Imatges de pÓgina

Ambitions Step-Mother, which was received with fo much favour, that he devoted himfelf from that time wholly to elegant literature.

His next tragedy (1702) was Tamerlane, in which, under the name of Tamerlane be intended to characterize King William, and Lewis the Fourteenth under Bajazet. The virtues of Tamerlane feem to have been arbitrarily affigned him by his poet, for I know not that hiftory gives any other qualities than thofe which make a conqueror. The fashion, however, of the time was, to accumulate upon Lewis all that can raife horror and deteftation; and whatever good was withheld from him, that it might not be thrown away, was bestowed upon king William.

This was the tragedy which Rowe valued most, and that which probably, by the help of political auxiliaries, excited moft applaufe; but occafional poetry must often content itself with occafional praife. Tamerlane has for a long time been acted only once a year, on the night when king William Janded. Our quarrel with Lewis has been long over; and it now gratifies neither zeal nor malice to fee him painted with aggravated features, like a Saracen upon a fign.

The Fair Penitent, his next production (1703), is one of the most pleafing tragedies on the ftage, where it ftill keeps its turns of appearing; and probably will long keep them, for there is fcarcely any work of any poet at once fo interefting by the fable, and fo delightful by the language. The ftory is domeftick, and therefore eafily received by the imagination, and affimilated to common life; the diction is exquifitely harmonious, and foft or fpritely as occafion requires.


The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardfon into Lovelace; but he has excelled his original in the moral effect of the fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and bravery which cannot be defpifed, retains too much of the fpectator's kindnefs. It was in the power of Richardfon alone to teach us at once efteem and deteftation, to make virtuous refentment overpower all the benevolence which wit, elegance, and courage, naturally excite; and to lofe at laft the hero in the villain.

The fifth act is not equal to the former; the events of the drama are exhaufted, and little remains but to talk of what is paft. It has been obferved, that the title of the play does not fufficiently correfpond with the behaviour of Califta, who at laft fhews no evident figns of repentance,, but may be reafonably fufpeted of feeling pain from detection rather than from guilt, and expreffes more fhame than forrow, and more rage

than fhame.

His next (1706) was Ulyffes; which, with the common fate of mythological stories, is now generally neglected. We have been too early acquainted with the poetical heroes, to expect any pleasure from their revival; to fhew them as they have already been fhewn, is to difguft by repetition; to give them new qualities, or new adventures, is to offend by violating received notions.

The Royal Convert (1708) feems to have a better claim to longevity. The fable is drawn from an obfcure and barbarous age, to which fictions are more eafily and properly adapted; for, when objects are imperfectly feen, they eafily take forms from imagination. The fcene lies among our an

[blocks in formation]

ceftors in our own country, and therefore very eafily catches attention. Rodogune is a perfonage truly tragical, of high fpirit, and violent paffions, great with tempeftuous dignity, and wicked with a foul that would have been heroick if it had been virtuous. The motto feems to tell that this play

was not fuccessful.

Rowe does not always remember what his claracters require. In Tamerlane there is fome ridiculous mention of the God of Love; and Rodogune, a favage Saxon, talks of Venus, and the eagle that bears the thunder of Jupiter.

This play difcovers its own date, by a prediction of the Unin, in imitation of Cranmer's prophetick promifes to Henry the Eighth. The anticipated bleffings of union are not very naturally introduced, nor very happily expreffed.


He once (1706) tried to change his hand. ventured on a comedy, and produced the Biter ; with which, though it was unfavourably treated by the audience, he was himself delighted; for he is faid to have fat in the houfe laughing with great vehemence, whenever he had in his own opinion produced a jest. But finding that he and the publick had no fympathy of mirth, he tried at lighter fcenes no more.

After the Royal Convert (1714) appeared Jane Shore, written, as its author profeffes, in imitation of Shakespeare's ftyle. In what he thought himself an imitator of Shakespeare, it is not eafy to conceive. The numbers, the diction, the fentiments, and the conduct, every thing in which imitation. can confift, are remote in the utmost degree from the manner of Shakespeare; whofe dramas it refembles only as it is an English story, and as fome


of the perfons have their names in hiftory. This play, confifting chiefly of domeftick fcenes and private diftrefs, lays hold upon the heart. The wife is forgiven because the repents; and the hufband is honoured becaufe he forgives. This, therefore, is one of thofe pieces which we ftill welcome on the stage.

His last tragedy (1715) was lady Jane Grey. This fubject had been chofen by Mr. Smith, whofe papers were put into Rowe's hands fuch as he defcribes them in his preface. This play has likewife funk into oblivion. From this time he gave nothing more to the stage.

Being by a competent fortune exempted from any neceflity of combating his inclination, he never wrote in diftrefs, and therefore does not appear to have ever written in hafte. His works were finished to his own approbation, and bear few marks of negligence or hurry. It is remarkable, that his prologues and epilogues are all his own, though he fometimes fupplied others; he afforded help, but did not folicit it.

As his ftudies neceffarily made him acquainted with Shakespeare, and acquaintance produced veneration, he undertook (1709) an edition of his works, from which he neither received much praise, nor feems to have expected it; yet, I believe, those who compare it with former copies will find that he has done more than he promised; and that, without the pomp of notes or boafts of criticifm, many paffages are happily restored. He prefixed a life of the author, fuch as tradition, then almoft expiring, could fupply; and a preface * ;

*Mr. Rowe's Preface, however, is not diftinct, as it might be fuppofed from this paffage, from the Life. R.. K 4


which cannot be faid to discover much profundity or penetration. He at leaft contributed to the popularity of his author.

He was willing enough to improve his fortune by other arts than poetry. He was under-secretary for three years when the duke of Queensberry was fecretary of ftate, and afterwards applied to the earl of Oxford for fome publick employment *. Oxford enjoined him to ftudy Spanish; and, when, fome time afterwards, he canie again, and faid that he had mastered it, difmiffed him with this congratulation, "Then, Sir, I envy you the pleafure "of reading Don Quixote in the original.'

This ftory is fufficiently attefted; but why Oxford, who defired to be thought a favourer of literature, fhould thus infult a man of acknowledged merit; or how Rowe, who was fo keen a Whig † that he did not willingly converfe with men of the oppofite party, could afk preferment from Oxford; it is not now poffible to difcover. Pope, who told the ftory, did not fay on what occafion the advice was given; and, though he owned Rowe's difappointment, doubted whether any injury was intended him, but thought it rather lord Oxford's odd way.

It is likely that he lived on difcontented through the rest of queen Anne's reign; but the time cane. at laft when he found kinder friends. At the acceffion of king George he was made poet laureat; I am afraid by the ejection of poor Nahum Tate, who (1716) died in the mint, where he was forced to take fhelter by extreme poverty. He was made likewife one of the land-furveyors of the

[ocr errors]

* Spence.

+ Ibid.


« AnteriorContinua »