« PreviousContinue »
a few flowers set in ranks, a gilb measure, and so many couplets, by the 'name' of poetry: he was of Ben Johnson's opinion, who could not admire
Verses as smooth and soft as cream,
And therefore, though his want of complaisance for some men's overbearing vanity made him enemies, yet the better part of mankind were obliged by the freedom of his reflections.
His Bodleian Speech, though taken from a remote and imperfect copy, hath shewn the world how great a master he was of the Ciceronian eloquence, mixed with the consciousness and force of Demosthenes, the elegant and moving turns of Pliny, and the acute and wise reflections of Tacitus.
Since Temple and Roscommon, no man understood Horace better, especie ally as to his happy diction, rolling numbers, beautiful imagery, and alternate mixture of the soft and the sublime. This endeared Dr. Hannes's odes to him, the finest genius for Latin lyrick since the Augustan Age. His friend Mr. Philips's ode to Mr. St. John (late lord Bolingbroke), after the manner of Horace's Lusory or Amatorian Odes, is certainly a master-piece: but Mr. Smith's Pocockius is of the sublimer kind, though, like Waller's writings upon Oliver Cromwell, it wants not the most delicate and surprising turns peculiar to the person praised. I do not remember to have seen any thing like it in Dr. Bathurst, who had made some attempt this way with applause. He was an excellent judge of humanity; and so good an historian, that in familiar discourse he would talk over the most memorable facts in antiquity, the lives, actions, and characters, of celebrated men, with amazing facility and accuracy. As he had thoroughly read and digested Thuanus's works, so he was able to copy after him: and his talent in this kind was so well known and allowed, that he had been singled out by some great men to write a history, which it was for their interest to have done with the utmost art and dexterity. I shall not mention for what reasons this design was dropped, though they are very much to Mr. Smith's honour. The truth is, and I speak it before living witnesses, whilst an agreeable company could fix him upon a subject of useful literature, nobody shone to greater advantage: he seemed to be that Memmius whom Lucretius speaks of;
-Quem tu, Dea, tempore in omni
His works are not many, and those scattered up and down in Miscellanies and Collections, being wrested from him by his friends with great difficulty and reluctance. All of them together make but a small part of that much
greater body, which lies dispersed in thc possession of a numerous acqueiotance ; and caunot perhaps be made intire, withcut, great injustice to him, because few of them had his last hand, and the transcriber was often obliged to take the liberties of a friend. His condolence for the deach of Mr. Philips is full of the noblest beauties, and hath done justice to the ashes of that second Milton, whose writings will last as long as the English language, generosity, and valour. For him Mr. Smith had contracted a perfect friendship; a pasšion he was most susceptible of, and whose laws he looked upon as sacred and inviolable.
Every subject thår passed under his pen had all the life, proportion, and embellishments bestowed on it, which an exquisite skill, a warm imagination, and a cool judgement, could possibly bestow on it. The epique, lyrick, elegiac, every sort of poetry, he touched upon (and he had touched upon a great variety), was raised to its proper height, and the differences between each of them observed with a judicious accuracy. We saw the old rules and new beauties placed in admirable order by each other; and there was a predominant fancy and spirit of his own infused, superior to what some draw off from the ancients, or from poesies here and there culled out of the moderns, by a painful industry and sérvile imitation. His contrivances were adroit and magnificent; his images lively and adequate ; his sentiments charming and majestick, his expressions natural and bold; his numbers various and sounding; and that enameled mixture of classical wit, which, without redundance and affection, sparkled through his writings, and were no less pertinent and agreeable.
His Pliedra is a consummate tragedy, and the success of it was as great as the most sanguine expectations of his friends could promise or forešee. The number of nights, and the common method of filling the house, are not always the surest marks of judging what encouragement a play meets with: but the generosity of all the persons of a refined taste about town was lemarkable on this occasion"; and it must not be forgotten how zealously Mr. Addison espoused his interest, with all the elegant judgement and diffusive good-nature for which that accomplished gentleman and author is so justly valued by mankind. But as to Phædra, she has certainly made a firer figure under Mr. Smith's conduct, upon the English siage, than either in Rome or Athens': and if she excels the Greek and Latin Phædra, I need not say she surpasses the French one, though embellished with whatever regular beauties and moving softness Racine himself could give her.
No man had a juster notion of the difficulty of composing than Mr. Smith, and he sometimes would create greater difficulties than hə had reason to apprehend. Writing with ease, what (as Mr. Wycherley speaks) may be easily written, moved his indignation. When he was writing upon a subject, Vol. I. Kk
he would scriously consider what Demosthenes, Homer, Virgil, or Horace, if alive, would say upon that occasion, which w hetted him to exceed himself as well as others. Nevertheless, he could not, or would not, finish several subjects he undertook ; which may be imputed either to the briskness of his fancy, still hunting after new matter, or to an occasional indolence which spleen and lassitude brought upon him, which, of all his foibles, the world was least inclined to forgive. That this was not owing to conceit or vanity; or a fulness of himself (a frailty which has been imputed to no less men than Shakespeare and Johnson), is clear from hence; because he left his works to the entire disposal of his friends, whose most rigorous censures he even courted and solicited ; 'submitting to their animadversions, and the freedom they took with them, with an unreserved and prudent resignation.
I have seen sketches and rough draughts of some poems he designed, set out analytically : wherein the fable, structure, and connexion, the images, incidents, moral, episodes, and a great variety of ornaments, were so finely laid out, so well fitted to the rules of art, and squared so exactly to the precedents of the ancients, that I have often looked on these poetical elements with the same concern, with which curious men are affected at the sight of the most entertaining remains and ruins of an antique figure or building. Those fragments of the learned, which some men have been so proud of their pains in collecting, are useless rarities, without form and without life, when compared with these embryos which wanted not spirit enough to preserve them ; so that I cannot help thinking, that, if some of them were to come abroad, they would be as highly valued by the poets, as the sketches of Julio and Titian are by the painters; though there is nothing in them but a few outlines, as to the design and proportion.
It must be confessed, that Mr. Smith had some defects in his conduct, which those are most apt to remember who could imitate him in nothing else. His freedom with himself drew severe acknowledgements from him than all the malice he ever provoked was capable of advancing, and he did not scruple to give even his misfortunes the hard name of faults : but, if the world had half his good nature, all the shady parts would be entirely struck out of his character.
. A man, who, under poverty, calamities and disappointments, could make so many friends, and those so truly valuable, must have just and nobie ideas of the passion of friendship, in the success of which consisted the Bearest, if not the only happiness of his life. He knew very well what was due to his birth, though fortune threw him short of it in every other circumstance of life. He avoided making any, though perhaps reasonable, complaints of her dispensations, under which he had honour enough to be casy, without touching the favouis she flung in his way when offered to him
at the price of a more durable reputation. He took care to have no dealings with mankind, in which he could not be juşt; and he desired to be at no other expence in his pretensions than that of intrinsic merit, which was the only burthen and reproach he ever brought upon his friends. He could say, as Horace did of himself, what I never yet saw translated ;
-Meo sum pauper in ære."
At his coming to town, no man was more surrounded by all those who really had or pretended to wit, or more courted by the great men, who had then a power and opportunity of encouraging arts and sciences, and gave proofs of their fondness for the name of Patron in many instances, which will ever be remembered to their glory. Mr. Smith's character grew upon his friends by intimacy, and out-went the strongest prepossessions which had been conceived in his favour. Whatever quarrel a few sour creatures, whose obscurity is their happiness, may possibly have to the age ; yet amidst a studied neglect, and total disuse of all those ceremonial attendances, fashionable equipments, and external recommendations, which are thought neces-sary introductions into the grande monde, this gentleman was so happy as still to please ; and whilst the rich, the gay, the .noble, and honourable, saw how much he 'excelled in wit and learning, they easily forgave him all cther differences. Hence it was that both his acquaintance and retirements were his own free choice. What Mr. Prior observes upon a very great character, was true of him; that most of his faults brought their excuses with them.
Those who blamed him most, understood him least, it being the custom of the vulgar to charge an excess upon the mosť complaisant, and to forin a character by the morals of a few'; who have sometimes spoiled an hour or two in good company. Where only fortune is wanting to make a great name, that single exception can never pass upon the best judges and most equitable observers of mankind; and when the time comes for the world to spare their pity, we may justly enlarge our demands upon them for their admiration.
Some few years before his death, he had engaged himself in several considerable undertakings; in all which he had prepared the world to expect mighty things from him. I have seen about ten sheets of his English Pindar, which exceeded any thing of that kind I could ever hope for in our own language. He had drawn out a plan of a tragedy of the Lady Jane Grey, and had gone through several scenes of it. But he could not well have bequeathed that work to better hands than where. I hear, it is at present lodged; ard the bare mention of two such names may justify Kk2
the largest expectations, and is sufficient to make the town an agrecable invitation.
His greatest and noblest undertaking was Longinus. He had finished an entire translation of the Subiine, which he sent the reverend Mr. Richard Parker, a friend of his, late ot Merton College, an exact critick in the Gree's tongue, from whoin it came to my hands. The French version of Monsieur Boileau, though truly valuable, was far short of it. He proposed a large addition to this work, of notes and observations of his own, with 2:) entire system of the Art of Poetry, in three books, under the titles of Thought, Diction, and Figure. I saw the last of these perfect, and in a fair copy, in which he shewed prodigious judgement and reading, and particuJarly had reformed the art of Rhétorick, by reducing that vast and confused Jeap of terms, with which along succession of pedants hadencumbered the world, to a very narrow compass, comprehending all that was useful and ornamental in poetry. Under cach head and chapter, he intended to make remarks upon all the ancients and moderns, the Greek, Latin, English, French, Spanish, and Italian poets, and to note their several beauties and defcri
What remains of his works is left, as I am informed, in the hands of men of worth and judgement, who loved him. It cannot be supposed they would suppress any thing that was his, but out of respect to his memory, and! want of proper hands to finish what so great a genius had begun.
SUCH is the cieclamation of Oldisworth, written while his admiration was yet fresh, and his kindness warm ; and therefore such as, without any criminal purpose of deceiving, shews a strong desire to make the most of all favourable truth. I cannot much commend the performance. The praise is often indistinct, and the sentences are loaded with words of more pomp than use. There is little, lowever, that can be contradicted, even when a plainer tale comes to be told.
EDMUND NEALE, known by the name of Smith, was born at Hand ley, the seat of the Lechmeres, in Worcestershire. The year of his birth is uncertain
Tie was educated at Westminster. It is known to have been the practice of Dr. Busby to detain those youths long at school, of whom he had sormed the highest expectations. Sinith took his Master's degree on the 8th of July 1696: he therefure was probably admitted into the university in 1689, when we may suppose hiin twenty years old.
* By his epitaph he appears tu barę been 42 years old when he dię.!. 'lie was consequeutly born in the year 1613. E