Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

48 'At the conclusion of the Preface he applies Plato's beautiful

fable of the Birth of Love to modern poetry, with the addition " that Poetry, like Love, is a little subject to blindness, which makes her mistake her way to preferments and honours; and that she retains a dutiful admiration of her father's family ; but divides her favours, and generally lives with her mother's relations.” Poetry, it is true, did not lead Young to preferments or to honours; but was there not something like blindness in the flattery which he sometimes forced her, and her sister Prose, to utter? She was always, indeed, taught by him to entertain a most dutiful admiration of riches; but surely Young, though nearly related to Poetry, had no connexion with her whom Plato makes the mother of Love. That he could not well complain of being related to Poverty appears clearly from the frequent bounties which his gratitude records, and from the wealth which he left behind him. By The Universal Passion he acquired no vulgar fortune, more than three thousand pounds. A considerable sum had already been swallowed up in the South-Sea. For this loss he took the vengeance of an author. His Muse makes

poetical use more than once of a South-Sea Dream. 49 'It is related by Mr. Spence, in his Manuscript Anecdotes, on

the authority of Mr. Rawlinson, that Young, upon the publication of his Universal Passion, received from the Duke of Grafton two thousand pounds; and that, when one of his friends exclaimed, “ Two thousand pounds for a poem !” he said it was the best bargain he ever made in his life, for the poem was

worth four thousand. 50

This story may be true, but it seems to have been raised from the two answers of Lord Burghley and Sir Philip Sidney in

Spenser's Life. 51 After inscribing his Satires, not without the hope of prefer

ments and honours, to the Duke of Dorset, Mr. Dodington, Mr. Spencer Compton, Lady Elizabeth Germain, and Sir Robert Walpole, he returns to plain panegyrick. In 1726 he addressed a poem to Sir Robert Walpole, of which the title sufficiently explains the intention. If Young was a ready celebrator he did

. not endeavour, or did not choose, to be a lasting one. The Instalment is among the pieces he did not admit into the number of his excuseable writings. Yet it contains a couplet which pretends to pant after the power of bestowing immortality :

“Oh! how I long, enkindled by the theme,
In deep eternity to launch thy name!”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

52 "The bounty of the former reign seems to have been continued,

possibly increased, in this. Whatever it was, the poet thought he deserved it; for he was not ashamed to acknowledge what, without his acknowledgement, would now perhaps never have been known:

“My breast, О Walpole, glows with grateful fire.

The streams of royal bounty, turn'd by thee,

Refresh the dry domains of poesy." If the purity of modern patriotism term Young a pensioner, it must at least be confessed he was a grateful one.

The reign of the new monarch was ushered in by Young with 53 Ocean, an Ode. The hint of it was taken from the royal speech, which recommended the increase and encouragement of the seamen; that they might be “invited, rather than compelled by force and violence, to enter into the service of their country plan which humanity must lament that policy has not even yet been able, or willing, to carry into execution. Prefixed to the original publication were an Ode to the King, Pater Patriæ, and an Essay on Lyrick Poetry. It is but justice to confess that he preserved neither of them, and that the ode itself, which in the first edition, and in the last, consists of seventy-three stanzas, in the author's own edition is reduced to forty-nine. Among the omitted passages is A Wish, that concluded the poem, which few would have suspected Young of forming; and of which few, after having formed it, would confess something like their shame by suppression.

It stood originally so high in the author's opinion that he 54 intitled the poem Ocean, an Ode. Concluding with a Wish. This wish consists of thirteen stanzas. The first runs thus :

“O may I steal

Along the vale
Of humble life, secure from foes !

My friend sincere,

My judgement clear,

And gentle business my repose!” The three last stanzas are not more remarkable for just rhymes; but altogether they will make rather a curious page in the life of Young

“ Prophetick schemes,

And golden dreams,
May I, unsanguine, cast away!

Have what I have,

And live, not leave,
Enamour'd of the present day!
“My hours my own!

My faults unknown !
My chief revenue in content !

Then leave one beam

Of honest fame!
And scorn the labour'd monument !

“ Unhurt my urn

Till that great turn
When mighty nature's self shall die,

Time cease to glide,

With human pride,
Sunk in the ocean of eternity!"

[ocr errors]

55 'It is whimsical that he, who was soon to bid adieu to rhyme,

should fix upon a measure in which rhyme abounds even to satiety. Of this he said, in his Essay on Lyrick Poetry prefixed to the poem, “For the more harmony likewise I chose the frequent return of rhyme, which laid me under great difficulties. But difficulties overcome give grace and pleasure. Nor can I account for the pleasure of rhyme in general (of which the moderns are too fond) but from this truth." Yet the moderns surely deserve

. not much censure for their fondness of what, by his own confession,

affords pleasure, and abounds in harmony. 56

The next paragraph in his Essay did not occur to him when he talked of "that great turn" in the stanza just quoted. “But then the writer must take care that the difficulty is overcome. That is, he must make rhyme consistent with as perfect sense and expression as could be expected if he was perfectly free from that

shackle." 57 ' Another part of this Essay will convict the following stanza of, what every reader will discover in it, "involuntary burlesque."

« The northern blast,

The shatter'd mast,
The syrt, the whirlpool, and the rock,

The breaking spout,

The stars gone out,

The boiling streight, the monster's shock." 58

But would the English poets fill quite so many volumes if all their productions were to be tried, like this, by an elaborate essay on each particular species of poetry of which they exhibit

specimens? 59 'If Young be not a lyrick poet he is at least a critick in that sort

of poetry, and, if his lyrick poetry can be proved bad, it was first

proved so by his own criticism. This surely is candid. 60 Milbourne was styled by Pope " the fairest of Criticks," only

because he exhibited his own version of Virgil to be compared with Dryden's which he condemned, and with which every reader had it otherwise in his power to compare it. Young was surely not the most unfair of poets for prefixing to a lyrick composition an essay on Lyrick Poetry so just and impartial as to condemn

himself. 61 •We shall soon come to a work, before which we find indeed

[ocr errors]

6

no critical Essay; but which disdains to shrink from the touchstone of the severest critick, and which certainly, as I remember to have heard you say, if it contains some of the worst, contains also some of the best things in the language.

'Soon after the appearance of Ocean, when he was almost fifty, 62 Young entered into orders. In April, 1728, not long after he put on the gown, he was appointed chaplain to George the Second.

*The tragedy of The Brothers, which was already in rehearsal, 63 he immediately withdrew from the stage. The managers resigned it with some reluctance to the delicacy of the new clergyman. The Epilogue to The Brothers, the only appendage to any of his three plays which he added himself, is, I believe, the only one of the kind. He calls it an "historical" Epilogue. Finding that “Guilt's dreadful close his narrow scene denied,” he, in a manner, continues the tragedy in the Epilogue, and relates how Rome revenged the shade of Demetrius, and punished Perseus " for this night's deed.”

Of Young's taking orders something is told by the biographer 64 of Pope, which places the easiness and simplicity of the poet in a singular light. When he determined on the Church he did not address himself to Sherlock, to Atterbury, or to Hare for the best instructions in theology, but to Pope, who, in a youthful frolick, advised the diligent perusal of Thomas Aquinas. With this treasure Young retired from interruption to an obscure place in the suburbs. His poetical guide to godliness hearing nothing of him during half a year, and apprehending he might have carried the jest too far, sought after him, and found him just in time to prevent what Ruffhead calls “an irretrievable derangement."

'That attachment to his favourite study which made him think 65 a poet the surest guide in his new profession, left him little doubt whether poetry was the surest path to its honours and preferments. Not long indeed after he took orders he published in prose, 1728, A true Estimate of Human Life, dedicated, notwithstanding the Latin quotations with which it abounds, to the Queen, and a sermon preached before the House of Commons, 1729, on the martyrdom of King Charles, intituled An Apology for Princes, or the Reverence due to Government. But the Second Discourse, the counterpart of his Estimate, without which it cannot be called "a true estimate,” though in 1728 it was announced as soon to be published,” never appeared, and his old friends the Muses were not forgotten. In 1730 he relapsed to poetry, and sent into the world Impcrium Pelagi; a Naval Lyrick, written in Imitation of Pindar's Spirit, occasioned by His Majesty's Return from Hanover, September 1729, and the succeeding Peace. It is inscribed to the Duke of Chandos. In the Preface we are told that "the ode is the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

most spirited kind of Poetry, and that the Pindarick is the most spirited kind of ode.” “This I speak," he adds with sufficient candour, "at my own very great peril. But truth has an eternal title to our confession, though we are sure to suffer by it.” Behold again“ the fairest of poets." Young's Imperium Pelagi as well as his tragedies was ridiculed in Fielding's Tom Thumb; but let us not forget that it was one of his pieces which the author of the

Night Thoughts deliberately refused to own. 66°Not long

after this Pindarick attempt he published two Epistles to Pope, Concerning the Authors of the Age, 1730. Of these poems one occasion seems to have been an apprehension lest, from the liveliness of his satires, he should not be deemed sufficiently

serious for promotion in the Church. 67 'In July, 1730, he was presented by his College to the rectory

of Welwyn in Hertfordshire. In May, 1731, he married Lady Elizabeth Lee, daughter of the Earl of Litchfield and widow of Colonel Lee. His connexion with this lady arose from his father's acquaintance, already mentioned, with Lady Anne Wharton, who was coheiress of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, in Oxfordshire. Poetry had lately been taught by Addison to aspire to the arms

of nobility, though not with extraordinary happiness. 68

We may naturally conclude that Young now gave himself up in some measure to the comforts of his new connexion, and to the expectations of that preferment which he thought due to his poetical talents, or, at least, to the manner in which they had so

frequently been exerted. 69 The next production of his Muse was The Sea-piece, in two odes. 70 `Young enjoys the credit of what is called An Extempore

Epigram on Voltaire, who, when he was in England, ridiculed, in the company of the jealous English poet, Milton's allegory of Sin and Death:

“You are so witty, profligate, and thin,

At once we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin." From the following passage in the poetical Dedication of his Sea-piece to Voltaire it seems that his extemporaneous reproof (if it must be extemporaneous) for what few will now affirm Voltaire to have deserved any reproof, was something longer than a distich, and something more gentle than the distich just quoted. “No stranger, Sir, though born in foreign climes ;

On Dorset downs, when Milton's page

With Sin and Death provok'd thy rage,

Thy rage provok’d, who sooth'd with gentle rhymes?"
By “Dorset downs” he probably meant Mr. Dodington's seat.
In Pitt's Poems is An Epistle to Dr. Edward Young, at Eastbury
in Dorsetshire, on the Review at Sarum, 1722.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »