1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elijah Fenton

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 3:164-65.



This worthy gentleman was born at Shelton, near Newcastle under the Line, in Staffordshire. In this county, thought there are several families of the name of Fenton, yet they are all branches from one stock, which is a very ancient and opulent family: Our author's mother being immediately descended from one Mare, an officer in William the Conqueror's army.

Out poet was the youngest of twelve children, and was intended by his parents for the ministry: He was sent to the university of Cambridge, where he embraced the principles very opposite to the government, by which he became disqualified for entering into holy orders. We find him soon after his quitting the university, secretary to the earl of Orrery, but how long he remained in that station we cannot ascertain. After he quitted the service of this noble peer, it was his custom to perform a visit annually to his eldest brother's house in the country, who possessed an estate of 1000 per annum. He was caressed in the country, by all his relations, to whom he endeared himself, by his affable and genteel behaviour. Mr. Fenton was a man of the most tender humanity, and discovered it upon every proper occasion: A gentleman resident in that county, who has transmitted to us some account of Mr. Fenton, has given us the following instance of his human disposition.

He had a great number of sisters, some of whom were less happy in their marriages than others; one in particular was exposed to many misfortunes, by the indiscretion and extravagance of her husband. It is the custom of some people to make very great distinctions between their rich and poor relations; Mr. Fenton's brother was of this stamp, and it seems treated his unfortunate sister with less ceremony than the rest. One day, while Mr. Fenton, was at his brother's house, he observed the family going to dinner without this sister, who was in town, and had as good a right to an invitation, as any of the rest who dined there as a compliment to him. He could not help discovering his displeasure at so unnatural a distinction, and would not sit down to table till she was sent for, and in consequence of this slight shewn her by the rest of the family, Mr. Fenton treated her with more tenderness and complaisance than any of his sisters.

Our author carried through life a very fair reputation, he was beloved and esteemed by Mr. Pope, who honoured him with a beautiful epitaph. Mr. Fenton after a life of ease and tranquility, died at East-Hampstead Park, near Oakingham, the 13th of July 1730, much regretted by all men of taste, not being obnoxious to the resentment even of his brother writers.