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LIFE OF LANGHORNE,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
JOHN LANGHORNE, the son of a clergyman beneficed in Lincolnshire, was born at Kirkby-Steven, in Westmoreland, in the month of March 1735. His father dying when he was only four years of age, the care of his education devolved on his mother, who initiated him in the first principles of knowledge with sach tender anxiety as left a pleasing and indelible impression on his memory. Hecelebrated her virtues on her tomb, and more particularly by a beautiful Monody in. serted among his poems.
When of sufficient age, he was placed at a school at Winton, and afterwards at Appleby, where he recommended himself to the good opinion of Mr. Yates, his master, not only by speedily dispatching the usual school tasks, but by perform. ing voluntary exercises which he submitted to his revisal. By this employment of his leisure hours, he probably excelled his companions, and we are told that at the age of thirteen he was able to read and construe the Greek Testament.
He did not leave this school until his eighteenth year, when having no means of defraying the expenses of an university education, he engaged himself as private tutor in a family near Ripon. He had attained a thorough knowledge of the classi. cal languages, and during his residence in this neighbourhood, began to write verses, the greater part of which his more mature judgment led him to destroy. One of these pieces, however, Studley Park, has been very properly snatched from oblivion by his biographer, and now stands at the head of this collection, not in. deed as the best, but as the earliest specimen of his powers. It appears that he had some expectations from the possessor of this beautiful place, which were not gra. tified, and he therefore thought proper to omit it in the subsequent editions of his poems.
His next occupation was that of an assistant at the free-school of Wakefield, then superintended by Mr. Clarke, and while here he took deacon's orders, and became, it is said, “ a popular preacher.” In the year 1759, Mr. Clarke recom. mended him as preceptor to the sons of Robert Cracroft, esq. of Hackthorn, Acar Lincoln.
Mr. Cracroft had nine sons, and Mr. Langhorne must have been fully employed in the family, yet he added to theirs the tuition of Mr. Edmund
Cartwright, a young gentleman of a poetical turn, who afterwards wrote an elegy, entitled Constantia, on the death of his preceptor's wife.
During his residence at Hackthorn, our author published a volume of his poems for the relief of a gentleman in distress, most of which are included in the present edition: and in the same year a poem entitled The Death of Adonis, from the Greek of Bion. Public opinion gave him no encouragement to repriot this last, but he derived from it the advantage of being noticed as a critic of considerable acumen in Greek poetry.
In 1760, he entered his name at Clarehall, Cambridge, in order to take the degree of bachelor of divinity, which he supposed, by the statutes of the university, any person in orders is impowered to do without residence, but in this it is probable he did not succeed, as his name is not to be found among the Cambridge graduates. His being included in Mr. Cole's list, is, however, a proof that he en, tered of Clarehall; and while here, he wrote a poem on the King's Accession, and another on the Royal Nuptials which he afterwards inserted in Solyman and Al,
In the same year, he published The Tears of the Muses, a poem to tho memory of Handel, with an Ode to the River Eden, 4to.
While employed in the education of the sons of Mr. Cracraft, he became ena. moured of the amiable disposition and personal charms of Miss Anne Cracraft, one of that gentleman's daughters. He had given her some instructions in tho Italian language, and was often delighted by her skill in music, for which he had a very correct ear. A mutual attachment was the consequence of these many opportunities and coincidences in polite accomplishments, which Mr. Langhorne was eager to terminate in marriage. But the lady, who knew that a match so disproportioned as to fortune, would be opposed by her family, gave him a denial as firm and as gentle as her good sense and secret attachment would permit.
For this, however, Mr. Langhorne was not prepared, and immediately left his situation in hopes of recovering a more tranquil tone of mind in distaot scenes and different employment. In 1761, he officiated as curate to the rev. Abraham Blackburn of Dagenham, and obtained the friendship of the Gilmans, a very amia. ble family in that place. While endeavouring to forget his heart's disappoint. ment, he found some relief in penning a Hymn to Hope', which he published this year in London, 4to. ; and in the course of the next, he gave farther vent to his thoughts in The Visions of Fancy, four elegies 4to.; Letters on Religious Re. tirement, 8vo; and Solyman and Almena, a fiction, in the manner of the eastern tales, but not much to be praised for invention. The letters are of a sentimental, melancholy cast, with a considerable mixture of lighter and more entertaining matter. In the same year he published the Viceroy, a poem in honour of lord Halifax, then lord lieutenant of Ireland. Here, as in the case of Studley Park, our author appears to have expected to find a patron, but lord Halifax did not condescend to notice what, it must be confessed, flatters him with too much arti. fice; and Langhorne, when he collected his poems, retained only a favourite fragment of this unlucky piece, omitting altogether the name of Halifax, or Vice, roy. The whole, however, is given in the present edition as originally written.
This piece was much admired by lord Lyttelton, whom our author had the hopour to rank among his friends and correspondents. C.
His Letters on Religious Retirement were dedicated with rather more success to bishop Warburton, who returned a complimentary letter, in which he encouraged our author to make some attempt in the cause of religion. This is supposed to have produced, in 1763, the letters that passed between Theodosius and Con. stantia, a fiction founded on a well-known story in the Spectator. The style of these letters is in general elegant, but in some parts too Horid. The letter on Prayer is very equivocal in its tendency. This year also gave birth to a poem, meant to be philosophical, entitled The Enlargement of the Mind, (part first), in which we find some noble sentiments expressed in glowing and elevated language. His next publication, about the same time, called Effusions of Friendship and Fancy, 2 vols. 12mo. was a work of considerable popularity: it is indeed a very
a pleasing miscellany of humour, fancy, and criticism; but the style is often flippant and irregular; and made him be classed among the imitators of Sterne, whom it was the fashion at that time to read and to admire.
In the year 1764, having obtained the curacy and lectureship of St. John's, Clerkenwell, he was enabled to reside in London, where only literary talents meet with ready encouragement, and where he was already ranked among the elegant and pleasing poets of the day, and had given ample proof of ease and versatility in the choice and management of his subjects. His first publication this year was the continuation of Theodosius and Constantia, of much the same cha. racter as the former work, but enlivened by more variety. As he appears to have aspired to promotion through the popularity of his talents in the pulpit, he now gave a specimen of what had pleased his congregation, in two volumes of Sermons. His biographer has taken some pains to defend these against the censure of the late Mr. Mainwaring, of St. John's, Cambridge, in his dissertation prefixed to his Sermons (1780). But it appears to me that they abound in the false pathos, and that the reasoning, where any occurs, is very superficiaļ. They have, how. ever,
this advantage to those who dislike sermons of every kind, that they are perhaps the shortest ever published.
About this time, his son informs us, that he engaged with Mr. Griffiths as a writer in the Monthly Review, and that this engagement, with scarcely any intermission, continued to his death. I suspect there is some mistake in this account, although the secrecy which very properly prevails in the management of a review, will not allow me to rectify it. That Mr. Langhorne was a writer in the Monthly Review, has been repeated from so many quarters, that there seems no reason to doubt it, but a dispute relating to a work hereafter mentioned which took place between Mr. Langhorne and the editor of the Review, affords some ground to think that his connection with it had ceased about the year 1769.
But whatever may be in this, his employment as a critic, we are told, procured him many acquaintances among literary men, while the vein of ridicule which he indulged in treating several of the subjects that fell under his consideration, created him many enemies, who, in their turn, endeavoured to depreciate his perform. ances. As no judgment can now be pronounced on the articles which he wrote, it is impossible to say whether this vein of ridicule was employed as the just chas. tisement of arrogance and immorality, or substituted for fair and legitimate cri. ticism, Illiberality has not often been imputed to the journal in which he wrote ; nd as to his enemies, I koow of none more formidable than Churchill, Kelly, and Kenrick, two of whom were libellers by profession. Smollet, whose jealousy of he Monthly Review led him often to disgrace his talents by invidious attacks on he supposed writers belonging to it, bestows almost uniform praise on Lang. horne's various works.
In 1765, his productions were, The second Epistle on the Enlargement of the Mind; an edition of the poems of the elegant and tender Collins, with a criti. cism and some memoirs ; and letters on that difficult subject, The Eloquence of the Pulpit. He had now occasion to exert his own talents before a more enligh. tened auditory than he had ever yet addressed, having been appointed by Dr. Hurd (the venerable bishop of Winchester) to the office of assistant preacher at Lincoln's-Inn Chapel.
In the following year, we do not find that any thing origioal came from his pen; he prepared for the press, however, an enlarged edition of his Effusions of Friendship and Fancy, and a collection of his poems, in two vols. 12mo. The prin. cipal article of these, not before published, is a dramatic poem, or Tragedy, enti. tled The Fatal Prophecy. This was his only attempt in this species of poetry, and was universally accounted unsuccessful. He had the good sense to acquiesce in the decision, and neither attempted the drama again, nor reprioted this specimen.
During Churchill's career, our author endeavoured to counteract the scurri. lity he had thrown out against Scotland in his Prophecy of Famine, by an elegant poem entitled Genius and Valour. This provoked Churchill to introduce his name once or twice with his usual epithets of contempt, which Langhorne disregarded, and disregarded his own interest at the same time, by dedicating this poem to lord Bute, a minister going out of place! It produced him, however, a very flattering letter in the year 1766, from Dr. Robertson, the celebrated historian, and principal of the university of Edinburgh, requesting him to accept a diploma for the degree of doctor in divinity, He was farther consoled by the approbation of every wise and loyal man who contemplated the miseries of disunion, , and the glaring absurdity of perpetuating national prejudices.
In 1767, after a courtship of five years, Dr. Langhorne obtained the hand of Miss Cracraft, to whom he had ever been tenderly attached, and with whom he had kept up a correspondence since his departure from Hackthorn. By what means her family were reconciled to the match, we are not told ; but some fortune accompanied it, as the living of Blagden in Somersetshire was purchased for him, and there he went immediately to reside. His happiness, however, with this lady was of short duration, as she died in childbirth of a son, May 4, 1768. She was interred in the chancel of Blagden church, with the following lines on her monument, written by her husband:
With Sappho's taste, with Arria's tender heart,
'Tis only strange that such a one should live. * This correspondence, his son informs us, he published after her death, under the title of Letters to Eleanora, from a sacred compliance with her request. This publication I bave not seen, but the accounts of it in the critical journals are very unfavourable. The Monthly Reviewer says, that the author " has preposterously ventured to impress his reader with sensations and emotions which he himself did not feel.” This, perhaps, may strengthen my conjecture on the termination of his connexion with this Review. C.