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Poema Cl. V. Joannis PasserATII,
Regii in Academia Parisiensi Proîessoris,
Ad ornatissimum virum ERRICUM MEMMIU M.
Janus adest, festæ poscunt sua dona Kalendæ,
Ecce autem partes dum sese versat in omnes
E cælo quacunque Ceres sua prospicit arva,
Tuque, tibi licet eximium sit mentis acumen,
WENTWORTH DILLON, earl of Roscommon, was the son of James Dillon, and Elizabeth Wentworth, sister to the Earl of Strafford. He was born in Ireland during the lieutenancy of Strafford, who, being both his uncle and his godfather, gave him his own surname. His father, the third Earl of Roscommon, had been converted by Usher to the Protestant religion ; and when the Popish rebellion broke out, Strafford thinking the family in great danger from the fury of the Irish, sent for his godson, and placed him at his own seat in Yorkshire, where he was instructed in Latin: which he learned so as to write it with purity and elegance, though he was never able to retain the rules of grammar.
Such is the account given by Mr. Fenton, from whose notes on Waller most of this account must be borrowed, though I know not whether all that he relates is certain. The instructor whom he assigns to Roscommon, is one Dr. Hall, by whom he cannot mean the famous Hall, then an old man and a bishop.
When the storm broke out upon Strafford, his house was a shelter no longer; and Dillon, by the advice of Usher, was sent to Caen, where the Protestants had then an university, and continued his studies under Bochart.
Young Dillon, who was sent to study under Bochart, and who is represented as having already made great proficiency in literature, could not be more than nine years old. Strafford went to govern Ireland in 1633, and was put to death eight years afterwards. That he was sent to Caen, is certain : that he was a great scholar, may be doubted.
At Caen he is said to have had some preternatural intelligence of his father's death,
• The Lord Roscommon, being a boy of ten years of age, at Caen in Normandy, one day was, as it were, “madly extravagant in playing, leaping, getting over “ the tables, boards, &c. He was wont to be sober e"nough; they said, God grant this bodes no ill-luck to
“ him! in the heat of this extravagant fit he cries out,
My father is dead. A fortnight after, news came from - Ireland that his father was dead. This account I “ had from Mr. Knolles, who was his governor, and “ then with him,—since secretary to the earl of Straf“ ford; and I have heard his Lordship’s relations con“ firm the same.” Aubrey's Miscellany. The present age
little inclined to favour any accounts of this kind, nor will the name of Aubrey much recommend it to credit ; it ought not, however, to be omitted, because better evidence of a fact cannot easily be found, than is here offered; and it must be by preserving such relations that we may at last judge how much they are to be regarded. If we stay to examine this account, we shall see difficulties on both sides: here is the relation of a fact given by a man who had no interest to deceive; and who could not be deceived himself; and here is, on the other hand, a miracle which produces no effect : the order of nature is interrupted, to discover not a future but only a distant event, the knowledge of which is of no use to him to whom it is revealed. Between these difficulties what way shall be found? Is reason or testimony to be rejected? I believe, what Osborne says of an appearance of sanctity may be applied to such impulses or anticipations as this: Do not wholly slight them, because they may be true ; but do not easily trust them, because they may be false.
The state both of England and Ireland was at this time such, that he who was absent from either country had
very little temptation to return; and therefore Roscommon, when he left Caen, travelled into Italy, and amused himself with its antiquities, and particularly with medals, in which he acquired uncommon skill.
At the Restoration, with the other friends of monarchy, he came to England, was made captain of the band of pensioners, and learned so much of the dissoluteness of the court, that he addicted himself immoderately to gaming, by which lie was engaged in frequent quarrels, and which undoubtedly brought upon him its usual concomitants, extravagance and distress.
After some time, a dispute about part of his estate forced him into Ireland, where he was made by the
Duke of Ormond captain of the guards, and met with an adventure thus related by Fenton:
“ He was at Dublin as much as ever distempered with " the same fatal affection for play, which engaged him "in one adventure that well deserves to be related. As “ he returned to his lodgings from a gaming-table, he “ was attacked in the dark by three ruffians, who were
employed to assassinate him. The Earl defended him“ self with so much resolution, that he dispatched one “ of the aggressors: whilst a gentleman, accidentally “passing that way, interposed, and disarmed another : " the third secured himself by flight. This generous “ assistant, was a disbanded officer, of a good family and “ fair reputation; who, by what we call the partiality “ of fortune, to avoid censuring the iniquities of the “times, wanted even a plain suit of cloathes to make a “ decent appearance at the Castle. But his Lordship, “ on this occasion, presenting bim to the Duke of Or“ mond, with great importunity prevailed with his “ Grace, that he might resign his post of captain of the ' guards to his friend; which for about three
the gentleman enjoyed, and, upon his death, the Duke “ returned the commission to his generous benefactor."
When he had finished his business, he returned to London: : was made Master of the Horse to the Duchess of York; and married the Lady Frances, daughter of the Earl of Burlington, and widow of Colonel Courteney.
He now busied his mind with literary projects, and formed the plan of a society for refining our language and fixing its standard ; in imitation says Fenton of those learned and polite societies with which he had been acquainted abroad. In this design his friend Dryden is said to have assisted him.
The same design, it is well known, was revived by Dr. Swift in the ministry of Oxford ; but it has never since been publickly mentioned, though at that time great expectations were formed by some of its establishment and its effects. Such a society, might, perhaps, without much difficulty, be collected; but that it would produce what is expected from it may be doubted.