1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Oldham

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 120-25.



The ingenious Mr. Oldham, the Glory of the last Age, was the Son of a Non-Conformist-Minister, and born at Shipton in Gloucestershire, in the Year 1653. He was Educated first in a private School, from whence he was sent to St. Edmund's Hall in Oxford, where he made a Great Progress in Polite Learning. Coming thence to London, he soon gained the Reputation of a Celebrated Poet; but, yet it may be presumed he did not at first meet with the Encouragement he expected, from one of his Satires, where he makes Spenser's Ghost speak to him, dissuading him from the Study of Poetry, for tho' he should write never so well,

What Scipio, what Maecenas wouldst thou find;
What Sidney now to thy great projects kind?

He was afterwards introduced to the Patronage of the Earl of Kingstone, with whom he lived very Reputably to the time of his Death. His Satires are some of the severest, and best in the English Language, tho' sometimes he has taken Great Liberties; and his other Poetry is Excellent: a Great Genius and much Learning shines thro' all his Works, and he was at Invention Matchless. His Poems are published in three Books, Printed at three several times, and to these are added his Remains.

The First Book contains, His Satires upon the Jesuits, against Virtue, &c.

The Second Book, Horace's Art of Poetry Imitated in English, an Excellent piece. BION. A Pastoral, in Imitation of the Greek of Moschus, On the Death of the Earl of Rochester; and several Imitations of, (and Paraphrases upon) Horace, &c.

And the Third Book, has Monsieur Boileau's Satire upon Man, Imitated; DAVID'S Lamentation for the Death of Saul and Jonathan, Paraphrased; A Satire upon Nobility; concerning Poetry; The Dream, The Parting, &c.

His Remains are, A Poem upon the Marriage of the Prince of Orange with the Lady Mary; Counterpart to the Satire against Vertue, and some other small Religious pieces.

To give you a Specimen of his Satirical Works, I shall here insert some of his Lines, out of his Satire upon a Woman, who had injured his Friend.

Hot Lust light on her, and the Plague of Pride
On that, this ever scorn'd, as that denied:
Ach, Anguish, Horror, Grief, Dishonour, Shame
Pursue at once her Body, Soul and Fame:
Cankers, and Ulcers eat her, 'till she be,
Shun'd like Infection, loath'd like Infamy:
Plagu'd so, 'till she think Damning a Release,
And humbly pray to go to Hell for Ease.

His Satire upon his Printer, Ben. Motte, who had Printed one of his Poems mangled, is very extraordinary; and in one of his Satires against the Jesuits, he has these excellent Lines, on Impudence.

Get that great Gift and Talent Impudence,
Accomplish'd Mankind's highest Excellence;
Tis that prefers, 'tis that alone makes great,
Confers alone Wealth, Titles, and Estate;
Gains place at Court, can make a Fool a Peer,
An Ass a Bishop; can vile Blockheads rear
To wear red Hats, and sit in Porph'ry Chair;
To Learning, Parts and Skill, and Wit and Sense,
Worth, Merit, Honour, Virtue, Innocence.

He was a man of Pleasure, notwithstanding his Satire on Woman, as appears by his Poems on Love, which are admirable; and to show that he was a gay Bottle Companion, I shall give you some of his Verses on the Drinking Bowl, from his Ode of Anacreon, Paraphrased.

Make me a Bowl, a mighty Bowl!
Large as my capacious Soul!!
Vast as my Thirst is! Let it have
Depth enough to be my Grave!
I mean, the Grave of all my Care,
For I intended to bury't there [....]

The only Verses I have farther to take notice of, are his Lines on Wisdom, which are Inimitable.

—Wisdom's an Evenness of Soul
A steddy Temper which no Cares Controul,
No Passions ruffle, no Desires inflame;
Still Constant to it self, and still the same.

This excellent Poet died in the House of the Earl of Kingston at Holme Pierpont, in the Year of 1683, and was buried in the Church there, with this Inscription on his Monument.

M. S. Joh. Oldham Poetae, quo nemo sacro furore plenior, nemo rebus sublimior, aut Verbis felicus audax; cujus famam omni aevo propria satis consecrabunt Carmina, Quen inter primos honoratissimi Guilielmi Comitis de Kingstone Patroni sui Amplexus Variolis correptum, heu nimis immatura Mors rapuit, & in Coelestem transtulit Chorum. Natus apud Shipton in Agro Glocestrensi in Aula Sancti Edmundi Oxoniae Graduatus. Obii die Decembris non Anno Dom. 1683. Aetatis 30.

The Great Esteem Mr. Dryden had for this Gentleman, is particularly exprest in the following Copy of Verses he wrote to his Memory.

Farewel, too little and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own;
For sure our Souls were near ally'd; and thine
Cast in the same Poetick mould with mine.
One common Note on either Lyre did strike,
And Knaves and Fools we both abhorr'd alike:
To the same Goal did both our Studies drive,
The last set out, the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young Friend perform'd and won the Race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant Store
What could advancing Age have added more?
It might (what Nature never gives the Young)
Have taught the numbers of thy Native Tongue.
But Satire needs not those, and Wit will shine
Through the harsh Cadence of a rugged Line.
A noble Error, and but seldom made,
When Poets are by too much force betray'd.
Thy Generous Fruits, though gather'd ere their prime,
Still shew'd a Quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of Rhime.
Once more, Hail and Farewel; Farewel thou Young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our Tongue;
Thy Brow's with Ivy, and with Laurels bound;
But Fate and Gloomy Night encompass thee around.