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DU K E OF
N G H A M H I R E.
JOHN SHEFFIELD, descended from a long series of illustrious an
cestors, was born in 1619, the son of Edmund earl of Mulgiave, who died 1658. The young lord was put into the hands of a tutor, with 1: hom he was so little satisfied, that he got rid of him in a short time, ani, at an age not exceeding twelve years, resolved to educate himself. Such a pura pase, formed at such an age, and sucessfully prosecuted, delights as it is strange, and instructs as it is real.
His literary acquisitions are more wonderful, as those years in wlich they are commonly inade were spent by him in the tumult of a military life or the gaiety of a court. Wben war was declared against the Dutch, he went at seventeen on board the ship in which prince Rupert and the Juke of Albemarle sailed, with the command of the fleet; but by contrariety of winds they were restrained from action. His zeal for the king's service was recompensed by the command of one of the independent troops of horse, then raised to protect the coast.
Next year he received a summons to parliament, which as he was then but eighteen years old, the carlof Northumberland censured as at lea: tinde. cent, and his objection was allowed. He had a quarrel with the carl of Rochester, which he has perhaps too ostentatiously related, as Rochester's surviving sister, the lady Sandwich, is said to have told him with very sharp reproaches,
When another Dutch war (1572) broke out, he went again a volunteer in the ship which the celebrated lord Ossory commanded; and there made, as he relates, two curious remarks.
“ I have observed two things, which I dare affirm, though not generally “ believed. One was, that the wind of a cannon-bullet, though flying
never so near, is incapable of doing the least harm; and indeed, were it
otherwise, no man above deck would escape. The other was, that a “great shot may be sometimes avoided, even as it flies, by changing one's
ground a little ; for, when the wind sometimes blew away the size, " it was so clear a sun-shiny day, that we could easily perceive the hists Vol. I. Uu
“ (that were half-spent) fall into the water, and from thence bourd up again
among us, which gives sufficient time for making a step or two or any « side; though in so swit a motion, 'tis hard to judge well in what line the “ bullet comes, which if mistaken, may by removing cost a man his life, “ instead of saving it."
His behaviour was so favourab'y represented by lord Ossory, that he rras advanced to the command of the Katherine, the best second-rate ship is the nary.
He afterwards raised a regiment of foot, and commanded it as colonel, The land- forces were sent ashore by prince Rupert; and he lived in the camp very tzmiliarly with Schomberg. Fie was then appointed colonel of the old Kelland regiñent, together with his own, and had the promise of a garter, which lie obtained in his twenty-fitth year. He was likewise made gentleman of the bed-chamber.
He afterwards went into the French sè' vice, to learn the art of war under Turenne, but staid only a short time. Being by the duke of Monmouth opposed in his pictentions to the first troop of horse-guards, he, in return, mude Monmouth suspecied by the duke of York. He was not long after, when the unlucky Nonmouth fell into disgrace, recompensed with the lieutenancy of Yorkshire and the government of Hull.
Thus rapidly did he make his way both to military and civil honours and employments; yet, busy as he was, he did not neglect his studies, but at least cultivated poetry; in which he must have been early considered as uncommonly skilful, if it be true which is reported, that, when he was yet not wenty years old, his recommendation advanced Dryden to the laurel.
The Moors having besieged Tangier, he was sent (1680) with tiro thousand men to its relief. A strange story is told of danger to which he was intentionally exposed in a leaky ship to gratify some resentful jealousy of the king, whose health, he therefore would never perunit at his table, tili he saw himself in a safer place. His voyage was prosperously performed is three weeks, and the Moors without a contest retired before him.
In this voyage he composed the Vision ; a tieentious poem, such as was fashionable in those times, with little power of invention or propriety of sentiment.
At his return he found the king kind, who perhaps had never been angry; and he continued a wit and a courtier as before.
At the succession of king James, to whom he was intimately known, and by whom be thought himself beloved, he naturally expected still brighter sun shine ; but all know how soon that reign began to gather clouds. His expectations were not disappointed; he was immediately admitted into the privy-council and made lord chamberlain. He accepted a place in the high
coinmission, without knowledge, as he declared after the Revolution, of its illegality. Having few religious scruples, he attended the king to mass, and kneeled with the rest; but had no dispensation to receive the Romish Faith, or to force it upon others; for when the p iests, encouiaged by his appearances of compliance, attempted to convert him, he told them, as Burnet has recorded, that he was willing to receive instruction, and that he had taken much pains to believe in God who made the worldand all men in it; but that he should not be easily persuaded that man was quits, and made God again.
A pointed sentence is bestowed by successive transmission on the last whom it will fit; this censure of transubstantiation, wharever be its value was uttered long ago by Anne Askew, one of the first sufferers for the Protestant Religion, who in the time of Henry VII. was tortured in the Tower ; concerning which there is reason to wonder that it was not known to the Hisa torian of the Reformation.
In the Revolution he acquiesced, though he did not promote it. There was once a design of associating him in the invitation of the prince of Orange : but the earl of Shrewsbury discouraged the attempt, by declaring that Mulgrave would never concur. This king William afterwards told him, and asked what he would have done if the proposal had been made. “Sir," said he, “ I would have discovered it to the king whom I then served." To which king William replied, “ I cannot blame you."
Finding king James irremediably excluded, he voted for the conjunctive sovereignty upon this principle, that he thought the titles of the prince and his consort equal, and it would please the prince their protector to have a share in the sovereignty. This vote gratified king Williain ; yet, either by the king's distrust or his own discontent, he lived some years without employment. He looked on the king with malevolence, and, if his verses or his prose may be credited, with contempt. He was, notwithstanding this aversion or indifference, made marquis of Normandy (1694); but still opposed the court on some important questions ; yet at last he was received into the cabinet council, with a pension of three thousand pounds.
At the accession of queen Anne, whom he has said to have courted when they were both young, he was highly favoured. Before her coronation (1702) she made him lord privy seal, and soon after lord lieutenant of the North-riding of Yorkshire. He was then nained commissioner for treating trith the Scots about the Union ; and was made next year first duke of Normandy, and then of Buckinghamshire, there being suspected to be somewhere a latent claim to the title of Buckingham.
Soon after, becoming jealous of the duke of Marlborough, he resigned the privy seal, and joined the discontented Tories in a motion extremely offensive to the Queen, for in witing the princess Sophia to England. The U 1 2
Queen courted him back with an offer no less than that of the chancellorship; which he refused. He now retired froin business, and built that house in the Park, which is now the Queen's, upon ground granted by the Crown.
When the ministry was changed (1710), he was made lord chamberlaia of the housclold, and concurred in all transactions of that time, except that he endeavoured to protect the Catalans. After the Queen's death he became a constant opponent of the Court; and, having no public business, is supposed to have amused himself by writing his two tragedies. He died ? Febitary 4, 1720-21.
He was thrice married; by his two first wives he had no children: by his third, who was the daughter of king James by the countess of Dorchester, and the widow of the earl of Anglesey, he had, besides other children that died carly, a son born in 1716, who died in 1735, and put an end to the line of Sheffield. It is observable, that the Dukes three wives were all widows. The Dutches died in 1742.
His character is not to be proposed as worthy of imitation. His religion he may be supposed to have learned from Hobbes; and his morality was şuch as naturally proceeds from loose opinions. His sentiments with respect to women he picked up in the court of Charles; and his principles concerning property were such as a gaming-table supplies. He was censured as coverous, and has been defended by an instance of inattention to his affairs, as if a man might not at once be corrupted by avarice and idleness. He is said, however, to have had much tenderness, and to have been very ready to apologise for his violence of passion.
He is introduced into this collection only as a poet; and, if we credit the testimony of his contemporaries, he was a poet of no vulgar rank. But favour and flattery are now at an end; criticism is no longer softened by his bounties cr awed by his splendor, and, being able to take a more steady view, discovers him to be a writer that sometimes glimmers, but Jarely shines, feebiy laborious, and at best but pretty. His songs are upon common topicks; he hopes, and grieves, and repents, and despairs, and Jejoices, like any other maker of little stanzas: to be great, he hardly tries; to be gay, is liardi, in his power.
In the Essay on Satire he was always supposed to have had the help of Dryden, His essay on Puerry is the great work, for which he was praised by Roscommon, Dryden, and Pope, and coubtless by many more whose eulogies have perished.
Upui ihis piece he appears to have set a high value; for he was all his life improving it by successive revisals, so that there is scarcely any poem to be
found of which the last edition differs more from the first. Amongst other changes, mention is made of some compositions of Dryden, which were written after the first appearance of the Essay.
At the time when this work first appeared, Milton's fame was not yet fully established, and therefore Tasso and Spenser were set before hiin. The two last lines were these. The Epic Poet, says he,
Mus above Milton's lofty flights prevail,
The last line in succeeding editions was shortened, and the order of names continued; but now Milton is at last advanced to the highest place, and the passage thus adjusted,
Must above Tasso's lofty flights prevail,
Amendments are seldom made without some token of a rent: lofty does not suit Tasso so well as Milton.
One celebrated line seems to be borrowed. The Essay calls a perfect character
Scaliger in his poems, terms Virgil sine labe monstrum. Sheffield can scarcely be supposed to have read Scaliger's poetry, perhaps, he found the words in a quotation.
Of this Essay, which Dryden has exalted so highly, it may be justly said that the precepts are judicious, sometimes new, and often happily expressed; but there are, after all the emendations, many weak lines, and some strange appearances of negligence ; as, when he gives the laws of elegy, he insists upon connection and coherence; without which, says he,
Tis epigram, 'tis point, 'tis what you will ;
Who would not suppose that Waller’s Panegyrick and Denham's Cooper's Hill were Elegies?
His verses are often insipid; but his memoirs are lively and agreeable; he had the perspicuity and elegance of an historien, but not the fire and fancy
of a poet.