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Tur following life was written, at my request, by a gentleman who had better information than I could easily have obtained; and the public will perhaps wish that I had solicited and obtained more such favours from him.”
“D EAR SIR,
“In consequence of our different conversations about authentic materials for the life of Young, I send you the following detail.
“Of great men, something must always be said to gratify curiosity. Of the illustrious author of the Might Thoughts much has been told of which there never could have been proofs; and little care appears to have been taken to tell that, of which proofs, with little trouble, might have been procured.”
Edw ARD You Ng was born at Upham, near Winchester, in June, 1681. He was the son of Edward Young, at that time fellow of Winchester college and rector of Upham; who was the son of Jo. Young of Woodhay in Berkshire, styled by Wood, gentleman. In September, 1682, the poct’s father was collated to the
prebend of Gillingham Minor, in the church of Sarum, by bishop Ward. When Ward’s faculties were impaired through age, his duties were necessarily performed by others. We learn from Wood, that at a visitation of Sprat's, July the 12th, 1686, the prebendary preached a Latin sermon, afterwards published, with which the bishop was so pleased, that he told the chapter he was concerned to find the preacher had one of the worst prebends in their church. Some time after this, in consequence of his merit and reputation, or of the interest of lord Bradford, to whom, in 1702, he dedicated two volumes of sermons, he was appointed chaplain to king William and queen Mary, and preferred to the deanery of Sarum. Jacob, who wrote in 1720, says, “he was chaplain and clerk of the closet to the late queen, who honoured him by standing godmother to the poet.” His fellowship of Winchester he
resigned in favour of a gentleman of the name of Har
ris, who married his only daughter. The dean died at
ters had not skill enough to discover in their pupil any marks of genius for which he merited reward, or no vacancy at Oxford offered them an opportunity to bestow upon him the reward provided for merit by William of Wykeham; certain it is, that to an Oxford fellowship our poet did not succeed. By chance, or by choice, New college cannot claim the honour of numbering among its fellows him who wrote the Wight Thoughts. On the 13th of October, 1703, he was entered an independent member of new college, that he might live at little expense in the warden's lodgings, who was a particular friend of his father's, till he should be qualified to stand for a fellowship at All Souls. In a few months the warden of New college died. He then removed to Corpus college. The president of this society, from regard also for his father, invited him thither, in order to lessen his academical expenses. In 1708, he was nominated to a law fellowship at All Souls by archbishop Tenison, into whose hands it came by devolution. Such repeated patronage, while it justifies Burnet's praise of the father, reflects credit on the conduct of the son: the manner in which it was exerted seems to prove that the father did not leave behind much wealth. On the 23d of April, 1714, Young took his degree of bachelor of civil laws, and his doctor's degree on the 10th of June, 1719. Soon after he went to Oxford, he discovered, it is said, an inclination for pupils. Whether he ever commenced tutor is not known. None has hitherto boasted to have received his academical instruction from the author of the Might Thoughts. It is probable that his college was proud of him no less as a scholar than as a poet; for in 1716, when the
foundation of the Codrington library was laid, two years after he had taken his bachelor’s degree, Young was appointed to speak the Latin oration. This is at least particular for being dedicated in English “To the ladies of the Codrington family.” To these ladies he says, that “he was unavoidably flung into a singularity, by being obliged to write an epistle dedicatory void of common-place, and such a one was never published before by any author whatever; that this practice absolved them from any obligation of reading what was presented to them; and that the bookseller approved of it, because it would make people stare, was absurd enough, and perfectly right.” Of this oration there is no appearance in his own edition of his works; and prefixed to an edition by Curli and Tonson, 1741, is a letter from Young to Curll, if we may credit Curll, dated December the 9th, 1739, wherein he says, that he has not leisure to review what he formerly wrote, and adds, “I have not the ‘Epistle to lord Lansdowne.' If you will take my advice, I would have you omit that, and the oration on Codrington. I think the collection will sell better without them.” There are who relate, that, when first Young found himself independent, and his own master at All Souls, he was not the ornament to religion and morality which he afterwards became. The authority of his father, indeed, had ceased, some time before, by his death; and Young was certainly not ashamed to be patronized by the infamous Wharton. But Wharton befriended in Young, perhaps, the poet, and particularly the tragedian. If virtuous authors must be patronized only by virtuous peers, who shall point them out? Yet Pope is said by Ruffhead to have told Warburton, that “Young had much of a sublime genius, though
without common sense; so that his genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into bombast. This made him pass a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets: but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency, and afterwards with honour.” * . They who think ill of Young's morality in the early part of his life, may perhaps be wrong; but Tindal could not err in his opinion of Young's warmth and ability in the cause of religion. Tindal used to spend much of his time at All Souls. “The other boys,” said the atheist, “I can always answer, because I always know whence they have their arguments, which I have read a hundred times; but that fellow Young is continually pestering me with something of his own.” After all, Tindal and the censurers of Young may be reconcileable. Young might, for two or three years, have tried that kind of life, in which his natural principles would not suffer him to wallow long. If this were so, he has left behind him not only his evidence in favour of virtue, but the potent testimony of experience against vice. We shall soon see that one of his earliest productions was more serious than what comes from the generality of unfledged poets. Young perhaps ascribed the good fortune of Addison to the “Poem to his Majesty,” presented, with a copy
* As my great friend is now become the subject of biogra- phy, it should be told, that, every time I called upon Johnson during the time I was employed in collecting materials for this life and putting it together, he never suffered ine to depart without some such farewell as this: “Dont’t forget that rascal “Tindal, sir. Be sure to hang up the atheist” Alluding to this anecdote, which Johnson had mentioned to me.