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Born at Edston, in Warwickshire-Educated at Winchester and Oxford–His • Chaco' and
other Poems—Death and Burial at Wotton, in Warwickshire-Works and Character. OF Mr. Somervile's life I am not able to say any thing that can satisfy curiosity.
He was a gentleman whose estate was in Warwickshire ; his house, where he was born in 1692,' is called Edston, a seat inherited from a long line of ancestors ; for he was said to be of the first family in his county. He tells of himself, that he was born near the Avon's banks. He was bred at Winchester-school, and was elected Fellow of New College. It does not appear that in the places of his education be exhibited any uncommon proofs of genius or literature. His powers were first displayed in the country, where he was distinguished as a poet, a gentleman, and a skilful and useful justice of
Of the close of his life, those whom his poems have delighted will read with pain the following account, copied from the letters of his friend Shenstone, by whom he was too much resembled :
· He must have been born before 1692, if there is any truth in song, for among his poems Is an Epistle to Aikman, the painter, “On his painting a full length portrait of the author in the decline of life carrying him back by another portrait to his youthful days," wherein be says that he is then passed youth, and
All the poor comfort that I now can share
Is the soft blessing of an elbow chair, which, if he was born in 1692, must have been said of himself when thirty-eight, for Alkman was dead early in 1781. Shenstone, moreover (as the reader will see), imputes his foibles to age. If he was born in 1692, he was only fifty at his death in 1742.
Since this was written, I have received the following account of Somervile from my friend the Rev. Thomas Chaffers, Vice-principal of Brasenose College :
"William Somervile was admitted as Founder's kin to Winchester School in 1690, and was then said to have been thirteen years old last Michaelmas. He succeeded one Thomas Hawkins as fellow of New College, 12th August, 1690, and resigned on succeeding to his patrimonial property in 1704 ; making a vacancy for his younger brother Edward, who entered into holy orders, and was presented by the College to the living of Adderbury, in Oxfordshire, 1721."
“Our old friend Somervile is dead! I did not imagine I could have been so sorry as I find myself on this occasion.—Sublatum quærimus. I can now excuse all his foibles ; impute them to age, and to distress of circumstances : the last of these considerations wrings my very soul to think on. For a man of high spirit, conscious of having (at least in one production) generally pleased the world, to be plagued and threatened by wretches that are low in every sense ; to be forced to drink himself into pains of the body, in order to get rid of the pains of the mind, is a misery," &c.—He died July 19, 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley in Arden."
His distresses need not be much pitied : bis estate is said to have been fifteen hundred a year, which by his death devolved to Lord Somerville of Scotland. His mother indeed, who lived till ninety, bad a jointure of six hundred.'
It is with regret that I find myself not better enabled to exhibit memorials of a writer who at least must be allowed to have set & good example to men of his own class, by devoting part of his time to elegant knowledge ; and who has shown, by the subjects which his poetry has adorned, that it is practicable to be at once a skilful sportsman and a man of letters."
Somervile has tried many modes of poetry ; and though perbaps he has not in any reached such excellence as to raise much envy, it may commonly be said at least, that “he writes very well for a
9 "I return Mr. Somervile's picture (as I suppose you meant I should). I think it very like Worlidge's, and indeed like Mr. Somervile ; but methinks it scarcely does him justice, as some of the least agreeable features in his face are rather too strongly marked; as under the eyes for example; and I think as he was very fair, the pencil might be fainter. But upon the whole, had I not another of him, I would not give this for a great sum."-Lady Luxborough to Shenstone, July 10, 1751. (See also 'Gent.'s Mag.' for 1780, p. 872.) His portrait from the original at Lord Somerville's, is engraved before The Memorie of the Somervilles.' . . . . In one of his rhyming effusions to Ramsay, he calls himself
A squire well-born, and six foot high. • I loved Mr. Somervile, because he knew so perfectly what belonged to the focci-naucinibili-pilification of money.-SHENSTONE: Works, il. 188, and ill. 49, ed. 1773.
• His will, which I have examined, is dated 1782 : he was a widower, and Lord Somerville was his executor. His wife had left him a house in Beverley in Yorkshire, which he bequeathed to Lord 8. He speaks of his cutting sword, his best horse, his best gun, his diamond ring, his ruhy ring, his gold buckles and buttons. To New College, Oxford, he leaves the fifteen volumes of father Montfaucon's Antiquities and Mr. Addison's Works, still preserved in the College Library.
gentleman." His serious pieces are sometimes elevated, and his trifles are sometimes elegant. In his verses to Addison, the couplet which mentions. Clio is written with the most exquisite delicacy of praise ;' it exhibits one of those happy strokes that are seldom attained. In bis Odes to Marlboroagh there are beautiful lines ; but in the second Ode he shows that he knew little of his hero, when he talks of his private virtues. His subjects are commonly such as require no great depth of thought or energy of expression. Ilis Fables are generally stale, and therefore excite no curiosity. of his favourite, The Two Springs,' the fiction is unnatural, and the moral inconsequential. In his Tales there is too much coarseness, with too little care of language, and not sufficient rapidity of narration.
His great work is his 'Chace," which be undertook in his maturer age, when his ear was improved to the approbation of blank verse, of which, however, his two first lines give a bad specimen. To this poem praise cannot be totally denied. He is allowed by sportsmen to write with great intelligence of his subject, which is the first requisite to excellence; and though it is impossible to interest the common readers of verse in the dangers or pleasures of the chace, he has done all that transition and variety could easily effect; and has with great propriety enlarged his plan by the modes of hunting used in other countries.
With still less judgment did he choose blank verse as the vehicle of 'Rural Sports.'' If blank verse be not tumid and gorgeous, it
. When panting Virtue her last efforts made,
You brought your Clio to the virgin's aid. Addison's papers in the 'Spectator' were distinguished by the letters C. L. I. 0. (See VOL. 1., p. 558.)
P. • The Two Springs; a Fable. London: J. Roberts, 1725, folio. This I take it was his first publication (though the subjects of several of his poems are of an earlier date), and was followed in 1727 by Occasional Poems, Translations, Fables, Tales, &c. By William Somervile, Feq.' London: Lintot, 1727, 8vo.; for which, under the 14th July, 1727, Lintot's Accountbook exhibits a payment to Somervile of 854. 15«.
7 The Chace; a Poem. By William Somervile, Esq. London: printed for G. Hawkins; and sold by T. Cooper, at the Globe in Paternoster Row, 1785, 4to. The fourth edition appeared in 1748.
Mr. Somervile's poem upon hawking, called ' Field Sports,' I suppose, is out by this time. It was sent to Mr. Lyttelton, to be read to the Prince, to whom It was inscribed. It seems ho is fond of hawking.-SHENSTONE.