I know but little of my family, and that little is not very precise. My great-grandfather (the most remote of it that I ever recollect to have heard mentioned) possessed considerable property at Halsworthy, a parish in the neighbourhood of Ashburton; but whether acquired or inherited I never thought of asking, and do not know.
He was probably a native of Devonshire, for there he spent the last years of his life; spent them, too, in some sort of consideration, for Mr. T. (a very respectable surgeon at Ashburton) loved to repeat to me, when I first grew into notice, that he had frequently hunted with his hounds.
My grandfather was on ill terms with him; I believe not without sufficient reason, for he was extravagant and dissipated. My father never mentioned his name, but my mother would sometimes tell me that be had ruined the family. That he spent much I know; but I am inclined to think that his undutiful conduct occasioned my great-grandfather to bequeath a part of his property from him.
My father, I fear, revenged, in some measure, the cause of my great-grandfather. He was, as I have heard my mother say, "a very wild young man, who could be kept to nothing." He was sent to the grammar-school at Exeter, from which he made his escape, and entered on board a man of war. He was soon reclaimed from his situation by my grandfather, and left his school a second time to wander in some vagabond society. He was now probably given up, for he was, on his return from this notable adventure, reduced to article himself to a plumber and glazier, with whom he luckily staid long enough to learn the business. I suppose his father was now dead, for he became possessed of two small estates, married my mother (the daughter of a carpenter at Ashburton), and thought himself rich enough to set up for himself, which he did with some credit at South Molton. Why he chose to fix there I never inquired; but I learned from my mother that, after a residence of four or five years, he was again thoughtless enough to engage in a dangerous frolic, which drove him once more to sea. This was an attempt to excite a riot in a Methodist chapel; for which his companions were prosecuted, and he fled, as I have mentioned.
My father was a good seaman, and was soon made second in command in the Lyon, a large armed transport in the service of government; while my mother (then with child of me) returned to her native place, Ashburton, where I was born in April 1757.
The resources of my mother were very scanty. They arose from the rent of three or four small fields, which yet remained unsold. With these, however, she did what she could for me; and as soon as I was old enough to be trusted out of her sight, sent me to a schoolmistress of the name of Parret, from whom I learned in due time to read. I cannot boast much of my acquisitions at this school, they consisted merely of the contents of the Child's Spelling Book; but from my mother, who had stored up the literature of a country town, which about half a century ago amounted to little more than what was disseminated by itinerant ballad-singers, or rather readers, I had acquired much curious knowledge of Catskin, and the Golden Bull, and the Bloody Gardener, and many other histories equally instructive and amusing.
My father returned from sea in 1764. He had been at the siege of Havannah; and though he received more than a hundred pounds for prize-money, and his wages were considerable, yet, as he had not acquired any strict habits of economy, he brought home but a trifling sum. The little property yet left was therefore turned into money; a trifle more was got by agreeing to renounce all future pretensions to an estate at Totness, and with this my father set up a second time as a glazier and house-painter. I was now about eight years old, and was put to the free-school (kept by Hugh Smerdon) to learn to read, and write, and cypher. Here I continued about three years, making a most wretched progress, when my father fell sick and died. He had not acquired wisdom from his misfortunes, but continued wasting his time in unprofitable pursuits, to the great detriment of his business. He loved drink for the sake of society, and to this love he fell a martyr; dying of a decayed and ruined constitution before he was forty. The town's people thought him a shrewd and sensible man, and regretted his death. As for me, I never greatly loved him; I had not grown up with him; and he was too prone to repulse my little advances to familiarity with coldness and anger. He had certainly some reason to be displeased with me, for I learned little at school, and nothing at home, though he would now and then attempt to give me some insight into the business. As impressions of any kind are not very strong at the age of eleven or twelve, I did not long feel his loss; no was it a subject of much sorrow to me that my mother was doubtful of her ability to continue me at school, though I had by this time acquired a love for reading.
I never knew in what circumstances my mother was left; most probably they were inadequate to her support without some kind of exertion, especially as she was now burdened with a second child, about six or eight months old. Unfortunately she determined to prosecute my father's business; for which purpose she engaged a couple of journeymen, who finding her ignorant of every part of it, wasted her property and embezzled her money. What the consequence of this double fraud would have been there was no opportunity of knowing, as in somewhat less than a twelvemonth my poor mother followed my father to the grave. She was an excellent woman, bore my father's infirmities with patience and good humour, loved her children dearly, and died at last exhausted with anxiety and grief, more on their account than on her own.
I was not quite thirteen when this happened; my little brother was hardly two; and we had not a relation nor a friend in the world. Every thing that was left was seized by a person of the name of C—, for money advanced to my mother. It may be supposed that I could not dispute the justice of his claims, and as no one else interfered, he was suffered to do as he liked. My little brother was sent to the alms-house, whither his nurse followed him out of pure affection, and I was taken to the house of the person I have just mentioned, who was also my godfather. Respect for the opinion of the town (which, whether correct or not, was, that he had repaid himself by the sale of my mother's effects,) induced him to send me again to school, where I was more diligent than before, and more successful. I grew fond of arithmetic, and my master began to distinguish me; but these golden days were ever in less than three months. C— sickened at the expense; and as the people were now indifferent to my fate, he looked round for an opportunity of ridding himself of a useless charge. He had previously attempted to engage me in the drudgery of husbandry. I drove the plough for one day to gratify him, but I left it with a firm resolution to do so no more; and, in despite of his threats and promises, adhered to my determination. In this I was guided no less by necessity than will. During my father's life, in attempting to clamber up a table I had fallen backward and drawn it after me; its edge fell upon my breast, and I never recovered from the effects of the blow, of which I was made extremely sensible on any extraordinary exertion. Ploughing, therefore; was out of the question, and, as I have already said, I utterly refused to follow it.
As I could write and cypher (as the phrase is), C— next thought of sending me to Newfoundland to assist in a storehouse. For this purpose he negotiated with a Mr. Holdesworthy of Dartmouth, who agreed to fit me out. I left Ashburton with little expectation of seeing it again, and indeed with little care, and rode with my godfather to the dwelling of Mr. Holdesworthy. On seeing me, this great man observed, with a look of pity and contempt, that I was too small, and sent me away sufficiently mortified. I expected to be very ill received by my godfather, but he said nothing. He did not, however, choose to take me back himself, but sent me in the passage boat to Totness, from whence I was to walk home. On the passage the boat was driven by a midnight storm on the rocks, and I escaped with life almost by miracle.
My godfather had now humbler views for me, and I had little heart to resist any thing. He proposed to send me on board one of the Torbay fishing boats; I ventured, however, to remonstrate against this, and the matter was compromised by my consenting to go on board a coaster. A coaster was speedily found for me at Brixham, and thither I went, when little more than thirteen.
My master, whose name was Full, though a gross and ignorant, was not an ill-natured man, at least not to me; and my mistress used me with unvarying kindness, moved, perhaps, by my weakness and tender years. In return I did what I could to requite her, and my good-will was not overlooked.
Our vessel was not very large, nor our crew very numerous. On ordinary occasions, such as short trips to Dartmouth, Plymouth, &c. it consisted only of my master, an apprentice nearly out of his time, and myself; when we had to go farther, to Portsmouth for example, an additional hand was hired for the voyage.
In this vessel (the Two Brothers) I continued nearly a twelvemonth; and here I got acquainted with nautical terms, and contracted a love for the sea, which a lapse of thirty years has but little diminished.
It will be easily conceived that my life was a life of hardship. I was not only a "ship-boy on the high and giddy mast," but also in the cabin, where every menial office fell to my lot; yet, if I was restless and discontented, I can safely say, it was not so much on account of this as of my being precluded from all possibility of reading; as my master did not possess, nor do I recollect seeing, during the whole time of my abode with him, a single book of any description, except the Coasting Pilot.
As my lot seemed to be cast, however, I was not negligent in seeking such information as promised to be useful; and I therefore frequented, at my leisure hours, such vessels as dropt into Torbay. On attempting to get on board one of these, which I did at midnight, I missed my footing and fell into the sea. The floating away of the boat alarmed the man on deck, who came to the ship's side just in time to see me sink. He immediately threw out several ropes, one of which providentially (for I was unconscious of it) entangled itself about me, and I was drawn op to the surface till a boat could be got round. The usual methods were taken to recover me, and I awoke in bed the next morning, remembering nothing but the horror I felt when I first found myself unable to cry out for assistance.
This was not my only escape, but I forbear to speak of them. An escape of another kind was now preparing for me, which deserves all my notice, as it was decisive of my future fate.
On Christmas-day (1770) I was surprised by a message from my godfather, saying that he had sent a man and horse to bring me to Ashburton, and desiring me to set out without delay. My master, as well as myself, supposed it was to spend the holidays there; and he, therefore, made no objection to my going. We were, however, both mistaken.
Since I had lived at Brixham, I had broken off all connection with Ashburton. I had no relation there but my poor brother, who was yet too young for any kind of correspondence; and the conduct of my godfather towards me, did not entitle him to any portion of my gratitude or kind remembrance. I lived, therefore, in a sort of sullen independence on all I had formerly known, and thought, without regret, of being abandoned by every one to my fate. But I had not been overlooked. The women of Brixham, who travelled to Ashburton twice a week with fish, and who had known my parents, did not see me without kind concern, running about the beach in a ragged jacket and trowsers. They mentioned this to the people of Ashburton, and never without commiserating my change of condition. This tale often repeated, awakened at length the pity of their auditors, and, as the next step, their resentment against the man who had reduced me to such a state of wretchedness. In a large town this would have had little effect, but in a place like Ashburton, where every report speedily becomes the common property of all the inhabitants, it raised a murmur which my godfather found himself either unable or unwilling to withstand; he therefore determined, as I have just observed, to recall me, which he could easily do, as I wanted some months of fourteen, and, consequently, was not yet bound.
All this I learned on my arrival; and my heart, which had been cruelly shut up, now opened to kinder sentiments, and fairer views.
After the holidays I returned to my darling pursuit, arithmetic; my progress was now so rapid, that in a few months I was at the head of the school, and qualified to assist my master (Mr. E. Furlong) on any extraordinary emergency. As he usually gave me a trifle on those occasions, it raised a thought in me, that by engaging with him as a regular assistant, and undertaking the instruction of a few evening scholars, I might, with a little additional aid, be enabled to support myself. God knows, my ideas of support at this time were of no very extravagant nature. I had, besides, another object in view. Mr. Hugh Smerdon (my first master) was now grown old and infirm; it seemed unlikely that he should hold out above three or four years; and I fondly flattered myself that, notwithstanding my youth, I might possibly be appointed to succeed him. I was in my fifteenth year when I built these castles; a storm, however, was collecting, which unexpectedly burst upon me, and swept them all away.
On mentioning my little plan to C. he treated it with the utmost contempt; and told me, in his turn, that as I had learned enough, and more than enough, at school, he must be considered as having fairly discharged his duty (so, indeed, he had); he added that he had been negociating with his cousin, a shoemaker of some respectability, who had liberally agreed to take me without a fee as an apprentice. I was so shocked at this intelligence, that I did not remonstrate, but went in sullenness and silence to my new master, to whom I was soon after bound, till I should obtain the age of twenty-one.
The family consisted of four journeymen, two sons about my own age, and an apprentice somewhat older. In these there was nothing remarkable; but my master himself was the strangest creature! He was a Presbyterian, whose reading was entirely confined to the small tracts published on the Exeter controversy. As these (at least his portion of them) were all on one side, he entertained no doubt of their infallibility, and being noisy and disputatious, was sure to silence his opponents; and became, in consequence of it, intolerably arrogant and conceited. He was not, however, indebted solely to his knowledge of the subject for his triumph; he was possessed of Fenning's Dictionary, and he made a most singular use of it. His custom was to fix on any word in common use, and then to get by heart the synonym or periphrasis by which it was explained in the book; this he constantly substituted for the other, and as his opponents were commonly ignorant of his meaning, his victory was complete.
With such a man I was not likely to add much to my stock of knowledge, small as it was; and, indeed, nothing could well be smaller. At this period I had read nothing but a black-letter romance, called Parismus and Parismenus, and a few loose Magazines which my mother had brought from South Molton. The Bible, indeed, I was well acquainted with; it was the favourite study of my grandmother, and reading it frequently with her had impressed it strongly on my mind; these then, with the imitation of Thomas a Kempis, which I used to read to my mother on her death-bed, constituted the whole of my literary acquisitions.
As I hated my new profession with a perfect hatred, I made no progress in it; and was consequently little regarded in the family, of which I sunk by degrees into the common drudge. This did not much disquiet me, for my spirits were now humbled. I did not, however, quite resign the hope of one day succeeding Mr. Hugh Smerdon, and therefore secretly prosecuted my favourite study at every interval of leisure.
These intervals were not very frequent, and when the use I made of them was found out, they were rendered still less so. I could not guess the motives for this at first; but at length I discovered that my master destined his youngest son for the situation to which I aspired.
I possessed at this time but one book in the world; it was a Treatise on Algebra, given to me by a young woman, who had found it in a lodging-house. I considered it as a treasure, but it was a treasure locked up; for it supposed the reader to be well acquainted with simple equation, and I knew nothing of the matter. My master's son had purchased Fenning's Introduction; this was precisely what I wanted, but he carefully concealed it from me, and I was indebted to chance alone for stumbling upon his hiding-place. I sat up for the greatest part of several nights successively, and before he suspected that his treatise was discovered, had completely mastered it. I could now enter upon my own; and that carried me pretty far into the science.
This was not done without difficulty; I had not a farthing on earth, nor a friend to give me one; pen, ink, and paper, therefore, (in despite of the flippant remark of Lord Orford,) were, for the most part, as completely out of my reach as a crown and sceptre. There was, indeed, a resource; but the utmost caution and secrecy were necessary in applying to it. I beat out pieces of leather as smooth as possible, and wrought my problems on them with a blunted awl; for the rest, my memory was tenacious, and I could multiply and divide by it to a great extent.
Hitherto I had not so much as dreamt of poetry; indeed I scarce knew it by name, and whatever may be said of the force of nature, I certainly never "lisped in numbers." I recollect the occasion of my first attempt; it is like all the rest of my non-adventures, of so unimportant a nature, that I should blush to call the attention of the idlest reader to it, but for the reason alleged in the introductory paragraph. A person, whose name escapes me, had undertaken to paint a sign for an ale-house; it was to be a lion, but the unfortunate artist produced a dog. On this awkward affair, one of my acquaintance wrote a copy of what we called verses; I liked it, but fancied I could compose something more to the purpose; I tried, and by the unanimous suffrage of my shopmates was allowed to have succeeded. Notwithstanding this encouragement, I thought no more of verse, till another occurrence, as trifling as the former, furnished me with a fresh subject; and so I went on, till I had got together about a dozen of them. Certainly nothing on earth was ever so deplorable; such as they were, however, they were talked of in my little circle, and I was sometimes invited to repeat them, even out of it. I never committed a line to paper for two reasons; first, because I had no paper; and secondly-perhaps I might be excused from going farther-but in truth I was afraid, for my master had already threatened me for inadvertently hitching the name of one of his customers into a rhyme.
The repetitions of which I speak were always attended with applause, and sometimes with favours more substantial; little collections were now and then made, and I have received sixpence in an evening. To one who had long lived in the absolute want of money, such a resource seemed like a Peruvian mine. I furnished myself by degrees with paper, &c. and, what was of more importance, with books of geometry, and of the higher branches of algebra, which I cautiously concealed. Poetry, even at this time, was no amusement of mine; it was subservient to other purposes; and I only had recourse to it when I wanted money for my mathematical pursuits.
But the clouds were gathering fast. My master's anger was raised to a terrible pitch by my indifference to his concerns, And still more by the reports which were daily brought to him of my presumptuous attempts at versification. I was required to give up my papers, and when I refused, my garret was searched, my little hoard of books discovered and removed, and all future repetitions prohibited in the strictest manner.
This was a very severe stroke, and I felt it most sensibly; it was followed by another severer still; a stroke which crushed the hopes I had so long and so fondly cherished, and resigned me at once to despair. Mr. Hugh Smerdon, on whose succession I had calculated, died, and was succeeded by a person not much older than myself, and certainly not so well qualified for the situation.
I look back to that part of my life which immediately followed this event with little satisfaction; it was a period of gloom and savage unsociability: by degrees I sunk into a kind of corporeal torpor; or if roused into activity by the spirit of youth, wasted the exertion in splenetic and vexatious tricks, which alienated the few acquaintances compassion had yet left me. So I crept on in silent discontent; unfriendly and unpitied; indignant at the present, careless of the future, an object at once of apprehension and dislike.
From this state of abjectness I was raised by a young woman of my own class. She was a neighbour; and whenever I took my solitary walk, with my Wolfius in my pocket, she usually came to the door, and by a smile, or a short question put in the friendliest manner, endeavoured to solicit my attention. My heart had been long shut to kindness, but the sentiment was not dead in me; it revived at the first encouraging word; and the gratitude I felt for it was the first pleasing sensation I had ventured to entertain for many dreary months.
Together with gratitude, hope, and other passions still more enlivening, took place of that uncomfortable gloominess which so lately possessed me. I returned to my companions, and by every winning art in my power strove to make them forget my former repulsive ways. In this I was not unsuccessful; I recovered their good will, and came by degrees to be somewhat of a favourite.
My master still murmured, for the business of the shop went on no better than before. I comforted myself, however, with the reflection that my apprenticeship was drawing to a conclusion, when I determined to renounce the employment for ever, and to open a private school.
In this humble and obscure state, poor beyond the common lot, yet flattering my ambition with day-dreams, which, perhaps, would never have been realized, I was found in the twentieth year of my age by Mr. William Cookesley, a name never to be pronounced by me without veneration. The lamentable doggrel which I have already mentioned, and which had passed from mouth to month among people of my own degree, had by some accident or other reached his ear, and gave him a curiosity to inquire after the author.
It was my good fortune to interest his benevolence. My little history was not untinctured with melancholy, and I laid it fairly before him; his first care was to console; his second, which he cherished to the last moment of his existence, was to relieve and support me.
Mr. Cookesley was not rich; his eminence in his profession, which was that of a surgeon, procured him, indeed, much employment; but in a country town men of science are not the most liberally rewarded. He had, besides, a very numerous family, which left him little for the purposes of general benevolence; that little, however, was cheerfully bestowed, and his activity and zeal were always at hand to supply the deficiencies of his fortune.
On examining into the nature of my literary attainments, he found them absolutely nothing. He heard, however, with equal surprise and pleasure, that, amidst the grossest ignorance of books, I had made a very considerable progress in the mathematics. He engaged me to enter into the details of this affair; and when he learned that I had made it in circumstances of discouragement and danger, he became more warmly interested in my favour, as he now saw a possibility of serving me.
The plan that occurred to him was naturally that which had so often suggested itself to me. There were, indeed, several obstacles to be overcome. I had eighteen months yet to serve; my hand-writing was bad, and my language very incorrect; but nothing could slacken the zeal of this excellent man. He procured a few of my poor attempts at rhyme, dispersed them amongst his friends and acquaintance, and when my name was become somewhat familiar to them, set on foot a subscription for my relief. I still preserve the original paper; its title was not very magnificent, though it exceeded the most sanguine wishes of my heart; it ran thus: "A subscription for purchasing the remainder of the time of William Gifford, and for enabling him to improve himself in writing and English grammar." Few contributed more than five shillings, and none went beyond ten-shillings-and-sixpence; enough, however, was collected to free me from my apprenticeship (the sum my master received was six pounds), and to maintain me for a few months, during which I assiduously attended the Rev. Thomas Smerdon.
At the expiration of this period, I found that my progress (for I will speak the truth in modesty) had been more considerable than my patrons expected. I had also written in the interim several little pieces of poetry, less rugged, I suppose, than my former ones, and certainly with fewer anomalies of language. My preceptor, too, spoke favourably of me and my benefactor, who was now become my father and my friend, had little difficulty in persuading my patrons to renew their donations, and continue me at school for another year. Such liberality was not lost upon me; I grew anxious to make the best return in my power, and I redoubled my diligence. Now, that I am sunk in indolence, I look back with some degree of scepticism to the exertions of that period.
In two years and two months from the day of my emancipation, I was pronounced by Mr. Smerdon fit for the University. The plan of opening a writing-school had been abandoned almost from the first; and Mr. Cookesley looked round for some one who had interest enough to procure me some little office at Oxford. This person, who was soon found, was Thomas Taylor, Esq. of Denbury, a gentleman to whom I had already been indebted for much liberal and friendly support. He procured me the place of Bib. Lect. at Exeter-college; and this, with such occasional assistance from the country as Mr. Cookesley undertook to provide, was thought sufficient to enable me to live, at least till I had taken a degree.
During my attendance on Mr. Smerdon, I had written, as I observed before, several tuneful trifles, some as exercises, others voluntarily, (for poetry was now become my delight,) and not a few at the desire of my friends. When I became capable, however, of reading Latin and Greek with some degree of facility, that gentleman employed all my leisure hours in translations from the classics; and indeed I do not know a single school-book, of which I did not render some portion into English verse. Among others, JUVENAL engaged my attention, or rather my master's, and I translated the tenth satire for a holiday task. Mr. Smerdon was much pleased with this, (I was not undelighted with it myself;) and as I was now become fond of the author, he easily persuaded me to proceed with him, and I translated in succession the third, the fourth, the twelfth, and I think the eighth satires. As I had no end in view but that of giving a temporary satisfaction to my benefactors, I thought little more of these, than of many other things of the same nature, which I wrote from time to time, and of which I never copied a single line.
On my removing to Exeter-college, however, my friend, ever attentive to my concerns, advised me to copy my translation of the tenth satire, and present it, on my arrival, to the Rev. Dr. Stinton (afterwards Rector), to whom Mr. Taylor had given me an introductory letter: I did so, and it was kindly received. Thus encouraged, I took up the first and second satires (I mention them in the order in which they were translated), when my friend, who had sedulously watched my progress, first started the idea of my going through the whole, and publishing it by subscription, as a means of increasing my means of subsistence. To this I readily acceded) and finished the thirteenth, eleventh, and fifteenth, satires; the remainder were the work of a much later period.
When I had got thus far, we thought it a fit time to mention our design: it was very generally approved of by my friends; and on the 1st of January 1781, the subscription was opened by Mr. Cookesley at Ashburton, and by myself at Exeter-college.
So bold an undertaking, so precipitately announced, will give the reader, I fear, a higher opinion of my conceit than of my talents; neither the one nor the other, however, had the smallest concern with the business, which originated solely in ignorance. I wrote verses with great facility, and I was simple enough to imagine that little more was necessary for a translator of Juvenal! I was not, indeed, unconscious of my inaccuracies; I knew that they were numerous, and that I had need of some friendly eye to point them out, and some judicious hand to rectify or remove them; but for these, as well as for every thing else, I looked to Mr. Cookesley, and that worthy man, with his usual alacrity and kindness, undertook the laborious task of revising the whole translation. My friend was no great latinist, perhaps I was the better of the two; but he had taste and judgment, which I wanted. What advantages might have been ultimately derived from them, there was unhappily no opportunity of ascertaining, as it pleased the Almighty to call him to himself by a sudden death, before we had quite finished the First Satire. He died with a letter of mine unopened in his hands.
This event, which took place on the 15th of January 1781, afflicted me beyond measure. I was not only deprived of a most faithful and affectionate friend, but of a zealous and ever-active protector, on whom I confidently relied for support; the sums that were still necessary for me, he always collected; and it was to be feared that the assistance which was not solicited with warmth would insensibly cease to be afforded.
In many instances this was actually the case; the desertion, however, was not general; and I was encouraged to hope by the unexpected friendship of Servington Savery, a gentleman who voluntarily stood forth as my patron, and watched over my interests with kindness and attention.
Some time before Mr. Cookesley's death, we had agreed that it would be proper to deliver out with the terms of the subscription, a specimen of the manner in which the translation was executed. To obviate any idea of selection, a sheet was accordingly taken from the beginning of the First Satire. My friend died while it was in the press.
After a few melancholy weeks, I resumed the translation; but found myself utterly incapable of proceeding. I had been so accustomed to connect Mr. Cookesley's name with every part of it, and I laboured with such delight in the hope of giving him pleasure, that now, when he appeared to have left me in the midst of my enterprise, and I was abandoned to my own efforts, I seemed to be engaged in a hopeless struggle, without motive or end; and this idea, which was perpetually recurring to me, brought such bitter anguish with it, that I shut up the work with feelings bordering on distraction.
To relieve my mind, I had recourse to other pursuits. I endeavoured to become more intimately acquainted with the classics, and to acquire some of the modern languages; by permission, too, or rather recommendation, of the Rector and Fellows, I also undertook the care of a few pupils; this removed much of my anxiety respecting my future means of support. I have a heart-felt pleasure in mentioning this indulgence of my college: it could arise from nothing but the liberal desire inherent, I think, in the members of both our Universities, to encourage every thing that bears the most distant resemblance to talents; for I had no claims on them from any particular exertions.
The lapse of many months had now soothed and tranquillized my mind, and I once more returned to the translation, to which a wish to serve a young man surrounded with difficulties, had induced a number of respectable characters to set their names; but, alas, what a mortification I now discovered, for the first time, that my own inexperience, and the advice of my too, too partial friend, had engaged me in a work, for the due execution of which my literary attainments were by no means sufficient. Errors and misconceptions appeared in every page. I had, indeed, caught something of the spirit of Juvenal, but his meaning had frequently escaped me, and I saw the necessity of a long and painful revision, which would carry me far beyond the period fixed for the appearance of the work. Alarmed at the prospect, I instantly resolved (if not wisely, yet I trust honestly) to renounce the publication for the present.
In pursuance of this resolution, I wrote to my friend in the country (the Rev. Servington Savery), requesting him to return the subscription money in his hands to the subscribers. He did not approve of my plan; nevertheless he promised, in a letter which now lies before me, to comply with it; and, in a subsequent one, added that he had already begun to do so.
For myself, I also made several repayments; and trusted a sum of money to make others with a fellow collegian, who, not long after, fell by his own hands in the presence of his father. But there were still some whose abode could not be discovered, and others on whom to press the taking back of eight shillings would neither be decent nor respectful even from these I ventured to flatter myself that I should find pardon, when on some future day I presented them with the work (which I was still secretly determined to complete) rendered more worthy patronage, and increased by notes, which I now perceived to be absolutely necessary, to more than double its proposed size.
In the leisure of a country residence, I fancied this might be done in two years: perhaps I was not too sanguine; the experiment, however, was not made, for about this time a circumstance happened which changed my views, and indeed my whole system of life.
I had contracted an acquaintance with a person of the name of —, recommended to my particular notice by a gentleman of Devonshire, whom I was proud of an opportunity to oblige. This person's residence at Oxford was not long, and when he returned to town, I maintained a correspondence with him by letters. At his particular request, these were inclosed in a cover, and sent to Lord Grosvenor; one day I inadvertently omitted the direction, and his lordship, necessarily supposing it to be meant for himself, opened and read it. There was something in it which attracted his notice; and when he gave the letter to my friend, he had the curiosity to inquire about his correspondent at Oxford; and, upon the answer he received, had the kindness to desire he might be brought to see him on his coming to town; to this circumstance, purely accidental on all sides, and to this alone, I owe my introduction to this nobleman.
On my first visit, he asked me what friends I had, and what were my prospects in life; and I told him that I had no friends, and no prospects of any kind. He said no more; but when I called to take leave, previous to returning to college, I found that this simple exposure of my circumstances had sunk deep into his mind. At parting, he informed me that he charged himself with my present support and future establishment; and that till this last could he effected to my wish, I should come and reside with him. These were not words of course; they were more than fulfilled in every point. I did go, and reside with him; and I experienced a warm and cordial reception, a kind and affectionate esteem, that has known neither diminution nor interruption, from that hour to this, a period of twenty years!
In his lordship's house I proceeded with Juvenal, till I was called upon to accompany his son (one of the most amiable and accomplished young noblemen that this country, fertile in such characters, could ever boast,) to the continent. With him, in two successive tours, I spent many years; years of which the remembrance will always be dear to me, from the recollection that a friendship was then contracted, which time, and a more intimate knowledge of each other, have mellowed into a regard that forms at once the pride and happiness of my life.
It is long since I have been returned and settled in the bosom of competence and peace. My translation frequently engaged my thoughts, but I had lost the ardour and the confidence of youth, and was seriously doubtful of my abilities to do it justice. I have wished a thousand times that I could decline it altogether; but the ever-recurring idea that there were people of the description I have already mentioned, who had just and forcible claims on me for the due performance of my engagement, forbade the thought; and I slowly proceeded towards the completion of a work in which I should never have engaged, had my friend's inexperience, or my own, suffered us to suspect for a moment the labour, and the talents of more than one kind, absolutely necessary to its success in any tolerable degree. Such as I could make it, it is now before the public: — "Majora canamus."