« VorigeDoorgaan »
He died July 26, 1680, before he had completed his thirtyfourth year; and was so worn away by a long illness, that life went out without a struggle.
Lord Rochester was eminent for the vigour of his colloquial wit, and remarkable for many wild pranks and sallies of extravagance. The glare of his general character diffused itself upon his writings; the compositions of a man whose name was heard so often were certain of attention, and from many readers certain of applause. This blaze of reputation is not yet quite extinguished; and his poetry still retains some splendour beyond that which genius has bestowed.
Wood and Burnet give us reason to believe, that much was imputed to him which he did not write. I know not by whom the original collection was made, or by what authority its genuineness was ascertained. The first edition was published in the year of his death, with an air of concealment, professing in the title-page to be printed at Antwerp.
Of some of the pieces, however, there is no doubt. The imitation of Horace's satire, the verses to Lord Mulgrave, the satire against Man, the verses upon “Nothing," and perhaps some others, are I believe genuine, and perhaps most of those which the collection exhibits.
As he cannot be supposed to have found leisure for any course of continued study, his pieces are commonly short, such as one fit of resolution would produce.
His songs have no particular character; they tell', like other songs, in smooth and easy language, of scorn and kindness, dismission and desertion, absence and inconstancy, with the common-places of artificial courtship. They are commonly smooth and easy; but have little nature, and little sentiment.
His imitation of Horace on Lucilius is not inelegant, or unhappy. In the reign of Charles the Second began that adaptation, which has since been very frequent, of ancient poetry to present times; and perhaps few will be found where the parallelism is better preserved than in this. The versification is indeed sometimes careless, but it is sometimes vigorous and weighty.
The strongest effort of his Muse is his poem upon “Nothing." He is not the first who has chosen this barren topic for the boast of his fertility. There is a poem called “Nihil,” in Latin, by Passerat, a poet and critic of the sixteenth
century in France; who, in his own epitaph, expresses his zeal for good poetry thus:
- Molliter ossa quiescent,
Sint modo carminibus non onerata malis. His works are not common, and therefore I shall subjoin his verses.
In examining this performance, “Nothing" must be considered as having not only a negative but a kind of positive signification; as I need not fear thieves, I have nothing, and nothing is a very powerful protector. In the first part of the sentence it is taken negatively, in the second it is taken positively, as an agent. In one of Boileau's lines it was a ques. tion, whether he should use à rien faire, or à ne rien faire; and the first was preferred because it gave rien a sense in some sort positive. “ Nothing can be a subject only in its positive sense, and such a sense is given it in the first line:
Nothing, thou elder brother ev'n to shade. In this line, I know not whether he does not allude to a curious book, "De Umbra," by Wowerus, which, having told the qualities of shade, concludes with a poem in which are these lines:
Jam primum terram validis circumspice claustris
Omnibus UMBRA prior. The positive sense is generally preserved with great skill through the whole poem; though, sometimes, in a subordinate sense, the negative nothing is injudiciously mingled. Passerat confounds the two senses.
Another of his most vigorous pieces is his lampoon on Sir Car Scrope, who, in a poem called “The Praise of Satire," had some lines like these: *
Ho who can push into a midnight fray
• I quote from memory.
This was meant of Rochester, whose buffoon conceit was, I suppose, a saying often mentioned, that every man would be a coward if he durst; and drew from him those furious verses; to which Scrope made in reply an epigram, ending with these lines:
Thou canst hurt no man's fame with thy ill word;
Thy pen is full as harmless as thy sword. Of the satire against “Man," Rochester can only claim what remains when all Boileau's part is taken away.
In all his works there is sprightliness and vigour, and every where may be found tokens of a mind which study might have carried to excellence. What more can be expected from a life spent in ostentatious contempt of regularity, and ended before the abilities of many other men began to be displayed?
Poema Cl. V. JOANNIS PASSERATII,
Regii in Academia Parisiensi Professoris,
Janus adest, festæ poscunt sua dona Kalendæ,
Ecce autem partes dum sese versat in omnes
E cælo quacunque Ceres sua prospicit arva,
Felix cui NIHIL est, (fuerant hæc vota Tibullo)
WENTWORTH DILLON, Earl of Roscommon, was the son of James Dillon and Elizabeth Wentworth, sister to the Earl of Strafford. He was born in Ireland during the lieutenancy of Strafford, who, being both his uncle and his godfather, gave him his own surname. His father, the third Earl of Roscommon, had been converted by Usher to the protestant religion; and when the popish 'rebellion broke out, Strafford thinking the family in great danger from the fury of the Irish, sent for his godson, and placed him at his own seat in Yorkshire, where he was instructed in Latin; which he learned so as to write it with purity and elegance, though he was never able to retain the rules of grammar.
Such is the account given by Mr. Fenton, from whose notes on Waller most of this account must be borrowed, though I know not whether all that he relates is certain. The instructor whom he assigns to Roscommon, is one Dr. Hall, by whom he cannot mean the famous Hall, then an old man and a bishop.
When the storm broke out upon Strafford, his house was a shelter no longer; and Dillon, by the advice of Usher, was sent to Caen, where the protestants had then an university, and continued his studies under Bochart.
Young Dillon, who was sent to study under Bochart, and who is represented as having already made great proficiency in literature, could not be more than nine years old. Strafford went to govern Ireland in 1633, and was put to death eight years afterwards. That he was sent to Caen is certain: that he was a great scholar may be doubted.
At Caen he is said to have had some preternatural intelligence of bis father's death.
"The Lord Roscommon, being a boy of ten years of age, at Caen, in Normandy, one day was, as it were, madly extravagant in playing, leaping, getting over the tables, boards, &c. He was, wont to be sober enough; they said,