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THIS illustrious poet was born at London, in 1688, and was descended from a good family of that name in Oxfordshire, the head of which was the Earl of Downe, whose sole heiress married the Earl of Lindsey. His father, a man of primitive simplicity and integrity of manners, was a merchant of London, who, upon the revolution, quittéd trade, and converted his effects into money, amounting to near 10,0001. with which he retired into the country, and died in 1717, at the age of seventy-five.
Our poet's mother, who lived to a very advanced age, being ninety-three years old when she died, in 1733, was the daughter of William Turner, Esq. of York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed; another died in the service of King Charles; and the eldest, following his fortunes, and becoming
a general officer in Spain, left her what estate remained after sequestration and forfeitures of her family. To these circumstances our poet alludes, in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, in which he mentions his parents.
Of gentle blood (part shed in honour's cause,
Each parent sprang. What fortune, pray?....Their
And better got than Bestia's from the throne.
The good man walk'd innoxious thro' his age:
The education of our great author was attended with circumstances very singular, and some of them extremely unfavourable; but the amazing force of his genius fully compensated the want of any advantage in his earliest instruction. He owed the knowledge
of his letters to an aunt; and having learned very early to read, took great delight in it, and taught himself to write by copying after printed books, the characters of which he would imitate to great perfection. He began to compose verses farther back than he could well remember; and, at eight years of age, when he was put under one Taverner, a priest, who taught him the rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues at the same time, he met with Ogilby's Homer, which gave him great delight; and this was increased by Sandy's Ovid. The raptures which these authors, even in the disguise of such translations, then yielded him were so strong, that he spoke of them with pleasure ever after.
From Mr. Taverner's tuition he was sent to a private school at Twiford, near Winchester, where he continued about a year, and was then removed to another near Hyde-Park Corner; but was so unfortunate as to lose under his two last masters what he had acquired under the first.
While he remained at this school, being permitted to go to the play-house with some of his school-fellows of a more advanced age, he was so charmed with dramatic representations, that he formed the translation of the Iliad into a play, from several of the speeches in Ogilby's translation, connected with verses of his own; and the several parts were performed by the