The following life was written, at my request, by a gentleman (Mr. Herbert Croft) who had better information than I could easily have obtained; and the public will perhaps wish that I had solicited and obtained more such favours from him:—
“Dear Sir, — In consequence of our different conversations about authentic materials for the Life of Young, I send you the following details:" —
Of great men something must always be said to gratify curiosity. Of the illustrious author of the “Night Thoughts” much has been told of which there never could have been proofs, and little care appears to have been taken to tell that of which proofs, with little trouble, might have been procured.
Edward Young was born at Upham, near Winchester, in June, 1681. He was the son of Edward Young, at that time Fellow of Winchester College, and Rector of Upham, who was the son of Jo. Young, of Woodhay, in Berkshire, styled by Wood, GENTLEMAN. In September, 1682, the poet’s father was collated to the prebend of Gillingham Minor, in the church of Sarum, by Bishop Ward. When Ward’s faculties were impaired through age, his duties were necessarily performed by others. We learn from Wood that, at a visitation of Sprat’s, July the 12th, 1686, the prebendary preached a Latin sermon, afterwards published, with which the Bishop was so pleased, that he told the chapter he was concerned to find the preacher had one of the worst prebends in their Church. Some time after this, in consequence of his merit and reputation, or of the interest of Lord Bradford, to whom, in 1702, he dedicated two volumes of sermons, he was appointed chaplain to King William and Queen Mary, and preferred to the Deanery of Sarum. Jacob, who wrote in 1720, says, “he was Chaplain and Clerk of the Closet to the late Queen, who honoured him by standing godmother to the poet.” His Fellowship of Winchester he resigned in favour of a gentleman of the name of Harris, who married his only daughter. The Dean died at Sarum, after a short illness, in 1705, in the sixty-third year of his age. On the Sunday after his decease, Bishop Burnet preached at the cathedral, and began his sermon with saying, “Death has been of late walking round us, and making breach upon breach upon us, and has now carried away the head of this body with a stroke, so that he, whom you saw a week ago distributing the holy mysteries, is now laid in the dust. But he still lives in the many excellent directions he has left us both how to live and how to die.”
The dean placed his son upon the foundation at Winchester College, where he had himself been educated. At this school Edward Young remained till the election after his eighteenth birthday, the period at which those upon the foundation are superannuated. Whether he did not betray his abilities early in life, or his masters had not skill enough to discover in their pupil any marks of genius for which he merited reward, or no vacancy at Oxford offered them an opportunity to bestow upon him the reward provided for merit by William of Wykeham; certain it is, that to an Oxford fellowship our poet did not succeed. By chance, or by choice, New College cannot claim the honour of numbering among its fellows him who wrote the “Night Thoughts.”
On the 13th of October, 1703, he was entered an independent member of New College, that he might live at little expense in the warden’s lodgings, who was a particular friend of his father’s, till he should be qualified to stand for a fellowship at All Souls. In a few months the warden of New College died. He then removed to Corpus College. The president of this society, from regard also for his father, invited him thither, in order to lessen his academical expenses. In 1708 he was nominated to a law-fellowship at All Souls by Archbishop Tenison, into whose hands it came by devolution. Such repeated patronage, while it justifies Burnet’s praise of the father, reflects credit on the conduct of the son. The manner in which it was exerted seems to prove that the father did not leave behind him much wealth.
On the 23rd of April, 1714, Young took his degree of bachelor of civil laws, and his doctor’s degree on the 10th of June, 1719. Soon after he went to Oxford he discovered, it is said, an inclination for pupils. Whether he ever commenced tutor is not known. None has hitherto boasted to have received his academical instruction from the author of “Night Thoughts.” It is probable that his College was proud of him no less as a scholar than as a poet; for in 1716, when the foundation of the Codrington Library was laid, two years after he had taken his bachelor’s degree, Young was appointed to speak the Latin oration. This is at least particular for being dedicated in English “To the Ladies of the Codrington Family.” To these ladies he says “that he was unavoidably flung into a singularity, by being obliged to write an epistle dedicatory void of commonplace, and such an one was never published before by any author whatever; that this practice absolved them from any obligation of reading what was presented to them; and that the bookseller approved of it, because it would make people stare, was absurd enough and perfectly right.” Of this oration there is no appearance in his own edition of his works; and prefixed to an edition by Curll and Tonson, in 1741, is a letter from Young to Curll, if we may credit Curll, dated December the 9th, 1739, wherein he says that he has not leisure to review what he formerly wrote, and adds, “I have not the ‘Epistle to Lord Lansdowne.’ If you will take my advice, I would have you omit that, and the oration on Codrington. I think the collection will sell better without them.”
There are who relate that, when first Young found himself independent, and his own master at All Souls, he was not the ornament to religion and morality which he afterwards became. The authority of his father, indeed, had ceased, some time before, by his death; and Young was certainly not ashamed to be patronised by the infamous Wharton. But Wharton befriended in Young, perhaps, the poet, and particularly the tragedian. If virtuous authors must be patronised only by virtuous peers, who shall point them out? Yet Pope is said by Ruffhead to have told Warburton that “Young had much of a sublime genius, though without common sense; so that his genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into bombast. This made him pass a FOOLISH YOUTH, the sport of peers and poets: but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency, and afterwards with honour.”
They who think ill of Young’s morality in the early part of his life may perhaps be wrong; but Tindal could not err in his opinion of Young’s warmth and ability in the cause of religion. Tindal used to spend much of his time at All Souls. “The other boys,” said the atheist, “I can always answer, because I always know whence they have their arguments, which I have read a hundred times; but that fellow Young is continually pestering me with something of his own.”
After all, Tindal and the censurers of Young may be reconcilable. Young might, for two or three years, have tried that kind of life, in which his natural principles would not suffer him to wallow long. If this were so, he has left behind him not only his evidence in favour of virtue, but the potent testimony of experience against vice. We shall soon see that one of his earliest productions was more serious than what comes from the generality of unfledged poets.
Young perhaps ascribed the good fortune of Addison to the “Poem to his Majesty,” presented with a copy of verses, to Somers: and hoped that he also might soar to wealth and honours on wings of the same kind. His first poetical flight was when Queen Anne called up to the House of Lords the sons of the Earls of Northampton and Aylesbury, and added, in one day, ten others to the number of Peers. In order to reconcile the people to one, at least, of the new lords, he published, in 1712, “An Epistle to the Right Honourable George Lord Lansdowne.” In this composition the poet pours out his panegyric with the extravagance of a young man, who thinks his present stock of wealth will never be exhausted. The poem seems intended also to reconcile the public to the late peace. This is endeavoured to be done by showing that men are slain in war, and that in peace “harvests wave, and commerce swells her sail.” If this be humanity, for which he meant it, is it politics? Another purpose of this epistle appears to have been to prepare the public for the reception of some tragedy he might have in hand. His lordship’s patronage, he says, will not let him “repent his passion for the stage;” and the particular praise bestowed on Othello and Oroonoko looks as if some such character as Zanga was even then in contemplation. The affectionate mention of the death of his friend Harrison of New College, at the close of this poem, is an instance of Young’s art, which displayed itself so wonderfully some time afterwards in the “Night Thoughts,” of making the public a party in his private sorrow. Should justice call upon you to censure this poem, it ought at least to be remembered that he did not insert it in his works; and that in the letter to Curll, as we have seen, he advises its omission. The booksellers, in the late body of English poetry, should have distinguished what was deliberately rejected by the respective authors. This I shall be careful to do with regard to Young. “I think,” says he, “the following pieces in FOUR volumes to be the most excusable of all that I have written; and I wish LESS APOLOGY was less needful for these. As there is no recalling what is got abroad, the pieces here republished I have revised and corrected, and rendered them as PARDONABLE as it was in my power to do.”
Shall the gates of repentance be shut only against literary sinners?
When Addison published “Cato” in 1713, Young had the honour of prefixing to it a recommendatory copy of verses. This is one of the pieces which the author of the “Night Thoughts” did not republish.
On the appearance of his poem on the “Last Day,” Addison did not return Young’s compliment; but “The Englishman” of October 29, 1713, which was probably written by Addison, speaks handsomely of this poem. The “Last Day” was published soon after the peace. The Vice–Chancellor’s imprimatur (for it was printed at Oxford) is dated the 19th, 1713. From the exordium, Young appears to have spent some time on the composition of it. While other bards “with Britain’s hero set their souls on fire,” he draws, he says, a deeper scene. Marlborough HAD BEEN considered by Britain as her HERO; but, when the “Last Day” was published, female cabal had blasted for a time the laurels of Blenheim. This serious poem was finished by Young as early as 1710, before he was thirty; for part of it is printed in the Tatler. It was inscribed to the queen, in a dedication, which, for some reason, he did not admit into his works. It tells her that his only title to the great honour he now does himself is the obligation which he formerly received from her royal indulgence. Of this obligation nothing is now known, unless he alluded to her being his godmother. He is said indeed to have been engaged at a settled stipend as a writer for the Court. In Swift’s “Rhapsody on Poetry” are these lines, speaking of the Court:—
“Whence Gay was banished in disgrace,
Where Pope will never show his face,
Where Y—— must torture his invention
To flatter knaves, or lose his pension.”
That Y—— means Young seems clear from four other lines in the same poem:—
“Attend, ye Popes, and Youngs, and Gays,
And tune your harps and strew your bays;
Your panegyrics here provide;
You cannot err on flattery’s side.”
Yet who shall say with certainty that Young was a pensioner? In all modern periods of this country, have not the writers on one side been regularly called Hirelings, and on the other Patriots?
Of the dedication the complexion is clearly political. It speaks in the highest terms of the late peace; it gives her Majesty praise indeed for her victories, but says that the author is more pleased to see her rise from this lower world, soaring above the clouds, passing the first and second heavens, and leaving the fixed stars behind her; nor will he lose her there, he says, but keep her still in view through the boundless spaces on the other side of creation, in her journey towards eternal bliss, till he behold the heaven of heavens open, and angels receiving and conveying her still onward from the stretch of his imagination, which tires in her pursuit, and falls back again to earth.
The queen was soon called away from this lower world, to a place where human praise or human flattery, even less general than this, are of little consequence. If Young thought the dedication contained only the praise of truth, he should not have omitted it in his works. Was he conscious of the exaggeration of party? Then he should not have written it. The poem itself is not without a glance towards politics, notwithstanding the subject. The cry that the Church was in danger had not yet subsided. The “Last Day,” written by a layman, was much approved by the ministry and their friends.
Before the queen’s death, “The Force of Religion, or Vanquished Love,” was sent into the world. This poem is founded on the execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Lord Guildford, 1554, a story chosen for the subject of a tragedy by Edmund Smith, and wrought into a tragedy by Rowe. The dedication of it to the Countess of Salisbury does not appear in his own edition. He hopes it may be some excuse for his presumption that the story could not have been read without thoughts of the Countess of Salisbury, though it had been dedicated to another. “To behold,” he proceeds, “a person ONLY virtuous, stirs in us a prudent regret; to behold a person ONLY amiable to the sight, warms us with a religious indignation; but to turn our eyes to a Countess of Salisbury, gives us pleasure and improvement; it works a sort of miracle, occasions the bias of our nature to fall off from sin, and makes our very senses and affections converts to our religion, and promoters of our duty.” His flattery was as ready for the other sex as for ours, and was at least as well adapted.
August the 27th, 1714, Pope writes to his friend Jervas, that he is just arrived from Oxford; that every one is much concerned for the queen’s death, but that no panegyrics are ready yet for the king. Nothing like friendship has yet taken place between Pope and Young, for, soon after the event which Pope mentions, Young published a poem on the queen’s death, and his Majesty’s accession to the throne. It is inscribed to Addison, then secretary to the Lords Justices. Whatever were the obligations which he had formerly received from Anne, the poet appears to aim at something of the same sort from George. Of the poem the intention seems to have been, to show that he had the same extravagant strain of praise for a king as for a queen. To discover, at the very onset of a foreigner’s reign, that the gods bless his new subjects in such a king is something more than praise. Neither was this deemed one of his excusable pieces. We do not find it in his works.
Young’s father had been well acquainted with Lady Anne Wharton, the first wife of Thomas Wharton, Esq., afterwards Marquis of Wharton; a lady celebrated for her poetical talents by Burnet and by Waller.
To the Dean of Sarum’s visitation sermon, already mentioned, were added some verses “by that excellent poetess, Mrs. Anne Wharton,” upon its being translated into English, at the instance of Waller by Atwood. Wharton, after he became ennobled, did not drop the son of his old friend. In him, during the short time he lived, Young found a patron, and in his dissolute descendant a friend and a companion. The marquis died in April, 1715. In the beginning of the next year, the young marquis set out upon his travels, from which he returned in about a twelvemonth. The beginning of 1717 carried him to Ireland: where, says the Biographia, “on the score of his extraordinary qualities, he had the honour done him of being admitted, though under age, to take his seat in the House of Lords.” With this unhappy character it is not unlikely that Young went to Ireland. From his letter to Richardson on “Original Composition,” it is clear he was, at some period of his life, in that country. “I remember,” says he, in that letter, speaking of Swift, “as I and others were taking with him an evening walk, about a mile out of Dublin, he stopped short; we passed on; but perceiving he did not follow us, I went back, and found him fixed as a statue, and earnestly gazing upward at a noble elm, which in its uppermost branches was much withered and decayed. Pointing at it, he said, ‘I shall be like that tree, I shall die at top.’” Is it not probable, that this visit to Ireland was paid when he had an opportunity of going thither with his avowed friend and patron?
From “The Englishman” it appears that a tragedy by Young was in the theatre so early as 1713. Yet Busiris was not brought upon Drury Lane stage till 1719. It was inscribed to the Duke of Newcastle, “because the late instances he had received of his grace’s undeserved and uncommon favour, in an affair of some consequence, foreign to the theatre, had taken from him the privilege of choosing a patron.” The Dedication he afterwards suppressed.
Busiris was followed in the year 1721 by The Revenge. He dedicated this famous tragedy to the Duke of Wharton. “Your Grace,” says the Dedication, “has been pleased to make yourself accessory to the following scenes, not only by suggesting the most beautiful incident in them, but by making all possible provision for the success of the whole.” That his grace should have suggested the incident to which he alludes, whatever that incident might have been, is not unlikely. The last mental exertion of the superannuated young man, in his quarters at Lerida, in Spain, was some scenes of a tragedy on the story of Mary Queen of Scots.
Dryden dedicated “Marriage a la Mode” to Wharton’s infamous relation Rochester, whom he acknowledges not only as the defender of his poetry, but as the promoter of his fortune. Young concludes his address to Wharton thus — “My present fortune is his bounty, and my future his care; which I will venture to say will be always remembered to his honour, since he, I know, intended his generosity as an encouragement to merit, though through his very pardonable partiality to one who bears him so sincere a duty and respect, I happen to receive the benefit of it.” That he ever had such a patron as Wharton, Young took all the pains in his power to conceal from the world, by excluding this dedication from his works. He should have remembered that he at the same time concealed his obligation to Wharton for THE MOST BEAUTIFUL INCIDENT in what is surely not his least beautiful composition. The passage just quoted is, in a poem afterwards addressed to Walpole, literally copied:
“Be this thy partial smile from censure free!
’Twas meant for merit, though it fell on me.”
While Young, who, in his “Love of Fame,” complains grievously how often “dedications wash an AEthiop white,” was painting an amiable Duke of Wharton in perishable prose, Pope was, perhaps, beginning to describe the “scorn and wonder of his days” in lasting verse. To the patronage of such a character, had Young studied men as much as Pope, he would have known how little to have trusted. Young, however, was certainly indebted to it for something material; and the duke’s regard for Young, added to his lust of praise, procured to All Souls College a donation, which was not forgotten by the poet when he dedicated The Revenge.
It will surprise you to see me cite second Atkins, Case 136, Stiles versus the Attorney–General, March 14, 1740, as authority for the life of a poet. But biographers do not always find such certain guides as the oaths of the persons whom they record. Chancellor Hardwicke was to determine whether two annuities, granted by the Duke of Wharton to Young, were for legal considerations. One was dated the 24th March, 1719, and accounted for his grace’s bounty in a style princely and commendable, if not legal — “considering that the public good is advanced by the encouragement of learning and the polite arts, and being pleased therein with the attempts of Dr. Young, in consideration thereof, and of the love I bear him, etc.” The other was dated the 10th of July, 1722.
Young, on his examination, swore that he quitted the Exeter family, and refused an annuity of 100 pounds which had been offered him for life if he would continue tutor to Lord Burleigh, upon the pressing solicitations of the Duke of Wharton, and his grace’s assurances of providing for him in a much more ample manner. It also appeared that the duke had given him a bond for 600 pounds dated the 15th of March, 1721, in consideration of his taking several journeys, and being at great expenses, in order to be chosen member of the House of Commons, at the duke’s desire, and in consideration of his not taking two livings of 200 pounds and 400 pounds in the gift of All Souls College, on his grace’s promises of serving and advancing him in the world.
Of his adventures in the Exeter family I am unable to give any account. The attempt to get into Parliament was at Cirencester, where Young stood a contested election. His grace discovered in him talents for oratory as well as for poetry. Nor was this judgment wrong. Young, after he took orders, became a very popular preacher, and was much followed for the grace and animation of his delivery. By his oratorical talents he was once in his life, according to the Biographia, deserted. As he was preaching in his turn at St. James’s, he plainly perceived it was out of his power to command the attention of his audience. This so affected the feelings of the preacher, that he sat back in the pulpit, and burst into tears. But we must pursue his poetical life.
In 1719 he lamented the death of Addison, in a letter addressed to their common friend Tickell. For the secret history of the following lines, if they contain any, it is now vain to seek:
“IN JOY ONCE JOINED, in sorrow, now, for years —
Partner in grief, and brother of my tears,
Tickell, accept this verse, thy mournful due.”
From your account of Tickell it appears that he and Young used to “communicate to each other whatever verses they wrote, even to the least things.”
In 1719 appeared a “Paraphrase on Part of the Book of Job.” Parker, to whom it is dedicated, had not long, by means of the seals, been qualified for a patron. Of this work the author’s opinion may be known from his letter to Curll: “You seem, in the Collection you propose, to have omitted what I think may claim the first place in it; I mean ‘a Translation from part of Job,’ printed by Mr. Tonson.” The Dedication, which was only suffered to appear in Mr. Tonson’s edition, while it speaks with satisfaction of his present retirement, seems to make an unusual struggle to escape from retirement. But every one who sings in the dark does not sing from joy. It is addressed, in no common strain of flattery, to a chancellor, of whom he clearly appears to have had no kind of knowledge.
Of his Satires it would not have been possible to fix the dates without the assistance of first editions, which, as you had occasion to observe in your account of Dryden, are with difficulty found. We must then have referred to the poems, to discover when they were written. For these internal notes of time we should not have referred in vain. The first Satire laments, that “Guilt’s chief foe in Addison is fled.” The second, addressing himself, asks:—
“Is thy ambition sweating for a rhyme,
Thou unambitious fool, at this late time?
A fool at FORTY is a fool indeed.”
The Satires were originally published separately in folio, under the title of “The Universal Passion.” These passages fix the appearance of the first to about 1725, the time at which it came out. As Young seldom suffered his pen to dry after he had once dipped it in poetry, we may conclude that he began his Satires soon after he had written the “Paraphrase on Job.” The last Satire was certainly finished in the beginning of the year 1726. In December, 1725, the King, in his passage from Helvoetsluys, escaped with great difficulty from a storm by landing at Rye; and the conclusion of the Satire turns the escape into a miracle, in such an encomiastic strain of compliment as poetry too often seeks to pay to royalty. From the sixth of these poems we learn,
“‘Midst empire’s charms, how Carolina’s heart
Glowed with the love of virtue and of art.”
Since the grateful poet tells us, in the next couplet,
“Her favour is diffused to that degree,
Excess of goodness! it has dawned on me.”
Her Majesty had stood godmother, and given her name, to the daughter of the lady whom Young married in 1731; and had perhaps shown some attention to Lady Elizabeth’s future husband.
The fifth Satire, “On Women,” was not published till 1727; and the sixth not till 1728.
To these poems, when, in 1728, he gathered them into one publication, he prefixed a Preface, in which he observes that “no man can converse much in the world, but at what he meets with he must either be insensible or grieve, or be angry or smile. Now to smile at it, and turn it into ridicule,” he adds, “I think most eligible, as it hurts ourselves least, and gives vice and folly the greatest offence. Laughing at the misconduct of the world will, in a great measure, ease us of any more disagreeable passion about it. One passion is more effectually driven out by another than by reason, whatever some teach.” So wrote, and so of course thought, the lively and witty satirist at the grave age of almost fifty, who, many years earlier in life, wrote the “Last Day.” After all, Swift pronounced of these Satires, that they should either have been more angry or more merry.
Is it not somewhat singular that Young preserved, without any palliation, this Preface, so bluntly decisive in favour of laughing at the world, in the same collection of his works which contains the mournful, angry, gloomy “Night Thoughts!” At the conclusion of the Preface he applies Plato’s beautiful fable of the “Birth of Love” to modern poetry, with the addition, “that Poetry, like Love, is a little subject to blindness, which makes her mistake her way to preferments and honours; and that she retains a dutiful admiration of her father’s family; but divides her favours, and generally lives with her mother’s relations.” Poetry, it is true, did not lead Young to preferments or to honours; but was there not something like blindness in the flattery which he sometimes forced her, and her sister Prose, to utter? She was always, indeed, taught by him to entertain a most dutiful admiration of riches; but surely Young, though nearly related to Poetry, had no connection with her whom Plato makes the mother of Love. That he could not well complain of being related to Poverty appears clearly from the frequent bounties which his gratitude records, and from the wealth which he left behind him. By “The Universal Passion” he acquired no vulgar fortune — more than three thousand pounds. A considerable sum had already been swallowed up in the South Sea. For this loss he took the vengeance of an author. His Muse makes poetical use more than once of a South Sea Dream.
It is related by Mr. Spence, in his “Manuscript Anecdotes,” on the authority of Mr. Rawlinson, that Young, upon the publication of his “Universal Passion,” received from the Duke of Grafton two thousand pounds; and that, when one of his friends exclaimed, “Two thousand pounds for a poem!” he said it was the best bargain he ever made in his life, for the poem was worth four thousand. This story may be true; but it seems to have been raised from the two answers of Lord Burghley and Sir Philip Sidney in Spenser’s Life.
After inscribing his Satires, not perhaps without the hopes of preferments and honours, to such names as the Duke of Dorset, Mr. Dodington, Mr. Spencer Compton, Lady Elizabeth Germain, and Sir Robert Walpole, he returns to plain panegyric. In 1726 he addressed a poem to Sir Robert Walpole, of which the title sufficiently explains the intention. If Young must be acknowledged a ready celebrator, he did not endeavour, or did not choose, to be a lasting one. “The Instalment” is among the pieces he did not admit into the number of his EXCUSABLE WRITINGS. Yet it contains a couplet which pretends to pant after the power of bestowing immortality:—
“Oh! how I long, enkindled by the theme,
In deep eternity to launch thy name!”
The bounty of the former reign seems to have been continued, possibly increased, in this. Whatever it might have been, the poet thought he deserved it; for he was not ashamed to acknowledge what, without his acknowledgment, would now perhaps never have been known:—
“My breast, O Walpole, glows with grateful fire.
The streams of royal bounty, turned by thee,
Refresh the dry remains of poesy.”
If the purity of modern patriotism will term Young a pensioner, it must at least be confessed he was a grateful one.
The reign of the new monarch was ushered in by Young with “Ocean, an Ode.” The hint of it was taken from the royal speech, which recommended the increase and the encouragement of the seamen; that they might be “invited, rather than compelled by force and violence, to enter into the service of their country” — a plan which humanity must lament that policy has not even yet been able, or willing, to carry into execution. Prefixed to the original publication were an “Ode to the King, Pater Patriae,” and an “Essay on Lyric Poetry.” It is but justice to confess that he preserved neither of them; and that the Ode itself, which in the first edition, and in the last, consists of seventy-three stanzas, in the author’s own edition is reduced to forty-nine. Among the omitted passages is a “Wish,” that concluded the poem, which few would have suspected Young of forming; and of which few, after having formed it, would confess something like their shame by suppression. It stood originally so high in the author’s opinion, that he entitled the poem, “Ocean, an Ode. Concluding with a Wish.” This wish consists of thirteen stanzas. The first runs thus:—
“O may I STEAL
Along the VALE
Of humble life, secure from foes!
My friend sincere,
My judgment clear,
And gentle business my repose!”
The three last stanzas are not more remarkable for just rhymes; but, altogether, they will make rather a curious page in the life of Young:—
And golden dreams,
May I, unsanguine, cast away!
Have what I HAVE,
And live, not LEAVE,
Enamoured of the present day!
“My hours my own!
My faults unknown!
My chief revenue in content!
Then leave one BEAM
Of honest FAME!
And scorn the laboured monument!
“Unhurt my urn
Till that great TURN
When mighty Nature’s self shall die,
Time cease to glide,
With human pride,
Sunk in the ocean of eternity!”
It is whimsical that he, who was soon to bid adieu to rhyme, should fix upon a measure in which rhyme abounds even to satiety. Of this he said, in his “Essay on Lyric Poetry,” prefixed to the poem — “For the more harmony likewise I chose the frequent return of rhyme, which laid me under great difficulties. But difficulties overcome give grace and pleasure. Nor can I account for the PLEASURE OF RHYME IN GENERAL (of which the moderns are too fond) but from this truth.” Yet the moderns surely deserve not much censure for their fondness of what, by their own confession, affords pleasure, and abounds in harmony. The next paragraph in his Essay did not occur to him when he talked of “that great turn” in the stanza just quoted. “But then the writer must take care that the difficulty is overcome. That is, he must make rhyme consistent with as perfect sense and expression as could be expected if he was perfectly free from that shackle.” Another part of this Essay will convict the following stanza of what every reader will discover in it “involuntary burlesque:—
“The northern blast,
The shattered mast,
The syrt, the whirlpool, and the rock,
The breaking spout,
The STARS GONE OUT,
The boiling strait, the monster’s shock.”
But would the English poets fill quite so many volumes if all their productions were to be tried, like this, by an elaborate essay on each particular species of poetry of which they exhibit specimens?
If Young be not a lyric poet, he is at least a critic in that sort of poetry; and, if his lyric poetry can be proved bad, it was first proved so by his own criticism. This surely is candid.
Milbourne was styled by Pope “the fairest of critics,” only because he exhibited his own version of “Virgil” to be compared with Dryden’s, which he condemned, and with which every reader had it not otherwise in his power to compare it. Young was surely not the most unfair of poets for prefixing to a lyric composition an “Essay on Lyric Poetry,” so just and impartial as to condemn himself.
We shall soon come to a work, before which we find indeed no critical essay, but which disdains to shrink from the touchstone of the severest critic; and which certainly, as I remember to have heard you say, if it contains some of the worst, contains also some of the best things in the language.
Soon after the appearance of “Ocean,” when he was almost fifty, Young entered into orders. In April, 1728, not long after he had put on the gown, he was appointed chaplain to George II.
The tragedy of The Brothers, which was already in rehearsal, he immediately withdrew from the stage. The managers resigned it with some reluctance to the delicacy of the new clergyman. The Epilogue to The Brothers, the only appendages to any of his three plays which he added himself, is, I believe, the only one of the kind. He calls it an historical Epilogue. Finding that “Guilt’s dreadful close his narrow scene denied,” he, in a manner, continues the tragedy in the Epilogue, and relates how Rome revenged the shade of Demetrius, and punished Perseus “for this night’s deed.”
Of Young’s taking orders something is told by the biographer of Pope, which places the easiness and simplicity of the poet in a singular light. When he determined on the Church he did not address himself to Sherlock, to Atterbury, or to Hare, for the best instructions in theology, but to Pope, who, in a youthful frolic, advised the diligent perusal of Thomas Aquinas. With this treasure Young retired from interruption to an obscure place in the suburbs. His poetical guide to godliness hearing nothing of him during half a year, and apprehending he might have carried the jest too far, sought after him, and found him just in time to prevent what Ruffhead calls “an irretrievable derangement.”
That attachment to his favourite study, which made him think a poet the surest guide to his new profession left him little doubt whether poetry was the surest path to its honours and preferments. Not long indeed after he took orders he published in prose (1728) “A True Estimate of Human Life,” dedicated, notwithstanding the Latin quotations with which it abounds, to the Queen; and a sermon preached before the House of Commons, 1729, on the martyrdom of King Charles, entitled, “An Apology for Princes; or, the Reverence due to Government.” But the “Second Course,” the counterpart of his “Estimate,” without which it cannot be called “A True Estimate,” though in 1728 it was announced as “soon to be published,” never appeared, and his old friends the Muses were not forgotten. In 1730 he relapsed to poetry, and sent into the world “Imperium Pelagi: a Naval Lyric, written in imitation of Pindar’s Spirit, occasioned by his Majesty’s return from Hanover, September, 1729, and the succeeding peace.” It is inscribed to the Duke of Chandos. In the Preface we are told that the Ode is the most spirited kind of poetry, and that the Pindaric is the most spirited kind of Ode. “This I speak,” he adds, “with sufficient candour at my own very great peril. But truth has an eternal title to our confession, though we are sure to suffer by it.” Behold, again, the fairest of poets. Young’s “Imperium Pelagi” was ridiculed in Fielding’s “Tom Thumb;” but let us not forget that it was one of his pieces which the author of the “Night Thoughts” deliberately refused to own. Not long after this Pindaric attempt he published two Epistles to Pope, “Concerning the Authors of the Age,” 1730. Of these poems one occasion seems to have been an apprehension lest, from the liveliness of his satires, he should not be deemed sufficiently serious for promotion in the Church.
In July, 1730, he was presented by his College to the Rectory of Welwyn, in Hertfordshire. In May, 1731, he married Lady Elizabeth Lee, daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, and widow of Colonel Lee. His connection with this lady arose from his father’s acquaintance, already mentioned, with Lady Anne Wharton, who was co-heiress of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley in Oxfordshire. Poetry had lately been taught by Addison to aspire to the arms of nobility, though not with extraordinary happiness. We may naturally conclude that Young now gave himself up in some measure to the comforts of his new connection, and to the expectations of that preferment which he thought due to his poetical talents, or, at least, to the manner in which they had so frequently been exerted.
The next production of his muse was “The Sea-piece,” in two odes.
Young enjoys the credit of what is called an “Extempore Epigram on Voltaire,” who, when he was in England, ridiculed, in the company of the jealous English poet, Milton’s allegory of “Sin and Death:”
“You are so witty, profligate and thin,
At once we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin.”
From the following passage in the poetical dedication of his “Sea-piece” to Voltaire it seems that this extemporaneous reproof, if it must be extemporaneous (for what few will now affirm Voltaire to have deserved any reproof), was something longer than a distich, and something more gentle than the distich just quoted.
“No stranger, sir, though born in foreign climes.
On DORSET Downs, when Milton’s page,
With Sin and Death provoked thy rage,
Thy rage provoked who soothed with GENTLE rhymes?”
By “Dorset Downs” he probably meant Mr. Dodington’s seat. In Pitt’s Poems is “An Epistle to Dr. Edward Young, at Eastbury, in Dorsetshire, on the Review at Sarum, 1722.”
“While with your Dodington retired you sit,
Charmed with his flowing Burgundy and wit,” etc.
Thomson, in his Autumn, addressing Mr. Dodington calls his seat the seat of the Muses,
“Where, in the secret bower and winding walk,
For virtuous Young and thee they twine the bay.”
The praises Thomson bestows but a few lines before on Philips, the second,
“Who nobly durst, in rhyme-unfettered verse,
With British freedom sing the British song,”
added to Thomson’s example and success, might perhaps induce Young, as we shall see presently, to write his great work without rhyme.
In 1734 he published “The Foreign Address, or the best Argument for Peace, occasioned by the British Fleet and the Posture of Affairs. Written in the Character of a Sailor.” It is not to be found in the author’s four volumes. He now appears to have given up all hopes of overtaking Pindar, and perhaps at last resolved to turn his ambition to some original species of poetry. This poem concludes with a formal farewell to Ode, which few of Young’s readers will regret:
“My shell, which Clio gave, which KINGS APPLAUD,
Which Europe’s bleeding genius called abroad,
In a species of poetry altogether his own he next tried his skill, and succeeded.
Of his wife he was deprived in 1741. Lady Elizabeth had lost, after her marriage with Young, an amiable daughter, by her former husband, just after she was married to Mr. Temple, son of Lord Palmerston. Mr. Temple did not long remain after his wife, though he was married a second time to a daughter of Sir John Barnard’s, whose son is the present peer. Mr. and Mrs. Temple have generally been considered as Philander and Narcissa. From the great friendship which constantly subsisted between Mr. Temple and Young, as well as from other circumstances, it is probable that the poet had both him and Mrs. Temple in view for these characters; though, at the same time, some passages respecting Philander do not appear to suit either Mr. Temple or any other person with whom Young was known to be connected or acquainted, while all the circumstances relating to Narcissa have been constantly found applicable to Young’s daughter-in-law. At what short intervals the poet tells us he was wounded by the deaths of the three persons particularly lamented, none that has read the “Night Thoughts” (and who has not read them?) needs to be informed.
“Insatiate archer! could not one suffice?
Thy shaft flew thrice, and thrice my peace was slain;
And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had filled her horn.”
Yet how is it possible that Mr. and Mrs. Temple and Lady Elizabeth Young could be these three victims, over whom Young has hitherto been pitied for having to pour the “Midnight Sorrows” of his religious poetry? Mrs. Temple died in 1736; Mr. Temple four years afterwards, in 1740; and the poet’s wife seven months after Mr. Temple, in 1741. How could the insatiate archer thrice slay his peace, in these three persons, “ere thrice the moon had filled her horn.” But in the short preface to “The Complaint” he seriously tells us, “that the occasion of this poem was real, not fictitious, and that the facts mentioned did naturally pour these moral reflections on the thought of the writer.” It is probable, therefore, that in these three contradictory lines the poet complains more than the father-in-law, the friend, or the widower. Whatever names belong to these facts, or if the names be those generally supposed, whatever heightening a poet’s sorrow may have given the facts; to the sorrow Young felt from them religion and morality are indebted for the “Night Thoughts.” There is a pleasure sure in sadness which mourners only know! Of these poems the two or three first have been perused perhaps more eagerly and more frequently than the rest. When he got as far as the fourth or fifth his original motive for taking up the pen was answered; his grief was naturally either diminished or exhausted. We still find the same pious poet, but we hear less of Philander and Narcissa, and less of the mourner whom he loved to pity.
Mrs. Temple died of a consumption at Lyons, on her way to Nice, the year after her marriage; that is, when poetry relates the fact, “in her bridal hour.” It is more than poetically true that Young accompanied her to the Continent:
“I flew, I snatched her from the rigid North,
And bore her nearer to the sun.”
But in vain. Her funeral was attended with the difficulties painted in such animated colours in “Night the Third.” After her death the remainder of the party passed the ensuing winter at Nice. The poet seems perhaps in these compositions to dwell with more melancholy on the death of Philander and Narcissa than of his wife. But it is only for this reason. He who runs and reads may remember that in the “Night Thoughts” Philander and Narcissa are often mentioned and often lamented. To recollect lamentations over the author’s wife the memory must have been charged with distinct passages. This lady brought him one child, Frederick, now living, to whom the Prince of Wales was godfather.
That domestic grief is, in the first instance, to be thanked for these ornaments to our language it is impossible to deny. Nor would it be common hardiness to contend that worldly discontent had no hand in these joint productions of poetry and piety. Yet am I by no means sure that, at any rate, we should not have had something of the same colour from Young’s pencil, notwithstanding the liveliness of his satires. In so long a life causes for discontent and occasions for grief must have occurred. It is not clear to me that his Muse was not sitting upon the watch for the first which happened. “Night Thoughts” were not uncommon to her, even when first she visited the poet, and at a time when he himself was remarkable neither for gravity nor gloominess. In his “Last Day,” almost his earliest poem, he calls her “The Melancholy Maid,”
“whom dismal scenes delight,
Frequent at tombs and in the realms of Night.”
In the prayer which concludes the second book of the same poem, he says:
“Oh! permit the gloom of solemn night
To sacred thought may forcibly invite.
Oh! how divine to tread the milky way,
To the bright palace of Eternal Day!”
When Young was writing a tragedy, Grafton is said by Spence to have sent him a human skull, with a candle in it, as a lamp, and the poet is reported to have used it. What he calls “The TRUE Estimate of Human Life,” which has already been mentioned, exhibits only the wrong side of the tapestry, and being asked why he did not show the right, he is said to have replied that he could not. By others it has been told me that this was finished, but that, before there existed any copy, it was torn in pieces by a lady’s monkey. Still, is it altogether fair to dress up the poet for the man, and to bring the gloominess of the “Night Thoughts” to prove the gloominess of Young, and to show that his genius, like the genius of Swift, was in some measure the sullen inspiration of discontent? From them who answer in the affirmative it should not be concealed that, though “Invisibilia non decipiunt” appeared upon a deception in Young’s grounds, and “Ambulantes in horto audierunt vocem Dei” on a building in his garden, his parish was indebted to the good humour of the author of the “Night Thoughts” for an assembly and a bowling green.
Whether you think with me, I know not; but the famous “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” always appeared to me to savour more of female weakness than of manly reason. He that has too much feeling to speak ill of the dead, who, if they cannot defend themselves, are at least ignorant of his abuse, will not hesitate by the most wanton calumny to destroy the quiet, the reputation, the fortune of the living. Yet censure is not heard beneath the tomb, any more than praise. “De mortuis nil nisi verum — De vivis nil nisi bonum” would approach much nearer to good sense. After all, the few handfuls of remaining dust which once composed the body of the author of the “Night Thoughts” feel not much concern whether Young pass now for a man of sorrow or for “a fellow of infinite jest.” To this favour must come the whole family of Yorick. His immortal part, wherever that now dwells, is still less solicitous on this head. But to a son of worth and sensibility it is of some little consequence whether contemporaries believe, and posterity be taught to believe, that his debauched and reprobate life cast a Stygian gloom over the evening of his father’s days, saved him the trouble of feigning a character completely detestable, and succeeded at last in bringing his “grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.” The humanity of the world, little satisfied with inventing perhaps a melancholy disposition for the father, proceeds next to invent an argument in support of their invention, and chooses that Lorenzo should be Young’s own son. “The Biographia,” and every account of Young, pretty roundly assert this to be the fact; of the absolute impossibility of which, the “Biographia” itself, in particular dates, contains undeniable evidence. Readers I know there are of a strange turn of mind, who will hereafter peruse the “Night Thoughts” with less satisfaction; who will wish they had still been deceived; who will quarrel with me for discovering that no such character as their Lorenzo ever yet disgraced human nature or broke a father’s heart. Yet would these admirers of the sublime and terrible be offended should you set them down for cruel and for savage? Of this report, inhuman to the surviving son, if it be true, in proportion as the character of Lorenzo is diabolical, where are we to find the proof? Perhaps it is clear from the poems.
From the first line to the last of the “Night Thoughts” no one expression can be discovered which betrays anything like the father. In the “Second Night” I find an expression which betrays something else — that Lorenzo was his friend; one, it is possible, of his former companions; one of the Duke of Wharton’s set. The poet styles him “gay friend;” an appellation not very natural from a pious incensed father to such a being as he paints Lorenzo, and that being his son. But let us see how he has sketched this dreadful portrait, from the sight of some of whose features the artist himself must have turned away with horror. A subject more shocking, if his only child really sat to him, than the crucifixion of Michael Angelo; upon the horrid story told of which Young composed a short poem of fourteen lines in the early part of his life, which he did not think deserved to be republished. In the “First Night” the address to the poet’s supposed son is:—
“Lorenzo, Fortune makes her court to thee.”
In the “Fifth Night:" —
“And burns Lorenzo still for the sublime
Of life? to hang his airy nest on high?”
Is this a picture of the son of the Rector of Welwyn? “Eighth Night:" —
“In foreign realms (for thou hast travelled far)" —
which even now does not apply to his son. In “Night Five:" —
“So wept Lorenzo fair Clarissa’s fate,
Who gave that angel-boy on whom he dotes,
And died to give him, orphaned in his birth!”
At the beginning of the “Fifth Night” we find:—
“Lorenzo, to recriminate is just,
I grant the man is vain who writes for praise.”
But, to cut short all inquiry; if any one of these passages, if any passage in the poems, be applicable, my friend shall pass for Lorenzo. The son of the author of the “Night Thoughts” was not old enough, when they were written, to recriminate or to be a father. The “Night Thoughts” were begun immediately after the mournful event of 1741. The first “Nights” appear, in the books of the Company of Stationers, as the property of Robert Dodsley, in 1742. The Preface to “Night Seven” is dated July 7th, 1744. The marriage, in consequence of which the supposed Lorenzo was born, happened in May, 1731. Young’s child was not born till June, 1733. In 1741, this Lorenzo, this finished infidel, this father to whose education Vice had for some years put the last hand, was only eight years old. An anecdote of this cruel sort, so open to contradiction, so impossible to be true, who could propagate? Thus easily are blasted the reputation of the living and of the dead. “Who, then, was Lorenzo?” exclaim the readers I have mentioned. If we cannot be sure that he was his son, which would have been finely terrible, was he not his nephew, his cousin? These are questions which I do not pretend to answer. For the sake of human nature, I could wish Lorenzo to have been only the creation of the poet’s fancy: like the Quintus of Anti Lucretius, “quo nomine,” says Polignac, “quemvis Atheum intellige.” That this was the case many expressions in the “Night Thoughts” would seem to prove, did not a passage in “Night Eight” appear to show that he had somebody in his eye for the groundwork at least of the painting. Lovelace or Lorenzo may be feigned characters; but a writer does not feign a name of which he only gives the initial letter:—
“Tell not Calista. She will laugh thee dead,
Or send thee to her hermitage with L—— .”
The “Biographia,” not satisfied with pointing out the son of Young, in that son’s lifetime, as his father’s Lorenzo, travels out of its way into the history of the son, and tells of his having been forbidden his college at Oxford for misbehaviour. How such anecdotes, were they true, tend to illustrate the life of Young, it is not easy to discover. Was the son of the author of the “Night Thoughts,” indeed, forbidden his college for a time, at one of our Universities? The author of “Paradise Lost” is by some supposed to have been disgracefully ejected from the other. From juvenile follies who is free? But, whatever the “Biographia” chooses to relate, the son of Young experienced no dismission from his college, either lasting or temporary. Yet, were nature to indulge him with a second youth, and to leave him at the same time the experience of that which is past, he would probably spend it differently — who would not? — he would certainly be the occasion of less uneasiness to his father. But, from the same experience, he would as certainly, in the same case, be treated differently by his father.
Young was a poet: poets, with reverence be it spoken, do not make the best parents. Fancy and imagination seldom deign to stoop from their heights; always stoop unwillingly to the low level of common duties. Aloof from vulgar life, they pursue their rapid flight beyond the ken of mortals, and descend not to earth but when compelled by necessity. The prose of ordinary occurrences is beneath the dignity of poets. He who is connected with the author of the “Night Thoughts” only by veneration for the Poet and the Christian may be allowed to observe that Young is one of those concerning whom, as you remark in your account of Addison, it is proper rather to say “nothing that is false than all that is true.” But the son of Young would almost sooner, I know, pass for a Lorenzo than see himself vindicated, at the expense of his father’s memory, from follies which, if it may be thought blameable in a boy to have committed them, it is surely praiseworthy in a man to lament and certainly not only unnecessary, but cruel in a biographer to record.
Of the “Night Thoughts,” notwithstanding their author’s professed retirement, all are inscribed to great or to growing names. He had not yet weaned himself from earls and dukes, from the Speakers of the House of Commons, Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, and Chancellors of the Exchequer. In “Night Eight” the politician plainly betrays himself:—
“Think no post needful that demands a knave:
When late our civil helm was shifting hands,
So P—— thought: think better if you can.”
Yet it must be confessed that at the conclusion of “Night Nine,” weary perhaps of courting earthly patrons, he tells his soul —
Thy PATRON he, whose diadem has dropped
You gems of Heaven; Eternity thy prize;
And leave the racers of the world their own.”
The “Fourth Night” was addressed by “a much-indebted Muse” to the Honourable Mr. Yorke, now Lord Hardwicke, who meant to have laid the Muse under still greater obligation, by the living of Shenfield, in Essex, if it had become vacant. The “First Night” concludes with this passage:—
“Dark, though not blind, like thee, Meonides;
Or, Milton, thee. Ah! could I reach your strain;
Or his who made Meonides our own!
Man too he sung. Immortal man I sing.
Oh had he pressed his theme, pursued the track
Which opens out of darkness into day!
Oh, had he mounted on his wing of fire,
Soared, where I sink, and sung immortal man —
How had it blest mankind, and rescued me!”
To the author of these lines was dedicated, in 1756, the first volume of an “Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope,” which attempted, whether justly or not, to pluck from Pope his “Wing of Fire,” and to reduce him to a rank at least one degree lower than the first class of English poets. If Young accepted and approved the dedication, he countenanced this attack upon the fame of him whom he invokes as his Muse.
Part of “paper-sparing” Pope’s Third Book of the “Odyssey,” deposited in the Museum, is written upon the back of a letter signed “E. Young,” which is clearly the handwriting of our Young. The letter, dated only May 2nd, seems obscure; but there can be little doubt that the friendship he requests was a literary one, and that he had the highest literary opinion of Pope. The request was a prologue, I am told.
“May the 2nd.
“DEAR SIR; — Having been often from home, I know not if you have done me the favour of calling on me. But, be that as it will, I much want that instance of your friendship I mentioned in my last; a friendship I am very sensible I can receive from no one but yourself. I should not urge this thing so much but for very particular reasons; nor can you be at a loss to conceive how a ‘trifle of this nature’ may be of serious moment to me; and while I am in hopes of the great advantage of your advice about it, I shall not be so absurd as to make any further step without it. I know you are much engaged, and only hope to hear of you at your entire leisure.
“I am, sir, your most faithful
“and obedient servant,
Nay, even after Pope’s death, he says in “Night Seven:" —
“Pope, who could’st make immortals, art thou dead?”
Either the “Essay,” then, was dedicated to a patron who disapproved its doctrine, which I have been told by the author was not the case; or Young appears, in his old age, to have bartered for a dedication an opinion entertained of his friend through all that part of life when he must have been best able to form opinions. From this account of Young, two or three short passages, which stand almost together in “Night Four,” should not be excluded. They afford a picture, by his own hand, from the study of which my readers may choose to form their own opinion of the features of his mind and the complexion of his life.
“Ah me! the dire effect
Of loitering here, of death defrauded long;
Of old so gracious (and let that suffice),
MY VERY MASTER KNOWS ME NOT.
I’ve been so long remembered I’m forgot.
When in his courtiers’ ears I pour my plaint,
They drink it as the Nectar of the Great;
And squeeze my hand, and beg me come to-morrow.
Twice told the period spent on stubborn Troy,
Court favour, yet untaken, I BESIEGE.
If this song lives, Posterity shall know
One, though in Britain born, with courtiers bred,
Who thought, even gold might come a day too late;
Nor on his subtle deathbed planned his scheme
For future vacancies in Church or State.”
Deduct from the writer’s age “twice told the period spent on stubborn Troy,” and you will still leave him more than forty when he sate down to the miserable siege of court-favour. He has before told us —
“A fool at forty is a fool indeed.”
After all, the siege seems to have been raised only in consequence of what the general thought his “deathbed.” By these extraordinary poems, written after he was sixty, of which I have been led to say so much, I hope, by the wish of doing justice to the living and the dead, it was the desire of Young to be principally known. He entitled the four volumes which he published himself, “The Works of the Author of the Night Thoughts.” While it is remembered that from these he excluded many of his writings, let it not be forgotten that the rejected pieces contained nothing prejudicial to the cause of virtue or of religion. Were everything that Young ever wrote to be published, he would only appear perhaps in a less respectable light as a poet, and more despicable as a dedicator; he would not pass for a worse Christian or for a worse man. This enviable praise is due to Young. Can it be claimed by every writer? His dedications, after all, he had perhaps no right to suppress. They all, I believe, speak, not a little to the credit of his gratitude, of favours received; and I know not whether the author, who has once solemnly printed an acknowledgment of a favour, should not always print it. Is it to the credit or to the discredit of Young, as a poet, that of his “Night Thoughts” the French are particularly fond?
Of the “Epitaph on Lord Aubrey Beauclerk,” dated 1740, all I know is, that I find it in the late body of English poetry, and that I am sorry to find it there. Notwithstanding the farewell which he seemed to have taken in the “Night Thoughts” of everything which bore the least resemblance to ambition, he dipped again in politics. In 1745 he wrote “Reflections on the Public Situation of the Kingdom, addressed to the Duke of Newcastle;” indignant, as it appears, to behold
“ —— a pope-bred Princeling crawl ashore,
And whistle cut-throats, with those swords that scraped
Their barren rocks for wretched sustenance,
To cut his passage to the British throne.”
This political poem might be called a “Night Thought;” indeed, it was originally printed as the conclusion of the “Night Thoughts,” though he did not gather it with his other works.
Prefixed to the second edition of Howe’s “Devout Meditations” is a letter from Young, dated January 19, 1752, addressed to Archibald Macauly, Esq., thanking him for the book, “which,” he says, “he shall never lay far out of his reach; for a greater demonstration of a sound head and a sincere heart he never saw.”
In 1753, when The Brothers had lain by him above thirty years, it appeared upon the stage. If any part of his fortune had been acquired by servility of adulation, he now determined to deduct from it no inconsiderable sum, as a gift to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. To this sum he hoped the profits of The Brothers would amount. In his calculation he was deceived; but by the bad success of his play the Society was not a loser. The author made up the sum he originally intended, which was a thousand pounds, from his own pocket.
The next performance which he printed was a prose publication, entitled “The Centaur Not Fabulous, in Six Letters to a Friend on the Life in Vogue.” The conclusion is dated November 29, 1754. In the third letter is described the death-bed of the “gay, young, noble, ingenious, accomplished, and most wretched Altamont.” His last words were — “My principles have poisoned my friend, my extravagance has beggared my boy, my unkindness has murdered my wife!” Either Altamont and Lorenzo were the twin production of fancy, or Young was unlucky enough to know two characters who bore no little resemblance to each other in perfection of wickedness. Report has been accustomed to call Altamont Lord Euston.
“The Old Man’s Relapse,” occasioned by an Epistle to Walpole, if written by Young, which I much doubt, must have been written very late in life. It has been seen, I am told, in a Miscellany published thirty years before his death. In 1758 he exhibited “The Old Man’s Relapse,” in more than words, by again becoming a dedicator, and publishing a sermon addressed to the king.
The lively letter in prose, on “Original Composition,” addressed to Richardson, the author of “Clarissa,” appeared in 1759. Though he despairs “of breaking through the frozen obstructions of age and care’s incumbent cloud into that flow of thought and brightness of expression which subjects so polite require,” yet it is more like the production of untamed, unbridled youth, than of jaded fourscore. Some sevenfold volumes put him in mind of Ovid’s sevenfold channels of the Nile at the conflagration:—
“ — ostia septem
Pulverulenta vocant, septem sine flumine valles.”
Such leaden labours are like Lycurgus’s iron money, which was so much less in value than in bulk, that it required barns for strong boxes, and a yoke of oxen to draw five hundred pounds. If there is a famine of invention in the land, we must travel, he says, like Joseph’s brethren, far for food, we must visit the remote and rich ancients. But an inventive genius may safely stay at home; that, like the widow’s cruse, is divinely replenished from within, and affords us a miraculous delight. He asks why it should seem altogether impossible that Heaven’s latest editions of the human mind may be the most correct and fair? And Jonson, he tells us, was very learned, as Samson was very strong, to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it. Is this “care’s incumbent cloud,” or “the frozen obstructions of age?” In this letter Pope is severely censured for his “fall from Homer’s numbers, free as air, lofty and harmonious as the spheres, into childish shackles and tinkling sounds; for putting Achilles into petticoats a second time:” but we are told that the dying swan talked over an epic plan with Young a few weeks before his decease. Young’s chief inducement to write this letter was, as he confesses, that he might erect a monumental marble to the memory of an old friend. He, who employed his pious pen for almost the last time in thus doing justice to the exemplary death-bed of Addison, might probably, at the close of his own life, afford no unuseful lesson for the deaths of others. In the postscript he writes to Richardson that he will see in his next how far Addison is an original. But no other letter appears.
The few lines which stand in the last edition, as “sent by Lord Melcombe to Dr. Young not long before his lordship’s death,” were indeed so sent, but were only an introduction to what was there meant by “The Muse’s Latest Spark.” The poem is necessary, whatever may be its merit, since the Preface to it is already printed. Lord Melcombe called his Tusculum “La Trappe”:—
“Love thy country, wish it well,
Not with too intense a care;
’Tis enough, that, when it fell,
Thou its ruin didst not share.
Envy’s censure, Flattery’s praise,
With unmoved indifference view;
Learn to tread life’s dangerous maze,
With unerring Virtue’s clue.
Void of strong desire and fear,
Life’s void ocean trust no more;
Strive thy little bark to steer
With the tide, but near the shore.
Thus prepared, thy shortened sail
Shall, whene’er the winds increase,
Seizing each propitious gale,
Waft thee to the Port of Peace.
Keep thy conscience from offence,
And tempestuous passions free,
So, when thou art called from hence,
Easy shall thy passage be;
Easy shall thy passage be,
Cheerful thy allotted stay,
Short the account ‘twixt God and thee;
Hope shall meet thee on the way:
Truth shall lead thee to the gate,
Mercy’s self shall let thee in,
Where its never-changing state,
Full perfection, shall begin.”
The poem was accompanied by a letter.
“La Trappe, the 27th of October, 1761
“DEAR SIR, — You seemed to like the ode I sent you for your amusement; I now send it you as a present. If you please to accept of it, and are willing that our friendship should be known when we are gone, you will be pleased to leave this among those of your own papers that may possibly see the light by a posthumous publication. God send us health while we stay, and an easy journey! — My dear Dr. Young,
“Yours, most cordially,
In 1762, a short time before his death, Young published “Resignation.” Notwithstanding the manner in which it was really forced from him by the world, criticism has treated it with no common severity. If it shall be thought not to deserve the highest praise, on the other side of fourscore, by whom, except by Newton and by Waller, has praise been merited?
To Mrs. Montagu, the famous champion of Shakespeare, I am indebted for the history of “Resignation.” Observing that Mrs. Boscawen, in the midst of her grief for the loss of the admiral, derived consolation from the perusal of the “Night Thoughts,” Mrs. Montagu proposed a visit to the author. From conversing with Young, Mrs. Boscawen derived still further consolation; and to that visit she and the world were indebted for this poem. It compliments Mrs. Montagu in the following lines:—
“Yet write I must. A lady sues:
How shameful her request!
My brain in labour with dull rhyme,
Hers teeming with the best!”
And again —
“A friend you have, and I the same,
Whose prudent, soft address
Will bring to life those healing thoughts
Which died in your distress.
That friend, the spirit of my theme
Extracting for your ease,
Will leave to me the dreg, in thoughts
Too common; such as these.”
By the same lady I was enabled to say, in her own words, that Young’s unbounded genius appeared to greater advantage in the companion than even in the author; that the Christian was in him a character still more inspired, more enraptured, more sublime, than the poet; and that, in his ordinary conversation —
“ — letting down the golden chain from high,
He drew his audience upward to the sky.”
Notwithstanding Young had said, in his “Conjectures on Original Composition,” that “blank verse is verse unfallen, uncursed — verse reclaimed, re-enthroned in the true language of the gods;” notwithstanding he administered consolation to his own grief in this immortal language, Mrs. Boscawen was comforted in rhyme.
While the poet and the Christian were applying this comfort, Young had himself occasion for comfort, in consequence of the sudden death of Richardson, who was printing the former part of the poem. Of Richardson’s death he says —
“When heaven would kindly set us free,
And earth’s enchantment end;
It takes the most effectual means,
And robs us of a friend.”
To “Resignation” was prefixed an apology for its appearance, to which more credit is due than to the generality of such apologies, from Young’s unusual anxiety that no more productions of his old age should disgrace his former fame. In his will, dated February, 1760, he desires of his executors, IN A PARTICULAR MANNER, that all his manuscript books and writings, whatever, might be burned, except his book of accounts. In September, 1764, he added a kind of codicil, wherein he made it his dying entreaty to his housekeeper, to whom he left 1,000 pounds, “that all his manuscripts might be destroyed as soon as he was dead, which would greatly oblige her deceased FRIEND.”
It may teach mankind the uncertainty of wordly friendships to know that Young, either by surviving those he loved, or by outliving their affections, could only recollect the names of two FRIENDS, his housekeeper and a hatter, to mention in his will; and it may serve to repress that testamentary pride, which too often seeks for sounding names and titles, to be informed that the author of the “Night Thoughts” did not blush to leave a legacy to his “friend Henry Stevens, a hatter at the Temple-gate.” Of these two remaining friends, one went before Young. But, at eighty-four, “where,” as he asks in The Centaur, “is that world into which we were born?” The same humility which marked a hatter and a housekeeper for the friends of the author of the “Night Thoughts,” had before bestowed the same title on his footman, in an epitaph in his “Churchyard” upon James Baker, dated 1749; which I am glad to find in the late collection of his works. Young and his housekeeper were ridiculed, with more ill-nature than wit, in a kind of novel published by Kidgell in 1755, called “The Card,” under the names of Dr. Elwes and Mrs. Fusby. In April, 1765, at an age to which few attain, a period was put to the life of Young. He had performed no duty for three or four years, but he retained his intellects to the last.
Much is told in the “Biographia,” which I know not to have been true, of the manner of his burial; of the master and children of a charity-school, which he founded in his parish, who neglected to attend their benefactor’s corpse; and a bell which was not caused to toll as often as upon those occasions bells usually toll. Had that humanity, which is here lavished upon things of little consequence either to the living or to the dead, been shown in its proper place to the living, I should have had less to say about Lorenzo. They who lament that these misfortunes happened to Young, forget the praise he bestows upon Socrates, in the Preface to “Night Seven,” for resenting his friend’s request about his funeral. During some part of his life Young was abroad, but I have not been able to learn any particulars. In his seventh Satire he says,
“When, after battle, I the field have SEEN
Spread o’er with ghastly shapes which once were men.”
It is known, also, that from this or from some other field he once wandered into the camp with a classic in his hand, which he was reading intently; and had some difficulty to prove that he was only an absent poet, and not a spy.
The curious reader of Young’s life will naturally inquire to what it was owing, that though he lived almost forty years after he took orders, which included one whole reign uncommonly long, and part of another, he was never thought worthy of the least preferment. The author of the “Night Thoughts” ended his days upon a living which came to him from his college without any favour, and to which he probably had an eye when he determined on the Church. To satisfy curiosity of this kind is, at this distance of time, far from easy. The parties themselves know not often, at the instant, why they are neglected, or why they are preferred. The neglect of Young is by some ascribed to his having attached himself to the Prince of Wales, and to his having preached an offensive sermon at St. James’s. It has been told me that he had two hundred a year in the late reign, by the patronage of Walpole; and that, whenever any one reminded the king of Young, the only answer was, “he has a pension.” All the light thrown on this inquiry, by the following letter from Secker, only serves to show at what a late period of life the author of the “Night Thoughts” solicited preferment:—
“Deanery of St. Paul’s, July 8, 1758.
“GOOD DR. YOUNG, — I have long wondered that more suitable notice of your great merit hath not been taken by persons in power. But how to remedy the omission I see not. No encouragement hath ever been given me to mention things of this nature to his majesty. And therefore, in all likelihood, the only consequence of doing it would be weakening the little influence which else I may possibly have on some other occasions. Your fortune and your reputation set you above the need of advancement; and your sentiments, above that concern for it, on your own account, which, on that of the public, is sincerely felt by
“Your loving Brother, THO. CANT.”
At last, at the age of fourscore, he was appointed, in 1761, Clerk of the Closet to the Princess Dowager. One obstacle must have stood not a little in the way of that preferment after which his whole life seems to have panted. Though he took orders, he never entirely shook off politics. He was always the lion of his master Milton, “pawing to get free his hinder parts.” By this conduct, if he gained some friends, he made many enemies. Again: Young was a poet; and again, with reverence be it spoken, poets by profession do not always make the best clergymen. If the author of the “Night Thoughts” composed many sermons, he did not oblige the public with many. Besides, in the latter part of his life, Young was fond of holding himself out for a man retired from the world. But he seemed to have forgotten that the same verse which contains “oblitus meorum,” contains also “obliviscendus et illis.” The brittle chain of worldly friendship and patronage is broken as effectually, when one goes beyond the length of it, as when the other does. To the vessel which is sailing from the shore, it only appears that the shore also recedes; in life it is truly thus. He who retires from the world will find himself, in reality, deserted as fast, if not faster, by the world. The public is not to be treated as the coxcomb treats his mistress; to be threatened with desertion, in order to increase fondness.
Young seems to have been taken at his word. Notwithstanding his frequent complaints of being neglected, no hand was reached out to pull him from that retirement of which he declared himself enamoured. Alexander assigned no palace for the residence of Diogenes, who boasted his surly satisfaction with his tub. Of the domestic manners and petty habits of the author of the “Night Thoughts,” I hoped to have given you an account from the best authority; but who shall dare to say, To-morrow I will be wise or virtuous, or to-morrow I will do a particular thing? Upon inquiring for his housekeeper, I learned that she was buried two days before I reached the town of her abode.
In a letter from Tscharner, a noble foreigner, to Count Haller, Tscharner says, he has lately spent four days with Young at Welwyn, where the author tastes all the ease and pleasure mankind can desire. “Everything about him shows the man, each individual being placed by rule. All is neat without art. He is very pleasant in conversation, and extremely polite.” This, and more, may possibly be true; but Tscharner’s was a first visit, a visit of curiosity and admiration, and a visit which the author expected.
Of Edward Young an anecdote which wanders among readers is not true, that he was Fielding’s Parson Adams. The original of that famous painting was William Young, who was a clergyman. He supported an uncomfortable existence by translating for the booksellers from Greek, and, if he did not seem to be his own friend, was at least no man’s enemy. Yet the facility with which this report has gained belief in the world argues, were it not sufficiently known that the author of the “Night Thoughts” bore some resemblance to Adams. The attention which Young bestowed upon the perusal of books is not unworthy imitation. When any passage pleased him he appears to have folded down the leaf. On these passages he bestowed a second reading. But the labours of man are too frequently vain. Before he returned to much of what he had once approved he died. Many of his books, which I have seen, are by those notes of approbation so swelled beyond their real bulk, that they will hardly shut.
“What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame!
Earth’s highest station ends in HERE HE LIES!
And DUST TO DUST concludes her noblest song!”
The author of these lines is not without his ‘Hic jacet.’ By the good sense of his son it contains none of that praise which no marble can make the bad or the foolish merit; which, without the direction of stone or a turf, will find its way, sooner or later, to the deserving.
EDWARDI YOUNG, LL.D.
Hujus Ecclesiae rect. et Elizabethae faem. praenob Conjugis ejus amantissimae
Pio et gratissimo animo hoc marmor posuit
Is it not strange that the author of the “Night Thoughts” has inscribed no monument to the memory of his lamented wife? Yet what marble will endure as long as the poems?
Such, my good friend, is the account which I have been able to collect of the great Young. That it may be long before anything like what I have just transcribed be necessary for you, is the sincere wish of,
Dear Sir, your greatly obliged Friend,
HERBERT CROFT, Jun.
Lincoln’s Inn, Sept., 1780.
P.S. — This account of Young was seen by you in manuscript, you know, sir, and, though I could not prevail on you to make any alteration, you insisted on striking out one passage, because it said that if I did not wish you to live long for your sake, I did for the sake of myself and of the world. But this postscript you will not see before the printing of it, and I will say here, in spite of you, how I feel myself honoured and bettered by your friendship, and that if I do credit to the Church, after which I always longed, and for which I am now going to give in exchange the bar, though not at so late a period of life as Young took orders, it will be owing, in no small measure, to my having had the happiness of calling the author of “The Rambler” my friend.
H. C. Oxford, Oct., 1782.
Of Young’s Poems it is difficult to give any general character, for he has no uniformity of manner; one of his pieces has no great resemblance to another. He began to write early and continued long, and at different times had different modes of poetical excellence in view. His numbers are sometimes smooth and sometimes rugged; his style is sometimes concatenated and sometimes abrupt, sometimes diffusive and sometimes concise. His plan seems to have started in his mind at the present moment, and his thoughts appear the effect of chance, sometimes adverse and sometimes lucky, with very little operation of judgment. He was not one of those writers whom experience improves, and who, observing their own faults, become gradually correct. His poem on the “Last Day,” his first great performance, has an equability and propriety, which he afterwards either never endeavoured or never attained. Many paragraphs are noble, and few are mean, yet the whole is languid; the plan is too much extended, and a succession of images divides and weakens the general conception, but the great reason why the reader is disappointed is that the thought of the LAST DAY makes every man more than poetical by spreading over his mind a general obscurity of sacred horror, that oppresses distinction and disdains expression. His story of “Jane Grey” was never popular. It is written with elegance enough, but Jane is too heroic to be pitied.
“The Universal Passion” is indeed a very great performance. It is said to be a series of epigrams, but, if it be, it is what the author intended; his endeavour was at the production of striking distichs and pointed sentences, and his distichs have the weight of solid sentiments, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth. His characters are often selected with discernment and drawn with nicety; his illustrations are often happy, and his reflections often just. His species of satire is between those of Horace and Juvenal, and he has the gaiety of Horace without his laxity of numbers, and the morality of Juvenal with greater variation of images. He plays, indeed, only on the surface of life; he never penetrates the recesses of the mind, and therefore the whole power of his poetry is exhausted by a single perusal; his conceits please only when they surprise. To translate he never condescended, unless his “Paraphrase on Job” may be considered as a version, in which he has not, I think, been unsuccessful; he indeed favoured himself by choosing those parts which most easily admit the ornaments of English poetry. He had least success in his lyric attempts, in which he seems to have been under some malignant influence; he is always labouring to be great, and at last is only turgid.
In his “Night Thoughts” he has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflections and striking allusions, a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme but with disadvantage. The wild diffusion of the sentiments and the digressive sallies of imagination would have been compressed and restrained by confinement to rhyme. The excellence of this work is not exactness but copiousness; particular lines are not to be regarded; the power is in the whole, and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantation, the magnificence of vast extent and endless diversity.
His last poem was the “Resignation,” in which he made, as he was accustomed, an experiment of a new mode of writing, and succeeded better than in his “Ocean” or his “Merchant.” It was very falsely represented as a proof of decaying faculties. There is Young in every stanza, such as he often was in the highest vigour. His tragedies, not making part of the collection, I had forgotten, till Mr. Stevens recalled them to my thoughts, by remarking, that he seemed to have one favourite catastrophe, as his three plays all concluded with lavish suicide, a method by which, as Dryden remarked, a poet easily rids his scene of persons whom he wants not to keep alive. In Busiris there are the greatest ebullitions of imagination, but the pride of Busiris is such as no other man can have, and the whole is too remote from known life to raise either grief, terror, or indignation. The Revenge approaches much nearer to human practices and manners, and therefore keeps possession of the stage; the first design seems suggested by Othello, but the reflections, the incidents, and the diction, are original. The moral observations are so introduced and so expressed as to have all the novelty that can be required. Of The Brothers I may be allowed to say nothing, since nothing was ever said of it by the public. It must be allowed of Young’s poetry that it abounds in thought, but without much accuracy or selection. When he lays hold of an illustration he pursues it beyond expectation, sometimes happily, as in his parallel of Quicksilver with Pleasure, which I have heard repeated with approbation by a lady, of whose praise he would have been justly proud, and which is very ingenious, very subtle, and almost exact; but sometimes he is less lucky, as when, in his “Night Thoughts,” having it dropped into his mind that the orbs, floating in space, might be called the CLUSTER of creation, he thinks of a cluster of grapes, and says, that they all hang on the great vine, drinking the “nectareous juice of immortal life.” His conceits are sometimes yet less valuable. In the “Last Day” he hopes to illustrate the reassembly of the atoms that compose the human body at the “Trump of Doom” by the collection of bees into a swarm at the tinkling of a pan. The Prophet says of Tyre that “her merchants are princes.” Young says of Tyre in his “Merchant,”
“Her merchants princes, and each DECK A THRONE.”
Let burlesque try to go beyond him.
He has the trick of joining the turgid and familiar: to buy the alliance of Britain, “Climes were paid down.” Antithesis is his favourite, “They for kindness hate:” and “because she’s right, she’s ever in the wrong.” His versification is his own; neither his blank nor his rhyming lines have any resemblance to those of former writers; he picks up no hemistichs, he copies no favourite expressions; he seems to have laid up no stores of thought or diction, but to owe all to the fortuitous suggestions of the present moment. Yet I have reason to believe that, when once he had formed a new design, he then laboured it with very patient industry; and that he composed with great labour and frequent revisions. His verses are formed by no certain model; he is no more like himself in his different productions than he is like others. He seems never to have studied prosody, nor to have had any direction but from his own ear. But with all his defects, he was a man of genius and a poet.
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