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Born at Blandford in Dorsetshire-Educated at Winchester and Oxford Presented to the
Rectory of Pimpern in Dorsetshire-Translates Vida's 'Art of Poetry,' and Virgil's ' Aneld -HL Miscellany of Poems_Death and Burial at Blandford.
CHRISTOPHER Pitt, of whom whatever I shall relate, more than has been already published, I owe to the kind communication of Dr. Warton, was born in 1699, at Blandford, the son of a physician much esteemed.
He was, in 1714, received as a scholar into Winchester College, where be was distinguished by exercises of uncommon elegance, and, at his removal to New College in 1719, presented to the electors, as the product of his private and voluntary studies, a complete version of Lucan's poem, which he did not then know to have been translated by Rowe.
This is an instance of early diligence which well deserves to be recorded. The suppression of such a work, recommended by such uncommon circumstances, is to be regretted. It is indeed culpable to load libraries with superfluous books ; but incitements to early excellence are never superfluous, and from this example the danger is not great of many imitations.
When he had resided at his college three years, he was presented to the rectory of Pimpern, in Dorsetshire (1722), by his relation, Mr. Pitt of Stratfieldsaye, in Hampshire ;' and, resigning his Fellowship, continued at Oxford two years longer, till he became Mas ter of Arts (1724).
He probably about this time translated ' Vida's Art of Poetry,''
To whom le afterwards dedicated bis ‘Poems and Translations,' 1727.
• Vida's Art of Poetry, Translated into English Verse by the Reverend Mr. Christoph. Pitt, A.M., late Pellow of New College in Oxford, Rector of Pimpern lo Dorsetshire, and Chaplain to the Right Honourable Philip Earl Stanhope,' &c. London : printed by Sam. Palmer, for A. Betterworth, at the Red Lion, in Paternoster Row, 1725. 12mo. A new edition, corrected, was printed, in an Elsevir type, by Dodsley, In 1748, price 36. bedo
which Tristram's splendid edition had then made popular. In this translation he distinguished himself, both by its general elegance and by the skillful adaptation of his numbers to the images expressed -a beauty which Vida has with great ardour enforced and exemplified.
He then retired to his living,' a place very pleasing by its situation, and therefore likely to excite the imagination of a poet, where he passed the rest of his life, reverenced for his virtue, and beloved for the softness of his temper and the easiness of his manners. Before strangers he had something of the scholar's timidity or dis
• I had never any thoughts of leaving Pimpern, nor would I change it for a benefice of three times the value in a bad country. If I may quote the end of one of these Epistles, you will find it so :
When to delicious Pimpern I retire,
Car. Pitt to Broome, the poet, 2nd May, 1740, (M8.) Of these Epistles he gives, in the same letter to Broome, the following account:-"You are pleased to think I shall scarce ever be unemployed in something or other in the Poetical Way. The only things I have writ of that nature of late are some Imitations of Horace's Satires and Epistles, which are not touched upon by Mr. Pope, which I never designed to publish, because I thought 'em too Particular in some passages as to Times, Places, and Persons ; but Mr. Pope told me, just before I left the town (for be had read 'em over), he saw no reason why they should not be published; that if in some parts they were a little too Particular (I objected), 'twas what was unavoidable in modernizing Horace, and that he thought they might appear when I judged it a proper time.” In another letter to the same correspondent he supplies an anecdote of Spence and Lord Bathurst that merits preservation :-"In one of iny Imitations there is a blank in a lord's name. It was Lord Bathurst: on this occasion applied to Quid de quoque viro. Mr. Spence told Lord Bathurst (who you know was one of the twelve) that he thought the making twelde Peers at a dash was the worst transaction la the Queen's reign. You may guess, as soon as he recollected bimself, he was in no small confusion, which my Lord dissipated in a very candid manner by joining in his opinion."
Mr. Christopher Pitt has imitated the Seventh Satire of Horace, Book II., the Nineteenth Epistle of Book II., the Fourth Epistle of Book I., and the Tenth and Eighteenth of Book I., with a freedor, and a facility of versification truly Horatian.—Jos. WARTON (Pope, ed. 1797, 1. liii. : see algo vi. 8).
I gave your service, Sir, to Mr. Dobson. He has just left me, and is going to Winchester, He finished the largest part of the 7th book (of Paradise Lost ') at Pimpern. I read one or two of the books, and think 'en very bappy in the variety of the periods and harmony of the numbers, the want of which, you know, is the chief fault of Ovid and Claudian. - PITT LO Broome the Poot, July 99, 1740.
trust ; but when he became familiar he was in a very high degree cheerful and entertaining. His general benevolence procured general respect, and he passed a life placid and honourable, neither vo great for the kindness of the low, nor too low for the notice of the great.
At what time he composed his miscellany, published in 1727," it is not easy nor necessary to know ; those which have dates appear to have been very early productions, and I have not observed that any rise above mediocrity.
The success of his 'Vida' animated him to a higher undertaking; and in his thirtieth year he published a version of the first book of the ' Æneid.' This being, I suppose, commended by bis friends, he
I , some time afterwards added three or four more, with an advertisement, in which he represents himself as translating with great indifference, and with a progress of which himself was hardly conscious. This can hardly be true, and, if true, is nothing to the reader.
At last, without any further contention with his modesty, or any awe of the name of Dryden, he gave us a complete English • Æneid,' which I am sorry not to see joined in this publication with his other poems.
It would have been pleasing to have an opportunity of comparing the two best translations that perhaps were ever produced by one nation of the same author.
Pitt engaging as a rival with Dryden naturally observed his failures, and avoided them; and as he wrote after Pope’s ‘ Iliad," he had an example of an exact, equable, and splendid versification, With these advantages, seconded by great diligence, he might successfully labour particular passages, and escape many errors. If the two versions are compared, perhaps the result would be, that Dryden leads the reader forward by his general vigour and sprightliness, and Pitt often stops him to contemplate the excellence of a single couplet—that Dryden's faults are forgotten in the hurry of
1 Poems and Translations,' by Christopher Pitt, M.A., late Fellow of New College in Os. ford. London: printed for Bernard Lintot, &c. 1727, 8vo. p. 192. Under Pitt's name in Lintot's book of accounts is the following entry :
Oct. 18, 1726. His Misc. Poems . . . . £21. • April, 1740, in two vols. 4to. price 218.
delight, and that Pitt's beauties are neglected in the languor of a cold and listless perasal--that Pitt pleases the critics, and Dryden the people that Pitt is noted, and Dryden read.”
He did not long enjoy the reputation which this great work deservedly conferred, for he left the world in 1748, and lies buried under a stone at Blandford, on which is this inscription :
• Warton's translation (of the Georgics '] may in many instances be found more falthful und concise than Dryden's; but it wants that elastic and idiomatic freedom by which Drydea reconciles us to his faults, and exhibits rather the diligence of a scholar than the spirit of . poet.—T. CAMPELL: Specimene, p. 664.
Pitt's father translated the 'Plague of Athens,' In Creech's ‘Lacretius' ("Spence by Singer,' p. 882). He had a brother also who was a poet.
"I had an elder brother, Fellow of Wadham, who translated the first five books (of Milton) on his first going to Oxford, which upon the whole I believe were well executed, for he had . vast command of Virgil's phraseology, and could apply it very happily on some occasions.PITT to Broome, the poet.
Whoever is curious to know more about Christopher Pitt should turn to his letters in Hughes's Correspondence.