The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume IV Part 18

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Mr. Dennis, considered as a dramatic writer, makes not so good a figure as in his critical works; he understood the rules of writing, but it is not in the power of every one to carry their own theory into execution. There is one error which he endeavoured to reform, very material for the interest of dramatic poetry. He saw, with concern, that love had got the entire possession of the tragic stage, contrary to the authority of the ancients, and the example of Shakespear. He resolved therefore to deviate a little from the reigning practice, and not to make his heroes such whining slaves in their amours, which not only debases the majesty of tragedy, but confounds most of the princ.i.p.al characters, by making that pa.s.sion the predominant quality in all. But he did not think it safe at once to shew his princ.i.p.al characters wholly exempt from it, lest so great and sudden a transition should prove disagreeable. He rather chose to steer a middle course, and make love appear violent, but yet to be subdued by reason, and give way to the influence of some other more n.o.ble pa.s.sion; as in Rinaldo, to Glory; in Iphigenia, to Friends.h.i.+p; and in Liberty a.s.serted, to the Public Good. He thought by these means an audience might be entertained, and prepared for greater alterations, whereby the dignity of tragedy might be supported, and its princ.i.p.al characters justly distinguished.

Besides the works which we have already mentioned, Mr. Dennis is author of the following pieces, mostly in the Pindaric way.

Upon our Victory at Sea, and burning the French Fleet at La Hogne in 1692.

Part of the Te Deum Paraphrased, in Pindaric Verse.

To Mr. Dryden, upon his Translation of the Third Book of Virgil's Georgics. Pindaric Ode.

A Pindaric Ode on the King, written in the beginning of August 1691; occasioned by the Victory at Aghrim.

To a Painter drawing a Lady's Picture, an Epigram.

Prayer for the King's Safety in the Summer's Expedition in 1692, an Epigram.

The Court of Death, a Pindaric Poem; dedicated to the Memory of her Most Sacred Majesty Queen Mary.

The Pa.s.sion of Byblis, made English from the Ninth Book of Ovid's Metamorphosis.

The Monument, a Poem; sacred to the Memory of the best, and greatest of Kings, William III.

Britannia Triumphans, or A Poem on the Battle of Blenheim; dedicated to Queen Anne.

On the Accession of King George to the Imperial Crown of Great Britain.

The following specimen, which is part of a Paraphrase on the Te Deum, serves to shew, that Mr. Dennis wrote with more elegance in Pindaric odes, than in blank verse.

Now let us sing a loftier strain, Now let us earth and earthly things disdain, Now let our souls to Heaven repair, Direct their most aspiring flight, To fields of uncreated light, And dare to draw empyreal air.

'Tis done, O place divinely bright!

O Sons of G.o.d divinely fair!

O sight! unutterable sight!

O unconceivable delight!

O joy which only G.o.ds can bear!

Heark how their blissful notes they raise, And sing the Great Creator's praise!

How in extatic song they cry, Lo we the glorious sons of light, So great, so beautiful, so bright, Lo we the brightest of created things, Who are all flame, all force, all spirit, and all eye, Are yet but vile, and nothing in thy sight!

Before thy feet O mighty King of kings, O Maker of this bounteous all!

Thus lowly reverent we fall.

After a life exposed to vicissitudes, habituated to many disappointments, and embroiled in unsuccessful quarrels, Mr. Dennis died on the 6th of January 1733, in the 77th year of his age. We have observed that he outlived the reversion of his place, after which he fell into great distress, and as he had all his life been making enemies, by the ungovernable fury of his temper, he found few persons disposed to relieve him. When he was near the close of his days, a play was acted for his benefit. This favour was procured him by the joint interest of Mr. Thomson, Mr. Martin, Mr. Mallet, and Mr. Pope. The play was given by the company then acting at the little Theatre in the Hay-market, under the direction of Mr. Mills sen. and Mr. Cibber jun. the latter of whom spoke a prologue on the occasion, written by Mr. Pope.

Mr. Dennis was less happy in his temper, than his genius; he possessed no inconsiderable erudition, which was joined to such natural parts, as if accompanied with prudence, or politeness, might have raised him, not only above want, but even to eminence. He was happy too in having very powerful patrons, but what could be done for a man, who declared war against all the world? Dennis has given evidence against himself in the article of politeness; for in one of his letters he says, he would not retire to a certain place in the country, lest he should be disturbed in his studies by the ladies in the house: for, says he, I am not over-fond of the conversation of women. But with all his foibles, we cannot but consider him as a good critic, and a man of genius.

His perpetual misfortune was, that he aimed at the empire of wit, for which nature had not sufficiently endowed him; and as his ambition prompted him to obtain the crown by a furious opposition to all other compet.i.tors, so, like Caesar of old, his ambition overwhelmed him.

[Footnote A: Jacob's Lives of the Poets.]

[Footnote B: Which friends.h.i.+p he ill repaid. Sir Richard once became bail for Dennis, who hearing that Sir Richard was arrested on his account, cried out; "'Sdeath! Why did not he keep out of the way, as I did?"]

G. GRANVILLE, L. LANSDOWNE,

Was descended from an ill.u.s.trious family, which traced their ancestry from Rollo, the first duke of Normandy. He was second son of Bernard Granville, and grandson of the famous Sir Bevil Granville, killed at the battle of Lansdowne 1643. This n.o.bleman received the first tincture of his education in France, under the tuition of Sir William Ellis, a gentleman, who was eminent afterwards in many public employments.

When our author was but eleven years of age, he was sent to Trinity College in Cambridge, where he remained five years, but at the age of thirteen was admitted to the degree of master of arts, having, before he was twelve years old, spoken a copy of English verses, of his own composition, to the d.u.c.h.ess of York, when her Royal Highness paid a visit to that university.

At the time when the nation was embroiled by the public distractions, occasioned by the efforts of King James II. to introduce Popery, lord Lansdowne did not remain an unconcerned spectator. He had early imbibed principles of loyalty, and as some of his forefathers had fallen in the cause of Charles I. he thought it was his duty to sacrifice his life also, for the interest of his Sovereign. However mistaken he might be in this furious zeal for a Prince, the chief scope of whose reign was to overthrow the law, and introduce absolute dominion, yet he appears to be perfectly sincere. In a letter he wrote to his father upon the expected approach of the Prince of Orange's fleet, he expresses the most ardent desire to serve the King in person[A]. This letter we shall insert, but beg our readers patience to make a digression, which will justify what we have said concerning James II.

The genuine mark of a tyrant is cruelty, and it is with concern we can produce an instance of the most inhuman barbarity in that Prince, which ever stained the Annals of any reign. Cruelty should be the badge of no party; it ought to be equally the abhorrence of all; and whoever is tainted with it, should be set up to view, as a terror to the world, as a monster, whom it is the interest of mankind to destroy.

After the suppression of Monmouth's rebellion, many of the unfortunate persons engaged In it fled to London, and took shelter there, 'till the Act of Indemnity should be published. They who afforded them shelter, were either of the Monmouth faction, or induced from principles of humanity, to administer to their safety: what would become of the world, if our friends were always to forsake us in distress? There lived then in London an amiable lady, attached to no party, who enjoyed a large fortune, which she spent in the exercise of the most extensive beneficence. She made it her business to visit the Jails, and the prisoners who were most necessitous and deserving, she relieved. Her house was an asylum for the poor; she lived but for charity, and she had every hour the prayers of the widow and orphan poured out to her. It happened that one of the rebels found shelter in her house; she suffered him to be screened there; she fed and cloathed him. The King had often declared that he would rather pardon those who were found in arms against him, than the people who harboured, or secretly encouraged them. This miscreant, who sometimes ventured out at night to a public house, was informed, that the King had made such a declaration, and it entered into his base heart to betray his benefactress. He accordingly went before a magistrate, and lodged an information, upon which the lady was secured, brought to a trial, and upon the evidence of this ungrateful villain, cast for her life. She suffered at a stake with the most resigned chearfulness, for when a woman is convicted of treason, it seems, she is sentenced to be burnt[B]. The reader will easily judge what sort of bowels that King must have, who could permit such a punishment to take place upon a woman so compleatly amiable, upon the evidence of a villain so consummately infamous, and he will, we are persuaded, be of opinion that had his Majesty possessed a thousand kingdoms, he deserved to lose them all for this one act of genuine barbarity.

Lord Lansdowne. who did not consider, or was not then capable of discovering, the dangers to which this prince exposed his people, wrote the following letter to his father, earnestly pressing him to permit his entering voluntarily into king James's service.

'SIR,

'Your having no prospect of obtaining a commission for me, can no way alter, or cool my desire at this important juncture, to venture my life, in some manner or other, for my King and country. I cannot bear to live under the reproach of lying obscure and idle in a country retirement, when every man, who has the least sense of honour, should be preparing for the field. You may remember, sir, with what reluctance I submitted to your commands upon Monmouth's rebellion, when no importunity could prevail with you to permit me to leave the academy; I was too young to be hazarded; but give me leave to say, it is glorious, at any age, to die for one's country; and the sooner, the n.o.bler sacrifice; I am now older by three years. My uncle Bath was not so old, when he was left among the slain at the battle of Newberry, nor you yourself, sir, when you made your escape from your Tutors, to join your brother in the defence of Scilly. The same cause is now come round about again. The King has been misled, let those who misled him be answerable for it. n.o.body can deny but he is sacred in his own person, and it is every honest man's duty to defend it. You are pleased to say it is yet doubtful, if the Hollanders are rash enough to make such an attempt. But be that as it will, I beg leave to be presented to his Majesty, as one, whose utmost ambition is to devote his life to his service, and my country's, after the example of all my ancestors. The gentry a.s.sembled at York, to agree upon the choice of representatives for the county, have prepared an Address to a.s.sure his Majesty they are ready to sacrifice their lives and fortunes for him upon this, and all other occasions, but at the some time they humbly beseech him to give them such magistrates as may be agreeable to the laws of the land, for at present there is no authority to which they can legally submit. By what I can hear, every body wishes well to the King, but would be glad his ministers were hanged. The winds continue so contrary, that no landing can be so soon as was apprehended, therefore I may hope, with your leave and a.s.sistance, to be in readiness before any action can begin; I beseech you, sir, most humbly, and most earnestly, to add this one act of indulgence more, to so many testimonies I have so constantly received of your goodness, and be pleased to believe me always with the utmost duty and submission,

'Yours, &c.'

We are not told whether his father yielded to his importunity, or whether he was presented to his Majesty; but if he really joined the army, it was without danger to his person, for the revolution was effected in England without one drop of blood. In the year 1690 Lord Lansdowne wrote a copy of verses addressed to Mrs. Elizabeth Higgins, in answer to a poetical Address sent him by that lady in his retirement. The verses of the lady are very elegant, and are only exceeded by the polite compliments his lords.h.i.+p wrote in answer to them. They both deserve a place here,

I.

Why Granville is thy life to shades confin'd, Thou whom the G.o.ds design'd In public to do credit to mankind?

Why sleeps the n.o.ble ardour of thy blood, Which from thy ancestors so many ages past, From Rollo down to Bevil flowed, And then appeared again at last, In thee when thy victorious lance Bore the disputed prize from all the youth of France.

II.

In the first trials which are made for fame, Those to whom fate success denies, If taking council from their shame, They modestly retreat are wise; But why should you, who still succeed, Whether with graceful art you lead The fiery barb, or with a graceful motion tread In s.h.i.+ning b.a.l.l.s where all agree To give the highest praise to thee?

Such harmony in every motion's sound, As art could ne'er express by any sound.

III.

So lov'd and prais'd whom all admire, Why, why should you from courts and camps retire?

If Myra is unkind, if it can be That any nymph can be unkind to thee; If pensive made by love, you thus retire, Awake your muse, and string your lyre; Your tender song, and your melodious strain Can never be address'd in vain; She needs must love, and we shall have you back again.

His lords.h.i.+p's Answer thus begins.

Cease, tempting syren, cease thy flattering strain, Sweet is thy charming song, but song in vain: When the winds blow, and loud the tempests roar, What fool would trust the waves, and quit the sh.o.r.e?

Early and vain into the world I came, Big with false hopes and eager after fame: Till looking round me, e'er the race began, Madmen and giddy fools were all that ran.

Reclaimed betimes, I from the lists retire, And thank the G.o.ds, who my retreat inspire.

In happier times our ancestors were bred, When virtue was the only path to tread.

Give me, ye G.o.ds, but the same road to fame, Whate'er my father's dar'd, I dare the same.

Changed is the scene, some baneful planet rules An impious world contriv'd for knaves and fools.

He concludes with the following lines

Happy the man, of mortals happiest he, Whose quiet mind of vain desires is free; Whom neither hopes deceive, nor fears torment, But lives at peace, within himself content, In thought or act accountable to none But to himself, and to the G.o.ds alone.

O sweetness of content, seraphic joy!

Which nothing wants, and nothing can destroy.

Where dwells this peace, this freedom of the mind?

Where but in shades remote from human kind; In flow'ry vales, where nymphs and shepherds meet, But never comes within the palace-gate.

Farewel then cities, courts, and camps farewel, Welcome ye groves, here let me ever dwell, From care and bus'ness, and mankind remove, All but the Muses, and inspiring love: How sweet the morn, how gentle is the night!

How calm the evening, and the day how bright!

From thence, as from a hill, I view below The crowded world, a mighty wood in shew, Where several wand'rers travel day and night, By different paths, and none are in the right.

In 1696 his Comedy called the She Gallants was acted at the Theatre-Royal[C] in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields. He afterwards altered this Comedy, and published it among his other works, under the t.i.tle of Once a Lover and Always a Lover, which, as he observes in the preface, is a new building upon an old foundation.

'It appeared first under the name of the She-Gallants, and by the preface then prefixed to it, is said to have been the Child of a Child. By taking it since under examination; so many years after, the author flatters himself to have made a correct Comedy of it; he found it regular to his hand; the scene constant to one place, the time not exceeding the bounds prescribed, and the action entire. It remained only to clear the ground, and to plant as it were fresh flowers in the room of those which were grown into weeds or were faded by time; to retouch and vary the characters; enliven the painting, retrench the superfluous; and animate the action, where it appeared the young author seemed to aim at more than he had strength to perform.'

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume IV Part 18

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