1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Rowe

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 276-80.



To this Gentleman's Life, I may further add, that when he had just got to be easy in his Fortune, and was in a fair way to make it better, Death swept him away, and in him depriv'd the World of one of the best of Men, as well as one of the best Genius's of the Ages. He dy'd like a Christian and a Philosopher, in Charity with all Mankind, and with an absolute Resignation to the Will of God. He kept up his good Humour to the last, and took leave of his Wife and Friends, immediately before his last Agony, with the same Tranquility of Mind, and the same Indifference for Life, as tho' he had been taking but a short Journey. So that his last Moments confirm'd the Justness of his Thoughts, in these excellent Lines in his Tamerlane, speaking of Death's dark Shades,

Seem, as we journey on, to lose their Horror;
At near Approach the Monsters, form'd by Fear,
Are vanquish'd all, and leave the Prospect clear.

He dy'd the 6th Day of December 1718. in the 45th Year of his Age, and was bury'd the 19th of the same Month in Westminster-Abbey, in the Isle where many of our English Poets are interr'd, over against Chaucer; his Corps being attended by a select Number of his Friends, and the Dean and Choir officiating at his Funeral. Besides his Dramatick Works, he has written,

I. A Poem on the Duke of Marlborough's Victories. This is an excellent Piece.

II. An Ode for the New Year 1717.

III. Pythagoras's Golden Verses. Done from the Greek. Inserted in the Translation of Dacier's Life of that Philosopher.

IV. Poems on several Occasions.

V. His Translation of Callipoedia.

VI. Lucan's Pharsalia. Translated into English Verse, with Notes. Publish'd by Dr. Wellwood (according to Mr. Rowe's Request in his Sickness) shortly after his Decease. Dedicated to the King by his Widow, at his Desire, Folio. This Poet was a great Lover of Liberty, which inclin'd him to the Translation of Lucan; and to give you a Taste of his handling that Subject, I shall here insert some of his Verses from this Performance. In one place Cato animates his Forces, with this short Speech, for Liberty and Virtue.

Fellows in Arms! whose Bliss, whose chiefest Good
Is Rome's Defence, and Freedom bought with Blood;
You, who to die with Liberty, from far
Have follow'd Cato in this fatal War,
Be now for Virtue's noblest Task prepar'd—

Virtue, that scorns on Cowards Terms to please,
Or cheaply to be bought, or won with Ease;
But then she Joys, then smiles upon the State,
Then fairest to her self, then most compleat,
When glorious Danger makes her truly Great.
So Libya's Plains alone shall wipe away
The foul Dishonours of Pharsalia's Day;
So shall your Courage now, transcend that Fear:
You fled with Glory there, to conquer here.

Pompey's parting with his Wife Cornelia, in the fifth Book, is extremely moving; and his last Speech, at the Head of his Soldiers, before his engaging with and Defeat by Caesar, in the seventh Book, is excellent; where he thus begins:

The Time to ease your groaning Country's Pain,
Which long your eager Valour sought in vain;
The great deciding Hour at length is come,
To end the Strivings of distracted Rome:
For this one last Effort exert your Pow'r,
Strike Home to Day, and all your Toils are o'er.
Let none the fav'ring Gods Assistance fear,
They always make the juster Cause their Care.
The flying Dart to Caesar shall they guide,
And point the Sword at his devoted Side:
Our injur'd Laws shall be on him made good,
And Liberty establish'd in his Blood [....]

Mr. May likewise translated Lucan, and publish'd it in eight Books, in the Year 1635. but his Performance does not rach the Spirit or Sense of Lucan. The Language and Versification are yet worse, and fall infinitely short of the lofty Numbers and Propriety of Expression, in which Mr. Rowe excels.

Mr. Rowe wrote the Life of Shakespear, prefix'd to his Works; some Account of Monsieur Boileau and his Writings, annex'd to the Translation of the Lutrin; and an Essay concerning the manner of Living with Great Men; written in imitation of Monsieur Bruyere, and inserted in the Translation of his Works; all done in Prose.