George Wither

11 June 1588 – 2 May 1667 / Bentworth, Hampshire

From 'The Motto'

And first, that no man else may censure me
For vaunting what belongeth not to me,
Heare what I have not, for Tie not deny
To make confession of my poverty.
I have not of myselfe the powre or grace
To be, or not to be ; one minute-space
I have not strength another word to write,
Or tell you what I purpose to indite ;
Or thinke out halfe a thought, before my death,
But by the leave of him that gave me breath.
I have no native goodnes in my soul,
But I was over all corrupt and foul:
And till another cleans'd me I had nought
That was not stain'd within me : not a thought.
I have no propper merrit ; neither will,
Or to resolve, or act, but what is ill;
I have no meanes of safety, or content,
In ought which mine owne wisdom can invent.
Nor have I reason to be desperate tho,
Because for this a remedy I know.
I have no portion in the world like this,
That I may breathe that ayre which common is,
Nor have I seen within this spacious round
What I have worth my joy or sorrow found,
Except it hath for these that follow binn,
The love of my Redeemer, and my sinn.
I none of those great priviledges have
Which makes the minions of the time so brave;
I have no sumpteous pallaces, or bowers
That overtop my neighbours with their tow'rs;
I have no large demeanes or princely rents,
Like those heroes, nor their discontents;
I have no glories from mine auncesters,
For want of reall worth to bragg of theirs ;
Nor have I baseness in my pedigree:
For it is noble, though obscure it be.
I have no golde those honours to obtaine,
Which men might heretofore by vertue gaine;
Nor have I witt, if wealth were given me,
To thinke bought place, or title, honour'd me.
I (yet) have no beliefe that they are wise
Who for base ends can basely temporise :
Or that it will at length be ill for me,
That I liv'd poore to keepe my spirit free.
I have no causes in our pleading courts,
Nor start I at our Chancery reports;
No fearfull bill hath yet affrighted me,
No motion, order, judgement, or decree.
Nor have I forced beene to tedious journeys
Betwixt my counsellors and my attorneys.
I have no neede of these long-gowned warriers,
Who play at Westminster, unarm'd, at barriers
For gamster for those Common-pleas am I
Whose sport is marred by the Chancery.

* * * *

I have no complements, but what may show
That I doe manners and good breeding know;
For much I hate the forced apish tricks
Of these our home-disdaining politicks :
Who to the forraine guises are affected,
That English honesty is quite rejected
And in the stead thereof, they furnisht home
With shadowes of humanity doe come.
Oh! how judicious, in their owne esteeme,
And how compleatly travelled they seem,
If, in the place of reall kindnesses,
(Which nature could have taught them to expresse,)
They can, with gestures, lookes, and language sweet,
Fawne like a curtezan on all they meete ;
And vie in humble and kind speeches, when
They doe most proudly and most falsely meane.
On this too many falsely set their face,
Of courtship and of wisdome ; but 'tis base.
For servile unto me it doth appeare
When we descend to soothe and flatter, where
We want affection : yea, I hate it more
Than to be borne a slave, or to be poore.
I have no pleasure or delight in ought
That by dissembling must to passe be brought
If I dislike, I'll sooner tell them so,
Then hide my face beneath a friendly show
For he who to be just hath an intent,
Needs nor dissemble nor a lie invent.
I rather wish to faile with honestie,
Then to prevaile in ought by treacherie.
And with this minde I'll safer sleep, then all
Our Macavillian polititians shall.
I have no minde to flatter ; though I might
Be made some lord's companion, or a knight;
Nor shall my verse for me on begging goe,
Though I might starve unlesse it did doe so.

* * * *

I cannot (for my life) my pen compell,
Upon the praise of any man to dwell:
Unlesse I know (or thinke at least) his worth
To be the same which I have blazed forth.
Had I some honest suit, the gaine of which
Would make me noble, eminent, and rich,
And that to compasse it no meanes there were,
Unlesse I basely flatter'd some great peere;
Would with that suite my mine I might get,
If on those terms I would endeavour it.
I have not bin to their condition borne
Who are enclyned to respect, and scorne,
As men in their estates doe rise or fall:
Or rich or poore, I vertue love in all.
And where I find it not, I doe despise
To fawn on them ; how high soe're they rise ;
For where proud greatnesse without worth J see
Old Mordecay had not a stiffer knee.
I cannot give a plaudit (I protest)
When, as his lordship thinks, he breakes a jeast,
Unles it move me ; neither can I grin
When he a causeles laughter doth begin ;
I cannot sweare him truly honourable,
Because he once received me to his table,
i And talk't as if the Muses glad might be
That he vouchsafed such a grace to me :
I His slender worth I could not blazen so
By strange hyperboles, as some would do;
Or wonder at it, as if none had bin
His equall, since King William first came in.
Nor can I thinke true vertue ever car'd
To give or take (for praise) what I have heard.
For, if we pryze them well, what goodly grace
Have outward beauties, riches, titles, place,
Or such, that we the owners should commend,
When no true vertues doe on these attend ?
If beautiful he be, what honor's that ?
As fayre as he is many a beggar's brat.
If we his noble titles would extoll,
Those titles he may have, and be a fool.
If seats of justice he hath climbed (we say),
So tyrants and corrupt oppressors may.
If for a large estate his praise we tell,
A thousand villains may be praised as well.
If he his prince's good esteeme be in,
Why so hath many a bloudy traytor bin.
And if in these things he alone excell,
Let those that list upon his praises dwell.
Some other worth I find ere I have sense
Of any praise deserving excellence.
I have no friends that once affected were,
But to my heart they sit this day as neare
As when I most endear'd them (though they seeme
To fall from my opinion or esteeme :)
For pretious time in idle would be spent,
If I with all should alwayes complement ;
And till my love I may to purpose show,
I care not wher' they think I love or no.
For sure I am, if any find me chang'd,
Their greatnes,not their meannesse, me estranged.
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