« PreviousContinue »
with some Observaiions on the Desirableness and Necessity of a supernatural Revelution. This was the last book that he published. He left behind him The accomplished Preacher, or an Essay upon Divine Eloquence; which was printed after his death by Mr. White of Nayland in Essex, the minister who attended his death-bed, and testified the fervent piety of his last hours. He died on the eighth of October, 1729.
BLACKMORE, by the unremitted enmity of the wits, whom he provoked more by his virtue than his dullness, has been exposed to worse treatment than he deserved; his name was so long used to point cvery epigram upon dull writers, that it became at last a bye-word of contempt; but it deserves observation, that malignity takes hold only of his writings, and that his life passed without reproach, even when his boldness of reprehension naturally turned upon him many eyes desirous to espy faults, which many tongues would have made haste to publish. But those who could not blame, could at least forbear to praise, and therefore of his private life and domestick character there are no memorials.
As an author he may justly claim the honours of magnanimity. The incessant attacks of his enemies, whether serious or merry, are never discovered to have disturbed his quiet, or to have lessened his confidence in himself: they neither awaked him to silence nor to caution; they neither provoked him to petulance, nor depressed him to complaint. While the distributors of literary fame were endeavouring to depreciate and degrade him, he either despised or defied thew, wrote on as he had written before, and never turned aside to quiet them by civility, or repress them by confutation.
He depended with great security on his own powers, and perhaps was for that reason less diligent in perusing books. His literature was, I think, but small. What he knew of artiquity, I suspect him to have gathered from modern compilers: but, though he could not boast of much critical knorra ledge, his mind was stored with general principles, and he left minute researches to those whom he considered as little minds.
With this disposition he wrote most of his poems. Having formed a magnificent design, he was careless of particular and subordinate elegancies; he studied no niceties of versification; he waited for no felicities of fancy; but caught his first thoughts in his first words in which they were presented: ner does it appear that he saw beyond his own performances, or had ever elevated his idcas to that ideal perfection, wbich every geniús born to excel is condemned alsays to pursue, and never overtake. In the first suggestions of his imagination he acquiesced; he thought them good, and did not seek for better. His works may be read a long time without the occurrence of a single line that stands prominent from the rest.
The poem on Creation has, however, the appearance of more circumspection; it wants neither harmony of numbers, accuracy of thoughi, nor tiem gance of diction: it has either been written with great care, or, what cannot Vol. I. 8 В
be imagined of so long a work, with such felicity as made care less necessary.
Its two constituent parts are ratiocination and description. To reason in verse, is allowed to be difficult; but Blackmore not only reasons in verse, but very often reasons poetically: and finds the art of uniting ornament with strength, and ease with closeness. This is a skill which Pope might have condescended to learn from him, when he needed it so much in his Moral Essays.
In his description both of life and nature, the poet and the philosopher bappily Co-operate; truth is recommended by elegance, and elegance sustained by truth.
In the structure and order of the poem, not only the greater parts are. properly consecutive, but the didactick and illustrative paragraphs are so happily mingled, that labour is relicved by pleasure, and the attention is led on through a long succession of varied excellence to the original position, the fundamental principle of wisdom and of virtue.
As the heroick poems of Blackmore are now little read, it is thought properts insert, as a specimen from Prince Arthur, the song of Mopas mentioned by Moli
But that which Arthur with most pleasure heard,
How part is spun in silken threads, and clings
He sung how earth's wide ball, at Jove's command,
F Ε Ν Τ Ο Ν.
HE brevity with which I am to write the account of ELIJAH
FENTON is not the effect of indifference or negligence. I have sought intelligence among his relations in his native country, but have not obtained it. He was born near Newcastle in Staffordshire, of an ancient family, whose estate was very considerable ; but he was the youngest of twelve children, and being therefore necessarily destined to some lucrative employment, was sent first to school, and afterwards to Cambridge, but, with many other wise and virtuous men, who at that time of discord and debate consulted conscience, whether well or ill informed, more than interest, he doubted the legality of the government, and, refusing to qualify himself for publick employment by the caths required, left the university without a degree; but I never heard that the enthusiasm of opposition impelled him to separation from the church.
By this perverseness of integrity he was driven out a commoner of Nature, excluded from the regular modes of profit and prosperity; and reduced to pick up a livehood unceitain and fortuitous; but it must be remembered that he kept his name unsullied, and never suffered himself to be reduced, like too many of the same sect, to mean arts and dishonourable shifts. Whoever mentioned Fenton, mentioned him with honour.
The life that passes in penury, must necessarily pass in obscurity. It is impossible to trace Fenton from year to year, or to discover wliat means he used for his support He was a while secretary to Charles earl of Orrery in Flanders, and tutor to his young son, who alterwards mentioned him with great esteem and tenderness. He was at one time assistant in the school to Mr. Bonwicke in Surrey; and at another kept a school for himself at Sevenoaks in Kent, which he brought into reputation; but was persuaded to leave it (1710) by Mr. St. John, with promises of a more honourable employment.
His opinions, as he was a Nonjuror, seem not to have been remarkably rigid. He wrote with great zeal and affection the praises of queen Anne, and very willingly and liberally extolled the duke of Marlborough, when lic was (1707) at the height of his glory.
He * He was entered at Jesus College, and took a Batci elor's degree in 1704, H.
He expressed still more attention to Mariborough and his family by an elegiae Pastoral on the marquis of Blandford, which could be prompted only by respect or kindness ; for neither the duke nor dutchess desired the praise, or liked the cost of patronage.
The elegance of his poetry entitled him to the company of the wits of his time, and the amiableness of his manners made him loved wherever he was known. Of his friendship to Southern and Pope there are lasting monuments. He published in 1707 a collection of poems, By Pope he was once placed in a station that might have been of
great advantage. Craggs, when he was advanced to be secretary of state (about 1720), feeling his own want of literature, desired Pope to procure him an instructor, by whose help he might supply the deficiencies of his education. Pope recommended Fenton, in whom Craggs found all that he was seeking, There was now a prospect of ease and plenty, for Fenton had merit, and Craggs had generosity; but the small-pox suddenly put an end to the pleasing expectation,
When Pope, after the great success of his Iliad, undertook the Odyssey, being, as it seems, weary of translating, he determined to engage auxiliaries. Twelve books he took to himself, and twelve he distributed between Broome and Fenton: the books allotted to Fenton were the first, the fourth, the nineteenth, and the twentieth. It is observable, that he did not take the eleventh, which he had before translated into blank verse ; neither did Pope claim it, but committed it to Broome. How the two associates performed their parts is well known to the readers of poetry, who have never been able to distinguish their books from those of Pope,
In 1723 was performed his tragedy of Mariamne ; to which Southernt, at whiose house it was written, is said to have contributed such hints as his theatrical experience supplied. When it was shewn to Cibber, it was rejected by him, with the additional insolence of advising Fenton to engage himself
some employment of honest labour, by which he might obtain that support which he could never hope from his poetry, The play was acted at the other theatre; and the brutal petulance of Cibber was confuted, though, perhaps, not shamed, by general applause. Fenton's profits are said to liave amounted to near a thousand pounds, with which he discharged a debt con-, traced by his attendances at court.
Fenton seems to have had some peculiar system of versification. Mariamne is written in lines of ten syllables, with few of those redundant terminations which the drama not only admits but requires, as more nearly approaching to real dialogue. The tenor of his verse is so uniform that it cannot be thought casual ; and yet upon what principle he so constructed it, is difficult to discoyor.'