1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Mason

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 67 (April 1797) 359.



At Aston, in Yorkshire, of a mortification, occasioned by breaking his shin in stepping out of his carriage two days before, the Rev. William Mason, precentor and one of the residentiaries of York cathedral, prebendary of Driffield, and rector of Aston; author of Elfrida, Caractacus, The English Garden, Translation of Fresnoy's Art of Painting, and several other celebrated poems, the Life of Gray, &c. He was the son of a clergyman, who had the living of Hull, but it is not easy to fix the precise time of his birth. He was admitted of St. John's-college, Cambridge, where he proceeded B.A. in 1745; and whence he removed to Pembroke-hall, of which society he was elected a fellow 1747, and took the degree of M.A. 1749. In 1754 he entered into holy orders, and was patronized by the then Earl of Holdernesse, who obtained for him the appointment of chaplain to his Majesty, and gave him the valuable rectory of Aston. Mr. M. was an acknowledged scholar, and possessed high claims to a considerable degree of poetical reputation. All that could be gathered from the Greek and Roman stores certainly contributed to embellish his mind; but it may be reasonably questioned whether it was enriched by any great share of original genius; though it must be admitted that his Caractacus and Elfrida abound in passages marked by energy and spirit. The memorable Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers has been often attributed to this gentleman; and, if he were the author of it, he certainly possessed no small portion of satirical humour as well as poetical strength: but the work is so different from the general character of his productions, that it is hardly to be considered as the offspring of his mind. It is certain that he never acknowledged it; and, therefore, we must probably look to some other son of the Muses. In private life his character, though with something in his manners beyond the mere dignity of conscious talents and literature, was distinguished by philanthropy and fervid friendship. For the latter quality we have only to observe his conduct in relation to Gray, whose genius he estimated with a zeal of enthusiasm, to borrow an expression of old Theobald, "amounting to idolatry." Upon the whole, he is to be viewed as a man who may be ranked with the supporters of British literature and morals. — The appointment of the four canons-residentiaries of York cathedral is in the gift of the Dean, who is obliged, by statute, to give the vacant canonry to the first man he sees after the vacancy, capable of taking it. Mr. Markham was his first sight on the death of Mr. Mason. He married Mary, daughter of William Sherman, of Kingston upon Hull, esq. who died March 24, 1767, in her 28th year, at Bristol, in the North aisle of which cathedral he erected to her memory a neat monument of white marble, with the well-known lines.