« PreviousContinue »
1673. His family had long possessed a considerable estate, with a good house, at Lambertoun* in Devonshire. The ancestor from whom he
descended in a direct line received the arms borne by his descendants for his · bravery in the Holy War. His father, John Rowe, who was the first that
quitted his paternal acres to practise any art of profit, professed the law, and published Benlow's and Dallison's Reports in the Reign of James the Second, when, in opposition to the notions then diligently propagated, of dispensing power, he ventured to remark how low his authors rated the prerogative. He was made a serjeant, and died April 30, 1692. He was buried in the Temple Church.
Nicholas was first sent to a private school at Highgate ; and being afterward removed to Westminster, was at twelve yearst chosen one of the King's scholars. His master was Busby, who suffered none of his scholars to let their powers lie useless ; and his exercises in several languages are said to have been written with uncommon degrees of excellence, and yet to have cost him very little labour.
At sixteen he had, in his father's opinion, made advances in learning sufficient to qualify him for the study of law, and was entered a student of the Middle Temple, where for some time he read statutes and reports with proficiency proportionate to the force of his mind, which was already such that he endeavoured to comprehend law, not as a series of precedents, or collection of positive precepts, but as a system of rational government, and impartial justice.
When he was nineteen, he was by the death of his father left more to his own direction, and probably from that time suffered law gradually to give way to poetry. At twenty-five he produced The Ambitious Stepmother, which vas received with so much favour, that he devoted himself from that time wholly to elegant literature.
His next tragedy (1702) was Tamerlane, in which, under the name of Tamerlane, he intended to characterize king William, and Lewis the Fourteenth under Bajazet. The virtues of Tamerlane seem to have been arbitrarily assigned him by his poet, for I know not that history gives any other qualities than those which make a conqueror. The fashion, however, of the time, was, to accumulate upon Lewis all that can raise horror and detestation ; and, whatever good was with-held from him, that it might not be thrown away, was bestowed upon king William.
whatever * In the Villare, Lamerton. Orig. Edit.
He was not elected till 1688. N,
This was the tragedy which Rowe valued most, and that which probably by the help of political auxiliaries, excited most applause ; but occasional poetry must often content itself with occasional praise. Tamerlane has for a long time been acted only once a year, on the night when king William landed. Our quarrel with Lewis has been long over, and it now gratifies neither zeal nor malice to see him painted with aggravated features, like a Saracen upon a sign.
The Fair Penitent, his next production (1703) is one of the most pleasing tragedies on the stage, where it still keeps its turns of appearing, and probably will long keep them, for there is scarcely any work of any poet at once so interesting by the fable, and so delightful by the language. The story is domestick, and therefore easily received by the imagination, and assimilated to common life; the diction is exquisitely harmonious, and soft or spritely as occasion requires.
The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson into Lovelace; but he has excelled his original in the moral effect of the fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and bravery which cannot be despised, retains too much of the spectator's kindness. It was in the power of Richardson alone to teach us at once esteem and detestation, to make virtuous resentment overpower all the benevolence which wit, elegance, and courage, naturally excite; and to lose at last the hero in the villain.
The fifth act is not equal to the former ; the events of the drama are exhausted, and little remains but to talk of what is past. "It has been observed, that the title of the play does not sufficiently correspond with the behaviour of Calista, who at last shews no evident signs of repentance, but may be reasonably suspected of feeling pain from detection rather than from guilt, and expresses more shame than sorrow, and more rage than shame,
His next (1706) was Ulysses; which, with the common fate of mythological stories, is now generally neglected. We have been too early ace quainted with the poetical herocs, to expect any pleasure from their revival; to shew them as they have already been shewn, is to disgust by repetition ; to give them new qualities, or new adventures, is to offend by violating receivcd notions,
The Royal Convert (1708) seems to have a better claim to longevity. The fable is drawn from an obscure and barbarous age, to which fictions are more easily and properly adapted; for when objects are imperfectly seen, they easily take forms from imagination. The scene lies among our ancestors in our own country, and therefore very easily catches attention. Rodogune is a personage truly tragical, of high spirit, and violent passions, great with tempestuous dignity, and wicked with a soul that would have been heroic if it had been virtuous. The motto-seems to tell that this play was not successful.
Rowe does not always remember what his characters require. In Tamerlanë there is some ridiculous mention of the God of Love; and Rodogune, a savage Saxon, “talks of Venus, and the eagle that bears the thunder of Jupiter.
This play discovers-irs own-date, by a prediction of the Union, in imitation of Cranmer's propiretick-promises to Henry the Eighth. The anticipated blessings of union are not very naturally introduced, nor very happily expressed. “ He once (1706) tried to change his hand. He ventured on a comedy, and produced the Biter, with which, though it was unfavourably treated by the audience, he was himself delighted; for he is said to have sat in the house, laughing with great vehemence, whenever he had in his own opinion produced a jest. But finding that he and the publick had no sympathy of mirth, he tried at lighter scenes no more. * After the Royal Convert (1714) appeared Fane Shore, written, as its author professes, in imitation of Shakespear's style. In what he thought hiinself an imifator of Shakespeare, it is not easy to conceive. The numbers, the diction, the sentiments, and the conduct, every thing in which imitation can consist; are remote in the utmost degree from the manner of Shakespeare ; whose dramas it resembles only as it is an English 'story, and as some of the persons have their names in history. This play, consisting chiefly of domestic scenes and private distress, lays hold upon the heart. The wife is forgiven because she repents, and the husband is honoured besause he forgives. This, therefore, is one of those pieces which we still welcome on the stage.
His last tragedy (1715) was Lady Jane Grey. This subject had been chosen by Mr. Smith, whose papers were put into Rowe's hands such as he describes them in his preface. This play has likewise sunk into oblivion. From this time he gave nothing more to the stage.
Being by a competent fortune exempted from any necessity of combating his inclination, he never wrote in distress, and therefore does not appear to have ever written in baste. His works were finished to his own approbation, and bear few marks of negligence or hurry. It is remarkable, 'that his prologues and epilogues are all his own, though he sometimes supplied others'; he afforded help, but did not solicit it.
As his studies 'necessarily made him acquainted with Shakespeare, and acquaintance produced veneration, he undertook (1709) an edition of his works, from which he neither received much praise, nor seems to have expected it; yet, I believe, those who compare it with former copies will find that he has done more than he promised; and that, without the pomp of notes or boasts of criticism, many passages are happily restored. He prefixed a life of the acthor, such as tradition then almost expiring could supply, and a prefacer ; which cannot be said to discover much profundity or penetration. He at least contributed to the popularity of his author:
He * Mr. Rowe's Preface, however, is not distinct, as it might be supposed from this passage from the "Life. "E.
He was willing enough to improve his fortune by other arts tlián poetry. He was under secretary for three years when the duke of Queensberry was se cretary of state, and afterwards applied to the earl of Oxford for some publick employment *. Oxford enjoined him to study Spanish; and when, some time afterwards, he came again, and said that he had mastered it, dismissed him with this congratulation, " Then, Sir, I envy you the pleasure of reading “ Don Quixote in the original.”
This story is sufficiently attested; but why Oxford, who desired to be thought a favourer of literature, should thus insult a man of acknowledged merit; or how Rowe, who was so keen a Whig 4 that he did not willingly converse with men of the opposite party, could ask preferment from Oxford; it is not now possible to discover. Pope, who told the story, did not say on what occasion the advice was given; and, though he owned Rowe’s disappointment, doubted whether any injury was intended him, but thought it rather Lord Oxford's
It is likely that he lived on discontented through the rest of queen Anne's reign ; but the tiine came at last when he found kinder friends. At the accession of king George he was made poet laureat; I am afraid by the ejection of poor Nahum Tate, who (1716) died in the Mint, where he was forced to seek shelter by extreme poverty. He was made likewise one of the land surveyors of the customs of the port of London. The prince of Wales chose him clerk of his council; and the lord chancellor Parker, as soon as he received the seals, appointed him, unasked, secretary of the presentations, Such an accumulation of employments undoubtedly produced a very considerable revenue.
Having already translated some parts of Lucan's Pharsnlia, which had been published in the Miscellanies, and doubtless received many praises, he undertook a version of the whole work, which he lived to finish, but not to publish. It seems to have been printed under the care of Dr. Welwood, who prefixed the author's life, in which is contained the following character.
“ As to his person, it was graceful and well made; his face regular, and of to
a manly beauty. As his soul was well-lodged, so its rational and animal fa“ culties excelled in a high degree. He had a quick and fruitful invention, a “ deep penetration, and a large compass of thought, with singular dexterity « and easiness in making his thoughts to be understood. He was master of “ most parts of polite learning, especially the classical authors, both Greck " and Latin; understood the French, Italian, and Spanish languages; and
spoke the first fluently, and the other two tolerably weil. Vol. I.
“ He had likewise read most of the Greek and Roman histories in their 6 original languages, and most that are wrote in English, French, Italian, " and Spanish. He had a good taste in philosophy ; and, having a firm im
pression of religion tifon bis mind, he took great delight in divinity and “ ecclesiastical history, in both which he made great advances in the times " he retired into the country, which was frequent. He expressed, on ail
occasions, his full persuasion of the truth of Revealed Religion; and being « a sincere member of the established church himself, he pitied, but condemn« ed not, those that dissented from it. He ablıorred the principles of perse"cuting men upon the account of their opinions in religion; and being strict " in his own, he took it not upon him to censure those of another persuasion. “ His conversation was pleasant, witty, and learned, without the least tinc“ture of affectation or pedantry; and his inimitable manner of diverting and « enlivening the company made it impossible for any one to be out of humour " when he was in it. Envy and detraction seemed to be entirely foreign to his " constitution; and whatever provocations he met with at any time, he passed
them over without the least thought of resentment or revenge. As Homes " had a Zoilús, so Mr. Rowe had sometimes his : for there were not want“ing malevolent people, and pretenders to poetry too, that wouli noir and " then bark at his best performances ; but he was so much conscious of his
own genius, and had so much good nature, as to forgive them; nor could he ever be tempted to return them an answer.
“ The love of learning and poetry made him not the less fit for business, " and nobody applied bimself closer to it, when it required his attendance. " The late duke of Queensberry, when he was secretary of state, made "bim his secretary for public affairs; and when that truly great man came
to know him well, he was never so pleased as when Mr. Rowe was “ in his company. After the duke's death, ali avenues were stopped to his es preferment; and during the rest of that reig!, he passed his time with the “ Muses and his books, and sometimes the conversation of his friends.
" When he had just got to be easy in his fortune, and was in a fair way to "make it better, death swept him away, and in him deprived the world of " one of the best men, as well as one of the best genuises, of the age. * He died like a Christian and a Philosopher, in charity with all mans kind, and with an absolute resignation to the will of God. He kept up “ his good humour to the last; and took leave of his wife and friends, “ immediately before his last agony, with the same tranquillity of mind, and si the same indifference for lite, as though he had ben upon taking but a " short journcy. He was twice married ; fir tt) a duughter of Mr. Parsons,
one of the anditors of the revenue ; and afteru ards to a daughter of Mr.
Devenish, of a good family in Dorsetshire. By the first he had a son ; " and by the second a daughter, married afterwards to Mr. Tane. He