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The Dean died at Sarum in 1705, aged 63; after a very short illness, as appears by the exordium of Bi. shop Burnet's sermon at the Cathedral on the following Sunday. “Death (said he) has been of late walking round us, and making breach upon breach upon us, and has now carried away the head of this body with a stroke; so that he, whom you saw a week ago distributing the holy mysteries, is now laid in the dust. But he still lives in the many excellent directions he has left us, both how to live and how to die."
Our author, who was an only son, was born at his father's rectory, in 1681, and received the first part of his education (as his father had formerly done) at Winchester College ; from whenee, in his 19th year, he was placed on the foundation of New College, Oxford; whence again, on the death of the Warden in the same year, he was removed to Corpus Christi. In 1708, Archbishop Tennison nominated him to a law fellowship at All Souls, where, in 1714, he took the degree of Bachelor of Civil Law, and five years afterward that of Doctor.
Between the acquisition of these academie honours, Young was appointed to speak the Latin Oration on the foundation of the Codrington Library ; which he afterwards printed, with a dedication to the Ladies of that family, in English.
In this part of his life, our author is said not to have been that ornament to virtue and religion which he afterwards became. This is easy to be accounted for. He had been released from parental authority by his father's death ; and his genius and eonversation had introduced him to the notice of the witty
and profligate Duke of Wharton,* and his gay companions, by whom his finances might be improved, but not his morals. This is the period at which Pope is said to have told Warburton, our young author had : “ much genius without common sense :" and it should seem likewise, that he possessed a zcal for religion with little of its practical influence; for, with all his gaiety and ambition, he was an advocate for Revelation and Christianity. Thus when Tindal, the atheistical philosopher, used to spend much of his time at All Souls, he complained : “The other boys I can always answer, because I know whence they have their arguments, which I have read an hundred times; but that fellow Young, is continually pestering me with something of his own.”
This apparent inconsistency is rendered the more striking from the different kinds of composition in which, at this period, he was engaged : viz. a political Panegyric on the new Lord Lansdowne, and a saered Poem on the Last Day, which was written in 1710, but not published till 1713. It was dedicated té the Queen, and acknowledges an obligation, which has been differently understood, either as reierring to her having been his godmother, or his patron ; for it is inferred from a couplet of Swift's, that Young was a pensioned advocate of government:
“Whence Gay was banish'd in disgrace, “ Where Pope will never shew his face, “Where Ymust torture his invention, “ To flatter knaves, or lose his pension." • At the instigation of this peer, he was once candidate for a seat in Parliament, but without success, and the expences were paid by Wbartom
This, however, might be mere report, at this perior, since Swift was not over nice in his authorities, and nothing is more common than to suppose the advocate, and the flatterer of the great, an hireling. Flattery seems indeed to have been our poet's besetting sin through life; but if interest was his object, he must have been frequently disappointed : and to those disappointments we probably owe some of his best reflections on human life.
Of his Last Day, (his first considerable performance) Dr. Johnson observes, that it “ has an equability and propriety which he afterwards either never endeavoured for, or never attained. Many paragraphs are noble, and few are mean; yet the whole is languid : the plan is too much extended, and a succession of images divides and weakens the general conception : But the great reason why the reader is disappointed is, that the thought of The Last Day makes every man more than poetical, by spreading over his mind a general obscurity of sacred horror, that oppresses distinction and disdains expression.” The subject is indeed truly awful, and was peculiarly affecting to this celebrated critic, who never could, without trembling, meditate upon death, or the eternal world. The poet's theological system, moreover, was not, at least when he wrote this, the most consistent and evangelical : I mean he had not those views of the Christian atonement, and of pardoning grace, which give such a glory to his Night Thoughts, and would much more have illumined this composition. All the preparation he seems to have there in view, is
By tears and groans, and never-ceasing care,
" And all the pious violence prayer," to fit himself for the Tribunal. Moreover, the project of future misery is too awful for poetic enlargement, and makes the piece too terrible to be read with pleasure ; while the attempt to particularize the solemnities of judgment, lowers their sublimity, and makes some parts of the description, as Dr. Johnson has observed, appear mean, and even bordering on burlesque. This poem, however, was well received upon the whole, and the better for be. ing written by a layman, and it was commended by the ministry and their party, because the dedication flattered their mistress and her government--far too much, indeed, for the nature of the subject.
Dr. Young's next poem was entitled, the Force of Religion, and founded on the deaths of Lady Jane Grey and her husband. “It is written with elegance enough,” according to Dr. Johnson ; but was never popular:” for “Jane is too heroic to be pi
The dedication of this piece to the countess of Salisbury, was also inexcusably fulsome, and, I think profane. Indeed the author himself seems afterwards to have thought so; for when he collected his smaller pieces into volumes, he very judiciously suppressed this and most of his other dedications.
In some part of his life, Young certainly went to Ireland,* and was there acquainted with the eccentrical Dean Swift; and his biographers seem agreed, that this was, most probably, during his connexion
From his seventh Satire it appears also, that he was once abroad, probably about this time, and saw a field of battle c
with the Duke of Wharton, who went thither in 1717. But he cannot have long remained there, as in 1719, he brought out his first tragedly of Busiris, at Drury Lane, and dedicated it to the Duke of New castle. This tragedy had been written some years, though now first performed; for it is to our author's credit, that many of his works were laid by him a considerable time before they were offered to the public. Our great dramatic critic pronounces this piece “too far removed from known life;" to affect the passions.
His next performance was The Revenge, the dra. matic character of which is sufficiently ascertained by its still keeping possession of the stage. The hint of this is supposed to have been taken from Othello; “but the reflections, the incidents, and the diction, are original.”—The success of this induced him to attempt another tragedy, which was written in 1721, but not brought upon the stage for thirty years afterwards; and then without success, as we shall have farther occasion to observe. It has been remarked, that all his plays conclude with suicicle,* and I much fear the frequent introduction of this unnatural crime upon the stage, has contributed greatly to its commission.
vered with the slain; and it is affirmed that once, with a clas sic in his hand, he wandered into the enemy's encampment and had some difficulty to couvince them, that he was only an absent poet and not a spy.
*Our author seems early to have been enamoured with the Tragic Muse, and with the charms of melanchoiy. Dr. Ridley plates, that, when at Oxford, he would sometimes shut up is room, and study by a lamp at mid-day,