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The mention of his play brings to my mind a very trilling occurrence. Fenton was one day in the company of Broome his associate, and Ford, a c'ergy man, at that time too well known, whose abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and dissolute, might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous and the wise. They determined all to see the Merry Wives of Windsor, which was acted that night; and Fenton, as a dramatick poet, took them to the stage-door ; where the door-keeper enquiring who they were, was told that they were three very necessary men, Ford, Broome, and Fenton. The name in the play, which Pope restored to Brook, was then Broome.
It was perhaps after this play that he undertook to revise the punctuation of Milton's Poems, which, as the author neither wrote the original copy nor corrected the press, was supposed capable of amendment. To this edition he prefixed a short and elegant account of Milton's life, written at once with tenderness and integrity.
He published likewise (1729) a very splendid edition of Waller, with notes often useful, often entertaining, but too much extended by long quotations from Clarendon. Illustrations drawn from a book so easily consulted, should be made by reference rather than transcription.
The latter part of his life was calm and pleasant. The relict of Sir William Trumbull invited him, by Pope's recommendation, to educate her son; whom he first instructed at home, and then attended to Cambridge. The lady afterwards detained him with her as the auditor of her accounts. He often wandered to London, and amused himself with the conversation of his friends.
He died in 1730, at Easthampstead in Berkshire, the seat of the lady Trumbull; and Pope, who had been always bis friend, honoured him with an epitaph, of which he borrowed the two first lines from Crashaw.
Fenton was tall and bulky, inclined to corpulence, which he did not tessen by much exercise ; for he was very sluggish and sedentary, rose late, and when he had risen sat down to his book or papers. A woman that once waited on him in a lodging, told him, as she said, that he would “ lie a-bed, « and be fed with a spoon." This, however, was not the worst that might have been prognosticated; for Pope says, in his Letters, that “ he died of « indolence;" but his immediate distemper was the gouť.
Of bis morals and his conversation the account is uniform: he was nerer named but with praise and fondness as a man in the highest degree amiable and excellent. Such was the character given him by the earl of Orrery, his pupil; such is the testimony of Pope *; and such were the suffrages of all who could boast of his acquaintance.
By a former writer of his Life a story is told, which nught nrt to be forgotten. He used, in the latter part of his time, to pay his relations in the country a yearly visit. At an entertaiment made for the family by his elder brother, he observed, that one of his sisters, who had married unfortunately, was absent; and found, upon enquiry, that distress had made her thought unworthy of invitation, As she was at no great distance, he refused to sit at the table till she was called, and, when she had taken her place, was careful to shew her particular attention.
His collection of poems is now to be considered. The ode to the Sun is writen upon a common plan, without uncommon sentiments ; but'its greatest fault is its length. No poem should be long of which the purpose is only to strike the fancy without enlightening the understanding by precept, ratiocination, or narrative. A blaze first pleases, and then tires the sight.
Of Florelio it is sufficient to say, that it is an occasional pastoral, irhich implies something neither natural nor artificial, neither comick nor serious.
The next ode is irregular, and therefore defective. As the sentiments are pious, they cannot easily be new ; for what can be added to topicks on which successive ages have been employed !
Of the Paraphrase on Isaiah nothing very favourable can be said. Sublime and solemn prose gains little by a change to blank verse ; and the paraphrast has deserted his original, by admitting images not Asiatick, at least not Judaical :
Of his petty poems some are very trifling, without any thing to be praised either in the thought or expression. He is unlucky in his competitior; he tells the same idle tale with Congreve, and does not tell it so well. He translates from Ovid the same epistle as Pope; but I am afraid not with equal happiness.
To examinė his performances one by one would be tedious. His translation from Homer into blank verse will find few readers, while another can be had in rhyme. The piece addressed to Lambarde is no disagreeable specimen of epistolary poetry ; and his ode to the lord Gower was pronounced by Pope the next ode in the English language to Dryden's Cecilia. Fenton may be justly styled an excellent versifier and a good poet.
WHATEVER I have said of Fenton is confirmed by Pope in a letter, by which he communicated to Broome an account of his death.
The Revd. Mr. BROOM E
Pulham, near SARLESTON.
By BeccLEs Bag.
Dr Sir. I
Intended to write to you on this melancholy subject, the death of Me
Fenton, before yrs came; but stayed to have informed myself and you ye circumstances of it. All I hear is, that he felt a gradual Decay, thos early in Life, and was declining for 5 or 6 months. It was not, as I appre hended, the Gout in his Stomach, but I believe rather a Complication first of Gross humours, as he was naturally corpulent, not dicharging themselves as he used no sort of Exercise. No man better bore ye approaches of bis Dissolution (as I am told) or with less ostentation yielded up his Being The great Modesty wch you know was natural to him, and ye great Con tempt he had for all sorts of Vanity and Parade, never appeared more than in his last moments: He had a conscious Satisfaction (no doubt) in acting right, in feeling himself honest, true, & un-pretending to more than wa his own.
So he dyed, as he lived with that secret, yet sufficient, Contest ment.
As to any Papers left behind him, I dare say they can be but few; for thi reason, He never wrote out of Vanity, or thought much of the Applause of
I know an Instance where he did his utmost to conceal his own merit that way ; and if we join to this his natural Love of Ease I fancy we must expect little of this sort : at least I hear of none except some few further remarks on Waller (wch his cautious integrity made him leave an order to bel given to Mr. Tonson) and perhaps, tho tis many years since I saw it, a Translation of the first Book of Oppian. He had begun a Tragedy of Dion, but made small progress in it.
As to his other Affairs, he died poor, but honest, leaving no Debts or Legacies ; except of a few pels to Mr. Trumbull and my Lady, in token of respect, Gratefulness, and mutual Esteem.
I shall with pleausure take upon me to draw this amiable, quiet, deserving. unpretending Christian and Philosophical character, in His Epitaph. There, Truth may be spoken in a few words: as for Flourish, & Oratory, & Poetry, I leave them to younger, and more lively writers, such a3 love writing for writing sake, & wd rather show their own Fine Parts, yo Report the valuable ones of any other man. So the Elegy I renounce.
I condole with you from my heart, on the loss of so worthy a man, and a Friend to us both. Now he is gone, I must tell you he has done you many a good office, and set your character in the sairest light, to some who either mistook you, or knew you not. i doubt not he has done the same for me.
Adieu: Let us love his Memory, and profit by his Example. I am very sincerely,
G A Y
OHN GAY, descended from an old family that had been long in
possession of the manour of * Goldworthy in-Devonshire, was born in 1688, at or near Barnstable, where he was educated by Mr. Luck, who taught the school of that town with good reputation, and, a little before he retired from it, published a volume of. Latin and English verses. Under such a master he was likely to form a taste for poetry. Being born without prospect of hereditary riches, he was sent to London in his youth, and placed apprentice with a silk-mercer.
How long he continued behind the counter, or with what degree of softness and dexterity he received and accommodated the ladies, as he probably took no delight in telling it, is not known. The report is, that he was soon weary of either the restraint or servility of his occupation, and easily persuaded his master to discharge him.
The dutchess of Monmouth, remarkable for inflexible perseverance in her demand to be treated as a princess, in 1712 took Gay into her service as secretary : by quitting a shop for such service, he might gain leisure, but hé certainly advanced little in the boast of independence. Of his leisure he made so good use, that he published next year a poem on Rural Sports, and inscribed it to Mr. Pope who was then rising fast into reputation. Pope was pleased with the honour ; and when he became acquainted with Gay, found such attractions in his manners and conversation, that he seems to have received him into his inmost confidence ; and a friendship was formed between them which lasted to their separation by death, without any known abatement on either part. Gay was the general favourite of the whole association of wits; but they regarded him as a play-fellow rather than a partner, and treated him with more fondness than
respect. Next year he published The Shepherd's Week, six English pastorals, in which the images are drawn from real life, such as it appears among tho rusticks in parts of England remote from London. Steele, in some papers of the Guardian, had praised Ambrose Philips, as the pastoral writer that yielded only to Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser. Pope, who had also published Pastorals, not pleased to be overlooked, drew up a
Golwerthe does not appcar is the l'illore. Di. J.