1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Christopher Pitt

John Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 8:793.



The amiable character of Mr. Pitt, transcribed from the stone that marks the place of his dust, owes nothing to flattery. He was reverenced for his virtue, and beloved for the softness of his temper, and the easiness of his manners. Before strangers, he had something of the scholar's timidity and distrust; but when he became familiar, he was in a very high degree cheerful and entertaining. His general benevolence procured him general respect; and he passed a life placid and honourable; neither too great for the kindness of the low, nor too low for the notice of the great.

As a poet, his compositions are characterised by splendour and elegance of diction, and the exquisite polish and harmony of the versification. Most of his original pieces are pleasing and poetical; but his Vida and the English Aeneid, are the chief foundations of his fame. His version of the Vida is executed with so much exactness and general elegance, that there is little fear of its being supplanted by the version of Mr. Hampson, published in 1793.

The excellence of his version of the Aeneid, his greatest work, is generally allowed; but the critics have been divided concerning the just proportion of merit which ought to be ascribed to it, comparatively with that of Dryden. Some have asserted, that Pitt has done most justice to Virgil; that he shines in Pitt with a lustre which Dryden wanted not power, but leisure to bestow. Pitt, no doubt, had many advantages above Dryden in this arduous undertaking. As he was later in the attempt, he had consequently the version of Dryden to improve upon. He saw the errors of that great poet, and avoided them; he discovered his beauties, and improved upon them: and as he was not compelled by necessity, he had leisure to revise, correct, and finish his excellent work. Yet it may be justly doubted whether, upon the whole, the version of Dryden is not the most vigorous and poetical performance.