The Shepherd's Resolution.
This beautiful old song was written by a poet whose name would have been utterly forgotten, if it had not been preserved by Swift as a term of contempt. "Dryden and Wither" are coupled by him like the Bavius and Maevius of Virgil. Dryden, however, has had justice done him by posterity; and as for Wither, though of subordinate merit, that he was not altogether devoid of genius will be judged from the following stanzas. The truth is, Wither was a very voluminous party-writer; and as his political and satirical strokes rendered him extremely popular in his life-time, so afterwards, when these were no longer relished, they totally consigned his writings to oblivion.
George Wither was born June 11, 1588, and in his younger years distinguished himself by some pastoral pieces that were not inelegant; but growing afterwards involved in the political and religious disputes in the time of James I. and Charles I. he employed his poetical vein in severe pasquils on the court and clergy, and was occasionally a sufferer for the freedom of his pen. In the civil war that ensued, he exerted himself in the service of the Parliament, and became a considerable sharer in the spoils. He was even one of those provincial tyrants whom Oliver distributed over the kingdom, under the name of Major Generals, and had the fleecing of the county of Surrey; but, surviving the Restoration. he outlived both his power and his affluence; and giving vent to his chagrin in libels on the court, was long a prisoner in Newgate and the Tower. He died at length on the 2nd of May, 1667.
During the whole course of his life Wither was a continual publisher, having generally for opponent, Taylor, the Water-poet. The long list of his productions may be seen in Wood's Athena Oxon. vol. ii. His most popular satire is lntitled, Abuses whipt and stript, 1613. His most poetical pieces were eclogues, intitled, The Shepherd's Hunting, 1615, 8vo. and others printed at the end of Browne's Shepherd's Pipe, 1614, 8vo. The following sonnet is extracted from a long pastoral piece of his, intitled, The Mistresse of Philarete, 1622, 8vo. which is said in the preface to be one of the author's first poems; and may therefore be dated as early as any of the foregoing.
SHALL I, wasting in dispaire,
Dye because a woman's faire?
Or make pale my cheeks with care,
'Cause another's rosie are?
Be shee fairer than the day,
Or the flowry meads in May;
If she be not so to me,
What care I how faire shee be?
Shall my foolish heart be pin'd
'Cause I see a woman kind?
Or a well-disposed nature
Joyned with a lovely feature?
Be shee meeker, kinder, than
The turtle-dove or pelican:
If shee be not so to me,
What care I how kind shee be?
Shall a woman's virtue move
Me to perish for her love?
Or, her well deservings knowne,
Make me quite forget mine owne?
Be shee with that goodnesse blest,
Which may merit name of Best;
If she be not such to me,
What care I how good she be?
'Cause her fortune seems too high,
Shall I play the foole and dye?
Those that beare a noble minde,
Where they want of riches find,
Thinke what with them they would doe,
That without them dare to wooe;
And, unlesse that minde I see,
What care I how great she be?
Great or good, or kind or faire,
I will ne'er the more dispaire
If she love me, this beleeve;
I will die ere she shall grieve.
If she slight me when I wooe,
I can scorne and let her goe:
If shee be not fit for me,
What care I for whom she be?