Page images
PDF
EPUB

visions, garlands of roses, and clouds of incense scattered through the · Virgin Martyr' as evidence of the theological sentiments meant to be inculcated by this play; when the least reflection might have taught him that they proved nothing but his author's poetical conception of the character and costume of his subject. A writer might, with the same sinister shrewdness, be suspected of heathenism for talking of Flora and Ceres, in a poem on the seasons; and what are produced as the exclusive badges of catholic bigotry, are nothing but the adventitious ornaments and external emblems,—the gross and sensible language,- in a word, the poetry of Christianity in general. What, indeed, shows the frivolousness of the whole inference is, that Decker, who is asserted by our critic to have contributed some of the most passionate and fantastic of these devotional scenes, is not even accused of a leaning to popery."

Roger Cotes.

BORN A D. 1682.-DIED A. D. 1716.

This mathematician, whose life was too short for the fulfilment of its early promise, was the son of the Rev. Robert Cotes, rector of Burbage in Leicestershire. He was born on the 10th of July, 1682, and received his first education at Leicester school. When about twelve years of age he began to evince a decided predilection and capacity for mathematics and the related branches of natural philosophy, and, with the view of pursuing this line of study, was boarded for a while with his uncle, the Rev. John Smith, one of the best mathematicians of his day. He continued with him for some time, after which he was sent to St Paul's school, where he made considerable proficiency in classical studies, but still devoted a portion of his attention to the mathematical and metaphysical sciences. In 1699 he was entered of Trinity college, Cambridge, of which he was chosen a fellow in due course of time.

His scientific acquirements obtained for him the appointment of Plumian professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy, upon the first election to that new foundation. He filled this office with much credit to himself until his death, on the 5th of June, 1716.

Cotes was a mathematician of first rate talents and high promise He edited the second edition of Sir Isaac Newton's Principles of Natural Philosophy, to which he attached an admirable preface. This, with a description of the great meteor that was seen in some parts of England on the 6th of March, 1715, and which was inserted in the Philosophical transactions, are the only writings he published; but he left behind him several valuable tracts on subjects connected with his chair, which were given to the world by his successor and kinsman, Dr Robert Smith.

The following anecdote evinces the high and general esteem in which this young mathematician was regarded by his contemporaries. Mr Whiston was one of the electors to the Plumian professorship on its first institution. Besides Mr Cotes, there was another candidate who had been a scholar of Dr Harris's. As Mr Whiston was the only professor of mathematics who was directly concerned in the choice, the rest of the electors naturally paid a great regard to his judgment. At the time of election, Mr Whiston said that he thought himself to be not much inferior to the other candidate's master, Dr Harris ; but he confessed that he was but a child to Mr Cotes. The votes were unanimous for Mr Cotes ; and it should be remembered that he was then only in the twenty-fourth year of his age. In 1707 Mr Whiston and Mr Cotes united together in giving a course of philosophical experiments at Cambridge. Among other parts of the undertaking, certain hydrostatic and pneumatic lectures were composed; they were in number twenty-four, of which twelve were written by Mr Cotes, and twelve by Mr Whiston. But Mr Whiston esteemed his own lectures to be so far inferior to those of Mr Cotes, that he could never prevail upon himself to revise and improve them for publication.

Thomas Parnell.

BORN A. D. 1679.-DIED A. D. 1718

Thomas Parnell, of whose poetical compositions, “ The Hermit at least has been deservedly popular, was the descendant of an ancient family which had been settled for some centuries at Congleton, a market-town in Cheshire, until about the year 1660, the period of the Restoration, when his father, Thomas Parnell, who had been of the commonwealth party, went to Ireland. Here he purchased another estate, which, with that in Cheshire, descended to our author, who was born in Dublin in the year 1679. In this city, too, at a late date, John, his brother, was born, who became judge of the court of king's bench in Ireland, and died in 1722, leaving John Parnell the first baronet of the family, who died in 1782.

Thomas, the subject of our memoir, was educated at the grammarschool of Dr Jones of Dublin, under whose management he is said to have early distinguished himself by his surprising powers of memory. The following anecdote is related of him in after life :-Before · The Rape of the Lock' was finished, Pope was reading some parts of it to Swift, who listened attentively, while Parnell went in and out of the room, apparently taking no notice of it: he, however, kept in mind a tolerably exact description of the toilet, which he translated into Latin verse, and on the day following, when Pope was again reading to some friends what he had written of the poem, our author insisted that part of the description was taken from an old monkish manuscript, and proceeded to support his assertion by reciting his translation.

In 1692, at the age of thirteen, he was admitted into the college of Dublin, and in 1700 he took the degree of Master of Arts, and was ordained a deacon by the bishop of Derry, with a dispensation, he being under the canonical age. In 1703 he was ordained a priest, and, in 1705, the archdeaconry of Clogher was conferred upon him by the bishop, Dr Ashe. About this time he married Miss Anne Minchin, a lady of high intellectual endowments. · Until towards the close of Queen Anne's reign, Parnell had been considered as belonging to the liberal party ; but, on their ejection from office at this period, he came round, and was, we are informed, “received by the new ministry as a

valuable reinforcement. When the earl of Oxford was told that Dr Parnell waited among the crowd in the outer room, he went, by the persuasion of Swift, with his treasurer's staff in his hand, to inquire for him, and to bid him welcome; and, as may be inferred from Pope's dedication, admitted him as a favourite companion to his convivial hours ; but—as it seems often to have happened in those times to th favourites of the great-without attention to his fortune, which, however, stood in no great need of improvement." ?

Our author first came to England about the year 1706. After this, it seems he generally made an annual visit to this country; and at subsequent periods, while in London, he displayed his pulpit eloquence to numerous congregations, being influenced, it has been affirmed, by a desire “ to make himself conspicuous, and to show how worthy he was of high preferment.” Dr Johnson asserts that “ the queen's death putting an end to his expectations, abated his diligence." There is reason, however, to believe that his disappointment was owing to the habits of intemperance into which he had fallen.

Foiled as his anticipations had been “ in high places,” the private friends of our author did not overlook him; for in 1713, Archbishop King, on the solicitation of Swift, gave him a prebend; and, in May, 1716, presented him to the vicarage of Finglass, in the diocese of Dublin, the value of which is stated by Goldsmith to have been £400 per annum. Mr Mitford, however, imagines that there is some error in the value which has been placed on this living, “ for Swift," he remarks in his · Vindication of his excellency, Lord Carteret,' “ speaks of him as bestowing on Mr James Stafford the vicarage of Finglass, worth about £100 a year. This was written about the year 1730. I have no doubt but that Goldsmith's valuation is erroneous; for Swift seems to doubt whether his own deanery was worth more than £400 a year.” In reference to these presentations of Archbishop King, Dr Johnson observes, “ Such notice from such a man inclines me to believe, that the vice of which he has been accused was not gross, or not notorious.” This prosperity was very transient; for in July, 1718, a period of about fourteen months after his last clerical appointment, he died at Chester when on his way to Ireland, in the thirty-ninth year of his age. He was interred at Trinity church in that town.

Parnell was courted by the chief public characters of his time, not more for his ability as a scholar than for his fascinating conversation. Pope-in whose hands the poems of Parnell were left-dedicating a selection from them to the earl of Oxford, thus addresses that nobleman :

“ Such were the notes thy once loved poet sung,

Till death untimely stopp'd his tuneful tongue.”

“ For him thou oft hast bid the world attend,

Fond to forget the statesman in the friend ;
For Swift and him, despised the farce of state,
The sober follies of the wise and great, —
Dext'rous the craving, fawning crowd to quit,
And pleased to escape from flattery to wit!"

· Parnell's conversion from whig principles to toryism was probably in a great measure due to Swift's influence over him.

“ Absent or dead, still let a friend be dear;

(A sigh the absent claims, the dead a tear!)
Recall those nights that closed thy toilsome days ;
Still hear thy Parnell in his living lays."

Notwithstanding his vivacity as a companion, Goldsmith informs us, that “ he wanted that evenness of disposition which bears disappointment with phlegm, and joy with indifference; he was ever much elated or depressed, and his whole life was spent in agony or rapture. But the turbulence of these passions only affected himself, and never those about him : he knew the ridicule of his character, and very effectually raised the mirth of his companions as well at his vexations as at his triumphs." Parnell, according to Goldsmith, was always careful that “his friends should see him to the best advantage; for when he found his fits of spleen and uneasiness returning, he retreated with all expedition to the remote parts of Ireland, and there made out a gloomy kind of satisfaction, in giving hideous descriptions of the solitude to which he retired. From many of his unpublished pieces which I have seen, and from others which have appeared, it would seem that scarce a bog in his neighbourhood was left without reproach, and scarce a mountain reared his head unsung."

Parnell corresponded closely with Pope. In one letter, Pope says, You know how very much I want you, and that however your business may depend upon another, my business depends entirely on you. And yet I still hope you will find your man, even though I lose you

the meanwhile. At this time, the more I love, the worse I can spare you ; which alone will, I dare say, be a reason to you, to let me have you back the sooner. “ In short, come down forth with, or give me good reasons for delaying, though but for a day or two, by the next post. If I find them just, I will come up to you, though you must know how precious my time is at present; my hours were never worth so much money before ; but perhaps you are not sensible of this, who give away your own works.

You are a generous author ; I, a hackney scribbler. You are a Grecian, and bred at a university ; I, a poor Englishman, of my own educating. You are a reverend parson ; I, a wag. In short, you are Doctor Parnelle,—with an e at the end of your name ;-and I, your most obliged and affectionate friend, and faithful servant.” In another letter, written in 1717, probably about the month of March, Pope writes, “ I have been ever since December last in a greater variety of business than any such men as you—that is, divines and philosophers—can possibly imagine a reasonable creature capable of. Gay's play, among the rest, has cost me much time and long-suffering, to stem a tide of malice and party that authors have raised against it. The best revenge against such fellows is now in my hands : I mean, your • Zoilus,' which really transcends the expectation I had conceived of it. I have put it into the press, beginning with the poem

• Batrachom,' for you seem by the first paragraph of the dedication to it, to design to prefix the name of some particular person. I beg therefore to know for whom you intend it, that the publication may not be delayed on this account; and this as soon as possible. Inform me also on what terms I am to deal with the bookseller; and whether you design the copy-money for Gay, as you formerly talked of."

Parnell was a member of the Scriblerus club, formed by Pope and

- The

his friends. Pope in a letter to Jervas, November, 1716, says, best amends you can make to me, is, by saying all the good you can of me, which is, that I heartily love and esteem the dean, and Dr Parnelle. Gay is yours and theirs: his spirit is awakened very much in the cause of the dean, which has broke forth in a courageous couplet or two upon Sir Richard Blackinore. He has printed it with his name to it, and bravely assigns no other reason than that the said Sir Richard has abused Dr Swift: I have also suffered in the like cause, and shall suffer more, unless Parnelle sends me bis • Zoilus' and · Bookworm."" In a letter to Parnell, Pope says, “If I were to tell you the thing I wish above all things, it is, to see you again ; the next is, to see here your treatise of • Zoilus,' with the · Batrachomuomachia,' and the · Pervigilium Veneris,' both which poems are master-pieces in several kinds ; and I question not the prose is as excellent in its sort, as the • Essay on Homer. Nothing can be more glorious to that great author, than that the same hand which raised his best statue, and decked it with its old laurels, should also hang up the scarecrow of his miserable critic, and gibbet up the carcass of • Zoilus,' to the terror of the writings of posterity.” Gay, in a letter to Parnell, says, “ Let • Zoilus' hasten to your friend's assistance, and envious criticism shall be no more."

Dr Johnson observes of Parnell on the authority of earlier biographers, “ He seems to have been one of those poets who take delight in writing. He contributed to the papers of that time, and probably published more than he owned. He left many compositions behind him, of which Pope selected those which he thought best, and dedicated them to the earl of Oxford."

• The Hermit' has been the most popular of his productions : few poems, indeed, have attracted more notice. Dr Blair says, “it is conspicuous throughout the whole of it for beautiful descriptive narration. The manner of the hermit's setting forth to visit the world; his meeting with a companion, and the houses in which they are successively entertained,—of the vain man, the covetous man, and the good man,—are pieces of very fine painting, touched with a light and delicate pencil, overcharged with no superfluous colouring, and conveying to us a lively idea of the objects.” Dr Johnson says of Parnell, that “he was by no means distinguished for great extent of comprehension, or fertility of mind. Of the little that appears, still less is his own. His praise must be derived from the easy sweetness of his diction. In his verse there is more happiness than pains; he is sprightly without effort, and always delights, though he never ravishes; every thing is proper, yet every thing seems casual. If there is some appearance of elaboration in The Hermit,' the narrative, as it is less airy, is less pleasing. Of his other compositions, it is impossible to say whether they are the productions of nature, so excellent as not to want the help of art, or of art so refined as to resemble nature.” Hume in his · Essay on Simplicity and Refinement,' says,

“It is sufficient to read Cowley once ; but Parnell, after the fiftieth reading, is as fresh as the first.”

· The incidents of this tale were in circulation so early as the 14th century, and have been employed by Sir P. Herbert in his Conceptions ;' by Howell, in his · Letters;' and by Dr Henry More, in his · Divine Dialogues.'

« PreviousContinue »