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ROBERT EARL OF OXFORD, AND
PREFIXED TO Dr. Parnelle's POEMS, published after HIS DEATH BY MR. POPE.
SUCH were the notes thy once-lov'd Poet sung, Till Death untimely stopp'd his tuneful tongue. Oh just beheld, and lost! admir'd and mourn'd! With softest manners, gentlest arts adorn'd!
Epistle to Robert Earl of Oxford.] This Epistle was sent to the Earl of Oxford with Dr. Parnelle's Poems published by our Author, after the said Earl's imprisonment in the Tower, and retreat into the country, in the Year 1721.
Ver. 1. Such were the notes] The notes were charming indeed! We have few pieces of Poetry superior to Parnelle's Rise of Woman; the Fairy Tale; the Hymn to Contentment; Health, an Eclogue; the Vigil of Venus; the Night-piece on Death; the Allegory on Man; and the Hermit. The best account of the original of this last exquisite poem is given in the third volume of the History of English Poetry, p. 31.; from whence it appears that it was taken from the eightieth chapter of that curious repository of ancient tales, the Gesta Romanorum. The story is related in the fourth volume of Howel's Letters, who says he found it in Sir Philip Herbert's Conceptions; but this fine Apologue was much better related in the Divine Dialogues of Dr. Henry More, Dial. ii. part 1; and Parnelle seems to have copied it chiefly from this Platonic Theologist, who had not less imagination than learning. Pope used to say that it was originally written in Spanish: from
Blest in each science, blest in ev'ry strain!
Absent or dead, still let a friend be dear, (A sigh the absent claims, the dead a tear) Recall those nights that clos'd thy toilsome days, 15 Still hear thy Parnelle in his living lays, Who, careless now of int'rest, fame, or fate, Perhaps forgets that OXFORD e'er was great; Or deeming meanest what we greatest call, Beholds thee glorious only in thy fall.
And sure, if aught below the seats divine Can touch Immortals, 'tis a Soul like thine:
the early connection between the Spaniards and Arabians, it may be suspected that it was an Oriental tale. Voltaire has inserted it in his Zadig, without mentioning a syllable of the place whence he borrowed it. Warton.
Ver 21. And sure, if aught] Strength of mind appears to have been the predominant characteristic of Lord Oxford; of which he gave the most striking proofs when he was stabbed, displaced, imprisoned. These noble and nervous lines allude to these circumstances; of his fortitude and firmness another striking proof remains, in a letter which the Earl wrote from the Tower to a friend, who advised him to meditate an escape, and which is worthy of the greatest hero of antiquity. This extraordinary letter I had the pleasure of reading, by the favour of the Earl's excellent grand-daughter, the late Dutchess Dowager of Portland, who inherited that love of literature and science, so peculiar to her ancestors and family.
A Soul supreme, in each hard instance try'd,
The rage of Pow'r, the blast of public breath, 25
In vain to Deserts thy retreat is made;
Ev'n now, she shades thy Ev'ning-walk with bays,
THERE are few verses in Pope more correct, more musical, more dignified, and affecting, than these to Lord Oxford; and such a testimony to his merit in the hour of misfortune, must have been as grateful to Lord Oxford, as it was honourable to Pope. Bowles.
JAMES CRAGGS, ESQ.
SECRETARY OF STATE.
A SOUL as full of Worth, as void of Pride,
And strikes a blush through frontless Flattery.
Secretary of State.] In the year 1720.
Mr. Craggs was made Secretary at War, in 1717, when the Earl of Sunderland and Mr. Addison were appointed Secretaries of State.
This Epistle appears to have been written soon after his being made one of the Secretaries of State. He was deeply implicated in the famous South-Sea scheme. When Mr. Shippen, alluding to him, said in the House of Commons, (at the time a motion was made to secure the persons and property of the South-Sea directors,)" in his opinion, there were some men in high stations, who were no less guilty than the directors;" Mr. Craggs immediately answered, he was ready to give satisfaction to any man, who should question him in that House, or out of it. This created great offence, and was understood as a challenge, but after some ferment, Mr. Craggs said, that "by giving satisfaction" he meant, clearing his conduct.-Tyndal's Continuation of Rapin.
He died soon after the detection of the fallacy of the great scheme, and would most probably have been called to a severe account had he lived. He died of the small-pox, on the ninth day, 16th February, 1721. Bowles.
All this thou wert; and being this before,
I shall add a dialogue by Mr. Pope, in verse, that is genuine:
"Since my old friend is grown so great,
As to be Minister of State,
I'm told, but 'tis not true I hope,
That Craggs will be asham'd of Pope."
"Alas! if I am such a creature,
To grow the worse for growing greater;
'Tis Pope must be asham'd of Craggs." Warton.