1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Rymer

John Holland, "Thomas Rymer" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 52-54.



Thomas Rymer, who is more generally known as an Antiquarian Collector and Historiographer, than as a poet, was born in the little village of Kirby Wiske, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and educated at Grammar School of Northallerton, from which place Kirby is distant but three or four miles. After quitting the University, he became a member of Gray's Inn, and in 1678 wrote "The English Monarch," an heroic tragedy. Besides several other pieces, and illustrations in verse, he published, in folio, "A Poem on the Arrival of Queen Mary, February 12th, 1689." Nichols, in his Collection of "Select Poets," says truly enough, that on Mr. Rymer's poetry "much commendation cannot be bestowed, but he was an excellent Antiquary and Historian." On the death of Shadwell, in 1692, Rymer was appointed Historiographer Royal to William III.; he formed an immense collection of public acts, treaties, convocations, state letters, published in London under the title of Foedera, in 17 vols., folio; an edition was also printed at the Hague subsequently, in 10 vols.; the work was afterwards, by Sanderson's additions, extended to 20 vols., it has latterly been reprinted under the direction of the Record Commission. Rymer was also the author of "The Tragedies of the last age considered and examined by the practice of the antients, and by the common sense of all ages. In a letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, Esq., Part 1." (a second edition of this work appeared), and also "A Short view of Tragedy in its original, excellency, and corruption. With some reflections on Shakespeare and other practitioners for the stage. Both by Mr. Rymer, servant to their Majesties:" this work provoked several severe animadversions on the author. The author of the Biographia Dramatica, in noticing Rymer's neglected tragedy of Edgar, says of the author, "The severities which he has exerted, in his view of the tragedies of the last age, against the inimitable Shakspeare, are scarcely to be forgiven, and must surely be considered as a kind of sacrilege committed on the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Muses." Rymer died December 14th, 1713.

He appears to have been the enthusiastic admirer, and, probably, the friend of Edmund Waller, the poet, whose death he thus laments:—

Waller is dead; and lofty number's lost;
Now English verse (with nothing left to boast)
May hobble on, and vex good Pindar's ghost.
What was it three and eighty years to live?
Short is this boon to what the Muses give:
They so insur'd his immortality,
That scarce he knew, in any kind, to die.
Two ages he the sacred garland bore;
Peerless in this, and prince of that before.
Rare genius, his; alike their glory made,
In glittering courts, and in the country shade.
There, by four kings, belov'd, how high he shone!
Inseparable jewel of the crown;
Yet thence no borrow'd heat or lustre got,
Warm of himself; and sun he wanted not.
And if the diamond stood hard fortune's shock,
Thanks to his old hereditary rock.
For all the court, for all the Muse's snares;
Our journals also tell his public cares.
From James to James, they count him o'er and o'er,
In four successive reigns, a senator.
On him, amidst the legislative throng,
Their eyes, and ears, and every heart, they hung;
Within those walls if we Apollo knew,
Less could he warm, nor throw a shaft so true.
What life, what lightning, blanch'd around the chair?
(It was no house if Waller was not there:)
And that respect still to his speech, or nods,
As he had come from Councils of the gods.
How would he tune their contradicting notes?
With ready wit facilitate the votes!
And in his verse, so every where display
An air of something great, and something gay?
And like Amphion, when he form'd a town,
Put life in every stock, and every stone?
Oh! had he liv'd one meeting more to sit,
How would the times his generous mind have hit!
What he so long contested for, in vain,
Let loose from all ecclesiastic chain,
With transport he would find religion free,
And now no longer a monopoly.