The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V Part 31
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Wherever she professed friendship, it was sincere and cordial to the objects of it; and though she admired whatever was excellent in them, and gave it the commendations it deserved, yet she was not blind to their faults, especially if such as she apprehended to be inconsistent with the character of integrity and virtue. As she thought one of the noblest advantages of real friendship, was the rendering it serviceable mutually to correct, polish, and perfect the characters of those who professed it, and as she was not displeased to be kindly admonished herself for what her friends thought any little disadvantage to her character, so she took the same liberty with others; but used that liberty with such a remarkable propriety, tenderness, and politeness, as made those more sincerely esteem her, with whom she used the greatest freedom, and has lost her no intimacy but with one person, with whom, for particular reasons, she thought herself obliged to break off all correspondence.
Nor could one, who had so perfect a veneration and love for religion and virtue, fail to make her own advantage of the admonitions and reproofs she gave to others: and she often expressed a very great pleasure, that the care she had of those young persons, that were frequently committed to her friendship, put her upon her guard, as to her own temper and conduct, and on a review of her own actions, lest she should any way give them a wrong example, or omit any thing that was really for their good. And if she at any time reflected, that her behaviour to others had been wrong, she, with the greatest ease and frankness, asked the pardon of those she had offended; as not daring to leave to their wrong construction any action of hers, lest they should imagine that she indulged to those faults for which she took the liberty of reproving them. Agreeable to this happy disposition of mind, she gave, in an off-hand manner, the following advice to an intimate friend, who had several children, whom she deservedly honoured, and whom she could not esteem and love beyond his real merits.
To virtue strict, to merit kind, With temper calm, to trifles blind, Win them to mend the faults they see, And copy prudent rules from thee.
Point to examples in their sight, T'avoid, and scorn, and to delight.
Then love of excellence inspire, By hope their emulation fire, You'll gain in time your own desire.
She used frequently to complain of herself, as naturally eager, anxious, and peevish. But, by a constant cultivation of that benevolent disposition, that was never inwrought in any heart in a stronger and more prevailing manner than in hers, she, in a good measure, dispossest herself of those inward sources of uneasiness, and was pleased with the victory she had gained over herself, and continually striving to render it more absolute and complete.
Her religion was rational and prevalent. She had, in the former part of her life, great doubts about christianity, during which state of uncertainty, she was one of the most uneasy and unhappy persons living.
But her own good sense, her inviolable attachment to religion and virtue, her impartial inquiries, her converse with her believing friends, her study of the best writers in defence of christianity, and the observations she made on the temper and conduct, the fall and ruin of some that had discarded their principles, and the irregularities of others, who never attended to them, fully at last released her from all her doubts, and made her a firm and established christian. The immediate consequence of this was, the return of her peace, the possession of herself, the enjoyment of her friends, and an intire freedom from the terror of any thing that could befall her in the future part of her existence. Thus she lived a pleasure to all who knew her, and being, at length, resolved to disengage herself from the hurries of life, and wrap herself up in that retirement she was so fond of, after having gained what she thought a sufficient competency for one of her moderate desires, and in that station that was allotted her, and settled her affairs to her own mind, she finally quitted the world, and in a manner agreeable to her own wishes, without being suffered to lie long in weakness and pain, a burthen to herself, or those who attended her: dying after about two days illness, in the 58th year of her age, Sept.
She thought the disadvantages of her shape were such, as gave her no reasonable prospect of being happy in a married state, and therefore chose to continue single. She had, however, an honourable offer from a country gentleman of worth and large fortune, who, attracted merely by the goodness of her character, took a journey of an hundred miles to visit her at Bath, where he made his addresses to her. But she convinced him that such a match could neither be for his happiness, or her own.
She had, however, something extremely agreeable and pleasing in her face, and no one could enter into any intimacy of conversation with her, but he immediately lost every disgust towards her, that the first appearance of her person tended to excite in him.
She had the misfortune of a very valetudinary constitution, owing, in some measure, probably to the irregularity of her form. At last, after many years illness, she entered, by the late ingenious Dr. Cheney's advice, into the vegetable diet, and indeed the utmost extremes of it, living frequently on bread and water; in which she continued so long, as rendered her incapable of taking any more substantial food when she afterwards needed it; for want of which she was so weak as not to be able to support the attack of her last disorder, and which, I doubt not, hastened on her death. But it must be added, in justice to her character, that the ill state of her health was not the only or principal reason that brought her to, and kept her fixed in her resolution, of attempting, and persevering in this mortifying diet. The conquest of herself, and subjecting her own heart more intirely to the command of her reason and principles, was the object she had in especial view in this change of her manner of living; as being firmly persuaded, that the perpetual free use of animal food, and rich wines, tends so to excite and inflame the passions, as scarce to leave any hope or chance, for that conquest of them which she thought not only religion requires, but the care of our own happiness, renders necessary. And the effect of the trial, in her own case, was answerable to her wishes; and what she says of herself in her own humorous epitaph,
_That time and much thought had all passion extinguish'd_,
was well known to be true, by those who were most nearly acquainted with her. Those admirable lines on _Temperance_, in her Bath poem, she penned from a very feeling experience of what she found by her own regard to it, and can never be read too often, as the sense is equal to the goodness of the poetry.
Fatal effects of luxury and ease!
We drink our poison, and we eat disease, Indulge our senses at our reason's cost, Till sense is pain, and reason hurt, or lost.
Not so, O temperance bland! when rul'd by thee, The brute's obedient, and the man is free.
Soft are his slumbers, balmy is his rest, His veins not boiling from the midnight feast.
Touch'd by Aurora's rosy hand, he wakes Peaceful and calm, and with the world partakes The joyful dawnings of returning day, For which their grateful thanks the whole creation pay, All but the human brute. 'Tis he alone, Whose works of darkness fly the rising sun.
'Tis to thy rules, O temperance, that we owe All pleasures, which from health and strength can flow, Vigour of body, purity of mind, Unclouded reason, sentiments refin'd, Unmixt, untainted joys, without remorse, Th' intemperate sinner's never-failing curse.
She was observed, from her childhood, to have a fondness for poetry, often entertaining her companions, in a winter's evening, with riddles in verse, and was extremely fond, at that time of life, of Herbert's poems. And this disposition grew up with her, and made her apply, in her riper years, to the study of the best of our English poets; and before she attempted any thing considerable, sent many small copies of verses, on particular characters and occasions, to her peculiar friends. Her poem on the Bath had the full approbation of the publick; and what sets it above censure, had the commendation of Mr. Pope, and many others of the first rank, for good sense and politeness. And indeed there are many lines in it admirably penn'd, and that the finest genius need not to be ashamed of. It hath ran through several editions; and, when first published, procured her the personal acknowledgments of several of the brightest quality, and of many others, greatly distinguished as the best judges of poetical performances.
She was meditating a nobler work, a large poem on the Being and Attributes of God, which was her favourite subject; and, if one may judge by the imperfect pieces of it, which she left behind her in her papers, would have drawn the publick attention, had she liv'd to finish it.
She was peculiarly happy in her acquaintance, as she had good sense enough to discern that worth in others she justly thought was the foundation of all real friendship, and was so happy as to be honoured and loved as a friend, by those whom she would have wished to be connected with in that sacred character. She had the esteem of that most excellent lady, who was superior to all commendation, the late dutchess of Somerset, then countess of Hertford, who hath done her the honour of several visits, and allowed her to return them at the Mount of Marlborough. Mr. Pope favoured her with his at Bath, and complimented her for her poem on that place. Mrs. Rowe, of Froom, was one of her particular friends. 'Twould be endless to name all the persons of reputation and fortune whom she had the pleasure of being intimately acquainted with. She was a good woman, a kind relation, and a faithful friend. She had a real genius for poetry, was a most agreeable correspondent, had a large fund of good sense, was unblemished in her character, lived highly esteemed, and died greatly lamented,
The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V Part 31
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