« הקודםהמשך »
As in that loved Athenian bower,
JAMES MERRICK was born at Reading, in 1720. He prepared for the university at the grammar-school of his native place, and afterwards entered Trinity College, Oxford, where he so far distinguished himself as to be pronounced, by Bishop Lowth, one of the best men and most accomplished scholars of the age. He entered into orders, but the delicate state of his health would not permit him to assume the arduous duties of the ministry, and he therefore passed his life in the pursuits of literature. His death occurred in 1766.
The works of Merrick consist of Poems on Sacred Subjects, Annotations on the Psalms, and on the Gospel of St. John, and a Metrical Version of the Psalms. The latter is, however, a work of but comparative merit. The following fable from this worthy divine's pen, is both amusing and instructive :
Oft has it been my lot to mark
Two travellers of such a cast,
'Tis green, 'tis green, sir, I assure ye.'
So high at last the contest rose,
He said ; and full before their sight
(Then first the creature found a tongue)
WILLIAM Mason, the friend and biographer of Gray, was the son of the vicar of St. Trinity, in Yorkshire, where he was born, in 1725. His acquaintance with Gray was formed at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and by that distinguished friend he was afterwards essentially assisted in obtaining his master's degree. After his career at college, he entered into orders, and was appointed one of the royal chaplains. He also held the living of Ashton, and was precentor of York cathedral. During the American Revolution, while politics ran high, Mason took an active part on the side of the Whigs, but was respected by all parties. His death occurred in 1797.
Mason's first literary production was an attack on the Jacobitism of Ox ford, to which Warton replied in his Triumph of Isis.' In 1753, he published his tragedy of Elfrida, written,' according to Southey, on an artificial model, and in a gorgeous diction, because he thought Shakspeare had precluded all hope of excellence in any other form of drama. The model which he followed was the Greek drama, and he introduced into his play the classic accompaniment of the chorus. A second drama Caractacus, is of a higher cast than ‘Elfrida:' more noble and spirited in language, and of more sustained dignity in scenes, situations, and character. He also wrote a series of odes on Independence, Memory, Melancholy, and The Fall of Tyranny, in which his gorgeousness of diction swells into extravagance and bombast. His other poetical works are the English Garden, a long descriptive poem in blank verse, extending over four books, and an ode on the Commemoration of the British Revolution, in which he asserts those Whig principles which he steadfastly maintained during the trying period of the American war.
Of all Mason's literary performances, his Life of Gray is, perhaps, the most valuable. As in his dramas he had made an innovation on the established taste of the times, so he ventured, with equal success, to depart from the established practice of English authors, in writing the life of his friend. Instead of presenting a continuous narrative in which the biographer alone is visible, he incorporated the journals and letters of the poet in chronological order, thus making the subject of the memoir, in some degree, his own biographer, and enabling the reader to judge more fully and correctly of his situation, thoughts, and feelings. The same plan was afterwards adopted by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, and has been sanctioned by subsequent usage, in all cases where the subject is of importance enough to demand copious information and minute personal details. His poetry is not popular even with poetical readers. His greatest defect is want of
simplicity, yet at times his rich diction has a fine effect. Gray quotes the following lines in one of Mason's odes as “superlative':
While through the west, where sinks the crimson day.
To this couplet we add the following lyric from Caractacus,' and the Epitaph on his wife :
Mona on Snowdon calls:
Hark, she speaks from all her strings;
Hark, her loudest echo rings;
Send thy spirits, send them soon,
Now, when midnight and the moon
See, their gold and ebon rod,
Where the sober sisters nod,
Snowdon has heard the strain:
Other harpings answer clear,
Other voices meet our ear,
Busy murmurs hum around,
Rustling vestments brush the ground;
Through the twilight, through the shade,
Mount the oak's majestic head,
EPITAPH, IN THE CATHEDRAL OF BRISTOL.
Take that best gift which heaven so lately gave:
Her faded form; she bowed to taste the wave,
And died! Does youth, does beauty, read the line ?
Does sympathetic fear their breasts alarm ? Speak, dead Maria ! breathe a strain divine;
Even from the grave thou shalt have power to charm. Bid them be chaste, be innocent, like thee;
Bid them in duty's sphere as meekly move; And if so fair, from vanity as free;
As firm in friendship, and as fond in love. Tell them, though 'tis an awful thing to die,
('Twas even to thee) yet the dread path once trod, Heaven lifts its everlasting portals high,
And bids 'the pure in heart behold their God.'