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So many spots, like næves on Venus' soil,
Like rose-buds, stuck i'the lily-skin about.
The tongue may fail; but overflowing eyes
But thou, O virgin-widow, left alone,
TO THE MEMORY OF MR OLDHAM.
JOHN OLDHAM, who, from the keenness of his satirical poetry, justly acquired the title of the English Juvenal, was born at Shipton, in Gloucestershire, where his father was a clergyman, on 9th August, 1653. About 1678, he was an usher in the free school of Croydon; but having already distinguished himself by several pieces of poetry, and particularly by four severe satirical invectives against the order of Jesuits, then obnoxious on account of the Popish Plot, he quitted that mean situation, to become tutor to the family of Sir Edward Theveland, and afterwards to a son of Sir William Hickes. Shortly after he seems to have resigned all employment except the unthrifty trade of poetry. When Oldham entered upon this career, he settled of course in the metropolis, where his genius recommended him to the company of the first wits, and to the friendship of Dryden. He did not long enjoy the pleasures of such a life, nor did he live to experience the uncertainties, and disappointment, and reverses, with which, above all others, it abounds. Being seized with the small-pox, while visiting at the seat of his patron, William Earl of Kingston, he died of that disease on the gih December, 1683, in the 30th year of his age.
His “Remains," in verse and prose, were soon afterwards published, with elegies and recommendatory verses prefixed by Tate, Flatman, Durfey, Gould, Andrews, and others. But the applause of Dryden, expressed in the following lines, was worth all the tame panegyrics of other contemporary bards. It appears, among the others, in “Oldham's Remains," London, 1683.
MR OLD HAM.
Farewell, too little, and too lately known, Whom I began to think, and call my own: For sure our souls were near allied, and thine Cast in the same poetic mould with mine. One common note on either lyre did strike, And knaves and fools we both abhorred alike. To the same goal did both our studies drive ; The last set out, the soonest did arrive. Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place, Whilst his young friend performed and won the race. O early ripe! to thy abundant store What could advancing age have added more! It might (what nature never gives the young) Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue. But satire needs not those, and wit will shine Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line. *
Dryden's opinion concerning the harshness of Oldham's numbers, was not unanimously subscribed to by contemporary authors.,
A noble error, and but seldom made,
prime, Still shewed a quickness; and maturing time But mellows what we write, to the dull sweets of
In the “Historical Dictionary," 1694, Oldham is termed, “a pithy, sententious, elegant, and smooth writer:" and Winstanley says, that none can read his works without admiration; " so pithy his strains, so sententious his expression, so elegant his oratory, so swimming his language, so smooth his lines.” Tom Brown goes the length to impute our author's qualification of his praise of Oldham to the malignant spirit of envy : “ 'Tis your own way, Mr Bayes, as you may remember in your verses upon Mr Oldham, where
tell the world that he was a very fine, ingenious gentleman, but still did not understand the cadence of the English tongue.”—Reasons for Mr Bayes' changing his Religion, Part II.
But this only proves, that Tom Brown and Mr Winstanley were deficient in poetical ear; for Oldham's satires, though full of vehemence and impressive expression, are, in diction, not much more harmonious than those of Hall or of Donne. The reader may take the following celebrated passage on the life of a nobleman's chaplain, as illustrating both the merits and defects of his poetry:
Some think themselves exalted to the sky,