stars, indeed, fair creatures be;
Of a starry winter night ?" His long life was spent in a perpetual mood of poetical exaltation. He was for ever writing his verses, always after a fashion of his own and under most unpropitious circumstances. His days were full alternately of action and suffering: one while commanding a troop of horse in the service of the Parliament; again, twice deliberately abiding in London to witness the terrors of the plague, or braving the penalties of the law; fined and imprisoned over and over again in the Tower, the Marshalsea, and Newgate; and yet keeping his heart whole to the last. It has been well said of him that he was for ever anticipating persecution and martyrdom, fingering the flames, as it were, to try how he could bear them. He was a man of strong and serviceable piety. In all the ecclesiastical feverishness of the times, he ever called himself a Catholic Christian, declaring his religion is not mumbling over thrice a day
“ A set of Ave-Marias, or of creeds,
"Yet be as fresh as when they first began.” At the age of seventy-three he was cast into prison. I have shown how the encaged spirit of a cavalier could sing. It will now be seen that Wither's Muse could utter, if not as melodious, a more thoughtful, strain :
“ And is this Newgate, whereof so afraid
Offenders are ? Is this the dismal place
The same indomitable spirit—a magnanimous self-sufficiency-- is expressed in the lines,
“My mind 's my kingdom; and I will permit
This mind I got, and this my mind shall be.” When beggared by his calamities, he consoles himself on the loss of property with a reflection which he expresses with a fine poetic simile:
“I with my losses [am] so well content
Where he hath life and freedom, though no more.” The voyage of George Wither's life was indeed on a stormy sea. According to the sailor's superstition, the winds were for ever coming at his whistling. But in the worst of the storm it was always in his power to bring his tempest-tost bark to ride at anchor,—the anchorage of Christian hopefulness. His poetic studies, too, were an unceasing delight to him ;—not a sentimental luxury, weakening his energy or his fortitude, but giving renewed strength to his stout heart. Earnestly has he told how his spirit was ever thus invigorated, in lines containing a simple but as strong a statement of a student's intellectual and moral resources—the sunshine of an imaginative heart—as ever was penned :
• They cause me to be fearless of my foes ;
They ease me when I am opprest with wrongs ;
When I want music, they do make me songs.”
“She's my mind's companion still,
In some other wiser man." It is passages like these, recognising the resources of a chastened imagination and the influence of true poetry upon individual happiness, that have won for George Wither, neglected as his memory has been, a fine tribute, which, in closing this lecture, I desire to leave in your thoughts :-“ The praises of poetry have been often sung in ancient and modern times ; strange powers have been ascribed to it of influence over animate and inanimate auditors ; its force over fascinated crowds has been acknowledged; but before Wither no one ever celebrated its power at home, the wealth and the strength which this divine gift confers upon its possessor. Fame—and that, too, after death which hitherto the poets had promised themselves from their art. It seems to have been left to (George) Wither to discover that poetry was a present possession as well as a rich reversion, and that the Muse had promise of both lives,-of this and of that which is to come.”
The Age of the Restoration : Dryden.
AMBIGUITIES IN THE GENERAL TITLES ADOPTED TO DESIGNATE PARTICULAR
LITERARY ERAS-THE LAST QUARTER OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY THE AGE OF DRYDEN-THE DEGRADED TASTES OF HIS TIMES-THE ALLIANCE OF HIGH POETRY WITH VIRTUE-THE TRUE STANDARD OF POETIC MERIT-DRY. DEN'S POETRY A REFLECTION OF THE TIMES OF CHARLES II.-PROFLIGACY OF THAT AGE-CHARACTER OF CHARLES STUART-THE SPIRIT OF POETRY IS A SPI. RIT OF ENTHUSIASM-THE DEBASING EFFECTS OF THE CIVIL WARS-SHAFTESBURY AS LORD-CHANCELLOR-RECEPTION OF THE PARADISE LOST-WINSTANLEY'S LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS-MILTON'S EXPOSITION OF KINGLY DUTYTHE DRAMA DURING THE AGE OF THE RESTORATION-DRYDEN'S PLAYS-DEFECTS OF RHYMING TRAGEDIES/" THE FALL OF INNOCENCE"-DRYDEN'S ALTERATION OF “THE TEMPEST”-“ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL"--BUCKINGHAM LITERARY LARCENY-SIR EGERTON BRYDGES'S LINES ON MILTON_“THE HIND AND THE PANTHER"_"ALEXANDER'S FEAST"_“ODE FOR ST. CECILIA'S DAY" -DRYDEN'S LATER POETRY.
IN studying the literature of a nation it is necessary to bear in mind
that general titles adopted to designate particular eras will almost inevitably be liable to ambiguities, which are calculated to suggest, imperceptibly, erroneous impressions. The employment of the title of the sovereign, as is usual, in marking the periods of English literature, is manifestly attended with this confusion :-that the reign may not be found to correspond, as to time, with the age in which the writers flourished. For instance, the literary age of Queen Elizabeth is not the political reign of Queen Elizabeth; for half of the reign was spent before the glory of its poetry was developed. Again: if we employ the name of the most illustrious author to indicate a period of literary history, the mind unconsciously adopts an opinion which may be greatly erroneous :--that his fame had gained in his own times the influence and authority it has received only from posterity. In this respect there would be an absurdity were we to speak of “the age of Milton," or even of Shakspeare; for many years rolled over the graves of each of those poets before the might of their genius was realized. Especially may this be said with regard to Milton, between whom and the spirit of the times in which his great poem was published there was so great an uncongeniality that, to refer the favourite poets of those days, with all their poetical heresies, their low morality, and their sins against the