1784 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry James Pye

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the Author" European Magazine 6 (December 1784) 440.



Mr. Pye, the author of the Poem of which we have been giving an account [Progress of Refinement], is now Representative in Parliament for Berkshire; an honour which his father, grandfather, and others of his ancestors, enjoyed before him. The family has its origin from the Barons of Kilpec, in Herefordshire, and its name from Hugh Lord Kilpec, in the reign of William Rufus. The son of Lord Hugh was called among the Welch ap Hy; the letter Y having in the Welch orthography the power of our U; and the name remaining to the family, became in time shortened to Pye, as in more modern times Pugh has been formed, according to the English orthography, from ap Hugh. Sir Robert Pye, Auditor of the Exchequer in the reign of James I. lineally descended from Hugh Lord Kilpec, purchased the present family estate of Faringdon in Berkshire. His son, also Sir Robert Pye, married Mary eldest daughter of the great John Hampden; and, in the civil wars, rose to the rank of Lieutenant general in the Parliament's service. He nevertheless was fortunate enough to make his peace at the Restoration, and preserved his Berkshire estate; but a large property about Pye-street, in Westminster, having passed into the hands of the church of Westminster, was never recovered. The imprudence and unfortunate fate of Mr. Hampden Pye, eldest son of Sir Robert Pye and Mary Hampden, has afforded the subject of a beautiful episode in the present Mr. Pye's elegant Poem, entitled "Faringdon Hill."

Mr. Pye was born in London, and was educated under a private tutor at home till he was of an age for the university, when he was entered a gentleman-commoner of Magdalen-College, in Oxford. He was there early distinguished by his genius for poetry. Some verses of his, among the Oxford Gratulatory Poems on the Peace of 1763, have, for the very early age at which they were written, great merit. While the more respectable of the elder persons of his college loved and cherished his talents, some others, of a different character, found reason not to be equally delighted with them. One, who was peculiarly disagreeable to the young men, had the misfortune to fall in love with a young lady then resident at Oxford, not long after married to a young gentleman of large fortune (a gentleman-commoner of the college with Mr. Pye), and now the amiable mother of a numerous family. Mr. Pye, in revenge of some affront to those of his own gown, ridiculed the Senior's pretensions in the following epigram, which was circulated through the university:

O Love, tho' Virgil's lays ascribe
Resistless power to thee,
Yet still I thought the sacred tribe
Of Dullness ever free.

Potent I deem'd her ample shield
Her favourite sons to save;
Tho' to thy soft dominion yield
The virtuous and the brave.

But since the splendour of thy throne
Makes Muddinol obey,
I find myself compell'd to own
Thy universal sway.

Mr. Pye, soon after he was of age, coming, by the death of his father, into possession of the family estate, settled upon it as a country gentleman, taking a commission in the militia, acting as a justice of Peace, and being zealous in all that business of the country of which, as it brings no pecuniary advantage, the extensive respect naturally accruing from it to a man of sense and integrity, is the proper and just reward; the due execution of it indeed placing the English country-gentlemen among the most useful and truly respectable characters that can exist in any country. Such employments divided Mr. Pye's time with his literary pursuits, till at the late dissolution of Parliament, a season of violent struggle of parties thro' the kingdom, he was called by a very large majority of the gentlemen and freeholders of his county to the first situation that an Englishman can hold, a situation like which no other country knows. The honour, however, attending that situation being by no means of unchangeable brilliancy, but momentarily liable to receive new splendour, or to take the foulest tarnish from the conduct of the professor, we have at present only to wish fair fame to our poet from his political career. It will remain for him to take care that it shall furnish matter only of eulogy for the future biographer and historian.