1750 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nathaniel Lee

William Oldys, "Nathaniel Lee" 1750 ca.; Censura Literaria 1 (1805) 176-79.



Nathaniel Lee [writes Samuel Egerton Brydges] was son of Dr. Lee, minister of Hatfield in Hertfordshire, for whom there is the following epitaph in the church of that parish on a marble in the middle of the chancel.

"Depositum Richardi Lee, S.T.P. nuper Hatfieldi Episcopalis, alias Regalis, cum capella de Totteridge Rectoris, qui obiit A.D. 1684, aetat. suae 73. Hic requiescit spe laetae resurrectionis."

Nathaniel was "educated at Westminster school, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was a very handsome as well as ingenious man; but given to debauchery which necessitated a milk-diet, when some of his university comrades visiting him, he fell to drinking with them out of all measure, which flying up into his head, caused his face to break out into those carbuncles which were afterwards observed there; and also touched his brain, occasioning that madness so much lamented in so rare a genius. Tom Brown says he wrote while he was in Bedlam a play of twenty-five acts; and Mr. Bowman tells me that going once to visit him there, Lee shewed him a scene, 'in which,' says he, 'I have done a miracle for you.' 'What's that?' said Bowman. 'I have made you a good priest.'" [Samuel Egerton Brydges: So says Oldys; but he has this note in another place: "There is a copy of English verses signed Nat. Lee, A.B. Trin. Coll. Vide Musarum Cantabrigiarum Threnodia, 4to. 1670."]

Oldys mentions another of his mad sayings, but does not mention with whom it passed.

I have seen an unscrew'd spider spin a thought,
And walk away upon the wings of angels!

"What say you to that, Doctor?" "Ah, marry, Mr. Lee, that's superfine indeed. The thought of a winged spider may catch sublime readers of poetry sooner than his web, but it will need a commentary in prose to render it intelligible to the vulgar." [Oldys's note: "The ingenious Mr. William Thompson had two long letters about Nat. Lee, written by Thomas Southerne, in which is mentioned Lee's breaking somebody's head a Will's Coffee-house in one of his merry mad fits."]

His melancholy death has already been inserted in the Biogr. Dram. from Oldys's notes. This event happened about 1691 or 1692, for his last play, the Massacre of Paris, is printed in 1690, and Mr. Southerne in his poem to Mr. Congreve before his "Old Bachelor" 1693, mentions his death. He was buried at St. Clement Danes, aged about thirty-five years.

"There is, or lately was, a brother of Nat. Lee, somewhere in, or near the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, who has a trunk full of his writings, as I have been informed by old Mr. Samuel Westley, the late parson of Epworth in Lincolnshire."

Lee was patronized by Philip Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, to whom he dedicated his tragedy of Caesar Borgia, 1680, and who shewed him some external honours, which got Lee some envy, and his lordship more censure than either deserved. See the Satire upon the Poets in imitation of the Seventh Satire of Juvenal, printed in the State-Poems, and reprinted by R. Cross in his Collection of Poems, 8vo. 1747, p. 92, in which are the six following lines upon Lord P. and dedicating Lee, because he staid so long at Wilton that the butler feared he would empty the cellar.

None of our new nobility will send
To the King's Bench or to his Bedlam friend;
Pembroke lov'd tragedies, and did provide
For butchers' dogs, and for the whole Bank-side;
The bear was fed, but dedication Lee
Was thought to have a greater paunch than he.

"Queen Anne, when she was Princess, played Semandra in Lee's 'Mithridates' (1678, 4to.) with other nobility at Court in the Banqueting-house, Whitehall. She was taught the part by Mr. Joseph Ashbury.

"Most of Lee's plays are printed by John Bentley the bookseller, who, in a catalogue at the end of St. Evremond's Gallant Memoirs, and translated by P. Bolson (or Belon) printed 12mo. 1681, has added some of John Crown's to them. Lee's plays are printed together in 2 vols. 8vo. 1713, in 3 vols. 12mo. 1722, the last edition 3 vols. 12mo. 1734."

"In Theodosius, or the Force of Love, a tragedy, 1680, 4to. are several entertainments of singing; the music by the famous Henry Purcell, being the first time he ever composed for the stage. See Mrs. Eliza Heywood's Companion to the Theatre, Vol. II. p. 329, 1747."

"See Gildon's Character of Lee, Cibber's Apology and Tom Brown of him, Jacob in his Life, and Dryden, Sir Carr Scrope, and ' Mr. Duke in their prologues of his plays, and Felton, and Tatlers, &c. and Downes the Prompter of his first appearance on the stage, and sessions of Poets, and Dr. Trapp's character of him in his Praelectiones Poeticae, and my Epigram printed in the last volume of Epigrams for Walthoe."