1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Neele

Anonymous, "Henry Neele, Esq." Pocket Magazine S2 1 (March 1828) 147-49.



With feelings of the deepest sorrow we have to announce the death of this gentleman, whom happy and unusually early talents had most favourably introduced to the public, and whom the possession of all the nobler and gentler virtues that dignify human nature had endeared to his friends. At any time, and under any circumstances, the death of such a man must have excited profound regret and, as an evil destiny has willed it, the fatal events which have accompanied the termination of his career add a horror to it which is terribly painful. To render the last honours to his memory is a duty, the performance of which affords some mitigation of the grief which his loss has occasioned.

Mr. Neele was the second son of an eminent engraver, who, by great industry and undeviating integrity, realized an easy independence, and enjoyed a spotless reputation. The subject of this memoir discovered at the early age of fifteen considerable poetical talent, which was a source of pride and delight to his family; but, although his father encouraged his literary predilection, he did not permit it to supersede the more active duties of life. Henry Neele was articled to an attorney, and, having passed through the usual period of probation, was admitted, and began to practice. He had previously published a volume of poems, which, although bearing marks of youth, yet contained a high and striking promise of future excellence in that art which he had begun so early to cultivate. They were distinguished by profound thought, great feeling, a gentle and devout tone, and, for one so young, extraordinary facility of versification. His leisure had been, in the mean time, employed in studying the poets of this country, end particularly the great masters of the drama of the age of Elizabeth, for all of whom, and for Shakspeare most, he entertained a fervent veneration. Frequent contributions to the Monthly Magazine, and to other periodicals, attest his industrious pursuit of this branch of study.

The responsibility which business, when he came to practise for himself, brought with it, detached him, in a great degree, from writing. Still, however, he found time to continue, occasionally, his poetical compositions, and, in 1823, published three dramas, and some lyrical poems, which established his right to a place among the poets of the age. His professional pursuits were continued with ardour, but were not sufficient to occupy the whole of his exertions. He was frequently solicited to contribute to the various annual and other periodical publications, and as writing, particularly the writing verses, was to him a matter of great ease, his name was almost constantly before the public, and our pages have frequently been graced by his contributions.

In the spring of last year he undertook to deliver a course of lectures on English poetry, at the Russell Institution, a task for which his intimate knowledge of the subject and his excellent taste admirably qualified him. He repeated the same course of lectures at the Western Literary Institution, with great and well-deserved approbation. At about the same period he began his last work, The Romance of History, which was completed in little more then half a year. The merit of that work has been duly appreciated by the literary world; but while we rejoice in the addition which this made to his fame, we more than fear that his exertions to complete it were the main cause of inducing that malady to which he fell a victim. At the time of his death he had proceeded with a continuation of The Romance of History, which was to comprise some portion of that which relates to France.

Of such a life the incidents are few, and are soon told. In his person Mr. Neele was diminutive; his features were singularly expressive; a serene and cheerful gravity was their ordinary characteristic; his eyes were brilliant, and when any passion roused him, they were lighted up with that fire which has commonly been observed in persons of quick feeling and of such pursuits as his. He was good-tempered and cheerful to an extraordinary degree; generous, kind, and amiable; an excellent son, and a warm friend; one of the most agreeable companions, whether in mirthful or in more serious discourse; beloved by all who knew him; and, dying, he has not left one enemy in the world.

Of the manner of his death nothing is to he said but this that he fell under the attacks of a disease, the distinguishing character of which is, that it takes possession of the mind and peoples it with phantoms, which, to persons of highly-excited nerves, and overwrought brains, assume all the honors of reality. From such a disease neither virtue nor genius are sufficient protections; under the same disease many a noble mind has fallen; but never any in which there was a more rare and amiable assemblage of all that is kind, and gentle, and honourable to humanity, and of all that lifts humanity to a higher sphere, than in that of Henry Neele.