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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 bim as the only moral writer of king Charles's reign:
Unhappy Dryden! in all Charles's days,
Roscommon only boasts unspotted lays. 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 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 bis 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 perspi. cuity 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 has 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,
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 unwarrantably 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, not 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
eat exactness, and to suppress no subtilty 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 Iræ are well translated; though the best line in the Dies Ire is borrowed from Dryden. In return, sacceeding 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 to 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 Richari) 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 Deering 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.
F 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. Humphry 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 excellencies. 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: hut, 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 countenance, and a variety of tones, which the poet may be easily supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player has 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, bis twenty-fifth year, produced
Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to inquire. Langbaine, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1677, he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the Cheats of Scapin, from Moliere; 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 eminence.
Some exception, however, must be made. The earl of Plymouth, one of king Charles's natural sons, procured for bim 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 extreine indigence; which Rochester mentions with merciless insolence in the Session of the Poets :
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
Don Carlos, from which he is represented as having received so much benefit, was played in 1675. It appears, by