1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Lyttelton

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 5:29-30.



This illustrious statesman, poet, and historian, was the son of Sir Thomas Lyttleton of Hagley, in Worcestershire, and was born in 1709. He gave early indications of his genius by his compositions both in prose and verse; and after a classical education at Eton, was entered of Christ-church, Oxford, where he produced his Blenheim, a poem. His Progress of Love, and his Persian Letters, were likewise written while he was very young: the first is interesting, the last excellent.

When only nineteen years of age, he set out on his travels, and addressed a poetical epistle to Pope from Rome. His employments abroad are a model for travelling young noblemen.

Soon after his return to his native country, he obtained a seat in parliament, and for many years he was found proudly independent in the ranks of opposition against Sir Robert Walpole; and his name appears in every debate of importance, though his father was a lord of the admiralty; and of course sided with the ministers. Between him and his parent, however, there seems to have been a perfectly good and affectionate understaning; and politics, which are so frequently the cause of disunion in weaker minds, in them produced no sensible effect, as each probably gave the other the credit of being guided by principle.

In 1737, when the Prince of Wales began to keep a separate court, Lyttleton became secretary to his Royal Highness; and through his influence, it is supposed, that so many persons of talents were patronized by the heir apparent. This may serve as a model for persons in power.

In 1741 he received the hand of Miss Lucy Fortescue, of Devonshire, for whom he had conceived the most ardent attachment, as is evident, not only from his amatory verses, but from the whole of his conduct.

With this accomplished lady he lived for five years in the highest degree of connubial felicity; and when she was prematurely carried off in child-birth, he solaced his grief by writing the Monody to her memory, which so universally admired. By her he had a son and a daughter. But entering into the married state a second time, it is said he did not find a similar degree of happiness, nor did he leave any issue by his last lady, who was a daughter of Sir Robert Rich.

Sir Robert Walpole being at length driven from the helm of affairs, Lyttleton became one of the lords of the treasury, and from that time was a supporter of administration. Politics however did not wholly absorb his attention, and his Observations on the Conversion of St. Paul, to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer, attest his piety as well as his genius.

In 1755 he was appointed chancellor of the exchequer, and two years after created a baron, when he retired from active public labours, and devoted the greatest part of his time to literary and social pursuits. His elegant Dialogues of the Dead, and his History of Henry II. occupied a considerable portion of his leisure for some years. The latter is a most elaborate, but in some respects elegant, performance.

Lyttleton died, after a lingering illness, at his seat of Hagley, which he had adorned with taste and judgment, in 1773, at the age of 64. As a poet, he was more distinguished for ease than elevation, with peculiar delicacy of thought and expression; as a christian and a man, he deserves unqualified praise. Not more elegant in his writings than amiable in his life; not more the object of admiration for the first, than of love and honour for the last. The shades of Hagley, like those of the Leasowes, will always continue to associate in the minds and feelings of every visitor, the elegance and virtue of their poetry, progenitors, and patrons, whoever may be the future owners of those beautiful domains.