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said to have amounted to near a thousand pounds, with which he discharged a debt contracted by his attendance 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 discover.
The mention of his play brings to my mind a very trifling occurrence. Fenton was one day in the company of Broome his associate, and Ford a clergyman, 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 dramatic 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 calmı 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 Lady Trumbull; and Pope, who had been always his 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 lessen by much exercise, for he was very sluggish and sedentary, rose late, and when he had risen, sat down to his books 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 gout.
Of his morals and his conversation the account is uniform; he was never 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 ought not to be forgotten. He used, in the latter part of his time, to pay his relations in the country a yearly visit. At an entertainment 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 written 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, which implies something neither natural nor artificial, neither comic 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 topics 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 bas deserted his original by admitting images not Asiatic, at least not Judaical :
- Returning peace,
Dove-eyed, and rob'd in white" Of his petty poems some are very trifling, without anything to be praised either in the thought or expression. He is unlucky in his competitions; 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 examine 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 :
“ TO THE REV. MR. BROOME,
“I intended to write to you on this melancholy subject, the death of Mr. Fenton, before y" came; but
stay'd to have inform’d myself & you of ye circumstances of it. All I hear is, that he felt a Gradual Decay, tho so early in Life, & was declining for 5 or 6 months. It was not, as I apprehended, the Gout in his Stomach, but I believe rather a Complication first of Gross Humors, as he was naturally corpulent, not discharging themselves, as he used no sort of Exercise. No man better bore ye approaches of his 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 Contempt he had for all sorts of Vanity & Parade, never appeared more than in his last moments: He had a conscious Satisfaction (no doubt) in acting right, in feeling himself honest, true, & unpretending to more than was his own.
So he dyed, as he 'lived, with that secret, yet sufficient, Contentment.
“As to any Papers left behind him, I dare say they can be but few; for this reason, He never wrote out of Vanity, or thought much of the Applause of Men. 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 be given to Mr. Tonson) and perhaps, tho 'tis many years since I saw it, a Translation of ye first Book of Oppian. He had begun a Tragedy of Dion, but made small progress in it.
“As to his other Affairs, he dyed poor, but honest, leaving no Debts, or Legacies; except of a few pas to