Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

tale might determine him to choose an action from the English history, at no great distance from our own times, which was to end in a real event, produced by the operation of known characters.

A subject will not easily occur that can give more opportunities of informing the understanding, for which Smith was unquestionably qualified, or for moving the passions, in which I suspect him to have had less power.

Having formed his plan and collected materials, he declared that a few months would complete his design; and, that he might pursue his work with less frequent avocations, he was, in June, 1710, invited by Mr. George Ducket to his house at Gartham, in Wiltshire. Here he found such opportunities of indulgence as did not much forward his studies, and particularly some strong ale, too delicious to be resisted. He ate and drank till he found himself plethoric; and then, resolving to ease himself by evacuation, he wrote to an apothecary in the neighbourhood a prescription of a purge so forcible, that the apothecary thought it his duty to delay it till he had given notice of its danger. Smith, not pleased with the contradiction of a shopman, and boastful of his own knowledge, treated the notice with rude contempt, and swallowed his own medicine, which, in July, 1710, brought him to the grave. He was buried at Gartham.

Many years afterwards, Ducket communicated to Oldmixon, the historian, an account pretended to have been received from Smith, that Clarendon's History was, in its publication, corrupted by Aldrich, Smaldridge, and Atterbury; and that Smith was employed to forge and insert the alterations.

This story was published triumphantly by Oldmixon, and may be supposed to have been eagerly received; but its progress was soon checked: for, finding its way into the Journal of Trévoux, it fell under the eve of Atterbury, then an exile in France, who immediately denied the charge, with this remarkable particular, that he never in his whole life had once spoken to Smith; his company being, as must be inferred, not accepted by those who attended to their characters.

The charge was afterwards very diligently refuted by Dr. Burton, of Eton, a man eminent for literature; and, though not of the same party with Aldrich and Atterbury, too studious of truth to leave them burdened with a false charge. The testimonies which he has collected have convinced mankind that either Smith or Ducket was guilty of wilful and malicious falsehood.

This controversy brought into view those parts of Smith's life which, with more honour to his name, might have been concealed..

Of Smith I can yet say a little more. He was a man of such estimation among his companions, that the casual censures or praises which he dropped in conversation were considered, like those of Scaliger, as worthy of preservation.

He had great readiness and exactness of criticism, and by a cursory glance over a new composition would exactly tell all its faults and beauties.

He was remarkable for the power of reading with great rapidity, and of retaining, with great fidelity, what he so easily collected.

He therefore always knew what the present question required; and, when his friends expressed their wonder at his acquisitions, made in a state of apparent negligence and drunkenness, he never discovered his hours of reading or method of study, but involved himself in affected silence, and fed his own vanity with their admiration.

One practice he had, which was easily observed; if any thought or image was presented to his mind that he could use or improve, he did not suffer it to be lost: but, amidst the jollity of a tavern, or in the warmth of conversation, very diligently committed it to paper.

Thus it was that he had gathered two quires of hints for his new tragedy; of which Rowe, when they were put into his hands, could make, as he says, very little use, but which the collector considered as a valuable stock of materials.

When he came to London, his way of life connected him with the licentious and dissolute; and he affected the airs and gaiety of a man of pleasure: but his dress was always deficient; scholastic cloudiness still hung about him; and his merriment was sure to produce the scorn of his companions.

With all his carelessness and all his vices, he was one of the murmurers at fortune; and wondered why he was suffered to be poor, when Addison was caressed and preferred; nor would a very little have contented him; for he estimated his wants at six hundred pounds a year.

In his course of reading, it was particular that he had diligently perused, and accurately remembered, the old romances of knight-errantry.

He had a high opinion of his own merit, and was something contemptuous in his treatment of those whom he considered as not qualified to oppose or contradict him. He had many frailties; yet it cannot but be supposed that he had great merit who could obtain to the same play a prologue from Addison and an epilogue from Prior; and who could have at once the patronage of Halifax and the praise of Oldisworth.

For the power of communicating these minute memorials, I am indebted to my conversation with Gilbert Walmsley, late registrar of the ecclesiastical court of Lichfield, who was acquainted both with Smith and Ducket; and declared, that, if the tale concerning Clarendon were forged, he should suspect Ducket of the falsehood; for Rag was a man of great veracity.

Of Gilbert Walmsley, thus presented to my mind, let me indulge myself in the remembrance. I knew him very early; he was one of the first friends that literature procured me, and I hope that at least my gratitude made me worthy of his

notice.

He was of an advanced age, and I was only not a boy; yet he never received my notions with contempt. He was a whig, with all the virulence and malevolence of his party; yet difference of opinion did not keep us apart. I honoured him, and he endured me.

He had mingled with the gay world, without exemption from its vices or its follies, but had never neglected the cultivation of his mind; his belief of revelation was unshaken; his learning preserved his principles; he grew first regular, and then pious.

His studies had been so various, that I am not able to name a man of equal knowledge. His acquaintance with books was great; and what he did not immediately know, he could at least tell where to find. Such was his amplitude of learning, and such his copiousness of communication, that it may be doubted, whether a day now passes in which I have not some advantage from his friendship.

At this man's table I enjoyed many cheerful and instructive hours, with companions such as are not often found; with one who has lengthened, and one who has gladdened life; with

Dr. James, whose skill in physic will be long remembered, and with David Garrick, whom I hoped to have gratified with this character of our common friend: but what are the hopes of man! I am disappointed by that stroke of death which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.

In the Library at Oxford is the following ludicrous Analysis of Pocockius:

EX AUTOGRAPHO.

(Sent by the Author to Mr. Urry.) OPUSCULUM hoc, Halberdarie amplissime, in lucem proferre hactenus distuli, judicii tui acumen subveritus magis quam bipennis. Tandem aliquando oden hanc ad te mitto sublimem, teneram, flebilem, suavem, qualem demum divinus (si Musis vacaret) scripsisset Gastrellus: adeo scilicet sublimem ut inter legendum dormire, adeo flebilem ut ridere velis. Cujus elegantiam ut melius inspicias, versuum ordinem et materiam breviter referam. Imus. versus de duobus præliis decantatis. 2dus. et 3us. de Lotharingio, cuniculis subterraneis, saxis, ponto, hostibus, et Asiâ. Atus.et 5tus. de catenis, subdibus, uncis, draconibus, tigribus, et crocodilis. 6us. 7us. Sus. Gus. de Gomorrhâ, de Babylone, Babele, et quodam domi suæ peregrino. 10us, aliquid de quodam Pocockio. 11us. 12us. de Syriâ, Solymâ. 13us. 14us. de Hoseâ, et quercu, et de juvene quodam valde sene. 15us. 16us. de Ætnâ, et quomodo Ætna Pocockio fit valde similis. 17us. 18us, de tubâ, astro, umbrâ, flammis, rotis, Pocockio non neglecto. Cætera de Christianis, Ottomanis, Babyloniis, Arabibus, et gravissimâ agrorum melancholiâ; de Cæsare Flacco, Nestore, et miserando juvenis cujusdam florentissimi fato, anno ætatis suæ centesimo præmaturè abrepti. Quæ omnia cum accurrate expenderis, necesse est ut oden hanc meam admirandâ planè varietate constare fatearis. Subitò ad Batavos proficiscor, lauro ab illis donandus. Prius verò Pembrochienses voco ad certamen Poeticum. Vale. Illustrissima tua deosculor crura.

E. SMITH.

Johnson's Lives, I.

DUKE.

OF Mr. RICHARD DUKE I can find few memorials. He was bred at Westminster and Cambridge; and Jacob relates, that he was some time tutor to the Duke of Richmond.

He appears from his writings to have been not ill qualified for poetical compositions; and, being conscious of his powers, when he left the University, he enlisted himself among the wits. He was the familiar friend of Otway; and was engaged, among other popular names, in the translations of Ovid and Juvenal. In his “Review," though unfinished, are some vigorous lines. His poems are not below mediocrity; nor have I found much in them to be praised.

With the wit he seems to have shared the dissoluteness of the times; for some of his compositions are such as he must have reviewed with detestation in his later days, when he published those Sermons which Felton has commended.

Perhaps, like some other foolish young men, he rather talked than lived viciously, in an age when he that would be thought a wit was afraid to say his prayers; and, whatever might have been bad in the first part of his life, was surely condemned and reformed by his better judgment.

In 1683, being then master of arts and fellow of Trinity College, in Cambridge, he wrote a poem on the marriage of the Lady Anne with George, Prince of Denmark.

He then took orders; and, being made prebendary of Gloucester, became a proctor in convocation for that church, and chaplain to Queen Anne.

In 1710, he was presented by the Bishop of Winchester to the wealthy living of Witney, in Oxfordshire, which he enjoyed but å few months. On February 10, 1710–11, having returned from an entertainment, he was found dead the next morning. His death is mentioned in Swift's Journal.

« VorigeDoorgaan »