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retires from the world, will find himself, in reality, deserted as fast, if not faster, by the world. The publick 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 domestick 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 tomorrow I will do a particular thing? Upon enquiring 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. “Every thing about him shews 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. He too was a clergyman. He supported an uncomfortable existence by translating for the booksellers from Greek; and, if he was not 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 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, a second time, 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 not shut."
“What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame!
And dust to dust concludes her noblest song!”
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 a stone or a turf, will find its way, sooner or later, to the deserving.
“ M. S.
Filius superstes." Is it not strange that the author of the “ Night
1 Boswell mentions especially Dr. Young's copy of the Rambler as an example of this cruelly destructive mode of expressing his admiration. Boswell's Johnson, vol. i. p. 162.
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 I have been able to collect of Young. That it may be long before any thing like what I have just transcribed be necessary for you, is the sincere wish of,
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 alterations, you insisted on striking out one passage, only 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 it is printed; and I will say here, in spite of you, how I feel myself honoured and bettered by your friendshipand 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”
H. C.” Oxford, Sept. 1782.
Of Young's Poems it is difficult to give any general character; for he has no uniformity of manner: one of his
Burke said of this Life, “ No, no, it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his pomp without his force: it has all the nodosities of the oak without its strength.” “It has all the contortions of the Sibyl without the inspiration.”—Boswells Johnson, vol. iv. p. 21.
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 effects of chance, sometimes adverse, and sometimes lucky, with very little operation of judgement.
He was not one of the 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 heroick 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 sentiment, 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 of Juvenal; 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 chusing those parts which most easily admit the ornaments of English poetry.
He had least success in his lyrick 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 di. gressive 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 his highest vigour.