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Of Mr. SOMERVILE's life, I am not able to say any thing that can satisfy curiosity. He was a gentleman whose estate was in Warwickshire ; his
: house, where he was born in 1692, is called Edston, a seat inherited from a long line of ancestors ; for he was said to be of the first family in his county. He tells of himself that he was born near the Avon's banks. He was bred at Winchester school, and was elected fellow of New college. It does not appear that in the places of his education, he exhibited any uncommon proofs of genius or literature. His powers were first displayed in the country, where he was distinguished as a poet, a gentleman, and a skilful and useful justice of the peace.
Of the close of his life, those whom his poems have delighted will read with pain the following account, copied from the letters of his friend Shenstone, by whom he was too much resem. bled.
“ Our old friend Somervile is dead! I did not imagine I could have been so sorry as I find myself on this occasion. Sublatum quærimus. I can now excuse all his foibles ; impute them to age, and to distress of circumstances; the last of these considerations wrings my very soul to think on. For a man of high spirit, conscious of having, at least in one production, generally pleased the world, to be plagued and threatened by wretches that are low in every sense ; to be forced to drink himself into pains of the body, in order to get rid of the pains of the mind, is a misery.”
He died July 19, 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley on Arden.
His distresses need not be much pitied ; his estate is said to have been fifteen hundred a year, which by his death devolved to lord Somervile of Scotland. His mother indeed, who lived till ninety, had a jointure of six hundred.
It is with regret that I find myself not better enabled to ex. hibit memorials of a writer who at least must be allowed to have set a good example to men of his own class, by devoting part of his time to elegant knowledge; and who has shown, by the subjects which his poetry has adorned, that it is practicable to be at once a skilful sportsman and a man of letters.
Somervile has tried many modes of poetry ; and though perhaps he has not in any reached such excellence as to raise much envy, it may commonly be said at least, that he writes very well for a gentleman.” His serious pieces are sometimes elevated, and his trifles are sometimes elegant. In his verses to Addison, the couplet which mentions Clio is written with the most exquisite delicacy of praise ; it exhibits one of those happy strokes that are seldom attained. In his odes to Marlborough there are beautiful lines ; but in the second ode he shows that he knew little of his hero, when he talks of his private virtues. His subjects are commonly such as require no great depth of thought or energy of expression. His fables are generally stale, and therefore excite no curiosity. Of his favourite, The two Springs, the fiction is unnatural and the moral inconsequential. In his tales there is too much coarseness, with too little care of language, and not sufficient rapidity of narration.
His great work is his Chase, which he undertook in his maturer age, when his ear was improved to the approbation of blank verse, of which, however, his two first lines gave a bad specimen. To this poem praise cannot be totally denied. He is allowed by sportsmen to write with great intelligence of his subject, which is the first requisite to excellence ; and though it is impossible to interest the common readers of verse in the dangers or pleasures of the chase, he has done all that transition and variety could easily effect; and has, with great propriety, enlarged his plan by the modes of hunting used in other countries.
With still less judgment did he choose blank verse as the vehicle of Rural Sports. If blank verse be not tumid and gorgeous, it is crippled prose ; and familiar images in laboured language have nothing to recommend them but absurd novelty, which, wanting the attractions of nature, cannot please long. One excellence of The Splendid Shilling is, that it is short. Disguise can gratify no longer than it deceives.
It has been observed in all ages, that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank, or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station ; whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages, or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent or more severe.
That affluence and power, advantages extrinsic and adventi. tious, and therefore easily separable from those by whom they are possessed, should very often flatter the mind with expectations of felicity which they cannot give, raises no astonishment; but it seems rational to hope, that intellectual greatness should produce better effects; that minds qualified for great attainments should first endeavour their own benefit; and that they who are most able to teach others the way to happiness, should with most certainty follow it themselves.
But this expectation, however plausible, has been very frequently disappointed. The heroes of literary as well as civil history have been very often no less remarkable for what they have suffered, than for what they have achieved ; and volumes have been written only to enumerate the miseries of the learned, and relate their unhappy lives and untimely deaths.
* The first edition of this interesting narrative, according to Mr. Bos. well, was published in 1744, by Roberts. The second, now before me, bears date 1748, and was published by Cave. Very few alterations were made by the author when he added it to the present collection. C. VOL. II.
To these mournful narratives, I am about to add the life of Richard Savage, a man whose writings entitle him to an eminent rank in the classes of learning, and whose misfortunes claim a degree of compassion, not always due to the unhappy, as they were often the consequences of the crimes of others, rather than his own.
In the year 1697, Anne countess of Macclesfield, having lived some time upon very uneasy terms with her husband, thought a public confession of adultery the most obvious and expeditious method of obtaining her liberty ; and therefore declared, that the child, with which she was then great, was begotten by the earl Rivers. This, as may be imagined, made her husband no less desirous of a separation than herself, and he prosecuted his design in the most effectual manner ; for he applied not to the ecclesiastical courts for a divorce, but to the parliament for an act, by which his marriage might be dissolved, the nuptial contract totally annulled, and the children of his wifo illegitimated. This act, after the usual deliberation, he obtained, though without the approbation of some, who considered marriage as an affair only cognizable by ecclesiastical judges ;* and on March 3d. was separated from his wife, whose fortune, which was very great, was repaid her, and who having, as well as her husband, the liberty of making another choice, was in a short time married to colonel Brett.
While the earl of Macclesfield was prosecuting this affair, his wife was, on the 10th. of January, 1697-8, delivered of a son ; and the earl Rivers, by appearing to consider him as his own, left none any reason to doubt of the sincerity of her declaration ; for he was his godfather, and gave him his own name, which was by his direction inserted in the register of St. Andrew's par. ish in Holborn, but unfortunately left him to the care of his
This year was made remarkable by the dissolution of a marriage solemnized in the face of the church. Salmon's Review. The following protest is registered in the books of the house of lords.
Dissentient. Because we conceive that this is the first bill of that nature that hath passed, where there was not a divorce first obtained in the spiritual court; which we look upon as an ill precedent and may be of dangerous consequence in the future.