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His next work 11 is the translation of the Art of Poetry,' which has received, in my opinion, not less praise than it deserves. Blank verse, left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on the ear or mind : it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking images. A poem frigidly didactic, without rhyme, is so near to prose that the reader only scorns it for pretending to be verse.
Having disentangled himself from the difficulties of rhyme, he may justly be expected to give the sense of Horace with great exactness, and to suppress no subtlety of sentiment for the difficulty of expressing it. This demand, however, his translation will not satisfy ; what he found obscure, I do not know that he has ever cleared.
Among his smaller works, the "Eclogue' of Virgil and the Dies Iræ' are well translated; though the best line in the • Dies Iræ’ is borrowed from Dryden."2 In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Roscommon.
In the “Verses on the Lap Dog' the pronouns thou and you are offensively confounded ; and the turn at the end is from Waller.
His versions of the two Odes of Horace are made with great liberty, which is not recompensed by much elegance or vigour.
His political verses are sprightly; and when they were written must have been very popular.
Of the scene of Guarini,' and the prologue of • Pompey,' Mrs. Philips, in her letters to Sir Charles Cotterel,13 has given the history.
“My Lord Roscommon,” says she,14 " is a very ingenious person, of excellent natural parts, and certainly the most hopeful young nobleman in Ireland. He has paraphrased a Psalm
" Not his next. The translation of the 'Art of Poetry' preceded the Essay on Translated Verse. The former appeared in 1680, in 4to. (printed for Henry Herringman), and is advertised as published in the ‘London Gazette * of 24-27 Nov., 1679. Waller's complimentary verses to Roscommon, of this Translation and the use of Poetry,' are prefixed to the first edition.
12 Did not Johnson mean Crashaw!
admirably well, and the scene of Care selve Beate,' in • Pastor Fido,' very finely; in many places much better than Sir Richard Fanshaw. He begins it thus :
* Dear happy groves, and you the dark retreat
Of silent Horror, Rest's eternal seat!' &c. This last he undertook purely out of compliment to me, having heard me say 'twas the best scene in the Italian, and the worst in the English. He was but two hours about it, having certainly as easy and fluent a vein as ever I observed or heard of, and which 'tis great pity he does not improve by practice."
From these lines, which are since somewhat mended, it appears that he did not think a work of two hours fit to endure the eye of criticism without revisal.
When Mrs. Philips was in Ireland, some ladies that had seen her translation of Pompey'resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin ; and, to promote their design, Lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and Sir Edward Dering an epilogue; "which," says she, 15 “ are the best performances of those kinds I ever saw." If this is not criticism, it is at least gratitude. The thought of bringing Cæsar and Pompey into Ireland, the only country over which Cæsar never had any power, is lucky.
Of Roscommon’s works, the judgment of the public seems to be right. He is elegant, but not great; he never labours after exquisite beauties, and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but rarely vigorous, and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors to English literature. 16
15 Letters from Orinda to Poliarchus, 8vo., 1705, p. 120.
16 Such was Roscommon--not more learn'd than good,
With manners generous as his noble blood:
POPE: Essay on Criticism,
Born at Trotton, in Sussex -- Educated at Winchester and Oxford - Fails
as an Actor - Great Success as a Dramatist — Serves as a Cornet in the English Army in Flanders — His Poverty and tragic End — Buried in St. Clement's Danes — His Works and Character.
OF THOMAS OTway, one of the first names in the English drama, little is known ; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer can take pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trotton, in Sussex, March 3, 1651-2, the son of Mr. Humphrey Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester-school, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ Church (Oxford] ; but left the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical restraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous; for he went to London, and commenced player, but found himself unable to gain any reputation on the stage.
This kind of inability he shared with Shakespeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their excellences. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatic poet should without difficulty become a great actor; that he who can feel, could
" He was at the time of his son's birth curate of Trotton. After the Restoration he became rector of the adjoining parish of Woolbeding, and died in 1670. -Dallaway's Sussex, i, 221.
? Note.--In this play [The Jealous Bridegroom,' by Mrs. Behn] Mr. Otway the poet having an inclination to turn actor, Mrs. Behn gave him the King in the play for a probation part; but he being not used to the stage, the full house put him to such a sweat and tremendous agony, being dash't, spoilt him for an actor. Mr. Nat Lee had the same fate in acting Duncan in
Macbeth,' ruin'd him for an actor too.-DOWNES : Roscius Anglicanus, 12mo., 1708, p. 34.