1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Lyttelton

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 3:201-02.



Dr. Johnson said once of Chesterfield, "I thought him a lord among wits, but I find him to be only a wit among lords." And so we may say of Lord Lyttelton, "He is a poet among lords, if not a lord among poets." He was the son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, of Hagley in Worcestershire, and was born in 1709. He went to Eton and Oxford, where he distinguished himself. Having gone the usual grand tour, he entered Parliament, and became an opponent of Sir Robert Walpole. He was made secretary to the Prince of Wales, and was in this capacity useful to Mallett and Thomson. In 1741, he married Lucy Fortescue, of Devonshire, who died five years afterwards. Lyttelton grieved sincerely for her, and wrote his affecting Monody on the subject. When his party triumphed, he was created a Lord of the Treasury, and afterwards Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a peerage. He employed much of his leisure in literary composition, writing a good little book on the Conversion of St. Paul, a laboured History of Henry II., and some verses, including the stanza in the Castle of Indolence describing Thomson — "A bard there dwelt, more fat than bard beseems," &c. and a very spirited prologue to Thomson's Coriolanus, which was written after that author's death, and says of him,

His chaste muse employed her heaven-taught lyre
None but the noblest passions to inspire:
Not one immoral, one corrupted thought,
One line which dying he could wish to blot.

Lyttelton himself died August 22, 1773, aged sixty-four. His History is now little read. It took him, it is said, thirty years to write it, and he employed another man to point it — a fact recalling what is told of Macaulay, that he sent the first volume of his History of England to Lord Jeffrey, who overlooked the punctuation and criticised the style. Of a series of Dialogues issued by this writer, Dr. Johnson remarked, with his usual pointed severity, "Here is a man telling the world what the world had all his life been telling him." His Monody expresses real grief in an artificial style, but has some stanzas as natural in the expression as they are pathetic in the feeling.