Page images
[ocr errors]

torical essay, and a poem, intended to dispose the nation to think as he thought of the duke of Marl borough and his adherents. i In 1711, competence, if not plenty, was again put into his power. He was, without the trouble of attendance, or the mortification of a request, made gazetteer, Swift, Freind, Prior, and other men of the same party, brought him the key of the gazetteer's office. He was now again placed in a profitable employment, and again threw the benefit away. An Act of Insolvency made his business at that time particularly troublesome; and he would not wait till hurry should be at an end, but immediately resigned it, and returned to his wonted indigence and amusements. .. One of his amusements at Lambeth, where he resided, was to mortify Dr. Tenison, the archbishop, by a public festivity, on the surrender of Dunkirk to Hill ; an event with which Tenison's political bigotry did not suffer him to be delighted." King was resolved to counteract his sullenness, and at the expence of a few barrels of ale filled the neighbourhood with honest merrimena.

In the Autumn of 1712 his health declined; he grew weaker by degrees, and died on Christmas-day. Though his life had not been without irregularity, his principles were pure and orthodox, and his death was: pious.

After this relation, it will be naturally supposed that his poems were rather the amusements of idleness than efforts of study ; that he endeavcured rather to divert than astonish; that his thought seldom aspired to sublimity; and that, if his yerse was easy and his images familiar, he attained what he desired. His purpose is to be merry ; but perhaps, 10 enjoy his mirth, is inay be sometimes necessary to think well of bis opinions,

[ocr errors][merged small]


[ocr errors]

"HOMAS SPRAT was born in 1636, at Tallaton in Devonshire, the

son of a clergyman; and having been educated, as he tells of himself, not at Westminster or Eaton, but at a little school by the churchyard side, became a commoner of Wadham College in Oxford in 1651 ; and, being chosen scholar next year, proceeded through the usual academical course; and in 1657 became master of arts. He obtained a fellowship, and commenced poet.

In 1659, his poem on the death of Oliver was published, with those of Dryden and Waller. In his dedication to Dr. Wilkins he appears a very willing and liberial encomiast, both of the living and the dead. He implores leis patron's excuse of his verses, both as falling “ so infinitely below the “ full and sublime genius of that execllent poet who madethis way of writ

ing free of our nation,” and being “ so little equal and proportioned to the

renown of a prince on whom they were written ; such great actions and “lives deserving to be the subject of the noblest pens and most divine phansies." He proceeds: “ Having solong experienced your care and indulgence, and been “ formed, as it were, by your own hands, not to entitle you to any thing which “ my meanness produces, would be not only injustice, but sacrilege.”

He published the same year a poem on the Plague of Athens ; a subject of which it is not easy to say what could recommend it. To these he added afterwards a poem on Mr Cowley's death.

After the Restoration he took orders, and by Cowley's recommendation was made chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham, whom he is said to have helped in writing the Rehearsal. He was likewise chaplain to the King.

As he was the favourite of Wilkins, at whose house began those philosophical conferences and enquiries, which in time produced the Royal Society, he was consequently engaged in the same studies, and became one of the fellows; and when, after their incorporation, something seemed necessary to reconcile the publick to the new institution, he undertook to write its history, which he published in 1667. This is one of the few books which selection of sentiment and clegance of diction have been able to preserve, though written upon a subject flux and transitory.. The History of the Royal Society is now read, not with the wish to know what they were then doing, but how their Transactions are exhibited by Sprat.


In the next year he published Observations on Sorbiere's Voyage into England, in a Letter 10 Mr. Wren. This is a work not ill performed: but perhaps rewarded with at least its full proportion of praise.

In 1668 he published Cowley's Latin poems, and prefixed in Latin tho Life of the Author, which tae afterwards amplified, and placed before Cowley's English weaks, which were by will committed to his care.

Ecclesiastical beneficès now fell fest upon him. In 1668 he became a prebendary of Westminster, and had afterwards the church of St. Margaret, adjoining to the Abbey. He was in 1630 made canon of Windsor, in 1693 dean of Westminster, and in 1684 bishop of Rochester,

The Court having thus a claim to his diligence and gratitude, he was required to write the History of the Ryehouse Plot; and in 1635 published A true Account and Declaration of the horrid conspiracy against the late King, his". present Majusty, and the present Government ; a performance which Ite thought convenient, after the Revolution, to extenuate and excuse.

The same year, being clerk of the closet to the king, he was made dean of the chapel-royal ; and the year afterwards received the last proof of his master's confidence, by being appointed one of the commissioners for ecclesiastical affairs. On the critical day, when the Declaration distinguished the true sons of the church of England, he stood neuter, and permitted it to be · read at Westminster ; but pressed none to violate his conscience; and, when. the bishop of London was brought before them, gave his voice in his favour,

Thus far he suffered interest or obedience to carry him ; but further le refused to go. When he found that the powers of the ecclesiastical commission were to be exercised against those who had refused the Declaration, he wrote to the lords, and other commissioners, a formal profession of his unwillingness to exercise that authority any longer, and withdrew himself from them. After they had read his letter, they adjourned for six months, and scarcely ever met afterwards.

When king James was frighted away, and a new government was to be settled, Sprat was one of those who considered, in a conference, the great question, whether the crown was vacant ; and manfully spoke in favour of his old master.

He complied, Kowever, with the new establishment, and was loft unmolested: but in 1692 a strange attack was made upon him by one Robert. Zuung. and Stephen Blackhead, both men convicted of infamous crimes, and both. when the scheme was laid, prisoners in Newgate. These men drew up an As-, sociation, in which they whose names were subscribed declared thcir resoVol: I.

M m


lution to restore king James; to seize the princess of Orange, "dead or alive, and to be ready witb thirty thousand men to meer king James when he should land. To this they put the names of Sancroft, Sprat, Marlborough, Salis bury, and others. The copy of Dr. Sprat's name was obtained by a ficticiour request, to which an answer in his own hand was desired. His hand was copied so well, that he confessed it might have deceived himself. Blackhead, who had carried the letter, being seat again with a plausible message, was very curious to see the house, and particularly importunate to be let into the study; where, as is supposed, he designed to leave the Association This however was denied him, and he dropt it in a flower-pot in the parlour.

Young now laid an information before the Privy Council; and May 7, 1692, the bishop was arrested, and kept at a messenger's under a strict guard eleven days. His house was searched, and directions were given that the flower pots should be inspected. The messengers however missed the room in which the paper was left. Blackhead went therefore a third time; and finding his paper where he had left it, brought it away.

The bishop, having been enlarged, was, on June the 10th and 13th, examined again before the Privy Council, and confronted with his accusers. Young persisted, with the most obdurate impudence, against the strongest evidence; but the resolution of Blackhead by degrees gave way. There remained at last no doubt of the þishop's innocence, who, with great prudence and diligence, traced the progress, and detected the characters of the two informers, and published an account of his own examination, and deliverance ; which made suce an impression upon him, that he commemorated it through life by an yearly day of thanksgiving.

With what hope, or what interest, the villains had contrived an accusation which they must know themselves utterly unable to prove, was never discovered.

After this, he passed his days in the quiet exercise of his function. When the cause of Sacheverell put the public in commotion, he honestly appearod among the friends of the church. He lived to his seventy-ninth year, and died May 20, 1713.

Eurner is not very favourable to his memory; but he and Burnet were old Tivals. On some public occasion they both preached before the house of commons. There prevailed in those days an indecent custom ; when the preacher touched any favourite topick in a manner that delighted bis audience, their approbation was expressed by a loud hum, continued in proportion to their zeal or pleasure. When Burnet preached, part of his congregation hummed so loudly and so long, that he sat down to enjoy it, and rubbed his face with his handkerchief. When Sprat preached, he likewise was honoured with the Jike animating hum; but he stretched out his hand to the congregation, and cried, “ Peace, peace, I pray you, peace.”

This I was told in my youth by my father, an old man who had been no careless observer of the passages of those times.

Burnet's sermon, says Salmon, was remarkable for sedition, and Spratos for loyalty. Burnet had the thanks of the house ; Sprat had no thanks; but a good living from the king ; which, he said, was of as much" value as the thanks of the Commons.

The works of Sprat, besides his few poems, are, The History of the Royal Society, The Life of Cowley, The Answer to Soi biere, The History of the Rye-house Plot, The Relation of his own Examination, and a volume of sermons. I have heard it observed, with great justness, that every book is of a different kind, and that each has its distinct and characteristical excellence.

My business is only with his poems. He considered Cowley as a model; and supposed that as he was iinitated, perfection was approached. Nothing therefore but Pindarick liberty was to be expected. There is in his few productions no want of such conceits as he thought excellent; and of those our judgement may be settled by the first that appears in his praise of Crom'well, where he says that Cromwell's “ fame, like man, will grow white as it

grows old,"

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »