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Milton, whose writings will last as long as the English language, generosity, and valour. For bim Mr. Smith bad contracted a perfect friendship; a passion he was most susceptible of, and whose laws he looked upon as sacred and inviolable.
Every subject that passed under his pen had all the life, proportion, and embellishments bestowed on it, which an exquisite skill, a warm imagination, and a cool judgment, possibly could bestow on it. The epique, lyric, elegiac, every sort of poetry lie touched upon (and he had touched upon a great variety) was raised to its proper height, and the differences between each of them observed with a judicious accuracy. We saw the old rules and new beauties placed in admirable order by each other ; and there was a predominant fancy and spirit of his own infused, superior to what some draw off from the ancients, or from poesies here and there culled out of the moderns, by a painful industry and servile imitation, His contrivances were adroit and magnificent; his images lively and adequate; his sentiments charming and majestic; his expressions natural and bold; his numbers various and sounding; and that enameled mixture of classical wit, which, without redundance and affectation, sparkled through his writings, and were no less pertinent and agreeable.
His Phædra is a consummate tragedy, and the success of it was as great as the most sanguine expectations of his friends could promise or foresee. The number of nights, and the common method of filling the house, are not always the surest marks of judying what encouragement a play meets with : but the generosity of all the persons of a refined taste about town was remarkable on this occasion ; and it must not be forgotten how zealously Mr. Addison espoused his interest, with all the elegant judgement and diffusive good-nature for which that accomplished gentleman and author is so justly valued by mankind. But as to Phædra, she has certainly made a finer figure under Mr. Smith's conduct, upon the English stage, than either in Rome or Athens ; and if she excels the Greek and Latin Phædra, I need not say she surpasses the French one, though embellished with whatever regular beauties and moving softness Racine himself could give her.
No man had a juster notion of the difficulty of composing than Mr. Smith; and he sometimes would create greater difficulties than he had reason to apprehend. Writing with ease, what (as Mr. Wycherley speaks) may be easily written, moved his indignation. When he was writing upon a subject, he would seriously consider what Demosthenes, Homer, Virgil, or Horace, if alive, would say upon that occasion, which whetted him to exceed himself as well as others. Nevertheless, he could not, or would not, finish seVeral subjects he undertook ; which may be imputed either to the briskness of his fancy, still hunting after new matter, or to an occasional indolence, which spleen and lassitude brought upon him, which, of all his foibles, the world was least inclined to forgive. That this was not owing to conceit or vanity, or a fulness of himself, (a frailty which has been imputed to no less men than Shakspeare and Jonson) is clear from hence; because be left his works to the entire disposal of his friends, whose most rigorous censures he even courted and solicited, submitting to their animadversions, and the freedom they took with them, with an unreserved and prudent resignation.
I have seen sketches and rough draughts of some poems he designed, set out analytically; wherein the fable, structure, and connection, the images, incidents, moral, episodes, and a great variety of ornaments, were so finely laid out, so well fitted to the rules of art, and squared so exactly to the precedents of the ancients, that I have often looked on these poetical elements with the same concern, with which curious men are affected at the sight of the most entertaining remains and ruins of an antique figure or
building. Those fragments of the learned, which some men have been so proud of their pains in collecting, are useless rarities, without form and without life, when compared with these embryos, which wanted not spirit enough to preserve them; so that I cannot belp thinking, that, if some of them were to come abroad, they would be as highly valued by the poets, as the sketches of Julio and Titian are by the painters; though there is nothing in them but a few outlines, as to the design and proportion.
It must be confessed, that Mr. Smith had some defects in his conduct, which those are most apt to remember, who could imitate him in nothing else. His freedom with himself drew severer acknowledgements from him than all the malice he ever provoked was capable of advancing, and he did not scruple to give even his misfortunes the hard name of faults ; but, if the world had half his good-nature, all the shady parts would be entirely struck out of his character.
A man who, under poverty, calamities, and disappointments, could make so many friends, and those so truly valuable, must have just and noble ideas of the passion of friendship, in the success of which consisted the greatest, if not the only, happiness of his life. He knew very well what was due to his birth, though fortune threw him short of it in every other circumstance of life. He avoided making any, though perhaps reasonable, complaints of her dispensations, under which he had honour enough to be easy, without touching the favours she flung in his way when offered to him at a price of a more durable reputation. He took care to have no dealings with mankind, in which he could not be just; and he desired to be at no other expense in his pretensions than that of intrinsic merit, wbich was the only burthen and reproach he ever brought upon his friends. He could say, as Horace did of himself, what I never yet saw translated :
Meo sum pauper in ære. At his coming to town, no man was more surrounded by all those who really had or pretended to wit, or more courted by the great men, who had then a power and
opportunity of encouraging arts and sciences, and gave proofs of their fondness for the name of patron in many instances, which will ever be remembered to their glory. Mr. Smith's character grew upon his friends by intimacy, and out-went the strongest prepossessions which had been conceived in his favour. Whatever quarrel a few sour creatures, whose obscurity is their happiness, may possibly have to the age ; yet amidst a studied neglect, and total disuse of all those ceremonial attendances, fashionable equipments, and external recommendation, which are thought necessary introductions into the grande monde, this gentleman was so happy as still to please ; and whilst the rich, the gay, the noble, and honourable, saw bow much he excelled in wit and learning, they easily forgave him all other differences. Hence.it was that both his acquaintance and retirements were his own free choice. What Mr. Prior observes upon a very great character was true of him, that most of his faults brought their excuse with them.
Those who blamed him most understood him least, it being the custom of the vulgar to charge an excess upon the most complaisant, and to form a character by the morals of a few, who have sometimes spoiled an hour or two in good company. Where only fortune is wanting to make a great name, that single exception can never pass upon the best judges and most equitable observers of mankind; and when the time comes for the world to spare their pity, we may justly enlarge our demands upon them for their admiration.
Some few years before his death, he had engaged himself in several considerable un
dertakings; in all which he had prepared the world to expect mighty things from him. I have seen about ten sheets of his English Pindar, which exceeded any thing of that kind I could ever hope for in our own language. He had drawn out a plan of a tragedy of the Lady Jane Grey, and had gone through several scenes of it. But he could not well have bequeathed that work to better hands than where, I hear, it is at present lodged; and the bare mention of two such names may justify the largest expectations, and is sufficient to make the town an agreeable invitation.
His greatest and noblest undertaking was Longinus. He had finished an entire translation of the Sublime, which he sent to the reverend Mr. Richard Parker, a friend of his, late of Merton College, an exact critic in the Greek tongue, from whom it came to my hands. The French version of Monsieur Boileau, though truly valuable, was far short of it. He proposed a large addition to this work, of notes and observations of his own, with an entire system of the Art of Poetry, in three books, under the titles of Thought, Diction, and Figure. I saw the last of these perfect, and in a fair copy, in which he showed prodigious judgement and reading: and particularly had reformed the art of rhetoric, by reducing that vast and confused heap of terms, with which a long succession of pedants had encumbered the world, to a very narrow compass, comprehending all that was useful and ornamental in poetry. Under each bead and chapter, he intended to make remarks upon all the ancients and moderns, the Greek, Latin, English, French, Spanish, and Italian poets, and to note their several beauties and defects.
What remains of his works is left, as I am informed, in the hands of men of worth and judgement, who loved him. It cannot be supposed they would suppress any thing that was his, but out of respect to his memory, and for want of proper hands to finish what so great a genius had begun.
SUCH is the declamation of Oldisworth, written while his admiration was yet fresh, and his kindness warm; and therefore such as, without any criminal purpose of deceiving, shows a strong desire to make the most of all favourable truth. I cannot much commend the performance. The praise is often indistinct, and the sentences are loaded with words of more poinp than use. There is little, however, that can be contradicted, even when a plainer tale comes to be told.
EDMUND NEALE, known by the name of Smith, was born at Handley, the seat of the Lechmeres, in Worcestershire. The year of his birth is uncertain.?
He was educated at Westminster. It is known to have been the practice of Dr. Busby to detain those youth long at school, of whom he had formed the highest expectations. Smith took his master's degree on the 8th of July, 1696; he therefore was probably admitted into the university in 1689, when we may suppose him twenty years old.
His reputation for literature in his college was such as has been told; but the indecency and licentiousness of his behaviour drew upon him, Dec. 24, 1694, while he was yet only bachelor, a public admonition, entered upon record in order to liis expulsion. Of this reproof the effect is not known. He was probably less notorious. At Oxford, as we all know, much will be forgiven to literary merit; and
By bis epitaph be appears to have been 42 years old when he died.
He was consequently born
in the year 1668. R.
of that he had exhibited sufficient evidence by his excellent ode on the death of the great orientalist, Dr. Pocock, who died in 1691, and whose praise must have been written by Smith when he had been but two years in the university.
This ode, which closed the second volume of the Musæ Anglicanæ, though perhaps some objections may be made to its Latinity, is by far the best lyric composition in that collection : nor do I know where to find it equalled among the modern writers. It expresses, with great felicity, images not classical in classical diction :: its digressions and returns have been deservedly recommended by Trapp as models for imitation,
He had several imitations from Cowley:
Testitur hinc tot sermo coloribus
Orator effers, quot vicissim
I will not commend the figure which makes the orator pronounce the colours, or give to colours memory and delight. I quote it, however, as an imitation of these linés :
So many languages he had in store,
The simile, by which an old man, retaining the fire of his youth, is compared to Etna flaming through the snow, which Smith has used with great pomp, is stolen from Cowley, however little worth the labour of conveyance.
He proceeded to take his degree of master of arts, July 8, 1696. Of the exercises which he performed on that occasion, I have not heard any thing memorable.
As his years advanced, he advanced in reputation; for he continued to cultivate his mind, though he did not amend his irregularities : by which he gave so much offence, that,, April 24, 1700, the dean and chapter declared “ tlie place of Mr. Smith void, he having been convicted of riotous behaviour in the house of Mr. Cole, an apothecary: but it was referred to the dean when and upon what occasion the sentence should be put in execution.”
Thus tenderly was he treated : the governors of his college could hardly keep him, and yet wished that he would not force them to drive him
away. Some time afterwards he assumed an appearance of decency: in his own phrase, he whitened himself, having a desire to obtain the censorship, an office of honour and some profit in the college ; but, when the election came, the preference was given to Mr. Foulkes, his junior : the same, I suppose, that joined with Freind in an edition of part of Demosthenes. The censor is a tutor; and it was not thought proper to trust the superintendance of others to a man who took so little care of himself.
From this time Smith employed his malice and his wit against the dean, Dr. Aldrich, whom he considered as the opponent of his claim. Of his lampoon upon him, I once heard a single line too gross to be repeated.
But he was still a genius and a scholar, and Oxford was unwilling to lose him : he was endured, with all his pranks and bis vices, two years longer; but on Dec. 20, 1705, at the instance of all the canons, the sentence declared five years before was put in execution.
The execution was, I believe, silent and tender ; for one of his friends, from whom I learned much of his life, appeared not to know it.
He was now driven to London, where he associated himself with the Whigs, whether because they were in power, or because the Tories bad expelled him, or because he
was a Whig by principle, may perhaps be doubted. He was, however, caressed by men of great abilities, whatever were their party, and was supported by the liberality of those who delighted in his conversation.
There was once a design, hinted at by Oldisworth, to have made him useful. One evening, as he was sitting with a friend at a tavern, he was called down by the waiter; and, having staid some time below, came up thoughtful. After a pause, said he to his friend, “ He that wanted me below was Addison, whose business was to tell me, that a history of the Revolution was intended, and to propose that I should undertake it. I said, “What shall I do with the character of lord Sunderland ? and Addison immediately returned, When, Rag, were you drunk last?' and went away.”
Captain Rag was a name which he got at Oxford by his negligence of dress.
This story I heard from the late Mr. Clark of Lincoln's Inn, to whom it was told by the friend of Smith.
Such scruples might debar him from some profitable employments; but, as they could not deprive him of any real esteem, they left him many friends; aud no man was ever better introduced to the theatre than he, who, in that violent conflict of parties, had a prologue and epilogue from the first wits on either side.
But learning and nature will now and then take different courses. His play pleased the critics, and the critics only. It was, as Addison has recorded, hardly heard the third night. Smith had indeed trusted entirely to his merit, had ensured no band of applauders, nor used any artifice to force success, and found that native excellence was not sufficient for its own support.
The play, however, was bought by Lintot, who advanced the price from fifty guineas, the current rate, to sixty; and Halifax, the general patron, accepted the dedication. Smith’s indolence kept him from writing the dedication till Lintot, after fruitless importunity, gave notice that he would publish the play without it. Now, therefore, it was written; and Halifax expected the author with his book, and had prepared to reward him with a place of three hundred pounds a-year. Smith, by pride, or caprice, or indolence, or bashfulness, neglected to attend him, though doubtless warned and pressed by his friends, and at last missed his reward by not going to solicit it.
Addison has, in the Spectator, mentioned the neglect of Smith's tragedy as disgraceful to the nation, and imputes it to the fondness for operas then prevailing. The authority of Addison is great; yet the voice of the people, when to please the people is the purpose, deserves regard. In this question, I cannot but think the people in the right. The fable is mythological, a story which we are accustomed to reject as false; and the manners are so distant from our own, that we know them not from
sympathy, but by study; the ignorant do not understand the action ; the learned reject it as a school-boy's tale ; incredulus odi. What I cannot for a moment believe, I cannot for a moment behold with interest or anxiety. The sentiments thus remote from life are removed yet further by the diction, which is too luxuriant and splendid for dialogue, and envelopes the thoughts rather than displays them. It is a scholar's play, such as may please the reader rather than the spectator; the work of a vigorous and elegant mind, accustomed to please itself with its own conceptions, but of little acquaintance with the course of life,
Dennis tells us, in one of his pieces, that he had once a design to have written the tragedy of Phædra; but was convinced that the action was too mythological.