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Lower, William (DNB00)


LOWER, Sir WILLIAM (1600?–1662), dramatist, only son of John Lower (the second son of Thomas Lower, d 1609, of St. Winnow, Cornwall), by his wife Mary, was born at Tremeere, Cornwall, about 1600 (Vivian, Visitations of Cornwall, 1887, p. 300; cf. Hunter, who corrects Wood, ‘Chorus Vatum,’ Add. MS. 24489, f. 485). He was educated at neither of the universities, but ‘spent some time in Oxon in the condition of an hospes, for the sake of the public library and scholastical company,’ as his kinsman Richard Lower [q. v.] the physician informed Wood. He evinced a ‘gay fancy’ and a strong aversion from the ‘crabb'd studies of logic and philosophy,’ travelled in France, and became a ‘perfect master of the French tongue.’ In 1639 he published ‘The Phœnix in her Flames. A Tragedy [4 acts in blank verse]: the Scene Arabia, the author Master William Lower,’ London, 4to; dedicated to his cousin William Lower. Of this play, which is at the same time the rarest and liveliest of Lower's printed works, one copy is in the British Museum, while another passed from Corser's collection into the Huth Library (Cat. iii. 370). Genest gives an abstract of the plot, which he describes as ‘romantic, but interesting’ (Account of English Stage, x. 69).

Lower was a lieutenant in Sir Jacob Ashley's regiment in Northumberland's army of 1640 (Rushworth, Hist. Coll. ii. 1244), and was promoted captain, but lost his company, which proved mutinous and deserted (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1640, p. 509). In June 1644, being then a lieutenant-colonel in Thomas Blague's regiment, and lieutenant-governor of Wallingford, he received orders from the king to raise 50l. a week from the town of Reading. With commendable promptness and decision, Lower laid hands on the mayor and carried him off to Wallingford as a hostage; he then plied the corporation with diplomatic letters, which failed, however, to extract from them more than a fraction of the sum required (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. pt. vii. p. 220). He was taken prisoner by the garrison of Abingdon on 19 Jan. 1645–1646 (Report on Portland MSS. i. 340; Commons' Journals, iv. 416). His zeal was subsequently rewarded by a knighthood, conferred upon him probably on 27 March 1645, though Symonds, who records the fact, omits the name and only gives Lower's office (Diary of Richard Symonds, Camden Soc. p. 162). He seems to have lingered in England until 1655, when he visited Cologne, and cheered the royalists there with the assurance that Cromwell could not live long (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1655, p. 365).

Leaving Cologne after a short residence, he ‘took sanctuary in Holland, where in peace and privacy he enjoyed the Society of The Muses’ (Langbaine). He seems to have held some post in the household of the Princess Royal (Mary of Orange) [q. v.] at the Hague, and occupied his leisure in translating and adapting French plays, mainly those of Corneille, Quinault, and Ceriziers. In 1658 he published at the Hague another original play, ‘The Enchanted Lovers: a Pastoral;’ a copy, with manuscript notes, which he gave to his only child, ‘Mrs. Elizabeth Lower,’ belonged to Heber. In 1660, during the negotiations between Charles II and the English parliament, Lower prepared his sumptuous ‘Relation in the form of a Journal of the Voiage and Residence which the most mighty and excellent Prince Charles II … hath made in Holland from 25 May to 2 June 1660, rendered into English out of the Original French.’ The work, a thin royal folio, was issued in September (in Dutch and French, as well as English), by Adrian Ulack of the Hague, with an apology for its ‘tardive appearance due to those men that graved the plates.’ The latter are beautifully executed, and contain some two hundred portraits, both foreign and English (cf. Gent. Mag. 1825, i. 216–18). The volume concludes with a number of ill-conditioned acrostics and poems by Lower.

In June 1660 Lower wrote to Secretary Nicholas from the Hague, asking for a place in the king's service (Cal. State Papers, Dom. s.a. 54). The death of his cousin Thomas, only son of Sir William Lower of Treventy (d. 1615), by which he became sole heir, executor, and chief representative of the family, recalled him to England in 1661. He died early in the following year, his will being proved 7 May 1662 (P. C. C. Laud, 76), and was buried, Wood believed, in the church of St. Clement Danes, though there is no record of his interment either there or at St. Winnow or at Landulph, where his inherited estate was situate. His daughter Elizabeth survived him, and was his chief legatee.

Though there are a few good lines in ‘The Phœnix,’ most of Lower's verse is very commonplace, and his translations, without being even laborious, are dull. Dr. Lower described him to Wood as ‘an ill poet, and a worse man.’ His long residence abroad seems to have completely alienated him from his relations. When the estate which he inherited put him in a position to do them good, ‘he did not, but followed the vices of poets.’ A portrait is prefixed to his ‘Three New Playes’ (infra), together with his arms and motto, ‘Amico Rosa, inimico Spina,’ which also appears on several of his titles.

Besides the works mentioned above, Lower wrote: 1. ‘Polyeuctes, or The Martyr, a Tragedy’ (from the French of Corneille), 1655, 4to; described by Genest, x. 70. 2. ‘The Innocent Lord, or the Divine Providence, the Incomparable History of Joseph, written originally in French by the unparallel'd pen of the learned Ceriziers, Almoner to my Lord the King's Brother,’ 1655, 8vo. 3. ‘The Triumphant Lady, or the Crowned Innocence, a choice and authentick piece of the famous De Ceriziers,’ 1656, 8vo. 4. ‘Horatius, a Roman Tragedy’ (from Corneille), 1656, 4to. 5. ‘The Amorous Fantasme,’ the Hague, 1659 [from the ‘Fantôme Amoureux’ of Philippe Quinault], dedicated to the Princess Royal. 6. ‘Three New Playes, viz: “The Noble Ingratitude,” a pastoral tragicomedy, “The Enchanted Lovers,” “The Amorous Fantasme,”’ dedicated to the queen of Bohemia, London, 1661. There are also extant in manuscript: ‘The Three Dorothies, or Jodelet box'd,’ a comedy from the French of Paul Scarron, 1657, and ‘Don Japhet of Armenia,’ a comedy, also from Scarron, autograph, sm. 4to, 1657 (Addit. MS. 28723). Wood also mentions a manuscript copy of Lower's ‘The Pleasures of the Ladies’ as being in the possession of Mr. Bowle.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 544; Langbaine's English Dramatists, 1691, pp. 332–334; Granger's Biog. Hist. 1779, iii. 98; Baker's Biog. Dram.; Addit. MS. 5875, f. 142 (Cole's Athenæ Cantabr.); Literæ Cromwellii, 1676, p. 123; Genest's History of the Stage, x. 69, 70; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Maclean's Trigg Minor, iii. 387; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornub.; Hazlitt's Handbook, p. 355; Cat. Malone Collection (Bodleian); Heber's Cat. of Early English Poetry; Cat. of Additions to MSS. Brit. Mus. 1835–74, ii. 542; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ix. 187, 7th ser. v. 354.]

T. S.