1892 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Spence

Austin Dobson, in "Spence's Anecdotes" Eighteenth-Century Vignettes 1 (1892; 1937) 25-27.



He lived the mildly studious life of a quiet, easy-going clergyman of the eighteenth-century, nursing a widowed mother like Pope, and declining to disturb the placid ripple of his days by the "violent delights" of matrimony. He is "the completest scholar," "the sweetest tempered gentleman living," cries his enthusiastic friend, Mr. Christopher Pitt, himself a virtuoso and a translator of Homer [Virgil]. He is "extremely polite, friendly, cheerful, and master of an infinite fund of subjects for agreeable conversation," says Mr. Shenstone of the Leasowes. "He was a good-natured, harmless little soul, but more like a silver penny than a genius," says ungrateful Mr. Walpole. "He was a poor creature, though a very worthy man," says clever Mr. Cambridge of The World and The Scribleriad. To strike an average between these varying estimates is not a difficult task. It gives us a character amiable rather then strong, finical rther than earnest, well-informed and ingenious rather than positively learned. For the rest, Polymetis has been supplanted by Lempriere, and is as dead as Stephen Duck; and its author now lives mainly by the "priefs" which, like Sir Hugh Evans, he made in his note-book, — in other words, by the Anecdotes of the Literary Men of his age, which, when occasion offered, he jotted down from the conversation of Pope, Young, Dean Lockier, and other notabilities into whose company he came from time to time.