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liness in attire. Cowper says: “He was such a sloven, as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for everything that could disgust you in his person ; and indeed in his writings, he has almost made amends for all.” And again to Mr. Rose, in 1788, he writes: “I shall have great pleasure in taking now and then a peep at my old friend Vincent Bourne, the neatest of all men in his versification, though, when I was under his ushership at Westminster, the most slovenly in his person.”
So Vincent Bourne lived his shabby, unpretending life, the secretum iter, et fallentis semita vitoe. Every one must have known some one of this kind,-good-natured, easy-going, murmuring a phantom music in his head, indifferent to what went on about him, without ambition or personal dignity. His patron, the Duke of Newcastle, was anxious to benefit him, but Vinny could not be coerced into taking Orders, and so the Prebend at Westminster and the Canonry at Christchurch, which were destined for him, went elsewhere. And yet he seems to have had some obscure visions of preferment, founded on a promise given by Dr. Arbuthnot, the friend of Pope. Bourne wrote in a copy of Arbuthnot's work on Coins: “[As] to the reputation of Dr. Arbuthnot, I never met with less honour and generosity than I have received from him ; I scorn to charge that upon his country which he has been
guilty of in his private character; he should have remembered his promise, and would have done it, if he had not been a courtier ; and there is a preceding passage, which looks as if Bourne had given Arbuthnot literary assistance which had neither been acknowledged nor repaid.
Bourne, in a curious letter to his wife, written shortly before and in anticipation of his death, gives her the reasons which prevented him from taking orders ; he says that the importance of so great a charge, joined with a mistrust of his own sufficiency, made him fearful of undertaking it. And he adds, “If I have not in that capacity assisted in the salvation of souls, I have not been the means of losing any; if I have not brought reputation to the function by any merit of mine, I have the comfort of this reflection, I have given no scandal to it by my meanness and unworthiness." This letter shows that he considered the pastoral office in a different light from most of his contemporaries, as one of great personal responsibility; and the whole letter breathes a spirit of intense contrition and pathetic humility at the thought of the opportunities he has missed and the idleness and vanity of his life. He does not however write 'as if with any sense of his shortcomings as a teacher, for he says that his one desire has been to be humbly serviceable in his quiet sphere of duty. But the most touching part of the letter is the vague dismay which, in spite of his deep and sincerely Christian hope, he finds in the thought of dissolution ; the terrors of the grave lie very hard upon him, as they would upon a man of imagination and sensibility who had lived a thoughtless and easy-going life. The whole letter is a singular contrast to another rhetorical epistle which has been preserved, addressed to a young lady on the thoughts suggested by a graveyard, in which he says with a pretentious philosophy that the more human document belies, that “the frequent perusal of gravestones and monuments, and the many walks I have taken in a churchyard, have given me so great a distaste for life.” Poor Vinny ! When he came to die he had little of the philosopher about him, but shivered and cried at the dark passage.
It may be a matter of wonder how Bourne found time or inclination to marry; but he did so, and the maiden's name was Lucia. He even begat children, of whom one was a Lieutenant of Marines, and left some vague property, a house in Westminster and land in Bungay. The poet's death took place in 1747, not unexpected by himself, as I have said, and by a disease which, he records with grateful thankfulness, left him in full and calm possession of his faculties. He had written his own epitaph,
which may be thus rendered : Vincent Bourne, of unfeigned piety and utter humility, who in no place forgot his God or forgot himself, descends into the silence which he loved. It is a touching estimate, and shows, in its anxiety to deal only with essentials, how incidental his work was to his character; he forms no pompous appreciation of the value of his writings, but leaves them, like Sibylline leaves, for the wind to whirl away, the only testimony to his quiet and observant eye, his love of simple things, his intense interest in nature and humanity. Qui bene latuit, bene vixit, he might have said.
Cowper wrote to Newton in 1781, in reply to a letter suggesting that he should translate Vincent Bourne's Latin poems, and offering literary assistance. It appears to have been one of the few occasions on which Newton gave Cowper sensible advice. Cowper replies that he is much obliged for the offer of help: "It is but seldom, however, and never, except for my amusement, that I translate; because I find it impossible to work by another man's pattern. I should at least be sure to find it so in a business of any length. Again, that is epigrammatic and witty in Latin which would be perfectly insipid in English, and a translator of Bourne would frequently find himself obliged to supply what is called the turn. . Latin poem is neat, elegant, and musical, it is enough; but English readers are not so easily
satisfied. To quote myself, you will find, on comparing «The Jackdaw' with the original, that I was obliged to sharpen a point, which, though smart enough in the Latin, would in English have appeared as plain and blunt as the tag of a lace..... Vincent Bourne's humour is entirely original ; he can speak of a magpie or a cat in terms so exquisitely appropriated to the character he draws, that one would suppose him animated by the spirit of the creature he describes. And with all his drollery, there is a mixture of rational and even religious reflection at times, and always an air of pleasantry, goodnature, and humanity, that makes him in my mind one of the most amiable writers in the world. It is not common to meet with an author who can make you smile, and yet at nobody's expense, who is always entertaining and yet always harmless; and who, though always elegant and classical to a degree not always found in the classics themselves, charms more by the simplicity and playfulness of his ideas, than by the neatness and purity of his verse."
To turn to the poems in detail, almost the first thing that strikes one is the originality of his subjects. Nothing was common or unclean to our poet, at a time when poetry, except in Cowper's hands, was grandiose and affected to an uncommon degree. Vincent Bourne may be