Page images
PDF
EPUB

OTWAY, PRIOR, PHILIPS.

247

Yet some of his Songs have lived, though most of them are stained too deeply with the vices of the man who wrote them, to permit their circulation in our purer days.

THOMAS OTWAY, the greatest dramatic name of Dryden's age, was born in 1651, at Trotting in Sussex. The son of a clergyman, he was educated at Winchester and Oxford. From the halls of Oxford he passed to the London stage; but had only small success as an actor. Not so when he took up the dramatist's pen. Almost the only gleam of prosperity that favoured the poet shone in 1677, when, by the interest of the Earl of Plymouth, he was made a cornet of dragoons, and shipped off to Flanders. But he soon lost his commission by dissipation, and returned to his playwriting. He died in 1685, a poor and wasted debauchee, who had yet, by his tragedies, greatly surpassed the laboured dramas of Dryden, and liad come not far short of the most pathetic scenes in Shakspere. Three years before his death he produced Venice Preserved, the play for which his name is still honoured on the English stage. The Orphan is a powerful but indelicate tragedy.

MATTHEW PRIOR, born in 1664, at Abbot Street in Dorsetshire, rose from humble life—his uncle kept a tavern at Charing Crossto be secretary at the Hague, ambassador to the Court of Versailles, and a Commissioner of Trade. The kindness of the Earl of Dorset, who found the little waiter of the Rummer Inn reading Horace one day, enabled him to enter St. John's, Cambridge, of which college he became a Fellow. He won his place in the diplomatic service by writing, in conjunction with Montagu, The Town and Country Mouse, a burlesque upon Dryden's “Hind and Panther.” Prior's best known poems are light occasional pieces of the Artificial school. His longest and most laboured work is a serious poem, called Solomon. After having lain, untried, in prison for two years, accused by the Whigs of treasonable negotiation with France, he lived on the profits of his poems and the bounty of Lord Oxford, at whose seat of Wimpole he died in 1721.

John PHILIPS, author of The Splendid Shilling and other works,

248

PROSE WRITERS OF THE FIFTH ERA.

was born in 1676, the son of the Archdeacon of Salop. During his short life-he died in 1708, aged thirty-two-he wrote several poems in the intervals of his medical studies. “The Splendid Shilling” imitates and tries to parody the style of Milton.

PROSE WRITERS,

a

HENRY MORE, born in 1614, lived a hermit-life at Cambridge, much as the poet Gray did in later days. He was a great admirer of Plato, and wrote much on metaphysical subjects, of which the mistier kind had a strong attraction for his pen. The Mystery of GodlinessThe Mystery of Iniquity-The Immortality of the Soul are among the themes he dealt with. More died in 1687. He wrote poems also, of which the principal is called Psychozoia, or Life of the Soul.

John Owen, born in 1616, at Stadham in Oxfordshire, was a great favourite with Cromwell, who took him to Dublin and to Edinburgh, and caused him to be made Vice-Chancellor of Oxford. He was long the leading minister of the Independent body. Among his numerous, but far from graceful writings, we may name An Exposition of the Hebrews; A Discourse of the Holy Spirit; and The Divine Original of the Scriptures. This amiable and learned man, whom even his opponents could not dislike, died in 1683.

EDWARD STILLINGFLEET, whose life extended from 1635 to 1699, became Bishop of Worcester in 1689. He wrote Origines Sacrae, or a Rational Account of Natural and Revealed Religion, and also a Defence of the Trinity; the latter in reply to part of Locke's Essay. Stillingfleet's Sermons, too, are justly remembered for their good sense and force of style.

THOMAS BURNET, Master of the Charter-house, was born in 1635, and died in 1715. His chief work, originally in Latin, but rendered into English in 1691, was The Sacred Theory of the Earth. Written in a day when geological science was yet unborn, it is, of course, full of error and wild speculation ; but its eloquence and picturesque grandeur of style redeern it from oblivion. Burnet's other principal works were, Archæologia Philosophica-On Christian Faith and Duties—and The State of the Dead and Reviving. He

PROSE WRITERS OF THE FIFTH ERA.

249

a

held some peculiar religious views, which debarred him from preferment in the Church.

THOMAS SPRAT, born in 1636, at Fallaton in Devonshire, was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, and became Bishop of Rochester in 1684. He wrote with remarkable eloquence a History of the Royal Society; An Account of the Rye-house Plot; and a short Life of Cowley. Sprat died in 1713.

LADY RACHEL RUSSELL, the daughter of the Earl of Southampton, and the devoted wife of that Lord William Russell who was beheaded in 1683 for an alleged share in the Rye-house Plot, deserves remembrance here for her beautiful Letters, They were published fifty years after her death, which took place in 1723.

WILLIAM WYCHERLEY, born in Shropshire in 1640, belongs to the most shameful period in the history of the English people and their literature. Educated as a lawyer, he abandoned his profession for the worst dissipations of London life. His Comedies, upon which his reputation as a literary man is founded, reflect the pollutions of the writer's mind. When it is said that they were all the fashion with the wits and beauties of Charles the Second's court, their character becomes clear at once. Wycherley died in 1715.

WILLIAM SHERLOCK, Dean of St. Paul's, and known as the author of a Practical Discourse concerning Death, was born in 1641. He wrote much against the Dissenters. His Vindication of the Trinity involved him in a controversy with South. He wrote also a treatise on the Immortality of the Soul. Sherlock died in 1707.

GILBERT BURNET, born at Edinburgh in 1643, was the son of a Scottish judge. Having graduated at Aberdeen, Gilbert entered the Church Minister of Salton in Haddingtonshire-Professor of Divinity at Glasgow-preacher in the Rolls Chapel, Londonan exile on the Continent, residing chiefly at the Hague—he became, at the Revolution, Bishop of Salisbury, as a reward for his adherence to William of Orange. His literary fame rests principally on his historical works—the History of the Reformation,

250

PROSE WRITERS OF THE FIFTH ERA.

and the History of My Own T'imes. The latter, sketching the Civil War and the history of Cromwell, enters with greater minuteness into the period between the Restoration and the Treaty of Utrecht. Burnet's work on the Thirty-nine Articles is his chief theological treatise. He died in 1715.

JOHN STRYPE, born in 1643, deserves remembrance for his biographical and antiquarian works. Lives of Cranmer, Cheke, Grindal, Whitgift, and many others, proceeded from his pen, besides the Annals of the Reformation, and Ecclesiastical Memorials. He was a clergyman of the Church of England, and held many posts, the last being a lectureship at Hackney. He died in 1737, aged ninety-four.

WILLIAM PENN, the son of the celebrated admiral, was born in 1644. Though more distinguished as a colonist than as an author, he wrote several treatises in defence of Quakerism. No Cross No Crown, The Conduct of Life, and A Brief Account of the People called Quakers, are among his works. He died in 1718.

ROBERT BARCLAY, born in 1648, at Gordonstown in Moray, followed his father, Colonel Barclay, in joining the virtuous and God-fearing sect, then called Quakers, but now known as Friends. His Apology for these persecuted Christians is a remarkable theological work. He died in 1690.

DANIEL DEFOE, born in 1661, was the son of a London butcher. After trying various occupations-hosier, tile-maker, and woollenmerchant- he devoted himself to literature, and took up pen on the Whig side. For his political attacks he suffered the pillory, imprisonment, and fine. But his greatest efforts were works of fiction, of which Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, is the chief. No English writer has ever excelled him in his power of painting fictitious events in the colours of truth. His simple and natural style has much to do with this. The Relation of Mrs. Veals Apparition, prefixed to Drelincourt on Death, affords, , perhaps, the best specimen of Defoe's wonderful power of clothing fiction with the garb of truth. He died in 1731, leaving behind him many debts, and a host of works amounting to two hundred and ten books and pamphlets.

a

[ocr errors]

a

PROSE WRITERS OF THE FIFTH ERA.

251

MATTHEW HENRY, born in Flintshire in 1662, studied law, but afterwards became a Nonconformist minister. Chester and Hackney were the scenes of his labour. His name is now remembered chiefly for that Commentary on the Bible, which his death in 1714 prevented him from finishing.

RICHARD BENTLEY, who was born in 1662 and died in 1742, became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Regius Professor of Divinity in that university. He has been called the greatest classical scholar England ever produced. Editions of Horace, Terence, and Phædrus are among his principal works. He also edited Milton, but with very small success.

SIR JOHN VANBRUGH, born about 1666, was a sugar-baker's son, who produced architectural designs, and wrote witty but licentious comedies. Under Queen Anne he was Clarencieux King-at-arms; and under George I., Comptroller of the royal works. The Provoked Wife is, perhaps, his best play. Blenheim and Castle Howard were his chief works as an architect. Vanbrugh died in 1726.

JOHN ARBUTANOT, born in Kincardineshire in 1667, was noted in London as a physician, a writer, and a wit. He wrote, besides several other things, much of Martin Scriblerus, published in Pope's works—the History of John Bull (1712), which was a fine piece of ridicule aimed at Marlborough-treatises on the Scolding of the Ancients, and the Art of Political Lying. The very titles of his works express their humorous tone. He was physician in ordinary to Queen Anne, and died in 1735.

WILLIAM CONGREVE was an exception to the common lot of his dramatic brethren, for he lived and died in opulence and ease. Born in Yorkshire about 1670, he became at twenty-two a dramatic author. But he had the good fortune to obtain several government situations, which, when swelled by the emoluments of the secretaryship of Jamaica, received in 1715, were worth about £1200 a year. The same calamity that darkened the old age of Milton, fell on the latter days of Congreve; but the licentious dramatist had not the same pure, angelic visions, to solace his hours of blindness, as passed before the mental eye of the great Puritan.

« PreviousContinue »