Before I enter upon an account of the worthy and ingenious author of the following Essays, the reader will permit me to express the most sensible regret, that the friends of Mr. Scott are disappointed in the hope of seeing justice done to his memory, by the same masterly pen, that has lately enriched our national stock of criticism and biography.
After Mr. Scott's decease, the present volume being nearly ready for publication: it was thought advisable to prefix some narrative of the author, which, as it would be highly acceptable to his friends in particular, might not be altogether unwelcome to the public in general, who, it has been often observed, will always take an interest in those persons, from whose labours they have derived profit or delight.
Mr. David Barclay [author's note: Grandson of the great Apologist], from his acquaintance with the late Dr. Johnson, thinking with equal truth and kindness, that he might be able to pay a most essential mark of attention to the name of Mr. Scott, resolved to apply to the Doctor to become his biographer. Dr. Johnson was then at Ashbourn, in Derbyshire, to which place he was gone for the benefit of his health, which had been, for some time, in a very declining state. Mr. Barclay, by letter, signified to him, that knowing he respected our late friend, and judging that some anecdotes of so deserving a character ought to be handed down to posterity, he wished that an account, after the manner of the lives of the poets, might be prefixed to a posthumous volume then in the press, entitled Critical Essays; and that if the Doctor would undertake the arrangement, he would endeavour to furnish materials. To this application the Doctor, ever ready to pay attention to the calls of friendship, returned the following answer.
As I have made some advances towards recovery, and loved Mr. Scott, I am willing to do justice to his memory. You will be pleased to get what account you can of his life, with dates, where they can be had, and when I return, we will contrive how our materials can be best employed. I am,
Your most humble servant,
Ashbourn, Sept. 16th, 1784."
In November following the Doctor came to town, when Mr. Barclay waited on him with the Critical Essays, and some anecdotes. He found that excellent man in his chamber, much indisposed; and indeed, by this time, the fears of his friends began to be very general, and their distress to increase almost daily, at the nearer prospect of such an irreparable loss. Mr. Barclay entered into a conversation with the Doctor, on the subject of the account to be given of Mr. Scott, and produced some materials which had been collected by several of his friends. He then spoke of the volume of Essays, to which it was designed to prefix the account, but expressed some doubts respecting the propriety and delicacy of his application to Dr. Johnson to write a life and criticism to be placed before the Essays of an author, who had, he observed, in those very Essays, controverted the Doctor's opinion in several instances; and he went so far as to say, that had he before perused his friend's work, he believed he should not have ventured to solicit the Doctor on the occasion: he added, that he thought it might be as well to relinquish the design of publishing the book, as the writer was not living to defend his own criticisms. Upon this the Doctor desired that some of the passages alluded to might be pointed out to him, which desire Mr. Barclay immediately complied with, and read a few pages, chusing those parts wherein Mr. Scott had dissented from Dr. Johnson. When Mr. Barclay had done reading, the Doctor delivered himself nearly to this effect: "That he differed from Mr. Barclay respecting the publication, as from what he had then heard, he believed the book would do credit to their late friend, and as to Mr. Scott's dissenting from him, he observed, that authors would differ in opinion, and that good performances could not be too much criticised." Mr. Barclay read to him some of the materials that had been collected, which the Doctor said would do, so far as they went, but wished that more could be procured, expressing an anxiety to begin the work. Mr. Barclay then took his leave, pleased with the reception from the Doctor, and filled with admiration at the candour and liberality of his sentiments, expressed with the utmost benevolence and friendship, while labouring under the pressure of pain and disease.
When Mr. Barclay left the Doctor, it was agreed that he should call on him again; but when he returned to London, he learned from his faithful black servant, Francis Barber, that the Doctor's disorder was too much increased for him to admit company. From that time he saw him no more; but the Doctor, a few days before his decease, sent, by a gentleman who paid him a visit, a message to Mr. Barclay, to inform him "that he had not forgot his engagement; and that, if it should please God to restore him, he would certainly perform it, for he loved Mr. Scott."
The death of this great and good man, which happened in the evening of the 13th of December, having frustrated the kind intentions of Mr. Barclay, and put an end to his flattering expectations of procuring so honourable a testimony to the merits of our deceased friend; he was pleased to express some desire that I would take upon myself the task, which from my great friendship for, and knowledge of the deceased, I have been induced to attempt; though I hope the reader will believe, that it is with becoming diffidence I now step forth, to supply the place of such a biographer.
JOHN SCOTT was born on the 9th of January 1730, of Samuel and Martha Scott, in the Grange-Walk, in the Parish of St. Mary Bermondsey, Southwark, being the youngest of two sons, their only children that lived to be brought up, the rest dying very soon: his elder brother was named Samuel, and his mother's maiden name was Wilkins. He was descended from two ancient and respectable families of the counties of York and Warwick. His father was a draper and citizen of London, a man of plain and irreproachable manners, and one of the society of the people called Quakers, among whom he was esteemed an eminent preacher.
Samuel Scott, the elder brother, lived for some time with an aunt in the neighbourhood, where he received the first rudiments of his education. John, at about seven years of age, was put under the tuition of one John Clarke, who kept a little school in Barnaby-Street: he is said to have been well skilled in the languages, and used to come home to the house of Mr. Scott, to instruct his son in the rudiments of the Latin tongue. John Scott himself gives the following account of his tutor. "My Caledonian tutor's name was John Clarke; he was, I believe, a native of the Shetland-Islands; he was ingenious and learned, but rather a severe pedagogue; yet, spite of the domination which he exercised over his pupils, I respected him, and there was something in the man, and in his manner, that I even now faintly recollect with pleasure."
But whatever might be the scholastic abilities of this man, he seems to have lived in a state of great penury and obscurity, and probably would not have been long remembered, but from the circumstance of his having presided over the first lessons of young Scott, who does not however appear to have given any early promises of genius or ability; nor are we told what progress he made under the instructions of his tutor, who attended him for three years.
In the year 1740, John being then only ten years of age, his father withdrew himself wholly from business in town, and retired with his family, Mrs. Scott, and his two sons, into the country, where he settled at a village called Amwell, in Hertfordshire, and for some time carried on the malting trade. Thus was our young student deprived of the benefit that might have arisen to him, from the attention of so able a master as Clarke, who continued to teach school in the same place till death carried him off, probably as little known as he had lived.
The family being now settled at Amwell, Mr. Scott sent his son to a private day school, kept in the neighbourhood at Ware, the master of which was named Hall, who is said to have been an admirable penman, but does not appear to have possessed any knowledge of language, or to have afforded in his school any opportunities for classical improvement. John Scott continued with him but a short time, for he and his father not having had the smallpox, the son was frequently kept at home, through fear of that distemper, and never persisted in any regular system of education.
He is said to have applied himself to reading about the age of seventeen, when he gave evident signs of a propensity to the study of poetry, in which he was greatly encouraged from an acquaintance which he had contracted, since his residence in the country, with Charles Frogley. This extraordinary person, who is now living at Amwell, and deserves particular notice, was by trade a bricklayer, a person of strong parts, but without education, who had, at his leisure hours, by a diligent and solitary perusal of such books as came within his reach, greatly improved his natural taste for metrical composition. His occupation in life introduced him first into the house of Mr. Scott, where he observed some little poetical essays of the son. A similarity of disposition soon brought on an intimacy between them, and Frogley gave his young friend the first perception of good poetry, by putting into his hands the Paradise Lost of Milton. Their acquaintance seems to have commenced about the year 1747, or 1748.
Mr. Scott, the father, lived in a very retired manner, and had little intercourse with any but with those of his own persuasion, who, though not without frequent instances of great ingenuity and ability among individuals, are not often much connected with the literary part of mankind: the neighbourhood of Amwell afforded little of such society, and Samuel Scott, the elder brother, though a young man of excellent sense, and by no means unacquainted with books, having contributed not a little to lead John to the love of reading, had no peculiar predilection for that branch of study, which soon became the favourite object of his brother's pursuit. The conversations and reflections of our author on this subject, must have been therefore chiefly, if not wholly, confined to his communications with Frogley, whose critical discernment has been often mentioned to the writer of this account, by Scott, who declared, "that he seldom found reason, in his advancing state of judgment, to dissent from the opinion of his friend Frogley."
The inclination of John Scott for writing verse now increasing, he produced at times several detached pieces; and as he was not brought up to any professional employ, he had full time to indulge the bent of his genius. Besides the advantage of so sincere an adviser as Frogley, he had formed an acquaintance with Mr. John Turner, who resided at Ware, with whom he appears to have spent part of his early life.
—Thee, my Turner, who in vacant youth
Here oft in converse free.—
AMWELL, Poetical Works, page 73.
This gentleman was born at Hertford, in the year 1734, and was removed to Ware at about three years old, where he received the rudiments of his education. He seems first to have been introduced to Scott by Frogley, in 1753 or 1754. At about sixteen years of age, he was sent to London to continue his studies, at a dissenting academy, under the care of Dr. Jennings. In one of his letters to Scott, he regrets their late acquaintance, by which he loft so much time, which might have been spent in the company of one, who had improved his mind by reading and reflection; a companion that he had long fought for in vain at Ware.
Turner, however, made occasional visits to his friends at Ware, and neglected no opportunity of improving his intimacy with Scott. He passed many hours with him and Frogley; and during his absence continued to correspond with him by letter. He supplied his friend with books from time to time, among which are particularly mentioned, Glover's Leonidas, Thomson's Seasons, and Pope's original works and translations. He likewise sent him a telescope, with directions to use it; for the curiosity and desire of knowledge in Scott now grew every day more general.
It has been asserted by some, that his early poetical essays were made in consequence of a tender passion, and that love first taught him to cultivate the muses; which opinion may not only have some countenance from the smaller poems at the end of his poetical volume, but may be further strengthened from the correspondence between him and his friend Turner, during the residence of the latter in London and Devonshire.
In the company of Frogley, who was accustomed to visit him when the business of the day was over, Scott passed most of his evenings; and to him, from time to time, he imparted the occasional sallies of his genius, receiving from him such advice as tended greatly to ripen his judgment, and improve his powers that were now gradually expanding. He likewise communicated his performances to his friend Turner, then at London: but he was always dissuaded from too early publication, and indeed his own good sense, and cautious disposition, preserved him from that rock on which others have split — the eager desire of attracting publick notice; a natural passion indeed, but, by indulging which, many have precluded themselves from that reputation which they might otherwise have obtained.
In the year 1754. his elder brother Samuel, who till then had made one of the family at Amwell, was married, and went to settle at Hertford, in which town he now resides, beloved and esteemed by all for his manly sense, unbiassed integrity, and universal philanthropy; and I cannot dismiss the character of Mr. Samuel Scott without paying this tribute of regard to the worthy brother of my deceased friend.
The first poetical essays of John Scott were given in the Gentleman's Magazine, at that time the great receptacle for the ebullitions of youthful genius; but it has not been in my power to discover all the pieces inserted by him in that periodical work; his first insertion however is said to have been in December 1753, as follows.
Accidentally looking over your magazines for July and August 1752, I was agreeably entertained with a critical dissertation on that beautiful description in the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes. I thought your correspondent's explication was just, and having a mind to fee how the passage would look in a modern poetical dress, I attempted the following version of it, on his plan; to which if you please to allow a place in your next magazine, you will extremely oblige,
Your friend and constant reader,
HertfordIhire, Dec. 18, 1753.
EPIDEMIC MORTALITY, from Eccl. xii.
To move unthinking youth to just regard,
On Judah's plains thus sung the royal bard.
Thy Maker God in early time revere!
Ere evil days, those dreadful days, draw near,
When health shall fly, and pleasure leave the plain,
And woe and languor and distress remain;
When stars, nor moon, not sun, shall cheer the skies;
On earth, when Pestilence enrag'd shall rise;
The rain scarce past, when threatening clouds return,
And sickly mists ascend, and south winds burn;
When the bold guarders of the house shall shake,
And, pain'd, their station at the door forsake;
When the fierce heroes, dreadless in the field,
Bow with disease, and slowly drooping yield;
When, freed from labour, captives idle lye,
Nor, tho' their number's lessen'd, find employ;
When the proud daughters, of their beauty vain,
Griev'd for their friends, or for themselves in pain,
At the high windows spread their charms no more,
But all sequester'd in the dark deplore;
When barr'd the gates, and clos'd the doors appear,
And scarce of grinding the faint sounds they hear;
Long ere the dawn, when early mourners rise,
The solemn rites of grief to exercise.
Nor songs are heard, nor mirthful minstrels meet;
Death's in the house, and Silence in the street!
When e'en high places shall be seats of fear;
Still in the way when danger shall be near;
When the thick, sultry, foul, and stagnant air
Unseen infection scatters every where;
When the ripe almond shall be pluck'd no more,
Despis'd untasted all its luscious store!
Wide o'er the land when locusts shall be spread,
Dead all the crowds that on their numbers fed:
When fairest objects fail to move desire,
Of youth extinguish'd all the sprightly fire;
Because the time of desolation's come,
And man swift passes to his final home;
And pensive mourners range about the street,
And rend their garments, and their bosoms beat.
He likewise availed himself of the fame channel for printing his verses in the two following instances, which are all that can be traced with certainty.
VERSES occasioned by the DESCRIPTION of the AEOLIAN HARP, in February Magazine, 1754.
Untaught o'er strings to draw the rosin'd bow,
Or melting strains on the soft flute to blow,
With others long I mourn'd the want of skill
Resounding roofs with harmony to fill.
Till happy now th' Aeolian lyre is known,
And all the powers of music are my own.
Swell all thy notes, delightful harp, O! swell!
Inflame thy poet to describe thee well,
When the fall chorus rises with the breeze,
Or, slowly sinking, lessens by degrees,
To sounds more soft than amorous gales disclose,
At evening panting on the blushing rose;
More sweet than all the notes that organs breathe,
Or tuneful echoes, when they die, bequeathe;
Oft where some Sylvan temple decks the grove,
The slave of easy indolence I rove;
There the wing'd breeze the lifted sash pervades,
Each breath is music, vocal all the shades.
Charm'd with the soothing sound, at ease reclin'd,
To fancy's pleasing power I yield my mind:
And now enchanted scenes around me rise,
And some kind Ariel the soft air supplies:
Now lofty Pindus through the shades I view,
Where all the Nine their tuneful art pursue:
To me the sound the panting gale conveys,
And all my heart is ecstasy and praise.
Now to Arcadian plains at once convey'd,
Some shepherd's pipe delights his favourite maid;
Mix'd with the murmurs of a neighbouring stream,
I hear soft notes that suit an amorous theme!
Ah! then a victim to the fond deceit,
My heart begins with fierce desires to beat;
To fancy'd sighs I real sighs return,
By turns I languish, and by turns I burn.
Ah! Delia, haste! and here attentive prove,
Like me that, "music is the voice of love:"
So shall I mourn my rustic strains no more,
While pleas'd you listen, who could frown before.
Hertfordshire, Nov. 15, 1754.
Gentleman's Magazine, July, 1758.
O thou! dread foe of honour, wealth, and fame,
Whose touch can quell the strong, the fierce can tame,
Relentless Fear! ah! why did fate ordain
My trembling heart to own thy iron reign?
There are, thrice happy, who disdain thy sway,
The merchant wand'ring o'er the wat'ry way;
The chief serene before th' assaulted wall;
The climbing statesman thoughtless of his fall;
All whom the love of wealth or power inspires,
And all who burn with proud ambition's fires;
But peaceful bards thy constant presence know,
O thou! of every glorious deed the foe!
Of thee the silent studious race complains,
And learning groans a captive in thy chains:
The secret wish when some fair object moves,
And cautious reason what we wish approves,
Thy Gorgon front forbids to grasp the prize,
And seas are spread between, and mountains rise:
Thy magic arts a thousand phantoms raise,
And fancy'd depths and dangers fill our ways;
With smiling hope you wage eternal strife,
And envious snatch the cup of joy from life.
O leave, tremendous power! the blameless breast,
Of gilt alone, the tyrant and the guest;
Go, and thy train of sable horrors spread
Where Murder meditates the future dead,
Where Rapine watches for the gloom of night,
And lawless passion pants for other's right;
Go, to the bad, — but from the good recede,
No more the foe of every glorious deed.
The last two copies of verses, which are superior to the first, are spirited and poetical: it is observable, that with the two first he has used the signature, R. S.
Besides the last verses on Fear, Scott wrote an ode on the same subject about the year which he sent for the inspection of his friend Turner; it appears, likewise, that he wrote several pastorals about the same time, for Turner, in his letter of January 1755, speaks of two lines in his sixth pastoral, which he prefers to two of Pope; but it cannot be known if any, or what use was made of these in his last publications.
In the year 1757, Turner, who had been for some time preparing for the ministry, left Dr. Jennings on account of some difference of opinion in matters of religion, and removed to Taunton in Somersetshire, where he finished his studies, and where he seems first to have officiated as a dissenting minister. About the year 1758, he went to settle at Lympstone in Devonshire, and about the year 1762, he engaged with the Rev. Mr. Hogg and another gentleman, as tutors and managers of an academy at Exeter; but he continued still to correspond with Scott, and in the time of vacation paid several visits to Ware. He is supposed to be the person to whom the verses, intitled TO AN ABSENT FRIEND are addressed.
While thou far hence on Albion's southern shore,
View'st her white rocks, and hear'st her ocean roar;
Thro' scenes, where we together stray'd, I stray,
And think o'er talk of many a long-past day.
Our author also addressed to him, WINTER PROSPECTS IN THE COUNTRY, an epistle, which was intended for the Gentleman's Magazine, but appeared in a miscellany of poems published by G. Pearch, 1770.
About this time Scott seems to have entirely renounced all communication with Mr. Urban, having turned his designs on a direct application to the public attention, in his poetical production, entitled ELEGIES DESCRIPTIVE AND MORAL, which he was now preparing for the press.
While he thus pursued his poetical studies, it may be reasonably supposed, from the general knowledge in, and acquaintance with books, which he certainly possessed, that he missed no opportunity, and spared no pains or application, for his improvement in the acquirements requisite for one who was ambitious of holding a place in the republic of literature. That he made any great progress in the languages there is little reason to suppose: he indeed might attain some knowledge of the Latin, but that knowledge was probably very slender. From his inclination to know something of the excellencies of those poets, who have so long held their claim to admiration, he seems, by a few remarks and references, to have looked into some of the Augustan writers, particularly Virgil, whose spirit would have been highly congenial to one whose professed aim was purity and correctness: but I think there is little room to believe that those occasional researches were ever improved into any thing like the familiar perusal of a Latin classic. He had no acquaintance with the French or Italian.
For about twenty years after the removal of the family to Amwell, John Scott appears to have led a very retired life: for, having never had the small pox, as has been before mentioned, his father and mother were very apprehensive of the danger that might be incurred from his excursions to the metropolis, which, however extraordinary it may appear, though only at the distance of twenty miles, he is said to have visited but once during so long a period. The hours in which he was not engaged in his closet in sedentary occupation, he used to employ in gardening, to which he had for some time taken a particular liking.
Though he very early acquired the friendship and esteem of a large circle of acquaintance, yet he does not appear to have been known to any literary characters till the year 1760; after which time he began to make occasional, though cautious and short visits to London.
In the spring of the year 1760, being then thirty years of age, after many repeated revisals and corrections, he published his Four Elegies, which were extremely well spoken of by the public critics of the times, and received with all the marks of attention that could be expected from the general class of readers to an anonymous performance, which, without appealing to the passions by inflammatory topics, or personal satire, held out to the reader pure sentiments of religion and morality, clothed in the unaffected dress of genuine and correct poetry.
The critics of the Monthly Review were very liberal in their approbation of this poem, and among other passages noticed by them, is the following, wherein the poet speaks of the intolerant heat of the summer in 1757, and breaks out into this forceable apostrophe:
O! for some secret shady cool recess!
Some Gothic dome, o'er hung with darksome trees,
Where thick damp walls this raging heat repress,
Where the long aisle invites the lazy breeze!
The critic observes that this stanza is very little, if at all, inferior to Virgil's wish in the like situation.
O quis me gelidis sub montibus Hoemi
Sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbra!
Such was the merit of this publication, that it was honoured with some particular marks of approbation. It was publickly spoken of and recommended by the late Dr. Young, by Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Carter, and other eminent characters. When the author of the Night Thoughts received a copy of the Elegies from his bookseller, he returned his acknowledgment for the present in these words, "Sir, I thank you for your present; I admire the poetry and piety of the author, and shall do myself the credit to recommend it to all my friends." This praise was truly valuable, as it was not the voice of adulation to greatness, of ignorance to celebrity, or of partiality to friendship; but the sanction of learning, taste, and genius, given to modest and retired merit.
Had these Elegies appeared with the name of some popular writer, the sale would probably have been proportionably rapid, and the reputation of a Pope, a Goldsmith, or a Gray, would have prepared the reader to receive the impression of their beauties. Perhaps it must be granted that this first avowed production of Mr. Scott has not been excelled by any of his subsequent works, whether we confider the liveliness of the painting, the harmony of the verse, or the amiable strain of benevolence and piety that runs through the whole.
Our author's acquaintance was now considerably enlarged, he was introduced to several of the literati, with whom he had little or no connection before the appearance of his Elegies. But the praise which accrued to him, upon this occasion, did not in the least excite his vanity to claim again the attention of the public. He wrote little, and printed nothing till the year 1769. His natural caution and diffidence seemed to increased: he always expressed the strongest sense of the necessity of frequent revisal before publication; and no writer ever adhered more strictly than himself to the well-known precept of Horace, — "Nonum prematur in annum."
In 1761, the small pox being prevalent in the town of Ware, and he being very fearful of that distemper, removed, for some time, to St. Margarets, a small hamlet, at the distance of about two miles from Amwell, where I was introduced to his acquaintance by Mr. Bennet, my once worthy and respected tutor, then master of the grammar school at Hoddesdon, where we accidentally met. I shall always recollect, with pleasure, my first conversation with Mr. Scott, at St. Margaret's, where he shewed me the early sketch of his Poem of Amwell, which he then called, A PROSPECT OF WARE AND THE COUNTRY ADJACENT. It does not appear how long this had been written, but it is certain that he had, for some years before, formed a design of writing on the subject, for his friend Turner, in a letter to him, dated December 1755, tells him, that "he hopes, when he comes next to Ware, he shall have the pleasure of seeing the scenes which had so often entertained him, described in verse, that would never decay." This sketch was afterwards greatly enlarged and improved before its appearance in the year 1776; and, in the course of our future conversations, he shewed me several manuscript pieces, some of which were made part of his poetical volume.
John Scott was not only a lover and cultivator of polite literature, but, though not bred to any profession, was no idle member of the community; he busied himself in many concerns that tended to the good of his neighbourhood: he knew how to blend the elegant with the useful; and such as had little predilection for the author of the Elegies, were forward enough to give their suffrages to those merits that promoted the good of general life. In a letter from him to a friend, in the year 1764, in answer to an inquiry why no more of his compositions had appeared in print, he says, that "a variety of avocations, very different from literary, had so engaged his attention, that he had scarcely time to put pen to paper, but upon occasions that could not be dispensed with."
Having found the frequent disadvantages and inconveniences arising from his apprehension of the small pox, which prevented him from mixing frequently with the world, and improving that acquaintance in London, of which his increasing reputation and love of knowledge made him now more desirous, he resolved at once to remove every fear of that distemper, by submitting to the operation of inoculation, which he accordingly did under the care of Baron Dimsdale, in the year 1766, with Mr. Joseph Cockfield, a gentleman with whom he had lived for some years in great intimacy, and to whom he addresses his XIIth Ode. He writes to a friend, that, "they had not one day's confinement, though sufficient tokens to secure them from future fear or danger."
About this time I had the satisfaction of introducing Mr. Scott to the acquaintance of my invaluable friend Dr. Johnson, and notwithstanding the great difference of their political principles, Scott had too much love for goodness and genius, not to be highly gratified in the opportunity of cultivating a friendship with that great exemplar of human virtues, and that great veteran of human learning; while the Doctor, with a mind superior to the distinction of party, delighted with equal complacency in the amiable qualities of Scott, of whom he always spoke with feeling regard.
It has been already observed, that Scott seems very early to have had a passion for gardening: he had, for several years, particularly in the years 1765 and 1766, amused himself in laying out and embellishing with plantations a few acres of his own ground, and which, though at present nearly in the same state in which they were before he had seen any other improved spot, are thought not unworthy the attention of strangers, who come accidentally into the neighbourhood. In these plantations is a grotto, of his own design, considered as one of the curiosities of the country. It appears, by a letter from his friend Turner, at Exeter, that he had applied to him to procure fossils and shells for the completion of this work, in which he frequently exerted his own manual labour; and he has told me, that in making the excavation under the hill, for the subterraneous passage, he marched first, like a pioneer, with his pick-ax in his hand, to encourage his rustic assistants.
These pleasure grounds have given rise to an epistle, intitled THE GARDEN. To this epistle is prefixed a very pleasing engraving of a front view of the grotto. The following lines, where he introduces his friend, supposing he may be retired to it for shelter, give no unfavourable sketch of the place.
Where, 'midst thick oaks, the subterraneous way
To the arch'd grot admits a feeble ray;
Where glassy pebbles pave the varied floors,
And rough flint walls are deck'd with shells and ores;
And silvery pearls spread o'er the roofs on high,
Glimmer like faint stars in a twilight sky;
From noon's fierce glare, perhaps he pleas'd retires,
Indulging musings which the place inspires.
Our author is reported to have been, at one time, a sportsman, but in consequence of a humane and rational opinion, that men had no right to destroy or torment any of the animal creation for mere diversion, he, for many years before his death, totally relinquished the diversions of shooting and fishing.
In the year 1766 he lost his mother, who died on the 14th of December, aged eighty years. A Sonnet to her memory is said to have been found among his manuscripts.
In 1767 he was married to Sarah Frogley, the daughter of his friend Charles Frogley, of whom such deserved and honourable mention has been made. The bride was, previous to her nuptials, admitted a member of the society to which he belonged, and the nuptials were celebrated at the Quakers meeting-house, at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.
The connection between Scott and Frogley being strengthened by this marriage, Scott shewed many acts of kindness to the companion of his early studies, to whom he always continued firmly attached; of which attachment he has left a public testimony in his XIth Ode, addressed to a friend apprehensive of declining friendship, which seems to have been written in order to dissipate some little uneasiness that might have arisen in the mind of Frogley, from a fear of being neglected by Scott.
Too much in man's imperfect state,
Mistake produces useless pain:
Methinks on Friendship's frequent fate,
I hear my Frogley's voice complain.
Deem not that time's oblivious hand
From memory's page has raz'd the days,
By Lee's green verge we wont to stand,
And on his crystal current gaze.
Our author was now to experience the most severe stroke he had ever met with: after having lost his father, who died in February 1768, in the 84th year of his age, he was deprived of his wife, who died in child-bed, in the same year, leaving behind her a child of which she had been delivered, that died the following August.
The reader will imagine what must have been the feelings of such a mind as Scott's on the trying occasion of such complicated affliction. Till the death of his mother, his life seems to have run in one even tenor, calm and unruffled; but he was now called to an exertion of that philosophy which made no inconsiderable part of his character. For some time after the death of his wife, he retired to the house of his friend Cockfield, at Upton, that, removed from those scenes which perpetually awakened every tender idea, his mind might, by degrees, recover its tranquillity: of this circumstance he speaks in his Ode addressed to that gentleman.
'Twas when Misfortune's stroke severe,
And Melancholy's presence drear,
Had made my Amwell's groves displease,
That thine my weary steps receiv'd,
And much the change my mind reliev'd,
And much thy kindness gave me ease;
For o'er the past as thought would stray,
That thought thy voice has oft retriev'd,
To scenes that fair before us lay.
Ode XII. Poetical Works, page 198.
When the first violence of his grief began to settle into a sedate and gentle sorrow, he solaced his lonely hours by composing an Elegy to the memory of one who had been so dear to him; and perhaps the genuine state of his mind cannot be so well painted as in that pathetic performance on his domestic afflictions. The station and qualities of his deceased wife are delicately touched upon in this Elegy.
Foe to the futile manners of the proud,
He chose an humble virgin for his own;
A form with Nature's fairest gifts endow'd,
And pure as vernal blossoms newly blown:
Her hand the gave, and with it gave a heart,
By love engag'd, with gratitude imprest;
Free without folly, prudent without art;
With wit accomplish'd, and with virtue blest.
The poem was written at Amwell, in the year 1768: a few copies were printed and distributed amongst his friends; but though the work was often inquired after, the author would never suffer it to be published for sale. At his desire, I presented a copy to the late elegant author of the Adventurer; who spoke of it in the highest terms of commendation: he professed himself particularly struck with the following stanza.
O human life! how mutable, how vain!
How thy wide sorrows circumscribe thy joy!
A sunny island in a stormy main,
A spot of azure in a cloudy sky!
In the same month that proved fatal to this amiable person, died also, in childbed, the first wife of the late Dr. Langhorne: this gentleman, to whom a copy of Mr. Scott's poem had been sent, writing to a friend, speaks of it in these words: "Mr. Scott's poem came so near my own feelings, that it hurt my peace of mind; and while I admired the writer, and pitied the man, I saw my own miseries in the strongest point of view." This similarity of circumstance, and congenial affliction, gave rise to a friendship between these two poets, which, though they rarely corresponded, and more rarely met, continued without abatement till the death of Dr. Langhorne.
In 1769 Mr. Scott met with another loss in the death of his friend Turner, the companion and associate of his early studies with Frogley. This ingenious man died, universally lamented, on the30th of June, in the thirty-fifth year of his age, at Colliton, in Devonshire, at which place he was buried.
He possessed considerable natural abilities, and much acquired knowledge, with a candid disposition and elegant taste; and by the general tenor of his correspondence with Scott, appears to have been always a young man of a religious and studious turn. A pathetic tribute is paid to his memory by our author, in his Poem of Amwell, speaking of the several losses which he had experienced in the death of friends.
—From general fate
To private woes then oft has memory pass'd;
Of thee, De Horne, kind, generous, wise and good;
Of thee, my Turner, who, in vacant youth,
Here oft in converse free, or studious search
Of classic lore, accompanied my walk!
From Ware's green bowers to Devon's myrtle vales
Remov'd awhile, with prospect opening fair
Of useful life, and honour in his view;
As falls the vernal bloom before the breath
Of blasting Eurus, immature he fell!
The tidings reach'd my ear, and in my breast
Aching with recent wounds, new anguish wak'd.
On the 1st day of November, 1770, he was married at the meeting-house at Ratcliff, to his second wife, Mary De Horne, daughter of the late Abraham De Horne, a lady whose amiable qualities promised him many years of uninterrupted happiness.
About the year 1771, he commenced an acquaintance with the ingenious Dr. Beattie, who paid him two visits at his house at Amwell, one in 1773, and the other in 1781. Dr. Beattie has informed me, that their conversation was commonly on literary subjects, chiefly poetry and criticism, and that the letters which he occasionally received from him, consisted for the most part of literary news. He laments his death as depriving him of a most valuable friend, whose memory he shall ever cherish with gratitude and veneration.
Mr. Scott's settled residence was at Amwell, in the fame house where his father resided when he first retired from London, and which the son afterwards greatly enlarged; but he every year spent some time occasionally at a house which he had at Radcliff-Cross.
By his visits to London, the number of his literary friends had been considerably increased: he was introduced to the elegant Mrs. Montagu, at whose house, I believe, he became first acquainted with the pious and excellent Lord Lyttleton. He had been visited at Amwell by the celebrated Mrs. Macaulay; he was known to Dr. Hawkesworth, Sir William Jones, Mr. Boswell, and to the Rev. Mr. Potter, and Mr. Mickle, the excellent translators of Aechylus and Camoens.
In the year 1773, our author shewed the world, that his studies were not confined to ornamental and elegant literature, but that many of his hours had been spent in such useful inquiries as might tend to the general benefit of mankind. He published a pamphlet full of good sense and philanthropy, entitled, OBSERVATIONS ON THE PRESENT STATE OF THE PAROCHIAL AND VAGRANT POOR, in which the cause of that unhappy part of the community is pleaded with much perspicacity and depth of observation, against oppressive or defective laws, and avaricious parish officers. This pamphlet, at the author's desire, I gave to the late Dr. Johnson, who highly commended the good sense and benevolence of its principles; but rather objected to the stile, as being in a few instances somewhat inflated. In this tract the author, with great diffidence and candour, has proposed a system of regulations for the prevention of imposition on the one hand, and of tyranny on the other. How far this system might have been reduced to practice, is difficult to determine, as it will always be much easier to point out an evil, than to apply a remedy; but it should be told, for the honour of Scott's Theory, that Mr. Gilbert, in a bill brought into the house of Commons, in the year 1782, seems to have offered expedients in some cases very similar to those proposed by Scott.
In the course of this summer, 1773, I paid a family visit at Amwell, in Company with my late friend, Dr. Johnson, and Mrs. Anne Williams, a lady with whose father the Doctor had formerly lived in great intimacy: she had been many years deprived of her sight, had long resided with the Doctor, and was a woman of uncommon knowledge and goodness. The writer of this has frequently regretted in her the loss of a most sincere friend an zealous adviser. She died in September, 1783, aged seventy-seven years.
We staid at Amwell some days, to the mutual satisfaction of the Doctor and Scott, whose kindness for each other was not a little strengthened by this domestic intercourse. Scott led Dr. Johnson to take a view of his gardens, which were then completed, when the Doctor, with pleasantry, termed the grotto FAIRY HALL, and said with a smile, that "none but a poet could have made such a garden."
But whatever might be the merit of these gardens, considered as planned by one who had never seen other improved grounds, it is very certain that the taste of Scott, afterwards more cultivated, would not suffer him always to view them with the fame complacency. In his last publication, he has with great precision and candour, delivered his sentiments on the occasion.
For me, my groves not oft my steps invite,
And far less apt they fail t' offend my sight:
In vain the senna waves its glossy gold;
In vain the cistus spotted flowers unfold;
In vain th' acacia's snowy bloom depends;
In vain the sumach's scarlet spike ascends;
In vain the woodbines spicy tufts disclose,
And green slopes redden with the shedding rose:
These neat shorn hawthorns useless verdant bound,
This long strait walk, that pool's unmeaning round,
The short curv'd paths, that twist beneath the trees,
Disgust the eye, and make the whole displease.
After so long an interval from the writing of his Elegy in 1768, Scott was now preparing, about the year 1774, his third avowed poetical production, in which he meant to celebrate the village of Amwell, the sketch of which poem I had seen in the year 1761. The face of the country here is very picturesque, but perhaps it will be found, that local description, though it may afford room for strong painting, apt allusions, and fictitious or historical incidents, yet is far more adapted to the powers of the pencil than the pen. Those marking and peculiar features which the painter gives with a few strokes, to the eye, will lose almost all their discrimination in the words of the poet: a hill, a vale, a forest, a rivulet, and a cataract, can be described only by general terms the hill must swell, the vale sink, the forest extend its shade, the rivulet murmur, and the cataract foam; and hence it arises, that he who has perused one descriptive poem of this kind, is often struck with a seeming repetition of ideas, and more sensibly so, where the places described have no previous feat in his own imagination. The poet, who describes, or the reader, who peruses descriptions of scenes familiar to him, will easily find the distinct images awakened by general terms; but he, who is to impress a local picture on his fancy, merely from the combination of words, will find little novelty in these reiterated descriptions of country prospects, and will, probably, be frequently apt to exclaim, "All this I have read before." The Windsor Forest of Pope, with all its beauties, has so little exclusively adapted to the place it professes to celebrate, that the far greater part may be equally descriptive of any scene of rustic imagery. The descriptions of Thomson seldom apply to any particular spot, but please by exhibiting the general views and effects of nature, Pope and Scott may likewise please, but they please on the fame principles; though their poems are local, they seldom raise any ideas of locality.
On the great defect of words to discriminate material objects, Dr. Johnson once observed to me, that no description, however accurately given, could impress any determinate idea of the different shapes of animals on the mind of one, who had never seen those animals. Hence it must be concluded, that the appearance of nature at large may be the province of poetry; but that the form of particular objects must belong to the painter.
Scott, however, strongly impressed with the beauties of his favourite village, had long determined to prove his powers in descriptive poetry. He greatly enlarged the first plan of his piece, and rendered it interesting by the introduction of historical allusions and moral reflections, with the addition of explanatory notes. He bestowed much attention on this poem; the alterations and corrections were very frequent, and I have several letters, wherein he mentions the assistance which he received from two or three friends, particularly his friend Frogley.
In the year 1776, he published his performance, under the title of, AMWELL, A DESCRIPTIVE POEM, with his name. Its reception by the critics in general, and by poetical readers, was such, as from its merit might be expected. The authors of the Monthly Review speak of it in very high terms of approbation.
This poem is written in blank verse, the genius of which Scott professed to have particularly studied, and I think he exhibits a specimen of great strength and harmony in that metre; but though the nature of the subject approaches nearly to that of Thomson; and Scott was a great admirer of the author of the Seasons, his stile is very different, being wholly free from that unnatural swell and pomp of words, which too often disfigure the beautiful descriptions of Thomson. He has availed himself of every circumstance that could with propriety be introduced to decorate his poem; but nothing shews his taste and judgment more than the tribute paid by him to the memory of the venerable minister of Amwell, which furnishes a passage at once so pathetic and poetical. Thomas Hassal had been vicar of this place upwards of fifty-seven years, and Scott accompanies his eulogium with a note, that gives a curious account of this very interesting character. Hassal is said to have left behind him a history in manuscript of his own times, which, from some extracts given of it in the account of Hertfordshire, seems to have been very deserving of publication.
Upon the whole, though Scott's poem will not raise in the mind of a stranger any strong idea of the place meant to be described, yet it will always be perused with delight by poetical lovers of rural imagery, and must be peculiarly pleasing to those who are familiar with the scenes so elegantly painted.
He employed his pen at times in various anonymous pamphlets and essays, on miscellaneous subjects, and particularly in vindication of such political principles as he had invariably espoused. notwithstanding his unfeigned veneration for the character of Dr. Johnson, he published two pamphlets in answer to the Doctor's PATRIOT, and FALSE ALARM, and is said to have prepared an answer to TAXATION NO TYRANNY. On these subjects the writings of Scott have much clearness of argument and strength of stile, but he has sometimes given way to acrimonious expressions, which I wish he had avoided.
When the publication of the poems, ascribed to Rowley, had engaged very general attention among the literary inquirers into antiquity, Scott entered the list, and disputed their authenticity in two judicious and well written letters, in the Gentleman's Magazine for July and August 1777, and is said to have produced the first arguments on that side, except what are contained in a letter in the same Magazine for May, 1777.
Scott had not only employed his literary talents on other subjects than those of polite composition, as has been shewn in his publication on the state of the poor; but he dedicated great part of his time to public business, and was very constant in his attendance at turnpike meetings, navigation trusts, and commissions of land-tax: he took the lead in several undertakings, in which his plans proved successful. Ware and Hertford are indebted to him for opening a spacious road between those towns, which was undertaken in the year 1768, and is justly esteemed one of the greatest conveniences in that part of the country; and by his attention and diligence, alterations have been made in the principal streets of Ware, to the great improvement of that town.
As he was well informed in the laws of his country, he was ever disposed to stand forward in the arbitration of any differences between his neighbours; he frequently interfered in the lesser quarrels, and distresses of the poor inhabitants, and to apply his own emphatical words on the Vicar of Amwell,
—oft heard, and oft reliev'd
Their little wants; oft heard and oft compos'd,
Sole arbiter, their little broils.—
The active and public spirit of Scott would not permit him to remain an uninterested spectator, when any occasion offered of shewing his exertions for what he deemed the good of the community. The calm and dispassionate temper of the man of study and retirement was loft in the season of party and turbulence, when it may reasonably be imputed as a crime, for any member of society, to observe a frigid neutrality. The warmth of zeal for that cause, which he had espoused upon generous and deliberate principles, might in tome instances be thought to have carried him too far. But where in man shall we find perfection?
In January 1778, an anonymous attack was made upon Dr. Beattie, in the Gentleman's Magazine, for not continuing his "Inquiry concerning the Immutability of Moral Truth;" when Scott, with a friendly zeal, undertook his defence in a letter in the same magazine, for March following, to which he signed his name, and received the Doctor's acknowledgments upon the occasion.
In 1778 he favoured the public with a work of great labour and extensive utility, entitled, A DIGEST OF THE HIGHWAY AND GENERAL TURNPIKE LAWS. In this compilation all the Acts of Parliament in force are collected together, and placed in one point of view; their contents are arranged under distinct heads, with the addition of many notes, and an appendix on the construction and preservation of public roads, probably the only scientific treatise on the subject.
Scott had frequently signified his intention of publishing a volume of poems, in which he meant to include what he had already given to the world, his FOUR ELEGIES, AMWELL, and the ELEGY written, but not published, in 1768. Amongst the several pieces designed for this volume, were four moral eclogues, in which he professed to have endeavoured to exhibit a specimen of genuine and simple pastoral. These were first published separately, without a name, in 1778: but it was now no time for pastoral poetry to attract curiosity, when probably the merits of Theocritus and Virgil, infused into an English muse, would have been little attended to. The Latin motto from Virgil, prefixed to these eclogues, was given him by Dr. Beattie, who, in one of his letters, speaks highly of the eclogue, entitled, "ARMYN," which he appears to have seen in manuscript, and expresses himself in the following words, relative to the variety of Scott's publications.
"I am astonished, my dear Sir, at the activity of your mind, and the versatility of your genius. It is truly amazing that one and the same person should, in one and the same year, publish the most elegant poems, and, A DIGEST OF THE LAWS RELATING TO HIGHWAYS. Go on, Sir, in your laudable resolution of delighting and instructing mankind; of patronising the poor; and promoting the publick weal."
These Eclogues undoubtedly deserve praise for easy versification and good painting, and for several natural observations of the poet, among which may be given the following.
Thin mists hung hovering o'er the distant tree,
Or roll'd from off the fields before the breeze.
Bright fleecy clouds flew scattering o'er the sky.
Calm as clear evenings after vernal rains,
When all the air a rich perfume retains.
Several new images may be collected from these poems.
Sweet as the nightingale's love soothing strain,
Heard by still waters on the moon-light plain.
Rich hills and vales, and pleasant village scenes
Of oaks, whose wide arms stretch o'er daizied greens;
And wind-mill sails slow circling in the breeze,
And cottage walls invelop'd half with trees.
Slow down the tide before the sinking breeze,
Albino's white sail gleam'd among the trees.
'Twas silence all — save where along the road,
The slow wain grating bore its cumb'rous load.
In some places the poet has not unskilfully introduced the names of wild plants and flowers, which, when they are marked with picturesque epithets, have a good effect.
A heath's green wild lay open to his view,
With shrubs and field flowers deck'd of varied hue.
There hawthorns all their richer bloom disclos'd,
Here flexile broom's bright yellow interpos'd:
There purple orchis, here pale daisies spread,
And sweet May lillies richest odour shed.
Sweet was the covert where the swains reclin'd,
There spread the wild rose, there the woodbine twin'd;
There stood green fern, there o'er the grassy ground
Sweet camomile and ale-hoof spread around;
And centaury red, and yellow cinquefoil grew,
And scarlet campion and cyanus blue;
And tufted thyme, and marjoram's purple bloom,
And ruddy strawberries yielding rich perfume.
Gay flies their wings on each fair flower display'd,
And labouring bees a lulling murmur made.
I am sensible that some persons have affected to hold mere descriptive poetry in little estimation; but, surely, not to mention that description must necessarily make great part of every narrative poem, and has ever been considered as a material talent in the poet; a poem consisting of rural painting, may, at least, to the ear have the same merit that landskip painting has to the eye. But few poems of this kind were ever known to come from the pen of a good writer without a mixture of moral reflections; and in this, the poetry of Scott is entitled to no little approbation.
While herds and flocks their annual increase yield,
And yellow harvests load the fruitful field,
Beneath grim Want's inexorable reign,
Pale Sickness oft, and feeble Age complain!
Why this unlike allotment, save to show
That who possess, possess but to bestow.
But whatever praise is due to the harmony of Mr. Scott's numbers, I cannot pass over a peculiarity in his predilection for sometimes laying an uncommon accent on words or syllables, which he thought gave strength to the line. A few instances of this may be seen in the fore-cited verses: this liberty should, in my opinion, be very sparingly used.
Roughness of verse may, indeed, be emphatical where the image requires it, of which a forcible example is given in one of the above passages.
The slow wain grating bore its cumbrous load.
Mr. Scott had often professed himself a great admirer of the critical and poetical abilities of the Wartons, and had long desired to be known to the learned and elegant author of the Essay on Pope. His literary opinions had always nearly coincided with those of the two brothers, and about Christmas 1781, I had the pleasure of introducing him to Dr. Warton, and the Rev. Mr. Thomas Warton.
The Doctor was much struck with the unaffected frankness and amiable simplicity that appeared in the conversation of my friend Scott, who was highly pleased with this interview, and expressed the warmest wishes to cultivate that acquaintance, which the Doctor and his brother seemed no less desirous to improve. We parted, but, alas! we parted to meet no more.
In the spring of 1782, he published his long projected volume of poetry. His mind had been very anxious for the success of this publication; he had spared no pains to render the pieces that were to compose it as correct as possible; and the volume was elegantly decorated with a number of engravings.
The greater part of Scott's poems are turned on rural imagery, in which it will be found that his principal merit is novelty in description, and a laudable endeavour to introduce an occasional simplicity of stile, perhaps too much rejected by the present fastidious readers of poetry. He was certainly no servile copyist of the thoughts of others: for living in the country, and being a close and accurate observer, he painted what he saw, though he must unavoidably sometimes fall on ideas and expressions common to all pastoral writers. He cultivated the knowledge of natural history and botany, which enabled him to preserve the truth of nature with many discriminating touches perhaps not excelled by any descriptive poet since the days of Thomson.
Having already noticed the FOUR ELEGIES, the ELEGY of 1768, and the Poem of AMWELL, it remains to take a general view of the other pieces that compose the volume.
Of these the Amoebaean Eclogues seem to me the least happy of Mr. Scott's productions; for in his attempt at novelty, he has admitted such names and circumstances, as, in my opinion, no versification, however harmonious, can make poetical: these lines may, in some measure, shew the force of my objections.
Old oaken stubs tough saplings there adorn,
There hedge-row plashes yield the knotty thorn;
The swain for different uses these avail,
And form the traveller's staff, the thresher's flail.
Where yon brown hazels pendent catkins bear.—
Bid here dark peas or tangled vetches spread,
There buckwheat's white flower faintly ting'd with red,
Bid here potatoes deep green stems be born,
And yellow cole th' enclosure there adorn.
The following lines are easy and affecting.
Beside his gate, beneath the lofty tree,
Old Thyrsis' well known seat I vacant see;
There, while his prattling offspring round him play'd,
He oft, to please them, toys of oziers made:
That seat his weight shall never more sustain,
That offspring round him ne'er shall sport again.
In the Oriental Eclogues, he has, with judgment, made use of such circumstances as might give them an air of local truth. This couplet is happily inserted in allusion to the Eastern fable.
Soft as the night bird's amorous music flows
In Zibet's garden when the woos the rose.
The following is highly poetical.
There Thirst, fell demon, haunts the sultry air,
And his wild eye-balls roll with horrid glare:
There deadly Sumiel,* striding o'er the land,
Sweeps his red wing, and whirls the burning sand.
*The fiery blasting wind of the desert.
The Eclogue of Serim, or the Artificial Famine, has much poetical merit; but perhaps it were to be wished, that the philanthropy of the author had not led him to make choice of a story so apparently disgraceful to the British name in India, the circumstances of which have been, doubtless, greatly exaggerated, while the enormities of a few individuals have been swelled, by designing men, into a general and universal spirit of rapine, avarice, and cruelty. The poem opens with solemnity.
O! guardian genius of this sacred wave,
O save thy sons, if thine the power to save!
The following image was a particular favourite with the author.
Sad on our ways by human foot unworn,
Stalks the dim form of Solitude forlorn.
The Chinese Eclogue, called Li-po, or the GOOD GOVERNOR, has picturesque touches of the country, and contains many amiable reflections political and moral. The Vision of Confusius is very poetical.
'Midst palmy fields, with fun shine ever bright,
A palace rear'd its walls of silvery white;
The gates of pearl a shady hail disclos'd,
Where old Confusius' reverend form repos'd:
Loose o'er his limbs the silk's light texture flow'd,
His eyes serene etherial lustre show'd.
The Odes, as the author informs us, were written at very different periods, and some appear to be his earliest effusions in poetry. The stile of these odes is various; gay, and familiar, pathetic and sublime. In the odes on RECRUITING AND PRIVATEERING, the thoughts are new, and singularly characteristic of Mr. Scott's religious tenets, and what ought to reflect no little honour on those tenets, strictly conformable to the dictates of every feeling mind, uncorrupted with the maxims of human policy.
I hate that drum's discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round!
To thoughtless youth it pleasure yields,
And lures from cities and from fields.—
To me it talks of ravag'd plains,
And burning towns, and ruin'd swains,
And mangled limbs, and dying groans,
And widows tears, and orphans moans.
How custom steels the human breast,
To deeds that Nature's thoughts detest!
How custom consecrates to fame,
That reason else would give to shame!
Privateering, Ode XVII.
The Mexican Ode may admit of much praise. It opens with a spirited abruptness.
From Cholula's hostile plain,
Left her treacherous legions slain,
Left her temples all on flame, Cortez' conquering army came.
It ends with equal dignity after the prophecy of the Mexican Idol.
Ceas'd the voice with dreadful sounds,
Loud as tides that break their bounds;
Roll'd the form in smoke away.
The vanishing of the demon is attended with circumstances not very dissimilar from the disappearance of the spirit of the Cape in Camoens.
The two Epistles that follow the odes are written in a very familiar and easy strain of versification.
The second Epistle describes the occupations and amusements of a contemplative mind in the country, and may be considered as a picture of the author's own manner of living.
The Essay on Painting is an elegant piece of versification, and shews, in the fullest light, Mr. Scott's turn for the polite arts. He was always a great admirer of painting, and for many years never miffed an annual exhibition. The poem is said to be addressed to a young painter, but has no reference to any particular person. It will perhaps be found, that not any very new remarks are introduced on a subject, relative to which so much has been written, but the rules and observations are at least delivered with taste and perspicuity.
The opening is poetical.
From sunny Adria's sea-surrounded towers,
From Tyber's vales and Arno's viny bowers,
The muse of painting seeks Britannia's plain,
And leads to Thames's bank her favourite train.
His observation is very just on the superiority and permanence of the reputation acquired by the higher stile of painting and poetry, in the sublime and the pathetic, compared with the lower class of humour and common life.
'Tis general nature, in thy art and mine,
Must give our fame in future times to shine:
Sublime and pathos, like the fun's fix'd flame,
Remain and please thro' every age the same:
Humour's light shapes, like vapours in the sky,
Rise, pass, and vary, and for ever fly:
Hogarth and Swift, if living, might deplore
Half their keen jokes, that now we jokes no more.
Among several subjects pointed out as proper for the pencil, he instances the Maria of Sterne, which passage, at the fame time that it does justice to the merit of that admirable painter of manners, contains a censure, on which occasion he inserts the following note, in which every sober chaste judgment must heartily concur.
"There probably never was a more striking instance of misapplication of talents than in him (Sterne): with superior powers for the pathos, he chose to descend to ribaldry, that affronted the taste, and corrupted the morals of the public. What pity that the gold had not been separated from the dross, and the latter consigned to an oblivion it so richly merits."
He pays the following compliment to the memory of my ingenious friend Mr. Mortimer.
O! where is he, whose thought such grandeur gave
To bold Fitzwalter, and the barons brave,
When rang'd in arms along their Thames's strand,
They snatch'd their charter from a tyrant's hand?
Thro' all the scenes his rapid stroke bestow'd,
Rosa's wild grace and daring spirit glow'd;
In him — ah! lost ere half his powers were shown,
Britain perhaps an Angelo had known!
The volume is closed with a few Sonnets, and other copies of verses written on temporary subjects, some of which are of a very early date (1766) and one dated as far back as 1756.
The public gave a very favourable reception to this collection, of which a candid and liberal account was exhibited by the critics of the Monthly Review. But the writer of this article in the Critical Review entered upon the examination of our author's poems with a petulance of illiberal humour, highly reprehensible in a literary censor, whose duty it is to deliver his sentiments with impartiality, but who certainly debases his own consequence, by the introduction of trifling witticisms and ill-placed raillery.
The remarks on Scott's book were prefaced by the Critical Reviewer with the following words: "these poems were written by a Quaker, a circumstance rather extraordinary in the world of letters; rhyming being a sin, which gentlemen of that fraternity are seldom guilty of: Mr. Scott is, notwithstanding, strongly attached to it." Speaking of the plates, with which the volume is decorated, the Reviewer adds, "To say the truth, there is a profusion of ornament and finery about this book, not quite suitable to the plainness and simplicity of the Barclean system; but Mr. Scott is fond of the muses, and wishes, we suppose, like Capt. Macheath, to see his ladies well dressed."
Mr. Scott, justly offended at this indecent treatment, and little accustomed to disguise his sentiments, was induced, with inconsiderate warmth, to publish a letter addressed, To THE AUTHORS OF THE CRITICAL REVIEW, in which he expostulated with them on their conduct, and defended his own poetry. This letter produced a second article in the next Review, and to this Scott replied again, by a letter inserted in one of the papers, which closed this unpleasant contest, in which he had engaged contrary to the opinion of his friends, who would, surely, rather have wished that he had adopted the judgment of his friend Dr. Johnson on a review of the altercation between Dryden and Settle. "The writer, who thinks his work formed for duration, mistakes his interest when he mentions his enemies. He degrades his own dignity, by shewing that he was affected by their censures, and gives lasting importance to names, which, left to themselves, would vanish from remembrance." [Author's note: Dr. Johnson's Life of Dryden.]
From the time of Mr. Scott's second marriage till his death, he seems to have enjoyed a life of great tranquillity; gratified with the elegant and unblameable pleasures resulting from a well-cultivated mind; and possessed of a wife, whose disposition insured to him a perpetual source of domestic peace. He mentions her with unaffected tenderness in his Poem of AMWELL, and addresses a copy of verses to her, written in the same year, and inserted in his poetical works twelve years after his marriage.
Our author, who possessed a very considerable portion of critical acumen, had minutely examined some of the productions of several of our poets, and had long designed to impart his strictures to the world. This work he had completed, and committed to the press in the year 1783, being the volume now offered to the public under the title of CRITICAL ESSAYS.
In the mean time, Mrs. Scott having lately laboured under a very serious complaint, for which he was anxious to have the best advice, he accompanied her to London on the 25th of October, 1783, and on the 1st of December following was attacked with a putrid fever, the symptoms of which were from the beginning judged to be dangerous. He had always been particularly apprehensive of this distemper, and was frequently heard to say, that he should never survive it. I have been told, that the state of his mind did not a little contribute to strengthen his malady, which soon baffled all the power of medicine, till, on the 12th of December, eleven days after he was seized, having retained his senses to the last, with his understanding at all times clear and unimpaired, he expired at his house in Radcliff, being fifty-four years of age.
He was buried in the Quakers burying-ground at Radcliff, on the 18th of the same month; his funeral being attended by a select number of relations and friends, amongst whom, the writer of this account had the melancholy satisfaction of paying the last mark of affection at his grave. He left behind him a widow, and daughter, their only child, about six years old.
As I have taken a view of the productions of Mr. Scott, which were printed in his life-time, it may be expected that something should be said of his posthumous volume; which indeed may be considered to have been published by himself, as the work, before he died, was nearly printed off, and had received his last corrections.
This volume displays an open manly spirit of criticism, and may be perused by all lovers of poetry with advantage. He seems, with reason, to have disputed the claim of Denham, to the reputation which he has so long enjoyed, and several of the passages adduced by him, from COOPER'S HILL, very well support his assertions: but his severe censure of what has been so often praised, particularly by Dryden, and confirmed in such praise by Dr. Johnson, does not appear to me equally convincing, or to take away, in any degree, from the general merit of those four celebrated lines.
He has skilfully defended Milton's LYCIDAS against some of the Doctor's objections, and has well apologized for the profusion of imagery admitted into a poem expressive of grief. But it may be observed, that the opinion offered by any critic on a poetical composition, is often rather a matter of taste than argument: the merit of all works that appeal to the imagination, must be determined by the feelings of the generality, not by the suffrage of individuals; on which occasion may well be applied the Doctor's own expressive words, "that what is good only because it pleases, cannot be pronounced good till it has been found to please."
An instance has already been given of the candour of this admirable writer, in his conversation with Mr. Barclay, on the subject of the present volume, and I will not omit the opportunity of doing further justice to his memory as a critic. In this character he held it his indispensable duty to speak without disguise, of every work under his inspection. He must thus indeed be expected to have created enemies among those whose judgments were warped by prejudice, or whose minds were vitiated by adulation; but let it be remembered what superior satisfaction must be felt by real merit, from the praise of accurate discernment and inflexible sincerity. It is perhaps certain, that no one poetical reader will universally subscribe to the decisions of Dr. Johnson, but all may surely admire his vast intuitive knowledge, and power of reasoning; and while he never descended to the little arts of attacking others by covert satire, or implied criticism, every lover of truth ought to venerate that noble intrepidity of declaring his thoughts unbiassed by the partialities of friendship, the sanction of names, or the long influence of prescriptive authority.
Scott has judiciously pointed out several inaccuracies in the WINDSOR FOREST of Pope, one of the correctest of our poets.
The reader may do well to compare this criticism, with the remarks of Dr. Warton, in his ESSAY ON THE GENIUS AND WRITINGS of Pope, "A book," says the liberal Dr. Johnson, "which teaches how the brow of criticism maybe smoothed, and how the may be enabled, with all her severity, to attract and to delight."
His remarks on GR0NGAR HILL, and THE RUINS OF ROME, of Dyer, and the ORIENTAL ECLOGUES of Collins, are replete with taste, the defects and beauties of each poem being singled out with great discernment. The ELEGY of Gray seems to have given him little room for objection, but I think that he has indulged himself too much in his proposed transpositions of several passages in that poem. Amidst all the beauties of Goldsmith's DESERTED VILLAGE, he has very clearly discovered redundancy and incorrectness. His strictures on Thomson are generally just, and several examples are given of false figures and confused metaphors, wherein the poet's fancy has carried away his judgment. It appears that he commenced a critic on Denham, Pope, and Thomson, in his correspondence with his friends Cockfield and Turner, in the year 1756, and 1761.
It has been shewn, that the active member of society, the public spirited man, and contemplative student, were all united in Scott, and that he had a constant desire to be acquainted with every character of learning or genius. He often regretted that he had not known the late Mr. Garrick, of whom, though he never went to the theatres, he had conceived a high idea; and indeed he has frequently expressed to me a strong curiosity to have seen him act. He imparted, without any disguise, his real feeling and sentiments on his own works, or on the works of others. "He consulted his friends, and listened with great willingness to criticism, and what was of more importance, he consulted himself, and let nothing pass against his own judgment." [Author's note: Dr. Johnson of Pope.]
His manner of reading verse was very peculiar, yet such as seemed to give him a strong perception of harmony: at the same time he frequently confessed to me that he read ill, and was well pleased to have his lines repeated by another. "We are told of Thomson," says Dr. Johnson, "that among his peculiarities, was a very unskilful and inarticulate manner of pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He was once reading to Dodington, who being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hand, and told him, that he did not understand his own verses." This is a defect very common in authors; Goldsmith, one of the most harmonious and easy poets, was a very unskilful reader.
Scott was a great lover of music, but had no practical knowledge of it. He preferred the time for poetical composition, when the rest of the family were in bed; and it was frequently his custom to sit in a dark room, and when he had composed a number of lines, he would go into another room where a candle was burning, in order to commit them to paper. Though in general very regular in his hour of retiring to rest, he would sometimes be up great part of the night, when he was engaged in any literary work.
In his person he was tall and slender, but his limbs were remarkably strong and muscular: he was very active, and delighted much in the exercise of walking: his countenance was cheerful and animated.
Having, agreeable to such materials as could be procured, given an account of my late valuable friend Mr. Scott, I will not here expatiate further on his moral or intellectual character, since this may be better known from the preceding pages, and from a perusal of his works, that truly reflect their author's mind, than from any laboured strain of friendly panegyric.