« EelmineJätka »
old friend, and seen him. He received me with an ardour of kindness natural to the sensibility of his temper, and we were soon seated together by his fireside: I perceived upon his table a quarto book, in which he had been writing, a prayerbook and a Horace : after the first compliments, I said I had been at Margate, had seen his mother and his sister, who expressed great kindness for him, and made me promise to come and see him: to this he made no reply: nor did he make any enquiry after those I mentioned: he did not even mention the place, nor ask me any questions about it, or what carried me thither. After some pause, and some indifferent chat, I returned to the subject, and said that Mr. Hunter and you would be very glad to see him in Kent: to this he replied very quick, I cannot afford to be idle ;" I said he might employ his mind as well in the country as in town, at which he only shook his head ; and I entirely changed the subject. Upon my asking him when we should see the Psalıns, he said they were going to press immediately: as to his other undertakings, I found he had completed a translation of Phædrus in verse for Dodsley at a certain price, and that he is now busy in translating all Horace into verse, which he sometimes thinks of publishing on his own account, and sometimes of contracting for it with a bookseller: I ad. vised him to the latter, and he then told me he was in treaty about it, and believed it would be a bargain : he told me his principal motive for translating Horace into verse, was to supersede the prose translation which he did for Newbery, which he said would hurt his memory. He intends however to review that translation, and print it at the foot of the page in his poetical versioil, which he proposes to print in quarto with the Latin, both in verse and prose, on the opposite page ; he told me he once had thoughts of printing it by subscription, but as he had troubled his friends already, he was unwilling to do it again, and had been persuaded to publish it in numbers, which, though I rather dissuaded him, seemed at last to be the prevailing bent of his mind: he read me some of it: it is very close, and his own poetical fire sparkles in it very frequently; yet, upon the whole, it will scarcely take place of Francis's, and therefore, if it is not adopted as 'a school book, which perhaps may be the case, it will turn to little account. Upon mentioning his prose translation, I saw his countenance kindle, and snatching up the book, “ What,” says he,“ do you think I had for this?” I said I could not tell.“ Why,” says he, with great indignation, “thirteen pounds.” I expressed very great astonishment, which he seemed to think he should encrease by adding, " but, Sir, I gave a receipt for a hundred ;" my astonishment bowever was now over, and I found that he received only thirteen pounds because the rest had been advanced for his family; this was a tender point, and I found means immediately to divert him from it.
“ He is with very decent people, in a house most delightfully situated with a terrace that overlooks St. James's Park, and a door into it. He was going to dine with an old friend of my own, Mr. Richard Dalton, who has an appointment in the king's library, and if I had not been particularly engaged, I would have dined withi him.' lle had lately received a very genteel letter from Dr. Lowth, and is by no means considered in any light that makes his company as a gentleman, a scholar, and a genius less desirable.”
In his intervals of health and regularity, he still continued to write, and although
he perhaps formed too high an opinion of his effusions, he spared no labour when employed by the booksellers, and formed in conjunction with them many schemes of literary industry which he did not live to accomplish. In 1765, he published a poetical translation of the Fables of Phædrus, with the appendix of Gudius, and an accurate original text on the opposite page.
This translation appears to be executed with neatness and fidelity, but has never become popular. His transla. tion of the Psalms which followed in the same year affords a melancholy proof of want of judgment and decay of powers. Many of his psalms scarcely rise above the level of Sternhold and Hopkins, and they had the additional disadvantage of appearing at the same time with Merrick's more correct and chaste translation. In 1767, our poet executed the design hinted at in Dr. Hawkesworth’s letter, by re. publishing his Horace, with a metrical translation, in which although we find abund. ance of inaccuracies, irregular rhymes and redundancies, there are some passages conceived in the true spirit of the original.
His last publication, in 1768, exhibited a more striking proof of want of judg. ment than any of his late performances. It was intitled the Parables of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, done into familiar verse, with occasional applications for the use of younger minds. This was dedicated to Master Bonnel George Thornton, a child of three years old, and is written in that species of verse which would be tolerated only in the nursery,
In what manner he lived during these years his biographer has not informed us : but at leogth he was confined for the King's Bench prison, the rules of which were obtained for him by his brother-in-law Mr. Thomas Carnan. Here he died after a short illness occasioned by a disorder in his liver, May 18th, 1770, leaving two daughters who, with his widow, have long been settled at Reading, and by their prudent management of the book selling trade, transferred to them by the late Mr. John Newbery, have been enabled to maintain a very respectable rank ip life.
In 1791, a collection of his poetical pieces was formed, to which were prefixed some memoirs of his life collected from his relations. Of these much use has been made in the present sketch, but it has been found necessary to employ considerable research in supplying the want of proper dates, and other circum. stances illustrative of the literary character of a man who, with all his failings, had many amiable qualities, and certainly the genius of a real poet. Of his personal character, the following particulars yet remain to be added from the Memoirs.
66 His piety was exemplary and fervent; it may not be uninteresting to the reader to be told, that Mr. Smart, in composing the religious poems, was frequently so impressed with the sentiment of devotion, as to write particular passages on his knees.
“ He was friendly, affectionate, and liberal to excess; so as often to give that to others, of which he was in the ulinust want himself: he was also particularly en. gaging in conversation, when his first shyness was worn away; which he had in common with literary men, but in a very remarkable degree. Ilaving undertaken to introduce his wilc to my Lord Darlington, with whom he was well acquainted ; he had no sooner mentioned her name to his Lordship, than he retreated suddenly, as if stricken with a panic, from the room, and from the house, leaving her to fol. low overwhelmed with confusion.
“ As an instance of the wit of his conversation, the following extemporary spondiac, descriptive of the three Bedels of the University, who were at that time all very fat men, is still remembered by his academical acquaintance.
Pinguia tergeminorum abdomina Bedellorum. " This line he afterwards inserted in one of his poems for the Tripos."
As a poet Smart exhibits indubitable proofs of genius, but few of a correct taste, and appears to have seldom exercised much labour, or employed cool judgment in preparing his works for the public. Upon the whole therefore he is most successful in his lighter pieces, his odes, his songs, and fables. Of his vdes, that on Illnature; the Morning, Noon, and Night pieces, particularly the last, if the epigrammatic turn at the conclusion does not disappoint the pensive reader, may be cited as productions of rich and original fancy, nor will it detract much from their praise that they sometimes remind us of Milton. His fables are entitled to high praise, for ease of versification and delicacy of humour ; and although he may have departed from the laws which some critics have imposed on this species of composition, by giving reason to inanimate objects, it will be difficult by any laws to convince the reader that he ought not to be delighted with the Tea-pot and the Scrubbing-brush, the Bag Wig and the Tobacco-pipe, or the Brocaded Gown and the Linen Rag.
In his religious poems, written for the Seatonian prize, there is much to commend, and where we are most disposed to blame, the fault perhaps is in the expecta:ion that such subjects can be treated with advantage. In the preface to his Ode to St. Cecilia, he allows that the chusing too high subjects has been the ruin of many a tolerable genius ;” and Dr. Johnson, with majestic energy, remarks that 6 whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name of the Supreme BeingOmnipotence cannot be exalted; Infinity cannot be amplified ; Perfection cannot be improved.” Of this Smart seems to have been aware, ale though ambition and interest, neither illaudable in his circumstances, prompted him to make an attempt, in which, whatever his success, he was allowed to excel his ri• vals.
We find him accordingly digressing from his immediate subjects, wherever he can : in his poem on Eternity, he treats of the creation and end of the world, and the last judgment: and in that of Omniscience, he confines himself principally to the wonderfuleffects of instinct. That there are some splendid passages in these poenis, calculated to elevate the mind, and to impart the pious enthusiasm which animated the poet, it would be unjust to deny, but they are perhaps nearly balanced by pompous irregularities, and some of those extraordipary flights which remind us of Blackmore. What can be worse poetry than such lines as
“Thou whose ways to wonder at's distrust,
Whom to describe's presumption.” ? Or what more bold and reprehensible freedom.s than to call the Almighty the
LIFE OF SMART.
15 “ Great Poet of the universe,” and to speak of himself as “ The Poet of bis God?"
The Hymn to the Supreme Being is free from all these objections, and is in truth a composition of great pathos and sublimity.
The Hilliad is professedly an imitation of the Dunciad, to which, however, it is greatly superior in design, and generally in execution. Hill was a more fair object of ridicule than either of the heroes of Pope's satire, and in the Hilliad we have such a profusion of ludicrous imagery as cannot perhaps be found in any composition of the same length in our language. Of poems written in profound contempt, and with no other object than to accumulate terms and epithets of the most poignant ridicule, the Hilliad perhaps may be considered as the first.