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Unhurt my urn
Till that great TURN
Time cease to glide,
With human pride,
Sunk in the ocean of eternity! It is whimsical, that he, who was soon to bid adieu to rhyme, should fix upon a measure in which rhyme abounds even to satiety. Of this he said, in his "Essay on Lyric Poetry, prefixed to the poem “For the more harmony likewise I chose the frequent return of rhyme, which laid me under great difficulties. But difficulties overcome, give grace and pleasure. Nor can I account for the pleasure of rhyme in general (of which the moderns are too fond) but from this truth.”. Yet the moderns surely deserve not much censure for their fondness of what, by their own confession, affords pleasure, and abounds in harmony.
The next paragraph in his Essay did not occur to him when he talked of that great turn” in the stanza just quoted. But then the writer must take care that the difficulty is overcome. That is, he must make rhyme consist with as perfect sense and expression, as could be expected if he was perfectly free from that shackle."
Another part of this Essay will convict the following stanza of, what every reader will discover in it, “involuntary burlesque.”
The northern blast,
The shatter'd mast,
The breaking spout,
The stars gone out,
The boiling streight, the monster's shock. But would the English poets fill quite so many volumes, if all their productions were to be tried, like this, by an elaborate essay on each particular species of poetry of which they exhibit specimens ?
If Young be not a lyric poet, he is at least a critic in that sort of poetry; and, if his lyric poetry can be proved bad, it was first proved so by his own criticism. This surely is candid.
Milbourn was styled by Pope “the fairest of critics,” only because he exhibited his own version of Virgil to be compared with Dryden's which he condemned, and with which every
reader had it not otherwise in his power to compare it. Young was surely not the most unfair of poets for prefixing to a lyric composition an Essay on Lyric Poetry, so just and impartial as to condemn himself.
We shall soon come to a work, before which we find indeed no critical essay, but which disdains to shrink from the touchstone of the severest critic; and which certainly, as I remember to have heard you say, if it contain some of the worst, contains also some of the best things in the language.
Soon after the appearance of “Ocean," when he was almost fifty, Young entered into orders. In April, 1728, not long after he had put on the gown, he was appointed chaplain to George the Second.
The tragedy of “The Brothers,” which was already in rehearsal, he immediately withdrew from the stage. The managers resigned it with some reluctance to the delicacy of the new clergyman. The epilogue to “The Brothers,' only appendages to any of his three plays which he added himself, is, I believe, the only one of the kind. He calls it an historical epilogue. Finding that “Guilt's dreadful close his narrow scene denied,” he, in a manner, continues the tragedy in the epilogue, and relates how Rome revenged the shade of Demetrius, and punished Perseus “for this "night's deed."
Of Young's taking orders something is told by the biographer of Pope, which places the easiness and simplicity of the Poet in a singular light. When he determined on the church, he did not address himself to Sherlock, to Atterbury, or to Hare, for the best instructions in theology; but to Pope, who, in a youthful frolic, advised the diligent perusal of Thomas Aquinas. With this treasure Young retired from interruption to an obscure place in the suburbs. His poetical guide to godliness hearing nothing of him during half a year, and apprehending he might have carried the jest too far, sought after him, and found him just in time to prevent what Ruffhead calls “an irretrievable derangement.'
That attachment to his favourite study, which made him think a poet the surest guide to his new profession, left him little doubt whether poetry was the surest path to its honours and preferments. Not long indeed after he took orders, he published in prose, 1728, “A true Estimate of Human Life,' dedicated, notwithstanding the Latin quotations with which
it abounds, to the Queen; and a sermon preached before the House of Commons, 1729, on the martyrdom of King Charles, intituled, “An Apology for Princes, or the Reverence due to Government. But the "Second Course," the counterpart of his “Estimate;" without which it cannot be called “A true Estimate,”, though in 1728 it was announced as "soon to be published,” never appeared; and his old friends the muses were not forgotten. In 1730, he relapsed to poetry, and sent into the world.“ Imperium Pelagi: a Naval Lyric, written in Imitation of Pindar's Spirit, occasioned by his Majesty's Return from Hanover, September, 1729, and the succeeding Peace.” It is inscribed to the Duke of Chandos. In the Preface we are told, that the ode is the most spirited kind of poetry, and that the Pindaric is the most spirited kind of ode.
This I speak,” he adds, "with sufficient candour, at my own very great peril. But truth has an eternal title to our confession, though we are sure to suffer by it.” Behold, again, the fairest of poets. Young's “Imperium Pelagi” was ridiculed in Fielding's "Tom Thumb;” but, let us not forget that it was one of his pieces which the Author of the “Night Thoughts” deliberately refused to own.
Not long after this Þindaric attempt, he published Epistles to Pope, "concerning the Authors of the Age," 1730. Of these
poems one occasiop, seems to have been an apprehension lest from the liveliness of his satires, he should not be deemed sufficiently serious for promotion in the church.
In July, 1730, he was presented by his College to the rectory of Welwyn, in Hertfordshire. In May, 1731, he married Lady Elizabeth Lee, daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, and widow of Colonel Lee. His connexion with this lady arese from his father's acquaintance, already mentioned, with Lady Anne Wharton, who was coheiress of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, in Oxfordshire. Poetry had lately been taught by Addison to aspire to the arms of nobility, though not with extraordinary happiness.
We may naturally conclude that Young now gave himself up in some measure to the comforts of his new connexion, and to the expectations of that preferment which he thought due to his poetical talents, or, at least, to the manner in which they had so frequently been exerted.
The next production of his Muse was The Sea-piece, in two odes.
Young enjoys the credit of what is called an “Extempore Epigram on Voltaire;” who when he was in England, ridiculed in the company of the jealous English poet, Milton's allegory of “Sin and Death"
You are so witty, profligate, and thin,
At once we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin. From the following passage in the poetical Dedication of his Sea-piece to Voltaire, it seems that this extemporaneous reproof, if it must be extemporaneous (for what few will now affirm Voltaire to have deserved any reproof) was something longer than a distich, and something more gentle than the distich quoted.
No stranger, Sir, though born in foreign climes,
On Dorset downs, when Milton's page,
With Sin and Death provok'd thy rage,
Thy rage provok'd, who sooth'd with gentle rhymes ? By Dorset downs he probably meant Mr. Dodington's seat. In Pitt's Poems is “An Epistle to Dr. Edward Young, at Eastbury, in Dorsetshire, on the Review at Sarum, 1772."
While with your Dodington retir'd you sit,
Charm'd with his flowing Burgundy and wit, &c. Thomson, in his Autumn, addressing Mr. Dodington, calls his seat the seat of the Muses,
Where, in the secret bowers and winding walk,
For virtuous Young and thee they twine the bay. The praises Thomson bestows but a few lines before on Philips, the second
Who nobly durst, in rhyme-unfetter'd verse,
With British freedom sing the British song, added to Thomson's example and success, might perhaps induce Young, as we shall see presently, to write his great work without rhyme.
In 1734, he published" The Foreign Address, or the best Argument for Peace, occasioned by the British Fleet and the Posture of Affairs. Written in the Character of a Sailor.' It is not to be found in the Author's four volumes.
He now appears to have given up all hopes of overtaking Pindar, and perhaps at last resolved to turn his ambition to some original species of poetry. This poem concludes with a formal farewell to Ode, which few of Young's readers will regret:
My shell, which Clio gave, which Kings applaud,
Adieu ! In a species of poetry altogether his own, he next tried his skill, and succeeded.
Of his wife he was deprived 1741. Lady Elizabeth had lost, after her marriage with Young, an amiable daughter, by her former husband, just after she was married to Mr. Temple, son of Lord Palmerston. Mr. Temple did not long remain after his wife, though he was married a second time, to a daughter of Sir John Barnard's, whose son is the present peer. . Mr. and Mrs. Temple have generally been considered as Philander and Narcissa. From the great friendship which constantly subsisted between Mr. Temple and Young, as well as from other circumstances, it is probable that the Poet had both him and Mrs. Temple in view for these characters; though at the same time some passages respecting Philander do not appear to suit either Mr. Temple or any other person with whom Young was known to be connected or acquainted, while all the circumstances relating to Narcissa bave been constantly found applicable to Young's daughter-in-law,
At what short intervals the Poet tells us he was wounded by the deaths of the three persons particularly lamented; none that has read "The Night Thoughts” (and who has not read them?) needs to be informed.
Insatiate Archer! could not one suffice ?
And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had fill'd her horn. Yet how is it possible that Mr. and Mrs. Temple and Lady Elizabeth Young could be these three victims, over whom Young has hitherto been pitied for having to pour the "Midnight Sorrows” of his religious poetry; Mrs. Temple died in 1736: Mr. Temple four years afterwards, in 1740; and the Poet's wife seven months after Mr. Temple, in 1741. How could the insatiate Archer thrice slay his peace in these three persons,
"ere thrice the moon had fili'd her horn?" But in the short Preface to “The Complaint” he seriously
" that the occasion of this poem was real, not fictitious; and that the facts mentioned did naturally pour these moral reflections on the thought of the writer.” It is probable, therefore, that in these three contradictory lines the Poet