1848 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry James Pye

Benjamin Disraeli, in Life of Isaac D'Israeli (1848); D'Israeli, Works (1881) 1:xvii-xix.



He was indebted to this slight effort [Essay on the Abuse of Satire] for something almost as agreeable as the public recognition of his ability, and that was the acquaintance, and almost immediately the warm personal friendship, of Mr. Pye. Mr. Pye was the head of an ancient English family that figured in the Parliaments and struggles of the Stuarts; he was member for the County of Berkshire, where his ancestral seat of Faringdon was situate, and at a later period (1790) became Poet Laureat. In those days, when literary clubs did not exist, and when even political ones were extremely limited and exclusive in their character, the booksellers' shops were social rendezvous. Debrett's was the chief haunt of the Whigs; Hatchard's, I believe, of the Tories. It was at the latter house that my father made the acquaintance of Mr. Pye, then publishing his translation of Aristotle's Poetics, and so strong was party feeling at that period, that one day, walking together down Piccadilly, Mr. Pye, stopping at the door of Debrett, requested his companion to go in and purchase a particular pamphlet for him, adding that if he had the audacity to enter, more than one person would tread upon his toes.

My father at last had a friend. Mr. Pye, though double his age, was still a young man, and the literary sympathy between them was complete. Unfortunately, the member for Berkshire was a man rather of an elegant turn of mind, than one of that energy and vigour which a youth required for a companion at that moment. Their tastes and pursuits were perhaps a little too similar. They addressed poetical epistles to each other, and were, reciprocally, too gentle critics. But Mr. Pye was a most amiable and accomplished man, a fine classical scholar, and a master of correct versification. He paid a visit to Enfield, and by his influence hastened a conclusion at which my grandfather was just arriving, to wit, that he would no longer persist in the fruitless effort of converting a poet into a merchant, and that content with the independence he had realised, he would abandon his dreams of founding a dynasty of financiers. From this moment all disquietude ceased beneath this always well-meaning, though often perplexed, roof, while my father, enabled amply to ratify his darling passion of book-collecting, passed his days in tranquil study, and in the society of congenial spirits.

His new friend introduced him almost immediately to Mr. James Pettit Andrews, a Berkshire gentleman of literary pursuits, and whose hospitable table at Brompton was the resort of the best literary society of the day. Here my father was a frequent guest, and walking home one night too-ether from this house, where they had both dined, he made the acquaintance of a young poet, which soon ripened into intimacy, and which throughout sixty years, notwithstanding many changes of life, never died away. This youthful poet had already gained laurels, though he was only three or four years older than my father, but I am not at this moment quite aware whether his brow was yet encircled with the amaranthine wreath of the Pleasures of Memory.

Some years after this, great vicissitudes unhappily occurred in the family of Mr. Pye. He was obliged to retire from Parliament, and to sell his family estate of Faringdon. His Majesty had already, on the death of Thomas Warton, nominated him Poet Laureat, and after his retirement from Parliament, the government which he had supported, appointed him a Commissioner of Police. It was in these days that his friend, Mr. Penn, of Stoke Park, in Buckinghamshire, presented him with a cottage worthy of a poet on his beautiful estate; and it was thus my father became acquainted with the amiable descendant of the most successful of colonisers, and with that classic domain which the genius of Gray, as it were, now haunts, and has for ever hallowed, and from which he beheld with fond and musing eye, those "Distant spires and antique towers," that no one can now look upon without remembering him. It was amid these rambles in Stoke Park, amid the scenes of Gray's genius, the elegiac churchyard, and the picturesque fragments of the Long Story, talking over the deeds of the "Great Rebellion" with the descendants of Cavaliers and Parliament-men, that my father first imbibed that feeling for the county of Buckingham, which induced him occasionally to be a dweller in its limits, and ultimately, more than a quarter of a century afterwards, to establish his household gods in its heart. And here, perhaps, I may be permitted to mention a circumstance, which is indeed trifling, and yet, as a coincidence, not, I think, without interest. Mr. Pye was the great-grandson of Sir Robert Pye, of Bradenham, who married Anne, the eldest daughter of Mr. Hampden. How little could my father dream, sixty years ago, that he would pass the last quarter of his life in the mansion-house of Bradenham; that his name would become intimately connected with the county of Buckingham; and that his own remains would be interred in the vault of the chancel of Bradenham Church, among the coffins of the descendants of the Hampdens and the Pyes. All which should teach us that, whatever may be our natural bent, there is a power in the disposal of events greater than human will.