You vainly with the early light
Arise, or sit up late at night
To find support, and daily eat
Your bread with sorrow earned and sweat;
When God, who his beloved keeps,
This plenty gives with quiet sleeps.
What difference do we find? That the former has the more poetic touch, the latter the greater truth. The former has just lost the one precious thing in the psalm; the latter has kept it: that care is as useless as painful, for God gives us while we sleep, and not while we labour.
WITHER, HERRICK, AND QUARLES.
George Wither, born in 1588, therefore about the same age as Giles Fletcher, was a very different sort of writer indeed. There could hardly be a greater contrast. Fancy, and all her motley train, were scarcely known to Wither, save by the hearing of the ears.
He became an eager Puritan towards the close of his life, but his poetry chiefly belongs to the earlier part of it. Throughout it is distinguished by a certain straightforward simplicity of good English thought and English word. His hymns remind me, in the form of their speech, of Gascoigne. I shall quote but little; for, although there is a sweet calm and a great justice of reflection and feeling, there is hardly anything of that warming glow, that rousing force, that impressive weight in his verse, which is the chief virtue of the lofty rhyme.
The best in a volume of ninety Hymns and Songs of the Church, is, I think, The Author’s Hymn at the close, of which I give three stanzas. They manifest the simplicity and truth of the man, reflecting in their very tone his faithful, contented, trustful nature.
By thy grace, those passions, troubles,
And those wants that me opprest,
Have appeared as water-bubbles,
Or as dreams, and things in jest:
For, thy leisure still attending,
I with pleasure saw their ending.
Those afflictions and those terrors,
Which to others grim appear,
Did but show me where my errors
And my imperfections were;
But distrustful could not make me
Of thy love, nor fright nor shake me.
Those base hopes that would possess me,
And those thoughts of vain repute
Which do now and then oppress me,
Do not, Lord, to me impute;
And though part they will not from me,
Let them never overcome me.
He has written another similar volume, but much larger, and of a somewhat extraordinary character. It consists of no fewer than two hundred and thirty-three hymns, mostly long, upon an incredible variety of subjects, comprehending one for every season of nature and of the church, and one for every occurrence in life of which the author could think as likely to confront man or woman. Of these subjects I quote a few of the more remarkable, but even from them my reader can have little conception of the variety in the book: A Hymn whilst we are washing; In a clear starry Night; A Hymn for a House-warming; After a great Frost or Snow; For one whose Beauty is much praised; For one upbraided with Deformity; For a Widower or a Widow delivered from a troublesome Yokefellow; For a Cripple; For a Jailor; For a Poet.