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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF
(Continued from p. 366, vol. xv.) If, in his poem of “ The Poor,” Mr. Pratt's views of the subject are sometiines taken with the eye of a poet, rather than of a politician, this does not at all detract from its merit; the principles it inculcates are as immutable as truth, and by far the greater part of the colouring and sentiment will remain, in all their force, when the unhappy situation of the poor, which gave rise to the poem, will, we trust, be forgotten, or only pleasingly remembered, in contrast with those enjoyments which we sincerely wish may be their lot in times to come. We cannot better characterise this work, than in the words of one of its reviewers. “ Had not,” says this liberal critic, “ the author's other works, and particularly his poem on “Sympathy,' entitled him to a high rank in the walk of elegant literature, this charming effort of labour, genius, and inspiration, would give him the fairest claim to that distinction. The sudden revolution which the hydra monopoly and a few scanty seasons have produced in the poor of this country, have wrung from Mr. Pratt's muse the most tender and feeling sentiments, to enrich his faithful and animated descriptions of their former rustic felicity, compared with their late abject wretchedness.”
To sum up the poetic character of Mr. Pratt :--He is always animated, always good humoured, except when his indignation is raised against cruelty and oppression, and then he lashes the culprits with a happy mixture of irony and satire, peculiarly his own. In the fervour of composition, he sometimes gives up the reins to imagination, and bounds along without that control which frigid writers impose on themselves, and therefore escape errors, if they reach not excellencies; but private satire never disgraced his pen; the individual is always safe, though the general class to which he belongs, as in his admirable poem of “The Poor,” may feel the weight of his indignant Muse.
In a word,-in poetry, as well as prose, he is always interesting and impressive, and the sentiment fixes on the heart of the reader before the judgment can balance the terms in which it is conveyed. Few have written so much on subjects so various, and in general so well selected. Several of his most important poetical compositions are fixed in the language, and his "Sympathy,"-"Humanity," * Benevolence,” and “ The Poor,” will probably be coeval with it.
It is now time to consider Mr. Pratt as A NOVELIST; and in this capacity he has almost formed a school of his own, uniting character and sentiment and system in such just proportions, that his productions have much of the strength of the old school, with all the desirable ornaments of the new. It is true he has never employed the agency of ghosts, goblins, and enchantment; but he has always possessed the higher praise of rendering his novels deeply interesting and attractive, without such unnatural means. They in general not only furnish the mere reader of that fugitive but fascinating species of composition with more than the usual quantum of adventure, skilfully contrived and vividly delineated; but include something more substantial and systematic than modern novels in general supply—an obvious moral, and a well-connected narrative.
His “ LIBERAL OPinions on Man, Animals, and Providence," is a novel of an original cast, and its success induced the author to lay aside his adopted name, and assume his real one. The adventures of Benignus, in which it is supposed Mr. Pratt shaded some particulars of his own life, and the character of Draper, are admirably drawn, and will bear a comparison with the most felicitous productions of Fielding, Smollet, or Richardson.
“ The PUPIL OF PLEASURE,” a severe but just illustration of the principles of Chesterfield, and of their fatal tendency on the happiness of the individual, as well as society, was the next systematic novel, in the order of time, which the prolific pen of Mr. Pratt produced. It is penned with exquisite humour and pathos. The late ingenious Hugh Kelly observed, that it was “ a happy conception and safe delivery.”
“ The TUTOR OF TRUTH," intended as a contrast to the former work, considered as a moral publication, deserves unqualified praise; and it ought ever to be read in connection with “ The Pupil of Pleasure,” to which it is ingeniously contrived as the antidote.
Not long after appeared “SHENSTONE GREEN," written for the purpose of shewing the fallacy of the benevolent but chimerical idea which the amiable bard of the Leasows had promulgated, of building a village, filling it with inhabitants, and settling them in such a way as to be productive of felicity to themselves, and of advantage to the community to which they belonged. This fairy dream, this Utopian scheme, is at once most happily ridiculed and exposed; and the reader is cqually delighted with the characters introduced, and instructed by the knowledge of nature which their developement displays.
To the far-extended fame of “ EMMA CORBET," which came out when the flames of fierce and bloody contention were raging between America and the mother country, it is impossible to add by the language of panegyric. Often has the writer of this memoir attested the skill of the novelist by his tears; and such is the impression which it left on his mind, full five and twenty years ago, that time seems rather to have confirmed than effaced it.
After the lapse of several years, appeared our author's capital novel, “ Family Secrets,” in which pleasantry and pathos, humour and gravity, are alternately employed to enforce some great and important truth, to paint Virtue in her brightest attire, and to deter from Vice by the misery attendant on her footsteps. The character of Partington and John Fitzorton are not only excellent, but perfectly new to the public; and the traits of Caroline and Olivia represent two women, which are models for the formation of the female mind and manners, that are almost contrasts to each other, yet equally delightful, and by no means out of the reach of imitation.
These favourite productions, which are among the chief ornaments of the circulating library, and merit a place in every private collection, we hope soon, if report is to be credited, to see printed, as announced in the beginning of this memoir, under the author's direction, in one consecutive series.
Having briefly considered our author as a poet and a novelist, we shall just mention his “ Sublime and Beautiful of Scripture," which came out at first in two volumes, and proves how well he was qualified to aid the cause of religion by enlisting genius under its banners; and we cannot deplore the hapless events which interrupted Mr. P.'s progress when pointed to a profession for which nature and habits so eminently qualified him. His “ Observations on Young's Night Thoughts” is a work somewhat of the same stamp; and it she:vs no small share of critical acumen, at a very early period of the author's life,
Indeed, all Mr. Pratt's writings have been equally favourable to religion and social order. His animated “ Address to the Tars of Old England,” and his “ Good old Castle on the Rock,” which were published last war, evince him to be as good a subject as he is an elegant writer. Did literature lead to places and pensions; were governments as careful to reward their friends, as they are diligent in buying up their enemies, Mr. Pratt would now be enjoying the otium cum dignitate--the recompence not of obsequious adulation,
but of active and unbought services, which are the more valuable, because they have been well timed and consistent,
With so much versatility of talent, and such a peculiar felicity in the delineation of character, it was not likely that our author should suffer the stage to escape his notice. His “ FAIR CIRCASSIAN, founded on the story of Almoran and Hamet, by Dr. Hawkesworth, had a run of twenty-six nights, with very little intermission; and its success, it might have been imagined, would have tempted Mr. Pratt to court the tragic Muse, or at least her laughing sister, to win whose smiles he appears to be equally qualified, and, if fame is to be believed, he has more than one production long since prepared for representation.
With regard to Mr. Pratt's great miscellaneous work under the felicitous and appropriate title of “ Gleanings,"* any praise we could bestow would only be echoing the general voice of the public, Its commencement appeared in 1795, after his pen had lain dormant for several years, during the greatest part of which time he resided on the continent. The first three volumes are devoted to Gleanings in Wales, Holland, and Westphalia, and the three last, of which two have for some time been before the public, are given to England. The concluding volume of the series has for some months been announced. Ireland and Scotland will still open a fertile field to our author's inquisitive mind, and observant eye; and we sincerely wish him health and resolution to undertake the task of depicting them in those characteristic tints which he is so singularly qualified to draw.
Both the plan and execution of the Gleanings are perfectly original; and no work of modern times has met with greater or more deserved success. In the delineation of character, and in seizing those traits of discrimination which would escape common observers, Mr. Pratt is extremely happy. Those who have read the Gleanings, will be at a loss to determine, whether in sportive humour, acute remark, easy wit, pathetic description, or philan, thropic sentiment, our author has most legitimate claims to admiration.
* This title has, in various instances, been borrowed by those who did not possess a spark of our author's genius, and applied to works wholly unworthy to be compared with their prototype.
[To be continued.]
THE LATE WILLIAM COWPER, ESQ.
TO MR. PARK.
Weston-Underwood, April 27, 1792. DEAR SIR, I
WRITE now merely to prevent any suspicion in your mind that I neglect you. I have been very ill, and for more than a fortnight unable to use the pen, or you should have heard long ere now of the safe arrival of your pacquet. I have revised the Elegy on Seduction,* but have not as yet been able to proceed farther. The best way of returning these which I have now in hand, will be to return them with those which you propose to send hereafter. I will make no more apologies for any liberties that it may seem necessary to me to take with your copies. Why do you send them but that I may exercise that freedom of which the very act of sending them implies your permission? I will only say therefore that you must neither be impatient, nor even allow yourself to think me tardy, since assuredly I will not be more so than I needs must be. My hands are pretty full: Milton must be forwarded, and is at present hardly begun; and I have, beside, a numerous correspondence which engrosses more of my time than I can at present well afford to it.
I cannot decide with myself whether the lines in which the reviewers are so smartly noticed, had better be expunged or not. Those lines are gracefully introduced and well written, for which reasons I should be loth to part with them. On the other hand, how far it may be prudent to irritate a body of critics, who certainly much influence the public opinion, may deserve consideration. It
may be added too that they are not all equally worthy of the lash: there are among them men of real learning, judgment, and candour. I must leave it therefore to your own determination.
* This Elegy was inserted in a volume of sonnets and miscellaneous poems al. ready adverted to; but the copy sent to Mr. Cowper for revisal, and which he had revised with judicious care, was not discovered among his papers till after the poem had appeared, though Lady Hesketh and the Reverend Mr. Johnson successively employed their friendly endeavours for that purpose. Mere accident, at length, introduced it to the hands of the latter, and his fattering kindness on the occasion de mands this public acknowledgment.