Of the personal history of William Pattison, a youth equally remarkable for genius and imprudence, we have few particulars, and these particulars are of the sombre cast.
He was born at Peasemouth, near Rye, in Suffolk, in 1706, where his father rented an estate of the Earl of Thanet; and to his accidental connection with this noble family, he seems to have owed his celebrity and his misfortunes. By their patronage he was placed at the grammar school of Appleby, in Westmoreland, on account of some early indications of genius; and here he not only made a considerable proficiency in classical learning, but laid the foundation of his poetical reputation.
By some means, however, now unknown, he experienced the neglect of his patron, before he left Appleby school, and probably from this cause he lost his election to Queen's college, Oxford; but by the partial affection of his mother, he was sent to Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge, where his good humour, his talents; and his address, soon made him conspicuous. But, alas! he was neither diligent nor regular; and in dread of expulsion he removed his name from the college book, and bade adieu to the university.
Hastening to London, he fell into the vortex of dissipation; and though some persons of distinction shewed a desire to patronize him, and encouraged him to publish his poems by subscription, his imprudence frustrated their benevolent designs of serving him; and at a period when he was reduced to the last extremity of distress, he was seized with the small-pox, which carried him off; in the 21st year of his age.
Mr. Anderson has most liberally pleaded for his errors. He was, says that gentleman, as well by constitutional temper as by benevolent dispositions, and by sprightly talents, a most agreeable companion. It will always be reflected upon with regret, that his companionable talents, and endearing qualities, procured him no useful connection, nor one solid and lasting advantage. He brought cares on himself, as really other young men of genius have done, to drive away cares from others, who, placed by fortune above injury, first seduced him from the great work of life, and then suffered him, after much anxiety and much trouble, to die of a broken heart.
"His compositions," says Anderson, "though little known, are characterised by a degree of tenderness, terseness, refinement, and harmony, which entitles them to the attention of the readers of poetry. They possess a considerable portion of the strong imagination of Spencer and Milton, and the rich melody of Dryden and Pope." The words of Dr. Johnson, which the excellent Editor above-mentioned wishes were written in letters of adamant on the heart of every man of genius in the world, cannot be repeated too often, and apply but too well, we understand, to Pattison: "Those who, in confidence of superior capacities or attainments, disregard the common maxims of life, should remember, that nothing can atone for the want of prudence; that negligence and irregularity long continued will make knowledge useless, wit ridiculous, and genius contemptible."
His poetical remains were collected and published by the partiality of a friend; and some of them, written in the Ovidian stile, are not inferior to any compositions in the English language. His Epistle from Abelard to Eloisa, in particular, is not unworthy of the model on which it was formed; it would have done no discredit to Pope himself.