1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Henry Harington

Richard Warner, in Literary Recollections of the Rev. Richard Warner (1830) 2:87-94.



The character of the late venerable Henry Harington, Esq., M.D. stood in strong, but pleasing contrast, to those of Dr. Falconer, and Dr. Parry. If the minds of the two latter gentlemen, were chiefly marked, by force, depth, and comprehensiveness, that of Dr. Harington, reflected lights of an equally delightful, though less splendid hue: genius, original, but mild: taste, correct and refined: the happy union of naive simplicity with perfect urbanity: and a quiet, but cheering hilarity, the offspring of an imperturbable harmony of temper, and a heart beating with every gentle and benevolent feeling. His manners and conversation, indeed, were so "full of sun-shine," as to bear about them a sort of curative influence: and I have more than once heard it observed by his patients, that his visits were, on this account, not less efficacious, in tranquillising and encouraging the mind, than his prescriptions, in relieving bodily disease. His fund of anecdote never failed: and the point and quaintness which he threw into every story; and the dry and quiet humour with which he narrated it, were quite his own.

The amusing anecdotes, and shrewd remarks of Dr. Harington, borrowed a part of their effect, from the character of his countenance, and the antique air of his costume. He was the last of the physicians, as far as regarded dress. I knew him intimately for twenty years, and never detected the least change in his appearance, either in person or attire. His form tall, thin, and rather stooping, gave him the aspect of advanced age, before he had reached his three score years and ten: his face, pale, long, and lined, indicated a placid, benevolent, and contemplative mind; great delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste: his features were frequently lighted up by a smile; rarely curled into a laugh; and never ruffled by a passion: he wore the triangular hat; and the powdered full-bottomed wig of the physician of yore; the court fashioned coat, and the deep pocketed waistcoat. The whole of his dress cut from the same piece of cloth, was, of course, uniform in colour, and usually of a stony hue; and to complete his picture, he was never seen walking in the street, without a white pocket handkerchief applied to his mouth, to guard his chest from the influence of the cold external air.

Dr. Harington's business was never extensive in Bath; for, not exclusively devoted to his profession, he gave up a part of his time, to the cultivation of elegant literature, and the pursuit of the fine arts. But, in the neighbourhood of Wells, (where he had settled on his first start into life,) and in the country to the westward of that city, his medical skill was both sought after and acknowledged. Through this district, the professional success, and personal worth of Dr. Harington will long be recollected; for, it may truly be said of him, that no one ever employed him as a physician, without loving him as a man.

A talent for the lighter species of poetry, the gay, the witty, and the humorous, may be mentioned as one feature of Dr. Harington's mind; but its exercises formed only an amusement for his more leisure hours; and I know not that the public are in possession of any examples of it, save what may be found in a small collection of poems published by him in 1756; entitled "Euphaemia, or the Power of Harmony;" from which Dr. Percy has extracted a beautiful copy of verses, pregnant with elegance and point, called "the Witch of Wokey," and introduced it into the first volume (page 330) of his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.

That Dr. Harington was deeply versed in the science, and skilled in the composition of music, is universally known and acknowledged. A great variety of his catches, glees, duets, &c. are before the world; and enjoy a popularity, which will be coeval, in this country, with our taste for vocal harmony. His "Eloi," (composed at the age of seventy) has, for many years, met the applause of every competent judge among our musical professors and amateurs. Master, both of the theory, and the composition of music, he would often be seen, gliding into the principal music shop of Bath, when it was void of company: and, silently sitting down, to the Piano Forte, would, under the influence of the spirit of harmony that stirred within him, strike out the most magnificent or moving chords, voluntaries, and fugues. Compared with his powers, however, his compositions were but few and slight. But, genius is rarely accompanied by industry. It delights in creating; and not in imitation. Its own imaginings come spontaneously; and its stores are poured out without effort; and, free as light itself, it shrinks from, that patient labour, which it must necessarily exercise, if it would place its stores in the possession of others.

The enjoyment which Dr. Harington received, from the performance of those who could play well, was by no means diminished, by his own exquisite taste, and singular skill in off-hand composition. No man ever experienced more intense delight than himself; from this rational source of intellectual pleasure. He invited me one morning, many years ago, to accompany him to the Bath concert-room, (supposed to be one of the best apartments in England, for the circulation of' sound,) to hear a performer on the pedal harp, who had been prevailed upon by the family with whom he was staying, to afford to the public, an opportunity of hearing his unrivalled powers, on that noble instrument. We went early to secure a good place. The Doctor looked round the room, and noticed the spot on which the performer was to be stationed. He then took me into the gallery; and planted me next to the wall, against which the harper was to stand, on the floor below. "Here," said he, "you will hear the vibration of every note." The performer appeared: a Count Marat; one of the most magnificent, and most noble-countenanced men, I ever beheld. He seized his harp, as it had been a feather, with the grasp of a giant; swung it round with a rapidity and ease, that made its chords whistle in the air; and commenced a prelude, of such powerful and varied harmony, as appeared to realise the conceptions of the Poet:

Now the rich stream of Music winds along,
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
Through verdant vales and Ceres' golden reign:
Now rolling down the steep amain,
Headlong, impetuous, see it pour:
The rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar.

He then asked, if any person present, had a printed musical air? Several were handed to him. He declined selecting one himself, and begged it might be chosen by an indifferent person. — It was placed before him. He played it over, threw away the sheet of notes; and commenced a series of impromptu variations, increasing in difficulty and complexity as he proceeded; so varied in time, measure, and character, but still completely impregnated with the original air, as not only astonished his audience, but actually moved the greater part of them, to rise from their seats, and listen to him standing. I expressed my wonder to the Doctor. He nodded assent. Very few words passed between us; but I saw that his spirit was deeply impressed. — We met a few days afterwards: I mentioned his silence: he allowed it; and confessed, that every faculty had been absorbed, by the ecstasy which he experienced, from the music he had heard.

Dr. Harington was "a stricken deer." His sorrows had been, at different periods of his life, severe: and to fill up his cup of misfortune, it pleased God, some years before his death, to afflict him with the loss of sight. Previously to the occurrence of this calamity, he felt it to be a prudent step, to dispose of his small, but curious and valuable library. He communicated his intention to me. The reason which he alleged for the sale, was, the gradual decay of his vision. I knew, however, that other motives might be added to this apparently reasonable one; and really believe, that I felt a pang almost equal to his own, at the moment of this communication, when I reflected, on the sadness with which he must anticipate, the loss of those long-cherished, and highly-valued friends; the companions of his silent, solitary hours; which had been wont to add lustre to his days of brightness; and to tranquillise and heal his spirit, when fretted with the vexations, or wounded by the afflictions of mortality.

But, neither vicissitude nor misfortune could overwhelm the mind of Dr. Harington. It had been deeply imbued, in early youth, with the principles of' religion, virtue, and benevolence; every day of his long life, was a practical comment upon these principles; and, under all "the changes and chances" of it, even to its very close, he felt that support from them, which they are mercifully intended, "by the God of all consolation," to afford. He died at Bath, the 16th of January 1816: aged 89 years. "Multis ille bonis flebilis occidit."