Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/387

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


in the street by a crowd, calling after him ‘There goes Sir Thomas Overbury's father.’ The anagram on ‘Thomas Overburie’—‘O, O, a busie murther’—was long familiar.

Overbury was a singularly cultivated man. Ben Jonson addressed to him, before they quarrelled, a poem in which he credited him with permanently introducing into court circles a love of art and literature. The chief verse-writers vied with each other in lamenting his early death, and, after the facts of his murder became known, they bewailed his fate in many pathetic elegies. As many as twenty writers contributed under their initials prefatory verses to the early editions of the ‘Wife,’ among the writers being William Browne and John Ford the dramatist (cf. Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 386–7). John Ford also obtained a license to publish a work (not extant) entitled ‘A Booke called Sir Thomas Overburyes Ghost, contayneing the history of his life and untimely death, by John Ford, gent.’ (25 Nov. 1615). Richard Niccols [q. v.] published his ‘Overburies Vision’ in 1616, and Samuel Rowlands a broadside. A Latin couplet, ‘In statuam ligneam Overburii,’ appears in Lord Herbert of Cherbury's ‘Poems,’ ed. Churton Collins, p. 124 (cf. Dunbar, Epigrams, 1616, p. 104; Scot, Philomythie, 1610, i. 7 sq.; Owen, Epigrams, 1612, v. 48; Bancroft, Epigrams).

Overbury's chief work, ‘A Wife now the Widdow of Sir T. Overburye,’ a sensible little poem on marriage, of slender poetic merit, was first published in London in 1614. It was licensed for the press on 13 Dec. 1613, and became exceptionally popular, five editions appearing in 1614. One of the last lines—

He comes too near who comes to be denied—

obtained currency as a proverb. Contemporary imitations abounded. ‘The Husbande,’ with commendatory verses by Ben Jonson, appeared in 1614; ‘A Second Select Husband,’ by John Davies of Hereford, in 1616; ‘The Description of a Good Wife,’ by Brathwaite, and Patrick Hannay's ‘Happy Husband,’ in 1619. In 1631 followed Wye Saltonstall's ‘Picturæ Loquentes,’ and in 1653 Robert Aylett's ‘A Wife not ready made but bespoken.’ Of the rare first edition of the ‘Wife’ (12mo) two copies are known—one in the Bodleian, and the other at Trinity College, Cambridge. A quarto edition, issued in the same year, with a portrait by Simon Pass, and four panegyrics on the author, includes an attractive appendix of twenty-one ‘Characters.’ The title runs: ‘A Wife now the Widow of Sir Thomas Overbury, being a most exquisite and singular Poem of the choice of a Wife, whereunto are added many witty characters and conceited news written by himself and other learned gentlemen his Friends’ (Brit. Mus.). The ‘Characters’—the earliest of their kind—show much insight into human nature, and are very pithily expressed; but it is uncertain how many of them or of the succeeding paragraphs of ‘news’ are Overbury's compositions, and how many belong to his friends. A third impression, also in 1614, supplied ‘addition of sundry other new characters,’ bringing the number to twenty-five. A fourth impression contained thirty characters (1614, 4to). Three ‘characters’—a tinker, an apparitor, and an almanac-maker—first appearing in the sixth edition in 1616, are by J. Cocke; and an added essay there, ‘Newes from the Countrey,’ is by Donne. An eighth edition (1616) contained ‘new elegies on his untimely death.’ Many apocryphal ‘witty conceits’ and some brief poems were added in 1622 and reproduced in 1638. As many as twenty editions appeared up to 1673, the last being ‘illustrated by Giles Oldisworth, nephew to the same Sir T. O.’ (Bodleian). It was reprinted in Capell's ‘Prolusions,’ 1762.

In 1620 was issued ‘The first and second part of the Remedy of Love. Written by Sir Thomas Overbury.’ London, by N. Okes (British Museum). In 1626 appeared ‘Sir Thomas Overbury his Observations in his Travailes … upon the state of the Seventeen Provinces in 1609.’ The manuscript of the work is at Lambeth (841, f. 15). This was licensed for press on 28 Jan. 1615–16, but no earlier edition is known. A new edition is dated 1651, and contains Pass's portrait. The work was included in the ‘Harleian Miscellany’ (1744 and 1808), and a French translation was published at Ghent in 1853.

In 1756 appeared ‘The Miscellaneous Works in Verse and Prose of Sir Thomas Overbury, Knight, with Memoir of his Life. Tenth edition.’ This rejected most of the apocryphal additions. The latest and fullest edition of his works was edited by Edward F. Rimbault in 1856, in Russell Smith's Library of Old Authors; but the text of the ‘Wife’ is not very satisfactory, and needs revision in the light of extant contemporary manuscripts (cf. Collier, Bibliographical Account, ii. 66 sq.; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ii. 434). Mr. Rimbault included a collection of anecdotes (‘Crumms fal'n from King James's Table’), which is assigned to Overbury in Harl. MS. 7582, f. 42. The work was first printed in the ‘Prince's Cabala,’ 1715, as the ‘Table Talk of King James, collected by Sir Thomas Overbury.’

In 1648 was published the ‘Arraignment and Conviction of Sr Walter Rawleigh [in