1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry James Pye

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:321-22, 390-92.



MR. HENRY JAMES PYE. This gentleman, who was fully qualified for the situation of poet-laureat by profound learning and poetical genius, I had the pleasure of knowing many years, and though myself incompetent to offer any remarks on his "Birthday Odes," and those on the "New Year," yet he paid me the compliment of asking my opinion, and sometimes condescended to adopt my suggested emendations. His translation of the "Poetic of Aristotle," is, I am assured, faithful and spirited.

Having heard that the late Mr. Kemble had made some marginal remarks on that translation, he requested me to tell the latter that he should be happy to present him with another copy of the work, if he would let him have that which was most probably amended by his remarks. I did so of course, but whether the exchange was made I know not, and I only mention the matter to show in what respect Mr. Pye held the judgment and knowledge of my friend Kemble.

Mr. Pye was an upright, magistrate, and a good poet as well as a good scholar, as he has abundantly proved by his various productions. His epic poem of Alfred, may be said to breathe the true spirit of poetry, as well as to evince a judicious conception of character. I believe he wrote but one dramatic piece, to which he did me the honour of asking me to write the epilogue. I did so, proud to have my name associated with that of a man of such genius, learning, and worth. I intended it for Mrs. Siddons to deliver, but it was too much after performing the heroine of the piece, and was well spoken by Miss Mellon, now Duchess of St. Alban's.

Mr. Pye also proved himself a philosopher. He was once a Member of Parliament for Berkshire, in which county he was said to possess an estate eighteen miles in circumference; yet, after his generous and munificent disposition had deprived him of it, he was content to live in a simple cottage upon grounds which had once been his own. He was a zealous friend and an annual contributor of a poetical tribute to that admirable institution, The Literary Fund, but an impediment in his speech prevented him from animating it by his own recitation....

Feelings of respect for the memory of a very worthy man, a good poet, and an eminent scholar, induced me to say a few words on my friend Mr. Henry James Pye. He also was an active and resolute supporter of "The Literary Fund," and often added his poetical contributions at the anniversary meeting, which, however, he never recited himself, as he had an impediment in his speech. He was once the proprietor of landed property to a great extent in Berkshire, and was member for the county. How he lost that property I never heard, but understood that he was a generous and hospitable man. His learning was shown in his translation of "The Poetic" of Aristotle, and he published many poems highly creditable to his genius and taste. His largest and best poem was entitled "Alfred," of which the founder of our laws was the hero. He also wrote a tragedy entitled "Adelaide," which was represented with success at Drury Lane Theatre. Mrs. Siddons was the heroine, and at Mr. Pye's desire I wrote the epilogue for that lady to speak. She said that, to show her respect for me, she would speak it if I wished, but, after playing a long part, she desired to get home as soon as possible, and hoped I would excuse her. The epilogue was then assigned to Miss Mellon, the present Duchess of St. Alban's, who delivered it with such spirit as might amply atone for its poetical demerits. Mr. Pye condescended to submit to me some of his official verses as poet laureate; and never was there an author who listened with more attention to proposed corrections, or was more ready to adopt them. His house even to the last, when he was one of the police magistrates, was the resort of genius and the scene of hospitality. He published a work entitled "Comments on the Commentators of Shakspeare, with preliminary observations on his genius and writings, and on the labours of those who have endeavoured to elucidate them." He affixed a Greek motto to the work, and the following apt quotation from "The Spectator," No. 138. "One meets now and then with persons who are extremely learned and knotty in expounding clear cases." This work displays great critical acumen, with much humour and playful ridicule. He also published "Sketches on various subjects, moral, literary, and political," a very amusing and instructive volume.

Mr. Pye was a very affectionate father, a very pleasant companion, and a very warm friend. He had two daughters, the eldest of whom was married to an officer in the navy, and the second to my friend Mr. Arnold, the proprietor of the late English Opera House, and the son of my old and esteemed friend Dr. Arnold, whose musical works bear ample testimony to his taste, judgment, and learning, in one of the most gratifying sciences that contribute to the enjoyment of private life as well as to the amusement of the public. Mr. Arnold, the son, I knew in his "boyish days," and at that period he held forth a promise of the talents which have been successfully displayed in his dramatic productions. I would willingly bear a more ample testimony of my respect and esteem for him, but shall avoid every thing that might be thought flattering to the living, and only express my ardent hope that he will be able to re-establish that dramatic edifice which he reared with so much zeal, prudence, and enterprise, and which he conducted with so much judgment, discretion, and liberality.

To show the moderation and contented disposition of Mr. Pye, he resided, I understood, in a cottage on that ample estate of which he previously had been the owner. I know not whether his official odes as Poet Laureate have ever been published in a collected shape; but it is proper they should be, since they do honour to his memory as a spirited and learned poet, as well as a loyal subject, and a worthy member of society.