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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 profpect 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 hooks he took to himself, and twelve he distributed between Broome and Fenton: the 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 translated into blank verse, neither did Pope claim it, but committed it to Broome. 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.
În 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 shewn to Cibber it was rejected by him, with the additional infolence of advising Fenton to engage himself in some employment of honelt 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 perhaps not shamed, by general applause. Fenton's profits are said to have amounted to near a thousand pounds, with which he difcharged a debt contracted by his attendance
Fenton seems to have had some peculiar system of versification. Mariamne is written in lines of ten fyllables, with few of those redundant terminations which the drama not only admits but requires, as more nearly approaching to real dialogue. The tenor 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. Vol. III.
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 time too well known, whose abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and diffolute, might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous and the wife. They determined all to see the Merry Wives of Windsor, which was acted that night; and Fenton, as a dramatick 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 his 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 use
ful, often entertaining, but too much extended by long quotations from Clarendon. Illuftrations drawn from a book so easily confulted, should be made by reference rather than transcription:
The latter part of his life was calm and pleasant. The relict of Sir William Trumbal 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 accounts.
He often wandered to London, and amused himself with the conversation of his friends.
He died in 1730, åt Easthampstead in Berkshire, the seat of the lady Trumbal z 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 lefsen by much exercise; for he was very sluggish and fedentary, rose late, and when he had risen, sat down to his book or papers. A woman, I 2
that once waited on him in a lodging, told him, as she said, that he would lie a-bed, and be fed with a spoon. This, however, was not the worst that might have been prognosticated; for Pope says, in his Letters, that he died of indolence; but his immediate distemper was the gout.
Of his morals and his conversation the account is uniform: he was never named but with praise and fondness, as a man in the highest degree amiable and excellent. Such was the character given him by the earl of Orrery, his pupil; such is the testimony of Pope*, and such were the suffrages of all who could boast of his acquaintance.
By a former writer of his Life a story is told, which ought not to be forgotten. He used, in the latter part of his time, to pay his relations in the country an yearly visit. At an entertainment made for the family by his elder brother, he observed that one of his sisters, who had married unfortunately, was absent; and found, upon enquiry, that diftress had made her thought unworthy of