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at last shews 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 seen, they easily 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 “Tamerlane” there is some ridiculous mention of the God of Love; and Rodogune, a savage Saxon, talks of Venus, and the eagle that bears the thunder of Jupiter.)
The play discovers its own date, by a prediction of the Union, in imitation of Cranmer's prophetic 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 unvafourably treated by the audience, he was himself delighted; for he is said to have sate in the house laughing with great vehemence, whenever he had, in his own opinion, produced a jest. But, finding that he and the public had no sympathy of mirth, he tried at lighter scenes no more.
Áfter, "The Royal Convert” (1714) appeared " Jane Shore," written, as its Author professes, in imitation of Shakspeare's style. In what he thought himself an imitator of Shakspeare, 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 Shakspeare, whose dramas it resembles only as it is an English story, and as some of the persons have their names in history. This play, consisting chiefly of domestic scenes and private distress, lays hold upon the heart. The wife is forgiven because she repents, and the husband is honoured because he forgives. This, therefore, is one of those pieces which we still welcome on the stage.
His last tragedy (1715) was “Lady Jane Gray.” This subject had been chosen by Mr. Smith, whose papers were put into Rowe's hands such as he describes them in his preface. This play has likewise sunk into oblivion. From this time he gave nothing more to the stage.
Being, by a competent fortune, exempted from any necessity of combating his inclination, he never wrote in distress, and therefore does not appear to have 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 prologues and epilogues are all his own, though he sometimes supplied others; he afforded help, but did not solicit it.
As his studies necessarily made him acquainted with Shakspeare, and acquaintance produced veneration, he undertook (1709) an edition of his works, from which he neither received 'much praise, nor seems to have expected it; yet, I believe, those who compare it with former copies will find that he has done more than he promised; and that, without the pomp of notes or boasts of criticism, many passages are happily restored. He prefixed a life of the author, such as tradition, then almost expiring, could supply, and a preface; which cannot be said to discover much profundity or penetration. He at least contributed to the popularity of his author.
He was willing enough to improve his fortune by other arts than poetry. He was under-secretary for three years when the Duke of Queensberry was secretary of state, and afterwards applied to the Earl of Oxford for some public 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, doubted whether any injury was intended him, but thought it rather Lord Oxford's odd way.
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 poet-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 portof 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 been published in the Miscellanies, and doubtless received many praises, he undertook a version of the whole work, which he lived to finish, but not 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, 80 its rational and animal faculties 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.
"He had likewise read most of the Greek and Roman histories in their original languages, and most that are written in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. He had a good taste in philosophy; and, having a firm impression 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 were frequent. He expressed, on all occasions, his full persuasion of the truth of revealed religion; and, being a sincere member of the established church himself, he pitied, but condemned not, those that dissented from it. He abhorred the principles of persecuting men upon the account of their opinions in religion; and, being strict in his own, he took it not upon him to censure those of another persuasion. His conversation was pleasant, witty, and learned, without the least tincture of affectation or pedantry; and his inimitable manner of diverting and enlivening the company, made it impossible for any one to be out of humour when he was in it. Envy and detraction seemed to be entirely foreign to his constitution; and whatever provocations he met with at any time, he passed them over without the least thought of resentment or revenge. As Homer had a Zoilus, so Mr. Rowe had sometimes his; for there were not wanting malevolent people, and pretenders to poetry too, that would now and then bark at his best performances; but he was conscious of his own genius, and had so much goodnature as to forgive them; nor could he ever be 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, made him his secretary for public affairs; and when thạt truly great man came to know him well, he was never so pleased as when Mr. Rowe was 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 to make it better, death swept him away, and in him deprived the world of one of the best men, as well as one of the best geniuses of the age. He died like a Christian and a philosopher, in charity with all mankind, and with an absolute resignation to the will of God. He kept up his goodhumour to the last; and took leave of his wife and friends, 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: first to a daughter of Mr. Parsons, one of the auditors of the revenue; and afterwards to a daughter of Mr. Devenish, of a good family in Dorsetshire. 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 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.” i 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 makes it impossible to part from him without that uneasiness which generally succeeds all our pleasure."
Pope has left behind him another mention of his companion, less advantageous, which is thus reported by Dr. Warburton.
“Rowe, 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 felt 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 he expressed at Mr. Addison's good fortune, which he expressed so naturally, that he (Mr. Pope) could not but think him sincere. Mr. Addison 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 hanged. - 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 observation daily shews, that much stress is