« PreviousContinue »
Non sibi sed bono publico.
DIED A. D. 1723.
Thomas D'urfey was a native of Devonshire, and bred to the profession of the law, "which he forsook," says Hawkins, "under a persuasion, which some poets, and even players, have been very ready to entertain as an excuse for idleness, and an indisposition to sober reflection, viz. that the law is a study so dull that no man of genius can submit to it. With a full confidence in the powers of a mind thus liberally formed," continues Sir John, "D'Urfey enlisted himself in the service of the stage, and became an author of tragedies, comedies, and operas, of which he wrote near thirty. The success of his dramatic productions far exceeded their deserts; for, whether we consider the language, the sentiments, or the morals of his plays, they are in all these respects so exceptionable as to be below criticism, and to leave him in possession of that character only which he seemed most to affect, to wit, that of a pleasant companion. The time when D'Urfey lived was very favourable to men of his factious, and, we may say, licentious turn of manners. He came into the world a few years after the Restoration, when all was joy and merriment, and when to be able to drink and to sing were reckoned estimable qualities; D'Urfey could do both; and, superadded to these gifts, he had a talent of poetry, which he could adapt to any occasion; he wrote songs, and, though unskilled in music, and labouring under the impediment of stammering in his speech, having a tolerable voice, sung them himself frequently at public feasts and meetings, and not seldom in the presence of King Charles II. who, laying aside all state and reserve, would lean on his shoulder and look over the paper."
The compositions of D'Urfey, such of them at least as were not liable to exception on account of gross indelicacy, became favourites with the whole kingdom. Addison, in a paper in the Guardian, after exhibiting a lively portrait of D'Urfey, whom he is pleased to call his old friend and contemporary, says, speaking to the ladies, his disciples, that he often made their grandmothers merry; and that his sonnets had perhaps lulled asleep many a toast among the ladies then living, when she lay in her cradle. And in another number of the Guardian, is a notification to the reader that a play of D'Urfey's, ' The Plotting Sisters,' which had been honoured with the presence 0i Charles II. three of its first five nights, was then shortly to be acted for his benefit, concluding with a recommendation of it as a pleasant entertainment.
Three volumes, consisting mostly of songs written by himself, were published by D'Urfey, with the singular title of 'Laugh and be Fat, or Pills to purge Melancholy.' In the year 1719, with the assistance of a numerous subscription, he republished them, with the addition of other three volumes, including a great number of orations, poems, prologues, and epilogues written by himself, and gave the whole collection the title of 'Wit and Mirth, or Pills to purge Melancholy; being a Collection of the best merry Ballads and Songs, old and new, fitted to all humours; having each their proper Tune for either Voice or Instrument.' In this collection, besides a great number of singular humorous songs, are many that bespeak the political sentiments of their author. Tom, at least in the early part of his life, was a tory by principle, and never let slip an opportunity of representing his adversaries, the whigs, as a set of sneaking rascals. Mr Addison says that the song of' Joy to great Caesar,' gave them such a blow as they were never able to recover during the reign of Charles II. The paper in which these and other passages equally humorous, respecting D'Urfey and his compositions are contained, was written by Mr Addison with a view to fill the house at a play of his in June 1713. It concludes with the following sketch of D'Urfey. "As my friend, after the manner of the old lyrists, accompanies his works with his own voice, he has been the delight of the most polite companies and conversations, from the beginning of King Charles the second's reign to our present times. Many an honest gentleman has got a reputation in his country by pretending to have been in company with Tom D'Urfey. I might here mention several other merits in my friend, as his enriching our language with a multitude of rhymes, and bringing words together that without his good offices would never have been acquainted with one another so long as it had been a tongue. But I must not omit that my old friend angles for a trout the best of any man in England. May-flies come in late this season, or I myself should before now have had a trout of his hooking. After what I have said, and much more that I might say on this subject, I question not but the world will think that my old friend ought not to pass the remainder of his life in a cage like a singing-bird, but enjoy all the Pindarick liberty which is suitable to a man of his genius. He has made the world merry, and I hope they will make him easy so long as he stays among us. This I will take upon me to say, they cannot do a kindness to a more diverting companion, or a more cheerful, honest and good-natured man." This merry fellow died on the 26th of February, 1723.
BORN A. D. 1G48. DIED A.D. 1724.
This very learned ecclesiastical writer was the third son of Edmund Prideaux of Padstow in Cornwall. After receiving the rudiments o( education at Leskiard and Bodmin in his native county, he wa3 sent to Westminster school, then under the charge of Dr Busby. Here he was chosen king's scholar, and elected to Christ-church, Oxford.
His first literary effort was the superintendence, under Dr Fell, of an edition of Florus. Two years afterwards, on the arrival of the Arundelian marbles at Oxford, Prideaux was appointed to draw up and publish an account of them, which he did very successfully, in a work entitled, 'Marmora Oxoniensia,' Oxford, 1676. In 1679, Chancellor Finch presented our author with the rectory of St Clement's, Oxford The same year Prideaux published two tracts out of Maimonides in Hebrew, to which he added a Latin translation and annotations. The book bears the title of ' De jure Pauperis, et Peregrini apud Judaeos.' This he did in consequence of his having been appointed Dr Busby's Hebrew lecturer in the college of Christ-church; and his principal view in printing this book was to introduce young students in the Hebrew language to the knowledge of the Rabbinical dialect, and to teach them to read it without points.
In 1681 Prideaux received a prebend in the cathedral of Norwich; and next year he was instituted to the rectory of Bladen-cum-Woodstock, which he afterwards exchanged for that of Saham in Norfolk. "From the time," says the author of a life of Prideaux, published in 1748, "that he was Master of Arts and a tutor in the college, he was always very zealous and diligent in reforming such disorders and corruptions as had from time to time crept into it; and made all opportunities in his power for suppressing them. This of course drew on him the ill will of many of his fellow-collegians, as must always happen to those who endeavour at the reformation of discipline. But at the same time he had the friendship and esteem of the best men, and such whose reputation was highest in the university; particularly of Bishop Fell; Dr Pocock, the learned Hebrew and Arabic professor; Dr Marshall, dean of Gloucester and rector of Lincoln college; Dr Bernard, Savilian professor of astronomy; Dr Mills, the editor of the Greek Testament; Dr Henry Godolphin, late dean of St Paul's; Mr Guise of All Souls college, and many other learned and valuable men."
Soon after the death of Bishop Fell, Dr Prideaux left Oxford, and retired to his prebend, where he soon began to distinguish himself by his determined opposition to popery. In 1688 he was collated to the archdeaconry of Suffolk. He was also recommended to the bishopric of Norwich by the bishops of London and St Asaph; but declined the appointment. In 1697 he published a life of Mahomet, which passed through three editions the same year. About this time also he projected a history of the Saracen empire, of which, however, his life of the Arabian impostor was the only portion which he completed. In 1702 he succeeded Dr Fairfax in the deanery of Norwich.
In 1715 he published the first part of his celebrated ' Connection of the History of the Old and New Testament.' The second part appeared in 1717.
Dr Prideaux died in 1724. "He was naturally," says his biographer, "of a very strong, robust constitution, which enabled him to pursue his studies with great assiduity; and notwithstanding his close application and sedentary manner of life, enjoyed great vigour both of body and mind for many years together, till he was seized with the unhappy distemper of the stone. His parts were very good, rather solid than lively. His judgment excellent. As a writer he is clear, strong, and intelligent, without any pomp of language, or ostentation of eloquence. His conversation was a good deal of the same kind, learned and instructive, with a conciseness of expression on many occasions, which to those who were not well acquainted with him, had sometimes the appearance of rusticity. In his manner of life he was ▼cry regular and temperate, being seldom out of his bed after ten at night, and generally rose to his studies before five in the morning. His manners were sincere and candid. He generally spoke his mind with freedom and boldness, and was not easily diverted from pursuing what be thought right. In his friendships he was constant and invariable; to his family was an affectionate husband, a tender and careful father, and greatly esteemed by his friends and relations, as he was very serviceable to them on all occasions. As a clergyman, he was strict and punctual in the performance of all the duties of his function himself, and carefully exacted the same from the inferior clergy and canons of his church. In party-matters, so far as he was concerned, always showed himself firmly attached to the interest of the protestant cause aud principles of the Revolution, but without joining in with the violence of parties, or promoting those factions and divisions which prevailed both in the church and state during the greater part of his life. His integrity and moderation, which should have recommended him to some of the higher stations in the church, were manifestly the occasion of his being neglected; for busy party zealots and men more conversant in the arts of a court, were easily preferred over him, whose highest and only ambition was carefully to perform what was incumbent on him in every station in life, and to acquit himself of his duty to his God, his friends and his country."
&it Sfoim Fanbrujjlj.
DIED A. D. 1726.
The family of this ingenious architect and successful dramatic poet was originally from Ghent in Flanders. Giles Vanbrugh, or Vanburg, the grandfather of Sir John, fled from his native country when desolated by the persecuting duke of Alva, and, coming to England, settled as a merchant in London, where he died in 1646. His son, the father of our poet, acquired an ample fortune as a sugar-baker in Chester, and married the fifth daughter of Sir Dudley Carleton of Imbercourt in Surrey, by whom he had eight sons, the second of whom was John, who was probably born about the middle of the reign of Charles II.
We have no account of his education; but it probably was liberal, and suited to the rank and circumstances of his family. At an early age he entered the army, in which he, for a short time, bore an ensign's commission. Happening to become acquainted with Sir Thomas Skipwith, who possessed a share in a theatrical patent, the young officer confessed to him that he occasionally paid his court to the muse of comedy, and showed him the outlines of two plays, which Sir Thomas encouraged him to finish. One of these, 'The Relapse,' was brought out in 1697, and, notwithstanding the gross indecencies with which it abounded, its success was so great that Vanbrugh abandoned the profession of arms for that of belles lettres. In 1698 he brought out 'The Provoked Wife,' which was equally well-received as the former, though equally immoral in its tendency, and indelicate in its expression. In the same year he produced his comedy of ' JEsop;' but this was pretty nearly a failure. 'The False Friend' was acted in 1702.
In 1706, when the Haymarket theatre was finished, Betterton and his associates placed it under the management of Vanbrugh and Congreve, who, in order to humour the prevailing taste, commenced the campaign with a translated opera, set to Italian music, called 'The Triumph of Love;' but it was coldly received, and lingered out only three nights to thin and disapproving audiences. Immediately after this failure, Vanbrugh produced his comedy called 'The Confederacy,' which was a translation with improvements from the ' Bourgeois a la Mode' of Dancour. This was a better hit than the preceding. Congreve having given up his share and interest in the theatre to his associate, Vanbrugh was now under an imperious necessity to exert himself, and in one season produced three other imitated pieces from the French. These were, ' The Cuckold in Conceit,' 'Squire Treelooby,' and 'The Mistake.' Soon after this he too retired from the management of the theatre. His last comedy, 'The Journey to London,' was only left in outline. Cibber filled it up with tolerable success.
Hazlitt says of Sir John:—" He is no writer at all as to mere authorship, but he makes up for it by a prodigious fund of comic invention and ludicrous description, bordering somewhat on caricature. He has none of Congreve's graceful refinement, and as little of Wycherley's serious manner and studied insight into the springs of character; but his exhibition of it, in dramatic contrast, and unlooked-for situations,—where the different parties play upon one another's feelings, and into one another's hands, keeping up the jest like a game of battledore and shuttlecock, and urging it to the utmost verge of breathless extravagance,—is beyond that of any other writer. His fable is not so profoundly learned, nor his characters so well designed as Wycherley's, who in these respects bore some resemblance to Fielding. Vanbrugh does not lay the same deliberate train from the outset to the conclusion, so that the whole may hang together, and lead inevitably from the combination of different agents and circumstances, to the same decisive point; but he works out scene after scene on the spur of the occasion, and, from the immediate hold they take of his imagination at the moment, without any previous bias or ultimate purpose, much more powerfully and in a wider vein of invention. His fancy warms and burnishes out as if he were engaged in the real scene of action, and felt all his faculties suddenly called forth to meet the emergency. He has more nature than art. He has a masterly eye to the advantages which certain accidental situations of character present to him on tho spot; and he executes the most difficult and rapid theatrical movements at a minute's warning."
It remains for us to add a brief notice of Sir John in his architectural capacities. At what time he began to exercise the profession ol an architect does not appear. His principal buildings are Blenheim Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and St John's church in Westminster. In his style Sir John frequently attempts to blend the Gothic and Grecian; and the effect this produced is seldom happy. Pope said of Sir John's writings, 'Van wants grace;' and Horace Walpole applies the saying to his buildings also. But Sir Joshua Reynolds contends for Vanbrugh's originality of invention, and great skill in composition. "In the buildings of Vanbrugh," says the learned president, "there is a greater display of imagination than we shall find perhaps in any