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Born in Ireland — Educated at Caen — Preternatural intelligence of his
father's death — Returns to England at the Restoration --- His love of play - Endeavours to refine the English language -- Death and burial in Westminster Abbey — Purity and excellence of his writings.
WENTWORTH Dillon, Earl of Roscommon,' was the son of James Dillon and Elizabeth Wentworth, sister to the Earl of Strafford. He was born in Ireland during the lieutenancy of Strafford, who, being both his uncle and his godfather, gave him his own surname. His father, the third Earl of Roscommon, had been converted by Usher to the Protestant religion ; and when the Popish rebellion broke out, Strafford, thinking the family in great danger from the fury of the Irish, sent for his godson, and placed him at his own seat in Yorkshire, where he was instructed in Latin, which he learned so as to write it with purity and elegance, though he was never able to retain the rules of grammar.
Such is the account given by Mr. Fenton, from whose notes on Waller most of this account must be borrowed, though I know not whether all that he relates is certain. The instructor whom he assigns to Roscommon is one Dr. Hall, by whom he cannot mean the famous Hall, then an old man and a bishop.
When the storm broke out upon Strafford, his house was a shelter no longer; and Dillon, by the advice of Usher, was sent to Caen, where the Protestants had then an university, and continued his studies under Bochart.
Young Dillon, who was sent to study under Bochart, and who is represented as having already made great proficiency in
" Johnson wrote a Life of Roscommon for the 'Gentleman's Magazine of May, 1748. This improved and enlarged biography is of course founded on his earlier narrative.
literature, could not be more than nine years old. Strafford went to govern Ireland in 1633, and was put to death eight years afterwards. That he was sent to Caen is certain : that he was a great scholar may be doubted.
At Caen he is said to have had some preternatural intelligence of his father's death.
“ The Lord Roscommon, being a boy of ten years of age, at Caen in Normandy, one day was, as it were, madly extravagant in playing, leaping, getting over the table-boards, &c. • He was wont to be sober enough,' they said ; ‘God grant this bodes no ill-luck to him!' In the heat of this extravagant fit, he cries out, • My father is dead. A fortnight after, news came from Ireland that his father was dead. This account I had from Mr. Knolles, who was his governor, and then with him,since secretary to the Earl of Strafford; and I have heard his Lordship’s relations confirm the same.”-AUBREY'S • Miscellany,' ed. 1696, p. 89.
The present age is very little inclined to favour any accounts of this kind, nor will the name of Aubrey much recommend it to credit: it ought not, however, to be omitted, because better evidence of a fact cannot easily be found than is here offered, and it must be by preserving such relations that we may at last judge how much they are to be regarded. If we stay to examine this account, we shall see difficulties on both sides : here is the relation of a fact given by a man who had no interest to deceive, and who could not be deceived himself; and here is, on the other hand, a miracle which produces no effect; the order of nature is interrupted to discover not a future but only a distant event, the knowledge of which is of no use to him to whom it is revealed. Between these difficulties what way shall be found ? Is reason or testimony to be rejected ? I believe what Osborne says of an appearance of sanctity may be applied to such impulses or anticipations as this : Do not wholly slight them, because they may be true; but do not easily trust them, because they may be false.?
? We talked of belief in ghosts. He said, “Sir, I make a distinction between what a man may experience by the mere strength of his imagination, and what
The state both of England and Ireland was at this time such, that he who was absent from either country had very little temptation to return : and therefore Roscommon, when he left Caen, travelled into Italy, and amused himself with its antiquities, and particularly with medals, in which he acquired uncommon skill.
At the Restoration, with the other friends of monarchy, he came to England, was made captain of the band of pensioners, and learned so much of the dissoluteness of the court that he addicted himself immoderately to gaming, by which he was engaged in frequent quarrels, and which undoubtedly brought upon him its usual concomitants, extravagance and distress.
After some time a dispute about part of his estate forced him into Ireland, where he was made, by the Duke of Ormond, captain of the guards, and met with an adventure, thus related by Fenton :
“ He was at Dublin as much as ever distempered with the same fatal affection for play, which engaged him in one adventure that well deserves to be related. As he returned to his lodgings from a gaming-table he was attacked in the dark by three ruffians, who were employed to assassinate him. The Earl defended himself with so much resolution that he despatched one of the aggressors; whilst a gentleman, accidentally passing that way, interposed and disarmed another; the third secured himself by flight. This generous assistant was a disbanded officer, of a good family and fair reputation, who, by what we call the partiality of fortune, to avoid censuring the iniquities of the times, wanted even a plain suit of clothes to make a decent
imagination cannot possibly produce. Thus, suppose I should think that I saw a form, and heard a voice cry, Johnson, you are a very wicked fellow, and unless you repent you will certainly be punished;' my own unworthiness is so deeply impressed upon my mind, that I might imagine I thus saw and heard, and therefore I should not believe that an external communication had been made to me. But if a form should appear, and a voice should tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should in that case be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me."---Boswell by Croker, p. 138.