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and in 1781 he published a little volume of poems entitled Moral Satires. Lady Austen, another of his friends at Olney, tickled his fancy with the story of John Gilpin, and caused him to write his famous ballad. She also incited him to write The Task, the finest of his long poems. He afterwards translated the Iliad and the Odyssey, but these translations are not equal in merit to his original work. His letters, of which a large number have been preserved, are excellent.
Cowper's poems are all marked by a purity and simplicity of language, and his minor poems especially have a sparkle of mild and delicate humour.
CHARLES DIBDIN (1745-1814), the famous writer of sea songs, was born at Southampton, where his father was parish clerk. The boy's fame as a singer spread through all the county, and he came to London before he was twenty, and wrote ballads and operas, and became a popular actor at the Ranelagh Gardens.
He led a wild and dissolute life, and for two years he withdrew to France on account of his debts. His song Blow high, blow low, was composed in a gale of wind while he was on his way to Calais.
His elder brother, Thomas, was a sailor, who died at the Cape in 1780 on his way home from India, and Dibdin's finest song, Tom Bowling, is written in memory of him. After his return to England he became once more an actor, and wrote an immense number of dramas and songs. His songs numbered 900, and of these 90 were sea songs, which, during the stress of the struggle with France, brought more men into the navy than all the press-gangs. In recognition of this the Government in 1803 granted him a pension of 2007., but in 1806 it was withdrawn.
MICHAEL DRAYTON (1563-1631) was born in Warwickshire. His parentage is not certainly known, but he speaks of himself as 'nobly bred' and 'well ally'd.' In 1593 he wrote The Shepheard's Garland, on the model of Spenser's Shepherd's Calender, and in it he introduced an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney.
In 1596 he published a historical poem, The Barrons' Wars, and from that time till 1603 he was busy writing for the stage in conjunction with Dekker, Webster, Middleton, and others. The play of Sir John Oldcastle is mainly Drayton's work. In 1605 he published Poemes, Lyric and Pastorall, containing, among others, the very fine Ballad of Agincourt. In 1613 he published his longest and most famous poem, PolyOlbion, a Description of all the Tracts, Rivers, Mountains,
Forests, and other Parts of Great Britaine.' His friend the learned John Selden wrote copious annotations to each part of
Tradition makes Drayton an acquaintance and friend of Shakespeare, and in the diary of the Vicar of Stratford we read, Shakspere, Drayton and Ben Jhonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakspere died of a feaver there contracted.'
JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700) was born at Aldwinkle, on the Nen, in Northampton, where his grandfather was vicar. He was educated at Westminster School and Cambridge, but in latter years he loved Oxford better.
Dryden's first considerable poem was written in 1658, and is entitled Stanzas to the Memory of His Highness, Oliver, late Lord Protector. Then two years later he wrote Astræa Redux to welcome Charles II. home. Then in 1667 he wrote a beautiful poem, Annus Mirabilis, in which he described the Dutch war and the Fire of London of the preceding year.
The playhouses of London were reopened after the Restoration, and Dryden wrote a great number of plays which were very popular, but they are not really excellent. The Indian Emperor, The Maiden Queen, and The Conquest of Granada are some of the most celebrated of these plays.
In 1681 Dryden wrote the first of his great political satires, Absalom and Achitophel, the finest of all his poems. next year he wrote Religio Laici, a fine poem in defence of the Church of England, but five years later he wrote an equally fine one, The Hind and the Panther, in praise of the Church of Rome.
After the Revolution Dryden ceased to be a Court poet, but was as busy as ever with his pen. In 1697 his famous translation of Virgil was published, and to the same year belongs the magnificent Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, the song of Alexander's Feast.
JANE or JEAN ELLIOT (1727-1805) was born at Minto House, the family seat in Teviotdale. Her father, Sir Gilbert Elliot, was lord justice clerk of Scotland, and a staunch Whig, and his daughter by her ready wit and pleasantness saved his life when it was endangered by an angry party of Jacobites in 1746.
Her brother Gilbert became a lawyer and statesman, but loved literature as well, and was the author of a beautiful pastoral song,
'My sheep I neglected, I broke my sheep hook,'
which Sir Walter Scott praises in the notes to The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
It was Gilbert who incited his sister in 1756 to write the beautiful ballad, The Flowers of the Forest, describing the desolation and mourning that followed Flodden. The secret of authorship was religiously kept, and many believed the ballad was a genuine relic of the olden time. Burns was the first to maintain it was modern, and Scott printed it in the Border Minstrelsy as by a lady of family in Roxburghshire.' Soon after 1756 Miss Elliot came with her mother and sisters to Edinburgh, and lived to be a very dignified old lady, and was the last in Edinburgh to use her own sedan chair.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1728-1774) was born at the village of Pallas, in Longford, where his father was the village pastor, passing rich on 40%. a year.' Goldsmith was educated at Dublin University, but made little progress there, and it was the same at Edinburgh and Leyden, where he went to study medicine.
After wandering for some time through several countries of Europe, he came penniless to London in 1756. He tried in vain to live by medicine and by teaching, and then came to depend entirely upon literature. His struggles with poverty were not over, but he had found his true path, and he gained the friendship of Johnson, Reynolds, Burke and others, and is one of the most interesting figures in Boswell's Life of Johnson.
In 1764 two of Goldsmith's finest works were completed, The Traveller, a poem in which he described the lands he had wandered through, and The Vicar of Wakefield, a charming little novel which delighted, and will continue to delight, every
In 1768 he wrote the comedy, The Good-natured Man, and in 1773 the still finer one, She Stoops to Conquer, and in 1770 he also wrote The Deserted Village, a beautiful idealised picture of the scenes of his childhood. The humorous little ballad On the Death of a Mad Dog occurs in the Vicar of Wakefield. Goldsmith was especially happy in his graceful treatment of trifles of this kind.
THOMAS GRAY (1716-1771) was born in Cornhill, where his father was a scrivener. He was at Eton and Cambridge, where he had Horace Walpole for a friend, and together they travelled on the Continent in 1739-41, and Gray's letters describing his travels are some of his best works. After his return he lived with his mother and her two sisters in the village
of Stoke Pogis, and there he wrote the odes On the Spring, On a distant Prospect of Eton College, and To Adversity.
He also began there his famous Elegy, which he leisurely touched and retouched it till in 1750 it was completed. It was handed about at first in manuscript among friends, but in the next year it was published and went through four editions in two months. A few years later he wrote a series of Pindaric odes, which have not the simplicity of his earlier poems, and have never become such general favourites. The best of them are The Progress of Poetry and The Bard.
Gray was an enthusiastic student of our early literature and the allied literatures of Wales and Scandinavia. He was preparing materials for a history of English poetry, but failing health compelled him to abandon a plan which he was so well fitted to execute.
ROBERT HERRICK (1591-1674) was the son of a goldsmith in Cheapside. He was educated at St. John's, Cambridge, and in 1629 was presented to the living of Dean Prior, in Devonshire. He found country life very dull, but he wrote the best of his poems in Devonshire, and was much beloved by his people.
In 1647 he was ejected from his living as he was an ardent Royalist, and his poem, His returne to London, expresses his delight at regaining the joys of town. He would not go back, he says, 'till rocks turn to rivers, rivers turn to men.'
Many of his poems appeared at first anonymously, but in 1648 he published a collection of them under the title of Hesperides. They are of varied kinds, both grave and gay; but the latter predominate, and they are nearly all marked by grace and sweetness. He delights in picturing country pastimes, and his songs in praise of flowers are full of delicate beauty.
In 1662 he was restored to Dean Prior, and there he died and was buried.
THOMAS HEYWOOD was one of the numerous band of play-writers who immediately followed Shakespeare, and he was one of the most prolific writers, for he tells us in one of his prologues, 'Amongst 220 plays I have had either an entire hand or, at the least, a main finger.'
The date of his birth and death are not certainly known, but he is thought to have died about 1650.
Of his many plays twenty-three have been preserved, and of these the best are, A Woman Killed with Kindness, The English Traveller, and The Fair Maid of the West.
Heywood excels in homely scenes, and Charles Lamb calls
him a prose Shakespeare. His pictures of country gentlemen are, in general, very happily drawn. In his play of The Rape of Lucrece, one of the characters, Valerius, a Roman gentleman, acts throughout a comic part, and breaks out continually in songs which are often of a ribald character. One of these songs, however,
'Pack, clouds away, and welcome, day,'
which is sung as day is breaking, is filled with a sweet and simple beauty.
JAMES HOGG (1770-1835), the Ettrick Shepherd,' was born at Ettrick, in Selkirkshire. His parents were poor, and he received, he says, less than a year's schooling. At seven years of age he began to herd ewes, and at sixteen he was a shepherd. From 1790 to 1800 he was in the service of Mr. Laidlaw, whose son, William, was Scott's friend. In 1802 Hogg became acquainted with Scott, and helped him to gather materials for the Border Minstrelsy. He then became a farmer on his own account, but was unsuccessful, and in 1810 came to Edinburgh to pursue literature.
He published a miscellaneous collection of poems, The Forest Minstrel, and in 1813 The Queen's Wake, which is his finest work. The Duchess of Buccleuch was his friend, and through her help he became farmer at a nominal rent of Eltrive Lake in Yarrow.
In 1817 he began his prose tales, The Brownie of Bodsbeck and others, and in 1819-20 he published two volumes of Jacobite Relics of Scotland, which contain some of his finest lyrics.
Hogg was a great friend of Professor Wilson, and in the Noctes Ambrosiana he is the chief and the most amusing character.
THOMAS HOOD (1799-1845) was the son of a Scotch bookseller who carried on business in London. The boy's health failed when he was thirteen, and he was sent to his father's relations in Dundee. There he stayed for three years, reading, sketching, and writing for local newspapers.
On his return to London in 1818 he devoted himself to literature, and became sub-editor of the London Magazine. His contributions were very numerous, and were mostly in verse, and he became a friend of De Quincey, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and other men of letters. In 1826 he published a collection of his poems with the title Whims and Oddities.
A few years later he fell into money difficulties, and from 1835 to 1840 he lived, for economy's sake, on the Continent. There he wrote Hood's Own, 1838, and Up the Rhine, 1839.