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The brevity with which I am to write the account of ELIJAH FENTON, is not the effect of indifference or negligence. I have sought intelligence among his relations in bis native country, but have not obtained it.
He was born near Newcastle in Staffordshire, of an ancient family', whose estate was very considerable; but he was the youngest of eleven children, and being therefore necessarily destined to some lucrative employment was sent first to school, and
"He was born at Shelton, near Newcastle, May 20, 1683; and was the youngest of eleven children of John Fenton, an attorney at law, and one of the coroners for the county of Stafford. His father died in 1694.; and his grave, in the church-yard of Stoke upon Trent, is distinguished by the following elegant Latin inscription from the pen of his son :
H. S. E.
necnon ingenii lepore
bonis artibus expoliti,
Lætatis suæ 56.
afterwards to Cambridge”, but with many other wise and virtuous men, who at that time of discord and debate consulted conscience, whether well or ill informed, more than interest, he doubted the legality of the government, and refusing to qualify himself for public employment by the oaths required, left the university without a degree; but I never heard that the enthusiasm of opposition impelled him to separation from the church.
By this perverseness of integrity he was driven out a commoner of Nature, excluded from the regular modes of profit and prosperity, and reduced to pick up a livelihood uncertain and fortuitous; but it must be remembered that he kept his name unsullied, and never suffered himself to be reduced, like too many of the same sect, to mean arts and dishonourable shifts. Whoever mentioned Fenton, mentioned him with honour.
The life that passes in penury must necessarily pass in obscurity. It is impossible to trace Fenton from year to year, or to discover what means he used for his support. He was awhile secretary to Charles earl of Orrery in Flanders, and tutor to his young son, who afterwards mentioned him with great esteem and tenderness. He was at one time assistant in the school of Mr. Bonwicke in Surrey; and at another kept a school for himself at Sevenoaks in Kent, which he brought into reputation; but was persuaded to leave it (1710) by Mr. St. John, with promises of a more honourable employment.
His opinions, as he was a nonjuror, seem not to have been remarkably rigid. He wrote with great zeal and affection the praises of queen Anne, and very willingly and liberally extolled the duke of Marlborough, when he was (1707) at the height of his glory.
He expressed still more attention to Marlborough and his family by an elegiac Pastoral on the Marquis of Blandford, which could be prompted only by respect or kindness: for neither the duke nor dutchess desired the praise, or liked the cost of patronage.
The elegance of his poetry entitled him to the company of the wits of his time, and the amiableness of his manners made him loved wherever he was known. Of his friendship to Southern and Pope there are lasting monuments.
He published in 1707 a collection of poems.
By Pope he was once placed in a station that might have been of great advantage. Craggs, when he was advanced to be secretary of state, (about 1720) feeling his own want of literature, desired Pope to procure him an instructor, by whose help he might supply the deficiencies of his education. Pope recommended Fenton, in whom Craggs found all that he was seeking. There was now a prospect of ease and plenty, for Fenton had merit, and Craggs had generosity: but the small-pox suddenly put an end to the pleasing expectation.
When Pope, after the great success of his Iliad, undertook the Odyssey, being, as it seems, weary of translating, he determined to engage auxiliaries. Twelve books he took to himself, and twelve he distributed between Broome and Fenton: he books allotted to Fenton were the first, the fourth, the nineteenth, and the twentieth. It is observable, that he did not take the eleventh, which he had before
? He was entered of Jesus College, and took a bachelor's degree in 1704: but it appears by the list of Cambridge graduates that he removed in 1726 to Trinity Hall. N.
translated into blank verse; neither did Pope claim it, but committed it to Broomc. How the two associates performed their parts is well known to the readers of poetry, who have never been able to distinguish their books from those of Pope.
In 1723 was performed his tragedy of Mariamne; to which Southern, at whose house it was written, is said to have contributed such hints as his theatrical experience supplied. When it was shown to Cibber, it was rejected by him, with the additiona! insolence of advising Fenton to engage himself in some employment of honest labour, by which he might obtain that support which he could never hope from his poetry. The play was acted at the other theatre; and the brutal petulance of Cibber was confuted, though, perlaps not shamed, by general applause. Fenton's profils are said to have amounted io near a thousand pounds, with which he discharged a debt contracted by his attendance at court,
Fenton seems to have had some peculiar system of versification. Mariamne is written in lines of ten syllables, with few of those redundant terminations which the drama not only admits but requires, as more nearly approaching to real dialogue. The tenour of his verse is so uniform, that it cannot be thought casual; and yet upon what principle he so constructed it, is difficult to discover.
The mention of his play brings to my mind a very trifling occurrence. Fenton was one day in the company of Broome, his associate, and Ford, a clergyman, at that tiine too well known, whose abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and dissolute, might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous , and the wise. They determined all to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, whic! was acted that night; and Fenton, as a dramatic poet, took them to the stage-door : where the door-keeper enquiring who they were, was told that they were three very necessary men, Ford, Broome, and Fenton. The name in the play, which Pope restored to Brook, was then Broome.
It was perhaps after this play that he undertook to revise the punctuation of Milton's poems, which, as the author neither wrote the original copy nor corrected the press, was supposed capable of amendment. To this edition he prefixed a short and elegant account of Milton's life, written at once with tenderness and integrity.
He published likewise (1729) a very splendid edition of Waller, with notes often useful, often entertaining, but too much extended by long quotations from Clarendon. Illustrations, drawn from a book so easily consulted, should be made by refer. ence rather than transcription.
The latter part of his life was calm and pleasant. The relict of sir William Trumbull invited him, by Pope's recommendation, to educate her son: whom he first instructed at home, and then attended to Cambridge. The lady afterwards detained him with her as the auditor of her accompts. He often wandered to London, and amused himself with the conversation of his friends.
He died in 1730, at Easthampstead in Berkshire, the seat of lady Trumbull : and Pope, who had been always his friend, honoured him with an epitaph, of which he borrowed the two first lines from Crashaw.
Fenton was tall and bulky, inclined to corpulence, which he did not lessen by much exercise; for he was very sluggish and sedentary, rose late, and when he had risen, sat down to his books or papers. A woman that once waited on him in a lodging, told him, as she said, that he would“ lie a-bed, and be fed with a