Lives of the Poets, Vol. 1
Part 8 out of 10
friends by intimacy, and outwent the strongest prepossessions which had
been conceived in his favour. Whatever quarrel a few sour creatures,
whose obscurity is their happiness, may possibly have to the age; yet,
amidst a studied neglect, and total disuse of all those ceremonial
attendances, fashionable equipments, and external recommendations,
which are thought necessary introductions into the _grand monde_, this
gentleman was so happy as still to please; and whilst the rich, the gay,
the noble, and honourable, saw how much he excelled in wit and learning,
they easily forgave him all other differences. Hence it was that both his
acquaintance and retirements were his own free choice. What Mr. Prior
observes upon a very great character was true of him, "that most of his
faults brought their excuse with them."
Those who blamed him most, understood him least, it being the custom of
the vulgar to charge an excess upon the most complaisant, and to form a
character by the morals of a few, who have sometimes spoiled an hour or
two in good company. Where only fortune is wanting to make a great name,
that single exception can never pass upon the best judges and most
equitable observers of mankind; and when the time comes for the world to
spare their pity, we may justly enlarge our demands upon them for their
Some few years before his death, he had engaged himself in several
considerable undertakings; in all which he had prepared the world to
expect mighty things from him. I have seen about ten sheets of his
English Pindar, which exceeded any thing of that kind I could ever hope
for in our own language. He had drawn out the plan of a tragedy of the
Lady Jane Grey, and had gone through several scenes of it. But he could
not well have bequeathed that work to better hands than where, I hear, it
is at present lodged; and the bare mention of two such names may justify
the largest expectations, and is sufficient to make the town an agreeable
His greatest and noblest undertaking was Longinus. He had finished an
entire translation of the Sublime, which he sent to the reverend Mr.
Richard Parker, a friend of his, late of Merton college, an exact critick
in the Greek tongue, from whom it came to my hands. The French version of
monsieur Boileau, though truly valuable, was far short of it. He proposed
a large addition to this work, of notes and observations of his own, with
an entire system of the art of poetry, in three books, under the titles
of Thought, Diction, and Figure. I saw the last of these perfect, and
in a fair copy, in which he showed prodigious judgment and reading; and
particularly had reformed the art of rhetorick, by reducing that vast
and confused heap of terms, with which a long succession of pedants had
encumbered the world, to a very narrow compass, comprehending all that
was useful and ornamental in poetry. Under each head and chapter, he
intended to make remarks upon all the ancients and moderns, the Greek,
Latin, English, French, Spanish, and Italian poets, and to note their
several beauties and defects.
What remains of his works is left, as I am informed, in the hands of men
of worth and judgment, who loved him. It cannot be supposed they would
suppress any thing that was his, but out of respect to his memory, and
for want of proper hands to finish what so great a genius had begun.
Such is the declamation of Oldisworth, written while his admiration was
yet fresh, and his kindness warm; and, therefore, such as, without any
criminal purpose of deceiving, shows a strong desire to make the most of
all favourable truth. I cannot much commend the performance. The praise
is often indistinct, and the sentences are loaded with words of more pomp
than use. There is little, however, that can be contradicted, even when a
plainer tale comes to be told.
Edmund Neale, known by the name of Smith, was born at Handley, the
seat of the Lechmeres, in Worcestershire. The year of his birth is
He was educated at Westminster. It is known to have been the practice of
Dr. Busby to detain those youths long at school, of whom he had formed
the highest expectations. Smith took his master's degree on the 8th of
July, 1696; he, therefore, was probably admitted into the university in
1689, when we may suppose him twenty years old.
His reputation for literature in his college was such as has been told;
but the indecency and licentiousness of his behaviour drew upon him, Dec.
24, 1694, while he was yet only bachelor, a publick admonition, entered
upon record, in order to his expulsion. Of this reproof the effect is not
known. He was probably less notorious. At Oxford, as we all know,
much will be forgiven to literary merit; and of that he had exhibited
sufficient evidence by his excellent ode on the death of the great
orientalist, Dr. Pocock, who died in 1691, and whose praise must
have been written by Smith when he had been yet but two years in the
This ode, which closed the second volume of the Musse Anglicanae, though,
perhaps, some objections may be made to its Latinity, is by far the best
lyrick composition in that collection; nor do I know where to find it
equalled among the modern writers. It expresses, with great felicity,
images not classical in classical diction: its digressions and returns
have been deservedly recommended by Trapp, as models for imitation.
He has several imitations of Cowley:
Vestitur hinc tot sermo coloribus
Quot tu, Pococki, dissimilis tui
Orator effers, quot vicissim
Te memores celebrare gaudent.
I will not commend the figure which makes the orator _pronounce colours_,
or give to _colours memory_ and _delight_. I quote it, however, as an
imitation of these lines:
So many languages he had in store,
That only fame shall speak of him in more.
The simile, by which an old man, retaining the fire of his youth, is
compared to Aetna flaming through the snow, which Smith has used with
great pomp, is stolen from Cowley, however little worth the labour of
He proceeded to take his degree of master of arts, July 8, 1696. Of
the exercises which he performed on that occasion, I have not heard
any thing memorable.
As his years advanced, he advanced in reputation; for he continued to
cultivate his mind, though he did not amend his irregularities, by which
he gave so much offence, that, April 24, 1700, the dean and chapter
declared "the place of Mr. Smith void, he having been convicted of
riotous misbehaviour in the house of Mr. Cole, an apothecary; but it was
referred to the dean when, and upon what occasion, the sentence should be
put in execution."
Thus tenderly was he treated: the governours of his college could hardly
keep him, and yet wished that he would not force them to drive him away.
Some time afterwards he assumed an appearance of decency: in his own
phrase, he _whitened_ himself, having a desire to obtain the censorship,
an office of honour and some profit in the college; but, when the
election came, the preference was given to Mr. Foulkes, his junior:
the same, I suppose, that joined with Freind in an edition of part of
Demosthenes. The censor is a tutor; and it was not thought proper to
trust the superintendence of others to a man who took so little care of
From this time Smith employed his malice and his wit against the dean,
Dr. Aldrich, whom he considered as the opponent of his claim. Of his
lampoon upon him, I once heard a single line, too gross to be repeated.
But he was still a genius and a scholar, and Oxford was unwilling to lose
him: he was endured, with all his pranks and his vices, two years longer;
but, on Dec. 20, 1705, at the instance of all the canons, the sentence,
declared five years before, was put in execution.
The execution was, I believe, silent and tender; for one of his friends,
from whom I learned much of his life, appeared not to know it.
He was now driven to London, where he associated himself with the whigs;
whether because they were in power, or because the tories had expelled
him, or because he was a whig by principle, may, perhaps, be doubted. He
was, however, caressed by men of great abilities, whatever were their
party, and was supported by the liberality of those who delighted in his
There was once a design, hinted at by Oldisworth, to have made him
useful. One evening, as he was sitting with a friend at a tavern, he was
called down by the waiter; and, having staid some time below, came up
thoughtful. After a pause, said he to his friend: "He that wanted me
below was Addison, whose business was to tell me that a History of the
Revolution was intended, and to propose that I should undertake it.
I said, 'What shall I do with the character of lord Sunderland?' and
Addison immediately returned, 'When, Rag, were you drunk last?' and went
Captain _Rag_ was a name which he got at Oxford, by his negligence of
This story I heard from the late Mr. Clark, of Lincoln's Inn, to whom it
was told by the friend of Smith.
Such scruples might debar him from some profitable employments; but,
as they could not deprive him of any real esteem, they left him many
friends; and no man was ever better introduced to the theatre than he,
who, in that violent conflict of parties, had a prologue and epilogue
from the first wits on either side.
But learning and nature will now and then take different courses. His
play pleased the criticks, and the criticks only. It was, as Addison
has recorded, hardly heard the third night. Smith had, indeed, trusted
entirely to his merit, had ensured no band of applauders, nor used any
artifice to force success, and found that naked excellence was not
sufficient for its own support.
The play, however, was bought by Lintot, who advanced the price from
fifty guineas, the current rate, to sixty; and Halifax, the general
patron, accepted the dedication. Smith's indolence kept him from writing
the dedication, till Lintot, after fruitless importunity, gave notice
that he would publish the play without it. Now, therefore, it was
written; and Halifax expected the author with his book, and had prepared
to reward him with a place of three hundred pounds a year. Smith, by
pride, or caprice, or indolence, or bashfulness, neglected to attend him,
though doubtless warned and pressed by his friends, and, at last, missed
his reward by not going to solicit it.
Addison has, in the Spectator, mentioned the neglect of Smith's tragedy
as disgraceful to the nation, and imputes it to the fondness for operas,
then prevailing. The authority of Addison is great; yet the voice of the
people, when to please the people is the purpose, deserves regard. In
this question, I cannot but think the people in the right. The fable is
mythological, a story which we are accustomed to reject as false; and the
manners are so distant from our own, that we know them not from sympathy,
but by study: the ignorant do not understand the action; the learned
reject it as a schoolboy's tale; "incredulus odi;" what I cannot for a
moment believe, I cannot for a moment behold with interest or anxiety.
The sentiments thus remote from life are removed yet further by the
diction, which is too luxuriant and splendid for dialogue, and envelopes
the thoughts rather than displays them. It is a scholar's play, such as
may please the reader rather than the spectator; the work of a vigorous
and elegant mind, accustomed to please itself with its own conceptions,
but of little acquaintance with the course of life.
Dennis tells us, in one of his pieces, that he had once a design to have
written the tragedy of Phaedra; but was convinced that the action was too
In 1709, a year after the exhibition of Phaedra, died John Philips, the
friend and fellow-collegian of Smith, who, on that occasion, wrote a
poem, which justice must place among the best elegies which our language
can show, an elegant mixture of fondness and admiration, of dignity
and softness. There are some passages too ludicrous; but every human
performance has its faults.
This elegy it was the mode among his friends to purchase for a guinea;
and, as his acquaintance was numerous, it was a very profitable poem.
Of his Pindar, mentioned by Oldisworth, I have never otherwise heard.
His Longinus he intended to accompany with some illustrations, and had
selected his instances of the false sublime from the works of Blackmore.
He resolved to try again the fortune of the stage, with the story of Lady
Jane Grey. It is not unlikely, that his experience of the inefficacy and
incredibility of a mythological tale might determine him to choose an
action from English history, at no great distance from our own times,
which was to end in a real event, produced by the operation of known
A subject will not easily occur that can give more opportunities
of informing the understanding, for which Smith was unquestionably
qualified, or for moving the passions, in which I suspect him to have had
Having formed his plan, and collected materials, he declared, that a few
months would complete his design; and, that he might pursue his work with
less frequent avocations, he was, in June 1710, invited, by Mr. George
Ducket to his house, at Gartham, in Wiltshire. Here he found such
opportunities of indulgence as did not much forward his studies, and
particularly some strong ale, too delicious to be resisted. He ate and
drank till he found himself plethorick; and then, resolving to ease
himself by evacuation, he wrote to an apothecary in the neighbourhood a
prescription of a purge so forcible, that the apothecary thought it his
duty to delay it, till he had given notice of its danger. Smith, not
pleased with the contradiction of a shopman, and boastful of his own
knowledge, treated the notice with rude contempt, and swallowed his own
medicine, which, in July, 1710, brought him to the grave. He was buried
Many years afterwards, Ducket communicated to Oldmixon, the historian,
an account, pretended to have been received from Smith, that Clarendon's
History was, in its publication, corrupted by Aldrich, Smalridge,
and Atterbury; and that Smith was employed to forge and insert the
This story was published triumphantly by Oldmixon, and may be supposed
to have been eagerly received; but its progress was soon checked; for,
finding its way into the Journal of Trévoux, it fell under the eye of
Atterbury, then an exile in France, who immediately denied the charge,
with this remarkable particular, that he never, in his whole life, had
once spoken to Smith; his company being, as must be inferred, not
accepted by those who attended to their characters.
The charge was afterwards very diligently refuted, by Dr. Burton, of
Eton, a man eminent for literature, and, though not of the same party
with Aldrich and Atterbury, too studious of truth to leave them burdened
with a false charge. The testimonies which he has collected have
convinced mankind, that either Smith or Ducket was guilty of wilful and
This controversy brought into view those parts of Smith's life, which,
with more honour to his name, might have been concealed.
Of Smith I can yet say a little more. He was a man of such estimation
among his companions, that the casual censures or praises, which he
dropped in conversation, were considered, like those of Scaliger, as
worthy of preservation.
He had great readiness and exactness of criticism, and, by a cursory
glance over a new composition, would exactly tell all its faults and
He was remarkable for the power of reading with great rapidity, and of
retaining, with great fidelity, what he so easily collected.
He, therefore, always knew what the present question required; and, when
his friends expressed their wonder at his acquisitions, made in a state
of apparent negligence and drunkenness, he never discovered his hours of
reading, or method of study, but involved himself in affected silence,
and fed his own vanity with their admiration and conjectures.
One practice he had, which was easily observed: if any thought or image
was presented to his mind, that he could use or improve, he did not
suffer it to be lost; but, amidst the jollity of a tavern, or in the
warmth of conversation, very diligently committed it to paper.
Thus it was that he had gathered two quires of hints for his new tragedy;
of which Howe, when they were put into his hands, could make, as he says,
very little use, but which the collector considered as a valuable stock
When he came to London, his way of life connected him with the licentious
and dissolute; and he affected the airs and gaiety of a man of pleasure;
but his dress was always deficient; scholastick cloudiness still hung
about him; and his merriment was sure to produce the scorn of his
With all his carelessness and all his vices, he was one of the murmurers
at fortune; and wondered why he was suffered to be poor, when Addison was
caressed and preferred; nor would a very little have contented him; for
he estimated his wants at six hundred pounds a year.
In his course of reading it was particular, that he had diligently
perused, and accurately remembered, the old romances of knight-errantry.
He had a high opinion of his own merit, and was something contemptuous in
his treatment of those whom he considered as not qualified to oppose or
contradict him. He had many frailties; yet it cannot but be supposed that
he had great merit, who could obtain to the same play a prologue from
Addison, and an epilogue from Prior; and who could have at once the
patronage of Halifax, and the praise of Oldisworth.
For the power of communicating these minute memorials, I am indebted
to my conversation with Gilbert Walmsley, late registrar of the
ecclesiastical court of Lichfield, who was acquainted both with Smith and
Ducket; and declared, that, if the tale concerning Clarendon were forged,
he should suspect Ducket of the falsehood, "for _Rag_ was a man of great
Of Gilbert Walmsley, thus presented to my mind, let me indulge myself in
the remembrance. I knew him very early: he was one of the first friends
that literature procured me, and I hope that, at least, my gratitude made
me worthy of his notice.
He was of an advanced age, and I was only not a boy; yet he never
received my notions with contempt. He was a whig, with all the virulence
and malevolence of his party; yet difference of opinion did not keep us
apart. I honoured him, and he endured me.
He had mingled with the gay world, without exemption from its vices or
its follies, but had never neglected the cultivation of his mind; his
belief of revelation was unshaken; his learning preserved his principles;
he grew first regular, and then pious.
His studies had been so various, that I am not able to name a man of
equal knowledge. His acquaintance with books was great: and what he did
not immediately know, he could, at least, tell where to find. Such was
his amplitude of learning, and such his copiousness of communication,
that it may be doubted whether a day now passes in which I have not some
advantage from his friendship.
At this man's table I enjoyed many cheerful and instructive hours, with
companions such as are not often found; with one who has lengthened, and
one who has gladdened life; with Dr. James, whose skill in physick
will be long remembered; and with David Garrick, whom I hoped to have
gratified with this character of our common friend; but what are the
hopes of man! I am disappointed by that stroke of death, which has
eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the publick stock of
In the library at Oxford is the following ludicrous analysis of
[Sent by the author to Mr. Urry.]
Opusculum hoc, Halberdarie amplissime, in lucem proferre hactenus
distuli, judicii tui acumen subveritus magis quam bipennis. Tandem
aliquando oden hanc ad te mitto sublimem, teneram, flebilem, suavem,
qualem demum divinus (si musis vacaret) scripsisset Gastrellus: adeo
scilicet sublimem ut inter legendum dormire, adeo flebilem ut ridere
velis. Cujus elegantiam ut melius inspicias, versuum ordinem et materiam
breviter referam. 1mus versus de duobus praeliis decantatis. 2dus et 3us
de Lotharingio, cuniculis subterraneis, saxis, ponto, hostibus, et
Asia. 4tus et 5tus de catenis, sudibus, uncis, draconibus, tigribus et
crocodilis. 6us, 7us, 8us, 9us de Gomorrha, de Babylone, Babele, et
quodam domi suae peregrine. 10us, aliquid de quodam Pocockio. 11us, 12us,
de Syria, Solyma. 13us, 14us, de Hosea, et quercu, et de juvene quodam
valde sene. 15us, 16us, de Aetna, et quomodo Aetna Pocockio sit valde
similis. 17us, 18us, de tuba, astro, umbra, flammis, rotis, Pocockio non
neglecto. Caetera, de Christianis, Ottomanis, Babyloniis, Arabibus, et
gravissima agrorum melancholia; de Caesare, _Flacco_, Nestore,
et miserando juvenis cujusdam florentissimi fato, anno aetatis suae
centesimo praemature abrepti. Quae omnia cum accurate expenderis, necesse
est ut oden hanc meam admiranda plane varietate constare fatearis.
Subito ad Batavos proficiscor, lauro ab illis donandus. Prius vero
Pembrochienses voco ad certamen poeticum. Vale.
Illustrissima tua deosculor crura.
[Footnote 125: Dr. Ralph Bathurst, whose Life and Literary Remains were
published in 1761, by Mr. Thomas Warton. C.]
[Footnote 126: By his epitaph he appears to have been forty-two years old
when he died. He was, consequently, born in the year 1668. R.
He was born in 1662, as appears from the register of matriculations among
the archives of the university of Oxford.]
[Footnote 127: He was elected to Cambridge, 1688; but, as has been before
stated, went to Oxford. J.B.]
[Footnote 128: Cowley on sir R. Wotton. L. B.]
[Footnote 129: See bishop Atterbury's Epistolary Correspondence, 1799,
vol. iii. pp. 126, 133. In the same work, vol. i. p. 325, it appears that
Smith was at one time suspected, by Atterbury, to have been the author of
the Tale of a Tub. N. See Idler, No. 65.]
[Footnote 130: See prefatory remarks to Irene, vol. i. p. 25.]
[Footnote 131: Pro _Flacco_, animo paulo attentiore, scripsissem
Of Mr. Richard Duke I can find few memorials. He was bred at
Westminster and Cambridge; and Jacob relates, that he was some time
tutor to the duke of Richmond.
He appears, from his writings, to have been not ill qualified for
poetical compositions; and being conscious of his powers, when he left
the university, he enlisted himself among the wits. He was the
familiar friend of Otway; and was engaged, among other popular names, in
the translations of Ovid and Juvenal. In his Review, though unfinished,
are some vigorous lines. His poems are not below mediocrity; nor have I
found much in them to be praised.
With the wit he seems to have shared the dissoluteness of the times;
for some of his compositions are such as he must have reviewed with
detestation in his later days, when he published those sermons which
Felton has commended.
Perhaps, like some other foolish young men, he rather talked than lived
vitiously, in an age when he that would be thought a wit was afraid to
say his prayers; and whatever might have been bad in the first part of
his life, was surely condemned and reformed by his better judgment.
In 1683, being then master of arts and fellow of Trinity college in
Cambridge, he wrote a poem, on the marriage of the lady Anne with George,
prince of Denmark. He took orders; and, being made prebendary of
Gloucester, became a proctor in convocation for that church, and chaplain
to queen Anne.
In 1710, he was presented, by the bishop of Winchester, to the wealthy
living of Witney, in Oxfordshire, which he enjoyed but a few months. On
February 10, 1710-11, having returned from an entertainment, he was found
dead the next morning. His death is mentioned in Swift's Journal.
[Footnote 132: He was admitted there in 1670; was elected to Trinity
college, Cambridge, in 1675; and took his master's degree in 1682. N.]
[Footnote 133: Floriana, a pastoral, on the death of the dutchess of
Southampton, published anonymously in folio, May 17, 1681, was written by
Richard Duke. M.]
[Footnote 134: They make a part of a volume published by Tonson in 8vo.
1717, containing the poems of the earl of Roscommon, and the duke of
Buckingham's Essay on Poetry; but were first published in Dryden's
Miscellany, as were most, if not all, of the poems in that collection.
[Footnote 135: He was presented to the rectory of Blaby, in
Leicestershire, in 1687-8; and obtained a prebend at Gloucester in 1688.
William King was born in London in 1663; the son of Ezekiel King, a
gentleman. He was allied to the family of Clarendon.
From Westminster school, where he was a scholar on the foundation, under
the care of Dr. Busby, he was, at eighteen, elected to Christ church,
in 1681; where he is said to have prosecuted his studies with so much
intenseness and activity, that before he was eight years standing he had
read over, and made remarks upon, twenty-two thousand odd hundred books
and manuscripts. The books were certainly not very long, the
manuscripts not very difficult, nor the remarks very large; for the
calculator will find that he despatched seven a day for every day of his
eight years, with a remnant that more than satisfies most other students.
He took his degree in the most expensive manner, as a grand compounder;
whence it is inferred that he inherited a considerable fortune.
In 1688, the same year in which he was made master of arts, he published
a confutation of Varillas's account of Wickliffe; and, engaging in the
study of the civil law, became doctor in 1692, and was admitted advocate
at Doctors' Commons.
He had already made some translations from the French, and written some
humorous and satirical pieces; when, in 1694, Molesworth published his
Account of Denmark, in which he treats the Danes and their monarch with
great contempt; and takes the opportunity of insinuating those wild
principles, by which he supposes liberty to be established, and by
which his adversaries suspect that all subordination and government is
This book offended prince George; and the Danish minister presented a
memorial against it. The principles of its author did not please Dr.
King; and, therefore, he undertook to confute part, and laugh at the
rest. The controversy is now forgotten; and books of this kind seldom
live long, when interest and resentment have ceased.
In 1697, he mingled in the controversy between Boyle and Bentley; and was
one of those who tried what wit could perform in opposition to learning;
on a question which learning only could decide.
In 1699, was published by him, a Journey to London, after the method of
Dr. Martin Lister, who had published a Journey to Paris. And, in 1700, he
satirized the Royal Society, at least sir Hans Sloane, their president,
in two dialogues, entitled The Transactioneer.
Though he was a regular advocate in the courts of civil and canon law,
he did not love his profession, nor, indeed, any kind of business which
interrupted his voluptuary dreams, or forced him to rouse from that
indulgence in which only he could find delight. His reputation, as a
civilian, was yet maintained by his judgments in the courts of delegates,
and raised very high by the address and knowledge which he discovered in
1700, when he defended the earl of Anglesea against his lady, afterwards
dutchess of Buckinghamshire, who sued for a divorce, and obtained it.
The expense of his pleasures, and neglect of business, had now lessened
his revenues; and he was willing to accept of a settlement in Ireland,
where, about 1702, he was made judge of the admiralty, commissioner
of the prizes, keeper of the records in Birmingham's tower, and
vicar-general to Dr. Marsh, the primate.
But it is vain to put wealth within the reach of him who will not
stretch out his hand to take it. King soon found a friend, as idle and
thoughtless as himself, in Upton, one of the judges, who had a pleasant
house called Mountown, near Dublin, to which King frequently retired;
delighting to neglect his interest, forget his cares, and desert his
Here he wrote Mully of Mountown, a poem; by which, though fanciful
readers, in the pride of sagacity, have given it a political
interpretation, was meant originally no more than it expressed, as it was
dictated only by the author's delight in the quiet of Mountown.
In 1708, when lord Wharton was sent to govern Ireland, King returned to
London, with his poverty, his idleness, and his wit; and published some
essays, called Useful Transactions. His Voyage to the Island of Cajamai
is particularly commended. He then wrote the Art of Love, a poem
remarkable, notwithstanding its title, for purity of sentiment; and, in
1709, imitated Horace in an Art of Cookery, which he published, with some
letters to Dr. Lister.
In 1710, he appeared as a lover of the church, on the side of
Sacheverell; and was supposed to have concurred, at least, in the
projection of The Examiner. His eyes were open to all the operations of
whiggism; and he bestowed some strictures upon Dr. Kennett's adulatory
sermon at the funeral of the duke of Devonshire.
The History of the Heathen Gods, a book composed for schools, was written
by him in 1710. The work is useful; but might have been produced without
the powers of King. The same year he published Rufinus, an historical
essay; and a poem, intended to dispose the nation to think as he thought
of the duke of Marlborough and his adherents.
In 1711, competence, if not plenty, was again put into his power. He was,
without the trouble of attendance, or the mortification of a request,
made gazetteer. Swift, Freind, Prior, and other men of the same party,
brought him the key of the gazetteer's office. He was now again placed
in a profitable employment, and again threw the benefit away. An act of
insolvency made his business, at that time, particularly troublesome;
and he would not wait till hurry should be at an end, but impatiently
resigned it, and returned to his wonted indigence and amusements.
One of his amusements at Lambeth, where he resided, was to mortify Dr.
Tenison, the archbishop, by a publick festivity, on the surrender of
Dunkirk to Hill; an event with which Tenison's political bigotry did
not suffer him to be delighted. King was resolved to counteract his
sullenness, and, at the expense of a few barrels of ale, filled the
neighbourhood with honest merriment.
In the autumn of 1712, his health declined; he grew weaker by degrees,
and died on Christmas day. Though his life had not been without
irregularity, his principles were pure and orthodox, and his death was
After this relation it will be naturally supposed that his poems were
rather the amusements of idleness than efforts of study; that he
endeavoured rather to divert than astonish; that his thoughts seldom
aspired to sublimity; and that, if his verse was easy and his images
familiar, he attained what he desired. His purpose is to be merry; but,
perhaps, to enjoy his mirth, it may be sometimes necessary to think well
of his opinions.
[Footnote 137: Dr. Johnson appears to have made but little use of the
life of Dr. King, prefixed to his works, in three vols. 1776; to which it
may not be impertinent to refer the reader. His talent for humour ought
to be praised in the highest terms. In that, at least, he yielded to none
of his contemporaries.]
Thomas Sprat was born in 1636, at Tallaton in Devonshire, the son of
a clergyman; and having been educated, as he tells of himself, not at
Westminster or Eton, but at a little school by the church-yard side,
became a commoner of Wadham college, in Oxford, in 1651; and, being
chosen scholar next year, proceeded through the usual academical course,
and, in 1657, became master of arts. He obtained a fellowship, and
In 1659, his poem on the death of Oliver was published, with those of
Dryden and Waller. In his dedication to Dr. Wilkins, he appears a very
willing and liberal encomiast, both of the living and the dead. He
implores his patron's excuse of his verses, both as falling "so
infinitely below the full and sublime genius of that excellent poet who
made this way of writing free of our nation," and being "so little equal
and proportioned to the renown of the prince on whom they were written;
such great actions and lives deserving to be the subject of the noblest
pens and most divine phansies." He proceeds: "Having so long experienced
your care and indulgence, and been formed, as it were, by your own hands,
not to entitle you to any thing which my meanness produces, would be not
only injustice, but sacrilege."
He published, the same year, a poem on the Plague of Athens; a subject of
which it is not easy to say what could recommend it. To these he added,
afterwards, a poem on Mr. Cowley's death.
After the restoration he took orders, and by Cowley's recommendation was
made chaplain to the duke of Buckingham, whom he is said to have helped
in writing the Rehearsal. He was likewise chaplain to the king.
As he was the favourite of Wilkins, at whose house began those
philosophical conferences and inquiries, which in time produced the Royal
Society, he was consequently engaged in the same studies, and became one
of the fellows; and when, after their incorporation, something seemed
necessary to reconcile the publick to the new institution, he undertook
to write its history, which he published in 1667. This is one of the few
books which selection of sentiment and elegance of diction have been
able to preserve, though written upon a subject flux and transitory. The
History of the Royal Society is now read, not with the wish to know what
they were then doing, but how their transactions are exhibited by Sprat.
In the next year he published Observations on Sorbière's Voyage into
England, in a letter to Mr. Wren. This is a work not ill-performed; but,
perhaps, rewarded with at least its full proportion of praise.
In 1668, he published Cowley's Latin poems, and prefixed, in Latin, the
life of the author; which he afterwards amplified, and placed before
Cowley's English works, which were by will committed to his care.
Ecclesiastical benefices now fell fast upon him. In 1668, he became a
prebendary of Westminster, and had afterwards the church of St. Margaret,
adjoining to the abbey. He was, in 1680, made canon of Windsor; in 1683,
dean of Westminster; and, in 1684, bishop of Rochester.
The court having thus a claim to his diligence and gratitude, he was
required to write the History of the Rye-house Plot; and, in 1685,
published a true Account and Declaration of the horrid Conspiracy against
the late King, his present Majesty, and the present Government; a
performance which he thought convenient, after the revolution, to
extenuate and excuse.
The same year, being clerk of the closet to the king, he was made dean of
the chapel royal; and, the year afterwards, received the last proof of
his master's confidence, by being appointed one of the commissioners
for ecclesiastical affairs. On the critical day, when the declaration
distinguished the true sons of the church of England, he stood neuter,
and permitted it to be read at Westminster; but pressed none to violate
his conscience; and, when the bishop of London was brought before them,
gave his voice in his favour.
Thus far he suffered interest or obedience to carry him; but further
he refused to go. When he found that the powers of the ecclesiastical
commission were to be exercised against those who had refused the
declaration, he wrote to the lords, and other commissioners, a formal
profession of his unwillingness to exercise that authority any longer,
and withdrew himself from them. After they had read his letter, they
adjourned for six months, and scarcely ever met afterwards.
When king James was frighted away, and a new government was to be
settled, Sprat was one of those who considered, in a conference, the
great question, Whether the crown was vacant, and manfully spoke in
favour of his old master.
He complied, however, with the new establishment, and was left
unmolested; but, in 1692, a strange attack was made upon him by one
Robert Young and Stephen Blackhead, both men convicted of infamous
crimes, and both, when the scheme was laid, prisoners in Newgate. These
men drew up an association, in which they whose names were subscribed,
declared their resolution to restore king James, to seize the princess of
Orange, dead or alive, and to be ready with thirty thousand men to meet
king James when he should land. To this they put the names of Sancroft,
Sprat, Marlborough, Salisbury, and others. The copy of Dr. Sprat's name
was obtained by a fictitious request, to which an answer in his own hand
was desired. His hand was copied so well, that he confessed it might have
deceived himself. Blackhead, who had carried the letter, being sent
again with a plausible message, was very curious to see the house, and
particularly importunate to be let into the study; where, as is supposed,
he designed to leave the association. This, however, was denied him;
and he dropped it in a flower-pot in the parlour. Young now laid an
information before the privy council; and May 7, 1692, the bishop was
arrested, and kept at a messenger's, under a strict guard, eleven days.
His house was searched, and directions were given that the flower-pots
should be inspected. The messengers, however, missed the room in which
the paper was left. Blackhead went, therefore, a third time; and finding
his paper where he had left it, brought it away.
The bishop having been enlarged, was, on June the 10th and 13th, examined
again before the privy council, and confronted with his accusers. Young
persisted, with the most obdurate impudence, against the strongest
evidence; but the resolution of Blackhead, by degrees, gave way. There
remained at last no doubt of the bishop's innocence, who, with great
prudence and diligence, traced the progress, and detected the characters
of the two informers, and published an account of his own examination and
deliverance; which made such an impression upon him, that he commemorated
it through life by a yearly day of thanksgiving.
With what hope or what interest, the villains had contrived an accusation
which they must know themselves utterly unable to prove, was never
After this he passed his days in the quiet exercise of his function.
When the cause of Sacheverell put the publick in commotion, he honestly
appeared among the friends of the church. He lived to his seventy-ninth
year, and died May 20, 1713.
Burnet is not very favourable to his memory; but he and Burnet were old
rivals. On some publick occasion they both preached before the house of
commons. There prevailed, in those days, an indecent custom: when the
preacher touched any favourite topick, in a manner that delighted his
audience, their approbation was expressed by a loud _hum_, continued in
proportion to their zeal or pleasure. When Burnet preached, part of his
congregation _hummed_ so loudly and so long, that he, sat down to enjoy
it, and rubbed his face with his handkerchief. When Sprat preached, he
likewise was honoured with the like animating _hum_; but he stretched
out his hand to the congregation, and cried, "Peace, peace, I pray you,
This I was told in my youth by my father, an old man, who had been no
careless observer of the passages of those times.
Burnet's sermon, says Salmon, was remarkable for sedition, and Sprat's
for loyalty. Burnet had the thanks of the house; Sprat had no thanks, but
a good living from the king, which, he said, was of as much value as the
thanks of the commons.
The works of Sprat, besides his few poems, are, the History of the Royal
Society, the Life of Cowley, the Answer to Sorbière, the History of the
Rye-house Plot, the Relation of his own Examination, and a volume of
sermons. I have heard it observed, with great justness, that every
book is of a different kind, and that each has its distinct and
My business is only with his poems. He considered Cowley as a model; and
supposed that, as he was imitated, perfection was approached. Nothing,
therefore, but Pindarick liberty was to be expected. There is in his few
productions no want of such conceits as he thought excellent; and of
those our judgment may be settled by the first that appears in his praise
of Cromwell, where he says, that Cromwell's "fame, like man, will grow
white as it grows old."
[Footnote 138: This observation was made to Dr. Johnson by the right hon.
Wm. Gerard Hamilton, as he told me, at Tunbridge, August, 1792. M.]
The life of the earl of Halifax was properly that of an artful and active
statesman, employed in balancing parties, contriving expedients, and
combating opposition, and exposed to the vicissitudes of advancement and
degradation; but, in this collection, poetical merit is the claim to
attention; and the account which is here to be expected may properly be
proportioned not to his influence in the state, but to his rank among the
writers of verse.
Charles Montague was born April 16, 1661, at Horton, in Northamptonshire,
the son of Mr. George Montague, a younger son of the earl of Manchester.
He was educated first in the country, and then removed to Westminster,
where, in 1677, he was chosen a king's scholar, and recommended himself
to Busby by his felicity in extemporary epigrams. He contracted a very
intimate friendship with Mr. Stepney; and, in 1682, when Stepney was
elected to Cambridge, the election of Montague being not to proceed till
the year following, he was afraid lest, by being placed at Oxford, he
might be separated from his companion, and, therefore, solicited to be
removed to Cambridge, without waiting for the advantages of another year.
It seems, indeed, time to wish for a removal; for he was already a
schoolboy of one-and-twenty.
His relation, Dr. Montague, was then master of the college in which he
was placed a fellow-commoner, and took him under his particular care.
Here he commenced an acquaintance with the great Newton, which continued
through his life, and was at last attested by a legacy.
In 1685, his verses on the death of king Charles made such an impression
on the earl of Dorset, that he was invited to town, and introduced by
that universal patron to the other wits. In 1687, he joined with Prior
in the City Mouse and Country Mouse, a burlesque of Dryden's Hind and
Panther. He signed the invitation to the prince of Orange, and sat in
the convention. He, about the same time, married the countess dowager of
Manchester, and intended to have taken orders; but afterwards altering
his purpose, he purchased, for 1500_l_. the place of one of the clerks of
After he had written his epistle on the victory of the Boyne, his patron
Dorset introduced him to king William, with this expression: "Sir, I have
brought a _mouse_ to wait on your majesty." To which the king is said
to have replied, "You do well to put me in the way of making a _man_
of him;" and ordered him a pension of five hundred pounds. This story,
however current, seems to have been made after the event. The king's
answer implies a greater acquaintance with our proverbial and familiar
diction than king William could possibly have attained.
In 1691, being member of the house of commons, he argued warmly in favour
of a law to grant the assistance of counsel in trials for high treason;
and, in the midst of his speech falling into some confusion, was for
awhile silent; but, recovering himself, observed, "how reasonable it was
to allow counsel to men called as criminals before a court of justice,
when it appeared how much the presence of that assembly could disconcert
one of their own body."
After this he rose fast into honours and employments, being made one of
the commissioners of the treasury, and called to the privy council. In
1694, he became chancellor of the exchequer; and the next year engaged
in the great attempt of the recoinage, which was in two years happily
completed. In 1696, he projected the _general fund_ and raised the
credit of the exchequer; and, after inquiry concerning a grant of Irish
crown-lands, it was determined, by a vote of the commons, that Charles
Montague, esquire, "had deserved his majesty's favour." In 1698, being
advanced to the first commission of the treasury, he was appointed one of
the regency in the king's absence; the next year he was made auditor of
the exchequer, and the year after created baron Halifax. He was, however,
impeached by the commons; but the articles were dismissed by the lords.
At the accession of queen Anne he was dismissed from the council; and in
the first parliament of her reign was again attacked by the commons, and
again escaped by the protection of the lords. In 1704, he wrote an answer
to Bromley's speech against occasional conformity. He headed the inquiry
into the danger of the church. In 1706, he proposed and negotiated the
union with Scotland; and when the elector of Hanover received the garter,
after the act had passed for securing the protestant succession, he was
appointed to carry the ensigns of the order to the electoral court. He
sat as one of the judges of Sacheverell; but voted for a mild sentence.
Being now no longer in favour, he contrived to obtain a writ for
summoning the electoral prince to parliament, as duke of Cambridge.
At the queen's death he was appointed one of the regents; and at the
accession of George the first was made earl of Halifax, knight of the
garter, and first commissioner of the treasury, with a grant to his
nephew of the reversion of the auditorship of the exchequer. More was not
to be had, and this he kept but a little while; for, on the 19th of May,
1715, he died of an inflammation of his lungs.
Of him, who from a poet became a patron of poets, it will be readily
believed that the works would not miss of celebration. Addison began
to praise him early, and was followed or accompanied by other poets;
perhaps, by almost all, except Swift and Pope, who forbore to flatter him
in his life, and after his death spoke of him, Swift with slight censure,
and Pope, in the character of Bufo, with acrimonious contempt.
He was, as Pope says, "fed with dedications;" for Tickell affirms that no
dedicator was unrewarded. To charge all unmerited praise with the guilt
of flattery, and to suppose that the encomiast always knows and feels the
falsehoods of his assertions, is, surely, to discover great ignorance of
human nature and human life. In determinations depending not on rules,
but on experience and comparison, judgment is always, in some degree,
subject to affection. Very near to admiration is the wish to admire.
Every man willingly gives value to the praise which he receives,
and considers the sentence passed in his favour as the sentence of
discernment. We admire, in a friend, that understanding that selected us
for confidence; we admire more, in a patron, that judgment which, instead
of scattering bounty indiscriminately, directed it to us; and, if the
patron be an author, those performances which gratitude forbids us to
blame, affection will easily dispose us to exalt.
To these prejudices, hardly culpable, interest adds a power always
operating, though not always, because not willingly, perceived. The
modesty of praise wears gradually away; and, perhaps, the pride of
patronage may be in time so increased, that modest praise will no longer
Many a blandishment was practised upon Halifax, which he would never have
known, had he no other attractions than those of his poetry, of which a
short time has withered the beauties. It would now be esteemed no honour,
by a contributor to the monthly bundles of verses, to be told, that, in
strains either familiar or solemn, he sings like Montague.
[Footnote 139: He left sir Isaac Newton 200/. M.]
[Footnote 140: Mr. Reed observes, that this anecdote is related by Mr.
Walpole, in his Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, of the earl of
Shaftesbury, author of the Characteristicks, but it appears to me to be
a mistake, if we are to understand that the words were spoken by
Shaftesbury at this time, when he had no seat in the house of commons;
nor did the bill pass at this time, being thrown out by the house of
lords. It became a law in the seventh of William, when Halifax and
Shaftesbury both had seats. The editors of the Biog. Brit. adopt Mr.
Walpole's story, but they are not speaking of this period. The story
first appeared in the life of lord Halifax, published in 1715.]
[Footnote 141: Mr. Roscoe denies that Pope's character of Bufo, in the
prologue to the Satires, was intended for Halifax. In evidence of his
assertion he quotes several passages from Pope's poems, and the preface
to the Iliad, all published after that nobleman's death, when the poet
could hope for no return for his praises, when flattery could not sooth
"the dull cold ear of death." Twenty years after Halifax's decease, he is
"But does the court one worthy man remove,
That moment I declare he has my love:
I shun their zenith, court their mild decline;
Thus SOMERS once, and HALIFAX were mine."
See Roscoe's Pope, vol. i. p. 138. ED.]
The life of Dr. Parnell is a task which I should very willingly decline,
since it has been lately written by Goldsmith, a man of such variety of
powers, and such felicity of performance, that he always seemed to do
best that which he was doing; a man who had the art of being minute
without tediousness, and general without confusion; whose language was
copious without exuberance, exact without constraint, and easy without
What such an author has told, who would tell again? I have made an
abstract from his larger narrative; and have this gratification from my
attempt, that it gives me an opportunity of paying due tribute to the
memory of Goldsmith:
'Tho geras esti thanonton'
Thomas Parnell was the son of a commonwealthsman of the same name, who,
at the restoration, left Congleton, in Cheshire, where the family had
been established for several centuries, and, settling in Ireland,
purchased an estate, which, with his lands in Cheshire, descended to the
poet, who was born at Dublin, in 1679; and, after the usual education at
a grammar-school, was, at the age of thirteen, admitted into the college,
where, in 1700, he became master of arts; and was the same year ordained
a deacon, though under the canonical age, by a dispensation from the
bishop of Derry.
About three years afterwards he was made a priest; and, in 1705, Dr.
Ashe, the bishop of Clogher, conferred upon him the archdeaconry of
Clogher. About the same time he married Mrs. Anne Minchin, an amiable
lady, by whom he had two sons, who died young, and a daughter who long
At the ejection of the whigs, in the end of queen Anne's reign, Parnell
was persuaded to change his party, not without much censure from those
whom he forsook, and was received by the new ministry as a valuable
reinforcement. When the earl of Oxford was told that Dr. Parnell waited
among the crowd in the outer room, he went, by the persuasion of Swift,
with his treasurer's staff in his hand, to inquire for him, and to bid
him welcome; and, as may be inferred from Pope's dedication, admitted him
as a favourite companion to his convivial hours, but, as it seems often
to have happened in those times to the favourites of the great, without
attention to his fortune, which, however, was in no great need of
Parnell, who did not want ambition or vanity, was desirous to make
himself conspicuous, and to show how worthy he was of high preferment. As
he thought himself qualified to become a popular preacher, he displayed
his elocution with great success in the pulpits of London; but the
queen's death putting an end to his expectations, abated his diligence;
and Pope represents him as falling from that time into intemperance of
wine. That in his latter life he was too much a lover of the bottle, is
not denied; but I have heard it imputed to a cause more likely to obtain
forgiveness from mankind, the untimely death of a darling son; or, as
others tell, the loss of his wife, who died, 1712, in the midst of his
He was now to derive every future addition to his preferments from
his personal interest with his private friends, and he was not long
unregarded. He was warmly recommended by Swift to archbishop King, who
gave him a prebend in 1713; and in May, 1716, presented him to the
vicarage of Finglass, in the diocese of Dublin, worth four hundred pounds
a year. Such notice from such a man inclines me to believe, that the vice
of which he has been accused was not gross, or not notorious.
But his prosperity did not last long. His end, whatever was its cause,
was now approaching. He enjoyed his preferment little more than a year;
for in July, 1717, in his thirty-eighth year, he died at Chester, on his
way to Ireland.
He seems to have been one of those poets who take delight in writing. He
contributed to the papers of that time, and probably published more than
he owned. He left many compositions behind him, of which Pope selected
those which he thought best, and dedicated them to the earl of Oxford. Of
these Goldsmith has given an opinion, and his criticism it is seldom safe
to contradict. He bestows just praise upon the Rise of Woman, the Fairy
Tale, and the Pervigilium Veneris; but has very properly remarked, that
in the Battle of Mice and Frogs, the Greek names have not in English
their original effect.
He tells us, that the Bookworm is borrowed from Beza; but he should have
added, with modern applications; and, when he discovers that Gay Bacchus
is translated from Augurellus, he ought to have remarked, that the latter
part is purely Parnell's. Another poem, when Spring comes on, is, he
says, taken from the French. I would add, that the description of
Barrenness, in his verses to Pope, was borrowed from Secundus; but lately
searching for the passage, which I had formerly read, I could not find
it. The Night-piece on Death is indirectly preferred by Goldsmith to
Gray's Church-yard; but, in my opinion, Gray has the advantage in
dignity, variety, and originality of sentiment. He observes, that the
story of the Hermit is in More's Dialogues and Howell's Letters, and
supposes it to have been originally Arabian.
Goldsmith has not taken any notice of the Elegy to the old Beauty, which
is, perhaps, the meanest; nor of the Allegory on Man, the happiest of
Parnell's performances. The hint of the Hymn to Contentment I
suspect to have been borrowed from Cleiveland.
The general character of Parnell is not great extent of comprehension, or
fertility of mind. Of the little that appears, still less is his own. His
praise must be derived from the easy sweetness of his diction: in his
verses there is more happiness than pains; he is sprightly without
effort, and always delights, though he never ravishes; every thing is
proper, yet every thing seems casual. If there is some appearance of
elaboration in The Hermit, the narrative, as it is less airy, is less
pleasing. Of his other compositions it is impossible to say whether
they are the productions of nature, so excellent as not to want the help
of art, or of art so refined as to resemble nature.
This criticism relates only to the pieces published by Pope. Of the large
appendages, which I find in the last edition, I can only say, that I know
not whence they came, nor have ever inquired whither they are going. They
stand upon the faith of the compilers.
[Footnote 142: Parnell's "exquisite Hymn to Contentment, is manifestly
formed on the Divine _Psalmodia_ of cardinal Bona--this imitation has
escaped the notice of Dr. Johnson, and, it is believed, of all other
critics and commentators." Dr. Jebb's Sermons, second edition, p. 94.]
[Footnote 143: Dr. Warton asks, "Less than what?"]
Samuel Garth was of a good family in Yorkshire, and, from some school in
his own country, became a student at Peter-house, in Cambridge, where he
resided till he became doctor of physick, on July the 7th, 1691. He was
examined before the college at London, on March the 12th, 1691-2, and
admitted fellow, July 26th, 1693. He was soon so much distinguished
by his conversation and accomplishments, as to obtain very extensive
practice; and, if a pamphlet of those times may be credited, had the
favour and confidence of one party, as Radcliffe had of the other.
He is always mentioned as a man of benevolence; and it is just to
suppose, that his desire of helping the helpless disposed him to so much
zeal for the dispensary; an undertaking of which some account, however
short, is proper to be given.
Whether what Temple says be true, that physicians have had more learning
than the other faculties, I will not stay to inquire; but, I believe,
every man has found in physicians great liberality and dignity of
sentiment, very prompt effusion of beneficence, and willingness to exert
a lucrative art where there is no hope of lucre. Agreeably to this
character, the College of Physicians, in July, 1687, published an
edict, requiring all the fellows, candidates, and licentiates, to give
gratuitous advice to the neighbouring poor.
This edict was sent to the court of aldermen; and, a question being made
to whom the appellation of the _poor_ should be extended, the college
answered, that it should be sufficient to bring a testimonial from the
clergyman officiating in the parish where the patient resided.
After a year's experience, the physicians found their charity frustrated
by some malignant opposition, and made, to a great degree, vain by the
high price of physick; they, therefore, voted, in August, 1688, that the
laboratory of the college should be accommodated to the preparation of
medicines, and another room prepared for their reception; and that the
contributors to the expense should manage the charity.
It was now expected, that the apothecaries would have undertaken the care
of providing medicines; but they took another course. Thinking the whole
design pernicious to their interest, they endeavoured to raise a faction
against it in the college, and found some physicians mean enough to
solicit their patronage, by betraying to them the counsels of the
college. The greater part, however, enforced by a new edict, in 1694,
the former order of 1687, and sent it to the mayor and aldermen, who
appointed a committee to treat with the college, and settle the mode of
administering the charity.
It was desired by the aldermen, that the testimonials of churchwardens
and overseers should be admitted; and that all hired servants, and all
apprentices to handicrafts-men, should be considered as poor. This,
likewise, was granted by the college.
It was then considered who should distribute the medicines, and who
should settle their prices. The physicians procured some apothecaries to
undertake the dispensation, and offered that the warden and company of
the apothecaries should adjust the price. This offer was rejected; and
the apothecaries who had engaged to assist the charity were considered as
traitors to the company, threatened with the imposition of troublesome
offices, and deterred from the performance of their engagements. The
apothecaries ventured upon publick opposition, and presented a kind of
remonstrance against the design to the committee of the city, which the
physicians condescended to confute; and, at last, the traders seem to
have prevailed among the sons of trade; for the proposal of the college
having been considered, a paper of approbation was drawn up, but
postponed and forgotten.
The physicians still persisted; and, in 1696, a subscription was raised
by themselves, according to an agreement prefixed to The Dispensary. The
poor were, for a time, supplied with medicines; for how long a time, I
know not. The medicinal charity, like others, began with ardour, but soon
remitted, and, at last, died gradually away.
About the time of the subscription begins the action of The Dispensary.
The poem, as its subject was present and popular, cooperated with
passions and prejudices then prevalent, and, with such auxiliaries to its
intrinsick merit, was universally and liberally applauded. It was on
the side of charity against the intrigues of interest, and of regular
learning against licentious usurpation of medical authority; and was,
therefore, naturally favoured by those who read and can judge of poetry.
In 1697, Garth spoke that which is now called the Harveian oration; which
the authors of the Biographia mention with more praise than the passage
quoted in their notes will fully justify. Garth, speaking of the
mischiefs done by quacks, has these expressions: "Non tamen telis
vulnerat ista agyrtarum colluvies, sed theriaca quadam magis perniciosa;
non pyrio, sed pulvere nescio quo exotico certat; non globulis plumbeis,
sed pilulis aeque lethalibus interficit." This was certainly thought fine
by the author, and is still admired by his biographer. In October, 1702,
he became one of the censors of the college.
Garth, being an active and zealous whig, was a member of the Kit-cat
club, and, by consequence, familiarly known to all the great men of that
denomination. In 1710, when the government fell into other hands, he writ
to lord Godolphin, on his dismission, a short poem, which was criticised
in The Examiner, and so successfully either defended or excused by Mr.
Addison, that, for the sake of the vindication, it ought to be preserved.
At the accession of the present family his merits were acknowledged and
rewarded. He was knighted with the sword of his hero, Marlborough; and
was made physician in ordinary to the king, and physician general to the
army. He then undertook an edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses, translated
by several hands; which he recommended by a preface, written with more
ostentation than ability; his notions are half-formed, and his materials
immethodically confused. This was his last work. He died Jan. 18,
1717-18, and was buried at Harrow-on-the-Hill.
His personal character seems to have been social and liberal. He
communicated himself through a very wide extent of acquaintance; and
though firm in a party, at a time when firmness included virulence, yet
he imparted his kindness to those who were not supposed to favour his
principles. He was an early encourager of Pope, and was, at once, the
friend of Addison and of Granville. He is accused of voluptuousness and
irreligion; and Pope, who says, that "if ever there was a good Christian,
without knowing himself to be so, it was Dr. Garth," seems not able to
deny what he is angry to hear, and loath to confess.
Pope afterwards declared himself convinced, that Garth died in the
communion of the church of Rome, having been privately reconciled. It is
observed by Lowth, that there is less distance than is thought between
skepticism and popery; and that a mind, wearied with perpetual doubt,
willingly seeks repose in the bosom of an infallible church.
His poetry has been praised, at least, equally to its merit. In The
Dispensary there is a strain of smooth and free versification; but few
lines are eminently elegant. No passages fall below mediocrity, and few
rise much above it. The plan seems formed without just proportion to the
subject; the means and end have no necessary connexion. Resnel, in his
Preface to Pope's Essay, remarks, that Garth exhibits no discrimination
of characters; and that what any one says might, with equal propriety,
have been said by another. The general design is, perhaps, open to
criticism; but the composition can seldom be charged with inaccuracy or
negligence. The author never slumbers in self-indulgence; his full vigour
is always exerted; scarcely a line is left unfinished; nor is it easy
to find an expression used by constraint, or a thought imperfectly
expressed. It was remarked by Pope, that The Dispensary had been
corrected in every edition, and that every change was an improvement. It
appears, however, to want something of poetical ardour, and something
of general delectation; and, therefore, since it has been no longer
supported by accidental and extrinsick popularity, it has been scarcely
able to support itself.
Nicholas Rowe was born at Little Beckford, in Bedfordshire, in 1673. His
family had long possessed a considerable estate, with a good house, at
Lambertoun, in Devonshire. The ancestor from whom he descended, in a
direct line, received the arms borne by his descendants for his bravery
in the holy war. His father, John Rowe, who was the first that quitted
his paternal acres to practise any art of profit, professed the law, and
published Benlow's and Dallison's Reports, in the reign of James the
second, when in opposition to the notions, then diligently propagated,
of dispensing power, he ventured to remark how low his authors rated the
prerogative. He was made a sergeant, and died April 30, 1692. He was
buried in the Temple church.
Nicholas was first sent to a private school at Highgate; and, being
afterwards removed to Westminster, was, at twelve years, chosen one
of the king's scholars. His master was Busby, who suffered none of his
scholars to let their powers lie useless; and his exercises in several
languages are said to have been written with uncommon degrees of
excellence, and yet to have cost him very little labour.
At sixteen he had, in his father's opinion, made advances in learning
sufficient to qualify him for the study of law, and was entered a student
of the Middle Temple, where, for some time, he read statutes and reports
with proficiency proportionate to the force of his mind, which was
already such that he endeavoured to comprehend law, not as a series
of precedents, or collection of positive precepts, but as a system of
rational government, and impartial justice.
When he was nineteen, he was, by the death of his father, left more to
his own direction, and, probably, from that time suffered law gradually
to give way to poetry. At twenty-five he produced the Ambitious
Step-Mother, which was received with so much favour, that he devoted
himself, from that time, wholly to elegant literature.
His next tragedy, 1702, was Tamerlane, in which, under the name of
Tamerlane, he intended to characterize king William, and Lewis the
fourteenth under that of Bajazet. The virtues of Tamerlane seem to have
been arbitrarily assigned him by his poet, for I know not that history
gives any other qualities than those which make a conqueror. The fashion,
however, of the time was, to accumulate upon Lewis all that can raise
horrour and detestation; and whatever good was withheld from him, that it
might not be thrown away, was bestowed upon king William.
This was the tragedy which Rowe valued most, and that which, probably by
the help of political auxiliaries, excited most applause; but occasional
poetry must often content itself with occasional praise. Tamerlane has
for a long time been acted only once a year, on the night when king
William landed. Our quarrel with Lewis has been long over; and it now
gratifies neither zeal nor malice to see him painted with aggravated
features, like a Saracen upon a sign.
The Fair Penitent, his next production, 1703, is one of the most pleasing
tragedies on the stage, where it still keeps its turns of appearing, and
probably will long keep them, for there is scarcely any work of any poet,
at once, so interesting by the fable and so delightful by the language.
The story is domestick, and, therefore, easily received by the
imagination, and assimilated to common life; the diction is exquisitely
harmonious, and soft or sprightly as occasion requires.
The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson into
Lovelace; but he has excelled his original in the moral effect of the
fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and bravery which
cannot be despised, retains too much of the spectator's kindness. It
was in the power of Richardson alone to teach us, at once, esteem and
detestation; to make virtuous resentment overpower all the benevolence
which wit, elegance, and courage, naturally excite; and to lose, at last,
the hero in the villain.
The fifth act is not equal to the former; the events of the drama are
exhausted, and little remains but to talk of what is past. It has been
observed that the title of the play does not sufficiently correspond
with the behaviour of Calista, who, at last, shows no evident signs
of repentance, but may be reasonably suspected of feeling pain from
detection rather than from guilt, and expresses more shame than sorrow,
and more rage than shame.
His next, 1706, was Ulysses; which, with the common fate of mythological
stories, is now generally neglected. We have been too early acquainted
with the poetical heroes, to expect any pleasure from their revival; to
show them as they have already been shown, is to disgust by repetition;
to give them new qualities, or new adventures, is to offend by violating
The Royal Convert, 1708, seems to have a better claim to longevity. The
fable is drawn from an obscure and barbarous age, to which fictions are
most easily and properly adapted; for when objects are imperfectly
seen, they easily take forms from imagination. The scene lies among
our ancestors in our own country, and, therefore, very easily catches
attention. Rodogune is a personage truly tragical, of high spirit, and
violent passions, great with tempestuous dignity, and wicked with a soul
that would have been heroick if it had been virtuous. The motto seems to
tell that this play was not successful.
Rowe does not always remember what his characters require. In Tamerlane
there is some ridiculous mention of the god of love; and Rodogune, a
savage Saxon, talks of Venus, and the eagle that bears the thunder of
This play discovers its own date, by a prediction of the union, in
imitation of Cranmer's prophetick promises to Henry the eighth. The
anticipated blessings of union are not very naturally introduced, nor
very happily expressed.
He once, 1706, tried to change his hand. He ventured on a comedy, and
produced The Biter; with which, though it was unfavourably treated by the
audience, he was himself delighted; for he is said to have sat in the
house laughing with great vehemence, whenever he had, in his own opinion,
produced a jest. But, finding that he and the publick had no sympathy of
mirth, he tried at lighter scenes no more.
After the Royal Convert, 1714, appeared Jane Shore, written, as its
author professes, "in imitation of Shakespeare's style." In what he
thought himself an imitator of Shakespeare, it is not easy to conceive.
The numbers, the diction, the sentiments, and the conduct, every thing in
which imitation can consist, are remote, in the utmost degree, from the
manner of Shakespeare; whose dramas it resembles only as it is an English
story, and as some of the persons have their names in history. This play,
consisting chiefly of domestick scenes and private distress, lays hold
upon the heart. The wife is forgiven, because she repents, and the
husband is honoured, because he forgives. This, therefore, is one of
those pieces which we still welcome on the stage.
His last tragedy, 1715, was Lady Jane Grey. This subject had been chosen
by Mr. Smith, whose papers were put into Rowe's hands, such as he
describes them in his preface. This play has, likewise, sunk into
oblivion. From this time he gave nothing more to the stage.
Being, by a competent fortune, exempted from any necessity of combating
his inclination, he never wrote in distress, and, therefore, does not
appear to have ever written in haste. His works were finished to his own
approbation, and bear few marks of negligence or hurry. It is remarkable,
that his prologues and epilogues are all his own, though he sometimes
supplied others; he afforded help, but did not solicit it. As his studies
necessarily made him acquainted with Shakespeare, and acquaintance
produced veneration, he undertook, 1709, an edition of his works, from
which he neither received much praise, nor seems to have expected it;
yet, I believe, those who compare it with former copies will find, that
he has done more than he promised; and that, without the pomp of notes,
or boasts of criticism, many passages are happily restored. He prefixed
a life of the author, such as tradition, then almost expiring, could
supply, and a preface, which cannot be said to discover much
profundity or penetration. He, at least, contributed to the popularity of
He was willing enough to improve his fortune by other arts than poetry.
He was under-secretary, for three years, when the duke of Queensberry was
secretary of state, and afterwards applied to the earl of Oxford for some
publick employment. Oxford enjoined him to study Spanish; and when,
some time afterwards, he came again, and said that he had mastered it,
dismissed him, with this congratulation: "Then, sir, I envy you the
pleasure of reading Don Quixote in the original."
This story is sufficiently attested; but why Oxford, who desired to
be thought a favourer of literature, should thus insult a man of
acknowledged merit; or how Rowe, who was so keen a whig, that he
did not willingly converse with men of the opposite party, could ask
preferment from Oxford, it is not now possible to discover. Pope, who
told the story, did not say on what occasion the advice was given; and,
though he owned Rowe's disappointment, doubted whether any injury was
intended him, but thought it rather lord Oxford's _odd way_.
It is likely that he lived on discontented through the rest of queen
Anne's reign; but the time came, at last, when he found kinder friends.
At the accession of king George he was made poet-laureate; I am afraid,
by the ejection of poor Nahum Tate, who, 1716, died in the Mint, where
he was forced to seek shelter by extreme poverty. He was made,
likewise, one of the land-surveyors of the customs of the port of
London. The prince of Wales chose him clerk of his council; and the lord
chancellor Parker, as soon as he received the seals, appointed him,
unasked, secretary of the presentations. Such an accumulation of
employments undoubtedly produced a very considerable revenue.
Having already translated some parts of Lucan's Pharsalia, which had been
published in the Miscellanies, and doubtless received many praises, he
undertook a version of the whole work, which he lived to finish, but not
to publish. It seems to have been printed under the care of Dr. Welwood,
who prefixed the author's life, in which is contained the following
"As to his person, it was graceful and well made; his face regular, and
of a manly beauty. As his soul was well lodged, so its rational and
animal faculties excelled in a high degree. He had a quick and fruitful
invention, a deep penetration, and a large compass of thought, with
singular dexterity and easiness in making his thoughts to be understood.
He was master of most parts of polite learning, especially the classical
authors, both Greek and Latin; understood the French, Italian, and
Spanish languages; and spoke the first fluently, and the other two
"He had likewise read most of the Greek and Roman histories in their
original languages, and most that are wrote in English, French, Italian,
and Spanish. He had a good taste in philosophy; and, having a firm
impression of religion upon his mind, he took great delight in divinity
and ecclesiastical history, in both which he made great advances in the
times he retired into the country, which were frequent. He expressed, on
all occasions, his full persuasion of the truth of revealed religion; and
being a sincere member of the established church himself, he pitied, but
condemned not, those that dissented from it. He abhorred the principles
of persecuting men upon the account of their opinions in religion; and,
being strict in his own, he took it not upon him to censure those of
another persuasion. His conversation was pleasant, witty, and learned,
without the least tincture of affectation or pedantry; and his inimitable
manner of diverting and enlivening the company made it impossible for any
one to be out of humour when he was in it. Envy and detraction seemed to
be entirely foreign to his constitution; and whatever provocations he
met with at any time, he passed them over without the least thought of
resentment or revenge. As Homer had a Zoilus, so Mr. Rowe had sometimes
his; for there were not wanting malevolent people, and pretenders to
poetry too, that would now and then bark at his best performances; but
he was conscious of his own genius, and had so much good-nature as to
forgive them; nor could he ever be tempted to return them an answer.
"The love of learning and poetry made him not the less fit for business,
and nobody applied himself closer to it, when it required his attendance.
The late duke of Queensberry, when he was secretary of state, made him
his secretary for publick affairs; and when that truly great man came
to know him well, he was never so pleased as when Mr. Rowe was in
his company. After the duke's death, all avenues were stopped to his
preferment; and, during the rest of that reign, he passed his time with
the muses and his books, and sometimes the conversation of his friends.
"When he had just got to be easy in his fortune, and was in a fair way to
make it better, death swept him away, and in him deprived the world of
one of the best men, as well as one of the best geniuses of the age. He
died like a christian and a philosopher, in charity with all mankind,
and with an absolute resignation to the will of God. He kept up his
good-humour to the last; and took leave of his wife and friends
immediately before his last agony, with the same tranquillity of mind,
and the same indifference for life, as though he had been upon taking
but a short journey. He was twice married; first to a daughter of Mr.
Parsons, one of the auditors of the revenue; and afterwards to a daughter
of Mr. Devenish, of a good family in Dorsetshire. By the first he
had a son; and by the second a daughter, married afterwards to Mr. Fane.
He died the sixth of December, 1718, in the forty-fifth year of his age;
and was buried the nineteenth of the same month in Westminster Abbey,
in the aisle where many of our English poets are interred, over against
Chaucer, his body being attended by a select number of his friends, and
the dean and choir officiating at the funeral."
To this character, which is apparently given with the fondness of a
friend, may be added the testimony of Pope, who says, in a letter to
Blount: "Mr. Rowe accompanied me, and passed a week in the forest. I
need not tell you how much a man of his turn entertained me; but I must
acquaint you, there is a vivacity and gaiety of disposition, almost
peculiar to him, which makes it impossible to part from him without that
uneasiness which generally succeeds all our pleasure."
Pope has left behind him another mention of his companion, less
advantageous, which is thus reported by Dr. Warburton.
"Rowe, in Mr. Pope's opinion, maintained a decent character, but had no
heart. Mr. Addison was justly offended with some behaviour which arose
from that want, and estranged himself from him; which Rowe felt
very severely. Mr. Pope, their common friend, knowing this, took an
opportunity, at some juncture of Mr. Addison's advancement, to tell him
how poor Rowe was grieved at his displeasure, and what satisfaction he
expressed at Mr. Addison's good fortune, which he expressed so naturally,
that he (Mr. Pope) could not but think him sincere. Mr. Addison replied,
'I do not suspect that he feigned; but the levity of his heart is such,
that he is struck with any new adventure; and it would affect him just in
the same manner, if he heard I was going to be hanged.' Mr. Pope said he
could not deny but Mr. Addison understood Rowe well."
This censure time has not left us the power of confirming or refuting;
but observation daily shows, that much stress is not to be laid on
hyperbolical accusations, and pointed sentences, which even he that
utters them desires to be applauded rather than credited. Addison can
hardly be supposed to have meant all that he said. Few characters can
bear the microscopick scrutiny of wit quickened by anger; and, perhaps,
the best advice to authors would be, that they should keep out of the way
of one another.
Rowe is chiefly to be considered as a tragick writer and a translator. In
his attempt at comedy he failed so ignominiously, that his Biter is not
inserted in his works; and his occasional poems and short compositions
are rarely worthy of either praise or censure; for they seem the casual
sports of a mind seeking rather to amuse its leisure than to exercise its
In the construction of his dramas, there is not much art; he is not a
nice observer of the unities. He extends time and varies place as his
convenience requires. To vary the place is not, in my opinion, any
violation of nature, if the change be made between the acts; for it is no
less easy for the spectator to suppose himself at Athens in the second
act, than at Thebes in the first; but to change the scene, as is done by
Rowe, in the middle of an act, is to add more acts to the play, since an
act is so much of the business as is transacted without interruption.
Rowe, by this license, easily extricates himself from difficulties; as,
in Jane Grey, when we have been terrified with all the dreadful pomp of
publick execution, and are wondering how the heroine or the poet will
proceed, no sooner has Jane pronounced some prophetick rhymes, than--pass
and be gone--the scene closes, and Pembroke and Gardiner are turned out
upon the stage.
I know not that there can be found in his plays any deep search into
nature, any accurate discriminations of kindred qualities, or nice
display of passion in its progress; all is general and undefined. Nor
does he much interest or affect the auditor, except in Jane Shore, who is
always seen and heard with pity. Alicia is a character of empty noise,
with no resemblance to real sorrow, or to natural madness.
Whence, then, has Rowe his reputation? From the reasonableness and
propriety of some of his scenes, from the elegance of his diction, and
the suavity of his verse. He seldom moves either pity or terrour, but
he often elevates the sentiments; he seldom pierces the breast, but he
always delights the ear, and often improves the understanding.
His translation of the Golden Verses, and of the first book of Quillet's
poem, have nothing in them remarkable. The Golden Verses are tedious.
The version of Lucan is one of the greatest productions of English
poetry; for there is, perhaps, none that so completely exhibits the
genius and spirit of the original. Lucan is distinguished by a kind of
dictatorial or philosophick dignity, rather, as Quintilian observes,
declamatory than poetical; full of ambitious morality and pointed
sentences, comprised in vigorous and animated lines. This character Rowe
has very diligently and successfully preserved. His versification,
which is such as his contemporaries practised, without any attempt at
innovation or improvement, seldom wants either melody or force. His
author's sense is sometimes a little diluted by additional infusions,
and sometimes weakened by too much expansion. But such faults are to
be expected in all translations, from the constraint of measures and
dissimilitude of languages. The Pharsalia of Rowe deserves more notice
than it obtains, and, as it is more read, will be more esteemed.
[Footnote 144: In the Villare, _Lamerton_. Dr. J.]
[Footnote 145: He was not elected till 1688. N.]
[Footnote 146: Sewell, in a life of Rowe, says, that he was called to the
bar and kept chambers in one of the inns of court, till he had produced
two plays; that is till 1702, at which time he was twenty-nine. M.]
[Footnote 147: Mr. Rowe's preface, however, is not distinct, as it might
be supposed from this passage, from the life. R.]
[Footnote 148: Spence.]
[Footnote 149: Spence.]
[Footnote 150: Jacob, who wrote only four years afterwards, says, that
Tate had to write the first birthday ode after the accession of king
George, (Lives of the Poets, 11. 232.) so that he was probably not
ejected to make room for Rowe, but made a vacancy by his death, in 1716.
[Footnote 151: Mrs. Anne Deanes Devenish, of a very good family in
Dorsetshire, was first married to Mr. Rowe the poet, by whom she was left
in not abounding circumstances, was afterwards married to colonel Deanes,
by whom also she was left a widow; and upon the family estate, which was
a good one, coming to her by the death of a near relation, she resumed
the family name of Devenish. She was a clever, sensible, agreeable woman,
had seen a great deal of the world, had kept much good company, and was
distinguished by a happy mixture of elegance and sense in every thing she
said or did. Bishop Newton's Life by himself, p. 32.
About the year 1738, he, by her desire, collected and published Mr.
Rowe's works, with a dedication to Frederick prince of Wales. Mrs.
Devenish, I believe, died about the year 1758. She was, I think, the
person meant by Pope in the line,
Each widow asks it for her own good man. M.]
[Footnote 152: Sewell, who was acquainted with Howe, speaks very highly
of him: "I dare not venture to give you his character, either as a
companion, a friend, or a poet. It may be enough to say, that all good
and learned men loved him; that his conversation either struck out mirth,
or promoted learning or honour whereever he went; that the openness of a
gentleman, the unstudied eloquence of a scholar, and the perfect freedom
of an Englishman, attended him in all his actions." Life of Rowe prefixed
to his poems. M.
That the author of Jane Shore should have no heart; that Addison should
assert this, whilst he admitted, in the same breath, that Rowe was
grieved at his displeasure; and that Pope should coincide in such an
opinion, and yet should have stated in his epitaph on Rowe,
'That never heart felt passion more sincere,'
are circumstances that cannot be admitted, without sacrificing to the
veracity of an anecdote, the character and consistency of all the persons
introduced. Roscoe's Life of Pope, prefixed to his works, vol. i. p.
[Footnote 153: Rowe's Lucan, however, has not escaped without censure.
Bentley has criticised it with great severity in his Philoleutheros
The life of Rowe is a very remarkable instance of the uncommon strength
of Dr. Johnson's memory. When I received from him the MS. he complacently
observed, "that the criticism was tolerably well done, considering that
he had not read one of Rowe's plays for thirty years!" N.]
Joseph Addison was born on the 1st of May, 1672, at Milston, of which
his father, Launcelot Addison, was then rector, near Ambrosebury, in
Wiltshire, and appearing weak and unlikely to live, he was christened
the same day. After the usual domestick education, which, from the
character of his father, may be reasonably supposed to have given him
strong impressions of piety, he was committed to the care of Mr. Naish,
at Ambrosebury, and afterwards of Mr. Taylor, at Salisbury.
Not to name the school or the masters of men illustrious for literature,
is a kind of historical fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously
diminished: I would, therefore, trace him through the whole process of
his education. In 1683, in the beginning of his twelfth year, his father,
being made dean of Lichfield, naturally carried his family to his new
residence, and, I believe, placed him, for some time, probably not long,
under Mr. Shaw, then master of the school at Lichfield, father of the
late Dr. Peter Shaw. Of this interval his biographers have given no
account, and I know it only from a story of a barring-out, told me, when
I was a boy, by Andrew Corbet, of Shropshire, who had heard it from Mr.
Pigot his uncle.
The practice of barring-out was a savage license, practised in many
schools to the end of the last century, by which the boys, when the
periodical vacation drew near, growing petulant at the approach of
liberty, some days before the time of regular recess, took possession
of the school, of which they barred the doors, and bade their master
defiance from the windows. It is not easy to suppose that on such
occasions the master would do more than laugh; yet, if tradition may be
credited, he often struggled hard to force or surprise the garrison. The
master, when Pigot was a schoolboy, was barred-out at Lichfield; and the
whole operation, as he said, was planned and conducted by Addison.
To judge better of the probability of this story, I have inquired when he
was sent to the Chartreux; but, as he was not one of those who enjoyed
the founder's benefaction, there is no account preserved of his
admission. At the school of the Chartreux, to which he was removed either
from that of Salisbury or Lichfield, he pursued his juvenile studies
under the care of Dr. Ellis, and contracted that intimacy with
sir Richard Steele, which their joint labours have so effectually
Of this memorable friendship the greater praise must be given to Steele.
It is not hard to love those from whom nothing can be feared; and Addison
never considered Steele as a rival; but Steele lived, as he confesses,
under an habitual subjection to the predominating genius of Addison, whom
he always mentioned with reverence, and treated with obsequiousness.
Addison, who knew his own dignity, could not always forbear to show
it, by playing a little upon his admirer; but he was in no danger of
retort: his jests were endured without resistance or resentment.
But the sneer of jocularity was not the worst. Steele, whose imprudence
of generosity, or vanity of profusion, kept him always incurably
necessitous, upon some pressing exigence, in an evil hour, borrowed a
hundred pounds of his friend, probably without much purpose of repayment;
but Addison, who seems to have had other notions of a hundred pounds,
grew impatient of delay, and reclaimed his loan by an execution. Steele
felt, with great sensibility, the obduracy of his creditor, but with
emotions of sorrow rather than of anger.
In 1687 he was entered into Queen's college in Oxford, where, in 1689,
the accidental perusal of some Latin verses gained him the patronage
of Dr. Lancaster, afterwards provost of Queen's college; by whose
recommendation he was elected into Magdalen college as a demy, a term by
which that society denominates those which are elsewhere called scholars;
young men, who partake of the founder's benefaction, and succeed in their
order to vacant fellowships. Here he continued to cultivate poetry
and criticism, and grew first eminent by his Latin compositions, which
are, indeed, entitled to particular praise. He has not confined himself
to the imitation of any ancient author, but has formed his style from
the general language, such as a diligent perusal of the productions of
different ages happened to supply.
His Latin compositions seem to have had much of his fondness, for he
collected a second volume of the Musae Anglicanae, perhaps, for a
convenient receptacle, in which all his Latin pieces are inserted, and
where his poem on the Peace has the first place. He afterwards presented
the collection to Boileau, who, from that time, "conceived," says
Tickell, "an opinion of the English genius for poetry." Nothing is better
known of Boileau, than that he had an injudicious and peevish contempt of
modern Latin, and, therefore, his profession of regard was, probably, the
effect of his civility rather than approbation.
Three of his Latin poems are upon subjects on which, perhaps, he would
not have ventured to have written in his own language. The Battle of the
Pygmies and Cranes; the Barometer; and a Bowling-green. When the matter
is low or scanty, a dead language, in which nothing is mean because
nothing is familiar, affords great conveniencies; and, by the sonorous
magnificence of Roman syllables, the writer conceals penury of thought
and want of novelty, often from the reader, and often from himself.
In his twenty-second year he first showed his power of English poetry
by some verses addressed to Dryden; and soon afterwards published a
translation of the greater part of the fourth Georgick upon bees; after
which, says Dryden, "my latter swarm is hardly worth the hiving."
About the same time he composed the arguments prefixed to the several
books of Dryden's Virgil; and produced an Essay on the Georgicks,
juvenile, superficial, and uninstructive, without much either of the
scholar's learning or the critick's penetration.
His next paper of verses contained a character of the principal English
poets, inscribed to Henry Sacheverell, who was then, if not a poet, a
writer of verses; as is shown by his version of a small part of
Virgil's Georgicks, published in the Miscellanies; and a Latin Encomium
on queen Mary, in the Musae Anglicanae. These verses exhibit all the
fondness of friendship; but, on one side or the other, friendship was
afterwards too weak for the malignity of faction.
In this poem is a very confident and discriminative character of Spenser,
whose work he had then never read. So little, sometimes, is
criticism the effect of judgment. It is necessary to inform the reader,
that about this time he was introduced by Congreve to Montague, then
chancellor of the exchequer: Addison was then learning the trade of
a courtier, and subjoined Montague, as a poetical name to those of Cowley
By the influence of Mr. Montague, concurring, according to Tickell, with
his natural modesty, he was diverted from his original design of entering
into holy orders. Montague alleged the corruption of men who engaged in
civil employments without liberal education; and declared, that, though
he was represented as an enemy to the church, he would never do it any
injury but by withholding Addison from it.
Soon after, in 1695, he wrote a poem to king William, with a rhyming
introduction, addressed to lord Somers. King William had no regard
to elegance or literature; his study was only war; yet by a choice
of ministers, whose disposition was very different from his own, he
procured, without intention, a very liberal patronage to poetry. Addison
was caressed both by Somers and Montague.
In 1697 appeared his Latin verses on the Peace of Ryswick, which he
dedicated to Montague, and which was afterwards called, by Smith, "the
best Latin poem since the Aeneid." Praise must not be too rigorously
examined; but the performance cannot be denied to be vigorous and
Having yet no publick employment, he obtained, in 1699, a pension of
three hundred pounds a year, that he might be enabled to travel. He staid
a year at Blois, probably to learn the French language; and then
proceeded in his journey to Italy, which he surveyed with the eyes of a
While he was travelling at leisure, he was far from being idle; for he
not only collected his observations on the country, but found time to
write his Dialogues on Medals, and four acts of Cato. Such, at least, is
the relation of Tickell. Perhaps he only collected his materials, and
formed his plan.
Whatever were his other employments in Italy, he there wrote the letter
to lord Halifax, which is justly considered as the most elegant, if not
the most sublime, of his poetical productions. But in about two
years he found it necessary to hasten home; being, as Swift informs
us, distressed by indigence, and compelled to become the tutor of a
travelling squire, because his pension was not remitted.
At his return he published his travels, with a dedication to lord Somers.
As his stay in foreign countries was short, his observations are
such as might be supplied by a hasty view, and consist chiefly in
comparisons of the present face of the country with the descriptions left
us by the Roman poets, from whom he made preparatory collections, though
he might have spared the trouble, had he known that such collections had
been made twice before by Italian authors.
The most amusing passage of his book is his account of the minute
republick of San Marino: of many parts it is not a very severe censure to
say, that they might have been written at home. His elegance of language,
and variegation of prose and verse, however, gains upon the reader; and
the book, though awhile neglected, became, in time, so much the favourite
of the publick, that before it was reprinted it rose to five times its
When he returned to England, in 1702, with a meanness of appearance which
gave testimony of the difficulties to which he had been reduced, he found
his old patrons out of power, and was, therefore, for a time, at full
leisure for the cultivation of his mind; and a mind so cultivated gives
reason to believe that little time was lost.
But he remained not long neglected or useless. The victory at Blenheim,
1704, spread triumph and confidence over the nation; and lord Godolphin,
lamenting to lord Halifax, that it had not been celebrated in a manner
equal to the subject, desired him to propose it to some better poet.
Halifax told him, that there was no encouragement for genius; that
worthless men were unprofitably enriched with publick money, without any
care to find or employ those whose appearance might do honour to their
country. To this Godolphin replied, that such abuses should, in time, be
rectified; and that, if a man could be found capable of the task then
proposed, he should not want an ample recompense. Halifax then named
Addison; but required that the treasurer should apply to him in his
own person. Godolphin sent the message by Mr. Boyle, afterwards lord
Carleton; and Addison, having undertaken the work, communicated it to the
treasurer, while it was yet advanced no farther than the simile of the
angel, and was immediately rewarded by succeeding Mr. Locke in the place
of commissioner of appeals.
In the following year he was at Hanover with lord Halifax: and the year
after was made under-secretary of state, first to sir Charles Hedges, and
in a few months more to the earl of Sunderland.
About this time the prevalent taste for Italian operas inclined him to
try what would be the effect of a musical drama in our own language. He,
therefore, wrote the opera of Rosamond, which, when exhibited on the
stage, was either hissed or neglected; but, trusting that the
readers would do him more justice, he published it, with an inscription
to the dutchess of Marlborough; a woman without skill, or pretensions
to skill, in poetry or literature. His dedication was, therefore, an
instance of servile absurdity, to be exceeded only by Joshua Barnes's
dedication of a Greek Anacreon to the duke.
His reputation had been somewhat advanced by the Tender Husband, a comedy
which Steele dedicated to him, with a confession, that he owed to him
several of the most successful scenes. To this play Addison supplied a
When the marquis of Wharton was appointed lord lieutenant of
Ireland, Addison attended him as his secretary; and was made keeper
of the records in Birmingham's tower, with a salary of three hundred
pounds a year. The office was little more than nominal, and the salary
was augmented for his accommodation.
Interest and faction allow little to the operation of particular
dispositions, or private opinions. Two men of personal characters more
opposite than those of Wharton and Addison could not easily be brought
together. Wharton was impious, profligate, and shameless, without regard,
or appearance of regard, to right and wrong: whatever is contrary to this
may be said of Addison; but, as agents of a party, they were connected,
and how they adjusted their other sentiments we cannot know.
Addison, must, however, not be too hastily condemned. It is not necessary
to refuse benefits from a bad man, when the acceptance implies no
approbation of his crimes; nor has the subordinate officer any obligation
to examine the opinions or conduct of those under whom he acts, except
that he may not be made the instrument of wickedness. It is reasonable to
suppose, that Addison counteracted, as far as he was able, the malignant
and blasting influence of the lieutenant; and that, at least, by his
intervention some good was done, and some mischief prevented.
When he was in office, he made a law to himself, as Swift has recorded,
never to remit his regular fees in civility to his friends: "for," said
he, "I may have a hundred friends; and, if my fee be two guineas, I
shall, by relinquishing my right, lose two hundred guineas, and no friend
gain more than two; there is, therefore, no proportion between the good
imparted and the evil suffered." He was in Ireland when Steele, without
any communication of his design, began the publication of the Tatler; but
he was not long concealed: by inserting a remark on Virgil, which Addison
had given him, he discovered himself. It is, indeed, not easy for any man
to write upon literature, or common life, so as not to make himself known
to those with whom he familiarly converses, and who are acquainted with
his track of study, his favourite topicks, his peculiar notions, and his
If Steele desired to write in secret, he was not lucky; a single month
detected him. His first Tatler was published April 12, 1709; and
Addison's contribution appeared May 26. Tickell observes, that the Tatler
began, and was concluded without his concurrence. This is, doubtless,
literally true; but the work did not suffer much by his unconsciousness
of its commencement, or his absence at its cessation; for he continued
his assistance to December 23, and the paper stopped on January 2,
1710-11. He did not distinguish his pieces by any signature; and I know
not whether his name was not kept secret till the papers were collected
To the Tatler, in about two months, succeeded the Spectator; a
series of essays of the same kind, but written with less levity, upon a
more regular plan, and published daily. Such an undertaking showed the
writers not to distrust their own copiousness of materials or facility
of composition, and their performance justified their confidence. They
found, however, in their progress, many auxiliaries. To attempt a single
paper was no terrifying labour; many pieces were offered, and many were
Addison had enough of the zeal of party; but Steele had, at that time,
almost nothing else. The Spectator, in one of the first papers, showed
the political tenets of its authors; but a resolution was soon taken, of
courting general approbation by general topicks, and subjects on which
faction had produced no diversity of sentiments; such as literature,
morality, and familiar life. To this practice they adhered with few
deviations. The ardour of Steele once broke out in praise of Marlborough;
and when Dr. Fleetwood prefixed to some sermons a preface, overflowing
with whiggish opinions, that it might be read by the queen, it was
reprinted in the Spectator.
To teach the minuter decencies and inferiour duties, to regulate the
practice of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which are
rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove those grievances which, if
they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation, was first
attempted by Casa in his book of Manners, and Castiglione in his
Courtier; two books yet celebrated in Italy for purity and elegance, and
which, if they are now less read, are neglected only because they have
effected that reformation which their authors intended, and their
precepts now are no longer wanted. Their usefulness to the age in which
they were written is sufficiently attested by the translations which
almost all the nations of Europe were in haste to obtain.
This species of instruction was continued, and perhaps advanced, by the
French; among whom la Bruyère's Manners of the Age, though, as Boileau
remarked, it is written without connexion, certainly deserves great
praise, for liveliness of description, and justness of observation.
Before the Tatler and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are
excepted, England had no masters of common life. No writers had
yet undertaken to reform either the savageness of neglect, or the
impertinence of civility; to show when to speak, or to be silent; how
to refuse, or how to comply. We had many books to teach us our more
important duties, and to settle opinions in philosophy or politicks;
but an Arbiter Elegantiarum, a judge of propriety, was yet wanting, who
should survey the track of daily conversation, and free it from thorns
and prickles, which tease the passer, though they do not wound him.
For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of
short papers, which we read not as study but amusement. If the subject be
slight, the treatise, likewise, is short. The busy may find time, and the
idle may find patience.
This mode of conveying cheap and easy knowledge began among us in the
civil war, when it was much the interest of either party to raise
and fix the prejudices of the people. At that time appeared Mercurius
Aulicus, Mercurius Rusticus, and Mercurius Civicus. It is said, that when
any title grew popular, it was stolen by the antagonist, who, by this
stratagem, conveyed his notions to those who would not have received him,
had he not worn the appearance of a friend. The tumult of those
unhappy days left scarcely any man leisure to treasure up occasional
compositions; and so much were they neglected, that a complete collection
is nowhere to be found.
These Mercuries were succeeded by l'Estrange's Observator; and that by
Lesley's Rehearsal, and, perhaps, by others; but hitherto nothing had
been conveyed to the people, in this commodious manner, but controversy
relating to the church or state; of which they taught many to talk, whom
they could not teach to judge.
It has been suggested that the Royal Society was instituted soon after
the restoration, to divert the attention of the people from publick
discontent. The Tatler and Spectator had the same tendency; they were
published at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and violent, each
with plausible declarations, and each, perhaps, without any distinct
termination of its views, were agitating the nation; to minds heated with
political contest they supplied cooler and more inoffensive reflections;
and it is said by Addison, in a subsequent work, that they had a
perceptible influence upon the conversation of that time, and taught the
frolick and the gay to unite merriment with decency; an effect which they
can never wholly lose, while they continue to be among the first books by
which both sexes are initiated in the elegancies of knowledge.
The Tatler and Spectator adjusted, like Casa, the unsettled practice of
daily intercourse by propriety and politeness; and, like la Bruyère,
exhibited the characters and manners of the age. The personages
introduced in these papers were not merely ideal; they were then known
and conspicuous in various stations. Of the Tatler this is told by Steele
in his last paper; and of the Spectator by Budgel, in the preface to
Theophrastus, a book which Addison has recommended, and which he was
suspected to have revised, if he did not write it. Of those portraits,
which may be supposed to be sometimes embellished, and sometimes
aggravated, the originals are now partly known and partly forgotten.
But to say that they united the plans of two or three eminent writers,
is to give them but a small part of their due praise; they superadded
literature and criticism, and sometimes towered far above their
predecessors; and taught, with great justness of argument and dignity of
language, the most important duties and sublime truths.
All these topicks were happily varied with elegant fictions and refined
allegories, and illuminated with different changes of style and
felicities of invention.
It is recorded by Budgel, that, of the characters feigned or exhibited
in the Spectator, the favourite of Addison was sir Roger de Coverley, of
whom he had formed a very delicate and discriminated idea, which he
would not suffer to be violated; and, therefore, when Steele had shown
him innocently picking up a girl in the temple, and taking her to a
tavern, he drew upon himself so much of his friend's indignation, that he
was forced to appease him by a promise of forbearing sir Roger for the
time to come.
The reason which induced Cervantes to bring his hero to the grave, "para
mi solo nacio don Quixote, y yo para el," made Addison declare, with an
undue vehemence of expression, that he would kill sir Roger; being of
opinion that they were born for one another, and that any other hand
would do him wrong.
It may be doubted whether Addison ever filled up his original
delineation. He describes his knight as having his imagination somewhat
warped; but of this perversion he has made very little use. The
irregularities in sir Roger's conduct seem not so much the effects of a
mind deviating from the beaten track of life, by the perpetual pressure
of some overwhelming idea, as of habitual rusticity, and that negligence
which solitary grandeur naturally generates.
The variable weather of the mind, the flying vapours of incipient
madness, which, from time to time, cloud reason, without eclipsing it,
it requires so much nicety to exhibit, that Addison seems to have been
deterred from prosecuting his own design.
To sir Roger, who, as a country gentleman, appears to be a tory, or, as
it is gently expressed, an adherent to the landed interest, is opposed
sir Andrew Freeport, a new man, a wealthy merchant, zealous for the
moneyed interest, and a whig. Of this contrariety of opinions, it is
probable more consequences were at first intended, than could be produced
when the resolution was taken to exclude party from the paper. Sir Andrew
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