1781 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Broome

Anonymous, "Life of William Broome" in Bell's Poets of Great Britain (1781) v-x.



William Broome, Author of the following Poems, is said to have been born in Cheshire, of mean parentage. Of his more early years little is known, further than that he was educated at Eaton; and that from his propensity to poetry his acquaintances familiarly called him Poet. He was concerned in the prose translation of The Iliads with Ozel and Oldisworth.

After the translation, now little read and known, which yet in Toland's opinion was not despicable, Mr. Broome was introduced, at Sir John Cotton's at Madingly in Cambridgeshire, to the acquaintance of Mr. Pope, who engaged him in selected Notes for The Iliads from Eustathius, &c. Notes were absolutely necessary to swell the work, since the six volumes (of which The Iliads were to consist) would have been very little more than six pamphlets without them.

The sale of The Iliad being rapid, it was followed by a version of The Odyssey, the joint labour of Pope, Fenton, and Broome. Pope translated twelve books, and Fenton and Broome, his coadjutors, the other twelve. The second, eighth, eleventh, twelfth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-third books, together with all the Notes, fell to the share of Broome. Fenton's books were the first, the fourth, the nineteenth, and twentieth: he had formerly translated the eleventh into blank verse, but neither Pope nor he took it, committing it to Broome. These associates performed their parts to admiration, the readers of poetry having never been able to distinguish their books from those of Pope.

It has always been known that this version was not wholly Pope's. In the patent he does not say that he had translated The Odyssey as he said of The Iliad, but that he had "undertaken" a translation; and in the proposals for the Work the profits arising from the subscription are said to be not only for his own use, but for that of two of his friends who had assisted him in the translations, &c. Broome, in a note subjoined to the end of the work, gives some account of their different parts, which mentions five books only as translated by himself and Fenton, which account is suspected to contain only part of the truth. His words are; "If my performance has merit either in these (the Remarks on The Odyssey) or in my part of the translation, namely, the sixth, eleventh, and eighteenth books, it is but just to attribute it to the judgment and care of Mr. Pope, by whose hand every sheet was corrected. His other and much more able assistant was Mr. Fenton, in the fourth and twentieth books. It was our particular request that our several parts might not be made known to the world till the end of it; and if they have had the good fortune not to be distinguished from his, we ought to be the less vain, since the resemblance proceeds much less from our diligence and study to copy his manner, than from his own daily revisal and correction." It is certain that Pope however, in an advertisement afterwards prefixed to a new volume of his Poems, claimed only twelve books.

It is said that Pope acquired this assistance at the expense of 300 to Fenton, and 500 to Broome, with some copies to his friends, which amounted to 100 more. The premium to Fenton is not entirely known; that to Broome is spoke out by Pope in a note on Dunciad III. ver. 331, in these words; "Whoever imagines this a sarcasm on the other ingenious person (Mr. Broome) is surely mistaken: the opinion our Author had of him was sufficiently shewn by his joining him in the undertaking of The Odyssey, in which Mr. Broome, having engaged without any previous agreement, discharged his part so much to Mr. Pope's satisfaction, that he gratified him with the full sum of 500 and a present of all the books for which his own interest could procure him subscribers, to the value of 100 more. The Author only seems to lament that he was employed in translations." Pope's treatment of Broome appears somewhat capricious. If Fenton's four books deserved 300 Broome's eight, with all the Notes, equivalent at least to other further books, certainly entitled him to more than 600. But Pope, as observed by Mr. Allen, was always a bad accountant; in which light Broome also seems to have considered him, for he always spoke of Pope as being too much attached to money; a freedom which the irascible bard could neither forgive nor forget, since he mentions him with some disrespect in The Dunciad.

Mr. Broome was some time Rector of Sturston in Suffolk, during which he married an opulent widow. He afterwards became Doctor of Laws; and in 1733 was presented by the Crown to the Rectory of Pulham in Norfolk, which he held jointly with Oakley Magna in Suffolk, given him by Lord Cornwallis, to whom he officiated as Chaplain, and who afterwards added the Vicarage of Eye in Suffolk. He resigned Pulham in Norfolk, and retained the two in Suffolk. In these retirements he seems to have wrote most of his occasional Poems, as hinted in the Preface in these words; "Whatever be the fate of these Works they have proved of use to me, and been an agreeable amusement in a constant solitude. Providence has been pleased to lead me out of the great roads of life into a private path, where though we have leisure to chuse the smoothest way, yet we are all sure to meet many obstacles in the journey: I have found poetry an innocent companion, and support from the fatigues of it." He courted the Muses till the close of his life, amusing his vacant hours in translations from Anacreon, which were published in The Gentleman's Magazine under the name of Chester.

Mr. Broome died at Bath on the 16th of November 1745, and his remains were deposited in the Abbey-church of that city.

If Broome was not a great poet, he was at least an excellent versifier, and had such command of words and numbers as thoroughly fitted him for translation. Of this Pope's enemies were so well convinced, that they considered Broome's assistance in The Odyssey as so highly important to Pope, that Henley attacked him with this ludicrous distich;

Pope came off clean with Homer; but they say
Broome went before, and kindly swept the way.