There are two Etonians of the first half of this century, whom Johnson has ranked among the English poets: and, in deference to so high an authority, I have abridged and inserted his memoirs of their Lives. But I have searched in vain for any favourable specimen of their poetry which I might transfer to these pages.
These two are BROOME and WEST: not Gray's friend, Richard West, but Gilbert West, a friend of Lord Lyttelton.
Johnson says of the first, "William Broome was born in Cheshire, as is said, of very mean parents. Of the place of his birth, or the first part of his life, I have not been able to gain any intelligence. He was educated upon the foundation at Eton, and was Captain of the school a whole year, without any vacancy by which he might obtain a scholarship at King's College. Being by this delay, such as is said to have happened very rarely, superannuated, he was sent to St. John's College by the contributions of his friends, where he obtained a small exhibition."
Johnson must be inaccurate as to Broome being Captain of a year in which no vacancy at King's occurred. No year wholly blank of resignations is recorded in the Registrum Regale from 1653 to 1756. Broome must have been at Eton soon after 1700. I suppose the fact to have been, that Broome's seniors in his year went off to King's soon after Election, and that Broome remained Captain till the next election, without another resignation coming.
Johnson proceeds to speak of Broome's career at Cambridge, and says, "He was introduced to Mr. Pope, who was then visiting Sir John Cotton at Madingley, near Cambridge, and gained so much by his esteem, that he was employed, I believe, to make extracts from Eustathius for the notes to the translation of the 'Iliad;' and in the volumes of poetry published by Lintot, commonly called 'Pope's Miscellanies,' many of his early pieces were inserted. Pope and Broome were to be more closely connected. When the success of the 'Iliad' gave encouragement to a version of the 'Odyssey,' Pope, weary of the toil, called Fenton and Broome to his assistance, and, taking only half the work upon himself, divided the other half between his partners, giving four books to Fenton and eight to Broome. Fenton's books I have enumerated in his life; to the lot of Broome fell the second, sixth, eighth, eleventh, twelfth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-third, together with the burden of writing all the notes.
"As this translation is a very important event in poetical history, the reader has a right to know upon what grounds I establish my narration. That the version was not wholly Pope's was always known; he had mentioned the assistance of two friends in his proposals, and at the end of the work some account is given by Broome of their different parts, which, however, mentions only five books as written by the coadjutors; the fourth and twentieth by Fenton; the sixth, the eleventh, and eighteenth by himself; though Pope, in an advertisement prefixed afterwards to a new volume of his works, claimed only twelve. A natural curiosity, after the real conduct of so great an undertaking, incited me once to inquire of Dr. Warburton, who told me, in his warm language, that he thought the relation given in the note a 'lie;' but that he was not able to ascertain the several shares. The intelligence which Dr. Warburton could not afford me I obtained from Mr. Langton, to whom Mr. Spence had imparted it.
"Broome probably considered himself as injured, and there was for some time more than coldness between him and his employer. He always spoke of Pope as too much a lover of money, and Pope pursued him with avowed hostility; for he not only named him disrespectfully in the 'Dunciad,' but quoted him more than once in the 'Bathos,' as a proficient in the 'Art of Sinking;' and in his enumeration of the different kinds of poets distinguished for the profound, he reckons Broome among 'the parrots who repeat another's words in such a hoarse odd tone as makes them seem their own.' I have been told that they were afterwards reconciled; but I am afraid their peace was without friendship.
"He never rose to very high dignity in the Church. He was sometime rector of Sturton in Suffolk, where he married a rich widow, and afterwards, when the King visited Cambridge (1728), became Doctor of Laws. He was (1733) presented by the Crown to the rectory of Pulham in Norfolk, which he held with Oakley Magna in Suffolk, given him by the Lord Cornwallis, to whom he was chaplain, and who added the vicarage of Eye in Suffolk; he then resigned Pulham, and retained the two other.
"Of Broome, though it cannot be said that he was a great poet, it would be unjust to deny that he was an excellent versifier; his lines are smooth and sonorous, and his diction is select and elegant. His rhymes are sometimes unsuitable; in his 'Melancholy,' he makes breath rhyme to birth in one place, and to earth in another. Those faults occur but seldom; and he had such power of words and numbers as fitted him for translation; but, in his original works, recollection seems to have been his business more than invention. His imitations are so apparent, that it is part of his reader's employment to recal the verses of some former poet. To detect his imitations were tedious and useless. What he takes he seldom makes worse; whom Pope chose for an associate, and whose co-operation was considered by Pope's enemies as so important, that he was attacked by Henly with this ludicrous distich:—
Pope came off clean with Homer; but they say
Broome went before, and kindly swept the way."