Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ died the sixth of December, 1718, in the forty-fifth year of his age: and

was buried the nineteenth of the same month in Westminster-abbey, in “ the aisle where many of our English poets are interred, over-against “ Chaucer, his body being attended by a select number of his friends, and “ the dean and choir officiating at the funeral.”

To this character, which is apparently given with the fondness of a friend, may be added the testimony of Pope, who says, in a letter to Blount, “Mr. “ Rowe accompanied me, and passed a week in the Forest. I need not tell

you how much a man of his turn entertained me; but I must acquaint “ you, there is a vivacity and gaiety of disposition, almost peculiar to him, " which make it impossible to part from him without that uneasiness which

generally succeeds all cur pleasure."

Pope has left behind him another mention of his companion, less advantageous, which is thus reported by Dr. Warburton:

“ kowe, in Mr. Pope's opinion, maintained a decent character, but had

no heart. Mr. Addison was justly offended with some behaviour which “ arose from that want, and estranged himself from him ; which Rowe “ felt very severely. Mr. Pope, their common friend, knowing this, took

an opportunity, at some juncture of Mr. Addison's advancement, to tell s him how poor Rove was grieved at his displeasure, and what satisfaction " he expressed at Mr. Addison's good fortune, which he expressed so na“ turally, that he (Mr. Pope) could not but think him sincere. Mr. Addi

son replied, " I do not suspect that he feigned; but the levity of his “ heart is such, that he is struck with any new adventure; and it would « affect him just in the same manner, if he heard I was going to be hang“ ed.'-- Mr. Pope said, he could not deny but Mr. Addison understood 64 Rowe well.”

This censure time has not left us the power of confirming or refuting ; bat observation daily shews, that much stress is not to be laid on hyperbolical accusations, and pointed sentences, which even he that utters them desires to be applauded rather than credited. Addison can hardly be supposed to have meant all that he said. Few characters can bear the microscopick scrutiny, of wit quickened by anger; and perhaps the best advice to authors would be, that they should keep out of the way of one another.

Rowe is chiefity to be considered as a tragick writer and a translator. In his attempt at comedy he failed so ignominiously, that his Biter is not inserted 'in his works; and his occasional poems and short compositions are rarely worthy of either praise or censure; for they seem the casual sports of a mind seeking rather to amuse its leisure than to exercise its powers.

[blocks in formation]

In the construction of his dramas, there is not much art; he is not a nice observer of the Unitics. He extends time and varies place as his convenience Jequires. To vary the place is nat, in my opinion, any violation of nature, if the change be made between the acts; for it is no less easy for the spectator to suppose himself at Athens in the second act, than at Thebes in the first; but to change the scene, as is done by Rowe, in the middle of an act, is to add more acts to the play, since an act is so much of the business as is transacted without interruption. Rowe, by this licence, easily extricates himself from difficulties; as in Jane Grey, when we have been terrified with all the dreadful pomp of publick execution, and are wondering how the heroine or the poet will proceed, no sooner has Jane pronounced some prophetick rhymes, than--pass and be gone -- the scene closes, and Pembroke and Gardiner are turned out upon the stage.

I know not that there can be found in his plays any deep search into nature, any accurate diseriminzrions of kindred qualities, or nice display of passion in its progiess; all is general and undefined. Nor does he much interest or affect the auditor, excepų in Jane. Shore, who is always seen and heard with pity. Alicia is a character of empty noise, with no resemblance to real sorrow or to natural madness,

Whence, then, has Rowe his reputation? From the reasonableness and propriety of scme of bis scenes, from the elegance of his diction, and the suavity of bis verse. He seldom movęs either pity or terróur, but he often elevates the sentiments; he seldom pierces the breast, but he always delights the ear, and often iinproves the understanding.'

His translation of the Golden Verses, and of the first book of Quillet's Poem, have nothing in them remarkable. The Golden Verses are tedious.

The version of Lucan is one of the greatest productions of English poetry for there is perhaps none that so completely exhibits the genius and spirit of the original.: Lucan is distinguished by a kind of dictatorial or philosophic dignity, rather, as Quintilian observes, declamatory than poetical; full of ambitious morality and pointed sentences, comprised in vigorous and animated lines. This character Rowe has very diligently and successfully preserved. His versification, wbich is such as his contemporaries practised, without any attempt at innovation or improvement, seldom wants either melody or force. His author's sense is sometimes a little diluted by additional infusions, and sometimes weakened by two nuch expansion. But such faults are to be expected in all translations, from the constraint of measures and dissimilitude of language. The Pharsalia of Rowe deserves more notice than it obtains, and as it is more read will be mare esteemed.

ADDISON.

A D D IS ON.

OSEPH ADDISON was born on the first of May, 1672, at Milston, of

which his fatber, Lancelot Addison, was then rector, near Ambrosebury in Wiltshire, and appearing weak and unlikely to live, he was christened the same day. After the usual domestic education, which, from the character of his father, may be reasonably supposed to have given him strong impressions of piety, he was committed to the care of Mr. Naish at Ambrosebury and afterwards of Mr. Taylor at Salisbury.

Not to name the school or the masters of men illustrious for literaturë, is a kind of historical fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously diininished: I would therefore trace him through the whole process of his education. In 1683, in the beginning of his twelfth year, his father, being made dean of Litchfield, naturally carried his family to his new residence, and, I believe, placed biin for some time, probably not long, under Mr. Shaw, then master of the school at Litchfield, father of the late Dr. Peter Shaw. Of this interval his biographers have given no aecount, and I know it only from a story of a barring-out, told me, when I was a boy, by Andrew Corbet of Shropshire, who had heard it from Mr. Pigot his uncle.

The practice of barring-out was a savage licence, practised in many schools to the end of the last century, by which the boys, when the periodical vacation drew near, growing petulant at the approach of liberty, some days before the time of regular recess, took possession of the school, of which they barred the doors, and bade their master defiance from the windows. It is not easy to suppose that on such occasions the master would do more than laugh; yet, if tradition may be credited, he often struggled hard to force or surprise the garrison. The master when Pigot was a school-boy, was barred-out at Litchfield, and the whole operation, as he said, was planned and conducted by Addison.

To judge better of the probability of this story, I have enquired when he was sent to the Chartreux; but, as he was not one of those who enjoyed the Founder's benefaction, there is no account preserved of his admission. At the school of the Chartreux, to which he was removed either from that of

Salisbury Salisbury or Litchfield, he pursued his juvenile studies under the care of Dr. Ellis, and contracted that intimacy with Sir Richard Sicele, which their joint labours have so effectually recorded.

Of this memorable friendship the greater praise must be given to Steele, It is not hard to love those from whom nothing can be feared; and Addison never considered Steele as a rival; but Steele lived as he confesses, under an habitual subjection to the predominating genius of Addison, whom he always mentioned with reverence, and treated with obsequiousness.

Addison *, who knew his own dignity, could not always foi bear to shew it, by playing a little upon his admirer ; but he was in no danger of retort: his jests were endured without resistance or resentment.

But the sneer of jocularity was not the worst. Steele, whose imprudence of generosity, or vanity of profusion, kept him always incurably necessitous, upon some pressing exigence, in an evil hour, borrowed an hundred pounds of his friend, probably without much purpose of re-payment; but Addison, who seems to have had other notions of a hundred pounds, grew impatient of delay, and reclaimed his loan by an execution. Steele felt with great sensibility the obduracy of his creditor ; but with emotions of sorrow rather than of anger +.

In 1687 he was entered into Queen's College in Oxford, where, in 1689, the accidental perusal of some Latin verses gained him the patronage of Dr. Lancaster, afterwards provost of Queen's College ; by whose recommendarion he was elected into Magdalen College as a Demy, a terın by which that society denominates those which are elsewhere called Scholars; young men, who partake of the founder's benefaction, and succeed in their order 10 vacant fellowships I.

lleie he continued to cultivate poetry and criticism, and grew first eminent by his Latin compositions, which are indeed entiiled to particular praise. He has not confined himself to the imitation of any ancient author, but has formed his style from the general language, such as a diligent perusal of the productions of different ages happened to supply.

His Latin compositions seem to have had much of his fondness; for hę collected a second volume of the Musæ Anglicance, perhaps for a convenient receptacle, in which all his Latin pieces are inserted, and where his Poem on the Peace has the first place. He afterwards presented the collection to Boileau, who from that time “ conceived,” says Tickell, “an opinion of " the English genius for poetry." Nothing is better known of Boileau, than that he had an injudicious and peevish contempt of Modern Latin, and therefore his profession of regard was probably the effect of his civility rather than approbation.

* Spence.

** This fact was communicated to Johnson in my hearing by a person of unquestior.able veracity, but whose name I am not at liberty to mention. He had it, as he toid us, from Lady Primrose, en whom Steele related it with teats in his eyes. The late Dr. Srinton confirmed it to me, by saying. that lie had heard it from Mr. Hooke, author of the Roman Histody ; and he from Mr. Pope. H. See Victor's Letters, vol. I. p. 328. this transaction somewhat diffcrenti: relased. E, s took the degree of M. A. Feb. 14, 1693.

Boileau,

Three of his Latin poems are upon subjects on which perhaps he wonll not have ventured to have written in his own language. The battle of the Pigmies and Cranes; The Barometer; and a Bowling-green. When the matter is low or scanty, a dead language, in which nothing is mean because nothing is familiar, affords great conveniences; and by the sonorous magnificence of Roman syllables, the writer conceals penury of thought, and want of novelty, often from the reader, and often from himself.

In his twenty-second year he first showed his power of English poetry, by some verses addressed to Dryden ; and soon afterwards published a translation of the greater part of the Fourth Georgick upon Bees; after which, says Dryden, “ my latter swarm is hardly worth the hiving."

About the same time he composed the arguments prefixed to the several books of Dryden's Virgil ; and produced an Essay on the Georgicks, juveniie, superficial, and uninstructive, without much either of the scholar's learning or the critick's penetration.

His next paper of verses contained a character of the principal English poets, inscribed to Henry Sacheverell, who was then, if not a poet, a writer of verses * ; as is shewn by his version of a small part of Virgil's Georgicks, published in the Miscellanies, and a Latin encomium on queen Mary, in , the Musæ Anglicanæ. These verses exhibit all the fondness of friendship; but on one side or the other, 'friendship was afterwards too weak for the maliga nity of faction.

In this poem is a very confident and discriminative character of Speaser, whose work he had then never read +. So little sometimes is criticism the effect of judgement. It is necessary to inform the reader, that about this time he was introduced by Congreve to Montague, then Chancellor of the

* A letter which I found among Dr. Johnson's papers, dated in January 1784, from a Lady in Wiltshire, contains a discovery of some importance in literary history, viz. chat by the initiais H. S. prefixed to this poem, we are not to understand the famous Dr. Henry Sacheverell, whose trial is the most remarkable incident in his life. The information thus communicaterd is, that the verses in ques. tion were not an address to the famous Dr. Sacheverell, but to a very ingenious gentleman of the same name, who died young, supposed to be a Manksmin, for that he wrote the Hi-tory of the Isle of Man.---That this person left his papers to Mr Addison, and had forined a plan of a tragedy upon the death of Socrates.---The lady says, she bad this information fruin a Mr. Stephens, who was a fellow of Merton College, a contemporary, and intimate with ... Addison in Oxford, who died near 50 years ago, a prebendary of Winstester,

† Spence.

Exchequer :

« PreviousContinue »