« AnteriorContinua »
of hindrance or of pain, that he submitted himself to a French empiric, who is said to have repelled the disease into his bowels.
At the moment in which he expired, he uttered, with an energy of voice that expressed the most fervent devotion, two lines of his own version of Dies Ira:
My God, my Father, and my Friend,
Do not forsake me in my end.
He died in 1684; and was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey. His poetical character is given by Mr. Fenton :
"In his writings," says Fenton, "we view the image of a mind which was naturally serious and solid; richly furnished and adorned with all the ornaments of learning, unaffectedly disposed in the most regular and elegant order. His imagination might have probably been more fruitful and sprightly, if his judgment had been less severe. But that severity (delivered in a masculine, clear, succinct style) contributed to make him so eminent in the didactical manner, that no man, with justice, can affirm he was ever equalled by any of our nation, without confessing at the same time that he is inferior to none. In some other kinds of writing his genius seems to have wanted fire to attain the point of perfection; but who can attain it?"
From this account of the riches of his mind, who would not imagine that they had been displayed in large volumes and numerous performances? Who would not, after the perusal of this character, be surprised to find that all the proofs of this genius, and knowledge, and judgment, are not sufficient to form a single book, or to appear otherwise than in conjunction with the works of some other writer of the same petty size ?* But thus it is that characters are written: we know somewhat, and we imagine the rest. The observation, that his imagination would probably have been more fruitful and sprightly, if his judgment had been less severe, may be answered, by a remarker somewhat inclined to cavil, by a contrary supposition, that his judgment would probably have been less severe, if his imagination had been more fruitful. It is ridiculous to oppose judgment to imagination; for it does not appear that men have necessarily less of one as they have more of the other.
We must allow of Roscommon, what Fenton has not mentioned so distinctly as he ought, and what is yet very much to his honour, that he is perhaps the only correct writer in verse before Addison; and that, if there are not so many or so great beauties in his compositions as in those of some contemporaries, there are at least fewer faults. Nor is this his highest praise; for Mr. Pope has celebrated him as the only moral writer of King Charles's reign:
Unhappy Dryden ! in all Charles's days,
His great work is his " Essay on Translated Verse:" of which Dryden writes thus in the preface to his Miscellanies :
"It was my Lord Roscommon's Essay on Translated Verse,'" says Dryden, which made me uneasy, till I tried whether or no I was capable of following his rules, and of reducing the speculation into practice. For many
They were published, together with those of Duke, in an octavo volume, in 1717. The editor, whoever he was, professes to have taken great care to procure and insert all of his lordship's poems that are truly genuine. The truth of this assertion is flatly denied by the author of an account of Mr. John Pomfret, prefixed to his Remains; who asserts, that the "Prospect of Death" was written by that person many years after Lord Roscommon's decease; as also, that the paraphrase of the "Prayer of Jeremy" was written by a gentleman of the name of Southcourt, living in the year 1724.
a fair precept in poetry is like a seeming demonstration in mathematics, very specious in the diagram, but failing in the mechanic operation. I think I have generally observed his instructions: I am sure my reason is sufficiently convinced both of their truth and usefulness; which, in other words, is to confess no less a vanity than to pretend that I have, at least in some places, made examples to his rules."
This declaration of Dryden will, I am afraid, be found little more than one of those cursory civilities which one author pays to another; for when the sum of Lord Roscommon's precepts is collected, it will not be easy to discover how they can qualify their reader for a better performance of translation than might have been attained by his own reflections.
He that can abstract his mind from the elegance of the poetry, and confine it to the sense of the precepts, will find no other direction than that the author should be suitable to the translator's genius; that he should be such as may deserve a translation; that he who intends to translate him should endeavour to understand him; that perspicuity should be studied, and unusual and uncouth names sparingly inserted; and that the style of the original should be copied in its elevation and depression. These are the rules that are celebrated as so definite and important: and for the delivery of which to mankind so much honour has been paid. Roscommon had indeed deserved his praises, had they been given with discernment, and bestowed not on the rules themselves, but the art with which they are introduced, and the decorations with which they are adorned.
The Essay, though generally excellent, is not without its faults. The story of the Quack, borrowed from Boileau, was not worth the importation: he has confounded the British and Saxon mythology:
I grant that from some mossy idol oak,
In double rhymes, our Thor and Woden spoke.
The oak, as I think Gildon has observed, belonged to the British Druids, and Thor and Woden were Saxon deities. Of the double rhymes, which he
so liberally supposes, he certainly had no knowledge.
His interposition of a long paragraph of blank verses is unwarrantly licentious. Latin poets might as well have introduced a series of iambics among their heroics.
His next work is the translation of the Art of Poetry; which has received, in my opinion, no less praise than it deserves. Blank verse, left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on the ear or mind: it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking images. A poem frigidly didactic, without rhyme, is so near to prose, that the reader only scorns it for pretending to be verse.
Having disentangled himself from the difficulties of rhyme, he may justly be expected to give the sense of Horace with great exactness, and to suppress no subtlety of sentiment for the difficulty of expressing it. This demand, however, his translation will not satisfy; what he found obscure, I do not know that he has ever cleared.
Among his smaller works, the "Eclogue of Virgil" and the "Dies Ira" are well translated; though the best line in the "Dies Ira" is borrowed from Dryden. In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Roscommon. In the verses on the "Lap-dog," the pronouns thou and you are offensively confounded: and the turn at the end is from Waller.
His versions of the two odes of Horace are made with great liberty, which is not recompensed by much elegance or vigour.
His political verses are sprightly, and when they were written must have been very popular.
Of the scene of Guarini, and the prologue of Pompey, Mrs. Philips, in her letters to Sir Charles Cotterel, has given the history.
"Lord Roscommon," says she, "is certainly one of the most promising young noblemen in Ireland. He has paraphrased a Psalm admirably; and a scene of Pastor Fido very finely, in some places much better than Sir Richard Fanshaw. This was undertaken merely in compliment to me, who happened to say that it was the best scene in Italian, and the worst in English. He was only two hours about it. It begins thus:
Dear happy groves, and you the dark retreat
Of silent horror, Rest's eternal seat."
From these lines, which are since somewhat mended, it appears that he did not think a work of two hours fit to endure the eye of criticism without revisal.
When Mrs. Philips was in Ireland, some ladies that had seen her translation of Pompey, resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin; and, to promote their design, Lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and Sir Edward Dering an epilogue; "which," says she, "are the best performances of those kinds I ever saw." If this is not criticism, it is at least gratitude. The thought of bringing Cæsar and Pompey into Ireland, the only country over which Cæsar never had any power, is lucky.
Of Roscommon's works the judgment of the public seems to be right. He is elegant, but not great; he never labours after exquisite beauties, and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but rarely vigorous; and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors to English literature.
IF Thomas Otway, one of the first names in the English drama, little is known; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer can take pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trottin, in Sussex, March 3, 1651, the son of Mr. Humphrey Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester School, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ Church; but left the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical restraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous: for he went to London, and commenced player; but found himself unable to gain any reputation on the stage.*
This kind of inability he shared with Shakspeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their excellences. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatic poet should without difficulty become a great actor; that he who can feel, could express; that he who can excite passion, should exhibit with great readiness its external modes: but since experience has fully proved that of those powers, whatever be their affinity, one may be possessed in a great degree by him who has very little of the other; it must be allowed that they depend upon different faculties, or on different use of the same faculty; that the actor must have a pliancy of mien, a flexibility of counte
In Roscius Anglicanus, by Downes the prompter, p. 34, we learn that it was the character of the King in Mrs. Behn's "Forced Marriages; or, The Jealous Bridegroom, ," which Mr. Otway attempted to perform, and failed in. This event appears to have happened in the year 1672.
nance, and a variety of tones, which the poet may be easily supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player have been differently employed; the one has been considering thought, and the other action; one has watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face.
Though he could not gain much notice as a player, he felt in himself such powers as might qualify for a dramatic author; and, in 1675, his twentyfifth year, produced "Alcibiades," a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to inquire. Langbain, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1677 he published "Titus and Berenice," translated from Rapin, with the "Cheats of Scapin," from Molière: and in 1678, Friendship in Fashion," a comedy, which, whatever might be its first reception, was, upon its revival at Drury-lane in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and obscenity.
Want of morals, or of decency, did not in those days exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and the gay, if he brought with him any. powers of entertainment; and Otway is said to have been at this time a favourite companion of the dissolute wits. But as he who desires no virtue in his companion has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his reckoning. They desired only to drink and laugh: their fondness was without benevolence, and their familiarity without friendship. Men of wit, says one of Otway's biographers, received at that time no favour from the great but to share their riots; from which they were dismissed again to their own narrow circumstances. Thus they languished in poverty without the support of innocence. Some exception, however, must be made. The Earl of Plymouth, one of King Charles's natural sons, procured for him a cornet's commission in some troops then sent into Flanders. But Otway did not prosper in his military character: for he soon left his commission behind him, whatever was the reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence; which Rochester mentions with merciless insolence in the Session of the Poets:
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
And swears for heroics he writes best of any;
Don Carlos his pockets so amply had fill'd,
That his mange was quite cured, and his lice were all kill'd.
But Apollo had seen his face on the stage,
And prudently did not think fit to engage
The scum of a playhouse, for the prop of an age.
Don Carlos, from which he is represented as having received so much benefit, was played in 1676. It appears, by the lampoon, to have had great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together. This, however, it is reasonable to doubt, as so long a continuance of one play upon the stage is a very wide deviation from the practice of that time; when the ardour of theatrical entertainments was not yet diffused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.
"The Orphan" was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep possession of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through all the vicissitudes of dramatic fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestic tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with much comprehension of thought, or elegance of expression. But if the heart is interested, many other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.
The same year produced "The History and Fall of Caius Marius;" much of which is borrowed from the "Romeo and Juliet" of Shakspeare.
In 1683* was published the first, and next yeart the second, parts of "The Soldier's Fortune," two comedies now forgotten; and in 1685+ his last and greatest dramatic work, "Venice Preserved," a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the public, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragic action. By comparing this with his "Orphan," it will appear that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more energetic. The striking passages are in every mouth; and the public seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellences of this play, that it is the work of a man not attentive to decency, nor zealous for virtue; but of one who conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting nature in his own breast.
Together with those plays he wrote the poems which are in the present collection, and translated from the French the " History of the Triumvirate." All this was performed before he was thirty-four years old; for he died. April 14, 1685, in a manner which I am unwilling to mention. Having been compelled by his necessities to contract debts, and hunted, as is supposed, by the terriers of the law, he retired to a public-house on Tower-hill, where he is said to have died of want; or, as it is related by one of his biographers, by swallowing, after a long fast, a piece of bread which charity had supplied. He went out, as is reported, almost naked in the rage of hunger, and, finding a gentleman in a neighbouring coffee-house, asked him for a shilling. The gentleman gave him a guinea; and Otway going away bought a roll, and was choked with the first mouthful. All this, I hope, is not true; and there is this ground of better hope, that Pope, who lived near enough to be well informed, relates in Spence's Memorials, that he died of a fever caught by violent pursuit of a thief that had robbed one of his friends. But that indigence, and its concomitants, sorrow and despondency, pressed hard upon him, has never been denied, whatever immediate cause might bring him to the grave.
Of the poems which the present collection admits, the longest is the "Poet's Complaint of his Muse," part of which I do not understand; and in that which is less obscure I find little to commend. The language is often gross, and the numbers are harsh. Otway had not much cultivated versification,, nor much replenished his mind with general knowledge. His principal power was in moving the passsions, to which Drydens in his latter years left an illustrious testimony. He appears by some of his verses to have been a zealous royalist, and had what was in those times the common reward of loyalty; he lived and died neglected.
DMUND WALLER was born on the third of March, 1605, at Coleshill, in Hertfordshire. His father was Robert Waller, Esquire, of Agmondesham, in Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Kentish Wallers; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden, in the same county,
and sister to Hampden, the zealot of rebellion.
His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him a yearly income of three thousand five hundred pounds; which, rating together the value of
§ In his preface to Fresnoy's "Art of Painting."