Imatges de pÓgina

courage, naturally excite; and to lose at last the hero in the villain.

The fifth act is not equal to the former; the events of the drama are exhausted, and little remains but to talk of what is past. It has been observed, that the title of the play does not sufficiently correspond with the behaviour of Calista, who at last shews no evident signs of repentance, but may be reasonably suspected of feeling pain from detection rather than from guilt, and expresses more shame than sorrow, and more rage than shame.

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

The Royal Convert (1708) seems to have a better claim to longevity. The fable is drawn from an obscure andbarbarous age, to which fictions are more easily and properly adapted; for, when objects are imperfectly seen, they easily take forms from imagination. The scene lies among our ancestors, in our own country, and therefore very easily catches attention. Rodogune is a personage truly tragical, of high spirit, and violent passions; great, with tempestuous dignity; and wicked, with a soul that would have been heroic if it had been virtuous. The motto seems to tell that this play was not successful.

Rowe does not always remember what his characters require. In Tamerlane there is some ridiculous mention of the god of love; and Rodogune, a savage Saxon, talks of Venus, and the eagle that bears the thunder of Jupiter.

The play discovers its own date, by a prediction of the union, in imitation of Cranmer's prophetic promises to Henry the eighth. The anticipated blessings of union are not very naturally introduced, nor very happily expressed.

He once (1706) tried to change his hand. He ventured on a comedy, and produced The Biter ; with wbich, though it was unfavourably treated by the audience, he was himself delighted; for he is said to have sat in the house

laughing with great vehemence, whenever he had, in his own opinion, produced a jest. But, finding that he and the public had no sympathy of mirth, he tried at lighter scenes no more.

After The Royal Convert, (1714), appeared Jane Shore, written, as its author professes, in imitation of Shakspeare's style. In what he thought himself an imitator of Shakspeare, it is not easy to conceive. The numbers, the diction, the sentiments, and the conduct, every thing in which imitation can consist, are remote in the utmost degree from the manner of Shakspeare; whose dramas it resembles only as it is an English story, and as some of the persons have their names in history. This play, consisting chiefly of domestic scenes and private distress, lays hold upon the heart. The wife is forgiven because she repents, and the husband is honoured because he forgives. This, therefore, is one of those pieces which we still welcome on the stage.

His last tragedy (1715) was Lady Jane Grey. This subject had been chosen by mr. Smith, whose papers were put into Rowe's hands, such as he describes them in his preface. This play has likewise sunk into oblivion. From this time he gave nothing more to the stage.

Being, by a competent fortune, exempted from any necessity of combating his inclination, he never wrote in distress, and therefore does not appear to have ever written in haste. 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 sometimes supplied others; he afforded help, but did not solicit it.

As his studies necessarily made him acquainted with Shakspeare, and acquaintance produced veneration, he undertook (1709) an edition of his works, from which he neither received much praise, nor seems 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 boasts of criticism, many passages are happily restored. He prefixed a life of the author, such as tradition, then almost expiring, could sup

ply, and a preface; which cannot be said to discover much profundity or penetration. He at least 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 secretary of state, and afterwards applied to the earl of Oxford for some public employment.* Oxford enjoined him to study Spanish; and when, some time afterwards, he came again, and said that he had mastered it, dismissed him with this congratulation, “ Then, sir, I envy you the pleasure of reading Don Quixote in the original.”.

This story is sufficiently attested; but why Oxford, who desired to be thought a favourer of literature, should thus insult a man of acknowledged merit; or how Rowe, who was so keen a whig* that he did not willingly converse with men of the opposite party, could ask preferment from Oxford, it is not now possible to discover.

Pope, who told the story, did not say on what occasion the advice was given; and, though he owned Rowe's disappointment, doubled whether any injury was intended him, but thought it rather lord Oxford's odd way.

It is likely that he lived on discontented through the rest of queen Anne's reign; but the time came at last when he found kinder friends. At the accession of king George he was made poet-laureat; I am afraid by the ejection of poor ahum Tate, who (1716) died in the Mint, where he was forced to seek shelter by extreme poverty. He was made likewise one of the land-surveyors of the customs of the port of London. The prince of Wales chose him clerk of his council; and the lord chancellor Parker, as soon as he received the seals, appointed him, unasked, secretary of the presentations. Such an accumulation of employe ments undoubtedly produced a very considerable revenue.

Having already translated some parts of Lucan's Pharsalia, which had been published in the miscellanies, and doubtless received many praises, he undertoo a version of the whole work, which he lived to finish, but not to pub

* Spence.

lish. It seems to have been printed under the care of dr. Welwood, who prefixed the author's life, in which is contained the following character:

“As to his person, it was graceful and well made; his face regular, and of a manly beauty. As his soul was well lodged, so its rational and animal faculties excelled in a high degree. He had a quick and fruitful invention, a deep penetration, and a large compass of thought, with singular dexterity and easiness in making his thoughts to be understood. He was master of most parts of polite learning, especially the classical authors, both Greek and Latin; understood the French, Italian, and Spanish languages; and spoke the first fluently, and the other two tolerably well.

“ He had likewise read most of the Greek and Roman histories in their original languages, and most that are wrote in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. He had a good taste in philosophy; and, having a firm impression of religion upon his mind, he took great delight in divinity and ecclesiastical history, in both which he made great advances in the times he retired into the country, which was frequent. He expressed, on all occasions, his full persuasion of the truth of revealed religion; and being a sincere member of the established church himself, he pitied, but condemned not, those that dissented from it. He abhorred the principles of persecuting men upon the account of their opinions in religion; and, being strict in his own, he took it not upon him to censure those of another persuasion. His conversation was pleasant, witty, and learned, without the least tincture of affectation or pedantry; and his inimitable manner of diverting and enlivening the company made it impossible for any one to be out of humour when he was in it. Envy and detraction seemed to be entirely foreign to his constitution; and whatever provocations he met with at any time, he passed them over without the least thought of resentment or revenge. As Homer had a Zoilus, so mr. Rowe had some. times bis; for there were not wanting malevolent people, and pretenders to poetry too, that would now and then bark at his best performances; but he was conscious of his own genius, and had so much good-nature as to forgive them; nor could he ever be tempted to return them an an


“ The love of learning and poetry made him not the less fit for business, and nobody applied himself closer to it, when it required his attendance. The late duke of Queensberry, when he was secretary of stale, made him his secretary for public affairs; and when that truly great man came to know him well, he was never so pleased as when mr. Rowe was in his company. After the duke's death, all avenues were stopped to his preferment; and, during the rest of that reign, he passed his time with the muses and his books, and sometimes the conversation of his friends.

“When lie had just got to be easy in his fortune, and was in a fair way to make it better, death swept him away, and in him deprived the worid of one of the best men, as well as one of the best geniuses of the age. He died like a Christian and a philosopher, in charity with all mankind, and with an absolute resignation to the will of God. IIe kept up his good-humour to the last; and took leave of his wife and friends immediately before his last agony, with the same tranquillity of mind, and the same indifference for life, as though he had been upon taking but a short journey. He was twice married; first to a daughter

Parsons, one of the auditors of the revenne; and afterwards to a daughter of mr. Devenish, of a good family in Dorsetshire. By the first he had a son; and by the second a daughter, married afterwards to mr. Fane. He died the 6th of December, 1718, in the forty-fifth year of his age; and was buried the 19th of the same month in Westminster-abbey, in the aile where many of our English poets are interred, over against Chaucer, his body being attended by a select number of his friends, and the dean and choir officiating at the funeral.”

To this character, which is apparently given with the fondness of a friend, may be added the testimony of Pope, who says, in a leller to Blount, “Mr. Rowe accompanied me, and passed a week in the forest. I need not tell you how much a man of his turn entertained me; but I must

of mr.


« AnteriorContinua »