Mr. JOHN HUGHES, the Son of a worthy Citizen of London by Anna the Daughter of Isaac Burges, Esq. a Gentleman of an ancient Family and good Estate in Wiltshire, was born at Marlborough in the said County, on the 29th of January 1677; but educated in London, and received the Rudiments of Learning at private Schools.
In the earliest Years of his Youth, he apply'd himself with Ardour to the Pursuit of the Sister Arts, Poetry, Drawing, and Musick; in each of which, by turns, he made a considerable Progress; but, for the most part, follow'd these and other Studies of Humanity, only as agreeable Amusements, under frequent Confinement from Indisposition, and a continual Valetudinary State of Health. He had for some time an Employment in the Office of Ordinance; and was Secretary to two or three Commissions under the Great Seal, for purchasing Lands for the better Securing the Docks and Harbours at Portsmouth, Chatham, and Harwich.
In the Year 1717, the Lord Chancellor Cowper (to whom Mr. Hughes was then but lately known) was pleas'd, of his own Accord, and without any previous Solicitation, to make him his Secretary for the Commissions of the Peace, and to distinguish him with singular Marks of his Favour and Affection: And, upon his Lordship's laying down the Great Seal, he was, at his particular Recommendation, and with the ready Concurrence of his Successor, continued in the same Employment under the Earl of Macclesfield.
He held the said Place to the time of his Decease, which happen'd on the 17th of February 1719, the very Night in which his Tragedy, entitled, The Siege of Damascus, was first acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane.
Thus was he out off by a Consumption, after a painful Life, at the Age of Forty-two, when he was just got into easy Circumstances, and advancing in Fame and Fortune. So just is the Reflexion of Milton in his Lycidas:
Fame is the Spur, that the clear Spirit doth raise,
(That blest Infirmity of noble Mind,)
To scorn Delights, and live laborious Days;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden Blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th' abhorred Shears,
And slits the thin-spun Life.—
He was privately buried in the Vault under the Chancel of St. Andrew's Church, Holborn.
Mr. Hughes, as a Testimony of Gratitude to his noble Friend and generous Patron, Earl Cowper, gave his Lordship, a few Weeks before he died, his Picture drawn by Sir Godfrey Kneller, which he himself had received as a Present from that Masterly Painter.
The Value my Lord Cowper set upon it, will best appear by the Letter he writ to Mr. Hughes upon this Occasion: As such a Testimony from so distinguish'd a Hand was one of the highest Honours he was capable of receiving, and so esteem'd by himself, it is here inserted, with the particular Leave and Approbation of his worthy Son, the present Earl Cowper.
24 January, 1719-20.
I thank You for the most acceptable Present of your Picture, and assure You, that none of this Age can Set a higher Value upon it than I do, and shall while I live; tho' I am Sensible Posterity will outdo me in that Particular.
I am, with the greatest Esteem and Sincerity,
Your most Affectionate, and
Obliged Humble Servant,
Mr. Hughes was happy in the Acquaintance and Friendship of Several of the greatest Men, and finest Genius's of the Age in which he lived, particularly of the Noble Earl last mentioned, the Right Reverend Dr. Benjamin Hoadly, now Lord Bishop of Winchester, the late Lord Chief Baron Gilbert, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Mr. Congreve, Mr. Addison, Sir Richard Steele, Mr. Southerne, Mr. Rowe, &c. and might have justly boasted in the Words of Horace,
Cum magnis vixisse, invita fatebitur usque
After the Sketch of the Life of this ingenious Gentleman, it may be expected that something shou'd be said of his Writings; it is therefore hoped the Reader will candidly accept the following Account.
In order to observe some Method, I shall first take notice of Mr. Hughes's Poems and Dramatick Works; and then proceed to his Translations, and Writings in Prose.
The Triumph of Peace was his first Poem, of any length, that appear'd in Publick. It was writ on Occasion of the Peace of Reswick, and printed in the Year 1697. A learned Gentleman at Cambridge, in a Letter to a Friend of Mr. Hughes, dated the 28 of February 1697-98, gives the following Account of the favourable Reception this Poem met with there, upon its first Publication.
"I think I never heard a Poem read with so much Admiration, as The Triumph of Peace was by our best Criticks here; nor a greater Character given to a young Poet, at his first appearing; no, not even to Mr. Congreve himself. So nobly elevated are his Thoughts, his Numbers so harmonious, and his Turns so fine and delicate, that we cry out with Tully, on a like Occasion, 'Nostrae spes altera Romae'!"
The Court of Neptune was writ on King William's Return from Holland, two Years after the Peace, 1699. This Poem is said to have been admir'd for the Versification. However, the Musical Flow of the Numbers is its least Praise; it rather deserves to be valued for the Propriety and Boldness of the Figures and Metaphors, and delightful Machinery. Those Lines have been justly quoted as an Instance of the Author's happy Choice of Metaphors;
As when the Golden God, that rules the Day,
Drives down his flaming Chariot to the Sea,
And leaves the Nations here involv'd in Night,
To distant Regions he transports his Light;
So WILLIAM'S Rays, by turns, two Nations cheer,
And when he Sets to them, he Rises here.
A learned and ingenious Friend of Mr. Hughes, in a Letter to him, dated the 11th of January 1699, occasion'd by the Publication of this Poem, makes the following judicious Remark;
"I am pleased to find, that You always make choice of worthy Subjects for your Muse, and take it as an Omen of something Greater to follow. Virgil, in his Bucolics, preluded Aeneid, and first sung the Praises of Augustus in Eclogues or Copies of Verses, before he attempted an Heroick Poem. I am satisfy'd by this Specimen, that You will never descend into the Rank of those little Souls, who make it their Business only to please, and have no other way to do that, but by flattering Men in their Vices and Immoralities. I am sure, Virtue is most for the Interest of Mankind, and those Poets have ever obtained the most Honour in the World, who have made That the End and Design of their Works. A wanton Sappho, or Anacreon, among the Ancients, never had the same Applause, as a Pindar or Alcaeus; nor, in the Judgment of Horace, did they deserve it. In the Opinion of all Posterity, a leud and debauch'd Ovid did justly submit to the Worth of a Virgil; and, in future Ages, a Dryden will never be compared to Milton. In all Times and in all Places of the World, the Moral Poets have been ever the Greatest, and as much superior to others in Wit, as in Virtue. Nor does this seem difficult to be accounted for, since the Dignity of their Subjects naturally rais'd their Ideas, and gave a Grandeur to the Sentiments."
The House of Nassau, a Pindarick Ode, (printed in 1702,) was occasion'd by the Death of King WILLIAM; and displays the Heroick Exploits of that Illustrious Family, than which none have ever distinguish'd themselves more eminently in Defence of the Sacred Rights and Liberties of Mankind. It abounds with noble Similies, sublime Sentiments, and happy Allusions to some of the most beautiful Passages in Horace and Virgil. Here it is that our Author's Genius shines in its full Lustre. In Pindarick and Lyrick Poetry, he had, perhaps, no Superior, and few Equals. Tho' he enjoy'd all that Fire of Imagination and divine Enthusiasm, for which Some of the ancient Poets are so deservedly admired, yet did his Fancy never run away with his Reason, but was always guided by a superior Judgment; and the Musick of his Verse is exquisite. Cowley's Pindarick Odes are indeed writ with great Strength and Spirit; but then they want that Harmony of Numbers, which Horace requires as essential to a good Poem.
In the last Stanza of this Ode, Mr. Hughes proved a good Prophet of the Glories that attended the Reign of Queen Anne.
The Translation of the Third Ode of the Third Book of Horace, and the Paraphrase of the Twenty-second Ode of the First Book, were both writ, when he was very young; and the latter of 'em was his first Poetical Essay, that appear'd in Print. I find by a Letter to one of his Friends, that the Paraphrase on the Sixteenth Ode of the Second Book of the same Author, (printed in the Sixth Miscellany,) was writ in the Year 1702. As that Letter gives the Reasons why Mr. Hughes thought the Odes of Horace fitter to be Paraphrased than Translated; and the Justness of his Sentiments seems since confirm'd by many unsuccessful Attempts, I believe it will be entertaining to the Reader, tho' intended only for the Gentleman, to whom it was originally address'd. There is a native Simplicity in Writings of this kind, which always gives Pleasure to Persons of a good Taste.
26 December, 1702.
I am sorry I cou'd not wait on You yesterday, as I intended; when I see you next, you shall know the Reason; in the mean time I send you to beg your Pardon, and have inclos'd what I spoke to you of. That incomparable Ode which Horace has address'd to his Friend Grosphus, I have chosen to Present to one of the best of my Friends, in as good an English Dress as I am capable of giving it. The Original is one of those Pieces, in which Horace has shewn himself so great a Master of Human Life, and given us at once a View of his good Sense and good Humour. And this Address is usual to him, for in the gravest of his Odes he does not seem to make his Remarks on Life like a Pedant, to make you out of Love with it, or to fright you from Pleasure, but to invite you to the true Enjoyment of it; and tho' in the Choice of his Pleasures he was often irregular. In this, as well as in all other Respects, his Moral Odes infinitely exceed the Chorus's in Seneca's Tragedies; for in the first, you have the free and unaffected Morality of a Gentleman, but in the latter the splenetick Air of a severe Stoick. This Ode has been in English before, more than once; but whether well or ill-translated, I leave others to judge; I shall only say that I have seen very few Translations of Horace, that I can be pleas'd with; for most have copy'd only his Thoughts, without any thing of his Diction, which is his principal Beauty: 'Tis that Vivacity in his Stile, and particularly in his Epithets, which Petronius Arbiter calls a 'curiosa felicitas,' and in which no Man ever (in my Opinion) resembled him so much a Petronius himself, whose Prose is as inimitable as Horace's Poetry. Indeed in the time of Pope Urban VIII. (who was a Poet himself) Casimire, a Polander and a Jesuit, writ several Odes in Imitation of Horace, in which there appears a good Genius; but his Latin is not pure; and besides the Disadvantage of writing in a dead Language, he is defective in Judgment, and his Fancy is not always well-govern'd. Those who have succeeded best in their Attempts on Horace in English, have chosen the way of Paraphrase as the most proper, for his Sense is close-wrought, and wou'd appear stiff and obscure in a literal Translation (if such a one cou'd be made) and there are many good Hints in him worth the pursuing. None have pretended to copy his Numbers, for the Pindarick, which seems the fittest for us, and gives us a greater Liberty and Variety, does not answer the Latin Measures. Yet I remember I once saw an Attempt to write English Sapphicks, (but it never was printed,) and Sir Philip Sidney has compos'd Hexameters and other Verses after the Latin Measure, but they are unnatural to our Language, for this Reason chiefly, because we abound so much in Monosyllables. The Sapphick Measure is indeed very Musical, and what Horace seems best to have practic'd, but methinks it is too soft, and fit only to be employ'd on Love, and pleasant easy Subjects; it seems too much confin'd, like the usual Measure of our Songs; and the lofty Sense of some of his Odes is above it. Our English Pindarickk is undoubtedly more majestical, if it be well contriv'd, and the various Length and Shortness of the Lines, as well as the Mixture and Returns of the Rhime well-chosen; and therefore, as I said before, it is the most proper for such Odes as have any thing of the Sublime in 'em. I wonder Horace did not introduce something like it into his Language, being so great an Admirer of Pindar, and having in other respects imitated him so finely, notwithstanding his Declaration, "Pindarum quisquis," &c. that Pindar was Inimitable; in which Ode he commends him in these Words,
Laurea donandus Apollinari,
Seu par audaces nova dithyrambos
Verba devolvit, numerisque fertur
Lib. IV. Ode II.
Thus translated by Mr. Cowley,
So Pindar does new Words and Figures roll,
Down his impetuous Dithyrambic Tide,
Which in no Channel deigns t' abide,
Which neither Banks nor Dikes controul.
But this does no answer to the "numeris lege solutes," by which Horace means only, that Pindar's Numbers were unlimited, and not confin'd to any Set Measure, in those Odes that were call'd Dithyrambick, which had the most Heat and Fury, being first invented in Honour of Bacchus. And, methinks, Horace might sometimes have attempted this Dithyrambick Measure, especially in that Ode, "Quo me, Bacche, rapis," &c.
But to return to the Ode which I have here endeavour'd to imitate; I have taken a Liberty in the Paraphrase; the first Stanza is added, and a Simile or two; but nothing more than what is agreeable to his Sense, and what I thought wou'd make him appear to the best Advantage. Such as it is, Sir, I submit it entirely to your Judgment, since it was first attempted for your Pleasure. 'Tis upon an agreeable Subject, viz. TRANQUILLITY; and if it fails giving you any Entertainment, I will really acknowledge it to be my own Fault; for I know you to be Master of so much Sense, so good a Taste, and such just Notions of Human Life, that I am sure Horace must please you, if he be not murder'd in an ill Translation. You may perceive, Sir, that as I cannot think the time long, which I spend in your Company, so neither can I think a Letter long which I am writing to you; but I may be tempted to trespass upon you in one, as well as in the other, therefore I will do, as Persons shou'd after a tedious Visit, use a short Ceremony, and withdraw.
Your very humble Servant,
The Six Cantata's, Set by Dr. Pepusch, were design'd as an Essay (which was the first in its kind) for Compositions in English after the manner of the Italians. They were writ before the introducing of Italian Operas on the English Stage, tho' not publish'd till afterwards. The Success they met with, encourag'd the Author to write, occasionally, several others in the same manner.
As Mr. Hughes's Odes for Music, Cantata's, and Songs, are allow'd to be extremely well adapted to that Art, they have likewise had the Good-fortune to be composed by the ablest Masters; and his Friends have still the Pleasure to hear them frequently sung by the finest Voices.
The Tenth Book of Lucan was translated by Mr. Hughes long before Mr. Rowe undertook that Author. The Occasion of it was this: Mr. Tonson Senior solicited a Translation of Lucan by Several Hands. Mr. Hughes perform'd his Part, but others failing in their Promises, the Design was drop'd; and Mr. Rowe was afterwards prevail'd upon to undertake the Whole, which he perform'd with great Success; his Supplement in particular to the Tenth Book is writ with all the Fire of Lucan.
I mention this only to shew, that Mr. Hughes cou'd have no Intention to vie with Mr. Rowe, for whom he had a sincere Esteem and Affection.
The Perusal and Comparing of these two fine Translations may give the Reader the same kind of Pleasure, as the Sight of a beautiful Face drawn by two Masterly Hands.
In the Year 1709, Mr. Hughes oblig'd the Publick with an elegant Translation of Moliere's celebrated Comedy, entitled The Misanthrope. This has been since reprinted, with the other Plays of that admirable Author translated by Mr. Ozell. But no Notice is taken by what Hand it was translated; and Mr. Hughes's judicious Preface is there omitted.
In the Year 1711, Sir Richard Steele and Mr. Clayton had Concerts of Musick in York-Buildings; on which Occasion they sent Mr. Hughes the following Letter.
Mr. Clayton and I desire you, as soon as you can conveniently, to alter this Poem for Musick [author's note: Alexander's Feast; or The Power of Musick: An Ode for St. Cecilia's Day], preserving as many of Dryden's Words and Verses as you can. It is to be perform'd by a Voice well-skill'd in Recitative, but you understand all these Matters much better than
Your affectionate humble Servant,
According to their Request, he made several Alterations in it, which, I believe, will be esteem'd an Improvement of that justly-celebrated Ode. But I find by a Letter from his to Sir Richard Steele, that Mr. Clayton's Composition did not satisfy the Connoisseurs in Musick.
The Opera of Calypso and Telemachus was perform'd at the King's Theatre in the Hay-Market, in the Year 1712. Perhaps it may be worth the while to mention here one Circumstance concerning this Opera, as it relates to the History of Musick in England, and discovers the great Partiality shewn at that time to Operas perform'd in Italian. After many such had been encouraged by large Subscriptions, This, originally written, and Set in English after the Italian manner (tho' not the first) was prepar'd with the usual Expence of Scenes and Decorations; and, being much crouded and applauded at the Rehearsals, a Subscription was obtain'd for it as usual. This alarmed the whole Italian Band, who apprehending that their Market wou'd now soon be at an end, had Interest enough (the late Duke of Shrewsbury being then Lord Chamberlain) to procure an Order the Day before the performing of this Opera, to take off the Subscription for it, and to open the House at the lowest Prices, or not at all. This was designed to sink it, but failed of its End. It was however performed, tho' under so great Discouragement; and was revived (some Years ago) at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn Fields.
Mr. Addison, in the Spectator (No. 405.) speaking of the just Applause given this Opera by Signior Nicolini (who, he says, was the greatest Performer in Dramatick Musick, that perhaps ever appeared upon a Stage) has these Words;
"The Town is highly obliged to that Excellent Artist, for having shewn us the Italian Musick in its Perfection, as well as for that generous Approbation he lately gave to an Opera of our own Country, in which the Composer endeavoured to do Justice to the Beauty of the Words, by following that Noble Example, which has been set him by the greatest Foreign Masters in that Art."
The ODE to the CREATOR of the WORLD, occasion'd by the Fragments of Orpheus, was printed in the Year 1713, at the particular Instance of Mr. Addison, and is mentioned with Applause in the Spectator. This, and the Ecstacy (published since the Death of the Author) are justly esteemed two of the Noblest Odes in our Language. In the latter there is as fine a Compliment to the late Sir Isaac Newton, as was perhaps ever paid to that Incomparable Philosopher.
The Tragedy of Cato was first acted in this same Year, 1713. I take Notice of this Particular, because we are informed by a late Writer, that its being then brought upon the Stage was in a great measure owing to Mr. Hughes. The Circumstances recorded by this Author are so remarkable, that they deserve to be remembered, and may serve to shew the high Opinion Mr. Addison entertained of Mr. Hughes's Ability as a Poet; I will therefore transcribe his own Words:
"It has been often said by very good Judges, that Cato was no proper Subject for a Dramatick Poem: That the Character of a Stoick Philosopher is inconsistent with the Hurry and Tumult of Action and Passion, which are the Soul of Tragedy. That the ingenious Author miscarried in the Plan of his Work, but supported it by the Dignity, the Purity, the Beauty, and the Justness of the Sentiments.
"This was so much the Opinion of Mr. Maynwaring, who was generally allow'd to be the best Critick of our Time, that he was against bringing the Play upon the Stage, and it lay be unfinish'd many Years. That it was play'd at last, was owing to Mr. Hughes. He had read the four Acts which were finish'd, and rightly thought it wou'd be of Service to the Publick, to have it represented at the latter end of Queen Anne's Reign, when the old English Spirit of Liberty was as likely to be lost, as it had ever been since the Conquest. He endeavour'd to bring Mr. Addison into his Opinion, which he did so far as to procure his Consent, that it shou'd be acted if Mr. Hughes wou'd write the last Act; and he offer'd him the Scenery for his Assistance, excusing his not finishing it himself on account of some other Avocations. He prest Mr. Hughes to do it so earnestly, that he was prevail'd on, and set about it. But a Week after, seeing Mr. Addison again with an Intention to communicate to him what he had thought of it, he was agreeably surprised at his producing some Papers, where near half of the Act was written by the Author himself, who took Fire at the Hint, that it wou'd be serviceable, and, upon a second Reflexion, went through with the Fifth Act: Not that he was diffident of Mr. Hughes's Ability, but knowing that no Man cou'd have so perfect a Notion of his Design as himself, who had been so long and so carefully thinking of it.
"I was told this by Mr. Hughes; and I tell into to shew, that it was not for the Love-Scenes that Mr. Addison consented to have his Tragedy acted, but to support the old Roman and English Publick Spirit, which was then so near being suppress'd by Faction and Bigottry." Thus far the Author of an Essay on Criticism, printed in the Year 1728, p. 6.
Soon after the Tragedy of Cato was acted, Mr. Hughes sent the Author a Copy of Verses in Praise of it, which were afterwards printed before it with several other Copies. On this Occasion, Mr. Addison writ the following Letter.
24 April, 1713.
This is to acquaint You that I am forced to practise a great Piece of Self-denial. In short I must deprive my Play of the Noble Ornament You designed for it. My Friends, who all of them concur with Me in Admiring your beautiful Copy of Verses, are however of Opinion, that it will draw upon me an Imputation of Vanity; and as my Play has met with an Unexpected Reception, I must take Particular Care not to aggravate the Envy and Ill-Nature that will rise on course against me. Besides to tell you truly, I have received other Poems upon the same Occasion, and one or two from Persons of Quality, who will never pardon me if I do not give them a Place at the same time that I print any other.
I know your good Sense and Friendship towards me will not let you put a wrong Interpretation on this Matter; and I am sure I need not tell you with how much Sincerity and Esteem I am,
Your most Obliged, and most
Faithful Humble Servant,
To Mr. Hughes.
I persuade myself, the Reader will be pleased to see also Mr. Hughes's modest and genteel Answer.
25 April, 1713.
I am extremely obliged to you for your kind Letter. The warm Expressions of Friendship in it give me a much more Sensible Pleasure than any I cou'd receive from the Approbation of my Verses. I own when they were writ, I had no Thoughts of your printing 'em; and though nothing wou'd flatter me so much in the making them publick as the Satisfaction of seeing my Name with Yours, yet I am one of those Friends who think your present Resolution perfectly right; and entirely acquiesce in your Reasons. I cannot but Applaud at the same time our chaste Enjoyment of Fame, which I think equally above Envy, and incapable of receiving any Addition. I am with all possible Esteem,
You most Affectionate, and most
Obedient Humble Servant,
To Mr. Addison.
The Siege of Damascus was acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, in the Year 1719, with great Applause. His Majesty, who now reigns, was pleased to honour it with his Presence; and the Queen distinguished it with Marks of her Favour.
Mr. Hughes drew up the Dedication of this Tragedy to the late Earl Cowper, but ten Days before he died. It is, indeed, surprising that he shou'd be able to form a Piece so finely turn'd, and with so much Spirit at such an Hour; when he had Death in View, and was too weak to transcribe it himself.
Mr. Pope in a Letter to Mr. Hughes's Brother writ soon after his Death, in Answer to one received from him with the printed Copy of the Play, has the following pathetick Passage, which he gives me Leave to make use of on this Occasion:
"I read over again your Brother's Play with more Concern and Sorrow than I ever felt in the reading of any Tragedy. The real Loss of a good Man may be call'd a Distress to the World, and ought to affect us more than any Feign'd or Ancient Distress, how finely drawn soever. I am glad of an Occasion to give you under my Hand this Testimony, both how Excellent I think this Work to be, and how Excellent I thought the Author."
It is indeed generally allow'd, that the Characters in this Play are finely varied and distinguished; that the Sentiments are just, and well adapted to the Characters; that it abound with beautiful Descriptions, apt Allusions to the Manners and Opinions of the Times when the Scene is laid, and with Noble Morals; that the Diction is pure, unaffected, and sublime, without any Meteors of Stile, or ambitious Ornaments; and that the Plot is conducted in a simple and clear manner.
The only Objection I have ever heard, relates to the Plan of it;
"There does not appear (say Some, who are esteem'd Persons of very good Taste and Judgment) a sufficient Ground and Foundation for the Distress in the 4th and 5th Acts. For what is Phocyas's Crime? The City of Damascus is besieged, and fiercely attack'd by the Saracens. There is little or no Prospect of Relief. It must therefore probably fall into their Hands in a short time, be sacked and plundered, and the Garrison and Citizens enslaved. At this dangerous Juncture, Phocyas assists the Enemy to take it a few Days sooner. But upon what Terms? That All, who lay down their Arms, shall be spared, and Liberty granted to every Citizen, that shall chuse it, to leave the City, and carry off with him a Mule's Burden of his Goods; the Chiefs to have Six Mules, and the Governor Ten; with Arms for their Defence against the Mountain Robbers, (Act IV. Scene I.) Insomuch that Doran says, (Act V. Scene I.) 'The Land wears not the Face of War, but Trade; and looks as if its Merchants were sending forth their loaded Caravans to all the neighbouring Countries.' What is there in all this that a virtuous Man might not have done for the Good of his Country? If Phocyas is guilty, his Guilt must consist in this only, that he performed the Same Action from a Sense of his own Wrongs, and to preserve the Idol of his Soul from Violation or Death, which he might have performed laudably upon better Principles. But this (say they) seems not a sufficient Ground for those strong and stinging Reproaches he casts upon himself, nor for Eudocia's rejecting him with so much Severity. It wou'd have been more rational (considering the Frailty of Human Nature, and the violent Temptations he lay under,) if he had been, at last, prevailed upon to profess himself a Mahometan: For then his Remorse and Self-condemnation wou'd have been natural, his Punishment just, and the Character of Eudocia placed in a more amiable Light."
I own I am at a Loss for an Answer to this Objection; and therefore think myself obliged to acquaint the Reader, in order to do Justice to the Author's Judgment, that he had formed the Play according to the Plan here recommended; But when it was offered to the Managers of Drury-Lane House, in the Year 1718, they refused (as I am informed) to act it, unless he would alter the Character of Phocyas, pretending that he could not be a Heroe if he changed his Religion, and that the Audience would not bear the Sight of him after it, in how lively a manner soever his Remorse and Repentance might be described. But surely when in the Agony of his Soul, and distracted with Passion, he is at last prevailed upon (tho' with the utmost Reluctance and Horror) to kiss the Alcoran, he rather appears an Object of Pity, than of Detestation. How tender and reasonably-passionate is the Scene here referred to, as it stands in the Original Draught of the Play, and what Scope does it give a Masterly Actor to display his Skill. However, the Author (who was then in a very languishing Condition) finding that if he did not comply, his Relations would probably lose the Benefit of the Play, he consented, tho' with Reluctance, to new-model the Character of Phocyas.
But (whatever my Thoughts may be on this Subject) since the Play was altered by Mr. Hughes himself, and met with great Applause, it would not become me to publish it according to his Original Plan, unless the Author's Noble Friends should think fit (at a proper Opportunity) to bring it upon the Stage, and it should there receive the Sanction of the Publick.
Mr. Hughes, when he was but Nineteen, writ a Tragedy, entitled, AMALASONT, Queen of the Goths, which displays a fertile Genius, and a masterly Invention; but as it was never designed by him for the Press, nor revised and corrected in his riper Age, the Diction, in general, was too much neglected. I have Attempted to correct the Style, and altered some Incidents which were thought not likely to succeed. This may be Presented to the View of the Publick, when it can be brought on the Stage without having too much Injustice done it in the Performance.
Having thus gone thro' the first Part of my Design, all that remains is to take a View of Mr. Hughes's Translation and Writings in Prose.
The Advices from Parnassus, and the Political Touchstone of Trajano Boccalini, translated by several Hands, were printed in Folio, in 1706. This Translation was revised and corrected, and the Preface to it was writ by Mr. Hughes; in which he gives the following Account of the Nature and Design of this Work;
"'Tis a new-invented kind of Fable, very different from any thing which had ever been written before, and therefore it may justly be esteemed an Original. Whatever can be expected from a most fruitful and facetious Wit, from a great Variety of solid and polite Learning, an improved Conversation, and an accurate Discernment in Human Affairs, is to be found assembled in this diverting and useful Miscellany." He afterwards adds, "There is no need to insist upon the Usefulness of this way of conveying Truth by Allegory, which employs at once the utmost Judgment and Fancy of the Writer, and is observ'd to make more lively Impressions on the Reader than Reason in its Undress can do, tho' it has ever so many native Charms. But there is one thing which should particularly recommend our Author to Englishmen, and that is his Zeal for Liberty, and his generous Abhorrence of those wicked Politicks, which have so much disturbed the Peace of the World, and the Happiness of Nations."
I shall quote nothing farther from it, tho' the whole Preface deserves the Attention of the Reader.
Mr. Hughes's Translation of Monsieur Fontenelle's Dialogues of the Dead, with two Original Dialogues, was published in the Year 1708. The greater Part of it had lain by him above Six Years. He gives the Character of Monsieur Fontenelle: "In all his Writings he chuses the Style and Air of Conversation, and no where appears with the Formality of an Author. — 'Tis a Secret almost wholly his own, to say the most extraordinary things so carelessly, as if he were scarce sensible he had said anything uncommon. He had a Wit which gives every Subject the most agreeable and surprising Turns in the World. The Edge of his Satire is fine; he always preserves his good Humour; his Mirth has ever something solid, and his most judicious Reflexions are mixed with Pleasantry."
He afterwards translated likewise Monsieur Fontenelle's Discourse concerning the Ancients and Moderns, which is printed with his Conversations with a Lady on the Plurality of Worlds, translated by Mr. Glanville. Sir William Temple, in his Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning, has mentioned this last Piece with great Praise, and the former with no less Resentment. The unprejudiced Reader will judge of each, as Reason directs.
The History of the Revolutions in Portugal, written by Monsieur L'Abbe de Vertot, and translated by Mr. Hughes, was printed for S. Buckley in 1712, without the Name of the Translator. By what Accident it happened I know not, but this Translation was not published 'till after his Death. Mr. Hughes, in his Preface, observes, "That the Affairs treated of in this short History are important, and the Narration clear, judicious, and elegant. The Author appears to have thoroughly understood his Subject, and has shewn an admirable Capacity in bringing together all the Circumstances proper to enliven his Story, to fix the Attention of his Readers, and to give them a full and satisfactory Information. It is so rare (says he) among Writers of modern History, to meet with any more than a cold and dry Narration of Facts, that some may think the Beauty of this Writing an Objection to the Fidelity of it; but this certainly is no Reason in itself, where it does not appear that Truth has been neglected for the sake of Ornament."
The Translation of the Letters of Abelard and Heloise was so well received by the Publick, that there have been five Editions of it in the Compass of a few Years; tho' it has been but lately known by what Hand it was performed. It is indeed not easy to determine which is most to be admired, the Authors, or the Translator; the beautiful Variety of the Thoughts, or the Purity and Elegance of the Language. There is in these Epistles something so moving and pathetick, so powerfully actuating to the Springs of Pity and Compassion by all the tender Strokes of Passion and Reason, of Piety and remaining Frailty, that whoever can see this lively Struggle between Grace and Nature, Inclination and Duty, without being fired with the warmest Emotions of Affection and Concern, must be deaf to the Sufferings of Virtue, an Enemy to Love, and a Stranger to Human Nature. So fine a Subject had Mr. Pope to work upon, when he writ his beautiful Epistle from Heloise to Abelard.
As Mr. Hughes was an occasional Contributor to the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, the Reader may, perhaps, be curious to know more particularly what share he had in those Papers, which are so justly admired in all the polite Parts of Europe, and do Honour to the British Genius and Language.
In the Tatler he writ,
Vol. II. No. 64, A Letter signed Josiah Couplet.
No. 73, A Letter against Gamesters, signed William Trusty.
Mr. Tickell alludes to this Letter in a Copy of Verses addressed to the Spectator, Vol. VII. No. 532.
From Felon Gamesters the raw 'Squire is free,
And Britain owes her rescu'd Oaks to Thee.
No. 113, The Inventory of a Beau.
In the Spectator.
Vol. I. No. 33, A Letter on the Art of improving Beauty.
No. 53, A second Letter on the same Subject.
No. 66, Two Letters concerning fine Breeding.
Vol. II. No. 91, The History of Honoria, or the Rival Mother.
Vol. II. No., 104, A Letter on Riding Habits for Ladies.
No. 141, Remarks on a Comedy, entitled, The Lancashire Witches.
Vol. III. No. 210, On the Immortality of the Soul.
No. 220, A Letter concerning Expedients for Wit.
No. 230, All, except the last Letter.
No. 231, A Letter on the Awe of appearing before Publick Assemblies.
No. 237, On Divine Providence.
Vol. IV. No. 252, A Letter on the Eloquence of Tears and fainting Fits.
No. 302, The Character of Emilia.
No. 311, A Letter from the Father of a great Fortune.
Vol. V. No. 375, A Picture of Virtue in Distress.
Vol. VII. No. 525, On Conjugal Love.
No. 537, On the Dignity of Human Nature.
No. 541, Rules for Pronunciation and Action, chiefly collected from Cicero.
No. 554, On the Improvement of the Genius, illustrated in the Characters of the Lord Bacon, Mr. Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, and Leonardo da Vinci.
I have not been able to learn what Guardians were writ by him besides No. 37, Vol. I. which contains Remarks on the Tragedy of Othello.
Mr. Hughes published, in the Year 1715, a very accurate Edition of the Works of our famous Poet Mr. Edmund Spenser, in Six Volumes in large Twelves. To this Edition are prefixed the Life of Mr. Spenser; an Essay on Allegorical Poetry; Remarks, on the Fairy-Queen, on the Shepherds Calendar, and the other Writings of Spenser; and a Glossary explaining the old and obscure Words; all written by the same Hand.
Charon, or The Ferry-Boat, A Vision, first appeared in the Year 1718. This, and Mr. Walsh's Aesculapius, or Hospital of Fools, are perhaps the two finest Dialogues we have in English, as well as the most lively Imitations of Lucian.
Having gone thro' with what I proposed, at first, I shall only make One obvious Reflexion from the Whole; viz. With what Vigilance must Mr. Hughes have snatched (if I may so speak) every Interval of Ease and Health, to be capable of finishing, in his short and valetudinary Life, so man great and beautiful Works!
Circles are prais'd, not that abound
In Largeness, but th' exactly round;
So Life we praise, that does excel
Not in much Time, but Acting well.
Sir Richard Steele, immediately after the Death of Mr. Hughes, paid the Debt due to Friendship, by drawing his Character in a very just and pathetick manner, which was received with great Satisfaction by the Publick. I doubt not but the Reader will be pleased to find it added here; and the rather, because the Paper, in which it was printed, has not been collected in any Volume.