1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Lyttelton

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:47-48.



As a poet, LYTTELTON might escape remembrance, but he comes before us as a general author, and is, from various considerations apart from literary talent, worthy of notice. He was the son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton of Hagley, in Worcestershire (near the Leasowes of Shenstone); and after distinguishing himself at Eton and Oxford, he went abroad, and passed some time in France and Italy. On his return, he obtained a seat in parliament, and opposed the measures of Sir Robert Walpole. He became secretary to the Prince of Wales, and was thus able to benefit his literary friends, Thomson and Mallet. In 1741 he married Miss Lucy Fortescue of Devonshire, who, dying five years afterwards, afforded a theme for his muse, considered by many the most successful of his poetical efforts. When Walpole and the Whigs were vanquished, Lyttelton was made one of the lords of the treasury. He was afterwards a privy councillor and chancellor of the exchequer, and was elevated to the peerage. He died August 22, 1773, aged sixty-four. Lyttelton was author of a short but excellent treatise on "The Conversion of St Paul," which is still regarded as one of the subsidiary bulwarks of Christianity. He also wrote an elaborate History of the Reign of Henry II., to which he brought ample information and a spirit of impartiality and justice. These valuable works, and his patronage of literary men (Fielding, it will be recollected, dedicated to him his Tom Jones, and to Thomson he was a firm friend), constitute the chief claim of Lyttelton upon the regard of posterity. Gray has praised his Monody on his wife's death as tender and elegiac; but undoubtedly the finest poetical effusion of Lyttelton is his Prologue to Thomson's Tragedy of Coriolanus. Before this play could be brought out, Thomson had paid the debt of nature, and his premature death was deeply lamented. The tragedy was acted for the benefit of the poet's relations, and when Quin spoke the prologue by Lyttelton, many of the audience wept at the lines—

He loved his friends — forgive this gushing tear:
Alas! I feel I am no actor here.