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12. To the Naval Officers of Great Britain
13. While scattering from her seraph wings...
14. To the Hon. William Pitt..
To a young Nobleman leaving the University......
Addressed to Miss Pelham, on the Death of her Father
LIFE OF WILLIAM MASON, M. A.
BY S. W. SINGER, Esq.
THERE are but few materials for the life of this poet, no regular biographical account having been furnished by those on whom the publication of his works devolved: we are, therefore, left to glean such scattered notices as periodical publications, his own works, or the correspondence of his friends may supply.
WILLIAM MASON, whose father was vicar of St. Trinity at Kingston-upon-Hull, in Yorkshire, was born in the year 1725. He seems to have been fortunate in the affectionate skill with which that parent fostered his early propensity to the arts of poetry, painting, and music, and he describes him, in a grateful Epistolary Address written while at College, as
who always loved to blend
Advice with smiles, the father with the friend.
In 1742-3 he went to the University, and was entered of St. John's College, Cambridge, where he soon distinguished himself by his poetical talent, and published in 1747 his Musæus, a Monody on the Death of Mr. Pope,' which was received with great applause, and passed through several editions in a very short space of time. He took his Bachelor's
degree in 1745, and through the interest of his friend Gray was nominated to a vacant fellowship in Pembroke Hall; but owing to a dispute between the master and fellows he was not elected until 1749. His own account of the affair is given in a letter to Mr. Bryant: 'As to myself, I have had the honour since I came here last to be elected by the Fellows of Pembroke into their Society; but the Master, who has the power of a negative, has made use of it on this occasion, because he will not have an extraneus, when they have fit persons in their own college. The Fellows say, they have a power from their statutes indifferenter eligere, ex utraque Academia, and are going to try it at common law, or to get the king to appoint a visitor; if this turns out well, it will be a lucky thing for me, and much better than a Plat, which I came hither with an intention to sit for, for they are reckoned the best fellowships in the university.'
At this time Gray describes him as a young man ' of much fancy, little judgment, and a good deal of modesty—a good and well meaning creature, but in simplicity a child; he reads little or nothing, writes abundance, and that with a design to make a fortune by it a little vain, but in so harmless and comical a way, that it does not offend: a little ambitious, but withal so ignorant of the world and its ways, that this does not hurt him in one's opinion; so sincere and undisguised, that no mind with a spark of generosity would ever think of hurting him, he lies so open to injury; but so indolent, that if he cannot overcome the habit, all his good qualities will signify nothing at all.' The affectionate esteem with which Gray regarded him ripened into a most perfect and lasting friendship, which only terminated with the life of that amiable scholar, and the correspondence between them shows that it was established upon the firm basis of unfeigned admiration of his virtues and talents.
Mason appears to have been educated a Whig, and some recent occurrences in the University of Oxford having given rise to a supposition that Jacobite principles prevailed there, he wrote and published his poem of Isis' in 1748, which was answered in 'The Triumph of Isis,' published by Thomas Warton in the succeeding year. These poems had each considerable popularity, and one or the other was preferred as the reader felt a bias to Cambridge or Oxford, to Whig or Tory; but Warton's is undoubtedly the best of the two. Of this Mason appears to have been sensible, and writing to his rival, thanking him for the present of a volume of his poems, near thirty years after, he says, ' I am however sorry to find that The Triumph of Isis' has not found a place near the delicate Complaint of Cherwel,' to which it was a proper companion; and I fear that a punctilio of politeness to me was the occasion of the exclusion. Had I known of your intention of making this collection, most certainly I should have pleaded for the insertion of that poem, which I assure you I think greatly excels the Elegy which occasioned it, both in poetical imagery and the correct flow of its versification. And if I put any value on my own juvenile production, it is because it is written on those old Whig principles, which I am as proud of holding now they are out of fashion, and I am turned of fifty, as I was when they were in fashion, and I was hardly turned of twenty.'
Dr. Mant, in his Life of Thomas Warton, has related the following anecdote, which may serve to show the harmless and comical vanity' which Gray alludes to in characterizing Mason. Several years
after he had written his Elegy, he was coming into Oxford on horseback: and as he passed over Magdalen Bridge (it was then evening) he turned to his friend and expressed his satisfaction that, as it was getting dusk, they should enter the place unnoticed.