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LIFE OF HENRY BROOKE, ESQ.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
This amiable and ingenious writer was a native of Ireland, where he was born in the year 1708. His father, the rev. W. Brooke of Rantavan, rector of the parishes of Killinkare, Mullough, Mybullough, and Licowie, is said to have been a man of great talents and worth : his mother's name was Digby. Our poet's education appears to have been precipitated in a manner not very usual; after being for some time the pupil of Dr. Sheridan, he was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, and from thence removed, when only seventeen years old, to study law in the Temple. Dr. Sheridan was probably the means of his being introduced in London to Swift and Pope, who regarded him as a young man of very promising talents. How long he remained in London we are not told; but on his return to Ireland he practised for some time as a chamber counsel, when an incident occurred which interrupted his more regular pursuits, and prematurely involved him in the cares of a family.
An aunt, who died at Westmeath about the time of his arrival in Ireland, committed to him the guardianship of her daughter, a lively and beautiful girl between eleven and twelve years old. Brooke, pleased with the trust, conducted her to Dublin, and placed her at a boarding-school, where during his frequent visits he gradually changed the guardian for the lover, and at length prevailed on her to consent to a private marriage. In the life prefixed to his works, this is said to have taken place before she had reached her fourteenth year; another account, which it is neither easy nor pleasant to believe, informs us that she was a mother before she had completed that year. When the marriage was discovered, the ceremony was again performed in the presence of his family.
For some time this happy pair had no cares but to please each other, and it was not until after the birth of their third child, that Brooke could be induced to think seriously how such a family was to be provided for. The law had long been given up, and he had little inclination to resume a profession which excluded so many of the pleasures of imagination, and appeared inconsistent with the feelings of a mind tender, benevolent, and somewhat romantic. Another journey to London, however, promised the advantages of literary society, and the execution of literary schemes by which he might indulge his genius, and be rewarded by fame and wealth. Accordingly, soon after his
arrival, he renewed his acquaintance with his former friends, and published his philosophical poem, entitled Universal Beauty. This had been submitted to Pope, who probably contributed his assistance, and whose manner at least is certainly followed. At what time this occurred is uncertain. The second part was published in 1735, and the remainder about a year after. What fame or advantage he derived from it we know not, as no mention is made of him in the extensive correspondence of Pope or Swift. He was, however, obliged to return to Ireland, where for a short time he resumed his legal profession.
In 1737, he went a third time to London, where he was introduced to Lyttelton and others, the political and literary adherents of the prince of Wales, “who," it is said, “ caressed him with uncommon familiarity, and presented him with many elegant and valuable tokens of his friendship.” Amidst such society, he had every thing to point bis ambition to fame and independence, and readily caught that fervour of patriotic enthusiasm which was the bond of union and the ground of hope in the prince's court.
In 1738, he published a Translation of the First Three Books of Tasso, of which it is sufficient praise that Hoole says, “ It is at once so harmonious and so spirited, that I think an entire translation of Tasso by him would not only have rendered my task unnecessary, but have discouraged those from the attempt whose poetical abilities are much superior to mine.”
He was, however, diverted from completing his translation by his political friends, who, among other plans of hostility against the minister of the day, endeavoured to turn all the weapons of literature against him. Their prose writers were numerous, cipally essayists and pamphleteers ; from their poets they had greater expectations ; Paul Whitehead wrote satires; Fielding comedies and farces; Glover, an epic poem; and now Brooke was encouraged to introduce Walpole in a tragedy. This was entitled Gustavus Vasa, the Deliverer of his Country, and was accepted by Drury Lane theatre and almost quite ready for performance, when an order came from the lord chamberlain to prohibit it. That it contains a considerable portion of party-spirit cannot be denied, and the character of Trollio, the Swedish minister, however unjustly, was certainly intended for sir Robert Walpole; but it may be doubted whether this minister gained much by prohibiting the acting of a play which he had not the courage to suppress when published, and when the sentiments, considered deliberately in the closet, might be nearly as injurious as when delivered by a mouthing actor. The press, however, remained open, and the probibition having excited an uncommon degree of curiosity, the author was more richly rewarded than he could have been by the profits of the stage. Above a thousand copies were subscribed for at five shillings each, and hy the sale of the subsequent editions the author is said to have cleared nearly a thousand pounds. The editor of the Biographia Dramatica says that it was acted, in 1742, with some alterations, on the Irish stage, by the title of The Patriot. Dr. Johnson, who at this time ranked among the discontented, wrote a very ingenious satirical pamphlet, in favour of the author, entitled A complete Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage from the malicious and scandalous Aspersion of Mr. Brooke, Author of Gustavus Vasa ; 4to. 1739.
The fame Brooke acquired by this play, which has certainly many beauties, seemed the earnest of a prosperous career, and as he thought he could now afford to wait the slow
progress of events, he hired a house at Twickenham, near to Pope's, furnished it genteelly, and sent for Mrs. Brooke and his family. But these flattering prospects were soon clouded. He was seized with an ague so violent and obstinate that his physiciaps,
after having almost despaired of his life, advised him, as a last resource, to try his native air ; with this he complied, and obtained a complete recovery. It was then expected that he should return to London ; and such was certainly his intention ; but to the surprise of his friends he determined to remain in Ireland. For a conduct so apparently inconsistent, not only with his interest but his inclination, he was long unwilling to account. It appeared afterwards, that Mrs. Brooke was alarmed at the zeal with which he espoused the cause of the opposition, and dreaded the consequences with which his next intemperate publication might be followed. She persuaded him therefore to remain in Ireland; and for so singular a measure, at this favourable crisis in his history, he could assign no adequate reason, without exposing her to the imputation of caprice, and himself to that of a too yielding temper.
During his residence in Ireland, he kept up a literary correspondence with his London friends ; but all their letters were consumed by an accidental fire. Two from Pope, we are told, are particularly to be lamented, as, in one of these, he professed himself in heart a protestant, but apologized for not publicly conforming, by alleging that it would render the eve of his mother's life unhappy. Pope's filial affection is the most amiable feature in his character ; but this story of his declining to conform because it would give uneasiness to his mother, falls to the ground when the reader is told that his mother had been dead six or seven years before Brooke went to Ireland. In another letter he is said, with more appearance of truth, to have advised Brooke to take orders,
as being a profession better suited to his principles, his disposition, and his genius, than that of the law, and also less injurious to his health.” Why he did not comply with this advice cannot now be known; but before this time he appears to have been of a religious turn, although it is not easy to reconcile his principles, which were those of the strictest kind, with his continual ambition to shine as a dramatic writer.
For some years after his arrival in Ireland little is known of his life, except that lord Chesterfield, when viceroy, conferred upon him the office of barrack-master. His pen, however, was not idle. In 1741, he contributed to Ogle's version of Chaucer, Constantia, or the Man of Law's Tale ; and in 1745, according to one account, his tragedy of The Earl of Westmoreland was performed, on the Dublin stage ; but the editor of the Biographia Dramatica informs us that it was first acted at Dublin in 1741, under the title of The Betrayer of his Country; and again in 1754, under that of Injured Honour. Its fame, however, was contined to Ireland ; nor was it known in England until the publication of his poetical works in 1778. A more important publication was his Farmer's Letters, written in 1745, on the plan of Swift's Drapier's Letters, and with a view to rouse the spirit of freedom among the Irish, threatened as they were, in common with their fellow-subjects, by rebellion and invasion. On this occasion Garrick addressed the following lines to him :
Oh, thou, whose artless free-born genius charms;
Let not rank weeds corrupt, or brambles choke,
In 1746, he wrote an Epilogue on the birth-day of the duke of Cumberland, spoken by Mr. Garrick in Dublin, and a Prologue to Othello, which are now added to his works. In 1747, he contributed to Moore's volume of Fables four of great poetical merit, viz. The Temple of Hymen, The Sparrow and Dove, The Female Seducer, and Love and Vanity. In 1748, he wrote a Prologue to The Foundling, which is now added to this edition, and a dramatic opera, entitled Little John and the Giants. This was acted only one night in Dublin, being then prohibited on account of certain political allusions. On this occasion, he wrote The Last Speech of John Good, alias, Jack the Giant Queller, a satirical effusion, not very pointed, and mixed with political allegory, and a profusion of quotations from scripture against tyrants and tyranny. In 1749, his Earl of Essex, a tragedy, was performed at Dublin, and afterwards, in 1760, at Drury Lane theatre, with so much success as to be preferred to the rival plays on the same subject, by Banks and Jones. At what time bis other dramatic pieces were written, or acted, if acted at all, is uncertain'.
His biographer informs us, that “ wearied, at length, with fruitless efforts to rouse the slumbering genius of his country-disgusted with her ingratitude—and sick of her venality, he withdrew to his paternal seat, and there, in the society of the Muses, and the peaceful bosom of domestic 'ove, consoled himself for lost advantages and disappointed hopes. An only brother, whom he tenderly loved, accompanied his retirement, with a family almost as numerous as his own; and there, for many years, they lived together with uninterrupted harmony and affection: the nephew was as dear as the son—the uncle as revered as the father, and the sister-in-law almost as beloved as the wife.”
In 1762, he published a pamphlet entitled The Trial of the Roman Catholics ; the object of which was to remove the political restraints on that class, and to prove that this may be done with safety. In this attempt, however, bis zeal led bim so far as to question incontrovertible facts, and even to assert that the history of the Irish massacre in 1641 is nothing but an old wife's fable; and upon the whole, he leans more to the principles of the Roman Catholic religion than an argument professedly political, or a mere question of extended toleration, seemed to require.
His next work excited more attention in England. In 1766, appeared the first volume of The Fool of Quality, or the History of the Earl of Moreland, a novel replete with knowledge of human life and manners, and in which there are many admirable traits of moral feeling and propriety, but mixed, as the author advances towards the close, with so much of religious discussion, and mysterious stories and opinions, as to leave it doubt
These were, The Contending Brothers, The Female Officer, and The Marriage Contract, comedies; The Impostor, a tragedy, and Cymbeline, an injudicious alteration from Shakspeare. Montezuma, a tragedy, is printed among his works, but is said to have been the production of another hand, Of these, The Female Officer only is said to have been once acted, when Mrs. Woffington personated the officer ; probably at her benefit. C.