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One of the least known, though certainly not the least deserving, writers of the age of Elizabeth, was Rob ERT Southwell. His poetical compositions do notentitle him to an elevated rank either by their fancy or their power, yet they contain many thoughts that often “lie too deep for tears,” and as “a warbler of poetic prose,” he will be found to have few rivals.
Southwell was born about the year 1560, at St. Faith's in Norfolk, and having been partially educated at the English College in Douay, he was received into the Society of the Jesuits”. In 1584 he returned a missionary to England; but his own country had few charms for the enthusiastic Jesuit. His father appears to have inclined to the reformed religion, for Southwell upbraids him with dwelling too long in the “tabernacles of sinners," and with having “strayed too far from the fold of God's church." The Epistle he addressed to his father soon after his return, is warmed by a strain of energetic eloquence. “With young Tobias,” he says, “I have travelled far, and brought home some freight of spiritual
good to enrich you, and medicinal receipts against your.
ghostly maladies. I have, with Esau, after long toil in pursuing a painful chase, returned with the full prey you were wont to love, desiring thereby to ensure your blessing. I have, in this general famine of all true and Christian food, prepared abundance of the bread of angels for the repast of your soul. And now my desire is that my drugs may cure you, my prey delight you, and my provision feed you, by whom I have been delighted and fed myself.” * Life prefixed to St. Peter's Complaint by J. Walter, 1817; Wood Athen, oim.; and doi Church. History, b. 3. p. 48, Failer (Woo, of Suffolk, p.71,) says that Southwell was born in Suffolk, upon the
authority of Pitts, who professed to have been intimately acquainted with the poet at Rome.
The following allusion to the old age of his parent is marked by a quaint sublimity: “The full of your springtide is now fallen, and the stream runneth to a low ebb; your tired bark beginneth to leak, and grateth oft upon the gravel of the grave *.”
I regret that my limits will not allow me to offer more copious extracts from this Treatise, but to the reader who may have the good fortune to possess a copy, I can recommend it as a noble specimen of hortatory theology, which they who “ least love the writer's religion,” may study with advantage.
The talents and piety of Southwell procured for him the friendship of many distinguished individuals, and especially of Anne, Countess of Arundel, with whom he resided in the capacity of chaplain until July 1592t.
In this month he was apprehended on a charge of sedition, at Uxenden in Middlesex, and committed to a dungeon in the Tower, where he underwent many miseries. He was subsequently removed, through the interposition of his father, to a less wretched chamber, and the use of a few books was permitted : he chose the Bible and the works of St. Bernard. Southwell's imprisonment lasted three years, and during that period he is said to have been put to the torture several times. How serenely he endured his asilictions may be learnt from his Epistle of Comfort, which is replete with the warmest piety and the most glowing imagination. At the expiration of three years he wrote to Cecil, the Lord Treasurer, entreating either that a day might be appointed for his trial, or that his relations and friends might, at least, be allowed to visit him. Cecil is said to have replied, that if he was in so much haste to be hanged, he should quickly have his desire; and the taunting threat of the minister was speedily fulfilled. On the 20th of February, Southwell was removed from Newgate, and carried to Westminster, where he was tried and condemned to death; and, on the following day, he underwent the infliction of the law at Tyburn”. He died with a calmness and piety worthy of a purer creed.
* Quarles has a passage very similar in his Judgment and Mercy for afflicted Souls, &c. “The spring-tides of my plenty are spent, and I am
avelled on the low ebbs of want.”—See The Widow.
t The letters of this unfortunate lady to her children are said to be written with much piety and tenderness; the melancholy death of Lord o weighed heavily upon her spirits.-loook's Illustrations, v. 3. p. Jor
It may be urged, in extenuation of the severity exerciscd towards Southwell, that the season was one of more than common agitation and alarm. Numerous conspiracies continued to be formed against the Queen, and they were rendered still more dangerous by the mystery and secrecy that enveloped them. I am not aware that any satisfactory proof was furnished of Southwell's guilt, but a few words spoken in a moment of enthusiasm were sufficient to furnish the spies, scattered throughout the country, with an opportunity of denouncing him. Southwell certainly possessed the intolerance and presumption, as well as the persevering energy of his order.
The Triumphs over Death, and St. Peter's Complaint, have been reprinted, the first by Sir Egerton Brydges, and the last by Mr. J. Walter, who speaks of the author with an ardour-inspired by a community of belief.
* In Stow's Chronicle, Ed. 1631, p. 769, Southwell is said to have sus. fered on the day after his conviction; but Fuller fixes the date of the execution on the 3rd of March; and in a tract entitled the Rat Trap, or the Jesuits teken in their own net, 1641, the 20th of September is named. —Gent, Mas: v. lxviii. pt. 2, p. 933. Mr. Walter, who from his acquaintance with Southwell's writings, is an authority worthy of attention, coincides with Stow. • *
I am induced to give an extract from the former work, both on account of its extreme elegance, and the general ignorance subsisting of the merits of the writer. It is the character of Lady Margaret Sackville upon whose death the Triumphs were composed”.
“She was by birth second to none, but unto the first in the realm; yet she measured only greatness by goodness, making nobility but the mirror of virtue, as able to show things worthy to be seen, as apt to draw many eyes to behold it; she suited her behaviour to her birth, and ennobled her birth with her piety, leaving her house more beholden to her for having honoured it with the glory of her virtues, than she was to it for the titles of her degree. She was high-minded but in aspiring to perfection, and in the disdain of vice; in other things covering her grace with humility among her inferiors, and showing it with courtesy among her peers. Of her carriage of herself, and her sober government, it may be sufficient testimony that envy herself was dumb in her dispraise, finding in her much to repine at, but nought to reprove. The clearness of her honour I need not mention, she having always armed it with such modesty as taught the most intemperate tongues to be silent in her presence, and answered their eyes with scorn and contempt that did seem to make her an aim to passion. . . . How mildly she accepted the check of fortune fallen upon her without desert, experience has been a most manifest proof; the temper of her mind being so easy that she found little difficulty in taking down her
• Lady Margaret Sackville, wife of the Honourable Robert Sackville, son and heir apparent of Thomas, then Lord Buckhurst, whom he succeeded as second Earl of Dorset in 1608. She was the daughter of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk-See Advertisement to the Triumphs over Death, in the Archaica, vol. i., 1814.
thoughts to a mean degree, which true honour, not pride, has raised to a former height; her faithfulness and love, where she found true friendship, are written with tears in many eyes. “Where she owed, she paid piety; where she found she turned courtesy; wheresoever she was known, she deserved amity; desiring the best, yet disdaining none but evil company; she was readier to requite benefits, than revenge wrongs; more grieved than angry with unkindness of friends, when either mistaking or misreport occasioned any breaches. In sum, she was an honour to her predecessors, a light to her age, and a pattern to her posterity; neither was her conclusion different from her premises, or her end from her life; she showed no dismay, being warned of her danger, carrying in her conscience the safe-conduct of innocency. But having sent her desires before, with a mild countenance and a most calm mind, in more hope than fear, she expected her own passage. She commended both her duty and good will to all her friends, and cleared her heart from all grudge towards her enemies, wishing true happiness to them both, as best became so soft and gentle a mind, in which anger never stayed but as an unwelcome stranger.” The following affected yet picturesque passage towards the conclusion, might have been written by Crashaw : it has all the onction of the poetry of that gifted and unfortunate enthusiast: “She departed, like Jephtha's daughter, from her father's house, but to pass some months in wandering about the mountains of this troublesome world, which being now expired, she was, after her pilgrimage, by covenant to return, to be offered unto God in a grateful,