Thomas Overbury

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Sir Thomas Overbury (1581 – 14 September 1613) was a British poet and essayist.


  • In part to blame is she,
    Which hath without consent bin only tride:
    He comes to neere that comes to be denide.
    • A Wife, stanza 36. Compare: "In part she is to blame that has been tried: He comes too late that comes to be denied", Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, The Lady’s Resolve (1713).
  • An Ambitious woman shewes her selfe to bee a troublesome disturber of the world, powerfull to make smale things great, and great monstrous
    • The Just Downfall of Ambition, Adultery and Murder.
  • He disdains all things above his reach, and preferreth all countries above his own.
    • Miscellaneous Works: An Affectate Traveller.

Oxford Book of English Prose

Quotes reported in: Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed., The Oxford Book of English Prose (1925), nos. 120, 121
  • Is a Country Wench, that is so far from making herself beautiful by art that one look of hers is able to put all face-physick out of countenance. She knows a fair look is but a dumb orator to commend virtue, therefore minds it not. All her excellencies stand in her so silently, as if they had stolen upon her without her knowledge. The lining of her apparel (which is herself) is far better than outsides of tissue: for though she be not arrayed in the spoil of the silkworm, she is decked in innocency, a far better wearing. She doth not, with lying long abed, spoil both her complexion and conditions; nature hath taught her too immoderate sleep is rust to the soul: she rises therefore with Chanticleer, her dame's cock, and at night makes the lamb her curfew. In milking a Cow, and straining the teats through her fingers, it seems that so sweet a milk-press makes the milk the whiter or sweeter; for never came almond glove or aromatic ointment on her palm to taint it. The golden ears of corn fall and kiss her feet when she reaps them, as if they wished to be bound and led prisoners by the same hand that felled them. Her breath is her own, which scents all the year long of June, like a new-made haycock. She makes her hand hard with labour, and her heart soft with pity; and when winter evenings fall early (sitting at her merry wheel) she sings a defiance to the giddy wheel of Fortune. She doth all things with so sweet a grace, it seems ignorance will not suffer her to do ill, being her mind is to do well. She bestows her year's wages at next fair; and in chusing her garments counts no bravery i' th' world like decency. The garden and beehive are all her physick and chirurgery, and she lives the longer for it. She dares go alone, and unfold sheep in the night, and fears no manner of ill, because she means none: yet to say truth, she is never alone, for she is still accompanied with old songs, honest thoughts, and prayers, but short ones; yet they have their efficacy, in that they are not palled with ensuing idle cogitations. Lastly, her dreams are so chaste that she dare tell them; only a Friday's dream is all her superstition : that she conceals for fear of anger. Thus lives she, and all her care is she may die in the springtime, to have store of flowers stuck upon her winding-sheet.
    • Sir Thomas Overburye His Wife, &c.
    • Titled "A Fair and Happy Milkmaid" by Q.
  • His outside is an ancient Yeoman of England, though his inside may give arms (with the best gentleman) and ne'er see the herald. There is no truer servant in the house than himself. Though he be master, he says not to his servants, 'Go to field,' but, 'Let us go;' and with his own eye doth both fatten his flock and set forward all manner of husbandry. He is taught by nature to be contented with a little; his own fold yields him both food and raiment: he is pleased with any nourishment God sends, whilst curious gluttony ransacks, as it were, Noah's Ark for food, only to feed the riot of one meal. He is ne'er known to go to law; understanding to be law-bound among men is like to be hide-bound among his beasts; they thrive not under it: and that such men sleep as unquietly as if their pillows were stuffed with Lawyers' penknives. When he builds, no poor tenant's cottage hinders his prospect: they are indeed his Almshouses, though there be painted on them no such superscription: he never sits up late, but when he hunts the Badger, the vowed foe of his Lambs: nor uses he any cruelty, but when he hunts the hare, nor subtilty, but when he setteth snares for the Snite or pitfalls for the Blackbird; nor oppression, but when in the month of July he goes to the next river and shears his sheep. He allows of honest pastime, and thinks not the bones of the dead anything bruised, or the worse for it, though the country lasses dance in the churchyard after evensong. Rock Monday, and the Wake in Summer, Shrovings, the wakeful catches on Christmas Eve, the Hoky, or Seed-cake, these he yearly keeps, yet holds them no relics of Popery. He is not so inquisitive after news derived from the privy closet, when the finding an aerie of Hawks in his own ground, or the foaling of a Colt come of a good strain, are tidings more pleasant, more profitable. He is lord paramount within himself, though he hold by never so mean a Tenure; and dies the more contentedly (though he leave his heir young), in regard he leaves him not liable to a covetous Guardian. Lastly, to end him: he cares not when his end comes, he needs not fear his Audit, for his quietus is in heaven.
    • Sir Thomas Overburye His Wife, &c.
    • Titled "A Franklin" by Q.
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