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LIFE OF YOUNG,
BY THE REV. SIR HERBERT CROFT AND DR. JOHNSON.
THE following life was written, at my request, by a gentleman who had better in
formation than I could easily have obtained; and the public will perhaps wish that I had solicited and obtained more such favours from him '.
"IN consequence of our different conversations about authentic materials for the Life of Young, I send you the following detail.
"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 vo, lumes 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, 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
1 See Gent. Mag. vol. lxx. p. 225. N.
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 birth-day, 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 Tenisop, 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 much wealth.
On the 23d 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 the 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 common-place, and such a one as was never published before by any author whatever; that this prac. tice 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 Curl and Tonson, 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 Ora. tion 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 patronized 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 opioion 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 reconcileable. 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 honour 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.
2 As my great friend is now become the subject of biography, it should be told, that, every time I called upon Johnson during the time I was employed in collecting materials for this life and putting it together, he never suffered me to depart without some such farewell as this: "Don't forget that rascal Tindal, sir. Be sure to hang up the atheist." Alluding to this anecdote, which Johnson had mentioned
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 po etry, 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 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 March 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 god-mother. 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
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,
3 Dr. Johnson, in many cases, thought and directed differently, particularly in Young's Works, J.N ↑ Not in the Tatler, but in the Guardian, May 9, 1713. C.
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 beholds 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 had 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