George Wither

George Wither
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Short Name: George Wither
Full Name: Wither, George, 1588-1667
Birth Year: 1588
Death Year: 1667

Wither, George, or Wyther—spelled in both ways by himself, the first usually, the second occasionally, e.g. in Prince Henrie's Obsequies (1612), and erroneously Withers, was born on June 11th, 1588, at Bentworth, near Alton, Hampshire. He was the only son of George Wither, of Bentworth. His early education was at the Grammar School of Colemore or Colemere, under its celebrated master; John Greaves. After thorough training and discipline here he was entered in 1604 at Magdalen College, Oxford. His tutor was John Warner, subsequently D.D. and Bishop of Rochester. He had only been three years at the University when malicious and ignorant persons persuaded his father that more learning was not required. And so, as he modestly tells us in his Abuses Stript and Whipt (1613), he was withdrawn "without taking any degree," being now destined, as he moderately puts it, "for the plough," that is, for rustic employment on the paternal estate. This proved utterly uncongenial. He is found next at one of the Inns of Chancery, afterwards at Lincoln's Inn, and intimate with William Browne, the poet, of Britannia's Pastorals. His title-pages from 1617 to 1620 self-describe him as "Gentleman,” and as "of the Societie of Lincoln's Inne" (Fidelia (1617), and 1st Psalme (1620), and Workes (1620)). But Anthony a-Wood informs us:—

"still his geng after things more smooth and delightful, he did at length make himself known to the world (after he had taken several rambles therein) by certain speci¬mens of poetry, which being dispersed in several hands, he became shortly after a public author and most admired by some in that age for his quick advancement in that faculty " (Athenae. Oxon. s. n.).

How uncritical was this miserable criticism, will be understood when it is recalled that amongst these "certain specimens" was the Shepherds Hunting under the first form of "A new song of a young man's opinion of the difference between good and bad women" (Pepysian, ad Percy MS.), Prince Henries Obsequies (1612), Epithalamia (1612), and his stinging and patriotically outspoken Abuses Stript and Whipt. The last drew down upon him the wrath of the monarch (James i.) and nobles, and cast him prisoner into the Marshalsea. Four large editions within a year, and numerous others up to 1622 and continuously onward (exclusive of the reproductions in his Workes) was the answer of the People to the Upper Ten.

While in prison he wrote some of the most delicious of his verse. He likewise composed A Satyre to the King (1615). The wisest fool in Christendom was shrewd enough to perceive that it would be safer to make such a subject a friend than an enemy. He had deftly signed the dedication to the king "his Majesty's most loyall Subiect, and yet Prisoner in the Marshalsey." It procured him his release. From this time onward he was perpetually printing something, now in verse and now in prose, until the aggregate exceeded a hundred of books and pamphlets. There are several fairly accurate enumerations of them, e.g. British Bibliographer, i. 174-205, 305-32,417-40; ii. 17-32,378-91; Sir Egerton Brydges' Censuria and Restituta; Hazlitt's Bibliography (1867). The Spenser Society re¬printed a large portion of the Works in prose and verse; but there was really no editing and no annotation. His successive books are the main facts of Wither's life; yet was he an active member of the nation.

Spite of his hard usage and imprisonments, he was loyal as any cavalier. When Charles i. proceeded to declare and carry war into his native Scotland against the Covenanters in 1639, George Wither served his Majesty as a captain of horse and quarter-master of his regiment under the Earl of Arundel. How sorrowful the wrongheadedness of the king who compelled such a true man as Wither to forsake him and prefer the kingdom to the king, as many others who with pathetic reluctance became Roundheads! In 1641-2 he sold his hereditary estates and raised a troop of horse for the Parliament, in whose army he was promoted to be major. On his colours he carried this motto, Pro Rege, Lege, Grege. Having been taken prisoner by the Royalists, a good-humoured jest of Sir John Denham it is alleged saved his life, to wit, that "his Majesty really must not hang George Wither, for so long as he lives no one will account him [Sir John] the worst poet in England." He was set free. Not long after he was constituted by the Long Parliament a Justice of Peace in quorum for Hampshire, Surrey and Essex. This he held for six years, and afterwards was made by Cromwell Major-General of all the horse and foot in the County of Surrey. On the title-page of his Boni Ominis Votu (1656) in the British Museum there is a contemporary manuscript note, "lately made Master of the Statute Office." At the Restoration he was shamefully dealt with, and by a vote of the Convention Parlia¬ment, was committed to Newgate because of his Vox Vulgi —a noble piece of fiery and idiomatic English, and manly pleading for respect to pipular rights and liberties. For his Prisoner's Plea humbly offered (1661) he was again imprisoned, this time in the Tower. He married (Aubrey informs us) Elizabeth, eldest daughter of H. Emerson of South Lanuk, who, he says, was "a great wit and could write in verse too," and was of the same English Emersons from whom the great American Ralph Waldo Emerson descended. He had issue. He was at liberty when he died on 2nd May, 1667. Aubrey states that he was buried within the east doorway of Savoy Church in the Strand, having apparently lived near it, and either died in the church or in his own house (the phrasing being ambiguous).

James Montgomery, in his admirable Lectures on Poets and Poetry, thus sums up his estimate of him and them:—

"There are scattered throughout his multifarious and very unequal productions, many passages of great beauty and excellence. He was avowedly a Christian poet, though he frequently lost his Christian meekness in the heat of polemics; but his zeal carried with it every evidence of honesty; and he was a sufferer almost to martyrdom, both for his loyalty and his orthodoxy, in the troublous times in which he lived. That he was a poet can never be questioned by any reader who has taste and sensibility enough to understand and enjoy the exquisitely affecting confession of his obligations to the Muse. That he was a Christian will be as little questioned by those who are most extensively acquainted with the character of his religious compositions" (s. n.).

Archbishop Trench, in annotating a charming sacred song entitledVanished Blessing ("No voice which I did more esteem, Than music in her sweetest key," &c), thus annotates:—

"I have detached these two stanzas from a longer poem of which they constitute the only valuable portion[?]. George Wither (‘a most profuse pourer forth of English rhyme,' Philips calls him) was indeed so intolerable a power in verse, so overlaid his good with indifferent or bad, that one may easily forget how real a gift he possessed, and sometimes showed that he possessed" (Household Book of English Poetry, 1865).

Mrs. Masson says of him—"he is remembered now-a-days as pre-eminently the Puritan poet, whose irrepressible Muse made herself hsard even amid the din of civil war" (Three Centuries of English Poetr, p. 375). She quotes his delightful "Christmas" ("So now is come our joyfullest part"), and "Of Poesy" (which Milton did not disdain to utilize), and his "Shall I, wasting in despair." With reference to the "irrepressible Muse" of Wither, it is a felicitous characterisation however regarded, inasmuch as so "irrepressible " was he that he actually set up the types and printed off at least one of his bulkier books. Withers contributions to hymnology are to be found chiefly in the following:—
(a) Exercises Upon the First Psalme......(1620). At the close is a metrical paraphrase of Ecclcsiastes xii. 1-8; (b) Paraphrase on the Creed and the Lord's Prayer (in Workes 1620; separately 1688 and misasserted to be now “first printed“); (c) The Songs of the Old Testament, Translated into English Measures: preserving the Naturall Phrase and genuine Sense of the Holy Text ...... To every Song is added a new and easie Tune.....(1621); (d) The Hymnes and Songs of the Church (1623). This was published Cum Privilegio Regis Begalu . It was reprinted like c.; (e) The Psalmes of David translated as Lyrick Verse, according to the scope of the Original......(1632). Gutch had an autograph manuscript of an alleged different text of the versified Psalmes which passed into the Caesar Library; (f) A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Modern, quickened with Metrical Illustrations both Morall and Divine......(1635). This was a special favourite of Elia; (g) Haldviah; or Britans Second Remembrancer, bringing to Remembrance (in praisefull and poenitentiall Hymns, Spirituall Songs, and Morall-Odes......(1641). This was reprinted like c and d; (h) Three Graines of Spiritual Frankincense infused into Three Hymnes of Praise (1651).

It is discreditable to the Church of England, of whom he was a devoted son to the close of his life, and to Nonconformity alike, that many, very many more of his Hymnes and Spiritual Songs have not found their way into their hymnals. A critical yet sympathetic reader would easily find a golden sheaf of musical, and well-wrought sacred song. [Rev. A. B. Grosart, D.D., LL.D.]

-- Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)

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Wither, G., p. 1289, i. Another of his psalm versions, "The Lord is King, and weareth" (Ps. xciii.), from his The Psalmes of David, &c, 1G32, is in the Hymn Book for the Use of Wellington College, 1902.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, New Supplement (1907)


Texts by George Wither (248)sort iconAsInstances
A blest conversion and a strangeGeorge Wither (Author)2
A city now we have obtainedGeorge Wither (Author)2
A convert and conversion strangeGeorge Wither (Author)2
A holy sacrament his dayGeorge Wither (Author)2
A song of joy unto the Lord we singGeorge Wither (Author)2
A sov'raigntie, though some obtainGeorge Wither (Author)2
A thousand perils every dayGeorge Wither (Author)2
A time so cursed once was hereGeorge Wither (Author)2
Ah me where may I seek a friendGeorge Wither (Author)2
Alas my heart what meanest thouGeorge Wither (Author)2
All praise and glory that we mayGeorge Wither (Author)2
Alleluia! Voices raiseGeorge Wither, 1588-1667 (Author)2
Although he knows it putrifiesGeorge Wither (Author)2
Although, my God, that sacrificeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Although that hope is frustrate madeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Although transgressors, Lord, we beGeorge Wither (Author)2
Among these blessings which on meGeorge Wither (Author)2
Among those points of neighborhoodGeorge Wither (Author)2
Among those wonders here on earthGeorge Wither (Author)2
As blessed Andrew on a dayGeorge Wither (Author)2
As ere I down am couched thereGeorge Wither, 1588-1667 (Author)2
As on the night before this happy mornGeorge Wither (Author)2
As we by water wash awayGeorge Wither (Author)2
Because the world might not pretendGeorge Wither (Author)2
Behold the sun, that seemed but nowGeorge Wither (Author)6
Bless me, oh God! and be thou nearGeorge Wither (Author)2
Blest Father, Son, and Holy GhostGeorge Wither (Author)2
But what, or who are we [alas]George Wither (Author)2
By art, a poet is not madeGeorge Wither (Author)2
By his endeavors no man mayGeorge Wither (Author)2
By his examples, teach us LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
By me, or by my Father's houseGeorge Wither (Author)2
By mercies and by judgements, LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
By that I may on thee, O LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
By that, no wonders, things appearGeorge Wither (Author)2
By thee were thy disciples taughtGeorge Wither (Author)2
By trusting unto thee, O GodGeorge Wither (Author)2
Come, Holy Ghost, the Maker, comeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Come, O come with sacred laysGeorge Wither, 1588-1667 (Author)18
Confession of the same I oweGeorge Wither (Author)2
Dear God, that watch dost keepGeorge Wither (Author)2
Discourage not thyself, my soulGeorge Wither (Author)2
Due fear, becomes us wellGeorge Wither (Author)2
Exceeding faithful in [to] thy wordGeorge Wither (Author)2
Exceeding gracious favors, LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
Except, when kindest we appearGeorge Wither (Author)2
Experiment, I now have hadGeorge Wither (Author)2
Fain would I view that pleasing sightGeorge Wither (Author)2
For spreading, Lord, our table, thusGeorge Wither (Author)2
For those blest penmen of thy wordGeorge Wither (Author)2
Forbear to shed excessive tearsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Foul Spirits may our hearts possessGeorge Wither (Author)2
From colds late nipping herbs and treesGeorge Wither (Author)2
Full well, that person, it beseemsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Great Lord of time, great king of heavenGeorge Wither (Author)2
Great [O] Lord thy favor wasGeorge Wither (Author)2
Hallelujah, now I singGeorge Wither (Author)2
He that a voyage undertakesGeorge Wither (Author)2
He that can in a moment spaceGeorge Wither (Author)2
He that his Father had forsookGeorge Wither (Author)2
Hear! O great almighty KingGeorge Wither (Author)2
How are, O God, we sinners boundGeorge Wither (Author)2
How blest are we, who may repairGeorge Wither (Author)2
How great! how gracious have I foundGeorge Wither (Author)2
How happy is it and how sweetGeorge Wither (Author)2
How hard is it for flesh and bloodGeorge Wither (Author)2
How many, Lord! how foul! how greatGeorge Wither (Author)2
How near me came the hand of deathGeorge Wither (Author)2
How oft, and by how many crimesGeorge Wither (Author)2
How watchfull need we to becomeGeorge Wither (Author)2
I thank thee Lord, I thee adoreGeorge Wither (Author)2
I well perceive, that God hath limbedGeorge Wither (Author)2
I, whom of lateGeorge Wither (Author)2
If by the signs foresee we mayGeorge Wither (Author)2
If joy be made when men are bornGeorge Wither (Author)2
If those physicians honored beGeorge Wither (Author)2
In that a master, I was madeGeorge Wither (Author)2
In times of want we feel what blissGeorge Wither, 1588-1667 (Author)2
Informed we are, O LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
It is, Lord, of thy graceGeorge Wither (Author)2
It is the common guise of suchGeorge Wither (Author)2
It is too much, that, in my heartGeorge Wither (Author)2
Job's custom, well deserved praiseGeorge Wither (Author)2
Keep me throughout my life, O LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
Let no uncomely censures passGeorge Wither (Author)2
Look forth mine eye look up and viewGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, from the noisome sink of sinGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, had not man sought out by sinGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, how dreadful is this hourGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, if the signs may trusted beGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, in thy name, and in thy fearGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, it hath pleased thee to sayGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, let the words we hear this dayGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, let thy power protect the kingGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, living, here we areGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, many times thou pleased artGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord! on this day, thou didst bestowGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, should the sun, the clouds, the windGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, should we oft forget to singGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, that, there might no vacant placeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, thou hast fil'd our hearts with joyGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, though I murmur not, at theeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, when a nation thee offendsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, when those glorious lights I seeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord, when we call to mind these thingsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Lord! with what zeal, did Stephen breathGeorge Wither (Author)2
My God, how kind, how good art thouGeorge Wither (Author)2
My grandame Eve, I curst not LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
My heart, why art thou sadGeorge Wither (Author)2
My hope and those endeavors nowGeorge Wither (Author)2
My sins and follies, Lord! by theeGeorge Wither (Author)2
My soul, why dost thou in my breastGeorge Wither (Author)2
My soul, why dost thou linger soGeorge Wither (Author)2
No bliss can so contenting proveGeorge Wither (Author)2
No doubt but she that had the graceGeorge Wither (Author)2
No earthly terror, Lord can makeGeorge Wither (Author)2
No outward mark we have to knowGeorge Wither (Author)2
No time, to trifle forth, in wasteGeorge Wither (Author)2
Not in a mean degreeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now are the times, these are the daysGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now, glad and happy may I beGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now, I perceive a God there isGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now, in myself, I notice takeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now my dear friend is goneGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now that the sun is at his heightGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now the cheerful day is pastGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now the earth begins to mournGeorge Wither (Author)2
Now, the glories of the yearGeorge Wither (Author)2
O Christ, this day thy flesh did bleedGeorge Wither (Author)2
O Lord I fain would sing thy praiseGeorge Wither (Author)2
Grant Lord, I may delight in TheeGeorge A. Lohr (Author)1
O Lord, in sorrow and distressGeorge Wither (Author)2
O Lord! we magnify thy mightGeorge Wither (Author)2
O my God, what helpeth lessGeorge Wither (Author)2
Of all those judgements which thy wordGeorge Wither (Author)2
Our hearts, Oh blessed God inclineGeorge Wither (Author)2
Our Lord and brother who put onGeorge Wither (Author)2
Our voice how should we raiseGeorge Wither (Author)2
Plunged in grief and in distressGeorge Wither (Author)2
Rejoice not without fear, my heartGeorge Wither (Author)2
Remember death: for, now my tongueGeorge Wither (Author)2
Renowned men their herds to keepGeorge Wither (Author)2
Rich gifts, and graces manifoldGeorge Wither (Author)2
Said [not causeless] it hath beenGeorge Wither (Author)2
See brethren, what a pleasing blissGeorge Wither (Author)2
See, see, the sky from storms is clearGeorge Wither (Author)2
Since all of us, near kinsmen beGeorge Wither (Author)2
Since, by election, I am sentGeorge Wither (Author)2
Since, Lord, thou hast well pleased beenGeorge Wither (Author)2
Since now, my babe, of sleep possestGeorge Wither (Author)2
Since they in singing, take delightGeorge Wither (Author)2
Since thou hast added now, O GodGeorge Wither (Author)4
Since thou hast Lord, appointed soGeorge Wither (Author)2
Six days, O Lord, the world to makeGeorge Wither (Author)2
So cause us, Lord, to thinkGeorge Wither (Author)2
So much who knows, that he can sayGeorge Wither (Author)2
So oft as neighbors disagreeGeorge Wither (Author)2
So powerful are the faithful criesGeorge Wither (Author)2
So sharp and bitter be the wrongsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Some, have a custom, when they bringGeorge Wither (Author)2
Some think there is no earthly stateGeorge Wither (Author)2
Sometime, O Lord, at least in showGeorge Wither (Author)3
Sweet baby, sleep, what ails my dearGeorge Wither b.1588 (Author)6
Take heed, my heart, for in my breastGeorge Wither (Author)2
Take heed, my heart, how thou let inGeorge Wither (Author)2
Teach us by his example, LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
That rage as David's sore declaredGeorge Wither (Author)2
That rage whereof the Psalm doth sayGeorge Wither (Author)2
That so thy blessed birth, O ChristGeorge Wither (Author)2
The day is now returnedGeorge Wither (Author)2
The favor, Lord, which of thy graceGeorge Wither (Author)2
The fields, for prayer, Isaac choseGeorge Wither (Author)2
The first which brought the blessed newsGeorge Wither (Author)2
The flowers which washed away almostGeorge Wither (Author)2
The Lord of heaven confess, On high His glory raiseGeorge Wither (Author)2
The propagation of our kindGeorge Wither (Author)2
The sixth day's light may weekly bringGeorge Wither (Author)2
The sun, hath since we last were hereGeorge Wither (Author)2
The talents we possessGeorge Wither (Author)2
The voice which I did more esteemGeorge Wither (Author)2
They who their Father had forsookGeorge Wither (Author)2
This day, O Christ, thy flesh did bleedGeorge Wither (Author)2
This day, the planets in the spheresGeorge Wither (Author)2
This day thy flesh, O Christ, did bleedGeorge Wither (Author)2
This is the day the Lord hath made, And therein joyful we will beGeorge Wither (Author)2
This morning brings to mind, O GodGeorge Wither (Author)2
Those, O, thrice holy three in oneGeorge Wither (Author)2
Thou, blessed soul, what canst thou fearGeorge Wither (Author)2
Thou dost from every season, LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
Though in my limbs I crippled amGeorge Wither (Author)2
Though knowledge must be got with painGeorge Wither (Author)2
Though princes courts defamed areGeorge Wither (Author)2
Though, we have got an evil nameGeorge Wither (Author)2
Thy gifts and graces manifoldGeorge Wither (Author)2
Thy gifts most Holy Spirit, beGeorge Wither (Author)2
To bid each other now adieuGeorge Wither (Author)2
To God, with heart and cheerful voiceGeorge Wither (Author)2
To grace [O Lord] a marriage feastGeorge Wither (Author)2
To praise, O God, and honor theeGeorge Wither (Author)2
To those that in follyGeorge Wither (Author)2
To thy apostles thou hast taughtGeorge Wither (Author)2
To yield us profit with delightsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Unless O Lord thy grace thy lendGeorge Wither (Author)2
Unworthy, though, O Lord, we areGeorge Wither (Author)2
Veil, Lord, mine eyes till she be pastGeorge Wither, 1588-1667 (Author)3
We do acknowledge thee, O LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
We love Thee, Lord, we praise thy nameGeorge Wither (Author)2
We praise O God! we honor theeGeorge Wither (Author)2
We, whom affairs employed keepGeorge Wither (Author)2
What ails my heart, that in my breastGeorge Wither (Author)2
What hellish doubt! what cursed fearGeorge Wither (Author)2
What is there LordGeorge Wither (Author)2
What spring and summer did produceGeorge Wither (Author)2
What though the comforts of the lightGeorge Wither (Author)2
Whatever equity commandsGeorge Wither (Author)2
Whatsoe'er my motives wereGeorge Wither (Author)2
When Achan for his lawless prizeGeorge Wither (Author)2
When all the year our fields are fresh and greenGeorge Wither (Author)2
When Christ from death, to life did riseGeorge Wither (Author)2
When Christ our Lord incarnate wasGeorge Wither (Author)2
When Christ unto JerusalemGeorge Wither (Author)2
When Christ was risen from the deadGeorge Wither (Author)3
When hearty thanks we render notGeorge Wither (Author)2
When is it fitter to beginGeorge Wither (Author)2
When Jesus Christ incarnate wasGeorge Wither (Author)2
When land and sea that mixed wereGeorge Wither (Author)2
When, Lord, we call to mind those thingsGeorge Wither (Author)2
When once among the twelve there wasGeorge Wither (Author)2
When one of thine did false becomeGeorge Wither (Author)2
When plenties [O thrice gracious Lord]George Wither (Author)2
When Sampson's mother was foretoldGeorge Wither (Author)2
When the storms of life beat soreGeorge Wither (Author)3
When thou wouldst Lord afflict a landGeorge Wither (Author)2
When we have all things of our ownGeorge Wither (Author)2
Wherefore are the songs of praiseGeorge Wither (Author)2
Whilst Andrew, as a fisher, soughtGeorge Wither (Author)2
Whilst we endeavor to obeyGeorge Wither (Author)2
Who knows, when he to go from homeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Why live I muddling hereGeorge Wither (Author)2
Why should I grieve that I was madeGeorge Wither (Author)2
Why should unchristian censures passGeorge Wither (Author)2
With Isr'l we may truly sayGeorge Wither (Author)2
You that enjoy both goods and landGeorge Wither (Author)2
You, that, in children fruitful areGeorge Wither (Author)2
You, that like heedless strangers pass alongGeorge Wither (Author)2
You that regardless, pass alongGeorge Wither (Author)2
Youth is a wild, a wanton thingGeorge Wither (Author)2
Zeal to God Almighty's praiseGeorge Wither (Author)2

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