« AnteriorContinua »
whatever good was with-held from him, that it might not be thrown away, was bestowed upon king William.
This was the tragedy which Rowe valued most, and that which probably by the help of political auxiliaries, excited inost applause ; but occasional poetry must often content itself with occasional praise. Tamerlane has for a long time been acted only once a year, on the night when king William landed. Our quarrel with Lewis has been long over, and it now gratifies neither zeal nor malice to see him painted with aggravated features, like a Saracen upon a sign.
The Fair Penitent, his next production (1703) is one of the most pleasing tragedjes on the stage, where it still keeps its turns of appearing, and probably will long keep them, for there is scarcely any work of any poet at once so interesting by the fable, and so delightful by the language. The story is domcstick, and therefore easily received by the imaginarion, and assimilated to common life; the diction is exquisitely harmonious, and soft or spritely as occasion requires.
The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson inus Lovelace; but he has excelied his original in the moral effect of the fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and bravery which cannot be despised, retains too much of the spectator's kindness. It was in the power of Richardson alone to teach us at once esteem and detestation, to make vir tuous resentment overpower all the benevolence which wit, elegance, and courage, naturally excite; and to lose at last the hero in the villain,
The fifth ace is not equal to the former; the events of the drama are ex-. haysted, and little remains but to talk of whaç is past. It has been observed, that the title of the play does not sufficiently correspond with the behaviour of Calista, who at last skews no evident signs of repentance, but may be reasonably suspected of feeling pain from detection rather than from guilt, and expresses more shame than sorrow, and more rage than shame.
His next (1706) was Ulysses; which, with the common fate of mythological stories, is now generally neglected. We have been too early acquainted with the poetical heroes, to expect any pleasure from their revival ; to shew them as they have already been shewn, is to disgust by repetition ; to give them new qualities, or new adventures, is to offend by violating received notions.
The Royal Convert (1708) seems to have a better claim to longevity. The fable is drawn from an obscure and barbarous age, to which fictions are more easily and properly adapted; for when objects are imperfectly scen, they casily take forms from imagination. The scene lies among our ancestors in our own country, and therefore very easily catches attention. Rodogune is a personage truly tragical, of high spirit; and violent passions, great with tempestuous dignity, and wicked with a soul that would have been heroic if it had been virtuous. The motto seems to tell that this play was not successful.
· Rowe does not always remember what his characters require. In Tamerlang there is some ridiculous mention of the God of Love; and Rodogune, a savag Saxon, talks of Venus, and the eagle that bears the thunder of Jupiter.
This play discovers its own date, by a prediction of the Union, in imitation 'ofC:anmer's prophetick promises to Henry the Eighth. The anticipated blessings of union are not very naturally introduced, nor very happily expressed,
He once (1706) tried to change his hand. He ventured on a comedy, and produced the Biter; with which, though it was unfavourably treated by the audience, he was himself delighted; for he is said to have sat in the house
; laughing with great vehemence, whenever he had in his own opinion produced ajcst. But finding that he and the publick had no sympathy of mirth, he tried at lighter scenes no more.
Alter the royal Convert (1714) appeared Jane Shore, written, as its author professes, inimisation of Shakespear's style. In what he thought himself animi tator of Shakespeare, it is not easy to conceive. The numbers, the diction the sentiments, and the conduct, every thing in which imitation can consist are remote in the utmost degree from the manner of Shakespeare; whose dra inas it resembles only as it is an English story, and as some of the person Isave their names in history. This play, consisting chiefly of domestic scene and private distress, lays hold upon the heart. The wife is forgiven because she repents, and the husband is honoured besause he forgives. This, there forc, is one of those pieces which we still welcome on the stage.
Ilis last tragedy (1715) was Lady Jane Grey. This subject had been chose by Mr. Smith, whose papers were put into Rowe's hands such as he describe them in his pretace. This play has likewise sunk into oblivion. From thi time he gave nothing more to the stage.
Being by a competent fortune exempted from any necessity of combating Biis inclination, he never wrote in distress, and therefore does not appear lave ever written in haste. His works were finished to his own approbation and bear few marks of negligence or hurry. It is remarkable, that his pro logues and epilogues are all his own, though he sometimes supplied others ne afforded help, but did not solicit it.
As his studies necessarily made him acquainted with Shakespeare, and 20 quaintance produced veneration, he undertook (1709) an edition of his works 1100 ubich he neither received much praise, nor seems to have expected its yet, I believe, those who compare it with former copies will find that he has seno more than he promised; and that, without the pomp of notes or boasts ii criticism, many passages are happily restored. He prefixed a life of the author, such as tradition then almost expiring could supply, and a prefacer ; v: hich camct be said to discover much profundity or penetration. He at least contributed to the popularity of his author.
HC * Mr. Rowc's Preface, howeyer, is not distinct, as it might be supposed from this passage from the 11.1.
He was willing enough to improve his fortune by other arts than poetry. He was under secretary for three years when't he duke of Queensberry was secretary of state, and afterwards applied to the earl of Oxford for spme publick employment *. , Oxford enjoined him to study Spanish; and when, some time afterwards, he came again, and said that he had mastered it, dismissed him with this congratulation, “ Then, Sir, I envy you the pleasure of reading “ Don Quixote in the original.”
This story is sufficiently attested; but why Oxford, who desired to be thought a favourer of literature, should thus insult a man of acknowledged merit; or how Rowe, who was so keen a Whig + that he did not willingly converse with men of the opposite party, could ask preferment from Oxford; it is not now possible to discover. Pope, who told the story, did not say on what occasion the advice was given; and, though he owned Rowe's disappointment, doubtedl whether any injury was intended him, bur thought it rather Lord Oxford's
It is likely that he lived on discontented through the rest of queen Anne's reign; but the time came at last when he found kinder friends. At the accession of king George he was made pret laureat ; I am afraid by the ejection of poor Nahum Tate, who (1716) died in the Mint, where he was forced to seek shelter by extreme poverty. He was made likewise one of the land surveyors of the customs of the port of London. The prince of Wales chose him clerk of his council; and the lord chancellor Parker, as soon as he received the seals, appointed him, unasked, secretary of the presentations, Such an accumulation of employments undoubtedly produced a very considerable revenue.
Having already translated some parts of Lucan's Pharsalia, which had becn published in the Miscellanies, and doubtless' received many praises, he undertook a version of the whole work, which he lived to finish, but nnt to publish. It seems to have been printed under the care of Dr. Welwood, who prefixed the author's life, in which is contained the following character.
“ As to his person, it was graceful and well made ; his face regular, and of "a manly beauty. As his soul was well-lodged, so its rational and animal fa“ culties excelled in a high degree. He had a quick and fruitful invention, a “deep penetration, and a large compass of thought, with singular dexterity "and easiness in making his thoughts to be understood. He was master of “ most parts of polite learning, especially the classical authors, both Greek “ and Latin ; understood the French, Italian, and Spanish languages;
and "spoke the first fluently, and the other two tolerably well. Vol. 1.
“ He had likewise read most of the Greek and Roman histories in their " original languages, and moșt that are wrote in English, French, Italian " and Spanish. He had a good taste in philosophy; and, having a firm in
pression of religion upon his mind, he took great delight in divinity and “ ecclesiastical history, in both which he made great advances in the times " he retired into the country, which was frequent. He expressed, on all
occasions, his full persuasion of the truth of Revealed Religion; and being "asincere member of the established church himself, he pitied, but condemne "ed not, those that dissented from it. He abhorred the principles of persee
cuting men upon the account of their opinions in religion; and being strict, (in his own, he cook it not upon him to cenzure those of another persuasion, “ His conversation was pleasant, witty, and learned, without the least since meture of affectation or pedantry; and his inimitable manner of diverting and “ enlivering the company made it impossible for any one to be out of budou
when he was in it. Envy and detracion seemed to be entirely foreign to big as constitutions and whatever provocations he mit with at any time, he passed " them over withont the least thought of resentment or revenge. As Homer * had a Zoilus, so Mr. Rowe had sometimes his: for there were not want “ing malevolent people, and pretenders to poetry too, that would nor and “ then bark at his best performances; but he was so much conscious of his “ own genius, and had so much good nature, as to forgive them ; nor coule
tempted to return them an answer, “ The love of learning and poetry made him not the less fit for business, " and nobody applied himself closer to it, when it required his attendance “ The late duke of Queensberry, when he was secretary of state, sud ç hiir. his secretary for public affairs; and rhen that truly great man came " to know him well, he was never so pleased as when Mr. Rowe i 25 " in his company. After the duke's death, all avenues were stopped to his “ preferment; and during the rest of that reign, he passed his time with the “ Muses and his books, and sometimes the conversation of his friends.
« When he had just got to be easy in his fortune, and was in a fair way make it better, death swept him away, and in hin deprived the world of
one of the best men, as well as one of the best genuises, of the 230 “ IIe died like a Christian and a Philosopher, in charity with all mann. "kind, and with an absolute resignation to the will of God. He kept up “his good-humour to the last; and took leave of his wife and friendsy "immediately before his last agony, with the same tranquillity of mind, and “the same indifference for life, as though he had been upon taking but a “ short journey. He was twice married ; firstto a darghter of Mr. Parsons,
one of the auditors of the revenue ; and afterwards to a daughter of Mr. " Devenish, of a good family in Dorsctshire. By the first he had a son; " and by the second a daughter, married afterwards to Mr. Fane. He
* died the sixth of December, 1718, in the forty-fifth year of his age: and * was buried the nineteenth of the same month in Westminster-abbey, in si the aisle where many of our English poets are interred, over-against
Chaucer, his body being attended by a select number of his friends, and "the dean and choir officiating at the funeral.”
To this character, which is apparently given with the fondness of a friend, may be added the testimony of Pope, who says, in a letter to Blount, “Mr. ** Rowe accompanied me, and passed a week in the Forest. I need not tell
you how much a man of his turn entertained me; but I must acquaint
you, there is a vivacity and gaiety of disposition, almost peculiar to him, " which make it impossible to part from him without that uneasiness which " generally succeeds all cur pleasure."
Pope has left behind him another mention of his companion, less advantageous, which is thus reported by Dr. Warburton : " kowe, in Mr. Pope's opinion, maintained a decent character, but had no heart. Mr. Addison was justly offended with some behaviour which arose from that want, and estranged himself from him; which Rowe fe's very severely. Mr. Pope, their common friend, knowing this, took an opportunity, at some juncture of Mr. Addison's advancement, to tell him how poor Rowe was grieved at his displeasure, and what satisfaction be expressed at Mr. Addison's good fortune, which he expressed so na
turally, that he (Mr. Pope) could not but think him sincere. Mr. Addi" son replied, " I do not suspect that he feigned; but the levity of his * heart is such, that he is struck with any new adventure, and it would * affect him just in the same manner, if he heard I was going to be hangde ed.'– Mr. Pope said, he could not deny but Mr. Addison understood # Rowe well."
This censure time has not left us the power of confirming or refuting; but ebservation daily shews, that much stress is not to be laid on hyperbolical accusations, and pointed sentences, which even he that atters them desires to be applauded rather than credited. Addison can hardly be supposed to have meant all that le said. Few characters can bear the microscopick scrutiny, of wit quickened by anger; and perhaps the best advice to authors would be, that they should keep out of the way one anotier.
Rowe is chiefly to be considered as a tragick writer and a translator. In his attempt at coinedy he failed so ignominiously, that his Biter is not inserted in his works; and his occasional poems and short compositions are rarely Forthy of either praise or censure; for they seem the casual sports of a sind sceking rather to amuse its leisure than to exercise its powers.