These Memoirs of Mr. Mason are far less complete than could have been wished. He is said to have left his poems, and some unpublished works, for the benefit of a charitable institution; but eleven years have elapsed since his death, and no step has been taken to fulfill his intention, or to honour his memory. What is now offered, has been collected from various sources, and it is hoped without failing into any very important errour.
William Mason was the son of the vicar of St. Trinity Hall, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and was born in the year 1725. His education, previously to his going to the university, was probably superintended by his father, whose indulgence, in permitting him to follow the bent of his youthful mind towards poetry and painting, he acknowledges in an Epistolary Address, written in 1746. He went to Cambridge in 1742-3, and was entered of St. John's College, where his tutor, Dr. Powell, encouraged him to publish his excellent Monody to the Memory of Pope, which appeared in 1747. He took his bachelor's degree in 1745, and his master's in 1749; but little else has been recorded of his academical progress, except that his attachment to the Muses continued during his residence at the university, of which he took leave in an ode complimentary to his college and his tutor.
In 1747, by means of Gray, with whom he had become acquainted, and who, on account of ill-treatment had left Peterhouse for Pembroke Hall, he was nominated to a vacant fellowship in the latter college, but owing to a dispute between the fellows and their master, he was not elected till 1749. His own account of this affair has lately been published. — "I have had the honour since I came here last to be elected by the fellows of Pembroke into their society; but the master, who has the power of a negative, has made use of it on this occasion, because he will not have an extraneous when they have fit persons in their own college. The fellows say, they have a power from their statutes 'indifferenter eligere ex utraque academia,' and are going to try it with him at common law, or else get the king to appoint a visitor. If this turns out well it will be a very lucky thing for me, and much better than a Platt, which I came hither with an intention to sit for, for they are reckoned the best fellowships in the university."
His intimacy with Gray was cordial and lasting. Their correspondence shows the high respect they had for each other, and their friendship was never interrupted by the freedom and unfeigned candour with which they criticised each other's performances. About this time, Gray describes him as a young man "of much fancy, little judgment, and a good deal of modesty," as "a good and well-meaning creature, but in simplicity' a child; he reads little or nothing, writes abundance, and that with a design to make a fortune by it," which does not, however, appear to have been the case; "a little vain, but in so harmless and comical a way that it does not offend: a little ambitious, but withal so ignorant of the world and its ways, that this does not hurt hint in one's opinion; so sincere and undisguised, that no mind with a spark of generosity would ever think of hurting him, he lies so open to injury; but so indolent, that if he cannot overcome this habit, all his good qualities will signify nothing at all." Some of these characteristics of the poetical temperament adhered to our author throughout life; others were effaced by a closer intimacy with the world.
He appears to have been early attached to what he considered as the cause of freedom. Of this he gave proof in a poem entitled Isis, which was printed in 1748, directed chiefly against the supposed Jacobitism of Oxford. Whatever truth might he in the accusation, it had the happy effect of producing The Triumph of Isis, by Mr. Thomas Warton, which Mason had the candour to allow was a superior poem. Thus early these two writers attracted notice by the defence of their respective universities; but their generous rivalship did not end in mutual respect, for which perhaps, the difference of political principle may in some measure account.
Mason was now requested to compose an ode for the installation of the Duke of Newcastle, as chancellor of the university of Cambridge in 1749, to which he does not appear to have acceded with much love of the subject. Gray thought his production "uncommonly well for such an occasion," but the author had no pleasure in the recollection, and omitted it in his works.
In 1752, he published Elfrida, a dramatic poem, constructed on the model of the ancients, to which he was enthusiastically attached, and having once formed the opinion that dramas might be successfully written in this way he persisted in it to the last, contrary to argument and experience. In the present instance he attempted the plait with certain limitations. He professed that his intention was only to follow the ancient method as far as it is probable a Greek poet, were he alive, would now do, in order to adapt himself to the genius of our times, and the character of our tragedy. How far he has executed an intention, evidently suggested by a series of conjectures, will hardly now admit of a question. All critics are agreed that Elfrida is neither adapted to the genius of our times, nor to the character of our tragedy. The letters, however, which he published, are retained in this edition, and may yet be perused as ingenious apologies for his judgment; and whatever the decision may be, there can be little difference of opinion respecting the merit of Elfrida as a poem. — In 1772, Mr. Colman, at that time manager of Covent-garden theatre, made such alterations as were supposed necessary to its appearance on the stage, and besides the decoration of splendid scenery, Dr. Arne contributed some characteristic music. The author, however, was so much offended at the alterations, as to have meditated a very angry address to Colman, who, on his part, threatened him with the introduction of a chorus of Grecian washerwomen in some future stage entertainment. Mr. Mason afterwards, in 1778 or 1779, made his own alterations and arrangements, and had it performed at the same theatre, but neither attempt was successful.
His father died in 1753, and in 1754 he went into orders; and through the interest of the earl of Holdernesse, whose patronage he had obtained, he was preferred to be one of the King's Chaplains, and received about the same time the living of Aston. The reputation he had acquired by the odes of his Elfrida, encouraged him to publish, in 1756, four compositions of that class on Memory, Indepeudency, Melancholy, and the Fate of Tyranny, which were not received with favour or kindness. Both ridicule and legitimate criticism seem to have been employed on this occasion to expose the wanton profusion of glittering epithets, and the many instances of studied alliteration scattered over these odes. Colman and Lloyd, who were now beginning to look for satirical prey, published two excellent parodies on one of them, and on one of Gray's. His praise of Andrew Marvell, and attack on bishop Parker, produced about the same time a dull letter of censure, which probably gave him less uneasiness than the cool reception of his odes by those who then dispensed the honours of literary fame. On the death of Cibber, he was proposed to succeed him as poet laureat, but, instead of an offer of this place, an apology was made to him by lord John Cavendish, that "being in orders, he was thought, merely on that account, less eligible for the office than a layman." The notice of this circumstance in his life of W. Whitehead, is followed by a declaration of his indifference. "A reason so politely put, I was glad to hear assigned, and if I had thought it a weak one, they who know me, will readily believe that I am the last man in the world who would have attempted to controvert it." The probability, indeed is, that Mr. Mason would not have thought himself honoured by the situation if compelled to fulfil its duties, for though by his mediation the office was tendered to Gray, it was "with permission to hold it as a mere sinecure."
The severity exercised on his odes, deprived him of no fame but what he amply recovered by the publication of Caractacus in 1759, another dramatic poem on the plan of the ancients, and possessing all the beauties and defects of the former, with more poetry and passion, yet with touches of nature, which, although sometimes spoiled by useless expletives, are in general just, natural, and affecting. Gray bestows high praise on the choruses of this drama, particularly that beginning "Hark! Heard ye not you footstep dread? &c." Notwithstanding the objections of the critics, Catactacus continued to be read with interest, and the author was not the only person who thought, that with some alterations, under the inspection of a connoisseur in stage effect, it might become an acting play. Accordingly it was performed on Covent Garden theatre in 1776, and received with considerable applause, but it obtained no permanent rank on the stage, and it was thought, that the alterations which made it more dramatic, made it less poetical. Some years after, it was again brought into public notice, by a translation into Greek from the pen of the rev. G. H. Glasse, who proved himself by this effort one of the first writers of Greek poetry in England.
In 1762, Mason published three Elegies, which are elegant, tender, and correct beyond the productions of any of his contemporaries. These, with all his former pieces except the Isis and the Installation Ode, were collected into one volume and published in 1764, with a beautiful dedicatory Sonnet to his patron the earl of Holdernesse. Why he omitted Isis from this collection is not very evident. We have, indeed, his own authority, that he never would have published it if a surreptitious copy had not found its way to the press; but although he omitted it now, he reprinted it in the third volume of his poems, published in 1796, when his sentiments on political topics were more perfectly in unison with those held at Oxford. Mr. Mant, in his life of Mr. T. Warton, informs us that several years after he had written this elegy, be was coming into Oxford on horseback, and as he passed over Magdalen Bridge, (it was then evening) he turned to his friend, and expressed his satisfaction, that, as it was getting dusk, they should enter the place unnoticed. His friend did not seem aware of the advantage. "What!" rejoined the poet, "do you not remember my Isis?" This may be reckoned an instance of the "harmless and comical vanity" which Gray attributed to him when at college.
But a more singular omission occurs in this volume in the Ode to a Water Nymph. This formerly concluded with a handsome compliment to lord Lyttelton, both as a poet, and as a speaker in the senate.
Whether to gloom beneath the shady grove,
Or in the mead reflect the sparkling ray.
Not Hagley's various stream shall thine surpass,
Though Nature, and her Lyttelton ordain
That there the Naiad band should grace
With every watry charm the plain;
That there the frequent rills should roll,
And health to every flower dispense,
Free as their master pours from all his soul
The gen'rous tide of warm benevolence;
Should now glide sweetly plaintive through the vale
In melting murmurs querulously slow;
Soft as that master's love-lorn tale,
When Lucy calls forth all his woe:
Should now from steepy heights descend,
Deep thund'ring the rough rocks among,
Loud as the praise applauding senates lend,
When England's cause inspires his glowing tongue.
These were now removed, and a favourite description was substituted. — In the same year, his majesty presented our author to the canonry and prebend of Driffield, in the cathedral church of York, together with the precentorship of that church, vacant by the promotion of Dr. Newton to the bishopric of Bristol.
Mason was probably not enrolled among the friends of liberty when Churchill wrote. That libeller takes frequent opportunities to turn his writings into ridicule, but pays him, perhaps inconsciously, a well-turned compliment on his extreme correctness.
In the small compass of my careless page
Critics may find employment for an age:
Without my blunders they were all undone;
I twenty feed where Mason can feed one.
Against the author of these unprovoked attacks, our author betrayed no immediate resentment, and when he speaks of Churchill's abuse of his friend Whitehead, disdains to recollect that he was the object of the same malignity.
His principal residence about this time was at Aston, where he displayed his taste in improving the grounds and scenery near his parsonage-house, and was yet more assiduous in discharging the duties of his clerical function. In Sept. 1765, he married Miss Sherman, daughter of William Sherman, esq. of Kingston-upon Hull, a very amiable lady, with whom his happiness was but short. Throughout the greater part of their connection, he had little intermission from the misery of watching the progress of consumption, which terminated her life in 1767, at Bristol, whither he had been advised to remove her in hopes of recovery. The lines he wrote on this occasion, need no recommendation to a feeling heart, nor would it be easy to discover a poem which conveys more quick sympathy in the whole range of elegiac poetry.
In 1772, he published the first book of his English Garden, a work in which Mr. Warton says, "didactic poetry is brought to perfection, by the happy combination of judicious precepts, with the most elegant ornaments of language and imagery." This opinion is quoted not only because it appears to be just, but because it proves that Mr. Warton entertained a very high opinion of Mason as a poet, although there did not exist so much cordiality of friendship as could have been wished, between men who were certainly among the ornaments of literature in their day. — The usual objections to didactic poetry are undoubtedly in force against this specimen, yet the English Garden was read with avidity and approbation. The subject was more familiar and interesting than those of former poems of instruction, and it afforded him more frequent opportunities to introduce rural imagery, and those descriptions which give scope to a poetical imagination. But the approbation of his friends did not flatter him into carelessness and precipitation. He appears to have been one of the few authors who are desirous to retain the fame they have acquired. The remaining books of the English Garden were published at periods sufficiently distant to admit all the niceties of polish and frequent correction. Book II. appeared in 1777, Book III. in 1779, and Book IV. in 1782.
During some of these intervals he executed a very important task, which devolved an him in consequence of the death of his friend Gray. This justly celebrated poet gratified him by a visit at Aston in 1770, and after his return to Pembroke Hall, was seized with the gout in his stomach, which proved suddenly fatal. Mason hastened to Cambridge to pay the last duties of friendship, but arrived too late for the funeral, which had been conducted by Dr. Brown, master of Pembroke Hall, who was appointed joint-executor. To Mason, Gray left the sum of £500 with all his books, manuscripts, musical instruments, medals, &c. and Mason undertook to write his life, and to publish such of his manuscripts as might appear to be worthy of his high character in the literary world. In his biography, he chose to deviate from the usual plan, by adopting one which seemed to present more advantages. Objections have been made to it, because the biographer seldom appears either as the narrator or the critic, but it must be allowed that the whole is rendered more interesting, and that the attention of the reader being constantly fixed on the principal character, he is enabled to form a more impartial opinion than if he had perused no evidence but the assertions of the biographer. The plan has since been followed in the cases of Johnson, Cowper, sir William Jones, Mrs. Carter, and Dr. Beattie, and where lives of equal importance to literary curiosity are to be recorded, which cannot be often, it appears to he not only the most engaging species of minute biography, but also the most impartial.
The Memoirs of Gray were published in 1775, in an elegant quarto volume, including an edition of his poems, with additions and a series of his correspondence, illustrative of those particulars, of education, genius, opinion, and temper, which, insignificant as they may often appear, are all that form the life of a scholar. In executing this task, Mr. Mason has been accused of partiality, but his partiality appears to be more in intention than effect. Some things he may have omitted, and others are certainly thrown into shade; but by exhibiting so much of his friend's correspondence he has laid him more open to public inspection than could have been done by any species of narrative. So much may be known of Gray from this volume, that probably very little is concealed which was necessary to be told, and accordingly we find that it has been appealed to with equal confidence by Gray's enemies, and by his admirers.
In 1779, he published his political creed in the shape of an animated Ode to the Naval Officers of Great Britain, written immediately after the trial of admiral Keppel in February of that year. Although attached to a retired life, he became tired of forbearance when the disappointments of the American war had incited the Whig party to discover the more distant or latent sources of national misfortune, and to propose remedies by which Britain should be always prosperous and always victorious. He was already one of those who thought the decision of parliament on the Middlesex election a violation of the rights of the people, and when the counties began, in 1779, to associate for parliamentary reform, he took an active part in assisting their deliberations, and wrote several patriotic manifestos, which raised him as high in the opinion of his own party, as they degraded him in the eyes of the other. He is even said to have given so much offence at court that he found it convenient to resign his chaplainship. It appears, however, by the poems he wrote in his latter days, that the fever of reform had abated, and that his cure, which was begun by Mr. Fox's India Bill, was afterwards completed by the French revolution. His ode to Mr. Pitt, published in 1782, expresses the sanguine hopes he entertained of the virtues and talents of that young statesman. When he prepared this ode for a new edition in 1795, he altered the last line from "Be thine the Muse's wreath; be thou the people's friend" to "To claim thy sovereign's love, be thou thy country's friend." The reason of this alteration be assigns in a note, "a person (Mr. Fox) had usurped the name of the friend of the People &c." To such vicissitudes are the eager assertors of theoretic liberty exposed.
Among Mr. Mason's accomplishments, his taste for painting was perhaps not inferior to that he displayed for poetry, and it has been thought that his judgment was more uniformly correct in the former than in the latter. His translation of Du Fresnoy's Art of Painting, which appeared in 1783, was begun, as he informs us, in his early years, with a double view of implanting in his memory the principles of a favourite art, and of acquiring a habit of versification, for which purpose the close and condensed style of the original seemed peculiarly calculated, especially when considered as a sort of school exercise. The task, however, proved so difficult, that it was long laid aside for original composition, and his translation would have never been made public, if sir Joshua Reynolds had not requested a sight of it, and offered to illustrate it by a series of notes. This induced him to revise the whole with such scrupulous care that it may he considered, in a great measure, as the production of his mature talents, and whether perused as an original or a translation is certainly not inferior to his most favourite works. In the poetical address, however, to sir Joshua Reynolds, he has not been thought so happy, and some inaccuracies of rhyme may be objected to a translation which is generally elegant and faithful. How much its value was enhanced to the artist and to the connoisseur by the annotations of sir Joshua Reynolds, is too obvious to be noticed.
His last separate publication of the poetical kind was a Secular Ode in commemoration of the glorious revolution, 1688, and appeared when men of all parties joined in festal meetings to celebrate the restoration and establishment of English liberty. In the same year he condescended to be the biographer and editor of the poems of his friend William Whitehead, esq. Of his life of Whitehead, some notice has been already taken. Neither his subject nor his materials could furnish such memoirs as he has given of Gray; but it is interesting, in an inferior degree, and would not have detracted much from his fame as a biographer, had he suppressed his splenetic notice of Dr. Johnson, and shown that he had preserved that simplicity of character and those generous feelings which Gray once attributed to him. He appears to have been equally mistaken in a pamphlet which he published about this time, animadverting on the government of the York Lunatic Asylum; but the mistake was rather of the head than the heart, for he was a cordial and liberal supporter of that institution, and was betrayed into a degree of intemperance of remark by excess of zeal for its prosperity. Of his general humanity, or what he has termed "moral patriotism," he afforded during this year an eloquent proof in a discourse delivered in York Cathedral on the subject of the African slave trade. He was one of the first who contributed to expose the infamy of that trade, and to invigorate those remonstrances which have at length been heard with effect.
In 1795 he published a judicious, comprehensive and elegant essay, historical and critical, on English Church Music. This work embraces so many subjects connected with the decorous administration of public worship, as to deserve much more attention than has yet been bestowed upon it. His answer to Mr. Thomas Warton's objections to metrical psalmody is not the least valuable part, and the spirit and intelligence which he displays on this subject do credit to him both as a poet and a divine. His knowledge of music was very accurate, and he is said to have composed a Te Deum, a hymn, and other pieces for the choir of York. The improvement, if not the invention of the piano forte is also attributed to him in an elaborate article on that subject inserted in Dr. Gleig's supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In all the editions of his poems hitherto published, Mr. Mason omitted some pieces for various reasons; but about the year 1796, he determined to collect the whole into an additional or third volume, interspersed with some which had never been printed. This appeared in 1797 immediately after his death. The collection now before the reader consists only of the pieces which have long been considered as common property.
His death, although he had reached his seventy second year, was not the consequence of age. His health was yet more robust than most men enjoy at that advanced period, and his faculties had undergone no perceptible alteration, when he received a hurt in stepping into a carriage, which, producing a mortification, terminated his life on the 7th of April 1797. A monument has been since erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey adjoining to that of Gray, with the following inscription.
GULIELMO MASON. A.M.
Si quis alius
Culto, casto, pio.
The countess Harcourt also erected an urn to his memory in the flower garden at Nuneham, with an inscription celebrating his "simple manners, piety, and steady friendship." A yet higher tribute of respect has been paid by his friend Mr. Gisborne in some elegant verses which are prefixed to the present edition of his poems. The opinion of so good a man as Mr. Gisborne is entitled to confidence, and there is no reason to doubt that Mason deserved the praise he has given him, nor, considering the general and acknowledged frailty of human nature, will this panegyric suffer by the few exceptions which truth and justice to the merits of others, his contemporaries, may offer.
Mr. Mason's life appears to have been principally devoted to the duties of his profession, occasionally relieved by the cultivation of the fine arts. His associates, at least in the latter part of his life, were few. He had the misfortune to survive the greater number, whose friendship he had cultivated in his early years, and he was not ambitious of new connections. This brought on him the imputation of that pride, or distance of manner which is ascribed to men of unsocial habits. But Mason's heart was not inaccessible, and his friendships were inviolable. The simplicity, however, attributed to him in his young days by Gray, and the patience with which lord Orford informs us, he heard his faults, did not accompany him through life. On the publication of Gray's life, he was ready to allow, that "twenty-five years had made a very considerable abatement in his general philanthropy," and by philanthropy he seems here to mean a diffidence of opinion on matters of literature, and an unwillingness to censure acknowledged merit. It can have no reference to philanthropy in the more general acceptation of the word, for he was to the last liberal, humane, and charitable. What it really means, indeed, we find in the work just alluded to. The contemptuous notice of Waterland, Akenside, and Shenstone, which he did not suppress in Gray, he employed himself with more harshness whenever he could find an opportunity to attack the writings of Dr. Johnson. The opinion this great critic pronounced on Gray may be probably quoted as the provocation, and great allowance is to be made for the warmth and zeal with which he guards the memory of his departed friend. But surely one of his notes on Gray's Letters may be here fairly quoted against him. "Had Mr. Pope disregarded the sarcasms of the many writers that endeavoured to eclipse his poetical fame, as much as Mr. Gray appears to have done, the world would not have been possessed of a Dunciad; but it would have been impressed with a more amiable idea of its author's temper." Nor was his prosecution of Murray for taking about fifty lines from his works of Gray into an edition which that bookseller published, much to the credit of his liberality, especially as he refused to drop the prosecution, when requested to name his own terms of compensation. Such littlenesses are to be regretted in a man who was the friend of genius and literature, whose circumstances placed him far above want, and whose regular discharge of the duties of piety and humanity bespoke an ambition for higher enjoyments than fame and wealth can yield. — Of his regard for sacred truth and the respect due to it, he exhibited a proof in a letter to lord Orford, on his lordship's childish epitaph on two piping bullfinches, to which he received an answer that was probably not very satisfactory.
As a poet, his name has been so frequently coupled with that of Gray, and their merits have been supposed to approach so nearly, that what has been said of the one will in some degree apply to the other. It is evident that they studied in the same school, and mutually cultivated those opinions which aim at restoring a purer species of poetry than was taught in the school of their predecessor Pope. Whether we consider Mason as a lyric, dramatic, or didactic writer, we find the same grandeur of outline, the same daring and inventive ambition which carries out of the common track of versification and sentiment into the higher regions of imagination. His attachment to the sister art, and his frequent contemplation of the more striking and sublime objects of nature, inclined him to the descriptive; and his landscapes have a warmth and colouring, often rich and harmonious, but perhaps too frequently marked with a glare of manner peculiar to the artist. His compositions, however, even on the same subject, have all the variety of a fertile invention. Although we have evening, morning, &c. often depicted, they are to be distinguished, and the preference we are inclined to give is regulated by the feeling which the varieties of natural appearances excite in different minds, and in the same mind at different times.
Mason's correctness is almost proverbial, and his ambition undoubtedly was to be equally correct and elegant; yet his style must often lead the reader to question his judgment, and to wonder that he could not see what every one else saw. That a man with so many endowments as a scholar, a critic, and an admirer of the simplicity of the ancients, should have fallen so frequently into a style ornamented with a finical profuseness, would be sufficiently remarkable, if his decorations had readily presented themselves; but when we see him so frequently pausing for an epithet that encumbers what it cannot illustrate, when we see him more attentive to novelty than strength of imagery, and, above all, taxing his memory to produce repeated alliterations, we are forced to conclude, that judgment is not always consistent, or that in some men it occasionally exists independent of true taste. With these exceptions, however, few indeed of the modern poets in this collection deserve a higher rank than Mason, as a lyric and descriptive poet, nor has he given any finished piece to the world from which examples of excellence may not be quoted.
It is now necessary to advert to a series of poems which are added to Mr. Mason's works in the present edition. The author of the Heroic Epistle was long concealed from the world, and for reasons which are obvious: but it had merit enough to be ascribed to the best living satirists, to Mason, Walpole, Hayley, Cowper, Anstey and others. It appears, however, to be now universally given to Mason. Mr. Thomas Warton was of opinion that "it might have been written by Walpole and 'buckramed' by Mason." Mr. Malone, in a note on this opinion, which occurs in Boswell's Life of Johnson, says "it is now known that the Heroic Epistle was written by Mason." Mr. Mant, in his Life of Warton, informs us, that when it was first published, Warton ascribed it to Mason, and endeavoured to confirm his opinion by internal evidence. Mason heard of this, and sent to him a letter in 1777, published by Mr. Mant, in which he professes to expostulate with him for raising a report merely from critical conjecture. — "I have been told that you have pronounced me very frequently in company to be the author of the Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers, and I am told too that the premier himself suspects that I am so, upon your authority. Surely, sir, mere internal evidence (and you can possibly have no other) can never be sufficient to ground such a determination upon, when you consider how many persons in this rhyming age of our's are possessed of that knack of Pope's versification, which constitutes one part of the merit of that poem, and as to the wit, humour, or satire which it contains, no part of my writings could ever lead you, by their analogy, to form so peremptory a judgment. I acquit you, however, in this procedure of every, even the slightest degree of ill-nature: and believe that whit you have said was only to show your critical acumen. I only mention it that you may be more cautious of speaking of other persons in like manner, who may throw such anonymous bantlings of their brain into the wide world. To some of these it might prove an essential injury: for though they might deserve the frown of power (as the author in question certainly does) yet I am persuaded that your good nature would be hurt if that frown was either increased or fixed by your ipse dixit.
"To say more on this trivial subject, would betray a solicitude on my part very foreign from my present feelings or inclination. My easy and independent circumstances make such a suspicion sit mighty easy upon me; and the minister, nay the whole ministry, are free to think what they please of a man, who neither aims to solicit, nor wishes to accept any favour from them."
What our author has here remarked concerning internal evidence, has probably occurred to all who fixed their suspicions on him. From the works published under his name, no person could for a moment suppose him to be a man of humour, or inclined to personal and political satire. He might even have asked whether it was probable that a man whose pen had been uniformly devoted to solemn and serious poetry, and who had never brought forward the shadow of a claim for the honours of wit, should at an advanced period of life suddenly eclipse his contemporaries and .some of his predecessors, by exhibiting a humour which he had never been suspected to possess, and a spirit which would have better become a Paul Whitehead, or a Charles Churchill: and that he should carry this humour and this spirit through six poems of no inconsiderable length, on dissimilar subjects. Yet as even this, however remarkable, is not beyond the reach of genius, it was surely in his power to bring the question to a more prompt issue. But this he evades, and uses every argument against Mr. Warton's opinion but that which must have at once refuted it, the plain and flat denial of a man of honour and principle.
On this account, therefore, the Heroic Epistle, and the other pieces published under the name of Macgregor, are now added to Mr. Mason's works, but not without a wish that they could have been attributed to some writer of less private and public worth. If they be his, they will add to his literary reputation, by placing him among the first satirical poets of his day, if not above the first; but whoever contemplates the disaffected spirit in which they are written will probably be of opinion, that by adopting the floating invectives and prejudices of a party and of a turbulent period, he did not consult the consistency of his character, or the dignity of his Muse.