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Hoc dimetiri non ulla decempeda possit:
Idalia vacuum trajectus arundine pectus,
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
* It was his grandfather, Sir Robert Dillon, second earl of Roscommon, who was converted from Popery; and his conversion is recited in the patent of Sir James, the first earl of Roscommon, as one of the grounds of his creation. M.
and who is
din 1633, and
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 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 tables, 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 sáme.” Aubrey's Miscellany.
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."
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 dispatched.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 appearance at the castle. But his lordship, on this occasion, presenting him to the duke of Ormond, with great importunity prevailed with his grace, that he might resign his post of captain of the guards to his friend ; which for about three years the gentleman enjoyed, and, upon his death, the duke returned the commission to his generous benefactor.";. ;
. • When he had finished his business, he returned to London;, was made master of the horse to the duchess of York; and married the lady Frances, daughter of the earl of Burlington; and widow of colonel Courteney.*
He now busied his mind with literary projects, and formed the plan of a society for refining our language and fixing its standard; “in imitation,” says Fenton,“ of those learned and polite societies with which he had been acquainted abroad.” In this design his friend Dryden is said to have assisted him. : The same design, it is well known, was revived by Dr. Swift in the ministry of Oxford; but it has never since been publickly mentioned, though at that time great expectations were formed by some of its establishment and its effects. Such a society might, perhaps, without much difficulty, be collected; but that it would produce what is expected from it, may be doubted. ., The Italian academy seems to have obtained its end. The language was refined, and so fixed that it has changed but little. The French-academy thought they had refined their language, and doubtless thought rightly; but the event has not shewn that they fixed it; for the French of
* He was married to lady Frances Boyle, in April 1662. By this lady be bad no issue. He married secondly, 10th November, 1674, Isabella, daughter of Mathew Boynton, of Barmister, in Yorksbire. M.
the present time is very different from that of the last century.
In this country an academy could be expected to do but little. If an academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would separate the assembly.
But suppose the philological decree made and promulgated, what would be its authority? In absolute governments, there is sometimes a general reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power, and the countenance of greatness. How little this is the state of our country needs not to be told. We live in an age in which it is a kind of publick sport to refuse all respect that cannot be enforced. The edicts of an English academy would probably be read by many, only that they might be sure to disobey them.
That our language is in perpetual danger of corruption cannot be denied; but what prevention can be found? The present manners of the nation would deride authority; and therefore nothing is left but that every writer should criticize himself.
All hopes of new literary institutions were quickly suppressed by the contentious turbulence of king James's reign; and Roscommon, foreseeing that some violent concussion of the state was at hand, purposed to retire to Rome, alleging, that “ it was best to sit near the chimney when the chamber smoked;" a sentence, of which the application seems not very clear.
His departure was delayed by the gout; and he was so impatient either of hinderance or of pain, that he submitted himself to a French empirick, who is said to have repelled the disease into his bowels.
At the moment in which he expired, he uttered, with an energy of voice that expressed the most fervent devotion, two lines of his own version of Dies Ira:
My God, my father, and my friend,