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RIGHT HONOURABLE LIONEL, EARL OF
DORSET AND MIDDLESEX,*
ToT looks like no great compliment to & your Lordship, that I prefix your name to this epistle; when, in the preface, I declare the book is published almost against my inclination. But, in all cases, my Lord, you have an hereditary right to whatever may be called mine. Many of the following pieces were written by the command of your excellent father; and most of the rest, under his protection and patronage. The particular felicity of your birth, my Lord; the natural endowments of your mind, (which, without suspicion of flattery.) I may tell you, are very great; the good education with which these parts have been improved; and your coming into the world, and seeing men very early; make us expect from your Lordship all the good, which our hopes can form in favour of a young nobleman. Tu Marcellus eris, Our eyes and our hearts are turned on you. You must be a judge and master of polite learning; a friend and patron to men of letters and merit; a faithful and able counsellor to your prince; a true patriot to your country; an ornament and honour to the titles you possess; and in one word, a worthy son to the great Earl of Dorset.* It is as impossible to mention that name, without desiring to commend the person, as it is to give him the commendations which his virtues deserved. But I assure myself, the most agreeable compliment I can bring your Lordship, is to pay a grateful respect to your father's memory. And my own obligations to him were such, that the world must pardon my endeavouring at his character, however I may miscarry in the attempt. A thousand ornaments and graces met in the composition of this great man, and contributed to make him universally beloved and esteemed. The figure of his body was strong, proportionable, beautiful: and were his picture well drawn, it must deserve the praise given to the portraits of Raphael; and, at once, create love and respect. While the greatness of his mien informed men, they were approaching the nobleman, the sweetness of it invited them to come nearer to the patron. There was in his look and gesture something that is more easily conceived than described; that gained upon you in his favour, before he spake one word. His behaviour was easy and courteous to all; but distinguished and adapted to each man in particular, according to his station and quality. His civility was free from the formality of rule, and flowed immediately from his good sense. Such were the natural faculties and strength of his mind, that he had occasion to borrow very little from education; and he owed those advantages to his own good parts, which others acquire by study and imitation. His wit was abundant, noble, bold. Wit in most writers is like a fountain in a garden, supplied by several streams brought through artful pipes, and playing sometimes agreeably. But the Earl of Dorset's was a source rising from the top of a mountain, which forced its own way, and with inexhaustible supplies, delighted and enriched the country through which it passed. This extraordinary genius was accompanied with so true a judgment in all parts of fine learning, that whatever subject was before him, he discoursed as properly of it, as if the peculiar bent of his study had been applied that way; and he perfected his judgment by reading and digesting the best authors, though he quoted them very seldom,
* Afterwards created Duke of Dorset.
* Born 24th January, 1637, died 29th January, 1706. Mr. Walpole observes that “he was the finest gentleman in the voluptuous court of Charles the Second, and in the gloomy one of King William: he had as much wit as his firstmaster, or his contemporaries, Buckingham and Rochester, without the royal want of feeling, the Duke's want of principles, or the Earl's want of thought. The latter said with astonishment, ‘That he did not know how it was, but Lord Dorset might do any thing, and yet was never to blame.’— It was not that he was free from the failings of humanity, but he had the tenderness of it too, which made every body excuse whom every body loved, for even the asperity of his verses seems to have been forgiven to “The best good man, with the worst natur'd Muse.”—This line is not more familiar than Lord Dorset's own poems, to all who have a taste for the genteelest beauties of natural and easy verse, or than his Lordship's own bon mots; of which I cannot help repeating one of singular humour. Lord Craven was a proverb for officious whispers to men in power. On Lord Dorset's promotion, King Charles having seen Lord Craven pay his usual tribute to him, asked the former what the latter had been saying: the Earl replied gravely, “Sir, my Lord Craven did me the honour to whisper, but I did not think it good manners to listen.” When he was dying, Congreve, who had been to visit him, being asked how he had left him, replied, “faith, he slabbers more wit than other people do in their best health.”—Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors. vol. ii. p. 96.
Contemmebat potius literas, quam nesciebat:
and rather seemed to draw his knowledge from his own stores, than to owe it to any foreign assistance. . The brightness of his parts, the solidity of his judgment, and the candour and generosity of his temper distinguished him in an age of great politeness, and at a court abounding with men of the finest sense and learning. The most eminent masters in their several ways appealed to his determination. Waller thought it an honour to consult him in the softness and harmony of his verse: and Dr. Sprat, in the delicacy and turn of his prose. Dryden determines by him,” under the character of Eugenius, as to the laws of dramatic poetry. Butler owed it to him that the court tasted his Hudibras; Wycherley that the town liked his Plain Dealer; and the late Duke of Buckingham deferred to publish his Rehearsal, till he was sure (as he expressed it) that my Lord Dorset would not rehearse upon him again. If we wanted foreign testimony, La Fontaine and St. Evremont have acknowledged, that he was a perfect master of the beauty and fineness of their language, and of all that they call les Belles Lettres. Nor was this nicety of his judgment confined only to books and literature, but was the same in statuary, painting, and all other parts of art. Bernini would have taken his opinion upon the beauty and attitude of a figure; and King Charles did not agree with Lely, that my Lady Cleveland's picture was finished, till it had the approbation of my Lord Buckhurst. As the judgment which he made of others' writings could not be refuted, the manner in which he wrote will hardly ever be equalled. Every one of his pieces is an ingot of gold, intrinsically and solidly valuable; such as, wrought or beaten thinner, would shine through a whole book of any other author. His thought was always new ; and the expression of it so particularly happy, that every body knew immediately it could only be my Lord Dorset's: and yet it was so easy too, that every body was ready to imagine himself capable of writing it. There is a lustre in his verses, like that of the sun in Claude Lorraine's landscapes: it looks natural, and is inimitable. His love-verses have a mixture of delicacy and strength: they convey the wit of Petronius in the softness of Tibullus. His satire indeed is so severely pointed, that in it he appears, what his
* See Dryden's Essay on Dramatic Poesie, first printed in quarto, and addressed to Charles Earl of Dorset, then Lord Buckhurst.