Page images
PDF
EPUB

A

O Mr. HAMMOND, though he be well remembered as a inan es

teemed 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 scholastick 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 manascript of Shiels is now in my possession.

I have since found that Mr. Shiels, though he was no negligent enquirer, had been misled by false accounts; for be 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 begininng 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 friendship prejudiced mankind at that time in favour of the man on whom they were bestowed; for he was the companion of Cobham, Lyttleton, and Chesterfield. He is said to have divided his time 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 bere exhibited, of which the Eiegies were written very early, and the Prologue not long before his death.

* This account is still erróneous. James Hammond out author was of a different family, the feeond son of Anthony Hammond, of Somerstzi-place, in the coulty of Huntingdon, Eig. See Gent. Mag. yol. LVII. p. 750, E.!

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 the Lord Cobhain. His mistress iong outlived him, and in 1779 died umarried. 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 ibar 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 pedantry. 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;

With eyes averted light the solemn pyre,
Till all around the doleful flames ascend,

Then, slowly sinking, by degrees.expire?
To sooth the hovering soul be thine the care,

With plaintive cries to lead the mournful band,
In sable weeds the golden vase to bear,

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 farthest East,

And, what is still more precious, give thy tear. Surcly 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.

SOMERVILE.

SOM ER VI L E.

I

F Mr. SOMERVILE's life I am not able to say any thing that can

satisfy 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 Winchester-school, 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 inuch 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 cir“ cumstances ; the last of these considerations wrings my very soul to think

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 mi“ sery."--He died July 16, 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley on Arden.

His distresses need not be much pitied: his estate is said to be fifteen hundred a year, which by his death has 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 exhibit memorials of a writer, who at least must be allowed to have set a good example to inen of his own class, by devoting part of his time to elegant knowledge; and who has shewn, by the subjects which his poetry has adorned, that it is practicable to be at once a skilful sportsman and a man of letters.

Somervile

on.

Somervile has tried many modes of poetry; and though perhaps he has not in any reached such excellence as to raise much envy, it may commonly be said at least that “ he writes very well for a gentleman.” His serious pieces are sometimes elevated, and his trifles are sometimes elegant. In his verses to Addison, the couplet which mentions Clia is written with the most exqui, site delicacy of praise; it exhibits one of those happy strokes that are seldom attained. In his odes to Marlborough there are beautiful lines ; but in the second ode he shews that he knew little of his hero, when he talks of his private virtues. His subjects are commonly such as require no great depth of thought or energy of expression. His Fables are generally stạie, and therefore excite no curiosity. Of his favourite, The Two Springs, the fiction is unnatural, and the moral inconsequential. In his Tales there is too much coarseness, with two little care of language, and not sufficient rapidity of narration.

· His great work is his Chace, which he undertook in his maturer age, when his ear was improved to the approbation of blank verse, of which however his two first lines give a bad specimen. To this poem praise cannot be totally denied. He is allowed by sportsmen to write with great intelligence of his subject, which is the first requisite to excellence; and though it is impossible to interest the common readers of verse in the dangers or pleasures of the chace, he has done all that transition and variety could easily effect; and has with great propriety enlarged his plan by the modes of hunting used in other countries.

With still less judgement did he chuse blank verse as the vehicle of Rural Sports. If blank verse be not tumid and gorgeous, it is crippled prose; and familiar images in laboured language have nothing to recommend them but absurd novelty; which wanting the attractions of Nature, cannot please long. One excellence of the Splendid Shilling is, thar it is short. Disguise can gratify no longer than it deceives.

Vol. I.

3 F

SAVAGE

[blocks in formation]

TT has been observed in all ages, that the advantages of nature or of forItune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank, or the extent of their capacity, have placed upon the summit of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station ; whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those, whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention, have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe,

That afluence and power, advantages extrinsick and adventitious, and therefore easily separable from those by whom they are possessed, should very often fatter the mind with expectations of felicity which they cannot give, raises no astonishment; but it seems rational to hope, that intellectual greatness should produce berter effects; that minds qualified for great attainments should first endeavour their own benefit; and that they, who are most able to teach others the way to happiness, should with most certainty follow it themselves.

But this expectation, however plausible, has been very frequently disappointed. The heroes of literary as well as civil history have been very often no less remarkable for what they have suffered, than for what they have atchieyed; and volumes have been written only to enumerate the miseries of the learned, and relate their unhappy lives, and untimely deaths.

To these mournful narratives, I am about to add the Life of Richard Savage, a man whose writings entitle him to an eminent rank in the classes of learning, and whose misfortunes claim a degree of compassion, not always due to the unliappy, as they were often the consequences of the crimes of others, rather than his own.

In the year 1697, Anne Countess of Macclesfield, having lived some time upon very uneasy terms with her husband, thought a public confession of

adultery

« PreviousContinue »