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CHRISTOPHER Pitt, of whom whatever I shall relate, more than has been already published, I owe to the kind communication of Dr. Warton, was born in 1699 at Blandford, the son of a physician much esteemed.
He was, in 1714, received as a scholar into Winchester College, where he was distinguished by exercises of uncommon elegance, and, at his removal to New College in 1719, presented to the electors, as the product of his private and voluntary studies, a complete version of Lucan's poem, which he did not then know to have been translated by Rowe.
This is an instance of early diligence which well deserves to be recorded. The suppression of such a work, recommended by such uncommon circumstances, is to be regretted. It is indeed culpable to load libraries with superfluous books; but incitements to early excellence are never superfluous, and from this example the danger is not great of many imitations.
When he had resided at his college three years, he was presented to the rectory of Pimpern in Dorsetshire (1722), by his relation, Mr. Pitt of Stratfield
Say in Hampshire; and, resigning his fellowship, continued at Oxford two years longer, till he became master of Arts (1724).
He probably about this time translated “Vida's Art of Poetry,” which Tristram's splendid edition had then made popular. In this translation he distinguished himself, both by its general elegance, and by the skilful adaptation of his numbers to the images expressed ; a beauty which Vida has with great ardour enforced and exemplified.
He then retired to his living, a place very pleasing by its situation, and therefore likely to excite the imagination of a poet; where he passed the rest of his life, reverenced for his virtue, and beloved for the softness of his temper and the easiness of his manners. Before strangers he had something of the scholar's timidity or distrust; but when he became familiar he was in a very high degree cheerful and entertaining. His general benevolence procured general respect; and he passed a life placid and honourable, neither too great for the kindness of the low, nor too low for the notice of the great.
At what time he composed his miscellany published in 1727, it is not easy or necessary to know : those which have dates appear to have been very early productions, and I have not observed that any rise above mediocrity.
The success of his Vida animated him to a higher undertaking; and in his thirtieth year he published a version of the first book of the Eneid. This being, I suppose, commended by his friends, he some time
afterwards added three or four more; with an advertisement, in which he represents himself as translating with great indifference, and with a progress of which himself was hardly conscious. This can hardly be true, and, if true, is nothing to the reader.
At last, without any farther contention with his modesty, or any awe of the name of Dryden, he gave us a complete English Eneid, which I am sorry not to see joined in this publication with his other poems *. It would have been pleasing to have an opportunity of comparing the two best translations that perhaps were ever produced by one nation of the same author.
Pitt, engaging as a rival. with Dryden, naturally observed his failures, and avoided them; and, as he wrote after Pope's Iliad, he had an example of an exact, equable, and splendid versification. With these advantages, seconded by great diligence, he might successfully labour particular passages, and escape many errors. If the two versions are compared, perhaps the result would be, that Dryden leads the reader forward by his general vigour and sprightliness, and Pitt often stops him to contemplate the excellence of a single couplet; that Dryden's faults are forgotten in the hurry of delight, and that Pitt's beauties are neglected in the languor of a cold and listless perusal; that Pitt pleases the criticks, and Dryden the people; . that Pitt is quoted, and Dryden read.
He did not long enjoy the reputation which this great work deservedly conferred; for he left the world
. It has since been added to the collection.
in 1748, and lies buried under a stone at Blandford, on which is this inscription.
In Memory of
and yet more
THOM SO N.
JAMES THOMSON, the son of a minister well esteemed for his piety and diligence, was born Sertember 7, 1700, at Ednam, in the shire of Roxburgb, of which his father was pastor. His mother, whose name was Hume*, inherited as co-heiress a portion of a small estate. The revenue of a parish in Scotland is seldom large; and it was probably in commiseration of the difficulty with which Mr. Thomson supported his family, having nine children, that Mr. Riccarton, a neighbouring minister, discovering in James uncommon promises of future excellence, undertook to superintend his education, and provide him books.
He was taught the common rudiments of learning at the school of Jedburg, a place which he delights to recollect in his poem of “ Autumn ;” but was not considered by his master as superior to common boys, though in those early days he amused his patron and his friends with poetical compositions ; with which, however, he so little pleased himself, that on every new-year's day he threw into the fire all the productions of the foregoing year.
* His mother's name was Beatrix Trotter. His grandmother's name was Hume. C.