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WILLIAM KING was born in London, in 1663; the son of Ezekiel King, a gentleman. He was allied to the family of Clarendon.
From Westminster-school, where he was a scholar on the foundation under the care of Dr. Busby, he was at eighteen elected to Christ-church, in 1681; where he is said to have prosecuted his studies with so much intenseness and activity, that before he was eight years standing he had read over, and made remarks upon, twenty-two thousand odd hundred books and manuscripts. The books were certainly not very long, the manuscripts not very difficult, nor the remarks very large; for the calculator will find that he despatched seven a day for every day of his eight years; with a remnant that more than satisfies most other students. He took his degree in the most expensive manner, as a grand compounder; whence it is inferred that he inherited a considerable fortune.
In 1688, the same year in which he was made master of arts, he published a confutation of Varillas's account of Wickliffe; and engaging in the study of the civil law, became doctor in 1692, and was admitted advocate at Doctors Commons.
He had already made some translations from the French, and written some humorous and satirical pieces; when, in 1694, Molesworth published his “Account of Denmark," in which he treats the Danes and their monarch with great contempt; and takes the opportunity of insinuating those wild principles, by which he supposes liberty to be established, and by which his adversaries suspect that all subordination and government is endangered.
This book offended Prince George; and the Danish minister presented a memorial against it. The principles of its author did not please Dr. King; and therefore he undertook to confute part, and laugh at the rest. The controversy is now forgotten; and books of this kind seldom live long, when interest and resentment have ceased.
In 1697, he mingled in the controversy between Boyle and Bentley; and was one of those who tried what wit could perform in opposition to learning, on a question which learning only could decide.
In 1699, was published by him “A Journey to London," after the method of Dr. Martin Lister, who had published “A Journey to Paris.” And, in 1700, he satirized the Royal Society, at least Sir Hans Sloane, their president, in two dialogués, entitled “The Transactioner." 1 Though he was a regular advocate in the courts of civil and canon law, he did not love his profession, nor indeed any kind of business which interrupted his voluptuary dreams, or forced him to rouse from that indulgence in which only be could find delight. His reputation as a civilian was yet maintained by his judgments in the courts of delegates, and raised very high by the address and knowledge which he discovered in 1700, when he defended the Earl of Anglesea against his lady, afterwards Dutchess of Buckinghamshire, who sued for a divorce, and obtained it.
The expense of his pleasures and neglect of business had now lessened his revenues; and he was willing to accept of a settlement in Ireland, where, about 1702, he was made judge . of the Admiralty, commissioner of the prizes, keeper of the records in Birmingham's tower, and vicar-general to Dr. Marsh, the primate.
But it is vain to put wealth within the reach of him who will not stretch out his hand to take it. King soon found a friend, as idle and thoughtless as himself, in Upton, one of the judges, who had a pleasant house called Mountown, near Dublin, to which King frequently retired; delighting to neglect his interest, forget his cares, and desert his duty.
Here he wrote “Mollý of Mountown," a poem; by which, though fanciful readers in the pride of sagacity have given it a political interpretation, was meant originally no more than it expressed, as it was dictated only by the Author's delight in the quiet of Mountown.
In 1708, when Lord Wharton was sent to govern Ireland, King returned to London, with his poverty, his idleness, and his wit, and published some essays, called "Useful Transactions." His 6 Voyage to the Island of Cajamai” is particularly commended. He then wrote " The Art of Love," a poem remarkable, notwithstanding its title, for purity of sentiment;
and in 1709 imitated Horace in an "Art of Cookery," which he published, with some letters to Dr. Lister.
In 1710, he appeared as a lover of the church, on the side of Sacheverell; and was supposed to have concurred at least in the projection of “The Examiner.” His eyes were open to all the operations of whiggism; and he bestowed some strictures upon Dr. Kennet's adulatory sermon at the funeral of the Duke of Devonshire.
"The History of the Heathen Gods," a book composed for schools, was written by him in 1710. The work is useful, but might have been produced without the powers of King. The next year, he published "Rufinus," an historical essay; and a poem, intended to dispose the nation to think as he thought of the Duke of Marlborough and his adherents.
In 1711, competence, if not plenty, was again put into his power. He was, without the trouble of attendance, or the mortification of a request, made gazetteer. Swift, Freind, Prior, and other men of the same party, brought him the key of the gazetteer's office. He was now again placed in a profitable employment, and again threw the benefit away. An Act of Insolvency made his business at that time particularly troublesome; and he would not wait till hurry should be at an end, but impatiently resigned it, and returned to his wonted indigence and amusements.
One of his amusements at Lambeth, where he resided, was to mortify Dr. Tenison, the archbishop, by a public festivity on the surrender of Dunkirk to Hill; an event with which Tenison's political bigotry did not suffer him to be delighted. King was resolved to counteract his sullenness, and at the expense of a few barrels of ale filled the neighbourhood with honest merriment.
In the autumn of1712, his health declined; he grew weaker by degrees, and died on Christmasday. Though his life had not been without irregularity, his principles were pure and his death was pious.
After this relation, it will be naturally supposed that his poems were rather the amusements of idleness than efforts of study; that he endeavoured rather to divert than astonish; that his thoughts seldom aspired to sublimity; and that, if his verse was easy and his images familiar, he attained what he desired. His purpose is to be merry; but, perhaps, to enjoy his mirth, it may be sometimes necessary to think well of his opinions.
THOMAS SPRAT was born in 1636, at Tallaton, in Devonshire, the son of a clergyman; and having been educated, as he tells of himself, not at Westminster or Eton, but at a little school by the church-yard side, became a commoner of Wadham College, in Oxford, in 1651; and, being chosen scholar next year, proceeded through the usual accademical course; and, in 1657, became master of arts. He obtained a fellowship, and commenced poet.
In 1959, his poem on the death of Oliver was published, with those of Dryden and Waller. In his dedication to Dr. Wilkins, he appears a very willing and liberal encomiast, both of the living and the dead. He implores his patron's excuse of his verses, both as falling “so infinitely below the full and sublime genius of that excellent poet who made this way of writing free of our nation," and being "so little equal and proportioned to the renown of a prince on whom they were written; such great actions and lives deserving to be the subject of the noblest pens and most Divine phansies." He proceeds; “Having so long experienced your care and indulgence, and been formed, as it were, by your own hands, not to entitle you to any thing which my meanness produces would be not only injustice, but sacrilege."
He published, the same year, a poem on the “Plague of Athens;" a subject of which it is not easy to say what could recommend it. To these he added afterwards a poem on Mr. Cowley's death.
After the Restoration he took orders, and by Cowley's recommendation was made chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham, whom he is said to have helped in writing “The Rehearsal.” He was likewise chaplain to the King.
As he was the favourite of Wilkins, at whose house began those philosophical conferences and inquiries which in time produced the Royal Society, he was consequently engaged in the same studies, and became one of the fellows; and when, after their incorporation, something seemed necessary to . reconcile the public to the new institution, he undertook to write its history, which he published in 1667. This is one of the few books which selection of sentiment and elegance of diction have been able to preserve, though written upon a subject flux and transitory. "The History of the Royal Society” is now read, not with the wish to know what they were then doing, but how their transactions are exhibited by Sprat.
In the next year he published “Observations on Sorbiere's Voyage into England, in a Letter to Mr. Wren." This is a work not ill performed; but perhaps rewarded with at least its full proportion of praise.
In 1668, he published Cowley's Latin poems, and prefixed in Latin the Life of the Author; which he afterwards amplified, and placed before Cowley's English works, which were by will committed to his care.
Ecclesiastical benefices now fell fast upon him. In 1668, he became a prebendary of Westminster, and had afterwards the church of St. Margaret, adjoining to the Abbey. He was, in 1680, made canon of Windsor; in 1683, dean of Westminster; and in 1684, bishop of Rochester.
The court having thus a claim to his diligence and gratitude, he was required to write the history of the Rye-house Plot; and in 1685, publised “A true Account and Declaration of the horrid Conspiracy against the late King, his present Majesty and the present Government;" a performance which he thought convenient, after the Revolution, to extenuate and excuse.
The same year, being clerk of the closet to the King, he was made dean of the chapel-royal; and, the year afterwards, received the last proof of his master's confidence, by being appointed one of the commissioners for ecclesiastical affairs. On the critical day when the Declaration distinguished the true sons of the church of England, he stood neuter, and permitted it to be read at Westminster; but pressed none to violate his conscience; and, when the Bishop of London was brought before them, gave his voice in his favour.
Thus far he suffered interest or obedience to carry him; but further he refused to go. When he found that the powers of the ecclesiastical commission were to be exercised against those who had refused the Declaration, he wrote to the lords, and other commissioners, a formal profession of his unwillingness to exercise that authority any longer, and with