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The Italian academy seems to have obtained its end. The language was refined, and so fixed that it has changed but little. The French Academy thought that they refined their language, and doubtless thought rightly; but the event has not shown that they fixed it; for the French of the present time is very different from that of the last century.
In this country an academy could be expected to do but little. If an academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would separate the assembly.
But suppose the philological decree made and prom mulgated, what would be its authority? In absolute governments, there is sometimes a general reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power, and the countenance of greatness. How little this is the state of our country need not be told. We live in an age in which it is a kind of publick sport to refuse all respect that cannot be enforced. The edicts of an English academy would probably be read by many, only that they might be sure to disobey them.
That our language is in perpetual danger of corruption cannot be denied; but what prevention can be found? The present manners of the nation would deride authority; and therefore nothing is left but that every writer should criticise himself.
All hopes of new literary institutions were quickly suppressed 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, alledging, that it was best to sit near the chimney when the chamber smoaked; a sentence, of which the application seems not very clear.
His departure was delayed by the gout; and he was so impatient either of hinderance or of pain, that he submitted himself to a French empirick, who is said 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,
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 pro“bably been more fruitful and sprightly, if his judg. « ment had been less severe. But that severity (de
livered in a masculine, clear, succinct stile) contri* buted to make him so eminent in the didactical man"ner, that no man, with justice, can affirm he was ever
equalled by any of our nation, without confessing at the same time that he is inferior to none.
In some * other kinds of writing his genius seems to have “ wanted fire to attain the point of perfection; but who can attain its
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 judgment, 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 somewhat, and we imagine the rest. The ob
* 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 genuine. The truth of this assertion is flatly denied by the author of an account of Mr. John Pomfret, prefixed to his Remains; who asserts, that the Prospect of Death was written by that person many years after Lord Roscommon's decease; as also, that the paraphrase of the Prayer of Jeremy was written by a gentleman of the name of Southcourt, living in the year 1724. H. Vol. VI.
servation, that his imagination would probably have been more fruitful and sprightly, if his judgment had been less severe, may be answered, by a remarker somewhat inclined to cavil, by a contrary supposition, that his judgment would probably have been less severe, if his imagination had been more fruitful. It is ridiculous to oppose judgment 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 so 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 ; ; for Mr. Pope has celebrated him as the only moral writer of King Charles's reign:
Unhappy Dryden! in all Charles' days,
His great work is his Essay on Translated Verse; of which Dryden writes thus in the preface to his Miscellanies :
“ 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 " their truth and usefulness; which, in other words, " is to confess no less a vanity than to pretend that I “ have, at least in some places, made examples to his o rules.”
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 qualify 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 should be suitable to the translator's genius; that he should be such as may deserve a translation; that he who intends to translate him should 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. Řoscommon 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 Essay, though generally excellent, is not without its faults. The story of the Quack, borrowed from Boileau, was not worth the importation; he has confounded the British and Saxon mythology:
I grant that from some mossy idol oak,
In double rhymes, our Thor and Woden spoke. The oak, as I think Gildon has observed, belonged to the British Druids, and Thor and Woden were Saxon deities. Of the double rhymes, which he so liberally supposes, he certainly had no knowledge.
His interposition of a long paragraph of blank verses is unwarrantably ticentious. Latin poets might as well have introduced a series 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 prose, that the reader only scorns 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 Iræ are well translated ; though the best line in the Dies Iræ is borrowed from Dryden. In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Roscommon.
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 sprightly, and when they were written must have been very popular.
Of the scene of Guarini, and the prologue of Pompey, Mrs. Philips, 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. 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 undertaker « 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
From these lines, which are since somewhat mended, it appears that he did not think a work of two hours fit to endure the eye of criticism without revisal.
When Mrs. Philips was in Ireland, some ladies that had seen her translation of Pompey, resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin; and, to promote their design, Lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and Sir Edw,