« PreviousContinue »
F Mr. SOMERVILE's life I am not able to say any thing 1
that can satisfy curiosity'. He was a gentleman whose estate was in Warwickshire: his 2 house, where he was born in 1692", is called Edston, a seat inherited from a long line of ancestors; for he was said to be of the first family in his county 3. He tells of himself that he was born near the Avon's banks 4. He was bred at Winchesterschool, and was elected fellow of New Colleges. It does not appear that in the places of his education he exhibited any uncommon proofs 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 6.
Of the close of his life, those whom his poems have delighted 3 will read with pain the following account, copied from the letters of his friend Shenstone, by whom he was too much resembled 7.
-Our old friend Somervile is dead! I did not imagine I could have been so sorry as I find myself on this occasion.
* His Life is not in Biog. Brit. 5 He became a Fellow in 1694, ? The Chace was published in 1735. matriculating at the same date. He Gent. Mag. 1735, p. 279. In it was of Founder's kin, and, as such, Somervile says :- I run over in my had not only a preference in the elbow-chair some of those chaces election but was exempted from the which were once the delight of a more two years of Probationary Fellowvigorousage.' Eng. Poets, xl. 6. Shen ship. He resigned in 1704, on the stone, in the letter below, 'imputes death of his father. There is no his foibles to age.' William Somervile trace of his taking his B.A. or M.A. matriculated at New College, Oxford, degrees, though both were enjoined on Aug. 24, 1694, aged 18. Alumni by the statutes *. For the elections Oxon. He was born therefore in 1675 to Fellowships see post, COLLINS, 3. or 1676. [First ed. does not give 6 In the first edition the paragraph date of birth.)
—He was bred at Win3 He describes himself as
chester-school, but I know not 'A squire well-born and six foot high.' whether he was of any university.
Eng. Poets, xl. 215. I have never heard of him but as 4 "Born near Avona's winding stream.' a poet, a country gentleman, and a
Ib. p. 182. skilful,' &c. The brook which flows through Ed In improvidence. Post, SHENston falls into an affluent of the
Avon. STONE, 14. Edston is five miles north of Stratford.
* From information received from Messrs. P. E. Matheson and R. S. Rait, Fellows of New College.
“Sublatum quærimus ?." I can now excuse all his foibles ; impute them to age, and to distress of circumstances: the last of these considerations wrings my very soul to think on?. For a man of high spirit, conscious of having (at least in one production) 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 misery*.' He died July 19, 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. 5 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 skilful sportsman and a man of letters 8. 6 Somervile 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 • Virtutem incolumem odimus, without vanity, esteem myself his Sublatam ex oculis quaerimus in- equal in point of economy, and con
vidi.' HORACE, Odes, iii. 24. 31. sequently ought to have an eye on 'Though living virtue we despise, his misfortunes.' Shenstone's Works, We follow her, when dead, with ed. 1791, iii. 48.
envious eyes. FRANCIS. 5 Gent. Mag. 1742, p. 387. 3 'Shenstone has described his 6 Wotton or Wootton is close to private character in one of those Edston. [First ed. does not give happy sentences which, being once place of burial.] heard,is never to be forgotten. "I loved * In Burke's Dormant and Extinct Mr. Somervile, because he knew so Peerages, 1883 (p. 620), under BARON perfectly what belonged to the flocci- SOMERVILLE, it is stated that, 'in nauci-nihili-pilification of money consideration of certain sums applied (Shenstone's Works, 1791, ii. 138]."; to the relief of burdens, the poet SOUTHEY, Specimens, &c. i. 405. settled the reversions of his estate
36“I wonder," said Mrs. Williams, upon Lord Somerville [the thirteenth “what pleasure men
can take in
baron of that title)! making beasts of themselves !” “I 8 In the first edition the following wonder, Madam,” replied the Doctor, passage came next :-'The compilers "that you have not penetration enough of this collection have neglected the to see the strong inducement to this order of time, and placed those excess; for he who makes a beast of pieces first which were written last. himself gets rid of the pain of being The occasional poems were written a man."' John. Misc. ii. 333. long before his Chace.'
* The sentence continues: - which Johnson, speaking of the Earl of I can well conceive, because I may, Carlisle as 'a candidate for literary
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 too little care of language, and not sufficient rapidity of narration. His great work is his Chace, which he undertook in his 7
V maturer age , when his ear was improved to the approbation of blank verse, of which, however, his two first lines give a bad specimeno. 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 chase, 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 the18 vehicle of Rural Sports 8. If blank verse be not tumid and
fame, was of opinion that when a man * Eng. Poets, xl. 284. of rank appeared in that character he 5 It was published in 1735 when he deserved to have his merit hand was fifty-nine or sixty. Ante, SOMERsomely allowed.' Boswell's Johnson, VILE, 2 n. 2. iv. 114.
* The Chase I sing, hounds and I'When panting virtue her last their various breed, efforts made,
And no less various use. O thou, You brought your Clio to the great Prince!' Eng. Poets, xl. 15.
virgin's aid.' Eng. Poets, xl. 177. ? When he describes hunting in For Clio see ante, ADDISON, 74, and Warwickshire he is lively and interestfor Clio's aid to virtue, ADDISON, 123. ing; but where, as in 200 lines of ? Eng. Poets, xl. 165, 170.
Book ii, he describes hunting on 3 'Let all be calm as the great hero's the banks of Gemna, Indian stream,' breast,
he is ridiculous and dull. Here no unruly passions reign, 8 • Hobbinol, or the Rural Games, Nor servile fear, nor proud dis- A Burlesque Poem in Blank Verse. dain;
3rd ed. Price is. 6d.' Gent. Mag. Each wilder lust is banished 1740, p. 208; Eng. Poets, xl. 89. hence,
Field Sports, Price Is. Gent. Mag. Where gentle love presides, and 1742, p. 56; Eng. Poets, xl. 147. mild benevolence.'
It is in blank verse. For blank 16. p. 171. See post, SWIFT, 46. verse see ante, MILTON, 275.
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.
T has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature 1
or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station?: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe.
That affluence and power, advantages extrinsick and adventi- 2 tious, and therefore easily separable from those by whom they are possessed, should very often flatter the mind with expectations of felicity which they cannot give, raises no astonishment : but it seems rational to hope that intellectual greatness should produce better effects; that minds qualified for great attainments should first endeavour their own benefit; and that they who are most able to teach others the way to happiness should with most certainty follow it themselves.
But this expectation, however plausible, has been very fre-3 quently disappointed. The heroes of literary as well as civil history have been very often no less remarkable for what (they have suffered than for what] they have atchieved 3; and volumes have been written only to enumerate the miseries of the learned, and relate their unhappy lives and untimely deaths *. See Appendix FF.
3 The omission in the reprint of the 2 'All times their scenes of pompous words within brackets was a printer's woes afford,
blunder. From Persia's tyrant to Bavaria's " "If dreams yet flatter, once again lord.'
attend, JOHNSON, Vanity of Human Wishes, HearLydiat's life andGalileo'send." 1. 223.
JOHNSON, ib. 1. 163. LIVES OF POETS. 11.