תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

merchant, and had some office at the prince of Wales's court, till love of a lady, whose name was Dashwood, for a time disordered his understanding. He was unextinguishably amorous, and his mistress inexorably cruel.

Of this narrative, part is true, and part false. He was the second son of Anthony Hammond, a man of note among the wits, poets, and parliamentary orators, in the beginning of this century, who was allied to Sir Robert Walpole by marrying his sister*. He was born about 1710, and educated at Westminster-school; but it does not appear that he was of any university. He was equerry to the prince of Wales, and seems to have come very early into publick notice, and to have been distinguished by those whose friendship prejudiced mankind at that time in favour of the man on whom they were bestowed ; for he was the companion of Cobham, Lyttelton, and Chesterfield. He is said to have divided his life between pleasure and books ; in his retirement forgetting the town, and in his gaiety losing the student. Of his literary hours all the effects are here exhibited, of which the Elegies were written very early, and the Prologue not long before his death.

In 1741, he was chosen into parliament for Truro in Cornwall, probably one of those who were elected by the Prince's influence; and died next year in

* This account is still erroneous. James Hammond, our author, was of a different family, the second son of Anthony Ham. mond, of Somersham-place, in the county of Huntingdon, Esq. See Gent. Mag. vol. LVII. p. 780. R.

† Mr. Cole gives him to Cambridge. MSS. Athenæ Cantab. in Mus. Brit. C.

June

T 2

June at Stowe, the famous seat of lord Cobham. His mistress long outlived him, and in 1779 died unmarried. The character which her lover bequeathed her was, indeed, not likely to attract courtship.

The Elegies were published after his death; and while the writer's name was remembered with fondness, they were read with a resolution to 'admire them.

The recommendatory preface of the editor, who was then believed, and is now affirmed by Dr. Maty, to be the earl of Chesterfield, raised strong prejudices in their favour.

But of the prefacer, whoever he was, it may be reasonably suspected that he never read the poems; for he professes to value them for a very high species of excellence, and recommends them as the genuine effusions of the mind, which expresses a real passion in the language of nature. But the truth is, these elegies have neither passion, nature, nor manners. Where there is fiction, there is no passion : he that describes himself as a shepherd, and his Neæra or Delia ás a shepherdess, and talks of goats and lambs, feels no passion. He that courts his mistress with Roman imagery deserves to lose her ; for she may with good reason suspect his sincerity. Hammond has few sentiments drawn from nature, and few images from modern life. He produces nothing but frigid pedantry. It would be hard to find in all his productions three stanzas that deserve to be remembered.

Like other lovers, he threatens the lady with dying; and what then shall follow?

Wilt thou in tears thy lover's corse attend;

With eyes averted light the solemn pyre,
Till all around the doleful flames ascend,

Then slowly sinking, by degrees expire ?
To sooth the hovering soul be thine the care,

With plaintive cries to lead the mournful band;
In sable weeds the golden vase to bear,

And cull my ashes with thy trembling hand :
Panchaia's odours be their costly feast,

And all the pride of Asia’s fragrant year,
Give them the treasures of the farthest East,

And, what is still more precious, give thy tear. Surely no blame can fall upon a nymph who rejected a swain of so little meaning.

His verses are not rugged, but they have no sweetness; they never glide in a stream of melody. Why Hammond or other writers have thought the quatrain of ten syllables elegiac, it is difficult to tell. The character of the Elegy is gentleness and tenuity; but this stanza has been pronounced by Dryden, whose knowledge of English metre was not inconsiderable, to be the most magnificent of all the measures which our language affords.

[merged small][ocr errors]

SOM ER VIL E.

Of Mr.* SOMERVILE: life I am not able to say any thing that can satisfy curiosity.

He was a gentleman whose estate was in Warwickshire; his house, where he was born in 1692, is called Edston, a seat inherited from a long line of ancestors; for he was said to be of the first family in his county. He tells of himself that he was born near the Avon's banks. He was bred at Winchesterschool, and was elected fellow of New College. It does not appear that in the places of his education he exhibited any uncommon proofs of genius or literature. His powers were first displayed in the country, where he was distinguished as a poet, a gentleman, and a skilful and useful justice of the peace.

Of the close of his life, those whom his poems have delighted will read with pain the following account, copied from the Letters of his friend Shenstone, by whom he was too much resembled.

“-Our old friend Somervile is dead! I did not “ imagine I could have been so sorry as I find myself " on this occasion.--Sublutum quærimus, I can now

* William.

* excuse all his foibles ; impute them tofage, and to « distress of circumstances : the last of these consi « derations wrings my very soul to think on. For a

man of high 'spirit, conscious of having (at least * in one production) generally pleased the world, to * be plagued and threatened by wretches that are " low in every sense; to be forced to drink himself k into pains of the body, in order to get rid of the pains of the mind, is a misery.”

He died July 19, 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley on Arden.

His distresses need not be much pitied : his estate is said to have been fifteen hundred a year, which by his death devolved to lord Somervile of Scotland. His mother indeed, who lived till ninety, had a jointure of six hundred.

It is with regret that I find myself not better enabled to exhibit memorials of a writer, who at least must be allowed to have set a good example to men of his own class, by devoting part of his time to elegant knowledge; and who has shewn, by the subjects which his poetry has adorned, that it is practicable to be atonce a skilful sportsman and a'man of letters.

Somervile has tried many modes of poetry; and though perhaps he has not in any reached such excellence as to raise much envy, it may commonly be said at least, that “he writes very well for a

gentleman." His serious pieces are sometimes elevated, and his trifles are sometimes elegant. In his verses to Addison, the couplet which mentions Clio is written with the most exquisite delicacy of praise ; it exhibits one of those happy strokes that

are

« הקודםהמשך »