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ILLON [Wentworth,] earl of Roscommon, an
eminent poet, was born in * Ireland, in the lieutenancy of the earl of Strafford t, who was his god-father, and named him by his own surname. He passed some of his first years in his native country, till the earl of Strafford, imagining when the rebellion first broke out, that his father, who had been converted by archbishop Usher to the Protestant religion, would be exposed to great danger, and be unable to protect his family,
• Though he was born in Ireland, yet as part of his life was spent in England, as he was distinguished by honours and employments at the English court, and is known or valued by pofterity only as an English poet, our colle&tions of English lives must be considered as imperfe&, none of them having an account of him. Though every country imagines itself intitled to the reputation of those who happened to be born in it, this claim may be sometimes not unreasonably disputed ; for that nation has at least as good a right to the ho. nours paid to literary merit, which has given masters to him who obtains them, as that which has given parents. † Fenton's notes on Waller.
sent for his god-son, and placed him athis own seat in Yorkshire, under the tuition of Dr. Hall, afterwards bishop of Norwich 8. When the earl of Strafford was prosecuted, he went to Caen in Normandy, by the advice of bishop Usher, to continue his studies under Bochart I, where he is faid to have had an extraordinary impulse on his father's death. Some * years after he travelled to Rome, and returned to England upon the restoration of king Charles, by whom he was made captain of the band of penfioners, an-honour which tempted him to some extravagances t. A dispute about part of his estate obliging him to return to Ireland, he resigned this post, and upon his arrival at Dublin, was made captain of the guards by the duke of Ormond, but he generously resigned his commission to a gentleman, who saved his life when he was attacked by ruffians 5. Having finished
1 “ By him he was instructed in Latin; and without learning “ the common rules of grammar, which he could never retain in “ his memory, he attained to write in that language with classical
elegance and propriety; and with so much ease, that he chose “ it to correspond with those friends, who had learning sufficient « to support the commerce.” Fenton.
11 “ The lord Roscommon being a boy of ten years of age, at Carr “ in Normandy, one day was, as it were, madly extravagant in “ playing, leaping, getting over the table, boards, &c. He was « wont to be sober enough; they said, God grant this bodes no « ill luck to him. In the heat of this extravagant fit, he cries “ out, My father is dead. A fortnight after, news came from Ire. “ land, that his father was dead. This account I had from Mr. “ Knolles, who was his governor, and then with him, fince secre" tary to the earl of Stafford; and I have heard his lordthip's re« lations confirm the same.” Aubrey's Miscellany.
The present age is very little inclined to favour any accounts of this kind, nor will the name of Aubrey much recommend it to cre• dit; it ought not, however, to be omitted, because better evidence of a fact cannot easily be found, than is here offered, and it must be by preserving such relations that we may at least judge how much they are to be regarded. If we stay to examine this account, we shall find difficulties on both sides; here is a relation of a fa&t given by a man who had no interest to deceive, and who could not be deceived himself; and here is, on the other hand, a miracle which produces no effect; the order of nature is interrupted to discover not a future, but only a distant event, the knowledge of which is of no use to him to whom it is revealed. Between these difficul. ties, what way shall be found ? Is reason or testimony to be reject
ed? I believe what Osborne says of an appearance of fan&ity, may be applied to such impulses or anticipations as this: Do not wholly fight them, because they may be true; but do not eafily trust them, be. cause they may be false
“ After some years he travelled to Rome, where he grew fa“ miliar with the moft valuable remains of antiquity; applying “ himself particularly to the knowledge of medals, which he gain" ed in perfection : and spoke Italion with so much grace and
fiuency, that he was frequently mistaken there for a native.”
+ " In the gaieties of that age, he was tempted to indulge a “ violent pallion for gaming; by which he frequently hazarded " his life in duels, and exceeded the bounds of a moderate for“ tune.” Fen:on. This was the fate of many other men, whose genius was of no other advantage to them, then that it recommend ed them to employments, or to distinctic by which the temptations to vice were multiplied, and their parts became foon of no other use than that of enabling them to succeed in wickedness.
I“ He was at Dublin as much as ever distempered with the same “ fatal affection for play, which engaged him in one adventure " that well deserves to be related, As he returned to his lodgings “ from a gaming table, he was attacked in the dark by three rufe “ fians, who were employed to a7: linate him. The earl defended his affairs he returned to London, was made master of the horse to the duchess of York, and married the lady Frances, eldest daughter of the earl of Burlington, and widow of colonel Courtnay. Here he formed a design of || instituting a society for the refinement of the Eng
« himself with so much resolution, that he dispatched one of the
aggressors; whilft a gentleman, accidentally paffing that way, “ interposed, and disarmed another; the third secured himself by “ fight. This generous assistant was a disbanded officer of a good “ family, and fair reputation; who, by what we call the partia“ lity of fortune, to avoid censuring the iniquities of the times, “ wanted even a plain suit of cloaths to make a decent appearance “ at the castle. But his lordship, on this occasion, presenting him “ to the duke of Ormond, with great importunity prevailed with “ his grace, that he might resign his post of captain of the guards " to his friend; which for about three years the gentleman enjoy
ed, and, upon his death, the duke returned the commission to “ his generous benefactor.” Fenton.
Il “ He formed a design of instituting a fociety for the refine“ ment of the English language.--About this time, in imitation of “ those learned and polite affemblies, with which he had been ac
quainted abroad, particularly, one at Caen (in which his tutor • Bochartus died suddenly while he was delivering an oration) he “ began to form a society for the refining and fixing the standard “ of our language. In this design, his great friend, Mr. Dryden,
was a principal affiftant: a design, of which it is much easier to “ conceive an agreeable idea, than any rational hope ever to see “ it brought to perfection.” Fenton.
This design was again set on foot, under the ministry of the earl of Oxford, and was again defeated by a conflict of parties, and the necessity of attending only to political disquisitions, of defending the conduct of the administration, and forming parties in the parliament. Since that time it has never been mentioned, either because it has been hitherto a sufficient objection, that it was one of
lish language, but upon the commotions which were produced by king James's endeavours to introduce alterations in religion, he resolved to retire to Rome, alledging that it was best to sit next to the chimney when the chama ber smoked. This journey was hindered by the gout,
of which he was so impatient, that he admitted a repellant application from a French empiric, by which his distemper was driven up into his bowels *, and an end put to his life in 1684. His character as a writer is eminent t:
the designs of the earl of Oxford, the detestable earl of Oxford, by whom Godolphin was defeated, or because the statesmen who succeeded him have not had more leisure for literary schemes. See a letter written by Dr. Swift 10 the Lord Treasurer.
*“ The moment in which he expired, he cried out with a voice " that expressed the most intense fervour of devotion,
“My God, my father, and my friend,
end. “ two lines of his own version of the hymn Dies ira, Dies illa.” Fenton.
+ Mr. Fenton has, in his notes upon Waller, given Roscommon a character too general to be critically just. “In his writings, says “ he, we view the image of a mind, which was naturally serious “ and solid; richly furnished, and adorned with all the ornaments “ of art, and science; and those ornaments unaffectedly disposed “ in the most regular and elegant order. His imagination might “ have, probably, been more fruitful and sprightly, if his judg“ ment had been less severe : but that severity (delivered in a mas“ culine, clear, succinct ftile) contributed to make him so eminent “ in the didactical manner, that no man with justice can affirm he “ was ever equalled by any of our nation, without confefsing at “ the same time that he is inferior to none. In some other kinds “ of writing his genius seems to have wanted fire to attain the “ point of perfection; but who can attain it?" From this account of the riches of his mind, who would not imagine that they had