« VorigeDoorgaan »
complains more than the father-in-law, the friend, or the widower.
Whatever names belong to these facts, or, if the names be those generally supposed, whatever heightening a poet's sorrow may have given the facts; to the sorrow Young felt from them, religion and morality are indebted for the “ Night Thoughts. There is a pleasure sure in sadness which mourners only know!
Of these poems the two or three first have been perused perhaps more eagerly and more frequently than the rest. When he got as far as the fourth or fifth, his original motive for taking up the pen was answered; his grief was naturally either diminished or exhausted. We still find the same pious poet; but we hear less of Philander and Narcissa, and less of the mourner whom he loved to pity.
Mrs. Temple died of a consumption at Lyons, in her way to Nice, the year after her marriage; that is, when poetry relates the fact, “in her bridal hour.' It is more than poetically true, that Young accompanied her to the Continent:
I flew, I snatch'd her from the rigid North,
And bore her nearer to the sun. But in vain. Her funeral was attended with the difficulties painted in such animated colours in “Night the Third.” After her death, the remainder of the party passed the ensuing winter at Nice.
The Poet seems perhaps in these compositions to dwell with more melancholy on the death of Philander and Narcissa, than of his wife. But it is only for this reason.
He who runs and reads may remember, that in the “Night Thoughts” Philander and Narcissa are often mentioned and often lamented. To recollect lamentations over the Author's wife, the memory must have been charged with distinct passages. This lady brought him one child, Frederick, to whom the Prince of Wales was godfather.
That domestic grief is, in the first instance, to be thanked for these ornaments to our language, it is impossible to deny. Nor would it be common hardiness to contend, that worldly discontent had no hand in these joint productions of poetry and piety. Yet am I by no means sure that, at any rate, we should nothave had something of the same colour from Young's pencil, potwithstanding the liveliness of his satires. In so Iong a life, causes for discontent and occasions for grief must.
have occurred. It is not clear to me that his Muse was not sitting upon the watch for the first which happened. “Night Thoughts” were not uncommon to her, even when first she visited the Poet, and at a time when he himself was remarkabled neither for gravity nor gloominess. In his “Last Day," almost his earliest poem, he calls her “the melancholy maid,"
Whom dismal scenes delight,
Oh! permit the gloom of solemn night
To the bright palace of Eternal Day!
What he calls “The true Estimate of Human Life,” has already been mentioned, exhibits only the wrong side of the tapestry; and, being asked why he did not shew the right, he is said to have replied, that he could not. By others it has been told me that this was finished; but that, before there existed any copy, it was torn in pieces by a lady's monkey.
Still, is it altogether fair to dress up the Poet for the man, and to bring the gloominess of the “Night Thoughts” to prove the gloominess of Young, and to shew that his genius, like the genius of Swift, was in some measure the sullen inspiration of discontent?
From them who answer in the affirmative it should not be concealed that, though Invisibilia non decipiunt appeared upon a deception in Young's grounds; and Ambulantes in horto audiêrunt vocem Dei on a building in his garden, his parish was indebted to the good humour of the Author of the “Night Thoughts” for an assembly and a bowling-green.
Whether you think with me I know not; but the famous De mortuis nil nisi bonum always appeared to me to savour more of female weakness than of manly reason. He that has too much feeling to speak ill of the dead, who, if they cannot defend themselves, are at least ignorant of his abuse, will not hesitate by the most wanton calumny to destroy the quiet, the reputation, the fortune of the living. Yet censure is not heard beneath the tomb, any more than praise. De mortuis nil nisi verum-De vivis nilnisi bonum – would approach much nearer to good sense. After all, the few handfuls of remaining dust which once composed the body of the Author of the Night Thoughts," feel not much concern whether Young, pass now for a man of sorrow, or for a "fellow of infinite jest. To this favour must come the whole family of Yorick. His immortal part, wherever that now dwells, is still less solicitous on this head.
But to a son of worth and sensibility it is of some little consequence whether contemporaries believe, and posterity be taught to believe, that his debauched and reprobate life cast a Stygian gloom over the evening of his father's days, saved him the trouble of feigning a character completely detestable, and succeeded at last in bringing his “ grey hairs with sorrow to the grave."
The humanity of the world, little satisfied with inventing perhaps a melancholy disposition for the father, proceeds next to invent an argument in support of their invention, and chooses that Lorenzo should be Young's own son. The Biographia, and every account of Young pretty roundly assert this to be the fact; of the absolute possibility
of which, the Biographia itself, in particular dates, contains undeniable evidence. Readers I know there are of a strange turn of mind, who will hereafter peruse the "Night Thoughts” with less satisfaction; who will wish they had still been deceived; who will quarrel with me for discovering that no such character as their Lorenzo ever get disgraced human nature, or broke a father's heart. Yet would these admirers of the sublime and terrible be offended, should you set them down for cruel and
Of this report, inhuman to the surviving son, if it be true, in proportion as the character of Lorenzo is diabólical, where are we to find the proof? Perhaps it is clear from the poems,
From the first line to the last of the “Night Thoughts” not one expression can be discovered
which betrays any thing like the father. In the “Second Night” I find an expression which betrays something else; that Lorenzo was his friend; one, it is possible, of his former companions, one of the Duke of Wharton's set. The Poet styles him “gay friend;" appellation not very natural from a pious incensed father to such a being as he paints Lorenzo, and that being his son.
But let us see how he has sketched this dreadful portrait,
from the sight of some of whose features the artist himself must have turned away with horror. A subject more shocking, if his only child really sat to him, than the crucifixion of Michael Angelo; upon the horrid story told of which, Young composed a short poem of fourteen lines in the early part of his life,
which he did not think deserved to be republished.
In the “First Night,” the address to the Poet's supposed son is,
Lorenzo, fortune makes her court to thee. In the “Fifth Night”.
And burns Lorenzo still for the sublime
Of life, to hang his airy nest on high? Is this a picture of the son of the Rector of Welwyn? "Eighth Night" —
In foreign realms (for thou hast traveli'd far) -
So wept Lorenzo fair Clarissa's fate;
And died to give him, orphand in his birth!
to recriminate is just, I grant the man is vain who writes for praise. But, to cut short all inquiry; if any one of these
passages, if any passage in the poems, be applicable, my friend shall pass for Lorenzo. The son of the Author of the “Night Thoughts" was not old enough, when they were written, to recriminate, or to be a father. The "Night Thoughts” were begun immediately after the mournful event of 1741. The first “Nights" appear, in the books of the Company of Stationers, as the property of Robert Dodsley, in 1742. The Preface to “ Night Seven” is dated July the 7th, 1744. The marriage, in consequence of which the supposed Lorenzo was born, happened in May, 1731. Young's child was not born till June, 1733. In 1741 this Lorenzo, this finished infidel, this father to whose education Vice had for some years put the last hand, was only eight years old.
An anecdote of this cruel sort, so open to contradiction, so impossible to be true, who could propagate? Thus easily are blasted the reputations of the living and of the dead.
Who, then, was Lorenzo? exclaim the readers I have men
tioned. If we cannot be sure that he was his son, which would have been finely terrible, was he not his nephew, his cousin ?
These are questions which I do not pretend to answer. For the sake of human nature, I could wish Lorenzo to have been only the creation of the Poet's fancy: like the Quintus of Anti Lucretius, quo nomine, says Polignac, quemvis Atheum intellige. That this was the case, many expressions in the Night Thoughts” would seem to prove, did not a passage in “Night Eight” appear to shew that he had something in his eye for the groundwork at least of the painting. Lovelace or Lorenzo may be feigned characters; but a writer does not feign a name of which he only gives the initial letter:
Tell not Calista. She will laugh thee dead,
Or send thee to her hermitage with LThe Biographia, not satisfied with pointing out the son of Young, in that son's life-time, as his father's Lorenzo, travels out of its way into the history of the son, and tells of his having been forbidden his college at Oxford for misbehaviour. How such anecdotes, were they true, tend to illustrate the life of Young, it is not easy to discover. Was the son of the Author of the Night Thoughts,” indeed, forbidden his college for a time, at one of the universities? The author of “Paradise Lost,” is by some supposed to have been disgracefully ejected from the other. From juvenile follies who is free? But, whatever the Biographia chooses to relate, the son of Young experienced no dismission from his college either lasting or temporary
Yet, were nature to indulge him with a second youth, and to leave him at the same time the experience of that which is past, he would probably spend it differently, who would not?'— he would certainly be the occasion of less uneasiness to his father. But, from the same experience, he would as certainly, in the same case, be treated differently by his father.
Young was a poet: poets, with reverence be it spoken, do not make the best parents. Fancy and imagination seldom deign to stoop from their heights; always stoop unwillingly to the low level of common duties. Aloof from vulgar life, they pursue their rapid Aight beyond the ken of mortals, and descend not to earth but when compelled by necessity. The prose of ordinary occurrences is beneath the dignity of poets. Johnson's Lives. II.