« AnteriorContinuar »
LIFE OF THOMAS PARNELL, D.D.
THOMAS PARNELL was descended from an ancient family, that had for some centuries been settled at Congleton, in Cheshire. His father, Thomas Parnell, who had been attached to the Commonwealth party, upon the Restoration went over to Ireland; thither he carried a large personal fortune, which he laid out in lands in that kingdom. The estates he purchased there, as also that of which he was possessed in Cheshire, descended to our poet, who was his eldest son, and they still remain in the family. Thus want, which has compelled many of our greatest men into the service of the Muses, had no influence upon Parnell; he was a poet by inclination.
He was born in Dublin, in the year 1679, and received the first rudiments of his education at the school of Dr._]ones, in that city. Surprising things are told of the greatness of his memory at that early period, as, of his being able to repeat forty lines of any book at the first reading; of his getting by heart the third book of the Iliad in one night’s time, which was given him as a task, in order to confine him for some days. These stories, which are told of almost every celebrated wit, may perhaps be true; but for my part, I never found any of those prodigies of parts, althoughl have known enow that were desirous, among the ignorant, of being thought so.
There is one presumption, however, of the early maturity of his understanding. He was admitted a member of the college of Dublin at the age of thirteen, which is much sooner than usual, as at that university they are a great deal stricter in their examination for entrance, than either at Oxford or Cambridge. His progress through the college course of study was probably marked with but little splendour; his imagination might have been
too warm to relish the cold logick of Burgersdicius, or the dreary subtleties of Smiglcsius; but it is certain, that as a classical scholar, few could equal him. His own compositions show this; and the deference which the most eminent men of his time paid him upon that head, put it beyond a doubt. He took the degree of Master of Arts the 9th of July, 17 00; and in the same year was ordained a deacon, by Doctor W. King, Bishop of Derry, having a dispensation from the Primate, as being under 23 years of age. He was admitted into priest’s orders about three years after, by the same prelate, then become Archbishop of Dublin, and on the 9th of February, 17 05 , he was collated by Doctor Saint George Ashe, Bishop of Clogher, to the Archdeaconry of Clogher. About that time also he married Miss Anne Minchin, a young lady of great merit and beauty, by whom he had two sons, who died young; and one daughter, who was alive so late as the year 17 7 0. His wife died some time before him, and her death is said to have made so great an impression on his spirits, that it served to hasten his own. On the 3 1st of May, 17 16, he was presented, by his friend and patron Archbishop King, to the Vicarage of Finglass, a benefice worth about 400 pounds a year, in the diocese of Dublin; but he lived to enjoy his preferment a very short time. He died at Chester, in July, 17 I7 , on his way to Ireland, and was buried in Trinity Church in that town, without any monument to mark the place of his interment. As he died without male issue, his estate devolved to his only nephew, Sirjohn Parnell, Baronet, whose father was younger brother to the Archdeacon, and one of the Justices of the King’s Bench in Ireland.
Such is the very unpoetical detail of the life of a poet. Some dates, and some few facts, scarce more interesting than those that make the ornaments of a country tombstone, are all that remain of one, whose labours now begin to excite universal curiosity. A poet, while living, is seldom an object sufficiently great to attract much attention; his real merits are known but
to a few, and these are generally sparing in their praises. When his fame is increased by time, it is then too late to investigate the peculiarities of his disposition; the dews of the morning are past, and we vainly try to continue the chase by the meridian splendour.
Parnell, by what I have been able to collect from some who knew him, was the most capable man in the world to contribute to the happiness of those he conversed with, and the least able to secure his OWn. He wanted that evenness of disposition which bears disappointment with phlegm, and joy with indifference. He was ever very much elated or depressed; and his whole life was spent in agony or rapture. But the turbulence of those passions only affected himself, and never those about him: he knew the absurdity of his own character, and very effectually raised the mirth of his companions, as well at his vexations, as at his triumphs.
How much his company was desired, appears from the extensiveness of his connections, and the number of his friends. Even before he made any figure in the literary world, his friendship was sought by persons of every rank and party. The wits at that time differed a good deal from those, who are most eminent for their understanding at present. It would now be thought a very indifferent sign of a writer’s good sense, to disclaim his pri'vate friends, for happening to be of a different party in politicks; but it was then otherwise; the Whig wits held the Tory wits in great contempt, and these retaliated in their turn. At the head of one party were Addison. Steele, and Congreve; at that of the other, Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot. Parnell was a friend to both sides; and with a liberality becoming a scholar, scorned all those trifling distinctions, that are noisy for the time, and ridiculous to posterity. But he did not emancipate himself from these without some opposition from home. Having been the son of a Commonwealth’s man, his Tory connections in England, gave his friends in
Ireland great offence; they were much enraged to see him keep company with Pope, and Swift, and Gay; they blamed his undistinguishing taste, and wondered what pleasure he could find in the conversation of men who approved the treaty of Utrecht, and disliked the Duke of Marlborough. His conversation is said to have been extremely pleasing; but in what its peculiar excellence consisted, is now unknown. The letters, which were written to him by his friends, are full of compliments upon his talents, as a companion, and his good nature, as a man. Indeed he took care that his friends should see him to the best advantage; for when he found his fits of spleen and uneasiness, which sometimes lasted for weeks together, approaching, he returned with all expedition to the remote parts of Ireland, and there made out a gloomy kind of satisfaction, in giving hideous descriptions of the solitude to which he retired. It is said of a famous painter, that being confined in prison for debt, his whole delight consisted in drawing the faces of his creditors in caricatura. It was just so with Parnell. From many of his unpublished pieces which I have seen, and from others that have appeared, it would. seem, that scarce a hog in his neighbourhood was left without reproach, and scarce a mountain reared ils head unsung.
But though this method of quarrelling in his poems, with his situation, served to relieve himself, yet it was not easily endured by the gentlemen of the neighbourhood, who did not care to confess themselves his fellow-sufferers. He received many mortifications upon that account among them; for being naturally fond of company, he could not endure to be without even theirs; (which, however, among his English friends, he pretended to despise. In fact his conduct in this particular was rather splendid than wise; he had either lost the art to engage, or did not employ his skill in securing those more permanent, though more humble connections, and sacrificed for a month or two in England, a whole year's happiness by his
country fireside at home.