Imatges de pàgina

cannot but think the people in the right.
The fable is mythological, a story which we
are accustomed to reject as false, and the
manners are so distant from our own, that
we know them not from sympathy, but by
study: the ignorant do not understand the
action, the learned reject it as a school-boy's
tale ; incredulus odi. What I cannot for a
moment believe, I cannot for a moment be-
hold with interest or anxiety. The sentiments
thus remote from life, are removed yet further
by the diction, which is too luxuriant and
fplendid for dialogue, and envelopes the
thoughts rather than displays them. It is
a scholar's play, such as may please the rea-
der rather than the spectator ; the work of
a vigorous and elegant mind, accustomed to
please itself with its own conceptions, but of
little acquaintance with the course of life.

Dennis tells, in one of his pieces, that he had once a design to have written the tragedy of Phædra; but was convinced that the action was too mythological.


In 1709, a year after the exhibition of Phædra, died John Philips, the friend and fellow-collegian of Smith, who, on that oc

[ocr errors]





Τ casion, wrote a poem, which justice must place among the best elegies which our language can fhew, an elegant mixture of fondness and admiration, of dignity and softness. There are some passages too ludicrous; but every human performance has its faults.

This elegy it was the mode among his friends to purchase for a guinea ; and, as his acquaintance was numerous, it was a very profitable poem,

Of his Pindar, mentioned by Oldisworth, I have never otherwise heard. His Longinus he intended to accompany with some illustrations, and had selected his instances of the false Sublime from the works of Blackmore.

He resolved to try again the fortune of the Stage, with the story of Lady Jane Grey. It is not unlikely that his experience of the inefficacy and incredibility of a mythological tale, might determine him to choose an action from English History, at no great distance from our own times, which was to end in a real event, produced by the operaţion of known characters.

A subject A subject will not easily occur that can give more opportunities of informing the understanding, for which Smith was unquestionably qualified, or for moving the passions, in which I suspect him to have had less


Having formed his plan, and collected materials, he declared that a few months would complete his design ; and, that he might pursue his work with less frequent avocations, he was, in June 1710, invited by Mr. George Ducket to his house at Gartham in Wiltshire. Here he found such opportunities of indulgence as did not much forward his studies, and particularly some strong ale, too delicious to be resisted. He eat and drank till he found himself plethorick: and then, resolving to ease himself by evacuation, he wrote to an apothecary in the neighbourhood a prescription of a purge so forcible, that the apothecary thought it his duty to delay it till he had given notice of its danger. Smith, not pleased with the contradiction of a shopman, and boastful of his own knowledge, treated the notice with rude contempt, and swallowed his own medicine,


[ocr errors][ocr errors]


which, in July 1710, brought him to the grave,

He was buried at Gartham.

Many years afterwards, Ducket communicated to Oldmixon the historian, an account, pretended to have been received from Smith, that Clarendon's History was, in its publication, corrupted by Aldrich, Smalridge, and Atterbury; and that Smith was employed to forge and insert the alterations.

This story was published triumphantly by Oldmixon, and may be supposed to have been eagerly received: but its progress was foon checked; for finding its way into the Journal of Trevoux, it fell under the eye of Atterbury, then an exile in France, who immediately denied the charge, with this remarkable particular, that he never in his whole life had once spoken to Smith ; his company being, as must be inferred, not accepted by those who attended to their characters.


The charge was afterwards very diligently refuted by Dr. Burton of Eaton; a man eminent for literature, and, though not of the fame party with Aldrich and Atterbury, too,

studious studious of truth to leave them burthened with a false charge. The testimonies which he has collected, have convinced mankind that either Smith or Ducket were guilty of wilful and malicious falsehood.

: This controversy brought into view those parts of Smith's life, which with more honour to his name might have been concealed,

Of Smith I can yet say a little more. He was a man of such estimation among his companions, that the casual censures or praises which he dropped in conversation were confidered, like those of Scaliger, as worthy of preservation,

He had great readiness and exactness of criticism, and by a cursory glance over a new composition would exactly tell all its faults and beauties.

He was remarkable for the power of read ing with great rapidity, and of retaining with great fidelity what he so easily collected.


« AnteriorContinua »