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At this time he was led to an acquaintance with Dr. Burnet, to whom he laid open with great freedom the tenour of his opinions, and the course of his life, and from whom he received such conviction of the reasonableness of moral duty, and the truth of Christianity, as produced a total change both of his manners and opinions. The account of those salutary conferences is given by Burnet in a book, intituled, "Some passages of the Life and Death of John, Earl of Rochester," which the critic ought to read for its elegance, the philosopher for its arguments, and the saint for its piety. It were an injury to the reader to offer him an abridgment.
He died July 26, 1680, before he had completed his thirty-fourth year; and was so worn away by a long illness, that life went out without a struggle. Lord Rochester was eminent for the vigour of his colloquial wit, and remarkable for many wild pranks and sallies of extravagance. The glare of his general character diffused itself upon his writings; the compositions of a man whose name was heard so often were certain of attention, and from many readers certain of applause. This blaze of reputation is not yet quite extinguished; and his poetry still retains some splendour beyond that which genius has bestowed.
Wood and Burnet give us reason to believe, that much was imputed to him which he did not write. I know not by whom the original collection was made, or by what authority its genuineness was ascertained. The first edition was published in the year of his death, with an air of concealment, professing in the title-page to be printed at Antwerp.
Of some of the pieces, however, there is no doubt. The Imitation of Horace's Satire, the Verses to Lord Mulgrave, the Satire against Man, the Verses upon Nothing, and perhaps some others, are I believe genuine, and perhaps most of those which this collection exhibits.
As he cannot be supposed to have found leisure for any course of continued study, his pieces are commonly short, such as one fit of resolution would produce.
His songs have no particular character; they tell, like other songs, in smooth and easy language, of scorn and kindness, dismission and desertion, absence and inconstancy, with the common-places of artificial courtship. They are commonly smooth and easy; but have little nature, and little sentiment.
His imitation of Horace on Lucilius is not inelegant or unhappy. In the reign of Charles the Second began that adaptation, which has since been very frequent, of ancient poetry to present times; and perhaps few will be found where the parallelism is better preserved than in this. The versification is indeed sometimes careless, but it is sometimes vigorous and weighty. The strongest effort of his Muse is his poem upon "Nothing." not the first who has chosen this barren topic for the boast of his fertility. There is a poem called "Nihil" in Latin by Passerat, a poet and critic of the sixteenth century in France; who, in his own epitaph, expresses his zeal for good poetry thus:
Molliter ossa quiescent;
Sint modo carminibus non onerata malis.
His works are not common, and therefore I shall subjoin his verses.
In examining this performance, "Nothing" must be considered as having not only a negative but a kind of positive signification; as I need not fear thieves, I have nothing, and nothing is a very powerful protector. In the first part of the sentence it is taken negatively; in the second it is taken positively, as an agent. In one of Boileau's lines it was a question, whether he should use à rien faire, or, à ne rien faire; and the first was preferred because it gave rien a sense in some sort positive. Nothing can be a subject only in its positive sense, and such a sense is given it in the first line:
to whom he
he course of asonableness change both nferences is e and Death
It were an
urth year; a struggle. wit, and
e glare of tions of a and from
et quite at which
to him on was
on of the
In this line, I know not whether he does not allude to a curious book "De Umbra," by Wowerus, which, having told the qualities of shade, concludes with a poem in which are these lines:
The positive sense is generally preserved with great skill through the whole poem; though sometimes, in a subordinate sense, the negative nothing is injudiciously mingled. Passerat confounds the two senses.
Another of his most vigorous pieces is his Lampoon on Sir Car Scroop,
This was meant of Rochester, whose buffoon conceit was, I suppose, a saying often mentioned, that every man would be a coward if he durst; and drew from him those furious verses; to which Scroop made in reply an epigram, ending with these lines:
Thou canst hurt no man's fame with thy ill word;
Thy pen is full as harmless as thy sword.
Of the satire against Man, Rochester can only claim what remains when all Boileau's part is taken away.
In all his works there is a sprightliness and vigour, and everywhere may be found tokens of a mind which study might have carried to excellence. What more can be expected from a life spent in ostentatious contempt of regularity, and ended before the abilities of many other men begin to be displayed?
Poema clarissimi viri, Joannis Passeratii, Regii in Academia Parisiensi
Janus adest, festa poscunt sua dona Kalenda;
Usque adeò ingenii nostri est exhausta facultas,
Quod nusquam est, potius nova per vestigia quæram.
E cœlo quacunque Ceres sua prospicit arva,
Floridius pratis, Zephyri clementius aurâ;
In bello sanctum NIHIL est, Martisque tumultu:
Humano generi utilius NIHIL arte medendi.
mt sndage Ne rhombos igitur, neu Thessala murmura tentet
Idaliâ vacuum trajectus arundine pectus,
Neu legat Idæo Dictæum in vertice gramen.
Vulneribus sævi NIHIL auxiliatur amoris.
Vexerit et quemvis et trans mœstas portitor undas, e insuya bumir
Ad superos imo NIHIL hunc revocabit ab Orco.
Inferni NIHIL inflectit præcordia regis,
Parcarumque colos, et inexorabile pensum.
Obruta Phlegræis campis Titania pubes
Porrigitur magni NIHIL extra monia mundi:
Fulmineo sensit NIHIL esse potentius ictu :
Diique NIHIL metuunt. Quid longo carmine plura
Commemorem ? virtute NIHIL præstantius ipsâ,
Splendidius NIHIL est; NIHIL est Jove denique majus.
|ENTWORTH 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 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! 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 same."-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 a 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 despatched 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 îniquities 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. dumb of the perspe
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.ofe
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 publicly 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 that they refined their language, and doubtless thought rightly; but the event has not shown that they fixed it; for the French of 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 public 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.Au
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 criticise 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. Towa
His departure was delayed by the gout; and he was so impatient either