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adapted to the gevius of our times, nor to the character of our tragedy. The letters, however, which he published, are retained in this edition, and may yet be perused as ingenious apologies for his judgment; and whatever the decision may be, there can be little difference of opinion respecting the merit of Elfrida as a poem.--In 1772, Mr. Colman, at that time manager of Covent-garden theatre, made such alterations as were supposed necessary to its appearance on the stage, and besides the decoration of splendid scenery, Dr. Arne contributed some characteristic music. The author, however, was so much offended at the alterations, as to have meditated a very angry address to Colman, who, on his part, threatened him with the introduction of a chorus of Grecian washerwomen in somne future stage entertainment. Mr. Mason afterwards, in 1778 or 1779, made his own alterations and arrangements, and had it performed at the same theatre, but neither attempt was successful.
His father died in 1753, and in 1754 he went into orders; and through the interest of the earl of Holdernesse, whose patronage he had obtained, he was preferred to be one of the King's Chaplains, and received about the same time the living of Aston. The reputation he had acquired by the odes of his Elfrida, encouraged him to publish, in 1756, four compositions of that class on Memory, Independency, Melancholy, and the Fate of Tyranny, which were not received with favour or kindness. Both ridicule and legitimate criticism seem to have been employed on this occasion to expose the wanton profusion of glittering epithets, and the many instances of studied alliteration scattered over these odes. Colman and Lloyd, who were now beginning to look for satirical prey, published two excellent parodies on one of them, and on one of Gray's. His praise of Andrew Marvell, and attack on bishop Parker, produced about the same time a dull letter of censure, which probably gave him less uneasiness than the cool reception of his odes by those who then dispensed the honours of literary fame. On the death of Cibber, he was proposed to succeed him as poet laureat, but, instead of an offer of this place, an apology was made to him by lord Joba Cavendish, that “ being in orders, he was thought, merely on that account, less eligible for the office than a layman." The notice of this circumstance in his life of w. Whitehead, is followed by a declaration of his indifference. “ A reason so politely put, I was glad to hear assigned, and if I had thought it a weak one, they who know me, will readily believe that I am the last man in the world who would have attempted to controvert it.” The probability, indeed is, that Mr. Mason would not have thought himself honoured by the situation if compelled to fulfil its duties, for though by his mediation the office was tendered to Gray, it was “ with permission to hold it as a mere sinecure,”
The severity exercised on his odes, deprived him of no fame but what he amply recovered by the publication of Caractacus 2 in 1759, another dramatic poem on the plan of the ancients, and possessing all the beauties and defects of the former, with more poetry and passion, yet with touches of nature, which, although sometimes spoiled by useless expletives, are in general just, natural, and affecting. Gray bestows
2 In a note on bis Ode to Mr. Pit:, we are informed that Caractacus was read in manuscript by the late earl of Chatham, who honoured it " with an approbation which the author was proud to record.” C.
high praise on the choruses of this drama, particularly that beginning “ Hark! Heard ye not yon footstep dread? &c." Notwithstanding the objections of the critics, Caractacus continued to be read with interest, and the author was not the only person who thought, that with some alterations, under the inspection of a connoisseur in stage effect, it might become an acting play. Accordingly it was performed on Covent Garden theatre in 1776, and received with considerable applause, but it obtained no permanent rank on the stage, and it was thought, that the alterations which made it more dramatic, made it less poetical. Some years after, it was again brought into public notice, by a translation into Greek from the pen of the rev. G. H. Glasse, who proved himself by this effort one of the first writers of Greek poetry in England.
In 1762, Mason published three Elegies, which are elegant, tender, and correct beyond the productions of any of his contemporaries. These, with all his former pieces except the Isis and the Installation Ode, were collected into one volume and published in 1764, with a beautiful dedicatory Sonnet to his patron the earl of Holderuesse. Why he omitted Isis from this collection is not very evident. We have, indeed, his own authority, that he never would have published it if a surreptitious copy had not found its way to the press ; but although he omitted it now, he reprinted it in the third volume of his poems, published in 1796, when his sentiments on political topics were more perfectly in unison with those held at Oxford. Mr. Mant, in his life of Mr. T. Warton, informs us that several years after he had written this elegy, he was coming into Oxford on horseback, and as he passed over Magdalen Bridge, (it was then evening) he turned to his friend, and expressed his satisfaction, that, as it was getting dusk, they should enter the place unnoticed. His friend did not seem aware of the advantage. “ What!" rejoined the poet, “ do you not remember my Isis ?" This may be reckoned an instance of the “ harmless and comical vanity" which Gray attributed to him when at college.
But a more singular omission occurs in this volume, in the Ode to a Water Nymph. This formerly concluded with a handsome compliment to lord Lyttelton, both as a poet, and as a speaker in the senate.
Whether to gloom beneath the shady grove,
That there the Naiad band should grace
And health to every flower dispense,
Soft as that master's love-lorn tale,
Deep thund'ring the rough rocks among,
These were now removed, and a favourite description was substituted. In the same year, his majesty presented our author to the canonry and prebend of Driffield, in the cathedral church of York, together with the precentorship of that church, vacant by the promotion of Dr. Newton to the bishopric of Bristol.
· Mason was probably not enrolled among the friends of liberty when Churchill wrote. That libeller takes frequent opportunities to turn his writings into ridicule, but pays him, perhaps inconsciously, a well-turned compliment on his extreme correctness.
In the small compass of my careless page
Against the author of these unprovoked attacks, our author betrayed no immediate resentment, and when he speaks of Churchill's abuse of his friend Whitehead, disdains to recollect that he was the object of the same malignity.
His principal residence about this time was at Aston, where he displayed his taste in improving the grounds and scenery near his parsonage-house, and was yet more assiduous in discharging the duties of his clerical function. In Sept. 1765, he married Miss Sherman, daughter of William Sherman, esq. of Kingston-upon Hull, a very amiable lady, with whom his happiness was but short. Throughout the greater part of their connection, he had little intermission from the misery of watching the progress of consumption, which terminated her life in 1767, at Bristol, whither he had been advised to remove her in hopes of recovery. The lines he wrote on this occasion, need no recommendation to a feeling heart, nor would it be easy to discover a poem which conveys more quick sympathy in the whole range of elegiac poetry.
In 1772, he published the first book of his English Garden, a work in which Mr. Warton says, “ didactic poetry is brought to perfection, by the happy combination of judicious precepts, with the most elegaut ornaments of language and imagery.” This opinion is quoted not only because it appears to be just, but because it proves that Mr. Warton entertained a very high opinion of Mason as a poet, although there did not exist so much cordiality of friendship as could have been wished, between men who were certainly among the ornaments of literature in their day.—The usual objections to didactic poetry are undoubtedly in force against this specimen, yet the English Garden was read with avidity and approbation. The subject was more familiar and interesting than those of former poems of instruction, and it afforded him more frequent opportunities to introduce rural imagery, and those descriptions which give scope to a poetical imagination. But the approbation of his friends did not flatter him into carelessness and precipitation. He appears to have been one of the few authors who are desirous to retain the fame they have acquired. The remaining books of the English Garden were published at periods sufficiently distant to admit all the niceties of polish and frequent correction. Book II. appeared in 1777, Book III. in 1779, and Book IV. in 1782.
During some of these intervals he executed a very important task, which devolved on him in consequence of the death of his friend Gray. This justly celebrated poet