« PreviousContinue »
of state, made him under-secretary. Their friendship seems to have continued without abatement; for when Addison died, he left him the charge of publishing his works, with a solemn recommendation to the patronage
To these works he prefixed an elegy on the author, which could owe none of its beauties to the assistance which might be suspected to have strengthened or embellished his earlier compositions ; but neither he nor Addison ever produced nobler lines than are contained in the third and fourth paragraphs ; nor is a more sublime or more elegant funeral-poem to be found in the whole compass of English literature.
He was afterwards (about 1725) · made secretary to the Lords Justices of Ireland, a place of great honour; in which he continued till 1740, when he died on the twenty-third of, April at Bath.
Of the poems yet unmentioned the longest is Kensington Gardens, of which the versification is smooth and elegant; but the fiction unskilfully compounded of Grecian Deities and Gothick Fairies. Neither species of those exploded Beings could have done much; and when they are brought together, they only make each other contemptible. To Tickell, however, cannot be refused a high piace among the minor poets ; nor should it be forgotten that he was one of the contributors to the Spectator. With respect to his personal character he is said to have been a man of gay conversation, at least a temperate lover of wine and company, and in his domestick relations without censure.
H A M M O N D.
F Mr. HAMMOND, though he be rrell remembered as a man es
teemed and caressed by the elegant and the great, I was at krst able to obtain no other memorials than such as are supplied by a book called Cibler's lives of the Pacts; of which I take this opportunity to testify that it was not wtirten, nor, I believe, ever seen, by either of the Cibbers ; but was the work of Robert Shiels, a native of Scotland, a man of very acute understanding, though with little scholastick education, who, net long after the publication of his work, died in London of a consumption. His life was virtuous, and bis end was pious. Theophilus Cibber, then a prisoner for debt, imparted, as I was told, his name for tén guineas. The manuscript of Shiels is now in my possession.
I have since found that Mr. Shiels, though he was no negligent enquirer, had been misled by false accounts; for be relates that James Hammond, the author of the Elegies, was the son of a Turkey merchant, and had some office at the prince of Wales's court, till love of a lady, whose name was Dashwood, for a time disordered his understanding. Ile was unextinguishably amorous, and his mistress inexorably cruel.
Of this narrative, part is true, and part false. He was the second son of Anthony Hammond, a man of note among the wits, poets, and parliamentary orators, in the begininng of this century, who was allied to Sir Robert Walpole by marrying his sister *.' He was born about 1710, and educated at Westminster-school; but it does not appear that he was of any university. He was equerry to the prince of Wales, and seems to have come very early into public notice, and to have been distinguished by those whose friend ship prejudiced mankind at that time in favour of the man on whom they were bestowed; for he was the companion of Cobham, Lyttleton, and Chesterfield. He is said to have divided his time between pleasure and books; in his retirement forgetting the town, and in his gaiety losing the student. Of his literary hours all the effects are here exhibited, of which the Elegies were written very early, and the Prologue not long before his death.
* This account is still erroneous. Jaine Hammond our author was of a different family, the second ron of Anthony Hammond, of Somer han.-glace, in the courly of Huntingdon, Erg. See Gent. Maga vol. LVII. p.750. Ę.
In 1741, he was chosen into parliament for Truro in Cornwall, probably one of those who were elected by the Prince's influence; and died next year in June at Stowe, the famous seat of the Lord Cobham. His mistress long outlived him, and in 1779 died omarried. The character which her lover bequeathed her was, indeed, not likely to attract courtship.
The Elegies were published after his death; and while the writer's name was remembered with fondness, they were read with a resolution to admire them. The recommendatory preface of the editor, who was then believed, and is now affirmed by Dr. Maty, to be the earl of Chesterfield, raised strong prejudices in their favour.
But of the prefacer, whoever he was, it may be reasonably suspected that he never read the poems; for he professes to value them for a very high sper cies of excellence, and recommends them as the genuine effusions of the mind, which expresses a real passion in the language of nature.
But the truth is, these elegies have neither passion, nature, nor manners. Where there is fiction, there is no passion ; be that describes himself as a shepherd, and his Neæra or Delia, as a shepherdess, and talks of goats and lambs, feels no passion. He that courts his mistress with Roman imagery deserves to lose her; for she may with good reason suspect his sincerity. Hammond has few sentiments drawn from nature, and few images from modern life. He produces nothing but frigid pedantry. It would be hard to find in all his productions three stanzas that deserve to be remembered.
Like other lovers, he threatens the lady with dying ; and whap then shall follow?
Wilt thou in tears thy lover's corse attend;
With eyes averted light the solemn pyre,
Then, slowly sinking, by degrees expire?
With plaintive cries to lead the mournful band,
And cull my ashes with thy trembling hand :
And all the pride of Asia's fragrant year,
And, what is still more precious, give thy tear. Surely no blame can fall upon a nymph who rejected a swain of so little meaning.
His verses are not rugged, but they have no sweetness ; they never glide in a stream of melody. Why Hammond or other writers have thought the quatrain of ten syllables elegiac, it is difficult to tell. The character of the Elegy is gentleness and tenuity ; but this stanza has been pronounced by Dryden, whose knowledge of English metre was not inconsiderable, to be the most magnificent of all the measures wbich our language affords.
S O M E R V I L E.
F Mr. SOMERVILÉ's life I am not able to say any thing that can
satisfy curiosity. He was a gentleman whose estate was in Warwickshire ; his house, where he was born in 1692, is called Edston, a seat inherited from a long line of ancestors; for bie was said to be of the first family in his county. He tells of himself, that he was born near the Avon's banks. He was bred at Winchester-school, and was elected fellow of New College. It does not appear that in the places of his education, he exhibited ariy uncommon prcofs of genius or literature. His powers were first displayed in the country, where he was distinguished as a poet, a gentleman, and a skilful and useful justice of the Peace.
Of the close of his life, those whom his poems have delighted will read with pain the following account,- copied from the Letters of his friend Shenstone, by whom he was too much resembled.
“ -Our old friend Somervile is dead! I did not imagine I could have "been so sorry as I find myself on this occasion.-Sublatum quærimus. I can
now excuse all his foibles ; impute them to age, and to distress of cir“ cumstances ; the last of these considerations wrings my very soul to think
For a man of high spirit, conscious of having (at least in one pro“ duction) generally pleased the world, to be plagued and threatened by " wretches that are low in every sense ; to be forced to drink himself into
pains of the body, in order to get rid of the pains of the mind, is a mi
sery."He died July 16, 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley on Arden.
His distresses need not be much pitied : his estate is said to be fifteen hundred a year, which by his death has devolved to lord Somervile of Scotland. His mother indeed, who lived till ninety, had a jointure of six hundred.
It is with regret that I find myself not better enabled to exhibit memorials of a writer, who at least must be allowed to have set a good example to men of his own class, by devoting part of his time to elegant knowledge ; and who has shewn, by the subjects which his poetry has adorned, that it is practicable to be at once a ski!!! sportsman and a man of letters.
Somervilê has tried many modes of poetry; and though perhaps he has not in
any reached such excellence as to raise much envy, it may commonly be said at least that “ he writes very well for a gentleman.” His serious pieces are sometimes elevated, and his trifles are sometimes elegant. In his verses to Addison, the couplet which mentions Clio is written with the most exquisite delicacy of praise; it exhibits one of those happy strokes that are seldom attained. In his odes to Marlborough there are beautiful lines; but in the second ode he shews that he knew little of his hero, when he talks of his private virtues. His subjects are commonly such as require no great depth of thought or energy of expression. His Fables are generally stale, and therefore excite no curiosity. Of his favourite, The Two Springs, the fiction is unnatural, and the moral inconsequential. In his Tales there is too much coarseness, with two little care of language, and not sufficient rapidity of narration.
His great work" is his Chace, which he undertook in his maturer age, when his ear was improved to the approbation of blank verse, of which however his two first lines give a bad specimen. To this poem praise cannot be totally denied. He is allowed by sportsmen to write with great intelligence of his subject, which is the first requisite to excellence; and though it is impossible to interest the common readers of verse in the dangers or pleasures of the chace, he has done all that transition and variety could easily effect; and has with great propriety enlarged his plan by the modes of hunting used in other countries.
With still less judgement did he chuse blank verse as the vehicle of Rural Sports. If blank verse be not tumid and gorgeous, it is crippled prose; and familiar images in laboured language have nothing to recommend them but absurd novelty;' which wanting the attractions of Nature, cannot please long. One excellence of the Splendid Shilling is, that it is short. Disguise can gratify no longer than it deceives.