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· All hopes of new literary institutions were quickly fupprefled by the contentious turbulence of King James's reign; and Roscommon, foreseeing that some violent concussion of the State was at hand, purposed to retire to Rome, alleging, that it was best to fit near the chimney when the chamber firoaked; a sentence, of which the application seems not very clear.
His departure was delayed by the gout ; and he was fo impatient either of hinderance or of pain, that he fubmitted himself to a French empirick, who is faid to have repelled the disease into his bowels.
At the moment in which he expired, he uttered, with an energy of voice that expressed the most fervent devotion, two lines of his own version of Dies Ire :
My God, my Father, and my Friend,
end. He died in 1684; and was buried with great pomp in Westminster-Abbey.
His poetical character is given by Mr. Fenton :
“ In his writings,” says Fenton, “we view the image “ of a mind which was naturally serious and solid; “ richly furnished and adorned with all the ornaments “ of learning, unaffectedly disposed in the most regular “ and elegant order. His imagination might have “ probably been more fruitful and sprightly, if his “ judgement had been less severe. But that severity
(delivered in a masculine, clear, fuccinct style) con“ tributed ro make him fo eminent in the didactical “ manner, that no man, with justice, can affirın he
was ever equalled by any of our nation, without con“ fessing at the same time that he is inferior to none. 6 In.fome other kinds of writing his genius seems to 66 have wanted fire to attain the point of perfection; " but who can attain it ?"
From this account of the riches of his mind, who would not imagine that they had been displayed in large volumes and numerous performances? Who would not, after the perusal of this character, be surprised to find that all the proofs of this genius, and knowledge and judgement, are not sufficient to form a single book, or to appear otherwise than in conjunction with the works of some other writer of the same petty size*? But thus it is that characters are written: we know fomewhat, and we imagine the rest. The observation, that his imagination would probably have been more fruitful and sprightly if his judgement had been less fevere, may be answered, by a remarker somewhat inclined tocavil, by a contrary supposition, that his judgement would probably have been less severe, if his imagination had been more fruitful. It is ridiculous to oppose judgement to imagination; for it does not appear that men have necessarily less of one as they have more of the other,
We must allow of Roscommon, what Fenton has not mentioned fo distinctly as he ought, and what is yet very much to his honour, that he is perhaps the only correct writer in verse before Addison; and that, if there are not so many or so great beauties in his compositions as in those of some contemporaries, there are at least fewer faults. Nor is this his highest praise;
* They were published together with those of Duke, in an octavo volume, in 1717. The editor, whoever he was, professes to have taken great care to procure and insert all of his lordship's poems that are truly gemiine. The truth of this affertion is flatly denied by the author of an account of Mr. John Pomtret, prefixed to his Remains; who alerts, that the Prospect of Death was written by that person many years after lord Roscommon's decease; as also, that the paraphraie of the Prayer of Jeremy was written by a gentleman of the name of Southcot, living in the year 1724. P 2
for Mr. Pope has celebrated him as the only moral writer of King Charles's reign :
Unhappy Dryden! in all Charles's days,
Roscommon only boasts unspotted lays. His great work is his Essay on Tranflated Verse; of which Dryden writes thus in the preface to his Mifcellanies :
“ It was my Lord Roscommon's Essay on Translated “ Verse,” says Dryden, “ which made me uneasy, till “ I tried whether or no I was capable of following his
rules, and of reducing the speculation into practice. “ For many a fair precept in poetry is like a seeming « demonstration in mathematicks, very specious in the
diagram, but failing in the mechanick operation. I “ think I have generally observed his instructions : I “ am sure my reason is sufficiently convinced both of 6 their truth and usefulness; which, in other words, “ is to confefs no less a vanity than to pretend that I “ have, at least in fome places, made examples to his
This declaration of Dryden will, I am afraid, be found little more than one of those cursory civilities which one author pays to another; for when the sum of lord Roscommon's precepts is collected, it will not be easy to discover how they can quality their reader for a better performance of translation than might have been attained by his own reflections.
He that can abstract his mind from the elegance of the poetry, and confine it to the sense of the precepts, will find no other direction than that the author fhould be suitable to the translator's genius; that he thould be such as may deserve a translation ; that he who intends to translate hinn fhould endeavour to understand him;
that perspicuity should be studied, and unusual and uncouth names sparingly inserted; and that the style of the original should be copied in its elevation and depression. These are the rules that are celebrated as so definite and important; and for the delivery of which to mankind so much honour has been paid. Roscommon has indeed deserved his praises, had they been given with discernment, and bestowed not on the rules themselves, but the art with which they are introduced, and the decorations with which they are adorned.
The Effay, though generally excellent, is not without its faults. The story of the Quack, borrowed froin Boileau, was not worth the importaticn: he has confounded the British and Saxon inythology:
I grant that from some mofly idol oak,
In double rlıymes, our Thor and I'oden spoke. The oak, as I think Gildon has observed, belonged to the British druids, and Thor and Woden were Saxon deities. Of the double rbymes, which he fo liberally supposes, he certainly had no knowledge.
His interposition of a long paragraph of blank verses is unwarrantably licentious. Latin poets might as well have introduced a feries of iambicks among their heroicks.
His next work is the translation of the Art of poetry; which has received, in my opinion, not less praise than it deserves. Blank verse, left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on the ear or mind : it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking images. A poem frigidly didactick, without rhyme, is so near to profe, that the reader only fcorns it for pretending to be verse.
Having disentangled himself from the difficulties of rhyme, he may justly be expected to give the sense of Horace with great exactness, and to suppress no subtilty of sentiment for the difficulty of expressing it. This demand, however, his translation will not satisfy; what he found obscure, I do not know that he has ever cleared.
Among his smaller works, the Eclogue of Virgil and the Dies Ire are well translated; though the best line in the Dies Ire is borrowed from Dryden. In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Rofcommon.
In the verses on the Lap-dog, the pronouns thou and you are offensively confounded ; and the turn at the end is from Waller.
His versions of the two odes of Horace are made with great liberty, which is not recompensed by much elegance or vigour.
His political verses are spritely, and when they were written must have been very popular.
Of the scene of Guarini, and the prologue to Pompey, Mrs. Phillips, in her letters to Sir Charles Cotterel, has given
the history. “ Lord Roscommon," says she, “ is certainly one “ of the most promising young noblemen in Ireland, 6. He has paraphrased a Psalm admirably, and a scene “ of Pastor Fido very finely, in some places much better “ than Sir Richard Fanshaw. This was undertaken “ merely in compliment to me, who happened to say " that it was the best scene in Italian, and the worst « in English. He was only two hours about it. It “ begins thus :
“ Dear happy groves, and you the dark retreat