George Wither had sided with parliament during the civil wars. He sold his estate to raise a troop of horse and was charged by parliament with the command of Farnham Castle, and he later fought at the sieges of Gloucester (1643) and Naseby (1645). Wither was therefore understandably nervous of retribution after the Restoration, despite the assurances of indemnification offered by Charles II in the Declaration of Breda (1660). In August 1660, Wither’s papers were seized and he was arrested for composing a libellous poem called Vox Vulgi, which was meant for private circulation among his allies. So Wither had good reason (his freedom) to praise Charles in verse, as he did in Speculum Speculativum (1660). And yet, as this prefatory address ‘To the King’s Majesty’ suggests, Wither’s Speculum was riven by discontent with new political settlement.
Wither’s goal in this poem was to counsel the king via praise, a rhetorical strategy known as laudando praecipere. As he states, ‘A Course is offered here, whereby you may / Out-do, all that, which Flatterers can say’. The counsel he offered Charles was to establish a ‘Righteous Government’ and become a ‘self-denying King’—in other words, to become a godly monarch. This poem is therefore significant not only as an example of a common panegyric technique, laudando praecipere, but as a somewhat reserved response to the restoration of Stuart monarchy.
Sir, blessed is he that in God’s name doth come,
In which name I pronounce your welcome home;
And, for your health more heartily do pray,
Than any one who drinks it every day.
As often too, I have you in my thought
As they, who with the first your favour sought;
Which, if my heart you could as plainly see
As what you now read, would believed bee.
When I had first composed what here ensues,
I wished it, where you might the same peruse:
For men unknown (or known without respect)
So justly are affronted with neglect,
For proffered services to those, that have
More offerings daily than they can receive,
That, I committed this to his dispose,
Who orders every thing that comes or goes.
If providence hath brought this to your hand,
Give up to reason straight, the sole command
Over all your passions; make her of your isle,
(Your Isle of Man) queen-regent, all the while
You are perusing it; and let it be
Read through, else it will wrong both you and me.
(Or you like Caesar, unperused perchance,
May leave that, which your welfare might advance)
To be her subject, but so long endeavour
As till that’s done, and then, be king for ever,
(Reigning with her) as absolute a prince,
As ever had over men pre-eminence:
For, then, shall that, to you more glory add,
Than hitherto from any pen you had;
And, be to you, a true Mnemosyne,
When, peradventure, none so dares to be.
This glass (though form’d it be of common matter
And, made by him, who knows not how to flatter)
If, to a prince, who needs it, it were sold,
Were worth to him three times his weight in gold,
If he knew how to use it as he should:
Yet I had rather you for nothing had it,
So that it wrought the effect for which I made it,
Than, from another, to receive that price
In ready money paid me over twice:
For, then, this book (which hath not to your praise
One single page) thereto should trophies raise
More glorious, than, your London’s wealth could rear
If wholly, thereupon consum’d it were.
Your happiness and honour it intends:
By not commending, it much more commends,
Than all their panegyrics who bestow
Those men with praises whom they do not know;
And, magnify, when they ascend the throne,
All kings alike; which praise is less than none;
For, ’tis a mock, deserving but returns
Of sharp reproofs, or of neglect and scorns.
If, wise and pious, you I had not thought,
I, such like gew-gaws could to you have brought
To put out of your mind, what God for you
Hath lately done; and what you ought to do
For Him and His. But neither self-esteem,
Nor verbal attributes can perfect him
By whom, here, shall bee an establishment
Of justice in a righteous government.
For, none else, but a self-denying king,
Shall that great blessing to these nations bring;
And, his name will be thereby honoured more
Than all his predecessors heretofore.
And, they, who then live shall fulfill’d behold
What Britain’s genius, long ago foretold:
For, I believe, that such a one will be,
And also, much desire, you may be he.
A king you are, who, now twice born hath been
To royalty; and therefore, by that mean
A child of honour, by regeneration
You seem to be: and in the common fashion
To celebrate your double birth, it could
With your condition no proportion hold;
For that cause in a path, by no man trod,
I seek to do you honour in this mode,
Which if accepted, your true praise will be;
And, peradventure no disgrace to me.
For as a lady looking in a mirror,
Puts on her dress, and jewels without error,
Heeding what is misplaced, or forgot,
And to her handmaid always trusteth not;
So, by this glass, you may have by reflection
A sight of what pertains to your perfection.
See, not with others, but, with your own eyes,
Whether true ornaments, or some disguise,
Be put upon you, which may render you
Less lovely, when you come in open view.
Herein, a catalogue to you is shown
Of many long-lost jewels of the crown;
And such as add the most essential glory
Unto those crowns that are but transitory.
A course is offered here, whereby you may
Out-do, all that, which flatterers can say:
(Or, by but so far forth endeav’ring it,
As human frailties will the same permit)
To praise you here, I do not undertake;
But, that your self praise-worthy you may make
Is my design by bringing things to mind,
Which written in your own heart you shall find.
This shews the means to make you honourable
With what should always be inseparable
From your own person, and doth also tend
To your immortal glory, without end:
It, such an honour gives, as will increase
In their despite, who seek to make it less:
An honour which depends not on men’s tongues,
Which envy blasteth not, nor malice wrongs;
Which neither degradations, nor advances,
Or, any human changes or mischances
Can blemish: for, it will be much more clear
Than that star, which within our hemisphere
Shin’d on your birthday, whilst the sun at height
Display’d his beams to hide it from our sight.
Somewhat, by that, perhaps, portended was;
So will there be by this considering-glass.
God grant my meaning be so understood,
That, now it may an omen be for good.
By great afflictions you were lately prov’d,
Which are in mercy totally remov’d.
At present, by as great prosperities,
Your temper, and your faithfulness God tries.
And that things useful slip not out of thought,
This, to your hands, by providence was brought.
Be pleased seriously to look thereon,
For, you will find it a true Lydian-stone;
And, if you bide the touch, words are too poor
To celebrate your worth; who can say more?