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Hence painted flowers the smiling gardens bless,
F EN TON,
THE brevity with which I am to write the ac
count of ELIJAH FENTON, is not the effect of indifference or negligence. I have sought intelligence among his relations in his native country, but have not obtained it.
He was born near Newcastle in Staffordshire, of an antient family *, whose estate was very considerable;
but * He was born at Shelton, near Newcastle, May 20, 1693 ; and was the youngest of eleven children of John Fenton, an attorney at law, and one of the coroners of 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.
but he was the youngest of eleven children, and being therefore nécessarily destined to some lucrative employment was sent first to school, and 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 publick 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 redụced, like too many of the same sect, to mean arts and dishonourable shifts. Whoever mentioned Fenton, mentioned him with honour.
necnon ingenii lepore
bonis artibus expoliti,
sibi suisque jucundus vixit.
omnious reliquit, salutis numa. 1694,
ætatis suæ 56. See Gent. Mag. 1791, vol LXI. p.703. N.
* 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.
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 elegiack 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 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 : 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.
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 shewn to Cibber, it was rejected by him, with the additional 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, perhaps, not shamed, by general applause. Fenton's profits are said to have amounted to near a