1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Somervile

John Aikin, in Select Works of the British Poets (1820) 328.



WILLIAM SOMERVILE, an agreeable poet, was born in 1692, at his father's seat at Edston, in Warwickshire. He was educated at Winchester school, whence he was elected to New College, Oxford. His political attachments were to the Whig party, as appeared from his praises of Marlborough, Stanhope, and Addison. To the latter of these he addressed a poem, in which there is the happy couplet alluded to in the Spectator:

When panting Virtue her last efforts made,
You brought your Clio to the Virgin's aid.

"Clio" was known to be the mark by which Addison distinguished his papers in that miscellany.

Somervile inherited a considerable paternal estate, on which he principally lived, acting as a magistrate, and pursuing with ardour the amusements of a sportsman, varied with the studies of a man of letters. His mode of living, which was hospitable, and addicted to conviviality, threw him into pecuniary embarrassments, which preyed on his mind, and plunged him into habits which shortened his life. He died in 1742; and his friend Shenstone, with much feeling, announced the event to one of his correspondents. Somervile passed his life in celibacy, and made over the reversion of his estate to Lord Somervile, a branch of the same family, charged with a jointure to his mother, then in her 90th year.

As a poet, he is chiefly known by The Chase, a piece in blank verse, which maintains a high rank in the didactic and descriptive classes. Being composed by one who was perfectly conversant with the sports which are its subject, and entered into them with enthusiasm, his pictures greatly surpassed the draughts of the same kind which are attempted by poets by profession. Another piece connected with this is entitled Field Sports, but only describes that of hawking. In his Hobbinol, or Rural Games, he attempts the burlesque wit tolerable success. Of his other pieces, serious and comic, there are few which add to his fame.