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To compare the two translations would be tedious; the palm is now given universally to Pope; but I think the first lines of Tickell's were rather to be preferred; and Pope seems to have since borrowed something from them in the correction of his own.
When the Hanover succession was disputed, Tickell gave what assistance his pen would supply. His "Letter to Avignon" stands high among party-poems; it expresses contempt without coarseness, and superiority without insolence. It had the success which it deserved, being five times printed.
He was now intimately united to Mr. Addison, who, when he went into Ireland as secretary to the Lord Sunderland, took him thither and employed him in public business; and when (1717) afterwards he rose to be secretary 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 of Craggs.
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 23d 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 Gothic 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 place 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 domestic relations without censure.
OF Mr. HAMMOND, though he be well remembered as a man esteemed and caressed by the elegant and the great, I was at first able to obtain no other memorials than such as are supplied by a book called "Cibber's Lives of the Poets;" of which I take this opportunity to testify, that it was not written, 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 scholastic education, who, not long after the publication of his work, died in London of a consumption. His life was virtuous, and his end was pious. Theophilus Cibber, then a prisoner for debt, imparted, as I was told, his name for ten guineas. The manuscript of Shiels is now in my possession.
I have since found that Mr. Shiels, though he was no negligent inquirer, had been misled by false accounts; for he 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. He 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 beginning 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 friendships prejudiced mankind at that time in favour of the man on whom they were bestowed; for he was the companion of Cobham, Lyttelton, and Chesterfield. He is said to have divided his life 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.
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 Lord Cobham. His mistress long outlived him, and in 1779 died unmarried. 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 species 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; he 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 pe dantry. 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 what then shall follow?
Wilt thou in tears thy lover's corse attend?
To sooth the hovering soul be thine the care,
And cull my ashes with thy trembling hand.
Panchaia's odours be their costly feast,
And all the pride of Asia's fragrant year
Give them the treasures of the furthest east,
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 which our language affords.
OF Mr. SOMERVILE'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 he 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 Winchesterschool, and was elected fellow of New College. 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.
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 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 have been fifteen hundred a year, which by his death 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