As a dramatic poet, Nicholas Rowe ranks very high, nor does he deserve less praise for his translation of Lucan, incomparably the best which any ancient classic has received, in the English language.
He was the son of John Rowe, Esq. serjeant at law, and was born at Little Beckford, in Bedfordshire in 1673. Under the celebrated Dr. Busby, he received all the advantages of a classical education at Westminster school; but being intended for his father's profession, he was entered a student of the Middle Temple, at the age of sixteen. His father dying three years after, he seems to have relinquished the study of the sages of the law for poetry, and to have formed himself on the models of the Greek tragedians. At twenty-five, he produced the Ambitious Stepmother, which was performed with great applause, and this success induced him wholly to devote himself to literature. Of the tragedies which he produced at short intervals, Jane Shore, Tamerlane, and The Fair Penitent, need only to be named to speak his dramatic celebrity. In comedy, however, he made an attempt, but completely failed. His poems, on general subjects, are neither numerous, nor of equal merit.
The duke of Queensberry made him his under-secretary, and for the space of three years, he discharged the duties of his office, with credit and attention. On his grace's death, however, his prospects as a politician closed; and he retired to the studies most congenial to his mind.
On the accession of George I. Mr. Rowe was made poet laureat, and likewise one of the surveyors of the customs of the port of London. The prince of Wales appointed him, about the same time, clerk of his council, and lord chancellor Parker conferred on him the post of secretary of presentations. These honours and distinctions, however, he did not long enjoy. He died in 1718, in the 45th year of his age, and was gathered to the poets in Westminster-abbey.
The person of Rowe is said to have been graceful and well made, and his face regular and of manly beauty. He was twice married: by his first wife he had a son, and by his second a daughter. In conversation he was affable and engaging; and the extent of his acquirements was even greater than his public fame. Wellwood, his biographer, informs us, that he died like a Christian and a philosopher, in charity with all mankind, and in perfect resignation to the will of God. "He kept up," says he, "his good humour to the last, and took leave of his wife and friends, immediately before his last agony, with the same indifference for life, as if he had been upon taking but a short journey." This is higher praise than all the fame of learning can confer, and the most exalted talents at the closing hour of life, would be happy to enjoy it!
Mr. Pope, in some of his letters, says, "Mr. Rowe accompanied me, and passed a week in the forest. I need not tell you how much a man of his turn entertained me; but I must acquaint you, there is a vivacity and gaiety of disposition almost peculiar to him, which makes it impossible to part from him without that uneasiness which generally succeeds all our pleasures."