There are few of the residents in Bath, or its occasional visitors, who are unacquainted with the romantic village of Claverton. Situated in a spacious valley, diversified by all the accompaniments of wood, water, and graceful undulations of ground, its little church with its ivy-mantled tower nestling among trees at the foot of a grassy slope, its manor house crowning the hill above, and its elegant and commodious rectory occupying a site near the church below, while the whole overlooks the varied and tasteful domain of Warleigh rising from the opposite bank of the Avon, — it presents a combination of picturesque features rarely centreing in one locality. Many of us recollect the old rectory standing on the same site as the present, but of a far humbler character, a long low building, beneath the level of the road, possessing nevertheless an air of comfort and respectability suited to its appropriation. This old house was for more than fifty years the residence of the Rev. RICHARD GRAVES, rector of Claverton.
I have been favoured by Henry Duncan Skrine, esq. of Warleigh, with the following extract from his grandfather's interesting work on the Rivers of England: "About midway in this ascent, overlooking Warleigh and the river, the pleasing village of Claverton seems to hang suspended, where its large gothic mansion (renowned in the civil wars) and its little church, with the pyramidical tomb of the late much esteemed Mr. Allen, are striking objects. Neither is its parsonage less pleasing, the little grounds of which are laid out in a truly classic taste by the Rev. Mr. Graves, the friend and literary rival of Shenstone, and where that worthy veteran closes the placid evening of his days in the retirement he has so happily embellished, deservedly beloved and respected."
Mr. Skrine adds: "The author of the above description was a private pupil of Mr. Graves, who prepared him for Winchester, and was on the most friendly terms with the Skrine family, to whom he addressed several pieces of poetry."
Mr. Graves having for the whole or greater part of the above-named period, besides his claims upon general literature, occupied a foremost rank in the literary circles of Bath, seems to deserve a special niche amongst the worthies of our city. I have accordingly endeavoured in this brief sketch to give the outline of his life, accompanied with such notices of his works, as I thought might interest my present hearers. In doing this I lay little claim to originality, the chief merit of my essay, if it has any, lying in its having collected into a focus the scattered rays of information emanating from a variety of sources. These sources, numerous as they are, it would be tedious to particularise, though some of the chief will be mentioned as I proceed.
Richard Graves was the second son of Richard Graves esq. of Mickleton, near Campden, in Gloucestershire. The family of Graves of Mickleton are a younger branch of that of Greaves, of Greaves and Bealey, near Bakewell, in Derbyshire. A member of that family settled very early in Yorkshire, and from him descended the Mickleton branch and that of lord Graves. It was in allusion to his northern origin that Mr. Graves adopted in most of his works the fictitious name of Peter of Pomfret. These branches have improperly altered the spelling of the name, which is Greaves, not Graves, and has always been so spelt by the Derbyshire family for at least three hundred years. This is proved by a pedigree certified by the Herald's college, now in the hands of Mr. Charles Springall Greaves, Q.C., who kindly supplied me with this information. Of the original stock were John Greaves of Balliol college, Oxford, professor of geometry at Gresham college, and afterwards Savilian professor of the same science at Oxford, who travelled in the cast, and wrote on the Pyramids and on the Roman foot; and his brother sir Edward Greaves, who was physician to Charles I.
Richard Graves the elder was born in 1677, and died in 1729. Hearne, the antiquary, in his interesting diary recently published by the late lamented Dr. Bliss of Oxford, says of him: "He was one of the most worthy and most virtuous gentlemen I was acquainted with. He was also a most excellent scholar and antiquary, a man of great modesty, and of a most sweet temper; a great friend to his tenants and to the poor, so that all people are very sorry for his death.... He was very studious, and made great collections, and was upon a work he designed to have published, relating to the antiquities of Evesham [in which neighbourhood he possessed property] and some other abbeys." There is an elegant Latin inscription to his memory in Mickleton church, written by his friend James West, P.R.S.
Richard, the son, the subject of this memoir, was born at Mickleton in or about the year 1714. He was educated partly at home under the Rev. Mr. Smith, curate of Mickleton (with whom he read Hesiod and Homer at twelve years old), and partly at Abingdon school, then in good repute as a place of education, whence at the age of sixteen (being then, to use his own words, "a pretty good Grecian",) he was elected scholar of Pembroke college, Oxford. Soon after going into residence he joined a party of young men who met in the evening to read Epictetus, Theophrastus, and other Greek authors seldom included in the university course; their only beverage (then a solecism at Oxford) being water. A short time after this he became the associate of Shenstone, Whistler, and Jago. This party, less abstemious, though not less devoted to intellectual cultivation, "supped Florence wine and read poetry, plays, Spectators, Tatlers, and other writings of easy digestion." His intimacy with Shenstone, which continued to the death of the latter in 1763, was maintained by frequent interchange of letters, many of which have been published. There does not appear to have been a perfect coincidence between them in matters of taste, but in general there was a congeniality and a harmony of opinion resulting in a friendship which added considerably to the happiness of both. In 1736 he was elected fellow of All Souls, where he became intimate with sir William Blackstone, then fellow of the same college, of whom he has recorded some interesting anecdotes in a little posthumous work called The Trifler. With the great jurist Mr. Graves lived in habits of the most unreserved intercourse, and their college friendship continued uninterrupted and undiminished to the latest hour of sir William's life.
Instead of pursuing the study of divinity according to his original design, he now turned his attention towards medicine, and attended in London two courses of anatomy under Dr. Nichols. A severe illness however, which incapacitated him for pursuing so laborious a profession, induced him to resume his divinity studies; and in 1740, after taking his master's degree, he entered into holy orders. About the same time he accompanied Mr. Fitz-Herbert, father of the first lord St. Helen's, with whom his elder brother had been acquainted at the Temple, to the estate of that gentleman at Tissington, near Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, as family chaplain; where he besides performed the clerical duties of the parish, a small donative in the gift of the Fitz-Herbert family. In this elegant retirement he enjoyed for three years the pleasures and advantages of refined society, including among others the distinguished names of Charles Pratt, afterwards lord Camden, sir Eardley Wilmot, Nicholas Hardinge, clerk of the house of commons, &c. &c. In his Spiritual Quixote (to be more particularly mentioned by and by) he has characterised Mr. and Mrs. Fitz-Herbert and Dr. Johnson's friend Miss Boothby, under the names of sir William and lady Forrester, and Miss Sainthill. His reference to their characters is generally respectful. The localities of Tissington are also very accurately described.
At the end of the above period he set off to make a tour in the north; and while at Scarboro' accidentally met with a distant relative, Dr. Samuel Knight, archdeacon of Berks, and author of the Lives of Colet and Erasmus, by whose recommendation he obtained a curacy (probably Aldworth), near Reading. This location was particularly gratifying to Mr. Graves, who was then coming by rotation into office in his college, and had been for some time desirous of an engagement within an easy distance of Oxford. He immediately took possession of the curacy; but as the parsonage house was out of repair, engaged a lodging with a Mr. Bartholomew, a gentleman farmer at Aldworth, whose family had been tenant-farmers there for nearly three hundred years. The attractions of the farmer's youngest daughter, Lucy, then about eighteen, made so deep an impression on Mr. Graves that he gave up his fellowship and married her. A fellowship of All Souls is so desirable a thing, and Mr. Graves was so far from having any thought of marrying, that, it is said, he had a very few years before declined an introduction, with matrimonial views, to a young lady whose portion was a good living. Such however are the feats of that capricious archer who is so significantly represented as launching his inevitable arrows with bandaged eyes. This important event in his life is well brought in as an episode in the second volume of the Spiritual Quixote, in the adventures of a character named Rivers. The personal qualifications of Mrs. Graves seem to have justified his choice, for Shenstone's intelligent correspondent, lady Luxborough, who as sister of the accomplished lord Bolingbroke may be considered a competent judge in the case, speaks of her in a letter to Shenstone as Mr. Graves's "agreeable" wife, and alludes in another to a pleasant surprise in a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Graves. Another of lady Luxborough's letters incidentally lets us into an interesting fact connected with this alliance, viz., that Mr. Graves adopted the measure of sending his rustic charmer to London to remedy the defects of her education, and become accomplished in the arts of polished society. Having mentioned the name of lady Luxborough I will venture to introduce the following quotation from one of her letters, as exhibiting a graphic sketch of Bath life a hundred years ago:
"Orange grove (Bath), February 29, 1752.
For once bid business avaunt, and ask us how we do at Bath, and at your friend Graves's. We can offer you friendly conversation, friendly springs, friendly rides and walks, friendly pastimes to dissipate gloomy thoughts; friendly booksellers, who for five shillings for the season will furnish you with all the new books; friendly chairmen who will convey you through storms and tempests for sixpence, and seldom else, for duchesses trudge the streets here unattended. We have also friendly Othellos, Falstaffs, Richards the Third, and Harlequins, who entertain one daily for half the price of your Garricks, Barrys, and Richs; and (what you will scarcely believe) we can also offer you friendly solitude; for one may be an anchorite here without being, disturbed by the question why? Would you see the fortunate and benevolent Mr. Allen, his fine house and stone quarries? Would you see our law-giver Mr. Nash, whose white hat commands more respect and non-resistance than the crown of some kings, though now worn on a head that is in the 80th year of its age? To promote society, good manners, and a coalition of parties and ranks; to suppress scandal and late hours are his views; and he succeeds better than his brother monarchs generally do. Hasten then your steps, for he may be soon carried off the stage of life [ob. 1761], as the greatest must fall to the worms' repast; yet he is new-hanging his collection of beauties so as to have space to hang up as many more future belles. His Appelles is Howard (in crayons), his Praxiteles is Howard's brother, who, though a statuary, deigns also to exercise his art in sculpture on humble paper ceilings, which are very handsome."
But to return to Mr. Graves. This imprudent and unequal marriage gave, as may be supposed, offence to his family; and he found himself cast upon the world with no other resource than a younger brother's slender fortune, and a curacy of fifty pounds a year. After remaining about two years at his curacy he was, through the interest of sir Edward Harvey of Langley, near Uxbridge, presented by Mr. Skrine, at that time possessor of the Claverton estate, to the rectory of Claverton, where he went to reside in 1750; and till his death was never absent from his living a month at a time. In 1763, through the interest of Mr. Allen, who had by that time purchased the manor of Claverton, he was presented to the vicarage of Kilmersdon, in Somersetshire, in addition to that of Claverton. Mr. Allen also procured him the appointment of chaplain to lady Chatham. As the narrowness of his circumstances obliged him to superintend in person the education of his children (three sons and a daughter), he resolved to take other pupils also under his tuition, and this occupation he continued with great credit to himself upwards of thirty years. Among other pupils of the highest respectability committed to his charge was Ralph Allen Warburton, son of the acute and learned bishop of that name. The bishop, writing to his friend bishop Hurd in 1766, says: "Ralph (then about ten years old) is as good, though not so learned, perhaps, as you could wish. He is now going upon Erasmus' Dialogues, a book long out of fashion, which yet I have recommended to Mr. Graves as a guard against too much poetry within doors, and superstition without. But apropos of Mr. Graves, my wife has let him the great house at Claverton, for which he gives £60 a year; and the great gallery-library is turned into a dormitory, so that where literature generally ends it here begins." Mr. Graves's reputation as a teacher must have been great, for within a month the bishop writes: "The dormitory is already filled; but what inspirations, as a library, it may give to the forty little sleepers therein must be left to time which reveals all things."
In 1777 Mr. Graves had the misfortune to lose his wife, at the age of forty-six. She was buried in Claverton church, and in accordance with the taste of the time he set up an urn to her memory, with a short but elegant and classical inscription.
Mr. Graves was admitted on a footing of familiarity at Prior park, as appears from the reminiscences scattered among his anecdotes of Mr. Allen, and was evidently a welcome visitor. I have heard the late Mrs. Stafford Smith, who must often have met him there, say that having the privilege of dining in boots, on account of riding home, and of retiring early from the dinner table because of the distance, it was a standing joke against him that, in his hurried way, he used to carry off his dinner napkin upon his spurs. It is evident, from various short pieces of wit and humour addressed to individuals, that he lived on terms of similar ease and sociality with most of the principal families round Bath. To lady Miller's vase at Bath-easton he was a frequent contributor, and his early habituation to refined society, as well as his peculiar facility in the lighter species of composition, must have qualified him in a high degree to appear with advantage at her elegant reunions. He seems indeed to have been an acceptable companion in all societies; and the secret of his universal welcome manifestly was his constant good humour and cheerfulness, and the lively tone of his conversation, his colloquial impromptus being often as happy as the jeux d'esprit of his pen; while both, though marked by greater licence than our modern sense of propriety allows, were always the effusions of a sportive fancy and a guileless heart.
The following characteristic traits are from the pen of a contemporary: "Yonder little man in the clerical dress and brown wig is the admired author of Eu*******e [Euphrosyne, a collection of poems], which, if you have not read it, let me recommend to a place in your library. It is full of beautiful poetry, elegant description, and unadulterated wit If ever he is satirical it is contrary to the natural benevolence of his temper; and he inflicts punishment only that he may reclaim. He is of so amiable a disposition that, stuttering and speaking thick, which nature made his blemish, will be imitated by little poetasters, who can no otherwise arrive at his humour, and yet would be thought like him." Bath Anecdoles and Characters, by the Genius loci, 1782 (ascribed to Dr. Harington).
"Never," says the late Rev. R. Warner, in his Literary Recollections, "did the hand of advanced age lie lighter upon a human being, or less exert its withering influence on the intellect, genius, and feeling of a nonagenarian than on Mr. Graves. When in his 88th year, I attended with him at a visitation, sat near him at table, and listened with astonishment to his uninterrupted flow of neat and epigrammatic impromptus, lively jeux d'esprit, and entertaining anecdotes."
It is with pain every friend to Mr. Graves's memory must find, from the following anecdote recorded by Mr. Warner, that he could lend himself to a corrupt practice which has so long been and is still the scandal of our Church. The anecdote is given only for the purpose of illustrating the peculiar humour of the man: "When Mr. Graves was approaching the period of his days, he received and accepted the offer of a piece of preferment under somewhat singular circumstances. The rectory of Croscombe, Somerset, had become vacant, and the patron felt desirous of alienating its perpetual advowson. This could not be effected however unless there were a living incumbent on the preferment at the time of the sale. He cast his eye therefore through the diocese in search of the oldest clergyman within it to whom Croscombe might he presented, ensuring thereby a speedy vacancy, and enhancing in the same proportion the purchase money. Mr. Graves proved to be the rarest example of longevity among his brethren of the cloth; to him therefore the rectory was proffered. Some years afterwards I chanced to be inducted into the same living, and learned from the churchwarden that he was present when a similar ceremony had been performed for Mr. Graves. The old man, he told me, in the true spirit of his character, could not on this occasion forbear discharging a few witticisms on the generosity of the patron, and his own perfect competency to fulfil the duties of the office he was about to be put in possession of; nor was it without a look and tone of his native drollery that, on being introduced into the belfry, he exclaimed, 'Where is the bell-rope? I cannot see it!' And having pulled it with all his feeble might, again inquired, 'Does it ring? for I cannot hear it!' The desired result was effected, and the legal induction completed."
In person Mr. Graves was rather below the middle size, spare and active. His usual pace was between a walk and a run, a circumstance which gave scope to the good-humoured jocularity of his friends. He lived to an extreme old age, and continued to perform the service of the Church until it became painful to his congregation to hear him. One of his last ministrations was his officiating at the marriage of his granddaughter, when nearly ninety years of age. The following account of his closing scene is given by his intimate friend the late Mr. Meyler, in a letter to Mr. Pratt, "The Gleaner:" — "You request me to send you some account of Mr. Graves's first and last illness, for such was his universal good state of health that they came both together. About a week before his death, or at most ten days, he was at my house in the Grove, Bath, his daily resort for more than hay a century. He never appeared more lively, nor his faculties less impaired; and he had almost regained his old pace, which you may remember was something between a run and a walk, but which you recollect he had been prevented using through a severe fall he met with about two years ago, and which, for the first time in his life, compelled him to be quiet for a quarter of an hour together. 'One morn we missed him on the accustomed hill'; and I soon learnt that he was afflicted by a violent disorder which threatened fatal consequences, as his very slender frame could not stand the effects of any exhausting malady. Dr. Falconer went over two or three times, but saw nothing could be done. Dr. Moodie visited him every day during his illness, and administered every relief that he could devise. Mr. Horton also was sent for, but with no better success. The veteran asked for me, and how the gout now used me. 'I had promised myself,' said he, I to have dined with him when he should be mayor of Bath ... but I fear that I shall be disappointed.' ... Mr. Prince Hoare, one of his former pupils, was seldom out of his presence for the last three or four days. Another of his scholars, likewise, Mr. Malthus (author of the Essay on Population), was then on a visit to his father-in-law, Mr. Eckersall, at Claverton house. He attended his kind old master, and administered the holy sacrament to him. After this, perceiving his fate approaching, he was perfectly collected during the whole trying scene of dissolution, and at length his breath passed unperceived away in a soft untroubled kind of sleep." He died November 23, 1804, and was buried December 1, in the parish church, where a mural tablet is erected to his memory.
I have before stated that Mr. Graves' family consisted of three sons and a daughter. The eldest son, the Rev. Morgan Graves, held the living of Compton, Berks, and married the daughter of the Rev. Mr. Head, incumbent of Chievely, in that county. He died young, leaving issue. It was probably a daughter of his, at whose marriage I have mentioned Mr. Graves as officiating at Claverton in 1803. Her husband was the Rev. Philip Meadows, afterwards rector of Bealings Magna, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. They had four sons and four daughters. The Rev. Danvers Graves, the second son, held the curacy of Chievely for many years. He married first the widow of Richard Hatt esq. of Bradley court, in that parish, and secondly the daughter of — Southby esq. of Winterbourne, Chievely. He died in France, leaving a very young widow, who lived many years an inmate of the college for clergymen's widows at Froxfield, Hungerford, Berks. Of the third son I have no information.
The daughter, Lucilla Anna Maria, remained unmarried, and dying March 10, 1822, aged fifty-seven, was buried in the family vault St. Martin's church, Ludgate, London, but is commemorated by a mural tablet in Claverton church. It is stated that she per- formed the part of a kind and generous relative to the children of her brother, Morgan Graves.
These particulars were obligingly communicated by Mr. Bartholomew, great-nephew to Mrs. Graves, through the kind intervention of Mr. Richard Welch of Reading.
Mr. Graves had a younger brother, Charles Caspar, who was born in 1716, and elected demy of Magdalen college, Oxford, in 1736. He took the degree of B.A. in 1740, and in the same year is spoken of by Mr. William Seward (uncle of the authoress) in a manuscript diary in the possession of Mr. Joseph Hunter, in warm terms as a hopeful convert to Methodism, and as preparing to take orders. In 1743 he was known as one of the Methodist preachers in Oxford (Ballard's MSS. Vol. i. p. 82), but in Whitehead's Life of Wesley, (vol. i. p. 510), he is marked as one of those who afterwards departed from the work either through want of health or defect of zeal. In 1759 he was incumbent of Tissington, his brother's former preferment, where he died in 1787 at the age of seventy-one. I am informed by Mr. Alleyn Fitz-Herbert, the present incumbent, that there are several people now living who remember him; and that he is spoken of as having been a good man of kindly disposition and quiet habits.
As a writer Mr. Graves' works, though not of great bulk, were so numerous (twenty-one in number), that I will not attempt to give a catalogue of them, contenting myself with dwelling only on those of chief importance. He seems to have been in early life a contributor to Dodsley's Miscellany; but the first separate work of his I find on record is The Festoon, a collection of epigrams, published in 1766. The selection is made with judgment, and is prefaced by an ingenious dissertation on the epigram, for which he received a silver medal offered by the proprietor of a periodical for the best essay on that species of composition. In 1772 he produced his principal work, The Spiritual Quixote. This work was written to satirize the excesses of mistaken zeal in the early followers of Whitfield and Wesley. The incident which led to the composition of this work is thus recorded by the author: "Although the editor," for so he chooses to style himself, "was not the best of all possible preachers, yet his parishioners were so well satisfied with his doctrine that they regularly attended the service every Sunday. But after a little time a journeyman shoemaker from Bradford came into his parish, brought with him a large congregation, and preached and sang psalms in a large old house; and thenceforth he found his church almost deserted, and his flock seemed to treat him with much less respect than they had before done. On Mr. Graves going to the meeting and reminding the preacher that as the house was not licensed he was liable to a penalty of £20, he desired to preach there for half a year that it might be seen which would convert most drunkards and sinners of every description. He then asked Mr. Graves what was his definition of faith? and behaved with great insolence and impertinence, but never repeated his visit." The work is skilfully planned and well executed, the plot probable and well sustained, the manners distinctive, the diction simple and natural, the episodes, especially that in which the history of his own marriage is given, well brought in, and the denouement dexterously effected.
The main drift of the story may be guessed from its very title. Geoffry Wildgoose, a young man of respectable family and comfortable independence, educated at the university, withdraws to his family house in the country, where he lives with his mother, a widow, in much seclusion, but giving the law to the confined society in which he moves. A disagreement with the vicar of the parish, operating upon a nervous temperament, leads him to devote himself to the study of the old Puritan divines, of whose works he finds a large collection in a garret of his mansion. This line of reading coinciding in point of time with the preaching of Whitfield and Wesley, then in its zenith, induces him to throw himself into that movement, and set out, without the knowledge of his mother, as an itinerant preacher. In this expedition he is joined by Jerry Tugwell, a cobbler of the parish, a simple but shrewd and humorous fellow, owing an hereditary and devoted loyalty to his master, but a very loose and shaky adherence to that master's strict self-denying principles. The staple of the work consists in the various incidents, serious and ludicrous, prosperous and adverse, encountered by our adventurers; and the attention is refreshed and the interest quickened by a variety of episodical narratives of the lives and fortunes of the parties they fall in with. Amongst these a part of the second volume is amusingly occupied by a detail of the author's own history, under the assumed name of Rivers, an old college friend of Wildgoose. But what would a novel on any subject be without a love story? Accordingly our Quixote is not left destitute of a Dulcinea. He finds her in a Miss Townsend, a hearer of his at Gloucester, who having escaped from the thraldom and persecution of a lady housekeeper whom her father, a widower, had placed over his household has taken refuge there with a friend of her late mother, a votary of Mr. Whitfield. His attachment to this lady exercises, imperceptibly to himself, a powerful and salutary influence upon Wildgoose. And the struggles of religious enthusiasm with natural passion in a heart 'Where mixed with God's her sacred image lies,' form perhaps one of the best and happiest touches in the work. After visiting in succession Gloucester, Bath, Bristol, Wales, and the Peak in Derbyshire with various success, our adventurers arrive at Warwick at the time of the races, where Wildgoose, in the midst of an unseasonable address on the race-course, receives a blow from a decanter launched at his head by a drunken reveller. He is received into the carriage of a Dr. Greville, a dignified and amiable clergyman of Warwick, is carried home and carefully attended to. The blow, though accompanied with some immediate danger from haemorrhage, yet proves ultimately of the greatest benefit by relieving his over-charged brain, and restoring him to cooler and more rational views of religion. Dr. Greville proves to be an intimate friend of the Townsend family, and Miss Townsend happens at that very time to be on a visit at his house. "The consequence," to use a hackneyed phrase, " may be more easily conceived than expressed." And I will venture to say there is not one of my fair hearers whose imagination will not be able to supply every succeeding step in the courtship until it terminates in the happy union of the parties. And the curtain falls, according to the established rule of novels of the bygone time, on a stage peopled by joyous hearts and smiling faces.
The author was evidently thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his master Cervantes, and has framed his two principal characters upon the precise model of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. We admire in Geoffry Wildgoose the same upright earnestness of purpose, the same simple dignity of character amidst all his extravagancies which distinguish the Don; and in Jerry Tugwell the same mixture of shrewdness and simplicity, the same quaint humour, the same lurking suspicion that there is a screw loose in his master's wits, and yet the same quailing before that master's superior genius and earnest enthusiasm which characterize Sancho. One great secret of the success of this work is that many of the principal characters were drawn from real life. There is extant a key, assigning each of these to its original. The character of Wildgoose has by some been considered as a fiction, by others as representing either sir Harry Trelawny or Mr. Joseph Townsend, formerly rector of Pewsey, Wilts. But I have some suspicion that the true original may be found in Mr. Graves' brother, above-mentioned. Perhaps it may have been a composition combining features taken from different originals.
Mr. Graves' apology for this book is as follows: — "The following narrative was intended to expose a species of folly which has frequently disturbed the tranquillity of this nation. The author indeed by no means considers ridicule as a proper test of religious opinions. But it is the practices of these itinerant preachers, rather than the general principles of the people in question, which he thinks exceptionable. And the following work is so far from ridiculing religion, as may perhaps be objected, that he flatters himself it has a direct tendency to prevent religion becoming ridiculous by the absurd conduct of such irregular teachers of it."
Mr. Graves' design manifestly was to serve the cause of genuine Christianity by exposing the mischiefs of exaggeration and excess in religious speculation, of which the character and circumstances brought forward were merely the exponents. And even among those whose excesses he exposes he candidly allows that some (he might and perhaps ought to have said most) are actuated by real piety, and attributes the growth of the evil in part to the remissness of the regular clergy. Nay, in an introductory advertisement to his work, speaking of himself under a feigned character, he evidently intimates a considerable degree of favour for Methodism itself, apart from its excesses. A Gloucestershire squire is introduced as having probably traced the work to one Christopher Collop, a Cotswold curate, but as subjoining: "What is remarkable however, if Kit were really the author of a thing of this kind, is, that although he did not approve of the Methodists rambling about the country, as many of them do, yet he was suspected to favour them in his heart, and continued so to do to the day of his death." Having said thus much, I must cordially admit that I cannot defend many of the incidents and situations by which he sought to expose the epidemic fanaticism of his age. Though even here the time must be distinguished, and some lenity be shown in judging a writer of a period when greater laxity of expression was allowed, by the higher and purer standard happily prevalent in our own. Neither can I excuse his introduction of Scripture language and allusions in connection with what is light and ludicrous; although he palliates it by the plea of necessity in order to give an air of truthfulness to his characters, and throws the onus of profaneness on the parties who use such language. Generally speaking, however, there is displayed in this work that sunny genial spirit, and that devotion to truth, rectitude and sober piety which characterize all his performances.
The mention of this work naturally raises the vexed question whether or no error in religion is a legitimate subject of satire. As I am unwilling to dogmatize, I will content myself with stating the main arguments on both sides. A pious and able writer of the present day has said: "Ridicule cannot be employed with impunity as a test of truth; error and truth often lie so close together. Nay, most religious error has so much of truth mingled up with it that the very love of truth ought to preclude the use of jesting; for, through this close connection of truth and error, mire cannot be cast at error without defiling the truth also." The same writer proceeds to quote from bishop Warburton as follows: — "To see what little good is to be expected from this way of wit and humour, we may observe that even the ridicule of false virtue hath been sometimes attended with mischievous effects. The Spaniards have lamented, and I believe truly, that Cervantes' just and inimitable ridicule of 'knight-errantry' rooted up with that folly a great deal of their real honour. And it was apparent that Butler's fine satire on 'Fanaticism' contributed not a little, during the licentious age of Charles II., to bring sober piety into disrepute. The reason is evident: there are many lines of resemblance between truth and its counterfeits, and it is the province of wits only to find out the likenesses of things, and not the talent of the common admirers of it — to discern the differences."
These two extracts seem to embody the whole or chief of what is to be said on the one side. On the other it may be argued that fanaticism, even in its lighter shades, is so destructive of candour, generosity and charity; and in its darker, so apt to generate both hypocrisy and cruelty, so fraught with hatred, malice and all uncharitableness, as to require the strongest correctives; and being of that class of social evils which the law cannot touch (except in its most frightful results), it seems legitimately to fall within the province of the satirist As reasonably might it be asserted that Elijah was inflicting a blow upon natural piety and the worship of God when he mocked the priests of Baal, saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a God; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked;" as that the satirist, in levelling his shafts bona fide at mischievous religious error, must necessarily inflict a wound upon pure and undefiled religion.
Mr. Graves' next considerable work was Columella, or the Distressed Anchoret, in two vols. 12mo. Its design was to show the ill consequences of men of talent and education retiring in the vigour of life to solitude and indolence, or to the busy idleness of trifling pursuits, upon the pretext of contempt of the world. In this work he is thought to have alluded, though only in the way of general resemblance, to his friend Shenstone, who at the time of its publication had been dead for some years. Although the humour of this work is not free from objection, it is written in the same kindly spirit, and with the same calm good sense and moral purpose which I have just observed to distinguish him as a writer.
Mr. Graves' style in his prose compositions is clear, familiar and lively, partaking of the natural graces of Addison and Goldsmith. A volume of sermons, the only work it may be observed to which he affixed his name, is said to be written in the same unaffected style, and to find an easy access to the affections. In his metrical pieces he is entitled to the praise of an agreeable versifier rather than of a genuine poet; although the sprightliness of his fancy and the readiness of his wit in his occasional productions will cause him always to be read with pleasure. In none of his works which have fallen in my way have I found traces, either in sentiment or in expression, of that depth and power which give to fiction its highest charm. He observed keenly, and touched adroitly the more obvious vices and follies of society, but could not analyse those intricate motives and surging passions which work beneath its surface. To borrow a metaphor from Dr. Johnson: " He could tell what time it was upon the dial of life, but could not construct the mechanism which moves its hands."
For the following estimate of Mr. Graves' character as a man we are indebted to Mr. Prince Hoare: — "Mr. Graves possessed from nature an extraordinary vivacity of constitution, to which the active employment of his choice and station gave a full scope, and which a rigid temperance maintained unimpaired to the end of a long life. His mind was highly cultivated at a very early period, not from the severity of precept, but from its spontaneous efforts to trace the sources of refined and virtuous pleasure. At college, as has been seen, he was the intimate associate of Shenstone, Jago, sir W. Blackstone, and whomever else of distinguished character the university of Oxford then contained; and he approved himself in no respect their inferior either in the vigour of his talents, the rectitude of his heart, or the fervency of his projects for future utility. The example of his life has been uniformly of that kind from which society derives its essential advantages and actual comforts. His attention was not devoted to any speculative reforms of human nature, but was exerted minutely and continually in the department immediately under his inspection, to check the progress of errors that lead imperceptibly to calamity, and to direct the listening proselyte in the road to happiness. In his view of worldly actions he contemplated the vices of mankind with the most minute strictness of discrimination, and when called on by his duty he investigated them with severity, reproved them with earnestness, but corrected them with lenity. A first offence met his compassion, not his anger, but he was slow to pardon its repetition. A natural politeness, a simplicity of manners equally unassumed and unassuming, covered, and from his ordinary acquaintance concealed, an ardent and energetic spirit, which never submitted to unjust aggression, and never stooped to dissimulation or dependence. He endured affliction with the courage of a mind conscious of its own uprightness, and frequently diverted the inroads of sorrow by the exercise of his accustomed literary pursuits." He had many of the eccentric habits of genius, but the love of order was the prevailing principle of his mind, and rule of his conduct. The familiar intercourse of his domestic hours exhibited an unvarying tenor of affection, cheerfulness, and piety.
He was in his heart, as by his profession, attached to the truths of revelation. It was his declaration to an intimate friend, that after all the researches of reading or speculative inquiry, he thought "no man," to use his own words, "could help being a Christian."
"This portrait," remarks Mr. Pratt, "is very ably written, and resembles the original in many features. The learning and the virtues of the good old man are well sustained, and it breathes of affection; but methinks it wants some distinguishing yet amiable eccentricities which marked Mr. Graves' character. Mr. Hoare might have improved the likeness by noticing that rapidity of utterance, those flashes of wit, apt and brilliant quotations, boyish agility at four score and upwards, ever in a hurry and always collected, though seemingly confused, yet amidst all his velocities coolly methodical:
By turns he seemed grave, gamesome, learned, wild,
In sense a sage, simplicity a child.
All these minute yet important touches might have brought him nearer to general recollection. Were a monumental tribute to be paid to his memory, a better model could not be chosen than Cunningham's pathetic simple stanzas on his friend Shenstone: 'Come, Shepherds, we'll follow the hearse', &c. The expressions throughout apply equally to both."
These characters, as sketched in the warmth of feeling for the loss of an old and cherished friend, are of course encomiastic, and must suffer some toning down by the judgment of an impartial posterity. The very lights so prominently thrown forward suggest their accompanying shades. We cannot doubt, as indeed his printed works show, that his lively and epigrammatic vein occasionally betrayed him into levity not wholly suitable to his sacred character. It is hardly possible, too, that one so much occupied with literary objects could have given that close and serious attention to the duties of his office which the position of a parochial clergyman exacts. But it is to his honour that these abatements are rather matters of inference than of direct evidence. And if it be true (as has been obscurely hinted) that he had family trials of a peculiarly painful nature, these would go far to palliate, if they did not justify, his seeking refuge from domestic cares in no less innocent amusement than the indulgence of a literary taste. Altogether, from his patience, his cheerfulness, his warmth of heart, his contentment, his character is one on which the mind may dwell with pleasure and with profit. As such I commend it to your favourable regard, and conclude with hoping that the memory of Richard Graves of Claverton may seem worthy to be still cherished amid the scenes which his presence once enlivened and adorned.