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not wait till hurry should be at an end, but impatiently resigned it, and returned to his wonted in. digence 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 of 1712, 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 orthodox, 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.*
* Dr. Johnson appears to have made but little use of the Life of Dr. King, prefixed to his “Works, in 3 vols." 1776, to which it may not be impertinent to refer the reader. His talent for humour ought to be praised in the highest terms. In that at least he yielded to none of his contemporaries.
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 Wad. ham College, in Oxford, in 1651; and, being chosen scholar next year, proceeded through the usual academical course; and, in 1657, became master of arts. He obtained a fellowship, and commenced poet.
In 1659, 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 like wise 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 per. haps rewarded with at least its full proportion of praise.
In 1666, 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, published “A true Account and Declaration of the horrid Con
spiracy 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 bis 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 bad refused the Declaration, he wrote to the lords, and other commissioners, a formal profession of his unwillingness to exercise that authority any longer, and withdrew himself from them. After they had read his letter, they adjourned for six months, and scarcely ever met afterwards.
When King James was frighted away, and a new government was to be settled, Sprat was one of those who considered, in a conference, the great question, whether the crown was vacant, and made fully spoke in favour of his old master.
He complied, however, with the new establishment, and was left unmolested; but, in 1692, a strange attack was made upon him by one Robert Young and Stephen Black bead, both men convicted of infamous crimes, and both, when the scheme was laid, prisoners in Newgate. These men drew up an association, in which they whose names were subscribed declared their resolution to restore King James, to seize the Princess of Orange, dead or alive, and to be ready, with thirty thousand men,
to meet King James when he should land. To this they put the names of Sancroft, Sprat, Marlborough, Salisbury, and others. The copy of Dr. Sprať's name was obtained by a fictitious request, to which an answer in his own hand was desired. His hand was copied so well, that he confessed it might have deceived himself. Blackhead, who had carried the letter, being sent again with a plausible message, was very curious to see the house, and particularly importunate to be let into the study; where, as is supposed, he designed to leave the association. This, however, was denied him; and he dropped it in a flower-pot in the parlour.
Young now laid an information before the privy. council ; and, May 7, 1692, the Bishop was arrested, and kept at a messenger's under a strict guard eleven days. His house was searched, and directions were given that the flower-pots should be in. spected. The messengers, however, missed the room in which the paper was left. Blackhead went therefore a third time; and, finding his paper where he had left it, brought it away.
The Bishop, having been enlarged, was, on June the 10th and 13th, examined again before the privy. council, and confronted with his accusers. Young persisted, with the most obdurate impudence, against the strongest evidence; but the resolution of Blackhead by degrees gave way. There remained at last no doubt of the Bishop's innocence, who, with great prudence and diligence, traced the progress and detected the characters of the two in. formers, and published an account of his own exa. mination and deliverance; which' made such an impression upon him, that he commemorated it through life by a yearly day of thanksgiving.
With what hope, or what interest, the villains had contrived an accusation which they must know themselves utterly unable to prove, was never discovered.
After this, he passed his days in the quiet exer.