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In 1674, the estate of his uncle James Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, came to him by its owner's death, and the title was conferred on him the year after. In 1677, he became, by the death of his father, Earl of Dorset, and inherited the estate of his family.
In 1684, having buried his first wife, of the family of Bagot, who left him no child, he married a daughter of the Earl of Northampton, celebrated both for beauty and understanding.
He received some favourable notice from King James; but soon found it necessary to oppose the violence of his innovations, and with some other lords appeared in Westminster-hall to countenance the bishops at their trial.
As enormities grew every day less supportable, he found it necessary to concur in the Revolution. He was one of those lords who sat every day in council to preserve the publick peace, after the King's departure; and, what is not the most illustrious action of his life, was employed to conduct the Princess Anne to Nottingham with a guard, such as might alarm the populace, as they passed, with false apprehensions of her danger. Whatever end may be designed, there is always something despicable in a trick.
He became, as may be easily supposed, a favourite of King William, who, the day after his accession, made him lord chamberlain of the household, and gave him afterwards the garter. He happened to be among those that were tossed with the King in an open boat sixteen hours, in very rough and cold weather, on the coast of Holland. His health after
VOL. vi. u
wards declined; and on January 19, 1705 6, he died at Bath.
He was a man whose elegance and judgment were universally confessed, and whose bounty to the learned and witty was generally known. To the indulgent affection of the publick, Lord Rochester bore ample testimony in this remark: "I know not how it is, but Lord Buckhurst may do what he will, yet is never in the wrong.
If such a man attempted poetry, we cannot wonder that his works were praised. Dryden, whom, if Prior tells truth, he distinguished by his beneficence, and who lavished his blandishments on those whoare not known to have so well deserved them, undertaking to produce authors of our own country superior to those of antiquity, says, "I would instance your Lordship in satire, and Shakspeare in tragedy." Would it be imagined that, of this rival to antiquity, all the satires were little personal invectives, and that his longest composition was a song of eleven stanzas?
The blame, however, of this exaggerated praise falls on the encomiast, not upon the author; whose performances are, what they pretend to be, the effusions of a man of wit; gay, vigorous, and airy. His verses to Howard shew great fertility of mind; and his Dorinda has been imitated by Pope.
George Stepney, descended from the Stepneys of Pendegrast in Pembrokeshire, was born at Westminster in 1663. Of his father's condition or fortune I have no account*. Having received the first part of his education at Westminster, where he passed six years in the College, he went at nineteen to Cambridgef, where he continued a friendship begun at school with Mr. Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax. They came to London together, and are said to have been invited into publick life by the Duke of Dorset. I
His qualifications recommended him to many foreign employments, so that his time seems to have been spent in negotiations. In 1692, he was sent envoy to the Elector of Brandenburgh; in 1693, to the Imperial Court; in 1694, to the Elector of Saxony; in 1696, to the Electors of Mentz and Cologne; and the Congress at Frankfort; in 1698, a second time to Brandenburgh; in 1699, to the King of Poland; in 1701, again to the Emperor; and in 1706, to the States General. In 1697, he was made one of the commissioners of trade. His life was busy, and not long. He died in 1707; and is buried in Westminster Abbey, with this epitaph, which Jacob transcribed:
* It has been conjectured that our poet was either son or grandson of Charles, third son of Sir John Stepney, the first Baronet of that family. See Granger's History, vol. II. p. 396. Edit. 8vo. 1775. Mr. Cole says, the poet's father was a grocer. Cole's MSS. in Brit. Mus. C
t He was entered of Trinity College, and took his Master's degree in 1689. H.
I Earl of Dorset.
H. S. E.
Georgius Stepneius, Armiger,
Ob Ingenii acumen, Literarum Scientiam, Morum Suavitatem,
Virorum Amplissimorum Consuetudincm,
Linguae, Styli, ac Vitae Elegantiam,
Praeclara Officia cum Britannia? turn Europae praestita,
Sua aetate multum celebratus,
Apud posteros semper celebrandus;
Plurimas Legationes obiit
Ea Fide, Diligentia, ac Felicitate, Ut Augustissimorum Principum
Gulielmi & Annae
Spem in illo repositam
Haud raro superaverit.
Post longum Honorum Cursum
Brevi Temporis Spatio confectum, Cum Naturae parum, Famae satis vixerat,
Animam ad altiora aspirantem placide efflavit.
On the Left hand, G.S.
Ex Equestri Familia Stepneiorum,
De Pendegrast, in Comitatu
Westmonasterii natus est, A.D. 1663,
Electus in Collegium Sancti Petri Westmonast. A. 1676. Sancti Trinitatis Cantab. 1682. Consiliariorum quibus Commercii
Cura commissa est 169T.
Chelseiae mortuus, &, comitante Magna Procerum Frequentia, hue elatus, 1707.
It is reported that the juvenile compositions of Stepney made grey authors blush. I know not whether his poems will appear such wonders to thepresent age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which theworld has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote; and the performances of youth have many favourers, because the authors yet lay no claim to publick honours, and are therefore not considered as rivals by the distributors of fame.
He apparently professed himself a poet, andadded his name to those of the other wits in the version of Juvenal; but he is a very licentious translator, and does not recompense his neglect of the author by beauties of his own. In his original poems, now and then, a happy line may perhaps be found, and now and then a short composition may give pleasure. But there is, in the whole, little either of the grace of wit, or the vigour of nature.