Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 satirised the Royal Society, at least Sir Hans Sloane their president, in two dialogues, intituled The Transactioneer.

Though he was a regular advocare 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 duchess of Buckingshire, who sued for a divorce, and obtained it.

The expence 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 duty.

Ilere he wrote Molly 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 imitat, ed Horace in an Art of Cookery, which be published, with some letters to Dr. Lister.

In 1710, he appeared, as a lover of the Church, on the side of Sache, verell ; and was supposed to have concurred at least in the projection of The Exuminer. His eyes were open to all the operations of Whiggism; and he bestowed some strictures upon Dr. Kennet'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 1711. The work is useful; but might have been produced without the powers of King. The same year he published Rufirus, an his

torical

torical essay, and a poem, intended to dispose the nation to think as die 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 burry should be at an end, but immediately 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 public 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 expence of a few barrels of ale filled the neighbourhood with honest metrimeni,

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 irregu. larity, his principles were pure and orthodox, and his death was pious,

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 thought 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, 10 enjoy his mirth, is inay be sometimes necessary to think well of his opinions.

SPRAT,

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

, in

HOMAS

son of a clergy man; and having been educated, as he tells of himself, not at Westminster or Eaton, but at a little school by the churchyard 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 commenced poet.

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 liberial 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 execllent poet who madethis way of writ: “ ing free of our nation,” and being “ so little equal and proportioned to the renown of a 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 solong 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 inade 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 enquiries, 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 exhibired by Sprat.

written

In the next year he published Observations on Sorbiere's Voyage into England, in a Letter 10 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 hc 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 1690 måde 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 Rychouse Plot; and in 1635 published A true Account and Declaration of the horrid conspiracy against the late King, his preseni 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 eccissiastical affairs. On the critical day, when the Declaration distinguished t); true sons of the church of England, he stood neuter, and permitted it:to, 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 bc settled, Sprat was one of those who considered, in a conference, the grea' question, whether the crown was 'vacant ; and manfully spoke in favour « his old master.

He complied, however, with the new establishment, and was left unco lested: but in 1692 a strange attack was made upon him by onc Robert Ring and Stephen Blackhead, both men convicted of infamous crimes, and bo: when the scheme was laid, prisoners in Newgate. These men drew up an ACsociation, in which they whose names were subscribed declared their res Vol. I.

M m

loc:

lution 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 Jand. To this they put the names of Sancroft, Sprat, Marlborough, Salisbury, and others. The copy of Dr. Sprat's name was obtained by a ficticious 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 Associațion This however was denied him, and he dropt 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 as 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 evidenice; 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 commeinorated it through life by an 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 disco, vered.

After this, he passed his days in the quiet exercise of his function. When the cause of Sacheverell put the public 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 Bụrnęt were old rivals. On some public 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 Jike animațing hum ; but he stretched our his hand to the congregation, and cried, “ Peace, peace, I pray you, peace.”

« PreviousContinue »