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ROSCOMM O N.
ENTWORTH DILLON, Earl of Ror
common, was the son of James Dillon and Elizabeth Wentworth, fifter to the earl of Strafford. He was born in Ireland, during the lieutenancy of Strafford, who, being both his uncle and his godfather, gave him his own surname. His father, the third earl of Roscommon, had been converted by Usher to the protestant religion; and when the popish rebellion broke out, Strafford thinking the family in great danger from the fury of the Irish, fent for his godson, and placed him at his own feat in Yorkshire, where he was instructed in Latin ; which he learned so as to write it with purity and elegance, though he was never able to retain the rules of grammar.
Such is the account given by Mr. Fenton, from whose notes on Waller most of this account must be borrowed, though I know not whether all that he relates is certain. The instructor whom he assigns to Roscommon is one Dr. Hall, by whom he cannot mean the famous Hall, then an old man and a bishop.
When the storm broke out upon Strafford, his house was a shelter no longer; and Dillon, by the advice of Usher, was sent to Caen, where the Proteftants had then an university, and continued his studies under Bocbart.
Young Dillon, who was sent to study under Bochart, and who is represented as having already made great proficiency in literature, could not be more than nine
old. Strafford went to govern Ireland in 16335 and was put to death eight years afterwards. That he was sent to Caen, is certain ; that he was a great scholar, may be doubted.
At Caen he is faid to have had some preternatural intelligence of his father's death.
“ The lord Roscommon, being a boy of ten years “ of age, at Caen in Normandy, one day was, as it
were, madly extravagant in playing, leaping, get“ ting over the tables, boards, &c. He was wont to " be fober enough; they said, God grant this bodes “ no ill-luck to him ! In the heat of this extravagant * fit, he cries out, My fatber is dead. A fortnight “ after, news came from Ireland that his father was “ dead. This account I had from Mr. Knolles, who
was his governor, and then with him,- since fecre“ tary to the earl of Strafford; and I have heard his 56 lordship's relations confirm the fame." Aubrey's Mofcellany.
The present age is very little inclined to favour any accounts of this kind, nor will the name of Aubrey much recommend it to credit : it ought not, however, to be omitted, because betrer evidence of a fact cannot easily be found than is here offered, and it must be by preserving such relations that we may at last judge how much they are to be regarded. If we stay to examine
this account, we fhall see difficulties on both sides; here is a relation of a fact given by a man who had no interest to deceive, and who could not be deceived himself; and here is, on the other hand, a miracle which produces no effect; the order of nature is interrupted, to discover not a future but only a diftant event, the knowledge of which is of no use to him to whom it is revealed. Between these difficulties, what way Thall be found? Is reafon or testimony to be rejected ? I believe what Osborne fays of an appearance of fanc--tity may be applied to such impulfes or anticipations as this : Do not wholly flight them, because they may be true : but do not easily trust them, because they may be falfe.
The state both of England and Ireland was at this time such, that he who was abfent from either country had very little temptation to return : and therefore Roscommon, when he left Caen, travelled into Italy, and amused himself with its antiquities, and particularly with medals, in which he acquired uncommon skill.
Ac che Restoration, with the other friends of monarchy, he came to England, was made captain of the band of pensioners, and learned fo much of the diffoluteness of the court, that he addicted himfelf immoderately to gaming, by which he was engaged in frequent quarrels, and which undoubtedly brought upon him its usual concomitants, extravagance and distress.
After some time a dispute about part of his eftate forced him into Ireland, where he was made by the duke of Ormond captain of the guards, and met with an adventure thus related by Fenton.
“ He was at Dublin as much as ever distempered " with the same fatal affection for play, which engaged
« him in one adventure that well deserves to be related. “ As he returned to his lodgings from a gaming-table, " he was attacked in the dark by three ruffians, who
were employed to assassinate him. The Earl defend“ ed himself with so much resolution, that he dif“ patched one of the aggressors; whilft a gentleman, “ accidentally paling that way, interposed, and dis“ armed another : the third secured himself by flight. “ This generous assistant was a disbanded officer, of a “ good family and fair reputation; who, by what we “ call the partiality of fortune, to avoid censuring the
iniquities of the times, wanted even a plain suit of “ cloaths to make a decent appearance at the castle. “ But his lordship, on this occasion, presenting him to “ the Duke of Ormond, with great importunity prevail“ed with his grace, that he might resign his post of
captain of the guards to his friend; which for about "' three years the gentleman enjoyed, and, upon his « death, the duke returned the commission to his
When he had finished his business, he returned to London ; was made Master of the Horse to the Dutchess of York; and married the Lady Frances, daughter of the Earl of Burlington, and widow of Colonel Courteney.
He now busied his mind with literary projects, and formed the plan of a society for refining our language, and fixing its standard ; in imitation says, Fenton, of those learned and polite societies with which ke had been acquainted abroad. In this design his friend Dryden is said to have assisted him.
The same design, it is well known, was revived by Dr. Swift in the ministry of Oxford; but it has never since been publickly mentioned, though at that time
great expectations were formed by some of its establishment and its effects. Such a society might, perhaps, without much difficulty, be collected; but that it would produce what is expected from it, may be doubted.
The Italian academy seems to have obtained its end. The language was refined, and so fixed that it has changed but little. The French academy thought that they refined their language, and doubtless thought rightly; but the event has not shewn that they fixed it; for the French of the present time is very
different from that of the last century.
In this country an academy could be expected to do but little. If an academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would separate the assembly.
But suppose the philological decree made and promulgated, what would be its authority ? In absolute governments, there is sometimes a general reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power, and the countenance of greatness. How little this is the state of our country needs not to be told. We live in an age in which it is a kind of publick sport to refuse all respect that cannot be enforced. The edicts of an Eng, lith acadeiny would probably be read by many, only that they might be sure to disobey them.
That our language is in perpetual danger of corruption cannot be denied; but what prevention can be found? The present manners of the nation would deride authority, and therefore nothing is left but that every writer should criticise himself. Vol. II.