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LIFE OF WALTER HARTE,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
The following desultory information, perhaps improperly called a lije, is derived principally from the notes on Mr. Nicholls's collection of poems, augmented by various notices in the Gentleman's Magazine, the author's works, and the writings of his contemporaries. His learning and personal worth, neither of which have ever been called in question, would have procured him a inore particular narra. tive, if it had been possible to recover the requisite materials.
His father the rev. Walter Harte was fellow of Pembroke College, Ox. ford, prebendary of Wales, canon of Bristol, and vicar of St. Mary Magda. len, Taunton, Somersetshire. Refusing to take the oaths after that revolution which placed a new family on the throne, he relinquished all his preferments, in 1691, and retired to Kentbury in Buckinghamshire, where he died February 10, 1736, aged eighty-five. His son informs us, that when judge Jefferies came to Taunton, assizes in the year 1685, to execute his commission upon the unfortunate persons concerned in Monmouth's rebellion, Mr. Harte, then minister of St. Mary Magdalen's, waited on him in private, and remonstrated much against his severitiesa The judge listened to him calmly, and with some attention, and, though he had never seen him before, advanced him in a few months to a prebendal stall in the cathedral church of Bristol. “I thought,” says Dr. Warton, who has introduced this story in his notes on Pope, “ the reader might not dislike to hear this anec. dote of Jefferies, the only one action of his life that I believe does him any credit."?
Old Mr. Harte was so much respected for his piety and learning, that the predates Kidder, Hooper, and Wynne, who successively filled the see of Bath and Wells, contrived that he should receive the profits of his prebend of Wells as long as he lived : and Mr. Simon Harco urt, afterwa the celebrated lord chancellor,
offered hiin a bishopric in queen Anne's time, which he declined with grateful acknowledgements. According to his son's account, he was a most laborious student, employing ten or twelve hours a day, without any interruption, but that of casual sickness, for fifty years successively. His principal business was in referring every difficult part of scripture to those particular passages in the fathers, and eminent modern divines, who had explained them expressly or occasionally.
The time of our poet's birth has not been settled. A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine fixes it about the year 1707, but an earlier date will correspond better with circumstances. If he was born in 1707, his lines to lady Hertford must have been written at eleven, which is highly improbable; yet there is some difficulty in adjusting the date of this poem. In Lintot's edition, it is subscribed September 30, 1725, but Francis, the late marquis of Hertford, was born in 1719, a year after his father's marriage, and when Mr. Harte, according to the above account, could have been only eleven years of age. We have his own authority that all the poems published in this volume were written when he was under nineteen, consequently the date of 1725 must be an errour, especially if Collins's account of the Hertfort family be correct. But here, too, there is something that requires explanation, for the title of Beauchamp was not conferred on the family for many years after the publication of these poems.
He received his education at Marlborough school, under the rev. Mr. Hildrop, to whom he dedicates the few divine poems in the volume published in 1727. At what time he went to Oxford does not appear, but he took his master's degree June 30, 1720, according to the last edition of the graduates of that university, a clear proof that he must have been born long before 1707. With Pupe he acquired an early intimacy, and shared rather more of his friendship than that poet was wont to bestow on his brethren, Pope encouraged his poetical enthusiasm, and inserted many lines in his poems, and Harte repaid the instructions of so distinguished a preceptor, by compliments introduced not without elegance and propriety in his Essays on Painting and on Satire, and elsewhere.
In 1727, he published the volume of poems, already mentioned, dedicated to the gallant and eccentric carl of Peterborough who was, as the author acknowledges, the first " who took notice of him.” This volume was ushered in by a very nu. merous list of subscribers, among whom is the name of Alexander Pope, for four copies. An edition of these poems may be sometimes picked up, dated 1739, and printed for John Cecil, instead of Barnard Lintot the original publisher. As the same list of subscribers is repeated, it is probable that these were the remaining copies bought at Lintot's sale, (who died ia 1737) and were at this time published with a new title page.
In 1730 he published his Essay on Satire, 8vo. and in 1735, the Essay on Reason, folio, to which Pope contributed very considerably, although no part of his share can be exactly ascertained, except the first two lines. He afterwards published two sermons, the one entitled the Union and Harmony of Reason, Morality, and revealed Religion, preached at St. Mary's Oxford, February 27, 1736-7, which excited so much admiration, or curiosity, as to pass through five editions. The other was a fast sermon, preached at the same place, January 9, 1739—40. He was afterwards vice-principal of St. Mary Hall, and held in so much reputation as a tutor, that lord Lyttelton, who was one of his earliest friends, recom,
mended him to the earl of Chesterfield, as a private and travelling preceptor to his natural son. With this young man, to whom his lordship addressed those letters which have so much injured his reputation, Mr. Harte travelled from the year 1746 to 1750. Lord Chesterfield is said to have procured for him a canonry of Windsor, in 1751, " with much difficulty" arising from his college connections, St. Mary Hall, of which Dr. King was principal, being at that time noted for jacobitism.
In 1759, he published his history of Gustavus Adolphus, 2 vols. 4to. a work on which he had bestowed much labour, and in which he has accumulated very valu. able materials. An edition was soon published in German by George Henry Martini, with a preface, notes, and corrections, from the pen of the translator Joha Gotlieb Bohme, Saxon historiographer, and professor of history in the university of Leipzic. The success, however, at home, was far inferior to his hopes, yet sufficient to encourage him to publish an octavo edition in 1763, corrected and itn. proved. At this time he resided at Bath, dejected and dispirited between real and imaginary distempers. In November 1766, a paralytic stroke deprived him of the use of his right leg, affected his speech, and in some degree his head. He employed, however, his intervals of health, in preparing the Amaranth for the press, which was published in 1767. In the following year, he had entirely lost the use of his left side, and he languished in this melancholy condition till March 1774, when he breathed his last, having just outlived the publication of the celebrated letters addressed to his pupil Mr. Stanhope, but which it is hoped he did not see. At the time of his death he was vicar of St. Austel and St. Blazy in Cornwall.
Frequent mention of his character and writings occurs in Chesterfield's letters.
“ Next week Harte will send you his Gustavus Adolphus (March 30, 1759,) in two quartos : it will contain many new particulars of the life of that real hero, as he had abundant ard authentic materials which have never yet appeared. It will, upon the whole, be a very curious and valuable history : though, between you and me, I could have wished that he had been more correct and elegant in his style. You will find it dedicated to one of your acquaintance, who was forced to prune the luxuriant praises bestowed upon him, and yet has left enough of all conscience to satisfy a reasonable man. Harte has been very much out of order, these last three or four months, but is not the less intent upon sowing his lucerne, of which he had six crops last year, to his infinite joy, and, as he
e says, profit.” April 16, 1759. “I am very sorry to tell you, that Harte's Gustavus Adul. phus does not take at all, and consequently sells very litue: it is certainly informing, and full of good matter : but it is as certain too, that the style is execrable : where the do-lhe picked it up, I cannot conceive, for it is a bad style, of a new and singular kind : it is full of Latinisms, Gallicisms, Germanisms, and all isms but Anglicisms : in some places pompous, in others vulgar and low.”
November 27, 1762.“ Harte is going to publish a new edition of his Gustavus, in octavo : which, he tells me he has altered, and which, I could tell him, he should translate into Eoglish, or it will not sell better than the former.”
December 18, 1763. “ Harte has a great poetical work to publish, before il be long : he has shown me some parts of it; he had entitled it Emblems : but I persuaded him to alter that name for two reasons; the first was, because they were
not emblems, but fables: the second was, that, if they had been emblems, Quarles had degraded and vilified that name to such a degree, that it is impossible to make use of it after him: so they are to be called fables, though moral tales would, in my mind, be the properest dame ; if you ask me what I think of those I have seen, I must say that sunt plura bona: quædam mediocria, et quædam.”
September 3, 1764. “ I have received a book for you, and one for myself, from Harte. It is upon agriculture, and will surprise you, as I confess it did me. This work is not only English, but good and elegant English : he has even scattered graces upon his subject: and in prose, has come very near Virgil's Georgics in verse, I have written to him, to congratulate his happy transformation."
November 28, 1765. “ Poor Harte is very ill, and condemned to the Hotwell at Bristol. He is a better poet than a philosopher : for all this illness and melan. choly proceeds originally from the ill success of his Gustavus Adolphus. He is grown extremely devout, which I am very glad of, because that is always a com, fort to the afflicted.”
July 2, 1767. “ Poor Harte is in a most miserable condition : he has lost one side of himself, and in a great measure his speech : notwithstanding which, he is going to publish his Divine Poems, as he calls them. I am sorry for it, as he had not time to correct them, before this stroke, nor abilities to do it since."
In these opinions there is some truth and some flippancy. His lordship, however, must have entertained a very high opinion of Mr. Harte's learning and integrity, when he confided to him the early and most interesting years of that son on whom all his hopes were fixed; yet Dr. Maty expresses his wonder, that he should not bave chosen a tutor who understood a little better the cxternal decorations which his lordship prized so highly. “ Harte,” says Dr. Maty, “had none of the amiable connecting qualifications, which the earl wished in his son."
“It was impossible he should succeed in finishing the polish of his education ia the manner lord Chesterfield wished : and it is a matter of astonishment that the earl should not have perceived how much the tutor's example must have defeated his precepts. The three principal articles he recommended to his son, were his appearance, his elocution and his style. , Mr. Harte, long accustomed to a college life, was too awkward both in his person and address to be able to familiarize the graces with his young pupil. An unhappy impediment in his speech, joined to his total want of ear, rendered him equally unfit to perceive as to correct any defects of pronounciation, a careful attention to which was so strongly recom. mended in all lord Chesterfield's letters, as absolutely necessary for an orator."
All this, however, lord Chesterfield knew, and yet appointed Mr. Harte, appears to have been perfectly satisfied with his conduct, and treated him with great kindness, and condescending familiarity as long as he lived. Dr. Maty seems to have forgot that Harte left his pupil before his lordship had fully developed that abominable plan of hypocrisy and profligacy which, notwithstanding his biogra. phers' softenings, has irrecoverably disgraced his memory; and as it is acknow. ledged that Mr. Stanhope did not practise the system which his father so elegantly and artfully recommended, let us hope that he was preserved by the better foun. dation Mr. Harte had laid.
His life of Gustavus Adolphus was a very unfortunate publication. He had learning, industry, and the spirit of research : and he had acquired a considerable
degrec of political and military knowledge. He had besides access to the most valuable materials, and his work may be considered as in many respects original. But either through affectation, or by means of some desultory course of reading in every language but his own, he was led to adopt a style peculiarly harsh and pedantic, and often unintelligible by the irregular construction of his sentences, by dew words of his own coinage, or by old words used in a new sense. The wonder is, that in all this he fancied himself “ writing in a style less laboured and ornamental than is usually exhibited by the fluent writers of the present age.” George Hawkins, his bookseller, we are told, sometimes objected to his uncouth words or phrases, while the work was in the press, but Harte refused to change them, and used to add with a complaisant smeer, George, that's what we call writing!” It is, such writing, however, as we do not find in his sermons printed in 1737, and 1740, far less in his Essays on Husbandry, which ought to have been mentioned as printed in 1761, and which, with very few exceptions, are distinguished for perspicuity of style, and for more elegance than that subject is generally supposed to admit.
The life of Gustavus probably employed many of his years, at least the plan must have occupied his mind for a very considerable time before he began to collect his materials. The undertaking was suggested to him by lord Peterborough, with whom he could have had no communication, except previously to the year 1734, when his lordship's growing infirmities deprived him of the plea. sures of society, and in the following year of life. When travelling with Mr. Stan. hope, our author procured access to various sources of information, and dwelt so long on his subject with a fond regard, that when he found how coolly his work was received by the world, and how harshly by the critics, he became uneasy, fretful, and according to ford Chesterfield, seriously ill with disappointment. Dr. Johnson was of opinion, that the defects of his history proceeded not from imbecility, but from foppery: and it is certain that the critics, while they pointed out the defects in his style, paid due encomiums on the merit of the history in other respects.
According to Boswell, Dr. Johnson said, “ he was excessively vain. He pat copies of his book in manuscript into the hands of lord Chesterfield and lord Granville, that they might revise it. Now how absurd was it to suppose that two such poblemen would revise so big a manuscript. Poor man! he left Lon. don the day of the publication of his book, that he might be out of the way of the great praise he was to receive : and he was ashamed to return, when he found bow ill his book had succeeded. It was unlucky in coming out the same day with Robertson's History of Scotland."Not the same day, 'for Robertson's History was published a month sooner,
but Hume's House of Tudor came out the same weck; and after perusing these, poor Harte's style could not certainly be endured. It was not, however, so very absurd to submit his manuscript to lord Chesterfield or lord Granville, if they permitted him, and the former certainly did peruse it, although he might think it too generally contaminated for a few friendly hints or corrections.
With Pope, Harte appears to have been on very intimate terms, and we find his encomiastic lines among the testimonies of authors prefixed to the Danciad.