« PreviousContinue »
'In consequence of our different conversations about authentick materials for the Life of Young I send you the following detail. It is not, I confess, immediately in the line of my profession; but hard indeed is our fate at the bar if we may not call a few hours now and then our own.
'Of great men something must always be said to gratify curiosity. Of the great author of the Night Thoughts much has been told of which there never could have been proofs; and little care appears to have been taken to tell that of which proofs, with little trouble, might have been procured.
'EDWARD YOUNG was born at Upham, near Winchester, in June, 1681. He was the son of Edward Young, at that time Fellow of Winchester College and Rector of Upham, who was the son of Jo. Young of Woodhay in Berkshire, styled by Wood gentleman. In September, 1682, the Poet's father was collated to the prebend of Gillingham Minor, in the church of Sarum, by bishop Ward. When Ward's faculties were impaired by age his duties were necessarily performed by others. We learn from Wood that, at a visitation of Sprat's, July the 12th, 1686, the Prebendary preached a Latin sermon, afterwards published, with which the Bishop was so pleased that he told the Chapter he was concerned to find the preacher had one of the worst prebends in their church. Some time after this, in consequence of his merit and reputation, or of the interest of Lord Bradford, to whom, in 1702, he dedicated two volumes of sermons, he was appointed chaplain to King William and Queen Mary, and preferred to the deanery of Sarum. Jacob, who wrote in 1720, says "he was chaplain and clerk of the closet to the late Queen, who honoured him by standing godmother to the Poet." His fellowship of
YOUNG in the Dict. Nat. Biog., has corrected several errors in Croft's Life and has given a very careful estimate of Young's place in English literature.]
Baronet and priest though he was, Croft seems to have been a rascal. Southey's son accuses him of having obtained possession from Mrs. Newton, Chatterton's sister, of all her brother's letters and MSS., under promise of speedily returning them. Instead of which he published them in a pamphlet entitled Love and Madness. Beyond the sum of £10 she could obtain no redress.' Her cause was supported by Southey, who, with Cottle, published for her benefit an edition of Chatterton's Works. It brought in over £300,
a sum which rescued her and her daughter from great poverty.' Southey's Life and Corres. ii. 185.
Southey and Croft had had a controversy on this question in Gent. Mag. 1800, pp. 99, 222, 322. Southey wrote:- Sir Herbert does not deny that he promised to return the letters in an hour when he borrowed them; nor that he published them without the knowledge of the family for his own emolument. . . . He does not deny his promise to the family of after assistance; nor that, when Mrs. Newton applied for it, he required a certificate of her character from the clergyman of the parish.' Ib. p. 226. Croft blustered and quoted a testimonial from a Bishop. Ib. p. 323.
Winchester he resigned in favour of a Mr. Harris, who married his only daughter. The Dean died at Sarum, after a short illness, in 1705, in the sixty-third year of his age. On the Sunday after his decease Bishop Burnet preached at the cathedral, and began his sermon with saying, "Death has been of late walking round us, and making breach upon breach upon us, and has now carried away the head of this body with a stroke; so that he whom you saw a week ago distributing the holy mysteries is now laid in the dust. But he still lives in the many excellent directions he has left us, both how to live and how to die."
'The Dean placed his son upon the foundation of Winchester 5 College, where he had himself been educated. At this school Edward Young remained till the election after his eighteenth birth-day, the period at which those upon the foundation are superannuated. Whether he did not betray his abilities early in life, or his masters had not skill enough to discover in their pupil any marks of genius for which he merited reward, or no vacancy at Oxford afforded them an opportunity to bestow upon him the reward provided for merit by William of Wykeham; certain it is, that to an Oxford fellowship our Poet did not succeed. By chance, or by choice, New College does not number among its Fellows him who wrote the Night Thoughts.
'On the 13th of October, 1703, he was entered an independent 6 member of New College, that he might live at little expence in the Warden's lodgings, who was a particular friend of his father, till he should be qualified to stand for a fellowship at All-souls. In a few months the Warden of New College died. He then removed to Corpus College. The President of this Society, from regard also for his father, invited him thither, in order to lessen his academical expences. In 1708 he was nominated to a law fellowship at All-souls by Archbishop Tennison, into whose hands it came by devolution. Such repeated patronage, while it justifies Burnet's praise of the father, reflects credit on the conduct of the son. The manner in which it was exerted seems to prove that the father did not leave behind him much wealth.
On the 23rd of April, 1714, Young took his degree of Batchelor 7 of Civil Laws, and his Doctor's degree on the 10th of June, 1719.
'Soon after he went to Oxford he discovered, it is said, an 8 inclination for pupils. Whether he ever commenced tutor is not known. None has hitherto boasted to have received his academical instruction from the author of the Night Thoughts.
'It is certain that his college was proud of him no less as a 9 scholar than as a poet, for in 1716, when the foundation of the Codrington Library was laid, two years after he had taken his Batchelor's degree, he was appointed to speak the Latin oration. This is at least particular for being dedicated in English "To the
Of this oration there is no appearance in his own edition of his works, and prefixed to an edition by Curll and Tonson in 1741 is a letter from Young to Curll, if Curll may be credited, dated December the 9th, 1739, wherein he says he has not leisure to review what he formerly wrote, and adds, "I have not the Epistle to Lord Lansdowne. If you will take my advice I would have you omit that and the oration on Codrington. I think the collection will sell better without them."
Ladies of the Codrington Family." To these Ladies he says "that he was unavoidably flung into a singularity by being obliged to write an epistle-dedicatory void of common-place, and such an one as was never published before by any author whatever; that this practice absolved them from any obligation of reading what was presented to them; and that the bookseller approved of it because it would make people stare was absurd enough, and perfectly right."
11 'There are who relate that, when first Young found himself independent and his own master at All-souls, he was not the ornament to religion and morality which he afterwards became.
'The authority of his father, indeed, had ceased some time before by his death, and Young was certainly not ashamed to be patronized by the infamous Wharton. But Wharton befriended in Young, perhaps, the poet, and particularly the tragedian. If virtuous authors must be patronized only by virtuous peers, who shall point them out?
'Yet Pope is said by Ruffhead to have told Warburton that "Young had much of a sublime genius, though without common sense; so that his genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into bombast. This made him, pass a 'foolish youth,' the sport of peers and poets; but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency, and afterwards with honour."
14 They who think ill of Young's morality in the early part of his life may perhaps be wrong; but Tindal could not err in his opinion of Young's warmth and ability in the cause of religion. Tindal used to spend much of his time at All-souls. "The other boys," said the atheist, "I can always answer, because I always know whence they have their arguments, which I have read an hundred times; but that fellow Young is continually pestering me with something of his own.”
'After all, Tindal and the censurers of Young may be reconcileable. Young might, for two or three years, have tried that kind of life, in which his natural principles would not suffer him to wallow long. If this were so, he has left behind him not only his evidence in favour of virtue, but the potent testimony of experience against vice.
'We shall soon see that one of his earliest productions was
more serious than what comes from the generality of unfledged poets.
'Young perhaps ascribed the good fortune of Addison to the 17 Poem to his Majesty, presented, with a copy of verses, to Somers, and hoped that he also might soar to wealth and honours on wings of the same kind. His first poetical flight was when Queen Anne called up to the House of Lords the sons of the Earls of Northampton and Aylesbury, and added in one day ten others to the number of peers. In order to reconcile the people to one at least of the new Lords, he published in 1712 An Epistle to the Right Honourable George Lord Lansdowne. In this composition the poet pours out his panegyrick with the extravagance of a young man, who thinks his present stock of wealth will never be exhausted.
'The poem seems intended also to reconcile the publick to the 18 late peace. This is endeavoured to be done by shewing that men are slain in war, and that in peace "harvests wave, and commerce swells her sail." If this be humanity, is it politicks? Another purpose of this epistle appears to have been to prepare the publick for the reception of some tragedy of his own. His Lordship's patronage, he says, will not let him "repent his passion for the stage"; and the particular praise bestowed on Othello and Oroonoko looks as if some such character as Zanga was even then in contemplation. The affectionate mention of the death of his friend Harrison of New College, at the close of this poem, is an instance of Young's art, which displayed itself so wonderfully some time afterwards in the Night Thoughts, of making the publick a party in his private sorrow.
'Should justice call upon you to censure this poem, it ought at 19 least to be remembered that he did not insert it into his works, and that in the letter to Curll, as we have seen, he advises its omission. The booksellers, in the late Body of English Poetry, should have distinguished what was deliberately rejected by the respective authors'. This I shall be careful to do with regard to Young. "I think," says he, "the following pieces in four volumes to be the most excuseable of all that I have written, and I wish less apology was needful for these. As there is no recalling what is got abroad, the pieces here republished I have revised and corrected, and rendered them as pardonable as it was in my power to do."
'Shall the gates of repentance be shut only against literary 20 sinners?
'When Addison published Cato in 1713 Young had the honour 21 of prefixing to it a recommendatory copy of verses. This is one of the pieces which the author of the Night Thoughts did not republish.
'On the appearance of his Poem on the Last Day, Addison did 22
Dr. Johnson, in many cases, thought and directed differently, particularly in Young's Works. J. NICHOLS.
not return Young's compliment; but The Englishman of October 29, 1713, which was probably written by Addison, speaks handsomely of this poem. The Last Day was published soon after the peace. The vice-chancellor's imprimatur, for it was first printed at Oxford, is dated May the 19th, 1713. From the Exordium Young appears to have spent some time on the composition of it. While other bards "with Britain's hero set their souls on fire," he draws, he says, a deeper scene. Marlborough had been considered by Britain as her hero; but, when The Last Day was published, female cabal had blasted for a time the laurels of Blenheim. This serious poem was finished by Young as early as 1710, before he was thirty; for part of it is printed in The Tatler. It was inscribed to the Queen, in a dedication which, for some reason, he did not admit into his works. It tells her that his only title to the great honour he now does himself is the obligation he formerly received from her royal indulgence.
'Of this obligation nothing is now known, unless he alluded to her being his godmother. He is said, indeed, to have been engaged at a settled stipend as a writer for the court. In Swift's Rhapsody on poetry are these lines, speaking of the court:
"Whence Gay was banish'd in disgrace,
Where Pope will never shew his face,
That Y- - means Young is clear from four other lines in the
Attend, ye Popes and Youngs and Gays,
And tune your harps and strew your bays;
Your panegyricks here provide;
You cannot err on flattery's side."
'Yet who shall say with certainty that Young was a pensioner? In all modern periods of this country have not the writers on one side been regularly called Hirelings, and on the other Patriots?
"Of the dedication the complexion is clearly political. It speaks in the highest terms of the late peace: it gives her Majesty praise indeed for her victories, but says that the author is more pleased to see her rise from this lower world, soaring above the clouds, passing the first and second heavens, and leaving the fixed stars behind her; nor will he lose her there, but keep her still in view through the boundless spaces on the other side of Creation, in her journey towards eternal bliss, till he behold the heaven of heavens open, and angels receiving and conveying her still onward from the stretch of his imagination, which tires in her pursuit, and falls back again to earth.
'The Queen was soon called away from this lower world to a