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The strongest effort of his muse is his poem upon Nothing. He is not the first who has chosen this barren topick for the boast of his fertility. There is a poem called Nihil in Latin by Passerat, a poet and critick of the sixteenth century in France, who, in his own epitaph, expresses his zeal for good poetry thus:
-Molliter ossa quiescent, Sint modo carminibus non onerata malis. His works are not common, and therefore I shall subjoin his verses.
In examining this performance, nothing must be considered as having not only a negative but a kind of positive signification; as, I need not fear thieves; I have nothing ; and nothing is a very powerful protector. In the first part of the sentence it is taken negatively; in the second it is taken positively, as an agent. In one of Boileau's lines it was a question, whether he should use a rien faire, or a ne rien faire ; and the first was preferred because it gave rien a sense in some sort positive. Nothing can be a subject only in its positive sense, and such a sense is given it in the first line.
Nothing, thou elder brother ev'n to shade. In this line, I know not whether he does not allude to a curious book De Umbra, by Wowerus, which, having told the qualities of shade, concludes with a poem in which are these lines :
Jam primum terram validis circumspice claustris
Omnibus UMBRA prior. The positive sense is generally preserved with great skill through the whole poem ; though sometimes, in
a subordinate sense, the negative nothing is injudiciously mingled. Passerat confounds the two senses.
Another of his most vigorous pieces is his lampoon on sir Car Scrope, who, in a poem called “ The Praise of Satire,” had some lines like these :*
He who can push into a midnight flay
This was meant of Rochester, whose buffoon conceit was, I suppose, a saying often mentioned, that every man would be a coward if he durst ; and drew from him those furious verses; to which Scrope made in reply an epigram, ending with these lines:
Thou cans't hurt no man's fame with thy ill word;
Thy pen is full as harmless as thy sword. Of the satire against man, Rochester can only claim what remains when all Boileau's part is taken away.
In all his works there is sprightliness and vigour, and every where may be found tokens of a mind which study might have carried to excellence. What more can be expected from a life spent in ostentatious contempt of regularity, and ended before the abilities of many other men began to be displayed ?t * I quote from memory. Dr. J.
The late George Steevens, esq, made the selection of Rochester's poems
which appears in Dr. Johnson's edition; but Mr. Malone observes that the same task had been performed in the early part of the last century by Jacob Tonson. C.
Poems Cl. V. JOANNIS PASSERATII,
Regii in Academia Parisiensi Professoris,
Ad ornatissimum virum ERRICUM MEMMTUN.
Janus adest, festæ poscunt sua dona Kalendæ,
Ecce auten partes dum sese versat in omnes
E cælo quacunque Ceres sua prospicit arva, Aut genitor liquidis orbem complectitur ulnis Oceanus, NIHIL interitus et originis expers. Immortale NIHIL, NIHIL omni parte beatum. Quod si hinc majestas & vis divina probatur, Nim quid honore deûm, num quid dignabimur aris? Conspectu lucis NIHIL est jucundius almæ, Vere NIHIL, NIHIL irrigio formosius horto, Floridius pratis, Zephyri clementius aura ; In bello sanctum NIHIL est, Martisque tumultu : Justum in pace NIHIL, NIHIL est in fcedere tutum. Felix cui NIHIL est, (fuerant hieu vota Tibullo) Non timet insidias : fures, incendia temnit : Solieitas sequitur nullo sub julice lites. Ille ipse invictis qui subjicit omnia fatis Zenonis sapiens, NIHIL admiratar & optat. Socraticique gregis fuit ista scientia quondain, Soire nihil studio cui nunc incumbitur uni. Nec quicquam in ludo mavult didicisse juventus, Ad magnas duta ducet opes, & culmen honorum. Nosce NIHIL, nosces fertur quod Pythagorede Grano hærere fabæ cui vox adjuncta negautis. Multi Mercurio freti duce viscera terre Pura liquefaciunt sinul, & patrinonia miscent,
Arcano instantes operi & carbonibus atris,
WENTWORTH DILLON, earl of Roscommon, was the son of James Dillon and Elizabeth Wentworth, sister to the earl of Strafford. He was born in Ireland* during the lieutenancy of Strafford, who, being both his uncle and his godfather, gave him his own sirname. His father, the third earl of Roscommon, had been converted by Usher to the protestant religion ; and when the popish rebellion broke out, Strafford thinking the family in great danger from the fury of the Irish, sent for his godson, and placed him at his own seat in Yorkshire, where he was instructed in Latin: which he learned so as to write it with purity and elegance, though he was never able to retain the rules of grammar.
Such is the account given by Mr. Fenton, from whose notes on Waller most of this account must be borrowed, though I know not whether all that he relates is certain. The instructor whom he assigns to Roscommon, is one Dr. Hall, by whom he cannot mean the famous Hall, then an old man and a bishop.
When the storm broke out upon Strafford, his house was a shelter no longer; and Dillon, by the advice of Usher, was sent to Caen, where the protes
* The Biog. Britan. says, probably about the year 1632; but this is inconsistent with the date of Strafford's viceroyalty in the following page. C.