« PreviousContinue »
LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS
IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
ADDISON AKENSIDE BLACKMORE BROOME BUTLER COLLINS CONGREVE. COWLEY DENHAM DORSET. DRYDEN DUKE DYER FENTON GARTH GAY GRANVILLE GRAY HALIFAX HAMMOND. HUGHES KING LYTTELTON MALLET MILTON OTWAY.
159 II 26 III
400 I 84 1
VOL. PAGE II 49
1 without much labour attained high reputation, and who are mentioned with reverence rather for the possession than the exertion of uncommon abilities ?.
Of his life little is known; and that little claims no praise but 2 what can be given to intellectual excellence, seldom employed to any virtuous purpose. His character, as given by Mr. Oldisworth? with all the partiality of friendship, which is said by Dr. Burton to show 'what fine things one man of parts can say of another 3, and which, however, comprises great part of what can be known of Mr. Smith, it is better to transcribe at once, than to take by pieces. I shall subjoin such little memorials as accident has enabled me to collect.
"Mr. EDMUND SMITH was the only son of an eminent 3 merchant, one Mr. Neale, by a daughter of the famous baron Lechmere 4. Some misfortunes of his father, which were soon after followed by his death, were the occasion of the son's being left very young in the hands of a near relation (one who married Mr. Neale's sister) whose name was Smith.
‘This gentleman and his lady treated him as their own child, 46 and put him to Westminster-school under the care of Dr. Busbys; whence after the loss of his faithful and generous guardian (whose name he assumed and retained) he was removed to Christ-church, in Oxford, and there by his aunt handsomely maintained till her death ; after which he continued a member of that learned and ingenious society till within five years of his own; though, some time before his leaving Christ-church, he was sent for by his
* His reputation did not win him don's History Vindicated, &c. By a place in Campbell's Specimens of John Burton, B.D., Fellow of Eton the British Poets, published forty College, 1744, p. 40. Post, SMITH, years after the Lives. * Post, BROOME, 3.
Oldisworth 4 Nicholas Lechmere was one of was editor of the Tory Examiner. the managers against Sacheverell. "He is,' wrote Swift, "an ingenious He was created Baron Lechmere in fellow, but the most contounded vain 1721. He is the hero of Swift's ballad coxcomb in the world, so that I dare Duke upon Duke, Works, xiii. 297. not let him see me.' Swift's Works, iii. Hearne describes him as a man of 125. His character of Smith is pre parts, but a most vile stinking whigg.' fixed to Smith's Works, ed. 1719.
Remains, i. 187. 3 The Genuineness of Lord Claren 5 Ante, DRYDEN, 4. LIVES OF POETS. u
mother to Worcester, and owned and acknowledged as her legitimate son, which had not been mentioned, but to wipe off the aspersions that were ignorantly cast by some on his birth. It is to be remembered for our author's honour that when at Westminster election he stood a candidate for one of the universities, he so signally distinguished himself by his conspicuous performances, that there arose no small contention between the representative electors of Trinity-college in Cambridge and Christ-church in Oxon, which of those two royal societies should adopt him as their own. But the electors of Trinity-college having the preference of choice that year, they resolutely elected him, who yet, being invited at the same time to Christ-church, chose to accept of a studentship there'. Mr. Smith's perfections, as well natural as acquired, seem to have been formed upon Horace's plan, who says in his Art of Poetry
“Ego nec studium sine divite vena, Nec rude quid prosit video ingenium: alterius sic
Altera poscit opem res, et conjurat amice?' 5 He was endowed by Nature with all those excellent and
necessary qualifications which are previous to the accomplishment of a great man. His memory was large and tenacious, yet by a curious felicity chiefly susceptible of the finest impressions it received from the best authors he read, which it always preserved
in their primitive strength and amiable order. 6
• He had a quickness of apprehension and vivacity of understanding which easily took in and surmounted the most subtle and knotty parts of mathematicks and metaphysicks. His wit was prompt and flowing, yet solid and piercing ; his taste delicate, his head clear, and his way of expressing his thoughts perspicuous and engaging. I shall say nothing of his person, which yet was so well turned that no neglect of himself in his dress could render it disagreeable ; insomuch that the fair sex, who observed and esteemed him, at once commended and reproved him by the
* By the statutes of Queen Eliza worth but half of what fell to his beth 'three scholars of Westminster Oxford contemporary. Nor could he at least were to be elected annually be sure of a fellowship’ J. SARon to the foundation of Christ Church GEAUNT, Annals of Westminster and three to the foundation of School, pp. 21, 31. See also ib. p.111; Trinity.' The Dean of Christ Church, post, HALIFAX, 2, the Master of Trinity, and a Master of * Ars Poetica, l. 409. Arts of each College formed four of the * But art, if not enriched by nature's sevenelectors. From the beginning vein, boys preferred Oxford to Cambridge. And a rude genius of uncultured A studentship at Christ Church was strain, of considerable value, and wastenable Are useless both; but when in frienduntil marriage or promotion. At ship joined, Trinity a boy began as a Pensioner, A mutual succour in each other find.' and when, after a year's interval, hé
FRANCIS. obtained a scholarship, he found it
name of the handsome sloven. An eager but generous and noble emulation grew up with him, which (as it were a rational sort of instinct) pushed him upon striving to excel in every art and science that could make him a credit to his college, and that college the ornament of the most learned and polite university; and it was his happiness to have several contemporaries and fellowstudents who exercised and excited this virtue in themselves and others, thereby becoming so deservedly in favour with this age, and so good a proof of its nice discernment. His judgement, naturally good, soon ripened into an exquisite fineness and distinguishing sagacity, which as it was active and busy so it was vigorous and manly, keeping even paces with a rich and strong imagination, always upon the wing, and never tired with aspiring. Hence it was that, though he writ as young as Cowley, he had no puerilities; and his earliest productions were so far from having any thing in them mean and trifling that, like the junior compositions of Mr. Stepney, they may make grey authors blush'. There are many of his first essays in oratory, in epigram, elegy, and epique still handed about the university in manuscript, which shew a masterly hand ; and, though maimed and injured by frequent transcribing, make their way into our most celebrated miscellanies, where they shine with uncommon lustre. Besides those verses in the Oxford books, which he could not help setting his name to, several of his compositions came abroad under other names, which his own singular_modesty and faithful silence strove in vain to conceal. The Encaenia and public Collections of the University upon State Subjects were never in such esteem, either for elegy or congratulation, as when he contributed most largely to them; and it was natural for those who knew his peculiar way of writing to turn to his share in the work, as by far the most relishing part of the entertainment. As his parts were extraordinary, so he well knew how to improve them; and not only to polish the diamond, but enchase it in the most solid and durable metal. Though he was an academick the greatest part of his life, yet he contracted no sourness of temper, no spice of pedantry, no itch of disputation, or obstinate contention for the old or new philosophy, no assuming way of dictating to others; which are faults (though excusable) which some are insensibly led into, who are constrained to dwell long within the walls of a private college. His conversation was pleasant and instructive, and what Horace said of Plotius, Varius, and Virgil might justly be applied to him:
“Nil ego contulerim jucundo sanus Amico ?."
' Ante, STEPNEY, 3.
Can be compared in sanity of mind * Sat. i. 5. 44.
To friends of such companionable 'For sure no blessing in the power of kind!
7 'As correct a writer as he was in his most elaborate pieces he
read the works of others with candour, and reserved his greatest severity for his own compositions; being readier to cherish and advance than damp or depress a rising genius, and as patient of being excelled himself (if any could excel him) as industrious to excel others.
''Twere to be wished he had confined himself to a particular profession, who was capable of surpassing in any; but in this his want of application was in a great measure owing to his want of due encouragement.
* He passed through the exercises of the college and university with unusual applause, and though he often suffered his friends to call him off from his retirements and to lengthen out those jovial avocations, yet his return to his studies was so much the more passionate, and his intention upon those refined pleasures of reading and thinking so vehement (to which his facetious and unbended intervals bore no proportion), that the habit grew upon him, and the series of meditation and reflection being kept up whole weeks together he could better sort his ideas and take in the sundry parts of a science at one view without interruption or confusion. Some indeed of his acquaintance, who were pleased to distinguish between the wit and the scholar, extolled him altogether on the account of the first of these titles; but others, who knew him better, could not forbear doing him justice as a prodigy in both kinds. He had signalized himself in the schools, as a philosopher and polemick of extensive knowledge and deep penetration, and went through all the courses with a wise regard to the dignity and importance of each science. I remember him in the Divinity-school responding and disputing with a perspicuous energy, a ready exactness, and commanding force of argument, when Dr. Jane worthily presided in the chair"; whose condescending and disinterested commendation of him gave him such a reputation as silenced the envious malice of his enemies, who durst not contradict the approbation of so profound a master in theology. None of those self-sufficient creatures, who have either trifled with philosophy by attempting to ridicule it, or have encumbered it with novel terms and burdensome explanations, understood its real weight and purity half so well as Mr. Smith. He was too discerning to allow of the character of unprofitable, rugged, and abstruse, which some superficial sciolists (so very smooth and polite as to admit of no impression), either out of an unthinking indolence or an ill-grounded prejudice, had affixed to this sort of studies. He
· William Jane was Regius Pro Milton and Buchanan to be pubfessor of Divinity from 1680 to 1707. licly burned in the Schools.' MAC• He had borne the chief part in AULAY, History, v. 97. See ante, framing that decree by which his Milton, 99 n. University ordered the works of