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ROBERT EARL OF OXFORD, AND EARL OF MORTIMER.
Epifle to Robert Earl of Oxford.] This Epittle was fent to the Earl of Oxford with Dr. Parnelle's Poems published by our Author, after the faid Earl's imprisonment in the Tower, and retreat into the country, in the Year 1721. POPE.
VER. 1. Such were the notes] The notes were charming indeed! We have few pieces of Poetry fuperior to Parnelle's Rife 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 ori ginal of this laft exquifite poem is given in the third volume of the Hiftory of English Poetry, p. 31.; from whence it appears that it was taken from the eightieth chapter of that curious repofitory of ancient tales, the Gefta Romanorum. The ftory is related in the fourth volume of Howel's Letters, who fays 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 lefs imagination than learning. Pope used to say that it was originally written in Spanish :
Bleft in each science, bleft in ev'ry strain!
And fure, if aught below the feats divine
from the early connection between the Spaniards and Arabians, it may be fufpected that it was an Oriental tale. Voltaire has in. ferted it in his Zadig, without mentioning a fyllable of the place whence he borrowed it. WAKTON.
VER. 21. And fure, if aught] Strength of mind appears to have been the predominant characteristic of Lord Oxford; of which he gave the moft ftriking proofs when he was ftabbed, difplaced, imprisoned. These noble and nervous lines allude to these circumftances; of his fortitude and firmness another ftriking proof remains, in a letter which the Earl wrote from the Tower to a friend, who advised him to meditate an efcape, and which is worthy of the greatest hero of antiquity. This extraordinary letter I had
A Soul fupreme, in each hard instance try'd,
The rage of Pow'r, the blast of public breath,
In vain to Deferts thy retreat is made;
The Muse attends thee to thy filent shade:
'Tis her's, the brave man's latest steps to trace, Rejudge his acts, and dignify difgrace.
When Int'reft calls off all her fneaking train,
the pleasure of reading, by the favour of the Earl's excellent grand-daughter, the late Dutchefs Dowager of Portland, who inherited that love of literature and science, fo peculiar to her anceftors and family.
I am well informed that Bolingbroke was greatly mortified at Pope's bestowing thefe praifes on his old antagonist, whom he mortally hated; yet I have feen two original letters in the hands of the fame Dutchess of Portland, of Lord Bolingbroke to Lord Oxford, full of the moft fulfome flattery of the man whom he affected to defpife, and of very idle and profane applications of Scripture.
The Vifions of Parnelle, at the end of his Poems, published in the Guardian, are in a rugged inharmonious ftyle; as indeed is the Life of Zoilus, printed 1717; and also the Essay on the Life of Homer, prefixed to our Author's translation: and his Effay on the Different Styles in Poetry is rather a mean performance.
VER. 24. Above all Pain, &c.] This alludes to the excruciating pains he suffered from the ftone; "all Paffion," means his general equanimity.
VER. 24. all pride,] He was fo amiable and condefcending, that one of the accufations against him by the Whigs was, that he treated the black-coats (clergy) like gentlemen!