1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Broome

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 7:62-64.



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, we 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 be might have obtained 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 be obtained a small exhibition. At his college he lived for sometime in the same chamber with the well-known Ford, by whom Dr. Johnson heard him described as a contracted scholar and a mere versifier, unacquainted with life, and unskilful in conversation. His addiction to metre was then such, that his companions familiarly called him Poet. When he had opportunities of mingling with mankind, he cleared himself, as Ford likewise owned, from great part of his scholastic rust.

He appeared early in the world as a translator of the Iliads into prose, in conjunction with Ozell and Oldisworth. How their several parts were distributed is not known. This is the translation of which Ozell boasted as superior, in Toland's opinion, to that of Pope: it has long since vanished, and is now in no danger from the critics. He was introduced to Mr. Pope, who was then visiting sir John Cotton at Madingley, near Cambridge, and gained so much of his esteem, that he was employed 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 yet 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 are enumerated in Dr. Johnson's Life of him. To the lot of Broome fell the 2d, 6th, 8th, 11th, 12th, 16th, 18th, and 23d; together with the burthen of writing all the notes. The price at which Pope purchased this assistance was three hundred pounds paid to Fenton, and five hundred to Broome, with as many copies as he wanted for his friends, which amounted to one hundred more. The payment made to Fenton is known only by hearsay; Broome's is very distinctly told by Pope, in the notes to the Dunciad. It is evident that, according to Pope's own estimate, Broome was unkindly treated. If four books could merit three hundred pounds, eight, and all the notes, equivalent at least to four, had certainly a right to more than six. 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." It has been said that they were afterwards reconciled; but we are afraid their peace was without friendship. He afterwards published a Miscellany of poems, and never rose to very high dignity in the church. He was some time rector of Sturston in Suffolk, where he married a wealthy widow; and afterwards, when the king visited Cambridge, 1728, became LL.D. 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 Puiham, and retained the other two. Towards the close of his life he grew again poetical, and amused himself with translating odes of Anacreon, which he published in the Gentleman's Magazine, under the name of "Chester." He died at Bath, Nov. 16, 1745, and was buried in the abbey church.

Of Broome, says Dr. Johnson, 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, but such 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 a part of his reader's employment to recall the verses of some former poet. What he takes, however, he seldom makes worse; and he cannot be justly thought a mean man, whom Pope chose for an associate, and whose co-operation was considered by Pope's enemies as so important, that he was attacked by Henley with this ludicrous distich:

Pope came off clean with Homer: but they say
Broome went before, and kindly swept the way.

Broome also published a coronation sermon in 1727, and an assize sermon in 1737.