Lives of the Poets: Gay, Thomson, Young etc.
Part 2 out of 3
from the narrative of Dr. Gibbons, to have been neither indigent nor
Isaac, the eldest of nine children, was given to books from his
infancy, and began, we are told, to learn Latin when he was four
years old--I suppose, at home. He was afterwards taught Latin,
Greek, and Hebrew, by Mr. Pinhorne, a clergyman, master of the Free
School at Southampton, to whom the gratitude of his scholar
afterwards inscribed a Latin ode. His proficiency at school was so
conspicuous that a subscription was proposed for his support at the
University, but he declared his resolution of taking his lot with
the Dissenters. Such he was as every Christian Church would rejoice
to have adopted. He therefore repaired, in 1690, to an academy
taught by Mr. Rowe, where he had for his companions and fellow
students Mr. Hughes the poet, and Dr. Horte, afterwards Archbishop
of Tuam. Some Latin Essays, supposed to have been written as
exercises at this academy, show a degree of knowledge, both
philosophical and theological, such as very few attain by a much
longer course of study. He was, as he hints in his "Miscellanies,"
a maker of verses from fifteen to fifty, and in his youth he appears
to have paid attention to Latin poetry. His verses to his brother,
in the glyconic measure, written when he was seventeen, are
remarkably easy and elegant. Some of his other odes are deformed by
the Pindaric folly then prevailing, and are written with such
neglect of all metrical rules as is without example among the
ancients; but his diction, though perhaps not always exactly pure,
has such copiousness and splendour as shows that he was but a very
little distance from excellence. His method of study was to impress
the contents of his books upon his memory by abridging them, and by
interleaving them to amplify one system with supplements from
With the congregation of his tutor, Mr. Rowe, who were, I believe,
Independents, he communicated in his nineteenth year. At the age of
twenty he left the academy, and spent two years in study and
devotion at the house of his father, who treated him with great
tenderness, and had the happiness, indulged to few parents, of
living to see his son eminent for literature and venerable for
piety. He was then entertained by Sir John Hartopp five years, as
domestic tutor to his son, and in that time particularly devoted
himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures; and, being chosen
assistant to Dr. Chauncey, preached the first time on the birthday
that completed his twenty-fourth year, probably considering that as
the day of a second nativity, by which he entered on a new period of
In about three years he succeeded Dr. Chauncey; but soon after his
entrance on his charge he was seized by a dangerous illness, which
sunk him to such weakness that the congregation thought an assistant
necessary, and appointed Mr. Price. His health then returned
gradually, and he performed his duty till (1712) he was seized by a
fever of such violence and continuance, that from the feebleness
which it brought upon him he never perfectly recovered. This
calamitous state made the compassion of his friends necessary, and
drew upon him the attention of Sir Thomas Abney, who received him
into his house, where, with a constancy of friendship and uniformity
of conduct not often to be found, he was treated for thirty-six
years with all the kindness that friendship could prompt, and all
the attention that respect could dictate. Sir Thomas died about
eight years afterwards, but he continued with the lady and her
daughters to the end of his life. The lady died about a year after
A coalition like this, a state in which the notions of patronage and
dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal
benefits, deserves a particular memorial; and I will not withhold
from the reader Dr. Gibbons's representation, to which regard is to
be paid as to the narrative of one who writes what he knows, and
what is known likewise to multitudes besides:--
"Our next observation shall be made upon that remarkably kind
Providence which brought the Doctor into Sir Thomas Abney's family,
and continued him there till his death, a period of no less than
thirty-six years. In the midst of his sacred labours for the glory
of God, and good of his generation, he is seized with a most violent
and threatening fever, which leaves him oppressed with great
weakness, and puts a stop at least to his public services for four
years. In this distressing season, doubly so to his active and
pious spirit, he is invited to Sir Thomas Abney's family, nor ever
removes from it till he had finished his days. Here he enjoyed the
uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here,
without any care of his own, he had everything which could
contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied
pursuit of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family which, for piety,
order, harmony, and every virtue, was a house of God. Here he had
the privilege of a country recess, the fragrant bower, the spreading
lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages, to soothe his mind
and aid his restoration to health; to yield him, whenever he chose
them, most grateful intervals from his laborious studies, and enable
him to return to them with redoubled vigour and delight. Had it not
been for this most happy event, he might, as to outward view, have
feebly, it may be painfully, dragged on through many more years of
languor, and inability for public service, and even for profitable
study, or perhaps might have sunk into his grave under the
overwhelming load of infirmities in the midst of his days; and thus
the Church and world would have been deprived of those many
excellent sermons and works which he drew up and published during
his long residence in this family. In a few years after his coming
hither, Sir Thomas Abney dies; but his amiable consort survives, who
shows the Doctor the same respect and friendship as before, and most
happily for him and great numbers besides; for, as her riches were
great, her generosity and munificence were in full proportion; her
thread of life was drawn out to a great age, even beyond that of the
Doctor's, and thus this excellent man, through her kindness, and
that of her daughter, the present Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, who in a
like degree esteemed and honoured him, enjoyed all the benefits and
felicities he experienced at his first entrance into this family
till his days were numbered and finished, and, like a shock of corn
in its season, he ascended into the regions of perfect and immortal
life and joy."
If this quotation has appeared long, let it be considered that it
comprises an account of six-and-thirty years, and those the years of
From the time of his reception into this family his life was no
otherwise diversified than by successive publications. The series
of his works I am not able to deduce; their number and their variety
show the intenseness of his industry and the extent of his capacity.
He was one of the first authors that taught the Dissenters to court
attention by the graces of language. Whatever they had among them
before, whether of learning or acuteness, was commonly obscured and
blunted by coarseness and inelegance of style. He showed them that
zeal and purity might be expressed and enforced by polished diction.
He continued to the end of his life a teacher of a congregation, and
no reader of his works can doubt his fidelity or diligence. In the
pulpit, though his low stature, which very little exceeded five
feet, graced him with no advantages of appearance, yet the gravity
and propriety of his utterance made his discourses very efficacious.
I once mentioned the reputation which Mr. Foster had gained by his
proper delivery, to my friend Dr. Hawkesworth, who told me that in
the art of pronunciation he was far inferior to Dr. Watts. Such was
his flow of thoughts, and such his promptitude of language, that in
the latter part of his life he did not precompose his cursory
sermons, but, having adjusted the heads and sketched out some
particulars, trusted for success to his extemporary powers. He did
not endeavour to assist his eloquence by any gesticulations; for, as
no corporeal actions have any correspondence with theological truth,
he did not see how they could enforce it. At the conclusion of
weighty sentences he gave time, by a short pause, for the proper
To stated and public instruction he added familiar visits and
personal application, and was careful to improve the opportunities
which conversation offered of diffusing and increasing the influence
of religion. By his natural temper he was quick of resentment; but
by his established and habitual practice he was gentle, modest, and
inoffensive. His tenderness appeared in his attention to children,
and to the poor. To the poor, while he lived in the family of his
friend, he allowed the third part of his annual revenue; though the
whole was not a hundred a year; and for children he condescended to
lay aside the scholar, the philosopher, and the wit, to write little
poems of devotion, and systems of instruction, adapted to their
wants and capacities, from the dawn of reason through its gradations
of advance in the morning of life. Every man acquainted with the
common principles of human action will look with veneration on the
writer who is at one time combating Locke, and at another making a
catechism for children in their fourth year. A voluntary descent
from the dignity of science is perhaps the hardest lesson that
humility can teach.
As his mind was capacious, his curiosity excursive, and his industry
continual, his writings are very numerous and his subjects various.
With his theological works I am only enough acquainted to admire his
meekness of opposition, and his mildness of censure. It was not
only in his book, but in his mind, that orthodoxy was united with
Of his philosophical pieces, his "Logic" has been received into the
Universities, and therefore wants no private recommendation; if he
owes part of it to Le Clerc, it must be considered that no man who
undertakes merely to methodise or illustrate a system pretends to be
In his metaphysical disquisitions it was observed by the late
learned Mr. Dyer, that he confounded the idea of SPACE with that of
EMPTY SPACE, and did not consider that though space might be without
matter, yet matter being extended could not be without space.
Few books have been perused by me with greater pleasure than his
"Improvement of the Mind," of which the radical principle may indeed
be found in Locke's "Conduct of the Understanding;" but they are so
expanded and ramified by Watts, as to confer upon him the merit of a
work in the highest degree useful and pleasing. Whoever has the
care of instructing others may be charged with deficiency in his
duty if this book is not recommended.
I have mentioned his treatises of theology as distinct from his
other productions; but the truth is that whatever he took in hand
was, by his incessant solicitude for souls, converted to theology.
As piety predominated in his mind, it is diffused over his works.
Under his direction it may be truly said, Theologiae philosophia
ancillatur (Philosophy is subservient to evangelical instruction).
It is difficult to read a page without learning, or at least
wishing, to be better. The attention is caught by indirect
instruction; and he that sat down only to reason is on a sudden
compelled to pray. It was therefore with great propriety that, in
1728, he received from Edinburgh and Aberdeen an unsolicited
diploma, by which he became a Doctor of Divinity. Academical
honours would have more value if they were always bestowed with
equal judgment. He continued many years to study and to preach, and
to do good by his instruction and example, till at last the
infirmities of age disabled him from the more laborious part of his
ministerial functions, and, being no longer capable of public duty,
he offered to remit the salary appendent to it; but his congregation
would not accept the resignation. By degrees his weakness
increased, and at last confined him to his chamber and his bed,
where he was worn gradually away without pain, till he expired
November 25th 1748, in the seventy-fifth year of his age.
Few men have left behind such purity of character, or such monuments
of laborious piety. He has provided instruction for all ages--from
those who are lisping their first lessons, to the enlightened
readers of Malebranche and Locke; he has left neither corporeal nor
spiritual nature unexamined; he has taught the art of reasoning, and
the science of the stars. His character, therefore, must be formed
from the multiplicity and diversity of his attainments, rather than
from any single performance, for it would not be safe to claim for
him the highest rank in any single denomination of literary dignity;
yet, perhaps, there was nothing in which he would not have excelled,
if he had not divided his powers to different pursuits.
As a poet, had he been only a poet, he would probably have stood
high among the authors with whom he is now associated. For his
judgment was exact, and he noted beauties and faults with very nice
discernment; his imagination, as the "Dacian Battle" proves, was
vigorous and active, and the stores of knowledge were large by which
his fancy was to be supplied. His ear was well tuned, and his
diction was elegant and copious. But his devotional poetry is, like
that of others, unsatisfactory. The paucity of its topics enforces
perpetual repetition, and the sanctity of the matter rejects the
ornaments of figurative diction. It is sufficient for Watts to have
done better than others what no man has done well. His poems on
other subjects seldom rise higher than might be expected from the
amusements of a man of letters, and have different degrees of value
as they are more or less laboured, or as the occasion was more or
less favourable to invention. He writes too often without regular
measures, and too often in blank verse; the rhymes are not always
sufficiently correspondent. He is particularly unhappy in coining
names expressive of characters. His lines are commonly smooth and
easy, and his thoughts always religiously pure; but who is there
that, to so much piety and innocence, does not wish for a greater
measure of sprightliness and vigour? He is at least one of the few
poets with whom youth and ignorance may be safely pleased; and happy
will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his verses or his
prose, to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his
benevolence to man, and his
reverence to God.
Of the birth or early part of the life of Ambrose Philips I have not
been able to find any account. His academical education he received
at St. John's College in Cambridge, where he first solicited the
notice of the world by some English verses, in the collection
published by the University on the death of Queen Mary. From this
time how he was employed, or in what station he passed his life, is
not yet discovered. He must have published his "Pastorals" before
the year 1708, because they are evidently prior to those of Pope.
He afterwards (1709) addressed to the universal patron, the Duke of
Dorset, a "Poetical Letter from Copenhagen," which was published in
the Tatler, and is by Pope, in one of his first Letters, mentioned
with high praise as the production of a man "who could write very
Philips was a zealous Whig, and therefore easily found access to
Addison and Steele; but his ardour seems not to have procured him
anything more than kind words, since he was reduced to translate the
"Persian Tales" for Tonson, for which he was afterwards reproached,
with this addition of contempt, that he worked for half-a-crown.
The book is divided into many sections, for each of which, if he
received half-a-crown, his reward, as writers then were paid, was
very liberal; but half-a-crown had a mean sound. He was employed in
promoting the principles of his party, by epitomising Hacket's "Life
of Archbishop Williams." The original book is written with such
depravity of genius, such mixture of the fop and pedant, as has not
often appeared. The epitome is free enough from affectation, but
has little spirit or vigour.
In 1712 he brought upon the stage The Distressed Mother, almost a
translation of Racine's Andromaque. Such a work requires no
uncommon powers, but the friends of Philips exerted every art to
promote his interest. Before the appearance of the play a whole
Spectator, none indeed of the best, was devoted to its praise; while
it yet continued to be acted, another Spectator was written to tell
what impression it made upon Sir Roger, and on the first night a
select audience, says Pope, was called together to applaud it. It
was concluded with the most successful Epilogue that was ever yet
spoken on the English theatre. The three first nights it was
recited twice, and not only continued to be demanded through the
run, as it is termed, of the play, but whenever it is recalled to
the stage, where by peculiar fortune, though a copy from the French,
it yet keeps its place, the Epilogue is still expected, and is still
The propriety of Epilogues in general, and consequently of this, was
questioned by a correspondent of the Spectator, whose letter was
undoubtedly admitted for the sake of the answer, which soon
followed, written with much zeal and acrimony. The attack and the
defence equally contributed to stimulate curiosity and continue
attention. It may be discovered in the defence that Prior's
Epilogue to Phaedra had a little excited jealousy, and something of
Prior's plan may be discovered in the performance of his rival. Of
this distinguished Epilogue the reputed author was the wretched
Budgell, whom Addison used to denominate "the man who calls me
cousin;" and when he was asked how such a silly fellow could write
so well, replied, "The Epilogue was quite another thing when I saw
it first." It was known in Tonson's family, and told to Garrick,
that Addison was himself the author of it, and that, when it had
been at first printed with his name, he came early in the morning,
before the copies were distributed, and ordered it to be given to
Budgell, that it might add weight to the solicitation which he was
then making for a place.
Philips was now high in the ranks of literature. His play was
applauded; his translations from Sappho had been published in the
Spectator; he was an important and distinguished associate of clubs,
witty and poetical; and nothing was wanting to his happiness but
that he should be sure of its continuance. The work which had
procured him the first notice from the public was his "Six
Pastorals," which, flattering the imagination with Arcadian scenes,
probably found many readers, and might have long passed as a
pleasing amusement had they not been unhappily too much commended.
The rustic poems of Theocritus were so highly valued by the Greeks
and Romans that they attracted the imitation of Virgil, whose
Eclogues seem to have been considered as precluding all attempts of
the same kind; for no shepherds were taught to sing by any
succeeding poet, till Nemesian and Calphurnius ventured their feeble
efforts in the lower age of Latin literature.
At the revival of learning in Italy it was soon discovered that a
dialogue of imaginary swains might be composed with little
difficulty, because the conversation of shepherds excludes profound
or refined sentiment; and for images and descriptions, satyrs and
fauns, and naiads and dryads, were always within call; and woods and
meadows, and hills and rivers, supplied variety of matter, which,
having a natural power to soothe the mind, did not quickly cloy it.
Petrarch entertained the learned men of his age with the novelty of
modern pastorals in Latin. Being not ignorant of Greek, and finding
nothing in the word "eclogue" of rural meaning, he supposed it to be
corrupted by the copiers, and therefore called his own productions
"AEglogues," by which he meant to express the talk of goat-herds,
though it will mean only the talk of goats. This new name was
adopted by subsequent writers, and among others by our Spenser.
More than a century afterwards (1498) Mantuan published his Bucolics
with such success that they were soon dignified by Badius with a
comment, and, as Scaliger complained, received into schools, and
taught as classical; his complaint was vain, and the practice,
however injudicious, spread far and continued long. Mantuan was
read, at least in some of the inferior schools of this kingdom, to
the beginning of the present century. The speakers of Mantuan
carried their disquisitions beyond the country to censure the
corruptions of the Church, and from him Spenser learned to employ
his swains on topics of controversy. The Italians soon transferred
pastoral poetry into their own language. Sannazaro wrote "Arcadia"
in prose and verse; Tasso and Guarini wrote "Favole Boschareccie,"
or Sylvan Dramas; and all nations of Europe filled volumes with
Thyrsis and Damon, and Thestylis and Phyllis.
Philips thinks it "somewhat strange to conceive how, in an age so
addicted to the Muses, pastoral poetry never comes to be so much as
thought upon." His wonder seems very unseasonable; there had never,
from the time of Spenser, wanted writers to talk occasionally of
Arcadia and Strephon, and half the book, in which he first tried his
powers, consists of dialogues on Queen Mary's death, between Tityrus
and Corydon, or Mopsus and Menalcas. A series or book of pastorals,
however, I know not that anyone had then lately published.
Not long afterwards Pope made the first display of his powers in
four pastorals, written in a very different form. Philips had taken
Spenser, and Pope took Virgil for his pattern. Philips endeavoured
to be natural, Pope laboured to be elegant.
Philips was now favoured by Addison and by Addison's companions, who
were very willing to push him into reputation. The Guardian gave an
account of Pastoral, partly critical and partly historical; in
which, when the merit of the modern is compared, Tasso and Guarini
are censured for remote thoughts and unnatural refinements, and,
upon the whole, the Italians and French are all excluded from rural
poetry, and the pipe of the pastoral muse is transmitted by lawful
inheritance from Theocritus to Virgil, from Virgil to Spenser, and
from Spenser to Philips. With this inauguration of Philips his
rival Pope was not much delighted; he therefore drew a comparison of
Philips's performance with his own, in which, with an unexampled and
unequalled artifice of irony, though he has himself always the
advantage, he gives the preference to Philips. The design of
aggrandising himself he disguised with such dexterity that, though
Addison discovered it, Steele was deceived, and was afraid of
displeasing Pope by publishing his paper. Published however it was
(Guardian, No. 40), and from that time Pope and Philips lived in a
perpetual reciprocation of malevolence. In poetical powers, of
either praise or satire, there was no proportion between the
combatants; but Philips, though he could not prevail by wit, hoped
to hurt Pope with another weapon, and charged him, as Pope thought
with Addison's approbation, as disaffected to the Government. Even
with this he was not satisfied, for, indeed, there is no appearance
that any regard was paid to his clamours. He proceeded to grosser
insults, and hung up a rod at Button's, with which he threatened to
chastise Pope, who appears to have been extremely exasperated, for
in the first edition of his Letters he calls Philips "rascal," and
in the last still charges him with detaining in his hands the
subscriptions for "Homer" delivered to him by the Hanover Club. I
suppose it was never suspected that he meant to appropriate the
money; he only delayed, and with sufficient meanness, the
gratification of him by whose prosperity he was pained.
Men sometimes suffer by injudicious kindness; Philips became
ridiculous, without his own fault, by the absurd admiration of his
friends, who decorated him with honorary garlands, which the first
breath of contradiction blasted.
When upon the succession of the House of Hanover every Whig expected
to be happy, Philips seems to have obtained too little notice; he
caught few drops of the golden shower, though he did not omit what
flattery could perform. He was only made a commissioner of the
lottery (1717), and, what did not much elevate his character, a
justice of the peace.
The success of his first play must naturally dispose him to turn his
hopes towards the stage; he did not, however, soon commit himself to
the mercy of an audience, but contented himself with the fame
already acquired, till after nine years he produced (1722) The
Briton, a tragedy which, whatever was its reception, is now
neglected; though one of the scenes, between Vanoc the British
Prince and Valens the Roman General, is confessed to be written with
great dramatic skill, animated by spirit truly poetical. He had not
been idle though he had been silent, for he exhibited another
tragedy the same year on the story of Humphry, Duke of Gloucester.
This tragedy is only remembered by its title.
His happiest undertaking was (1711) of a paper called The
Freethinker, in conjunction with associates, of whom one was Dr.
Boulter, who, then only minister of a parish in Southwark, was of so
much consequence to the Government that he was made first Bishop of
Bristol, and afterwards Primate of Ireland, where his piety and his
charity will be long honoured. It may easily be imagined that what
was printed under the direction of Boulter would have nothing in it
indecent or licentious; its title is to be understood as implying
only freedom from unreasonable prejudice. It has been reprinted in
volumes, but is little read; nor can impartial criticism recommend
it as worthy of revival.
Boulter was not well qualified to write diurnal essays, but he knew
how to practise the liberality of greatness and the fidelity of
friendship. When he was advanced to the height of ecclesiastical
dignity, he did not forget the companion of his labours. Knowing
Philips to be slenderly supported, he took him to Ireland as
partaker of his fortune, and, making him his secretary, added such
preferments as enabled him to represent the county of Armagh in the
Irish Parliament. In December, 1726, he was made secretary to the
Lord Chancellor, and in August, 1733, became Judge of the
After the death of his patron he continued some years in Ireland,
but at last longing, as it seems, for his native country, he
returned (1748) to London, having doubtless survived most of his
friends and enemies, and among them his dreaded antagonist Pope. He
found, however, the Duke of Newcastle still living, and to him he
dedicated his poems collected into a volume.
Having purchased an annuity of 400 pounds, he now certainly hoped to
pass some years of life in plenty and tranquillity; but his hope
deceived him: he was struck with a palsy, and died June 18, 1749,
in his seventy-eighth year.
Of his personal character all that I have heard is, that he was
eminent for bravery and skill in the sword, and that in conversation
he was solemn and pompous. He had great sensibility of censure, if
judgment may be made by a single story which I heard long ago from
Mr. Ing, a gentleman of great eminence in Staffordshire. "Philips,"
said he, "was once at table, when I asked him, 'How came thy king of
Epirus to drive oxen, and to say, "I'm goaded on by love"?' After
which question he never spoke again."
Of The Distressed Mother not much is pretended to be his own, and
therefore it is no subject of criticism: his other two tragedies, I
believe, are not below mediocrity, nor above it. Among the poems
comprised in the late Collection, the "Letter from Denmark" may be
justly praised; the Pastorals, which by the writer of the Guardian
were ranked as one of the four genuine productions of the rustic
Muse, cannot surely be despicable. That they exhibit a mode of life
which did not exist, nor ever existed, is not to be objected: the
supposition of such a state is allowed to be pastoral. In his other
poems he cannot be denied the praise of lines sometimes elegant; but
he has seldom much force or much comprehension. The pieces that
please best are those which, from Pope and Pope's adherents,
procured him the name of "Namby-Pamby," the poems of short lines, by
which he paid his court to all ages and characters, from Walpole the
"steerer of the realm," to Miss Pulteney in the nursery. The
numbers are smooth and sprightly, and the diction is seldom faulty.
They are not loaded with much thought, yet, if they had been written
by Addison, they would have had admirers: little things are not
valued but when they are done by those who can do greater.
In his translations from "Pindar" he found the art of reaching all
the obscurity of the Theban bard, however he may fall below his
sublimity; he will be allowed, if he has less fire, to have more
smoke. He has added nothing to English poetry, yet at least half
his book deserves to be read: perhaps he valued most himself that
part which the critic would reject.
Gilbert West is one of the writers of whom I regret my inability to
give a sufficient account; the intelligence which my inquiries have
obtained is general and scanty. He was the son of the Rev. Dr.
West; perhaps him who published "Pindar" at Oxford about the
beginning of this century. His mother was sister to Sir Richard
Temple, afterwards Lord Cobham. His father, purposing to educate
him for the Church, sent him first to Eton, and afterwards to
Oxford; but he was seduced to a more airy mode of life, by a
commission in a troop of horse, procured him by his uncle. He
continued some time in the army, though it is reasonable to suppose
that he never sunk into a mere soldier, nor ever lost the love, or
much neglected the pursuit, of learning; and afterwards, finding
himself more inclined to civil employment, he laid down his
commission, and engaged in business under the Lord Townshend, then
Secretary of State, with whom he attended the King to Hanover.
His adherence to Lord Townshend ended in nothing but a nomination
(May, 1729) to be Clerk-Extraordinary of the Privy Council, which
produced no immediate profit; for it only placed him in a state of
expectation and right of succession, and it was very long before a
vacancy admitted him to profit.
Soon afterwards he married, and settled himself in a very pleasant
house at Wickham, in Kent, where he devoted himself to learning and
to piety. Of his learning the late Collection exhibits evidence,
which would have been yet fuller if the dissertations which
accompany his version of "Pindar" had not been improperly omitted.
Of his piety the influence has, I hope, been extended far by his
"Observations on the Resurrection," published in 1747, for which the
University of Oxford created him a Doctor of Laws, by diploma (March
30, 1748), and would doubtless have reached yet further had he lived
to complete what he had for some time meditated--the "Evidences of
the Truth of the New Testament." Perhaps it may not be without
effect to tell that he read the prayers of the public Liturgy every
morning to his family, and that on Sunday evening he called his
servants into the parlour and read to them first a sermon and then
prayers. Crashaw is now not the only maker of verses to whom may be
given the two venerable names of Poet and Saint. He was very often
visited by Lyttelton and Pitt, who, when they were weary of faction
and debates, used at Wickham to find books and quiet, a decent
table, and literary conversation. There is at Wickham a walk made
by Pitt; and, what is of far more importance, at Wickham, Lyttelton
received that conviction which produced his "Dissertation on St.
Paul." These two illustrious friends had for a while listened to
the blandishments of infidelity; and when West's book was published,
it was bought by some who did not know his change of opinion, in
expectation of new objections against Christianity; and as infidels
do not want malignity, they revenged the disappointment by calling
him a Methodist.
Mr. West's income was not large; and his friends endeavoured, but
without success, to obtain an augmentation. It is reported that the
education of the young Prince was offered to him, but that he
required a more extensive power of superintendence than it was
thought proper to allow him. In time, however, his revenue was
improved; he lived to have one of the lucrative clerkships of the
Privy Council (1752); and Mr. Pitt at last had it in his power to
make him Treasurer of Chelsea Hospital. He was now sufficiently
rich; but wealth came too late to be long enjoyed; nor could it
secure him from the calamities of life; he lost (1755) his only son;
and the year after (March 26) a stroke of the palsy brought to the
grave one of the few poets to whom the grave might be without its
Of his translations I have only compared the first Olympic Ode with
the original, and found my expectation surpassed, both by its
elegance and its exactness. He does not confine himself to his
author's train of stanzas; for he saw that the difference of
languages required a different mode of versification. The first
strophe is eminently happy; in the second he has a little strayed
from Pindar's meaning, who says, "If thou, my soul, wishest to speak
of games, look not in the desert sky for a planet hotter than the
sun; nor shall we tell of nobler games than those of Olympia." He
is sometimes too paraphrastical. Pindar bestows upon Hiero an
epithet which, in one word, signifies DELIGHTING IN HORSES; a word
which, in the translation, generates these lines:--
"Hiero's royal brows, whose care
Tends the courser's noble breed,
Pleased to nurse the pregnant mare,
Pleased to train the youthful steed."
Pindar says of Pelops, that "he came alone in the dark to the White
Sea;" and West--
"Near the billow-beaten side
Of the foam-besilvered main,
Darkling, and alone, he stood:"
which, however, is less exuberant than the former passage.
A work of this kind must, in a minute examination, discover many
imperfections; but West's version, so far as I have considered it,
appears to be the product of great labour and great abilities.
His "Institution of the Garter" (1742) is written with sufficient
knowledge of the manners that prevailed in the age to which it is
referred, and with great elegance of diction; but, for want of a
process of events, neither knowledge nor elegance preserves the
reader from weariness.
His "Imitations of Spenser" are very successfully performed, both
with respect to the metre, the language, and the fiction; and being
engaged at once by the excellence of the sentiments, and the
artifice of the copy, the mind has two amusements together. But
such compositions are not to be reckoned among the great
achievements of intellect, because their effect is local and
temporary; they appeal not to reason or passion, but to memory, and
presuppose an accidental or artificial state of mind. An imitation
of Spenser is nothing to a reader, however acute, by whom Spenser
has never been perused. Works of this kind may deserve praise, as
proofs of great industry and great nicety of observation; but the
highest praise, the praise of genius, they cannot claim. The
noblest beauties of art are those of which the effect is co-extended
with rational nature, or at least with the whole circle of polished
life; what is less than this can be only pretty, the plaything of
fashion, and the amusement of a day.
There is in the Adventurer a paper of verses given to one of the
authors as Mr. West's, and supposed to have been written by him. It
should not be concealed, however, that it is printed with Mr. Jago's
name in Dodsley's Collection, and is mentioned as his in a letter of
Shenstone's. Perhaps West gave it without naming the author, and
Hawkesworth, receiving it from him, thought it his; for his he
thought it, as he told me, and as he tells the public.
William Collins was born at Chichester, on the 25th day of December,
about 1720. His father was a hatter of good reputation. He was in
1733, as Dr. Warton has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of
Winchester College, where he was educated by Dr. Burton. His
English exercises were better than his Latin. He first courted the
notice of the public by some verses to a "Lady weeping," published
in The Gentleman's Magazine (January, 1739).
In 1740 he stood first in the list of the scholars to be received in
succession at New College, but unhappily there was no vacancy. He
became a Commoner of Queen's College, probably with a scanty
maintenance; but was, in about half a year, elected a Demy of
Magdalen College, where he continued till he had taken a Bachelor's
degree, and then suddenly left the University; for what reason I
know not that he told.
He now (about 1744) came to London a literary adventurer, with many
projects in his head, and very little money in his pocket. He
designed many works; but his great fault was irresolution; or the
frequent calls of immediate necessity broke his scheme, and suffered
him to pursue no settled purpose. A man doubtful of his dinner, or
trembling at a creditor, is not much disposed to abstracted
meditation or remote inquiries. He published proposals for a
"History of the Revival of Learning;" and I have heard him speak
with great kindness of Leo X., and with keen resentment of his
tasteless successor. But probably not a page of his history was
ever written. He planned several tragedies, but he only planned
them. He wrote now and then odes and other poems, and did
something, however little. About this time I fell into his company.
His appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge considerable, his
views extensive, his conversation elegant, and his disposition
cheerful. By degrees I gained his confidence; and one day was
admitted to him when he was immured by a bailiff that was prowling
in the street. On this occasion recourse was had to the
booksellers, who, on the credit of a translation of Aristotle's
"Poetics," which he engaged to write with a large commentary,
advanced as much money as enabled him to escape into the country.
He showed me the guineas safe in his hand. Soon afterwards his
uncle, Mr. Martin, a lieutenant-colonel, left him about 2000 pounds;
a sum which Collins could scarcely think exhaustible, and which he
did not live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid, and the
translation neglected. But man is not born for happiness. Collins,
who, while he studied to live, felt no evil but poverty, no sooner
lived to study than his life was assailed by more dreadful
calamities--disease and insanity.
Having formerly written his character, while perhaps it was yet more
distinctly impressed upon my memory, I shall insert it here.
"Mr. Collins was a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous
faculties. He was acquainted not only with the learned tongues, but
with the Italian, French, and Spanish languages. He had employed
his mind chiefly on works of fiction, and subjects of fancy; and, by
indulging some peculiar habits of thought, was eminently delighted
with those flights of imagination which pass the bounds of nature,
and to which the mind is reconciled only by a passive acquiescence
in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and
monsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment,
to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the
waterfalls of Elysian gardens. This was, however, the character
rather of his inclination than his genius; the grandeur of wildness,
and the novelty of extravagance, were always desired by him, but not
always attained. Yet, as diligence is never wholly lost, if his
efforts sometimes caused harshness and obscurity, they likewise
produced in happier moments sublimity and splendour. This idea
which he had formed of excellence led him to Oriental fictions and
allegorical imagery, and, perhaps, while he was intent upon
description, he did not sufficiently cultivate sentiment. His poems
are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished
with knowledge either of books or life, but somewhat obstructed in
its progress by deviation in quest of mistaken beauties.
"His morals were pure, and his opinions pious; in a long continuance
of poverty, and long habits of dissipation, it cannot be expected
that any character should be exactly uniform. There is a degree of
want by which the freedom of agency is almost destroyed; and long
association with fortuitous companions will at last relax the
strictness of truth, and abate the fervour of sincerity. That this
man, wise and virtuous as he was, passed always unentangled through
the snares of life, it would be prejudice and temerity to affirm;
but it may be said that at least he preserved the source of action
unpolluted, that his principles were never shaken, that his
distinctions of right and wrong were never confounded, and that his
faults had nothing of malignity or design, but proceeded from some
unexpected pressure, or casual temptation.
"The latter part of his life cannot be remembered but with pity and
sadness. He languished some years under that depression of mind
which enchains the faculties without destroying them, and leaves
reason the knowledge of right without the power of pursuing it.
These clouds which he perceived gathering on his intellect he
endeavoured to disperse by travel, and passed into France; but found
himself constrained to yield to his malady, and returned. He was
for some time confined in a house of lunatics, and afterwards
retired to the care of his sister in Chichester, where death, in
1756, came to his relief.
"After his return from France, the writer of this character paid him
a visit at Islington, where he was waiting for his sister, whom he
had directed to meet him. There was then nothing of disorder
discernible in his mind by any but himself; but he had withdrawn
from study, and travelled with no other book than an English
Testament, such as children carry to the school. When his friend
took it into his hand, out of curiosity to see what companion a man
of letters had chosen, 'I have but one book,' said Collins, 'but
that is the best.'"
Such was the fate of Collins, with whom I once delighted to
converse, and whom I yet remember with tenderness.
He was visited at Chichester, in his last illness, by his learned
friends Dr. Warton and his brother, to whom he spoke with
disapprobation of his "Oriental Eclogues," as not sufficiently
expressive of Asiatic manners, and called them his "Irish Eclogues."
He showed them, at the same time, an ode inscribed to Mr. John Home,
on the superstitions of the Highlands, which they thought superior
to his other works, but which no search has yet found. His disorder
was no alienation of mind, but general laxity and feebleness--a
deficiency rather of his vital than his intellectual powers. What
he spoke wanted neither judgment nor spirit; but a few minutes
exhausted him, so that he was forced to rest upon the couch, till a
short cessation restored his powers, and he was again able to talk
with his former vigour. The approaches of this dreadful malady he
began to feel soon after his uncle's death; and, with the usual
weakness of men so diseased, eagerly snatched that temporary relief
with which the table and the bottle flatter and seduce. But his
health continually declined, and he grew more and more burthensome
To what I have formerly said of his writings may be added, that his
diction was often harsh, unskilfully laboured, and injudiciously
selected. He affected the obsolete when it was not worthy of
revival: and he puts his words out of the common order, seeming to
think, with some later candidates for fame, that not to write prose
is certainly to write poetry. His lines commonly are of slow
motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants. As men are
often esteemed who cannot be loved, so the poetry of Collins may
sometimes extort praise when it gives little pleasure.
Mr. Collins's first production is added here from the Poetical
TO MISS AURELIA C--R,
ON HER WEEPING AT HER SISTER'S WEDDING.
"Cease, fair Aurelia, cease to mourn;
Lament not Hannah's happy state;
You may be happy in your turn,
And seize the treasure you regret.
With Love united Hymen stands,
And softly whispers to your charms,
'Meet but your lover in my bands,
You'll find your sister in his arms.'"
John Dyer, of whom I have no other account to give than his own
letters, published with Hughes's correspondence, and the notes added
by the editor, have afforded me, was born in 1700, the second son of
Robert Dyer of Aberglasney, in Caermarthenshire, a solicitor of
great capacity and note. He passed through Westminster school under
the care of Dr. Freind, and was then called home to be instructed in
his father's profession. But his father died soon, and he took no
delight in the study of the law; but, having always amused himself
with drawing, resolved to turn painter, and became pupil to Mr.
Richardson, an artist then of high reputation, but now better known
by his books than by his pictures.
Having studied a while under his master, he became, as he tells his
friend, an itinerant painter, and wandered about South Wales and the
parts adjacent; but he mingled poetry with painting, and about 1727
 printed "Grongar Hill" in Lewis's Miscellany. Being,
probably, unsatisfied with his own proficiency, he, like other
painters, travelled to Italy; and coming back in 1740, published the
"Ruins of Rome." If his poem was written soon after his return, he
did not make use of his acquisitions in painting, whatever they
might be; for decline of health and love of study determined him to
the Church. He therefore entered into orders; and, it seems,
married about the same time a lady of the name of Ensor; "whose
grandmother," says he, "was a Shakspeare, descended from a brother
of everybody's Shakspeare;" by her, in 1756, he had a son and three
His ecclesiastical provision was for a long time but slender. His
first patron, Mr. Harper, gave him, in 1741, Calthorp in
Leicestershire, of eighty pounds a year, on which he lived ten
years, and then exchanged it for Belchford, in Lincolnshire, of
seventy-five. His condition now began to mend. In 1751 Sir John
Heathcote gave him Coningsby, of one hundred and forty pounds a
year; and in 1755 the Chancellor added Kirkby, of one hundred and
ten. He complains that the repair of the house at Coningsby, and
other expenses, took away the profit. In 1757 he published "The
Fleece," his greatest poetical work; of which I will not suppress a
ludicrous story. Dodsley the bookseller was one day mentioning it
to a critical visitor, with more expectation of success than the
other could easily admit. In the conversation the author's age was
asked; and being represented as advanced in life, "He will," said
the critic, "be buried in woollen." He did not indeed long survive
that publication, nor long enjoy the increase of his preferments,
for in 1758 he died.
Dyer is not a poet of bulk or dignity sufficient to require an
elaborate criticism. "Grongar Hill" is the happiest of his
productions: it is not indeed very accurately written; but the
scenes which it displays are so pleasing, the images which they
raise are so welcome to the mind, and the reflections of the writer
so consonant to the general sense or experience of mankind, that
when it is once read, it will be read again. The idea of the "Ruins
of Rome" strikes more, but pleases less, and the title raises
greater expectation than the performance gratifies. Some passages,
however, are conceived with the mind of a poet; as when, in the
neighbourhood of dilapidating edifices, he says,
"The Pilgrim oft
At dead of night, 'mid his orison hears
Aghast the voice of Time, disparting tow'rs
Tumbling all precipitate down dashed,
Rattling around, loud thund'ring to the Moon."
Of "The Fleece," which never became popular, and is now universally
neglected, I can say little that is likely to recall it to
attention. The woolcomber and the poet appear to me such discordant
natures, that an attempt to bring them together is to COUPLE THE
SERPENT WITH THE FOWL. When Dyer, whose mind was not unpoetical,
has done his utmost, by interesting his reader in our native
commodity by interspersing rural imagery, and incidental
digressions, by clothing small images in great words, and by all the
writer's arts of delusion, the meanness naturally adhering, and the
irreverence habitually annexed to trade and manufacture, sink him
under insuperable oppression; and the disgust which blank verse,
encumbering and encumbered, superadds to an unpleasing subject, soon
repels the reader, however willing to be pleased.
Let me, however, honestly report whatever may counterbalance this
weight of censure. I have been told that Akenside, who, upon a
poetical question, has a right to be heard, said, "That he would
regulate his opinion of the reigning taste by the fate of Dyer's
'Fleece;' for, if that were ill-received, he should not think it any
longer reasonable to expect fame from excellence."
William Shenstone, the son of Thomas Shenstone and Anne Pen, was
born in November, 1714, at the Leasowes in Hales-Owen, one of those
insulated districts which, in the division of the kingdom, was
appended, for some reason not now discoverable, to a distant county;
and which, though surrounded by Warwickshire and Worcestershire,
belongs to Shropshire, though perhaps thirty miles distant from any
other part of it. He learned to read of an old dame, whom his poem
of the "Schoolmistress" has delivered to posterity; and soon
received such delight from books, that he was always calling for
fresh entertainment, and expected that, when any of the family went
to market, a new book should be brought him, which, when it came,
was in fondness carried to bed and laid by him. It is said, that,
when his request had been neglected, his mother wrapped up a piece
of wood of the same form, and pacified him for the night. As he
grew older, he went for a while to the Grammar-school in Hales-Owen,
and was placed afterwards with Mr. Crumpton, an eminent schoolmaster
at Solihul, where he distinguished himself by the quickness of his
When he was young (June, 1724) he was deprived of his father, and
soon after (August, 1726) of his grandfather; and was, with his
brother, who died afterwards unmarried, left to the care of his
grandmother, who managed the estate.
From school he was sent in 1732 to Pembroke College in Oxford, a
society which for half a century has been eminent for English poetry
and elegant literature. Here it appears that he found delight and
advantage; for he continued his name in the book ten years, though
he took no degree. After the first four years he put on the
civilian's gown, but without showing any intention to engage in the
profession. About the time when he went to Oxford, the death of his
grandmother devolved his affairs to the care of the Rev. Mr. Dolman,
of Brome in Staffordshire, whose attention he always mentioned with
gratitude. At Oxford he employed himself upon English poetry; and
in 1737 published a small Miscellany, without his name. He then for
a time wandered about, to acquaint himself with life, and was
sometimes at London, sometimes at Bath, or any other place of public
resort; but he did not forget his poetry. He published in 1741 his
"Judgment of Hercules," addressed to Mr. Lyttelton, whose interest
he supported with great warmth at an election: this was next year
followed by the "Schoolmistress."
Mr. Dolman, to whose care he was indebted for his ease and leisure,
died in 1745, and the care of his own fortune now fell upon him. He
tried to escape it awhile, and lived at his house with his tenants,
who were distantly related; but, finding that imperfect possession
inconvenient, he took the whole estate into his own hands, more to
the improvement of its beauty than the increase of its produce. Now
was excited his delight in rural pleasures and his ambition of rural
elegance; he began from this time to point his prospects, to
diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his
waters, which he did with such judgment and such fancy as made his
little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the
skilful; a place to be visited by travellers and copied by
designers. Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves, and to
place a bench at every turn where there is an object to catch the
view, to make the water run where it will be heard, and to stagnate
where it will be seen, to leave intervals where the eye will be
pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is something to
be hidden, demands any great powers of mind, I will not inquire:
perhaps a sullen and surly spectator may think such performances
rather the sport than the business of human reason. But it must be
at least confessed that to embellish the form of Nature is an
innocent amusement, and some praise must be allowed, by the most
supercilious observer, to him who does best what such multitudes are
contending to do well.
This praise was the praise of Shenstone; but, like all other modes
of felicity, it was not enjoyed without its abatements. Lyttelton
was his neighbour and his rival, whose empire, spacious and opulent,
looked with disdain on the PETTY STATE that APPEARED BEHIND IT. For
a while the inhabitants of Hagley affected to tell their
acquaintance of the little fellow that was trying to make himself
admired; but when by degrees the Leasowes forced themselves into
notice, they took care to defeat the curiosity which they could not
suppress by conducting their visitants perversely to inconvenient
points of view, and introducing them at the wrong end of a walk to
detect a deception; injuries of which Shenstone would heavily
complain. Where there is emulation there will be vanity; and where
there is vanity there will be folly.
The pleasure of Shenstone was all in his eye; he valued what he
valued merely for its looks. Nothing raised his indignation more
than to ask if there were any fishes in his water. His house was
mean, and he did not improve it; his care was of his grounds. When
he came home from his walks, he might find his floors flooded by a
shower through the broken roof; but could spare no money for its
reparation. In time his expenses brought clamours about him that
overpowered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song, and his groves
were haunted by beings very different from fauns and fairies. He
spent his estate in adorning it, and his death was probably hastened
by his anxieties. He was a lamp that spent its oil in blazing. It
is said that, if he had lived a little longer, he would have been
assisted by a pension: such bounty could not have been ever more
properly bestowed; but that it was ever asked is not certain; it is
too certain that it never was enjoyed. He died at Leasowes, of a
putrid fever, about five on Friday morning, February 11, 1763, and
was buried by the side of his brother in the churchyard of Hales-
He was never married, though he might have obtained the lady,
whoever she was, to whom his "Pastoral Ballad" was addressed. He is
represented by his friend Dodsley as a man of great tenderness and
generosity, kind to all that were within his influence; but, if once
offended, not easily appeased; inattentive to economy, and careless
of his expenses; in his person he was larger than the middle-size,
with something clumsy in his form; very negligent of his clothes,
and remarkable for wearing his grey hair in a particular manner, for
he held that the fashion was no rule of dress, and that every man
was to suit his appearance to his natural form. His mind was not
very comprehensive, nor his curiosity active; he had no value for
those parts of knowledge which he had not himself cultivated. His
life was unstained by any crime. The "Elegy on Jesse," which has
been supposed to relate an unfortunate and criminal amour of his
own, was known by his friends to have been suggested by the story of
Miss Godfrey in Richardson's "Pamela."
What Gray thought of his character, from the perusal of his Letters,
"I have read, too, an octavo volume of Shenstone's Letters. Poor
man! he was always wishing for money, for fame, and other
distinctions; and his whole philosophy consisted in living against
his will in retirement, and in a place which his taste had adorned,
but which he only enjoyed when people of note came to see and
commend it. His correspondence is about nothing else but this place
and his own writings, with two or three neighbouring clergymen, who
wrote verses too."
His poems consist of elegies, odes, and ballads, humorous sallies,
and moral pieces. His conception of an Elegy he has in his Preface
very judiciously and discriminately explained. It is, according to
his account, the effusion of a contemplative mind, sometimes
plaintive, and always serious, and therefore superior to the glitter
of slight ornaments. His compositions suit not ill to this
description. His topics of praise are the domestic virtues, and his
thoughts are pure and simple, but wanting combination; they want
variety. The peace of solitude, the innocence of inactivity, and
the unenvied security of an humble station, can fill but a few
pages. That of which the essence is uniformity will be soon
described. His elegies have, therefore, too much resemblance of
each other. The lines are sometimes, such as Elegy requires, smooth
and easy; but to this praise his claim is not constant; his diction
is often harsh, improper, and affected, his words ill-coined or ill-
chosen, and his phrase unskilfully inverted.
The Lyric Poems are almost all of the light and airy kind, such as
trip lightly and nimbly along, without the load of any weighty
meaning. From these, however, "Rural Elegance" has some right to be
excepted. I once heard it praised by a very learned lady; and,
though the lines are irregular, and the thoughts diffused with too
much verbosity, yet it cannot be denied to contain both
philosophical argument and poetical spirit. Of the rest I cannot
think any excellent; the "Skylark" pleases me best, which has,
however, more of the epigram than of the ode.
But the four parts of his "Pastoral Ballad" demand particular
notice. I cannot but regret that it is pastoral: an intelligent
reader acquainted with the scenes of real life sickens at the
mention of the CROOK, the PIPE, the SHEEP, and the KIDS, which it is
not necessary to bring forward to notice; for the poet's art is
selection, and he ought to show the beauties without the grossness
of the country life. His stanza seems to have been chosen in
imitation of Rowe's "Despairing Shepherd." In the first are two
passages, to which if any mind denies its sympathy, it has no
acquaintance with love or nature:--
"I prized every hour that went by,
Beyond all that had pleased me before:
But now they are past, and I sigh,
And I grieve that I prized them no more.
When forced the fair nymph to forego,
What anguish I felt in my heart!
Yet I thought (but it might not be so)
'Twas with pain that she saw me depart.
She gazed, as I slowly withdrew,
My path I could hardly discern;
So sweetly she bade me adieu,
I thought that she bade me return."
In the second this passage has its prettiness; though it be not
equal to the former:--
"I have found out a gift for my fair:
I have found where the wood pigeons breed:
But let me that plunder forbear,
She will say 'twas a barbarous deed:
For he ne'er could be true, she averred,
Who could rob a poor bird of its young;
And I loved her the more when I heard
Such tenderness fall from her tongue."
In the third he mentions the common-places of amorous poetry with
"'Tis his with mock passion to glow!
'Tis his in smooth tales to unfold,
How her face is as bright as the snow,
And her bosom, be sure, is as cold:
How the nightingales labour the strain,
With the notes of this charmer to vie:
How they vary their accents in vain,
Repine at her triumphs, and die."
In the fourth I find nothing better than this natural strain of
"Alas! from the day that we met,
What hope of an end to my woes,
When I cannot endure to forget
The glance that undid my repose?
Yet Time may diminish the pain:
The flower, and the shrub, and the tree,
Which I reared for her pleasure in vain,
In time may have comfort for me."
His "Levities" are by their title exempted from the severities of
criticism, yet it may be remarked in a few words that his humour is
sometimes gross, and seldom sprightly.
Of the Moral Poems, the first is the "Choice of Hercules," from
Xenophon. The numbers are smooth, the diction elegant, and the
thoughts just; but something of vigour is still to be wished, which
it might have had by brevity and compression. His "Fate of
Delicacy" has an air of gaiety, but not a very pointed and general
moral. His blank verses, those that can read them, may probably
find to be like the blank verses of his neighbours. "Love and
Honour" is derived from the old ballad, "Did you not hear of a
Spanish Lady?"--I wish it well enough to wish it were in rhyme.
The "Schoolmistress," of which I know not what claim it has to stand
among the Moral Works, is surely the most pleasing of Shenstone's
performances. The adoption of a particular style, in light and
short compositions, contributes much to the increase of pleasure:
we are entertained at once with two imitations of nature in the
sentiments, of the original author in the style, and between them
the mind is kept in perpetual employment.
The general recommendation of Shenstone is easiness and simplicity;
his general defect is want of comprehension and variety. Had his
mind been better stored with knowledge, whether he could have been
great, I know not; he could certainly have been agreeable.
The following life was written, at my request, by a gentleman (Mr.
Herbert Croft) who had better information than I could easily have
obtained; and the public will perhaps wish that I had solicited and
obtained more such favours from him:--
"Dear Sir,--In consequence of our different conversations about
authentic materials for the Life of Young, I send you the following
Of great men something must always be said to gratify curiosity. Of
the illustrious author of the "Night Thoughts" much has been told of
which there never could have been proofs, and little care appears to
have been taken to tell that of which proofs, with little trouble,
might have been procured.
Edward Young was born at Upham, near Winchester, in June, 1681. He
was the son of Edward Young, at that time Fellow of Winchester
College, and Rector of Upham, who was the son of Jo. Young, of
Woodhay, in Berkshire, styled by Wood, GENTLEMAN. In September,
1682, the poet's father was collated to the prebend of Gillingham
Minor, in the church of Sarum, by Bishop Ward. When Ward's
faculties were impaired through age, his duties were necessarily
performed by others. We learn from Wood that, at a visitation of
Sprat's, July the 12th, 1686, the prebendary preached a Latin
sermon, afterwards published, with which the Bishop was so pleased,
that he told the chapter he was concerned to find the preacher had
one of the worst prebends in their Church. Some time after this, in
consequence of his merit and reputation, or of the interest of Lord
Bradford, to whom, in 1702, he dedicated two volumes of sermons, he
was appointed chaplain to King William and Queen Mary, and preferred
to the Deanery of Sarum. Jacob, who wrote in 1720, says, "he was
Chaplain and Clerk of the Closet to the late Queen, who honoured him
by standing godmother to the poet." His Fellowship of Winchester he
resigned in favour of a gentleman of the name of Harris, who married
his only daughter. The Dean died at Sarum, after a short illness,
in 1705, in the sixty-third year of his age. On the Sunday after
his decease, Bishop Burnet preached at the cathedral, and began his
sermon with saying, "Death has been of late walking round us, and
making breach upon breach upon us, and has now carried away the head
of this body with a stroke, so that he, whom you saw a week ago
distributing the holy mysteries, is now laid in the dust. But he
still lives in the many excellent directions he has left us both how
to live and how to die."
The dean placed his son upon the foundation at Winchester College,
where he had himself been educated. At this school Edward Young
remained till the election after his eighteenth birthday, the period
at which those upon the foundation are superannuated. Whether he
did not betray his abilities early in life, or his masters had not
skill enough to discover in their pupil any marks of genius for
which he merited reward, or no vacancy at Oxford offered them an
opportunity to bestow upon him the reward provided for merit by
William of Wykeham; certain it is, that to an Oxford fellowship our
poet did not succeed. By chance, or by choice, New College cannot
claim the honour of numbering among its fellows him who wrote the
On the 13th of October, 1703, he was entered an independent member
of New College, that he might live at little expense in the warden's
lodgings, who was a particular friend of his father's, till he
should be qualified to stand for a fellowship at All Souls. In a
few months the warden of New College died. He then removed to
Corpus College. The president of this society, from regard also for
his father, invited him thither, in order to lessen his academical
expenses. In 1708 he was nominated to a law-fellowship at All Souls
by Archbishop Tenison, into whose hands it came by devolution. Such
repeated patronage, while it justifies Burnet's praise of the
father, reflects credit on the conduct of the son. The manner in
which it was exerted seems to prove that the father did not leave
behind him much wealth.
On the 23rd of April, 1714, Young took his degree of bachelor of
civil laws, and his doctor's degree on the 10th of June, 1719. Soon
after he went to Oxford he discovered, it is said, an inclination
for pupils. Whether he ever commenced tutor is not known. None has
hitherto boasted to have received his academical instruction from
the author of "Night Thoughts." It is probable that his College was
proud of him no less as a scholar than as a poet; for in 1716, when
the foundation of the Codrington Library was laid, two years after
he had taken his bachelor's degree, Young was appointed to speak the
Latin oration. This is at least particular for being dedicated in
English "To the Ladies of the Codrington Family." To these ladies
he says "that he was unavoidably flung into a singularity, by being
obliged to write an epistle dedicatory void of commonplace, and such
an one was never published before by any author whatever; that this
practice absolved them from any obligation of reading what was
presented to them; and that the bookseller approved of it, because
it would make people stare, was absurd enough and perfectly right."
Of this oration there is no appearance in his own edition of his
works; and prefixed to an edition by Curll and Tonson, in 1741, is a
letter from Young to Curll, if we may credit Curll, dated December
the 9th, 1739, wherein he says that he has not leisure to review
what he formerly wrote, and adds, "I have not the 'Epistle to Lord
Lansdowne.' If you will take my advice, I would have you omit that,
and the oration on Codrington. I think the collection will sell
better without them."
There are who relate that, when first Young found himself
independent, and his own master at All Souls, he was not the
ornament to religion and morality which he afterwards became. The
authority of his father, indeed, had ceased, some time before, by
his death; and Young was certainly not ashamed to be patronised by
the infamous Wharton. But Wharton befriended in Young, perhaps, the
poet, and particularly the tragedian. If virtuous authors must be
patronised only by virtuous peers, who shall point them out? Yet
Pope is said by Ruffhead to have told Warburton that "Young had much
of a sublime genius, though without common sense; so that his
genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into
bombast. This made him pass a FOOLISH YOUTH, the sport of peers and
poets: but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the
clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency, and
afterwards with honour."
They who think ill of Young's morality in the early part of his life
may perhaps be wrong; but Tindal could not err in his opinion of
Young's warmth and ability in the cause of religion. Tindal used to
spend much of his time at All Souls. "The other boys," said the
atheist, "I can always answer, because I always know whence they
have their arguments, which I have read a hundred times; but that
fellow Young is continually pestering me with something of his own."
After all, Tindal and the censurers of Young may be reconcilable.
Young might, for two or three years, have tried that kind of life,
in which his natural principles would not suffer him to wallow long.
If this were so, he has left behind him not only his evidence in
favour of virtue, but the potent testimony of experience against
vice. We shall soon see that one of his earliest productions was
more serious than what comes from the generality of unfledged poets.
Young perhaps ascribed the good fortune of Addison to the "Poem to
his Majesty," presented with a copy of verses, to Somers: and hoped
that he also might soar to wealth and honours on wings of the same
kind. His first poetical flight was when Queen Anne called up to
the House of Lords the sons of the Earls of Northampton and
Aylesbury, and added, in one day, ten others to the number of Peers.
In order to reconcile the people to one, at least, of the new lords,
he published, in 1712, "An Epistle to the Right Honourable George
Lord Lansdowne." In this composition the poet pours out his
panegyric with the extravagance of a young man, who thinks his
present stock of wealth will never be exhausted. The poem seems
intended also to reconcile the public to the late peace. This is
endeavoured to be done by showing that men are slain in war, and
that in peace "harvests wave, and commerce swells her sail." If
this be humanity, for which he meant it, is it politics? Another
purpose of this epistle appears to have been to prepare the public
for the reception of some tragedy he might have in hand. His
lordship's patronage, he says, will not let him "repent his passion
for the stage;" and the particular praise bestowed on Othello and
Oroonoko looks as if some such character as Zanga was even then in
contemplation. The affectionate mention of the death of his friend
Harrison of New College, at the close of this poem, is an instance
of Young's art, which displayed itself so wonderfully some time
afterwards in the "Night Thoughts," of making the public a party in
his private sorrow. Should justice call upon you to censure this
poem, it ought at least to be remembered that he did not insert it
in his works; and that in the letter to Curll, as we have seen, he
advises its omission. The booksellers, in the late body of English
poetry, should have distinguished what was deliberately rejected by
the respective authors. This I shall be careful to do with regard
to Young. "I think," says he, "the following pieces in FOUR volumes
to be the most excusable of all that I have written; and I wish LESS
APOLOGY was less needful for these. As there is no recalling what
is got abroad, the pieces here republished I have revised and
corrected, and rendered them as PARDONABLE as it was in my power to
Shall the gates of repentance be shut only against literary sinners?
When Addison published "Cato" in 1713, Young had the honour of
prefixing to it a recommendatory copy of verses. This is one of the
pieces which the author of the "Night Thoughts" did not republish.
On the appearance of his poem on the "Last Day," Addison did not
return Young's compliment; but "The Englishman" of October 29, 1713,
which was probably written by Addison, speaks handsomely of this
poem. The "Last Day" was published soon after the peace. The Vice-
Chancellor's imprimatur (for it was printed at Oxford) is dated the
19th, 1713. From the exordium, Young appears to have spent some
time on the composition of it. While other bards "with Britain's
hero set their souls on fire," he draws, he says, a deeper scene.
Marlborough HAD BEEN considered by Britain as her HERO; but, when
the "Last Day" was published, female cabal had blasted for a time
the laurels of Blenheim. This serious poem was finished by Young as
early as 1710, before he was thirty; for part of it is printed in
the Tatler. It was inscribed to the queen, in a dedication, which,
for some reason, he did not admit into his works. It tells her that
his only title to the great honour he now does himself is the
obligation which he formerly received from her royal indulgence. Of
this obligation nothing is now known, unless he alluded to her being
his godmother. He is said indeed to have been engaged at a settled
stipend as a writer for the Court. In Swift's "Rhapsody on Poetry"
are these lines, speaking of the Court:--
"Whence Gay was banished in disgrace,
Where Pope will never show his face,
Where Y---- must torture his invention
To flatter knaves, or lose his pension."
That Y---- means Young seems clear from four other lines in the same
"Attend, ye Popes, and Youngs, and Gays,
And tune your harps and strew your bays;
Your panegyrics here provide;
You cannot err on flattery's side."
Yet who shall say with certainty that Young was a pensioner? In all
modern periods of this country, have not the writers on one side
been regularly called Hirelings, and on the other Patriots?
Of the dedication the complexion is clearly political. It speaks in
the highest terms of the late peace; it gives her Majesty praise
indeed for her victories, but says that the author is more pleased
to see her rise from this lower world, soaring above the clouds,
passing the first and second heavens, and leaving the fixed stars
behind her; nor will he lose her there, he says, but keep her still
in view through the boundless spaces on the other side of creation,
in her journey towards eternal bliss, till he behold the heaven of
heavens open, and angels receiving and conveying her still onward
from the stretch of his imagination, which tires in her pursuit, and
falls back again to earth.
The queen was soon called away from this lower world, to a place
where human praise or human flattery, even less general than this,
are of little consequence. If Young thought the dedication
contained only the praise of truth, he should not have omitted it in
his works. Was he conscious of the exaggeration of party? Then he
should not have written it. The poem itself is not without a glance
towards politics, notwithstanding the subject. The cry that the
Church was in danger had not yet subsided. The "Last Day," written
by a layman, was much approved by the ministry and their friends.
Before the queen's death, "The Force of Religion, or Vanquished
Love," was sent into the world. This poem is founded on the
execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Lord Guildford, 1554, a
story chosen for the subject of a tragedy by Edmund Smith, and
wrought into a tragedy by Rowe. The dedication of it to the
Countess of Salisbury does not appear in his own edition. He hopes
it may be some excuse for his presumption that the story could not
have been read without thoughts of the Countess of Salisbury, though
it had been dedicated to another. "To behold," he proceeds, "a
person ONLY virtuous, stirs in us a prudent regret; to behold a
person ONLY amiable to the sight, warms us with a religious
indignation; but to turn our eyes to a Countess of Salisbury, gives
us pleasure and improvement; it works a sort of miracle, occasions
the bias of our nature to fall off from sin, and makes our very
senses and affections converts to our religion, and promoters of our
duty." His flattery was as ready for the other sex as for ours, and
was at least as well adapted.
August the 27th, 1714, Pope writes to his friend Jervas, that he is
just arrived from Oxford; that every one is much concerned for the
queen's death, but that no panegyrics are ready yet for the king.
Nothing like friendship has yet taken place between Pope and Young,
for, soon after the event which Pope mentions, Young published a
poem on the queen's death, and his Majesty's accession to the
throne. It is inscribed to Addison, then secretary to the Lords
Justices. Whatever were the obligations which he had formerly
received from Anne, the poet appears to aim at something of the same
sort from George. Of the poem the intention seems to have been, to
show that he had the same extravagant strain of praise for a king as
for a queen. To discover, at the very onset of a foreigner's reign,
that the gods bless his new subjects in such a king is something
more than praise. Neither was this deemed one of his excusable
pieces. We do not find it in his works.
Young's father had been well acquainted with Lady Anne Wharton, the
first wife of Thomas Wharton, Esq., afterwards Marquis of Wharton; a
lady celebrated for her poetical talents by Burnet and by Waller.
To the Dean of Sarum's visitation sermon, already mentioned, were
added some verses "by that excellent poetess, Mrs. Anne Wharton,"
upon its being translated into English, at the instance of Waller by
Atwood. Wharton, after he became ennobled, did not drop the son of
his old friend. In him, during the short time he lived, Young found
a patron, and in his dissolute descendant a friend and a companion.
The marquis died in April, 1715. In the beginning of the next year,
the young marquis set out upon his travels, from which he returned
in about a twelvemonth. The beginning of 1717 carried him to
Ireland: where, says the Biographia, "on the score of his
extraordinary qualities, he had the honour done him of being
admitted, though under age, to take his seat in the House of Lords."
With this unhappy character it is not unlikely that Young went to
Ireland. From his letter to Richardson on "Original Composition,"
it is clear he was, at some period of his life, in that country. "I
remember," says he, in that letter, speaking of Swift, "as I and
others were taking with him an evening walk, about a mile out of
Dublin, he stopped short; we passed on; but perceiving he did not
follow us, I went back, and found him fixed as a statue, and
earnestly gazing upward at a noble elm, which in its uppermost
branches was much withered and decayed. Pointing at it, he said, 'I
shall be like that tree, I shall die at top.'" Is it not probable,
that this visit to Ireland was paid when he had an opportunity of
going thither with his avowed friend and patron?
From "The Englishman" it appears that a tragedy by Young was in the
theatre so early as 1713. Yet Busiris was not brought upon Drury
Lane stage till 1719. It was inscribed to the Duke of Newcastle,
"because the late instances he had received of his grace's
undeserved and uncommon favour, in an affair of some consequence,
foreign to the theatre, had taken from him the privilege of choosing
a patron." The Dedication he afterwards suppressed.
Busiris was followed in the year 1721 by The Revenge. He dedicated
this famous tragedy to the Duke of Wharton. "Your Grace," says the
Dedication, "has been pleased to make yourself accessory to the
following scenes, not only by suggesting the most beautiful incident
in them, but by making all possible provision for the success of the
whole." That his grace should have suggested the incident to which
he alludes, whatever that incident might have been, is not unlikely.
The last mental exertion of the superannuated young man, in his
quarters at Lerida, in Spain, was some scenes of a tragedy on the
story of Mary Queen of Scots.
Dryden dedicated "Marriage a la Mode" to Wharton's infamous relation
Rochester, whom he acknowledges not only as the defender of his
poetry, but as the promoter of his fortune. Young concludes his
address to Wharton thus--"My present fortune is his bounty, and my
future his care; which I will venture to say will be always
remembered to his honour, since he, I know, intended his generosity
as an encouragement to merit, though through his very pardonable
partiality to one who bears him so sincere a duty and respect, I
happen to receive the benefit of it." That he ever had such a
patron as Wharton, Young took all the pains in his power to conceal
from the world, by excluding this dedication from his works. He
should have remembered that he at the same time concealed his
obligation to Wharton for THE MOST BEAUTIFUL INCIDENT in what is
surely not his least beautiful composition. The passage just quoted
is, in a poem afterwards addressed to Walpole, literally copied:
"Be this thy partial smile from censure free!
'Twas meant for merit, though it fell on me."
While Young, who, in his "Love of Fame," complains grievously how
often "dedications wash an AEthiop white," was painting an amiable
Duke of Wharton in perishable prose, Pope was, perhaps, beginning to
describe the "scorn and wonder of his days" in lasting verse. To
the patronage of such a character, had Young studied men as much as
Pope, he would have known how little to have trusted. Young,
however, was certainly indebted to it for something material; and
the duke's regard for Young, added to his lust of praise, procured
to All Souls College a donation, which was not forgotten by the poet
when he dedicated The Revenge.
It will surprise you to see me cite second Atkins, Case 136, Stiles
versus the Attorney-General, March 14, 1740, as authority for the
life of a poet. But biographers do not always find such certain
guides as the oaths of the persons whom they record. Chancellor
Hardwicke was to determine whether two annuities, granted by the
Duke of Wharton to Young, were for legal considerations. One was
dated the 24th March, 1719, and accounted for his grace's bounty in
a style princely and commendable, if not legal--"considering that
the public good is advanced by the encouragement of learning and the
polite arts, and being pleased therein with the attempts of Dr.
Young, in consideration thereof, and of the love I bear him, etc."
The other was dated the 10th of July, 1722.
Young, on his examination, swore that he quitted the Exeter family,
and refused an annuity of 100 pounds which had been offered him for
life if he would continue tutor to Lord Burleigh, upon the pressing
solicitations of the Duke of Wharton, and his grace's assurances of
providing for him in a much more ample manner. It also appeared
that the duke had given him a bond for 600 pounds dated the 15th of
March, 1721, in consideration of his taking several journeys, and
being at great expenses, in order to be chosen member of the House
of Commons, at the duke's desire, and in consideration of his not
taking two livings of 200 pounds and 400 pounds in the gift of All
Souls College, on his grace's promises of serving and advancing him
in the world.
Of his adventures in the Exeter family I am unable to give any
account. The attempt to get into Parliament was at Cirencester,
where Young stood a contested election. His grace discovered in him
talents for oratory as well as for poetry. Nor was this judgment
wrong. Young, after he took orders, became a very popular preacher,
and was much followed for the grace and animation of his delivery.
By his oratorical talents he was once in his life, according to the
Biographia, deserted. As he was preaching in his turn at St.
James's, he plainly perceived it was out of his power to command the
attention of his audience. This so affected the feelings of the
preacher, that he sat back in the pulpit, and burst into tears. But
we must pursue his poetical life.
In 1719 he lamented the death of Addison, in a letter addressed to
their common friend Tickell. For the secret history of the
following lines, if they contain any, it is now vain to seek:
"IN JOY ONCE JOINED, in sorrow, now, for years--
Partner in grief, and brother of my tears,
Tickell, accept this verse, thy mournful due."
From your account of Tickell it appears that he and Young used to
"communicate to each other whatever verses they wrote, even to the
In 1719 appeared a "Paraphrase on Part of the Book of Job." Parker,
to whom it is dedicated, had not long, by means of the seals, been
qualified for a patron. Of this work the author's opinion may be
known from his letter to Curll: "You seem, in the Collection you
propose, to have omitted what I think may claim the first place in
it; I mean 'a Translation from part of Job,' printed by Mr. Tonson."
The Dedication, which was only suffered to appear in Mr. Tonson's
edition, while it speaks with satisfaction of his present
retirement, seems to make an unusual struggle to escape from
retirement. But every one who sings in the dark does not sing from
joy. It is addressed, in no common strain of flattery, to a
chancellor, of whom he clearly appears to have had no kind of
Of his Satires it would not have been possible to fix the dates
without the assistance of first editions, which, as you had occasion
to observe in your account of Dryden, are with difficulty found. We
must then have referred to the poems, to discover when they were
written. For these internal notes of time we should not have
referred in vain. The first Satire laments, that "Guilt's chief foe
in Addison is fled." The second, addressing himself, asks:--
"Is thy ambition sweating for a rhyme,
Thou unambitious fool, at this late time?
A fool at FORTY is a fool indeed."
The Satires were originally published separately in folio, under the
title of "The Universal Passion." These passages fix the appearance
of the first to about 1725, the time at which it came out. As Young
seldom suffered his pen to dry after he had once dipped it in
poetry, we may conclude that he began his Satires soon after he had
written the "Paraphrase on Job." The last Satire was certainly
finished in the beginning of the year 1726. In December, 1725, the
King, in his passage from Helvoetsluys, escaped with great
difficulty from a storm by landing at Rye; and the conclusion of the
Satire turns the escape into a miracle, in such an encomiastic
strain of compliment as poetry too often seeks to pay to royalty.
From the sixth of these poems we learn,
"'Midst empire's charms, how Carolina's heart
Glowed with the love of virtue and of art."
Since the grateful poet tells us, in the next couplet,
"Her favour is diffused to that degree,
Excess of goodness! it has dawned on me."
Her Majesty had stood godmother, and given her name, to the daughter
of the lady whom Young married in 1731; and had perhaps shown some
attention to Lady Elizabeth's future husband.
The fifth Satire, "On Women," was not published till 1727; and the
sixth not till 1728.
To these poems, when, in 1728, he gathered them into one
publication, he prefixed a Preface, in which he observes that "no
man can converse much in the world, but at what he meets with he
must either be insensible or grieve, or be angry or smile. Now to
smile at it, and turn it into ridicule," he adds, "I think most
eligible, as it hurts ourselves least, and gives vice and folly the
greatest offence. Laughing at the misconduct of the world will, in
a great measure, ease us of any more disagreeable passion about it.
One passion is more effectually driven out by another than by
reason, whatever some teach." So wrote, and so of course thought,
the lively and witty satirist at the grave age of almost fifty, who,
many years earlier in life, wrote the "Last Day." After all, Swift
pronounced of these Satires, that they should either have been more
angry or more merry.
Is it not somewhat singular that Young preserved, without any
palliation, this Preface, so bluntly decisive in favour of laughing
at the world, in the same collection of his works which contains the
mournful, angry, gloomy "Night Thoughts!" At the conclusion of the
Preface he applies Plato's beautiful fable of the "Birth of Love" to
modern poetry, with the addition, "that Poetry, like Love, is a
little subject to blindness, which makes her mistake her way to
preferments and honours; and that she retains a dutiful admiration
of her father's family; but divides her favours, and generally lives
with her mother's relations." Poetry, it is true, did not lead
Young to preferments or to honours; but was there not something like
blindness in the flattery which he sometimes forced her, and her
sister Prose, to utter? She was always, indeed, taught by him to
entertain a most dutiful admiration of riches; but surely Young,
though nearly related to Poetry, had no connection with her whom
Plato makes the mother of Love. That he could not well complain of
being related to Poverty appears clearly from the frequent bounties
which his gratitude records, and from the wealth which he left
behind him. By "The Universal Passion" he acquired no vulgar
fortune--more than three thousand pounds. A considerable sum had
already been swallowed up in the South Sea. For this loss he took
the vengeance of an author. His Muse makes poetical use more than
once of a South Sea Dream.
It is related by Mr. Spence, in his "Manuscript Anecdotes," on the
authority of Mr. Rawlinson, that Young, upon the publication of his
"Universal Passion," received from the Duke of Grafton two thousand
pounds; and that, when one of his friends exclaimed, "Two thousand
pounds for a poem!" he said it was the best bargain he ever made in
his life, for the poem was worth four thousand. This story may be
true; but it seems to have been raised from the two answers of Lord
Burghley and Sir Philip Sidney in Spenser's Life.
After inscribing his Satires, not perhaps without the hopes of
preferments and honours, to such names as the Duke of Dorset, Mr.
Dodington, Mr. Spencer Compton, Lady Elizabeth Germain, and Sir
Robert Walpole, he returns to plain panegyric. In 1726 he addressed
a poem to Sir Robert Walpole, of which the title sufficiently
explains the intention. If Young must be acknowledged a ready
celebrator, he did not endeavour, or did not choose, to be a lasting
one. "The Instalment" is among the pieces he did not admit into the
number of his EXCUSABLE WRITINGS. Yet it contains a couplet which
pretends to pant after the power of bestowing immortality:--
"Oh! how I long, enkindled by the theme,
In deep eternity to launch thy name!"
The bounty of the former reign seems to have been continued,
possibly increased, in this. Whatever it might have been, the poet
thought he deserved it; for he was not ashamed to acknowledge what,
without his acknowledgment, would now perhaps never have been
"My breast, O Walpole, glows with grateful fire.
The streams of royal bounty, turned by thee,
Refresh the dry remains of poesy."
If the purity of modern patriotism will term Young a pensioner, it
must at least be confessed he was a grateful one.
The reign of the new monarch was ushered in by Young with "Ocean, an
Ode." The hint of it was taken from the royal speech, which
recommended the increase and the encouragement of the seamen; that
they might be "invited, rather than compelled by force and violence,
to enter into the service of their country"--a plan which humanity
must lament that policy has not even yet been able, or willing, to
carry into execution. Prefixed to the original publication were an
"Ode to the King, Pater Patriae," and an "Essay on Lyric Poetry."
It is but justice to confess that he preserved neither of them; and
that the Ode itself, which in the first edition, and in the last,
consists of seventy-three stanzas, in the author's own edition is
reduced to forty-nine. Among the omitted passages is a "Wish," that
concluded the poem, which few would have suspected Young of forming;
and of which few, after having formed it, would confess something
like their shame by suppression. It stood originally so high in the
author's opinion, that he entitled the poem, "Ocean, an Ode.
Concluding with a Wish." This wish consists of thirteen stanzas.
The first runs thus:--
"O may I STEAL
Along the VALE
Of humble life, secure from foes!
My friend sincere,
My judgment clear,
And gentle business my repose!"
The three last stanzas are not more remarkable for just rhymes; but,
altogether, they will make rather a curious page in the life of
And golden dreams,
May I, unsanguine, cast away!
Have what I HAVE,
And live, not LEAVE,
Enamoured of the present day!
"My hours my own!
My faults unknown!
My chief revenue in content!
Then leave one BEAM
Of honest FAME!
And scorn the laboured monument!
"Unhurt my urn
Till that great TURN
When mighty Nature's self shall die,
Time cease to glide,
With human pride,
Sunk in the ocean of eternity!"
It is whimsical that he, who was soon to bid adieu to rhyme, should
fix upon a measure in which rhyme abounds even to satiety. Of this
he said, in his "Essay on Lyric Poetry," prefixed to the poem--" For
the more harmony likewise I chose the frequent return of rhyme,
which laid me under great difficulties. But difficulties overcome
give grace and pleasure. Nor can I account for the PLEASURE OF
RHYME IN GENERAL (of which the moderns are too fond) but from this
truth." Yet the moderns surely deserve not much censure for their
fondness of what, by their own confession, affords pleasure, and
abounds in harmony. The next paragraph in his Essay did not occur
to him when he talked of "that great turn" in the stanza just
quoted. "But then the writer must take care that the difficulty is
overcome. That is, he must make rhyme consistent with as perfect
sense and expression as could be expected if he was perfectly free
from that shackle." Another part of this Essay will convict the
following stanza of what every reader will discover in it
"The northern blast,
The shattered mast,
The syrt, the whirlpool, and the rock,
The breaking spout,
The STARS GONE OUT,
The boiling strait, the monster's shock."
But would the English poets fill quite so many volumes if all their
productions were to be tried, like this, by an elaborate essay on
each particular species of poetry of which they exhibit specimens?
If Young be not a lyric poet, he is at least a critic in that sort
of poetry; and, if his lyric poetry can be proved bad, it was first
proved so by his own criticism. This surely is candid.
Milbourne was styled by Pope "the fairest of critics," only because
he exhibited his own version of "Virgil" to be compared with
Dryden's, which he condemned, and with which every reader had it not
otherwise in his power to compare it. Young was surely not the most
unfair of poets for prefixing to a lyric composition an "Essay on
Lyric Poetry," so just and impartial as to condemn himself.
We shall soon come to a work, before which we find indeed no
critical essay, but which disdains to shrink from the touchstone of
the severest critic; and which certainly, as I remember to have
heard you say, if it contains some of the worst, contains also some
of the best things in the language.
Soon after the appearance of "Ocean," when he was almost fifty,
Young entered into orders. In April, 1728, not long after he had
put on the gown, he was appointed chaplain to George II.
The tragedy of The Brothers, which was already in rehearsal, he
immediately withdrew from the stage. The managers resigned it with
some reluctance to the delicacy of the new clergyman. The Epilogue
to The Brothers, the only appendages to any of his three plays which
he added himself, is, I believe, the only one of the kind. He calls
it an historical Epilogue. Finding that "Guilt's dreadful close his
narrow scene denied," he, in a manner, continues the tragedy in the
Epilogue, and relates how Rome revenged the shade of Demetrius, and
punished Perseus "for this night's deed."
Of Young's taking orders something is told by the biographer of
Pope, which places the easiness and simplicity of the poet in a
singular light. When he determined on the Church he did not address
himself to Sherlock, to Atterbury, or to Hare, for the best
instructions in theology, but to Pope, who, in a youthful frolic,
advised the diligent perusal of Thomas Aquinas. With this treasure
Young retired from interruption to an obscure place in the suburbs.
His poetical guide to godliness hearing nothing of him during half a
year, and apprehending he might have carried the jest too far,
sought after him, and found him just in time to prevent what
Ruffhead calls "an irretrievable derangement."
That attachment to his favourite study, which made him think a poet
the surest guide to his new profession left him little doubt whether
poetry was the surest path to its honours and preferments. Not long
indeed after he took orders he published in prose (1728) "A True
Estimate of Human Life," dedicated, notwithstanding the Latin
quotations with which it abounds, to the Queen; and a sermon
preached before the House of Commons, 1729, on the martyrdom of King
Charles, entitled, "An Apology for Princes; or, the Reverence due to
Government." But the "Second Course," the counterpart of his
"Estimate," without which it cannot be called "A True Estimate,"
though in 1728 it was announced as "soon to be published," never
appeared, and his old friends the Muses were not forgotten. In 1730
he relapsed to poetry, and sent into the world "Imperium Pelagi: a
Naval Lyric, written in imitation of Pindar's Spirit, occasioned by
his Majesty's return from Hanover, September, 1729, and the
succeeding peace." It is inscribed to the Duke of Chandos. In the
Preface we are told that the Ode is the most spirited kind of
poetry, and that the Pindaric is the most spirited kind of Ode.
"This I speak," he adds, "with sufficient candour at my own very
great peril. But truth has an eternal title to our confession,
though we are sure to suffer by it." Behold, again, the fairest of
poets. Young's "Imperium Pelagi" was ridiculed in Fielding's "Tom
Thumb;" but let us not forget that it was one of his pieces which
the author of the "Night Thoughts" deliberately refused to own. Not
long after this Pindaric attempt he published two Epistles to Pope,
"Concerning the Authors of the Age," 1730. Of these poems one
occasion seems to have been an apprehension lest, from the
liveliness of his satires, he should not be deemed sufficiently
serious for promotion in the Church.
In July, 1730, he was presented by his College to the Rectory of
Welwyn, in Hertfordshire. In May, 1731, he married Lady Elizabeth
Lee, daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, and widow of Colonel Lee.
His connection with this lady arose from his father's acquaintance,
already mentioned, with Lady Anne Wharton, who was co-heiress of Sir
Henry Lee of Ditchley in Oxfordshire. Poetry had lately been taught
by Addison to aspire to the arms of nobility, though not with
extraordinary happiness. We may naturally conclude that Young now
gave himself up in some measure to the comforts of his new
connection, and to the expectations of that preferment which he
thought due to his poetical talents, or, at least, to the manner in
which they had so frequently been exerted.
The next production of his muse was "The Sea-piece," in two odes.
Young enjoys the credit of what is called an "Extempore Epigram on
Voltaire," who, when he was in England, ridiculed, in the company of
the jealous English poet, Milton's allegory of "Sin and Death:"
"You are so witty, profligate and thin,
At once we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin."
From the following passage in the poetical dedication of his "Sea-
piece" to Voltaire it seems that this extemporaneous reproof, if it
must be extemporaneous (for what few will now affirm Voltaire to
have deserved any reproof), was something longer than a distich, and
something more gentle than the distich just quoted.
"No stranger, sir, though born in foreign climes.
On DORSET Downs, when Milton's page,
With Sin and Death provoked thy rage,
Thy rage provoked who soothed with GENTLE rhymes?"
By "Dorset Downs" he probably meant Mr. Dodington's seat. In Pitt's
Poems is "An Epistle to Dr. Edward Young, at Eastbury, in
Dorsetshire, on the Review at Sarum, 1722."
"While with your Dodington retired you sit,
Charmed with his flowing Burgundy and wit," etc.
Thomson, in his Autumn, addressing Mr. Dodington calls his seat the
seat of the Muses,
"Where, in the secret bower and winding walk,
For virtuous Young and thee they twine the bay."
The praises Thomson bestows but a few lines before on Philips, the
"Who nobly durst, in rhyme-unfettered verse,
With British freedom sing the British song,"
added to Thomson's example and success, might perhaps induce Young,
as we shall see presently, to write his great work without rhyme.
In 1734 he published "The Foreign Address, or the best Argument for
Peace, occasioned by the British Fleet and the Posture of Affairs.
Written in the Character of a Sailor." It is not to be found in the
author's four volumes. He now appears to have given up all hopes of
overtaking Pindar, and perhaps at last resolved to turn his ambition
to some original species of poetry. This poem concludes with a
formal farewell to Ode, which few of Young's readers will regret:
"My shell, which Clio gave, which KINGS APPLAUD,
Which Europe's bleeding genius called abroad,
In a species of poetry altogether his own he next tried his skill,
Of his wife he was deprived in 1741. Lady Elizabeth had lost, after
her marriage with Young, an amiable daughter, by her former husband,
just after she was married to Mr. Temple, son of Lord Palmerston.
Mr. Temple did not long remain after his wife, though he was married
a second time to a daughter of Sir John Barnard's, whose son is the
present peer. Mr. and Mrs. Temple have generally been considered as
Philander and Narcissa. From the great friendship which constantly
subsisted between Mr. Temple and Young, as well as from other
circumstances, it is probable that the poet had both him and Mrs.
Temple in view for these characters; though, at the same time, some
passages respecting Philander do not appear to suit either Mr.
Temple or any other person with whom Young was known to be connected
or acquainted, while all the circumstances relating to Narcissa have
been constantly found applicable to Young's daughter-in-law. At
what short intervals the poet tells us he was wounded by the deaths
of the three persons particularly lamented, none that has read the
"Night Thoughts" (and who has not read them?) needs to be informed.
"Insatiate archer! could not one suffice?
Thy shaft flew thrice, and thrice my peace was slain;
And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had filled her horn."
Yet how is it possible that Mr. and Mrs. Temple and Lady Elizabeth
Young could be these three victims, over whom Young has hitherto
been pitied for having to pour the "Midnight Sorrows" of his
religious poetry? Mrs. Temple died in 1736; Mr. Temple four years
afterwards, in 1740; and the poet's wife seven months after Mr.
Temple, in 1741. How could the insatiate archer thrice slay his
peace, in these three persons, "ere thrice the moon had filled her
horn." But in the short preface to "The Complaint" he seriously
tells us, "that the occasion of this poem was real, not fictitious,
and that the facts mentioned did naturally pour these moral
reflections on the thought of the writer." It is probable,
therefore, that in these three contradictory lines the poet
complains more than the father-in-law, the friend, or the widower.
Whatever names belong to these facts, or if the names be those
generally supposed, whatever heightening a poet's sorrow may have
given the facts; to the sorrow Young felt from them religion and
morality are indebted for the "Night Thoughts." There is a pleasure
sure in sadness which mourners only know! Of these poems the two or
three first have been perused perhaps more eagerly and more
frequently than the rest. When he got as far as the fourth or fifth
his original motive for taking up the pen was answered; his grief
was naturally either diminished or exhausted. We still find the
same pious poet, but we hear less of Philander and Narcissa, and
less of the mourner whom he loved to pity.
Mrs. Temple died of a consumption at Lyons, on her way to Nice, the
year after her marriage; that is, when poetry relates the fact, "in
her bridal hour." It is more than poetically true that Young
accompanied her to the Continent:
"I flew, I snatched her from the rigid North,
And bore her nearer to the sun."
But in vain. Her funeral was attended with the difficulties painted
in such animated colours in "Night the Third." After her death the
remainder of the party passed the ensuing winter at Nice. The poet
seems perhaps in these compositions to dwell with more melancholy on
the death of Philander and Narcissa than of his wife. But it is
only for this reason. He who runs and reads may remember that in
the "Night Thoughts" Philander and Narcissa are often mentioned and
often lamented. To recollect lamentations over the author's wife
the memory must have been charged with distinct passages. This lady
brought him one child, Frederick, now living, to whom the Prince of
Wales was godfather.
That domestic grief is, in the first instance, to be thanked for
these ornaments to our language it is impossible to deny. Nor would
it be common hardiness to contend that worldly discontent had no
hand in these joint productions of poetry and piety. Yet am I by no
means sure that, at any rate, we should not have had something of
the same colour from Young's pencil, notwithstanding the liveliness
of his satires. In so long a life causes for discontent and
occasions for grief must have occurred. It is not clear to me that
his Muse was not sitting upon the watch for the first which
happened. "Night Thoughts" were not uncommon to her, even when
first she visited the poet, and at a time when he himself was
remarkable neither for gravity nor gloominess. In his "Last Day,"
almost his earliest poem, he calls her "The Melancholy Maid,"
"whom dismal scenes delight,
Frequent at tombs and in the realms of Night."
In the prayer which concludes the second book of the same poem, he
"Oh! permit the gloom of solemn night
To sacred thought may forcibly invite.
Oh! how divine to tread the milky way,
To the bright palace of Eternal Day!"
When Young was writing a tragedy, Grafton is said by Spence to have
sent him a human skull, with a candle in it, as a lamp, and the poet
is reported to have used it. What he calls "The TRUE Estimate of
Human Life," which has already been mentioned, exhibits only the
wrong side of the tapestry, and being asked why he did not show the
right, he is said to have replied that he could not. By others it
has been told me that this was finished, but that, before there
existed any copy, it was torn in pieces by a lady's monkey. Still,
is it altogether fair to dress up the poet for the man, and to bring
the gloominess of the "Night Thoughts" to prove the gloominess of
Young, and to show that his genius, like the genius of Swift, was in
some measure the sullen inspiration of discontent? From them who
Back to Full Books