1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Hole

Bartholmew Parr, in "A Slight Sketch of the Life of the late Rev. Richard Hole" Blackwood's Magazine 5 (April 1819) 65-71.



(The following account of this gentleman (author of the humorous production, entitled the Exmoor Courtship, in our twenty-third number, the continuation of which will be given very soon) is extracted from an unpublished memoir, enticed, "A Slight Sketch of the Life of the late Rev. Richard Hole, L.L.B. Rector of Farringdon and Inwardleigh," printed at the request of a literary society at Exeter, to which he belonged, and which is known to the public by a volume of essays on topics of general literature.)

The subject of this memoir was born in Exeter, in the year 1746, and his classical education was completed in the grammar-school of this city, under the care of Mr Hodgkinson, a master whose abilities as a classical scholar were of a superior degree, and who left several excellent specimens of his talents as a tutor, in this county (of Devon.) The early youth of Mr Hole was particularly distinguished; he maintained his situation in school with considerable credit, and even at that time his peculiar vein of dry comic humour was conspicuous. I remember the boys of that period acting in the school the Beaux Stratagem, and High Life below Stairs, in which our friend represented Scrub, and Lovell disguised as the country boy, who spoke in the Devonshire dialect; Shapleigh was the Archer and Philip; Hocken, the late rector of Oakhampton, the Aimwell and Duke's Servant. If I can trace with accuracy the recollections of that period, the performance was far from despicable. Mr Hole removed to Oxford in the year 1764 and took his degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1771, — he was ordained in the same or the following year. At college his acquaintance with General Simcoe commenced, which, ripened into the warmest, the most sincere friendship, terminated only with our friend's life. There also he became acquainted with our former associate, Drewe, of whose life he presented to this society a short and elegant sketch; and from these friends, whose military ardour was early conspicuous, he caught a portion of the same spirit, and anxiously wished, at one period of his life, to embrace the profession to which they were destined, and in which the former attained so conspicuous a rank with the highest military reputation; but "his lot forbade," and his affection for his mother prevailed, for he knew, that to hint his wishes would have been destructive of her peace.

His poetical genius expanded, I believe, very early, and I have seen some humorous poems written while he was at college. As his theatrical inclinations were then warm, several prologues and epilogues were the productions of his pen. To these I cannot at present have access, but shall copy from recollection a lively jeu d'esprit of about the year 1766. When Bishop Keppel came to reside here for the first time, Lady Waldegrave, Mrs Keppel's sister, accompanied him. Her beauty excited universal admiration; and among the rest Mr Hole's uncle, the Rev. Mr Wight, and the chanter, Mr Snow, kindled into poetry in her praise. Mr Hole sent the following letter as from an Exmoor shepherd (his father's living, Bishop Nymmett, being in that neighbourhood), with the following lines annexed.

"Madam, — Though I cannot pretend to chant your ladyship's praises, like these two gentlemen, I am, with equal respect, your ladyship's most faithful and devoted.

Happy the fair whose matchless charms
Can such cold breasts inspire!
Lo! the white frost her beauty wanes,
And turns e'en snow to fire."

Lady W. was so well pleased with the compliment, that the Exmoor shepherd was her frequent toast.

In 1772, Mr Hole published his translation of Fingal. It was written when the admiration of Ossian's poetry was general, warm, and sometimes enthusiastic. The accounts of Macpherson and its early era were equally credited; nor was it surprising that a youthful poet (for the translation was begun not long after the original publication in 1761,) should catch with ardour the glowing imagery, the wild scenery, the animated description of this antico-modern bard, as the subject of his lays. In the year 1772, however, the public ardour had cooled. The same images almost constantly recurring with artful but slight variations, fatigued the reader; the suspicion of imposture, though it had then scarcely assumed a questionable shape, disgusted him. The version, elegant and flowing, with scarcely a weak line, or a faulty rhyme, did not, probably on this account, obtain much regard, and while the Ode to Imagination, especially when enforced by the masterly melody of Jackson's music, was warmly applauded, the work circulated with languor, and the sale at no time repaid the author's expectations of his merits. To select a specimen from a work so well known, and so long since published, can scarcely be expected; but on again examining it with a view to the present attempt, I was particularly struck by the energy and spirit of the following description. On comparing it with Mr Macpherson's translation, we shall at once see the additional force and animation which it receives from Mr Hole's numbers [quotation omitted].

The Ode to Imagination again recurs in the Devonshire and Cornish poems, but it will best enable us to trace the progress of our friend's talents to notice it in this place. We need not repeat the commendations which it has so generally received. The plan is that of Dryden's celebrated St Cecilia's Ode, and the imagery is equally spirited and correct, the lines flowing and mellifluous [quotation omitted].

In the year 1776, he was united to Miss Wilhelmina Katencamp, daughter of Mr Katencamp, a very respectable and opulent merchant of this city. It was completely a union of hearts, and continued with unexampled harmony and affection to the time of his death, a period of twenty-six years. Soon after this event, Mr Hole fixed at Sowton, as curate to Mr Arch-deacon Moore; his living at Buckerel, to which he was presented in 1777, having no suitable habitation. Mr Hole's occasional residence in the neighbourhood of Southmolton, led him to an acquaintance with Mr Badcock. From Mr Badcock he first received the Hymn to Ceres, and by his advice, and with some of his assistance, Mr Hole engaged in the translation. This gentleman, who had reviewed the original in the Monthly Review, at that time contributed very largely to the same journal. I mention this circumstance chiefly to remark, that our friend often liberally assisted him and that particularly the articles which related to the Poems of Rowley, and the subsequent controversy, were much enriched by his communications. Mr Hole's poetical taste, and discriminating judgment, were on that occasion highly serviceable to his friend. What were Mr Hole's other contributions, I have now no means of ascertaining; but, at no great distance of time, he engaged in another review, where he presided for many years in the poetical department with great spirit and ability. To point out the articles which he contributed, and to discriminate their peculiar merit, is scarcely at this time in my power, and would certainly extend this sketch too far, were it attempted. We must return to the hymn and the translation.

Whether the hymn to Ceres be the work of Homer, or of a later author, is a question not yet decided, and which, at least, makes no part of our present subject. It was found in the same volume with the other poems of the immortal bard; is of high antiquity, and of peculiar simplicity and beauty. It is the legendary tale of Ceres wandering in pursuit of Proserpine; and though not a hymn, according to our ideas, is such when compared with other poems of antiquity, announced and quoted by the same title. The translation was executed very rapidly, but it betrays few marks of taste. The language has an epic dignity; the pauses are judiciously varied; but a faulty rhyme may sometimes be found, and, as perhaps the easier task, we find occasionally a few paraphrases, instead of the simple terseness of the original [quotation omitted].

The notes are short and explanatory. Mr Hole points out many apparent defects in the copy, and particularly in that part where the lines quoted by the scholiast on Nicander would probably have appeared. Not finding these lines in the present poem, has furnished some critics with an argument, that this is not the hymn originally attributed to Homer. Mr Hole possessed sufficient merit to enable me, without injury to his fame, to add, that the very elegant emendation of [Greek characters] was suggested by archdeacon Moore, and the note on the Eleusinian Mysteries in part furnished by Mr Badcock. Seven years elapsed before Mr Hole appeared again as an author, in his own name. In this interval, however, he was not wholly idle. In the year 1782, Mr Badcock was engaged as an occasional contributor to the London Magazine, a very early rival of the Gentleman's, which for a time shared with it the public favour and encouragement. It had, however, been gradually sinking in both, when Mr Badcock's abilities were expected to raise this publication to its former rank. Major Drewe and Mr Hole promised their aid, and the former was a very liberal and lively coadjutor. A paper called The Link-boy was begun with some spirit, and a well-drawn character, the member of a supposed club, if I remember rightly, was communicated by our friend a little Jeu d'Esprit on the recovery of a young attorney, of little practice, from a dangerous indisposition, we shall transcribe from this collection. It is signed H. O. our friend's usual signature:

On his sick-bed as Simple lay,
A novice in the laws,
The hapless youth was heard to say,
How cruel to be snatched away
And die without a cause.

Jove wondering hears; his gracious nod
The youth from death reprieves;
Yet, with submission to the god,
His cause is still extremely odd
Without a cause he lives.

The principal and most important part of Mr Hole's communications, consisted of a series of dialogues between ideal personages. The beings who "hold converse sweet" had "a name" only without a "local habitation," or indeed an existence but in the eye of poetic phrenzy or superstitious ignorance. Yet as having affixed characters, these may be, at least, supported in a dialogue, and become a vehicle for remarks of different kinds — the characters introduced are Belcour and Serjeant Kite, the Serpent of Regulus and the Dragon of St George, Mr Shandy, senior, and Matthew Bramble; Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and Parson Adams. There are some others of which I cannot ascertain the titles, but they may be perhaps found among his manuscripts, which are yet untouched. The conclusion, which contains a slight defence of the plan, I have happily recovered, and shall add a short extract from it [omitted].

The idea of conveying critical of satirical remarks, by dialogues between imaginary characters, was too happy to be overlooked, and some imitations of inferior execution appeared. There were two, however, which merit an exception; the author's of a dialogue between the Theseus of Corneille, and the Hamlet of Shakspeare; and of one between Clarissa Harlowe and Sophy Western. The former was published, but the latter, the production of a lady of peculiar delicacy and distinguished abilities, was, I believe, never sent to the collection for which it was originally designed. — Other communications from our friend to this work, but of no particular importance or value, I could point out. They were humorous descriptions of the follies of the day, and satirical hits in his grave or ironical style. To conclude his monthly connexions, we may just mention the British Magazine, a more recent attempt, which owes some valuable communications to his pen; and the Gentleman's Magazine, to which he was a long but not a very frequent contributor.

In 1789, Arthur, or the Northern Enchantment, which Mr Hole calls a poetical romance, appeared. This is a poem from the School of Ariosto, and probably begun in his more ardent, youthful days. — he declares it to be an imitation of the old Metrical Romance, with some of its harsher features softened and modified. — It is, indeed, too desultory to be considered as a regular epic, and too well connected, as well as too important in its action, to deserve the humbler title of a romance. The events and manners of the actors most nearly resemble those of the Italian school, while the correcter imagery, and the uniform loftiness of the style, shew the author to be no mean proficient in that of Homer. The fable so artfully involved, and the catastrophe developed with peculiar skill. The third book, which relates the landing of Arthur in Solway Frith, is particularly interesting. It is full of romantic incidents; spells, prodigies, and enchantments attend us in every step; and it is more extravagantly, perhaps more pleasingly wild than any other part of the poem; yet few of the incidents appear to be new. We shall select two specimens; one of horror, another descriptive of elegance and beauty [quotation omitted].

In a poetical view, Arthur rises in many respects above the author's former productions; the language is more bold and energetic, the lines less monotonous; the measure more varied in its pauses; yet the minuter critic has discovered, that the variety is sometimes carried too far; and that the attempt to avoid an uniformity of cadence, too often interrupts the harmonious flow of the verse. — The periods it has been also said, sometimes run over a couplet into the third line. It may be admitted also, for our friend was not ashamed of confessing it, that the verses were not polished with the care which distinguished the version of Fingal; that the lines are not always sufficiently energetic, or the rhyme faultless. The lines which relate to "liberty" are highly animated and poetical. The poet is peculiarly happy in styling gray-hairs the "Wreath of honoured age," and the following line, in the description of the introduction of christianity from the north, is truly sublime: "And Sion's sacred song burst from the Celtic lyre." The notes display copious and extensive knowledge of the Scandinavian mythology, and were, I believe, wholly his own, without any assistance whatever. The Celtic and Gothic customs are carefully and ably discriminated, though so often confounded by authors even of distinguished reputation.

In a collection of miscellaneous poetry, by gentlemen of Devon and Cornwall, the communications of Mr Hole are exclusively lyric. The tomb of Gunnar, imitated from an ancient Islandic fragment, preserved by Bartholine, is the first; the Ode prefixed to Fingal; Odes to Melancholy; Terror and Stupidity, follow in order.

We must revert to the institution of this society in the year 1792. In its first outline, the number of members was nine only, afterwards increased to twelve. Mr Hole was one of the "muses" of the first institution, and I need not recall to your recollection the various modes in which he has repeatedly entertained and instructed us. Sindbad, Shylock, and Iago, are well known, but the voyages of Ulysses, the modern dress of the Exmoor scolding, with various slight occasional communications, in the style of dry humour, in which he peculiarly excelled, must rise to the recollection of every one now present, and it would be an insult to their feelings, to suppose for a moment that they could be forgotten. I know not that I particularly mentioned Mr Hole on the occasion, but the translations from the Argonautics of Orpheus, in a paper which I had the honour of reading to this society, were the productions of Mr Hole, and possessed considerable merit.

I need scarcely add in this place what Mr Hole was: — the sincere, the unaffected grief of the whole circle of his family and friends, demonstrates, more strikingly than words can paint, his worth, his merits, and his talents. Friendly and affectionate in the more limited circle, he claimed and obtained, in his turn, the warmest and most sincere attachment. The world in general saw in his character, honour, generosity, learning, and religion, and freely accorded their approbation and regard. His knowledge was solid and well founded; his religion sincere and unaffected, his benevolence warm and unconfined. Without the parade of superior learning, he gained the esteem and confidence of those with whom he conversed; and never in a single instance lost a friend by a fault of his own. Mr Jackson, who soon followed Mr Hole to the grave, remarked, that he had known Hole more than thirty years, without having discovered a single fault in his character. No one possessed a more acute and penetrating discernment; no one was better acquainted with Mr Hole.

Of his works I need not again speak. A correct taste, gave an elegant polish to sound learning and solid information. In his conversation he was unaffectedly cheerful, humorous, entertaining, and instructive: in private life conciliating the warmest affection; in public the most solid esteem.

[To the preceding sketch it is intended to add but a few words on the subject of some of the author's publications, which are there slightly noticed, or merely alluded to, and of the unpublished papers which he left behind him. Among the former, the Essay on the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, which is barely mentioned by reference to the principal subject of it, the voyages of the celebrated navigator Sindbad, was, in its origin, only a communication to the society above noticed, but afterwards written into a separate publication, and is perhaps the most learned, and, at the same time, the most ingenious and entertaining, of all the performances of its author. Its object was to illustrate the prodigies of Oriental fiction, which we are accustomed to regard in no other light than as the unrestrained and lawless wanderings of a wild or sportive imagination, by comparison with passages in history, with the real miracles of nature, and the grave relations of lying travellers, so as to prove that they might either have formed the subjects of actual belief, or have been attended by a much greater degree of apparent probability than they at present possess, in the minds of those who first heard and admired them, and for whose understandings or services they were designed and calculated.

The half sportive, half serious, essays on the characters of lago and Shylock, are contained in the volume published by the society, together with a more elaborate paper by the same author, illustrative of the originality of Shakspeare's genius, which is highly indicative of his just taste, and strong poetical feeling.

For some time previous to his death, he had been engaged in another work of research and amusement, which he undertook upon near the same principles as the observations on Sindbad, which he had already given to the society, and afterwards to the public; — Remarks on the Voyages of Ulysses, as narrated in the Odyssey — a work which often delighted and instructed the writer of these pages while in its progress, but which was left by its author in a very imperfect and scattered state, except a part which was designed for an introduction to the remainder, and which was published after his death by the friend who composed the foregoing memoir, under the title of "An Essay on the Character of Ulysses, as delineated by Homer." This essay also had been read at the Exeter literary society. With regard to the unfinished work, of which it was to have formed a part, if the papers in which it was contained any longer exist, they have for the present eluded the search which has been made for them, under the supposition that, although certainly not in a state for separate publication, they might have furnished considerable portions of interesting matter for the pages of a miscellaneous repository.

Of the remaining MSS. which have fallen into the hands of the present writer, the greater part appear to consist of short essays and pieces of fugitive poetry, which have already been given to the world in various periodical and other works of miscellaneous literature; besides a common place book, from which (as containing notices of much abstruse reading in books of unusual occurrence, and observations upon them) something may be hereafter gleaned which will answer the purpose of this publication. Some original plays, — Pyrrhus, — The Castilian Matron, and the Trial of Friendship, tragedies, — and others, of which also some account, with occasional specimens, may hereafter be given, — and the little humorous poem which has given occasion to the insertion of the preceding memoir. Of this it is only intended to observe, that it is calculated to afford a just idea of the prevailing cast and turn of humour which characterised its author, — and that its foundation is a clever performance, by Thomas Brice, who was, half a century ago, a well-known bookseller in Exeter, written on the same principle as Tim Bobbin's Toy-shop, and similar works, and entitled, An Exmoor scolding, between two sisters, Wilmot Moreman and Thomasin Moreman, as they were spinning; also, an Exmoor Courtship; both in the propriety and decency of the Exmoor -dialect, Devon; to which is adjoined a collateral paraphrase in plain English, for explaining barbarous words and phrases. The first part of this little work of humour, consisting of the scolding, our author did not venture to touch, but, among his papers has been found the commencement of what was probably intended as a pendant to his Theocritian, or rather a Virgilian version of the courtship — viz. a translation into Exmoor of the first eclogue of Virgil.