Rev. Laurence Eusden

John Holland, "Lawrence Eusden" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 59-62.

Yorkshire supplied one name to the list of Poets Laureate, in the subject of this notice, who was the son of Dr. Eusden, Rector of Spalsworth. After going through the usual routine of what is generally termed a grammatical education, he was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, and entering into orders, became chaplain to Richard Lord Willoughby De Broke, which situation he held for a considerable time. During the period of Eusden's residence in the University, he was generally considered to be a young man of promise; his natural abilities were far from mean, his elevated acquirements respectable, and he was allowed by most judges to excel in Latin versification. Of this latter accomplishment he gave a specimen in his translation of the poem on the Battle of the Boyne, written by Lord Halifax. This production, as might be expected, was the means of introducing the poet to his Lordship, who, pleased with the compliment paid him, professed himself the patron of the poet, and thus made him more extensively known in the literary circle. Eusden himself was not backward in seizing every opportunity for displaying what talents he possessed, and thus seconded the intentions of his patron. He wrote various papers for the Spectator and Guardian, as well as some laudatory verses on the Cato of Addison; and on the marriage of the Duke of Newcastle with Lady Henrietta Godolphin, he produced an Epithalamium for the occasion, which induced his Grace, when Lord Chamberlain, to confer on him, in 1718, the office of Poet Laureate, vacant by the death of Rowe. The appointment of Eusden to this post was the signal for a general attack upon the unfortunate poet and his patron. Oldmixon, in his "Art of Logic and Rhetoric," thus ironically expresses himself on the subject — "the putting the laurel on the head of one who writ such verses will give futurity a very lively idea of the judgment and justice of those who bestowed it." Cooke, in his "Battle of the Poets," declares that

Eusden, a laurell'd bard, by fortune rais'd
By very few was read, by fewer prais'd.

The Duke of Buckingham thus introduces him in his "Session of the Poets:"

In rush'd Eusden, and cry'd, Who shall have it,
But I, the true Laureate, to whom the King gave it?
Apollo begg'd pardon, and granted his claim,
But vow'd that till then he'd ne'er heard of his name.

And Pope, when speaking of his rivals, says of the Goddess of Dulness, that—

She saw old Pryn in restless Daniel shine,
And Eusden eke out Blackmore's endless line.

But Nichols, who has inserted several of Eusden's pieces in his "Select Collection of Poems," gives what we should consider the true reason for our poet's elevation to the laureateship, and justifies the Duke of Newcastle. These are his words: "that he" (Eusden) "was no inconsiderable versifier, the specimens here selected will evince; and as his moral character appears to have been respectable, his Grace acted a generous part in providing a man who had conferred an obligation on him. The first-rate poets were either of principles very different from the government, or thought themselves too distinguished to undergo the drudgery of an annual Ode." It appears, indeed, most reasonable to believe that the abuse which was poured on Eusden on this occasion, may, and indeed ought to be, attributed rather to the splenetic feelings of disappointed expectants of the laurete's pension, than to the insignificance of the Laureate's poetical abilities. Eusden held the Laureateship twelve years, and during that time he translated, but never published the Jerusalem Delivered of Tasso. Drake, in his "Essays illustrative of the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian," says that "towards the close of his life, he" (Eusden) "became addicted to habits of intoxication," probably this piece of information was taken from the following note, signed R., and appended to Nichols' Notice of Eusden, in the "Select Collection of Poems;" "In some old book, which I cannot recollect, I have seen it observed, that Eusden set out well in life, but afterwards turned out a drunkard, and besotted his faculties away" — but surely it is not right or justifiable to accuse a man of habitual drunkenness on such indefinite and anonymous testimony as this; and I have thus alluded to the charge, merely to shew the slender foundation on which it seems to be based, and with the hope of removing, if possible, some portion of the misrepresentation which has been used in order to defame an apparently unoffending, and perhaps innocent man. Eusden died at his Rectory of Conigsby, in Lincolnshire, Sept. 27th, 1730. In the "Spectator" there are two letters of our author: — one in No. 54, descriptive of the University Loungers, and one in No. 87, on Idols. In the "Guardian," three communications are ascribed to him — the first a letter in No. 124, under the title of "More Roarings of the Lion;" the second, "A Version of the Court of Venus, from Claudian, in No. 127; and the third is No. 164, and contains a translation from the same poet of "The Speech of Pluto to Proserpine." The following lines are from one of about a dozen of his poetical pieces, inserted in Nichols' "Select Collection of Poems:"—

TO MR. —,
You ask, my friend, how I can Delia prize,
When Myra's shape I view, or Cynthia's eyes:
No tedious answer shall create you pain,
For beauty, if but beauty, I disdain;
'Tis not a mien that can my will control,
A speaking body with a silent soul;
The loveliest face to me no lovely shows,
From the sweet lips if melting nonsense flows.