« FöregåendeFortsätt »
but as a system of rational government, and impartial justice. He had the advantage of the friendship and protection of Sir George Treby, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, who was very fond of him, and had it both in his power and inclination to promote his interest. But, being left to his own direction, by the death of his father, at the age of 19, he suffered law to give way to poetry..
At the age of 25, that is in the year 1698, he is said to have produced his first Tragedy, The Ambitious StepMother; the Biographia Dramatica, however, does not state this to have been printed before 1700. The same work states, that “ the design of the play seems to have “ been taken from the establishing Solomon on the " Throne of David, by Bathsheba, Zadock the Priest, " and Nathan the Prophet. See 1 Kings, ch. 1. from 66 ver. 5." The author, however, in his Dedication to The Earl of Jersey, says of the fable of this play, that it “ has no manner of relation to any part of true . « history”. In the establishing of Solomon on the Throne of David, Solomon was the rightful successor to the throne by divine appointment. The Son, the Queen, the Priest and the Prophet, therefore, are all in the right in Solomon's case. But, in The Ambitious Step-Mother, The Queen, her Son, the Statesman, and the Priest, all conspire to exclude the rightful heir. The characters, too, and the catastrophe, are all too dissimilar to allow of more than the first general resemblance of the StepMother endeavouring to establish her son upon the throne to the exclusion of an elder son of her husband by a former marriage. Mr. Dibdin (vol. iv. p. 295.) says, “ There is an originality and a strength in the language 66 of this play in places that Rowe never afterwards ex66 ceeded.” With this impression, and with the idea of finding the story of Solomon's accession to the throne happily dramatised, I have just read the play, but have suffered considerable disappointment, both as to the conduct of the play and the language. The scene in the second act between Memnon and Magas, is considered by some as the groundwork of that between Tamerlane
and the Dervise in our author's second play, produced in
The Fair Penitent. T. 1703.
Lady Jane Gray. 1715. Of Rowe's Plays Welwood remarks, that "it may “ be justly said of them all, that never Poet painted « l'irtue or Religion in a more charming Dress on the " stage, nor were ever Vice and Impiety better exposed 66 to Contempt and Hatred. There runs through every 66 one of them an Air of Religion and Virtue, attended “ with all the Social Duties of Life, and a constant un66 tainted Love to his Country. The same Principles “ of Liberty he had early imbibed himself, and seem'd
a part of his Constitution, appeared in every thing he “ wrote, and he took all Occasions that fell in his Way, 6 to make the Stage subservient to them. His Muse was « so religiously Chast, that I do not remember one 66 Word in any of his Plays or Writings that might admit
but of a double Entendre in point of Decency or “ Morals. There is nothing to be found in them to “ humour the deprav'd Taste of the Age, by nibbling " at Scripture, or depreciating Things in themselves 66 Sacred; and it was the less wonder, that he observed “ this Rule in his Dramatick Performances, since in his “ ordinary Conversation, and when his Mirth and “ Humour enliven'd the whole Company, he us'd to “ express his Dissatisfaction, in the severest Manner, “ with any thing that look'd that way. Being much “ Conversant in the Holy Scriptures, it's observable 66 that to raise the highest Ideas of Virtue, he has with “ great Art in several of his Tragedies made use of those 56 Expressions and Metaphors in them, that taste most 06 of the Sublime.” p. XX.
That this is true to a considerable extent, on comparing Rowe with the Dramatists of his time, and considering the notions which then prevailed of stage morality and stage piety, I am willing to admit; but I should think myself wanting in my duty not to express my sentiments of much which Rowe has written. The Dramatic Censor (vol 11. p. 462.) goes so far as to say, “ it is not an ex“ aggerated compliment to say of him, asLORDLITTLETON 66 has done of Thompson, that he never wrote a line 66 which, dying, he might wish to blot.” In the Notes to my Discourses on the Stage I have noticed much of the morality of some of his plays, especially The Fair Penitent and Jane Shore. On the former of these Dr. Johnson says, in his Life of Rowe, 6 The character of 66 Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson 66 into Lovelace; but he has excelled his original in the
66 moral effect of the fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which , "6 cannot be hated, and bravery which cannot be despised,
(6 retains too much of the spectator's kindness. It was 66 in the power of Richardson alone to teach us at once “ esteem and detestation, to make virtuous resentment “ over-power all the benevolence which wit, elegance, " and courage, naturally excite; and to lose at last the 66 hero in the villain.” p. 62.
In the Fair Penitent a great deal too much, and in too warm a manner, is said by Lothario of his passion for Calista. The same fault may be found with the scene between Jane Shore and Hastings, as it stands in the original, and also of some of the Scenes in the Ambitious Step-Mother. And, although there is a great deal in Rowe's plays which shews a considerable attachment to religion; yet there are many things said respecting it and its priests of various descriptions in so vague and unguarded a manner, as will tend to strengthen the prejudices and aversions which too many bear against religion and its priests in general. His love of liberty, too, seems sometimes to grow into turbulence and faction, and too indiscriminate an aversion to great men. His knowledge of Scripture has certainly sometimes greatly enriched his language and figures. Many of these passages will be pointed out in the Notes when they occur.
Rowe translated from the Greek the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, which are published in the translation of Dacier's Life of that Philosopher, 8vo. 1707. and also a translation of the first book of Quillet's Poem. These Dr. Johnson says “ have nothing in them remarkable. “ The GoldenVcrses are tedious.” (p. 72) An abridgment of the Golden Verses in stanzas is to be met with in many selections and books for young persons; in this form they are less tedious and worthy of being committed to memory.
In the year 1709, Rowe published an edition of Shakspeare's plays, in 7 volumes 8vo., the first regular edition which had then been published since the folios. In the Preface to this he gave such an account of his author as tradition, then almost expiring, could
His attachment to poetry did not entirely unfit him for business; for, when the duke of Queensbury was made Secretary-of-state, he was his under-secretary for public affairs for three years: but, after the duke's death, the avenues to his preferment being stopped, he passed hiš time in retirement during the rest of Queen Anne's reign. On the accession of King George the first, in 1714, he was made poet-laureat and one of the land surveyors of the customs in the port of London. He was also clerk of the council to the prince of Wales, and the lord chancellor Parker made him his secretary for the prea sentations, the very day he received the seals, and with. out his asking it.
The last work undertaken by Rowe was a translation of Lucan's Pharsalia, which he lived to finish, but not to publish. He died the 6th of December, 1718, in the forty-fifth year of his age; and was buried the 19th of the same month in Westminster Abbey, in the aisle where many of our English Poets are interred, over against Chaucer, his body being attended by a select number of his friends, and the dean and choir officiating at the funeral. The title page to the folio edition of Rowe's Lucan is dated 1718. The Preface by Dr. Welwood is dated Feb. 26, 1719. The Dedication to King George the first is by his wife. Of this work Dr. Johnson says, “ The version of Lucan is one of the greatest productions “ of English Poetry; for there is perhaps none that so " completely exhibits thegenius and spirit of the original." 66 -The Pharsalia of Rowe deserves more notice than it “ obtains, and as it is more read will be more esteemed.” p. 72.
“As to his Person,” says Dr.Welwood, “it was graceful “ and well made, his Face regular and of a Manly Beauty. " As his Soul was well lodg'd, so its Rational and "6 Animal Faculties excell'd in a high Degree. He had “ a quick and fruitful Invention, a deep Penetration, “ and a large Compass of Thought, with a singular “ Dexterity, and Easiness in making his Thoughts to be “ understood. He was Master of most parts of Polite • Learning, especially the Classical Authors both Greek " and Latin, understood the French, Italian and Spanish “ languages, and spoke the first fluently, and the other “ two tolerably well.
* He had likewise read most of the Greek and Roman “ Histories in their Original Languages, and most that “ are writ in English, French, Italian and Spanish. “ He had a good Taste in Philosophy, and having a firm “ Impression of Religion upon his Mind, he took great 66 delight in Divinity and Ecclesiastical History, in both 66 which he made great Advances in the times he retir'd “ into the country, which were frequent. He exprest on - all Occasions his full Perswasion of the Truth of " Reveal'd Religion, and being a sincere Member of the “ Establish'd Church himself, he pitied, but condemn'd 66 not those that dissented from it. He abhor'd the " Principle of Persecuting Men upon the Account of “ their Opinions in Religion; and being strict in his own, C6 he took it not upon him to censure those of another 66 Perswasion. His Conversation was Pleasant, Witty, 66 and Learn'd, without the least Tincture of Affectation 66 or Pedantry, and his inimitable Manner of Diverting « and Enlivening the Company, made it impossible for “ any one to be out of Humour when he was in it. 66 Envy and Detraction seem'd to be entirely Foreign to « his Constitution: And whatever Provocations he met