1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Sheffield

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 179-83.



This illustrious Nobleman, the greatest Honour to his Country, and Mecaenas of this Age, is descended from Sir Robert Sheffield. Knight, who lived in the time of King Henry III. Robert, Son of the said Sir Robert, was likewise Knighted by King Edward I. and in Right of his Wife Genet, eldest Daughter and Coheir to Alexander Lownde Esq; become Lord of the Mannor of Botterwick in the County of Lincoln. Robert, Grandson of the last nam'd Sir Robert Sheffield, was Father of another Robert, who marry'd a Daughter of Sir Thomas Staunton of the County of York, and by her had Robert Sheffield, Esq; his Son and Heir: which Robert had Issue, Sir Robert Sheffield, who, in the Reign of King Henry VII. was Speaker of the House of Commons. Sir Robert, by Helen, Daughter and Heir to Sir John Delves, had Issue Robert Sheffield, Father of Edmund Sheffield, advanc'd to the Dignity of Baron of Botterick in the first Year of Edward VI. This Edmund marry'd Anne, Daughter of John Vere the sixth Earl of Oxford, and by her left Issue John his Son and Heir: He was a Nobleman of great Loyalty and Valour, but was unfortunately slain by Rebels upon the Insurrection of the Commons in Norfolk. John his Son, by Douglas Daughter to William Lord Howard of Effingham, had a Son likewise nam'd Edmund, made Knight of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth, and created Earl of Mulgrave by King Charles I. and he had Issue six Sons; but all dying young, he was succeeded by Edmund his Grandson. This Edmund marrying Elizabeth, Daughter to Lionel Earl of Middlesex, Lord Treasurer to King James the First, had by her John, the now living Ornament of this noble Family; who having travell'd abroad in France and Italy for some time, was (during the the Dutch Wars) a Volunteer with the Earl of Ossery, in that bloody Engagement at Soldbay, and behav'd himself so gallantly, that he had immediately given him the Command of the Royal Catherine, a First-Rate Ship: But his Royal Highness the Duke of York, under whom he serv'd, being forc'd to quit the Sea after that Summer was over, on account of his Religion, this Lord had first a new-rais'd Regiment given him, and soon after an old one, call'd the Holland Regiment; his new one and that being incorporated, it became to have twenty-four Companies, and so continu'd all that Dutch War.

Afterwards he was in favour enough to be made a Lord of the Bed-Chamber, and Knight of the Garter, and when the Duke of Monmouth lost all his Commands, succeeded him in the Government of Hull; All which Imployments he kept for many Years, till he was made Lord Chamberlain. And it should not be forgotten, that during his remaining in the Army, he went several times either to the Dutch or the French, according as England engag'd in those Quarrels; and when Tangier was besieg'd by the Moors, he, by his own Request, obtain'd the commanding a Detachment thither of two thousand five hundred of our best Troops; which, tho' transported with much Difficulty and extraordinary Haste, not arriving till just after the Siege was rais'd, and a Truce made for Five Months, with a Prospect of future Peace, his Lordship return'd with such a surprizing Account, sign'd by all the Officers there, of its being not tenable (by the Moors being improv'd in Cannon) and consequently of the King's having been deceiv'd in expending five hundred thousand Pounds to make a Mole there, that it was thought fit to all blown up at last.

When the Revolution happen'd, his Lordship, tho' not in any way contributing to it, was so kindly us'd, and such an Opinion had King William of his great Merit, that, after King James's Death, he made him of his Cabinet-Council, and a Marquis, with a Pension of 3000 a year. Upon the Death of King William, the first Ministers of Queen Anne were the Duke of Marlborough, the Earl of Godolphin, the Earl of Nottingham, the Earl of Rochester, and this noble Lord, whom that Princess made Duke of Buckinghamshire, and Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, with a Pension added to it; which, on some Change in Affairs, he could not be prevail'd with to continue, even with Offers of greater Favours. But in the Year 1710. he was made first Lord Steward, and afterwards President of the Council: This important Place he kept till the Queen's Death, and consequently had the greatest Post in the Regency.

His Lordship's Valour has been sufficiently prov'd, and his other Abilities are not confin'd to Letters only, and the Encouragement of Learning; for in him we see the most accomplish'd Nobleman, the excellent Poet, the shining Orator, the polite Courtier, and most consummate Statesman, attended with the utmost Honour and Generosity: He has adorn'd the high Station of President of the Council more than once, and acquitted himself therein with that Grace and Fidelity, as to be thought worthy imitation by his greatest Successors. This great Person (besides two excellent Tragedies in Blank Verse, which, tho' never so much importun'd, yet he has not suffer'd to be acted) has honour'd the World with the following Poems, viz.

I. An Essay on Poetry. My Lord, in this admirable Poem, has not only shewn his very great Wit, but, as Mr. Pope observes, restor'd Wits fundamental Laws, it containing the best Rules for Poetry of any Piece written in the English Language; and my Lord of Roscommon's Essay on translated Verse, in compliment to the Duke of Buckingham, begins,

Happy the Author whose correct Essay
Repais so well our old Horatian way.

II. An Ode of Brutus, in answer to that of the famous Cowley, and in no way inferior to it.

III. A Poem in praise of Hobbs.

IV. The Temple of Death. This is an admirable Piece.

V. The Rapture, an excellent Poem.

VI. The Happy Night, misprinted as being written by the Earl of Rochester; with several Copies of Love-Verses spread up and down in the Miscellanies, without his Lordship's Permission, under the Names of Earl of Mulgrave and Marquiss of Normanby. His Essay on Poetry begins thus:

Of Things in which Mankind does most excel,
Nature's chief Master-Piece is writing well;
And of all sorts of Writings, none there are
That can the least with Poetry compare:
No kind of Work requires so nice a Touch,
And if well done, there's nothing shines so much:
But Heav'n forbid we should be so profane,
To grace the Vulgar with that sacred Name.
'Tis not a Flash of Fancy which sometimes
Dazling our Minds, sets off the slightest Rhymes,
Bright as a Blaze, but in a Moment done;
True Wit is everlasting, like the Sun:
Which though sometimes beneath a Cloud retir'd,
Breaks out again, and is by all admir'd.
Number, and Rhyme, and that harmonious Sound,
Which never does the Ear with Harshness wound,
Are necessary, yet but vulgar Arts,
For all in vain these superficial Parts,
Contribute to the Structure of the whole
Without a Genius too, for that's the Soul;
A Spirit which inspires the Work throughout,
As that of Nature moves the World about;
A Heat which glows in every Word that's writ,
'Tis something of Divine, and more than Wit;
It self unseen, yet all things by it shown
Describing all Men, but describ'd by none.

I am inform'd also, that my Lord of late has written in Prose, equal to his Compositions of Poetry, two Dialogues of the Dead; one of them between Mahomet and the Duke of Guise about Religion, the other between Augustus Caesar and Cardinal Richlieu of Politicks: A Satyrical Feast of the Gods, in imitation of Julian; and his excellent Character of King Charles II. got into Print, without his Leave, about five and twenty Years ago.