Imágenes de página

Roscius, and invited him to Leicester House, which laid the foundation of a connection that I fear England will ever repent. After the death of this excellent prince, at the settling of the household at Saville House, his lordship became a great offi. cer and a great favourite; his talents, however unfit for public employ, very deservedly made him amiable to his young master in a private capacity; his morals were unexceptionable, and he was disposed to arts and artists, though he has ever been directed by national attachments, caprice, or private friendship, and not by a disinterested zeal for real merit. If any doubt these assertions, I appeal to those miserable pictures which disgrace Guildhall. If they boast his judgment in sculpture, I appeal to the new invented figure at the Exchange. If they say, he knows more of poetry than a Hottentot does of cookery, I appeal to those unfortunate people who yawned at the execrable Scotch performance, called Agis, King of Sparta. But if it should be said, that his private regard for Ramsay, Wilton, and Home made him promote them at the expense of his own reputation for taste, I then applaud his good nature, but cannot acquiesce in his public pretensions of being a Mæcenas.

“ He was in every respect adapted to the small circle of a coal fire; here his virtues were known, and his sincere attachments made him amiable; but when viewed in the enlarged light of a minister or Mæcenas, were truly ridiculous and contemptible, and the means of bringing those works of genius into disgrace, which he made a parade of promoting. This was the man who became so great a dupe to his pride, vanity, and ambition, and to the selfishness of his dependents, that after the expulsion of the ablest and most approved ministry this nation ever had, during which there was the greatest union and harmony ever known, between the people and government, he weakly and arrogantly assumed absolute rule in their stead; and on the 29th of May, 1762, became the prime minister.

“Very many were the reasons for the people's being Mortimer, sarcastically mentions another part in which his lordship would have been equally at home ;'as Hamlet's uncle, pouring the fatal poison into the ear of a good unsus pecting king

alarmed, particularly because he was in that situation which in public and private life has ever been detestable, for he was a favourite. His abilities were doubted. His country, so famed for attachment merely to themselves, made him odious. The people he brought into power with him were in general truly contemptible; and that most important office, the national accountantship, was prostituted on a man to whom a sum of five figures was an impenetrable secret.”

(W. WHITEHEAD, 1. 256.) The office of Court Laureate is of no great antiquity in this country, commencing by a singular but not inappropriate coincidence about the same period when that of Court Fool was discontinued, the first patent of Ben Jonson bearing date about the time when King James the First's fool Archie died.

Warton, however, in his History of English Poetry, endeavours to give an earlier date to the appointment, alleging that so early as the reign of Henry III., there was a Versificator Regis, to whom an annual stipend of one hundred shillings was paid. The first mention of a Poet Laureate as such occurs in the reign of Edward IV., and with that, therefore, we shall begin our chronological series of this poetical dynasty.

Edward IV. John Kay. Selden, Tit. Hon. P. 2, c. i.
Henry VII. Andrew Bernard. Rymer, tom. xii. 177.

Also Sir Bryan Tuke or Tooke's Accounts in the Re

membrancer's Office. This Laureate was blind.
Henry VIII. John Skelton. Died 21 June, 1529.
Eliz. EDMUND SPENSER. Died 1591.
Jac. I. Samuel Daniel. Died 1619, aged fifty-seven.

1631. BEN JONSON. Died 1637, aged 63. Appointed by patent of this date, conferring an annual salary of £100, with an additional grant of a tierce of

Canary wine, from the king's stores. Car. II. Sir W. Davenant. Died 1668. Car. II. and Jac. II. John DRYDEN. Displaced at the

Revolution, owing to his having turned Papist, and was

succeeded by his old enemy. Wm. III. Thomas Shadwell; who in consequence was sa. tirized by Dryden in his Mac Flecnoe, the name of an earlier very indifferent poet.

Anne. Nahum Tate, who died in 1716 in the Mint,

where he had taken shelter from his creditors. 'The

first Birth-day Ode was written by him in 1694. Geo. I. Nicholas Rowe, in whose favour Tate was superseded. Rowe died in 1718, aged forty-five.

The Rev. Lawrence Eusden, who enjoyed the office until his death in 1730, and with whom, in 1718, began the regular series of Birth-day and New-Year Odes, which were uninterruptedly continued until the death of Pye in 1813. Savage was greatly disappointed at not succeeding Eusden, and thenceforth styled himself

Volunteer Laureate. Geo. II. Colley Cibber. Died in 1757, aged 87. Geo. III. William Whitehead, on the peremptory refusal of Gray. He died in 1785.

Rev. Thomas Warton, on the refusal of Mason. He died in 1790.

H. J. Pye, who died in 1813. Geo. III. and IV. and Wm. IV. Robert Southey, LL. D.

on whose appointment the tierce of Canary was commuted for £27 per annum, and the annual ode for his Vision of Judgment, or Carmen Triumphale, and Apo

theosis of George the Third. He died in 1843. Victoria. William Wordsworth.

Gibbon, in a note on his eloquent record of the coronation of Petrarch in the Capitol on the 13th of April, 1341, well observes, “ That from Augustus to Louis, the Muse has too often been false and venal; but I much doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who in every reign and at all events is bound to fur. nish, twice a year, a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence of the sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince (George III.) is a man of virtue, and the poet (Warton) a man of genius."

“For once I hoped to see the title sink,
While piety and virtue graced the throne,
And genius in lamented Warton shone."




two years

The preceding satires, however severe, were either of suck general or national application as not to involve those per sonal feelings and their painful consequences which gave a deep interest to this Epistle, by the melancholy effect it took on the health of the mortified victim, who never recovered the blow, although he made more than one convulsive but impotent effort to retort it, and died of a broken heart within

its infliction. Hogarth, with many wiser and better men, had not counted the cost of going to battle with the bold, bad men then engaged, for their own selfish and profligate purposes, in advocating a cause too good to be ultimately damaged by their advocacy, but at the same time rendering them equally dan gerous to their allies as to their opponents.

Wilkes, originally deserving all condemnation for the obscene work, which first incurred the animadversion of Government, ingeniously availed himself of the irregular but not unprecedented course pursued by a weak and equally profiigate administration on the occasion, to raise a great constitutional question, in which he was vindicated on public grounds alone by the Lords Chatham and Temple, and ultimately established the legality of his resistance to a general warrant of apprehension by the able and upright decision of Lord Camden, in opposition to every counteracting effort on the part of Lord Mansfield. The liberty of the press and of the · people thus obtained confirmation and increased security.

The remaining period of Wilkes's career is well known; very astutely availing himself of a remnant of his early popularity, he, after some unsuccessful contests for the lucrative office of Chamberlain of the city of London, obtained it in 1790, and subsided into privacy, if not obscurity, until his death in 1797, at the advanced age of seventy.

Wilkes was a scholar and a gentleman, and too sagacious to be the dupe of his own professed political opinions; and when reproached with the absurdities of his adherents, he very frankly admitted that, although he was Mr. Wilkes, it did not follow that he was a Wilkite. In later life he called himself an extinguished volcano, or, as some of his Irish friends translated it, an exhausted crater. He lived with Miss Wilkes, his only legitimate child, in very elegant style, alternating between his town house and Sandham Cottage, his pleasing villa in the Isle of Wight. One illegitimate daughter, Harriet, survived him; she married Mr. Serjeant Rough, and accompanied him to Demarara, and died there. The Serjeant published a very meagre memoir of Wilkes prefixed to a selection of his letters to Miss Wilkes from 1774 to 1797, consisting chiefly of domestic matters, and some more objectionable observations never intended for publication, and wholly unfit for it.

In the very able Biographical Essay on the Genius and Works of Hogarth, written expressly for the large edition of the genuine works of Hogarth, the following notice is taken of this unnatural schism between poetry and painting:

“ This year was marked by an event that contributed, in no small degree, to embitter the declining days of Hogarth, and perhaps to abridge them. In evil hour he turned aside from subjects of universal and permanent interest to become a political caricaturist, and to embroil himself in all the asperities of party contention, attacking his former friends, Wilkes and Churchill. The plate of the Times' was published in September 1762, and immediately produced a very severe paper upon the artist, written by Wilkes, in No. XVII. of the North Briton. Hogarth retorted by publishing a caricature portrait of the writer. This, however, so far from terminating the contest, served only to call an ally into the field. Churchill, eager to chastise the painter for this personal attack upon his friend, produced his “ Epistle to William Hogarth. But although this keen invective is said to have been felt by him less than the North Briton was, he was not at all disposed to let it pass with impunity; therefore, as he had before exhibited Wilkes, by merely heightening the natural obliquity of his countenance, he now exposed the

« AnteriorContinuar »