1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elijah Fenton

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:520-21.



ELIJAH FENTON, the son of an attorney, was born at Shelton, near Newcastle, in Staffordshire, on the 20th of May, 1683. After completing his school education, he was entered of Jesus College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A., in 1704, with a view of entering into holy orders; but was refused admission in consequence of his declining to take the required oaths. He then became an assistant in the school of a Mr. Bonwick, in Surrey; afterwards kept a school himself at Seven Oaks, in Kent; and was for some time in Flanders, as secretary and tutor to the son of Charles, Earl of Orrery. This connexion, together with his abilities and amiable manners, introduced him to the notice and friendship of the great and learned, and Pope employed him to assist him in the Odyssey, of which he composed the first, fourth, nineteenth, and twentieth books. Pope also introduced him to Craggs, when secretary of state, about 1720, to whom Fenton acted as a sort of tutor; but the death of the former suddenly put an end to the pleasing prospects which this association opened. In 1723, his tragedy of Mariamne, after having been rejected, as Johnson observes, with "brutal petulance" by Cibber, was performed, with great applause, at Covent Garden Theatre, and is said to have produced the author nearly 1,000. The latter part of his life was passed at Easthampstead, in Berkshire, the seat of Lady Trumbull, to whose son he had acted as tutor, and where he died, on the 13th of July, 1730. In addition to the works beforementioned, he wrote the Lives of Milton and Waller, with an edition of the poems of the latter; and Oxford and Cambridge Verses. There is great elegance and sweetness in all his poetical performances; Pope ranks his Ode to Lord Gower next, in the English language, to Dryden's Cecilia; and his translation of the four books of The Odyssey, before-mentioned, may be taken for those of Pope himself. The character of Fenton, says Johnson, in alluding to the epitaph written on him by the poet just named, "was so amiable, that I cannot forbear to wish for some poet or biographer to display it more fully, for the advantage of posterity." In his person he is described as tall, fat, and bulky; he was of retired and sedentary habits, and so sluggish, that one of his friends says, "he died of indolence." His morals and conversation were blameless, and he is never mentioned by any of his contemporaries, but with respect and honour. The following anecdote of him deserves to be recorded: dining with his brother, at an annual family party, he observed that one of his sisters, who had married unfortunately, was absent; and found, upon inquiry, that distress had made her thought unworthy of invitation. As she was at no great distance, he refused to sit at the table till she was sent for, and when she had taken her place, was careful to show her particular attention.