« AnteriorContinuar »
those learned and polite societies with which he had been acquainted abroad. In this design his friend Dryden is said to have assisted hiin.
The same design, it is well known, was revived by Dr. Swift in the ministry of Oxford; but it has never since been publicly mentioned, though at that time great expectations were formed by some of its establishment and its effects. Such a fociciy might, perhaps, without much difficulty, be collected; but that it would produce what is expected from it may be doubted.
The Italian academy seems to have obtained its end. The language was refined, and so fixed that it has changed but little. The French academy thought that they refined their language, and doubtless thought rightly; but the event has not shewn that they fixed it; for the French of the present time is very different from that of the last century.
In this country an academy could be expected to do but little. If an academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would separate the assembly.
But suppose the philological decree made and promulgated, what would be its authority? In absolute governments, there is sometimes a general reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power, and the countenance of greatnels. How little this is the state of our country needs not to be told. We live in an age in which it is a kind of publick sport to refuse all respect that cannot be enforced. The edicts of
an English academy would probably be read by many, only that they might be sure to disobey them.
That our language is in perpetual danger of corruption cannot be denied ; but what prevention can be found? The present manners of the nation would deride authority; and therefore nothing is left but that every writer should criticise himself.
All hopes of new literary institutions were quickly suppressed by the contentious turbulence of King James's reign; and Roscommon, foreseeing that some violent concussion of the State was at hand, purposed to retire to Rome, alleging, that it was best to fit near the chininey when the chamber smoked; a sentence, of which the application seems not very clear.
His departure was delayed by the gout; and he was so impatient either of hindrance or of pain, that he submitted himself to a French empirick, who is said to have repelled the disease into his bowels.
At the moment in which he expired, he uttered, with an energy of voice that expressed the most fervent devotion, two lines of his own version of Dies Ire:
My God, my Father, and my Friend,
Do not forsake ine in niy end. He died in 1684; and was buried with great pomp in Westminster-Abbey.
His poetical character is given by Mr. Fenton :
“ In his writings,” says Fenton, “ we view the - image of a mind which was naturally serious and “ folid; richly furnished and adorned with all the “ ornaments of learning, unaffectedly disposed in the
“ most regular and elegant order. His imagination “ might have probably been more fruitful and “ sprightly, if his judgement had been lefs severe. " But that severity (delivered in a masculine, clear, 66 succinct style) contributed to make him so emi6 nent in the didactical manner, that no man, with “ justice, can affirm he was ever equalled by any of " our nation, without confefsing at the same time 66 that he is inferior to none. In some other kinds “ of writing his genius seems to have wanted fire " to attain the point of perfection; but who can “ attain it?"
From this account of the riches of his mind, who would not imagine that they had been displayed in large volumes and numerous performances ? Who would not, after the perusal of this character, be surprised to find that all the proofs of this genius, and knowledge, and judgement, are not sufficient to form a single book, or to appear otherwise than in conjunction with the works of some other writer of the same petty size * ? But thus it is that characters are written: we know somewhat, and we imagine the rest. The observation, that his imagination would probably have been more fruitful and sprightly,
* They were published, together with those of Dake, in an odavo volume, in 1717. The editor, whoever he was, profeffes to have taken great care to procure and insert all of his lordship's poems that are truly genuine. The truth of this affertion is flatly denied by the author of an account of Mr. John Pomfret, prefixed to his Remains; who asserts, that the Prospect of Death was written by that person many years after Lord Roscommon's decease; as also, that the paraphrase of the Prayer of Jeremy was written by a gentleman of the name of Southcourt, living in the year 1724. H.
if his judgement had been less severe, may be answered, by a remarker somewhat inclined to cavil, by a contrary supposition, that his judgement would probably have been less severe, if his imagination had been more fruitful. It is ridiculous to oppose judgement to imagination ; for it does not appear that men have necessarily less of one as they have more of the other.
We must allow of Roscommon, what Fenton has not mentioned so diftinctly as he ought, and what is yet very much to his honour, that he is perhaps the only correct writer in verse before Addison; and that, if there are not so many or so great beauties in his compositions as in those of some contemporaries, there are at least fewer faults. Nor is this his highest praise; for Mr. Pope has celebrated hiin as the only moral writer of King Charles's reign:
Unhappy Dryden! in all Charles's days,
Roscommon only boasts unspotted lays. His great work is his Essay on Translated Verse; of which Dryden writes thus in the preface to his Miscellanies:
" It was my Lord Roscommon's Essay on Trans« lated Verse," says Dryden, " which made me un“ easy, till I tried whether or no I was capable of “ following his rules, and of reducing the specu“lation into practice. For many a fair precept in “ poetry is like a seeming demonstration in mathe" maticks, very specious in the diagram, but fail“ing in the mechanick operation. I think I have “ generally observed liis instructions: I am sure my “ reason is sufficiently convinced both of their truth
66 and usefulness; which, in other words, is to « confess no less a vanity than to pretend that I “ have, at least in some places, niade examples to “ his rules.”
This declaration of Dryden will, I am afraid, be found little more than one of those cursory civilities which one author pays to another; for when the sum of lord Roscommon's precepts is collected, it will not be ealy to discover how they can qualify their reader for a better performance of translation than might have been attained by his own reflections.
He that can abstract his mind from the elegance of the poetry, and confine it to the sense of the precepts, will find no other direction than that the author should be suitable to the translator's genius; that he should be such as may deserve a translation ; that lie, who intends to translate him, should endeavour to understand him; that perfpicuity should be studied, and unusual and uncouth names fparingly inserted; and that the style of the original should be copied in its elevation and depression. These are the rules that are celebrated as fo definite and important; and for the delivery of which to mankind so much honour has been paid. Roscommon has indeed deserved his praises, had they been given with difcernment, and bestowed not on the rules themselves, but the art with which they are introduced, and the decorations with which they are adorned.
The Effay, though generally excellent, is not without its faults. The story of the Quack, bora rowed from Boileau, was not worth the importation; he has confounded the British and Saxon mythology: