1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Rowe

John Aikin, in Select Works of the British Poets (1820) 230.



NICHOLAS ROWE, descended from an ancient family in Devonshire, was the son of John Rowe, Esquire, a barrister of reputation and extensive practice. He was born in 1673, at the house of his maternal grandfather, at Little Berkford, in Bedfordshire. Being placed at Westminster-school, under Dr. Busby, he pursued the classical studies of that place with credit. At the age of sixteen he was removed from school, and entered a student of the Middle Temple, it being his father's intention to bring him up to his own profession; but the death of this parent, when Nicholas was only nineteen, freed him from what he probably thought a pursuit foreign to his disposition; and he turned his chief studies to poetry and polite literature. At the age of twenty-five he produced his first tragedy, The Ambitious Stepmother; which was afterwards succeeded by Tamerlane; The Fair Penitent; Ulysses; The Royal Convert; Jane Shore; and Lady Jane Grey. Of these, though all have their merits, the third and the two last alone keep possession of the stage; but Jane Shore in particular never fails to be viewed with deep interest. His plays, from which are derived his principal claims upon posterity, are chiefly founded on the model of French tragedy; and in his diction, which is poetical without being bombastic or affected; in his versification, which is singularly sweet; and in tirades of sentiment, given with force and elegance, he has few competitors.

As a miscellaneous poet, Rowe occupies but an inconsiderable place among his countrymen; but it has been thought proper to give some of his songs or ballads in the pastoral strain; which have a touching simplicity, scarcely excelled by any pieces of the kind. His principal efforts, however, were in poetical translation; and his version of Lucan's Pharsalia has been placed by Dr. Johnson among the greatest productions of English poetry.

In politics, Rowe joined the party of the Whigs, under whose influence he had some gainful posts, without reckoning that of poet-laureat, on the accession of George I. He was twice married to women of good connections, by the first of whom he had a son, and by the second, a daughter. He died in December, 1718, in the 45th year of his age, and was interred among the poets in Westminster Abbey.