« AnteriorContinuar »
HOMAS SPRAT was born in 1636, at Tallaton in Devonshire, ile
son of a clergy man; and having been educated, as he tells of himself, not at Westminster or Eaton, but at a little school by the churchyard sides became a commoner of Wadham College in Oxford in 1651; and, being chosen scholar next year, proceeded through the usual academical course and in 1657 became master of arts. He obtained a fellowship, and commenced poet.
In 1659, his poem on the death of Oliver was published, with those of Dryden and Waller. In his dédication to Dr. Wilkins he appears a very: willing and liberial encomiast, both of the living and the dead. He implores his patron's excuse of his verses, both as falling“, so infinitely below the “ full and sublime genius of that execllent poet who made this way of writé « ing free of our nation,” and being " so little equal and proportioned to the “ renown of a prince on whom they were written; such great actions and “ lives deserving to be the subject of the noblest pens and most divine phansies." He proceeds:“ Having solcong experienced your care and indulgence, and been
formed, as it were, by your own hands, not to entitle you to any thing which
my meanness produces, would be not only injustice, but sacrilege." · He published the same year a poem on the Plague of Athens ; a subject of which it is not easy to say what could recommend it. To these he added afterwards a poem on Mr Cowley's death.
After the Restoration he took orders, and by Cowley's recommendation was made chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham, whom he is said to bave helped in writing the Rehearsal. He was likewise chaplain to the King.
As he was the favourite of Wilkins, at whose house began those philosophical conferences and enquiries, which in time produced the Royal Society, he was consequently engaged in the same studies, and became one of the fellows; and when, after their incorporation, something seemed necessary to reconcile the publick to the new institution, he undertook to write its history, which he published in 1667. This is one of the few books which selection of sentiment and clegance of diction have been able to preserve, though
written upon a subject fiux and transitory. The History of the Royal Society is now read, not with the wish to know what they were then doing, but how their Transactions are exhibited by Sprat.
In the next year he published Observations on Sorbiere's Voyage into Englund, in e Letter to Mr. Wren. This is a work not ill performed: but perhaps rewarded with at least its full proportion of praisc.
In 1668 he published Cowley's Latin poems, and prefixed in Latio the. Life of the Author; which he afterwards amplified, and placed before Cowley's English works, which were by will committed to his care.
Ecclesiastical benefices now fell fast upon him. In 1068 he became a prebendary of Westminster, and had afterwards the church of St. Margaret, adjoining to the Abbey. He was in 1630 inade canon of Windsor, in 1683 Jean of Westminster, and in 1684 bishop of Rochester.
The Court having thus a claim to his diligence and gratitude, he was required to write the History of the Ryehouse Plot; and in 1635 published A irue Account and Declaration of the horrid conspiracy against the late King, his present Majesty, and the present Government ; a performance which he thought. convenient, after the Revolution, to extenuate and excuse.
The same year, being clerk of the closet to the king, he was made dean of the chapel-royal ; and the year afterwards received the last proof of his master's confidence, by being appointed one of the commissioners for ecclesiastical affairs. On the critical day, when the Declaration distinguished the true sons of the church of England, he stood neuter, and permitted it to be read at Westminster ; but pressed none to violate his conscience; and, when the bishop of London was brought before them, gave his voice in his favour,
Thus far he suffered interest or obedience to carry him ; but further he refused to go. When he found that the powers of the ecclesiastical commission were to be exercised against those who had refused the Declaration, he wrote to the lords, and other commissioners, a formal profession of his unwillingness to exercise that authority any longer, and withdrew himself from them. After they had read his letter, they adjourned for six months, and scarcely ever met afterwards.
When king James was frighted away, and a new government was to be settled, Sprat was one of those who considered, in a conference, the great question, whether the crown was vacant ; and manfully spoke in favour of his old master.
He complied, however, with the new ,establishment, and was left uomolested; but in 1692 a strange attack was made upon him by one Robert Young and Stephen Blackhead, both men convicted of infamous crimes, and both, when the scheme was laid, prisoners in Newgate. These men drew up an Association, in which they irhose names were subscribed declared their reso-. Vol. I.
lution to restore king James; to seize the princess of Osange, dead or alive, and to be ready with thirty thousand men to meet king James when he should land. To this they put the names of Sancroft, Sprat, Marlborough, Salisbury, and others. The copy of Dr. Sprat's name was obtained by a ficticious request,
to which an answer in his own hand was desired. His hand was copied so well, that he confessed it inight have deceived himself. Blackberry who had carried the letter, being sent again with a plausible message, was very curious to see the house, and particularly importunate to be let into the study; where, as is supposed, he designed to leave the Association This however was denied him, and he dropt it in a flower-pot in the parlour.
Young now laid an information before the Privy Council; and May 7, 1692, the bishop was arrested, and kept at a messenger's under a'strict guard eleven days. His house was searched, and directions were given that the flower pots should be inspected. The messengers however missed the room in which the paper was left. Blackhead went therefore a third time; and finding his paper where he had left it, brought it away..
The bishop, having been enlarged, was, on June the 10th and 13th, examined again before the Privy Council, and confronted with his accusers. Young persisted, with the most obdurate impudence, against the strongest eridence ; but the resolution of Black head by degrees gave way. There remained at last no doubt of the bishop's innocence, who, with great prudence and diligence, traced the progress, and detected the characters of the two informers, and published an account of his own examination, and deliverance ; which made such an impression upon him, that he commemorated it through life by an yearly day of thanksgiving.
With what hope, or what interest, the villains had contrived an accusation which they must know themselves utterly unable to prove, was never discovered.
After this, he passed his days in the quiet exercise of his function. When the cause of Sacheverell put the public in commotion, be honestly appear. ed among the friends of the church. He lived to his seventy-ninth year, and died May 20, 1713.
Purnet is not very favourable to his memory; but he and Burnet were old rivals. On some public occasion they both preached before the house of commons. There
There prevailed in those days an indecent custom ; when the preacher touched any favourite topick in a manner that delighted his audience, their approbation was expressed by a loud hum, continued in proportion to their zeal or pleasure. When Burnet preached, part of his congregation hummed so londly, and so long, that he sat down to enjoy it, and rubbed his face with his handkerchief. When Sprat preached, he likewise was honoured with the like animating hum; but be stretched out his hand to the congregation, and cried, “ Peace, peace, I pray you, peace.”
This I was told in my youth by my father, an old man who had been no careless observer of the passages of those times.
Burnet's sermon, says Salmon, was remarkable for sedition, and Sprat's for loyalty. Burnet had the thanks of the house ; Sprat had no thanks; but a good living from the king ; which, he said, was of as much value as the thanks of the Commons.
The works of Sprat, besides his few poems, are, The History of the Royal Society, The Life of Cowley, The Answer to Sorbiere, The History of the Rye-house Plot, The Relation of his own Examination, and a volume of sermons. I have heard it observed, with great justness, that every books is of a different kind, and that each has its distinct and characteristical excellence.
My business is only with his poems. He considered Cowley as a model; and supposed that as he was imitated, perfection was approached. Nothing therefore but Pindarick liberty was to be expected. There is in his few préductions no want of such conceits as he thought excellent ; and of those our judgement may be settled by the first that appears in his praise of Crom-well, where he says that Cromwell's " fame, like man, will grow white as it
*HE life of the Earl of Halifax was properly that of an artful and active
statesman, employed-in balancing parties, contriving expedients, and combating opposition, and exposed to the vicissitudes of advancement and degradation; but in this collection, poetical merit is the claim to attention ; and the account which is here to be expected may properly be proportioned not to his influence in the state, but to his rank among the writers of vesse.
Charles Montague was born April 16, 1661, at Horton in Northamptonshire, the son of Mr. George Montague, a younger son of the earl of Manchester.' He was educated first in the country, and then removed to Westminster ; where in 1677 he was chosen a kirg's scholar, and recommended himself to Busby by his felicity in extemporary epigrams. He contracted a very intimate friendship with Mr. Stepney; and in 1682, when Stepney was elected at Cambridge, the election of Montague being not to proceed till the year following, he was afraid lest by being placed at Oxford he might be separated from his companion, and therefore solicited to be removed to Cambridge, without waiting for the advantages of another year.
It seems indeed time to wish for a removal ; for he was already a school. boy of one and twenty.
His relation Dr. Montague was then master of the college in which he was placed a fellow commoner, and took him under his particular care. Here he commenced an acquaintance with the great Newton, which continued through his life, and was at last attested by a legacy.
In 1685, his verses on the death of king Charles made such impression or the earl of Dorset, that he was invited to town, and introduced by that universal patron to the other wits. In 1687, he joined with Prior in the City Mouse and Country Mouse, a burle qce of Dryden's Hind and Panther. He signed the invitation to the Prince of Orange, and sat in the convention. He about the same time married the countess dowager of Manchester, and intended to have taken orders; but afterwards altering his purpose, he purchased for 15001. the place of one of the clerks of the council.