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THE following life was written, at my request, by a gentleman who had better information than I could easily have obtained; and the public will perhaps wish that I had solicited and obtained more such favours from him.
DEAR SIR,-In consequence of our different conversations about authentic materials for the life of Young, I send you the following detail.
Of great men, something must always be said to gratify curiosity. Of the illustrious author of the Night Thoughts, much has been told of which there never could have been proofs; and little care appears to have been taken to tell that of which proofs, with little trouble, might have been procured...s
EDWARD YOUNG was born at Upham, near Winchester, in June 1681. He was the son of Edward Young, at that time fellow of Winchester college, and rector of Upham; who was the son of Jo. Young of Woodhay in Berkshire, styled by Wood gentleman. In September 1682, the poet's father was collated to the prebend of Gillingham Minor, in the church of Sarum, by bishop Ward. When Ward's faculties were impaired through age, his duties were necessarily performed by others. We learn from Wood, that, at a visitation of Sprat's, July the 12th, 1686, the prebendary preached a Latin sermon, afterwards published, with which the bishop was so pleased, that he told the chapter he was concerned to find the preacher had one of the worst prebends in their church, Some time after this, in consequence of his merit and reputation, or of the interest of lord Bradford, to whom, in 1702, he dedicated two volumes of sermons, he was appointed chaplain to king William and queen Mary, and preferred to the deanery of Sarum. Jacob, who wrote in
1720, says, "he was chaplain and clerk of the closet to the late queen, who honoured him by standing godmother to the poet." His fellowship of Winchester he resigned in favour of a gentleman of the name of Harris, who married his only daughter. The dean died at Sarum, after a short illness, in 1705, in the sixty-third year of his age. On the Sunday after his decease, bishop Burnet preached at the cathedral, and began his sermon with saying, “Death 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."
The dean placed his son upon the foundation at Winchester college, where he had himself been educated. At this school Edward Young remained till the election after bis eighteenth birth-day, the period at which those upon the foundation are superannuated. Whether he did not betray his abilities early in life, or his masters had not skill enough to discover in their pupil any marks of genius for - which he merited reward, or no vacancy at Oxford offered them an opportunity to bestow upon him the reward provided for merit by William of Wykeham; certain it is, that to an Oxford fellowship our poet did not succeed. By chance, or by choice, New College cannot claim the honour of numbering ›among its fellows him who wrote the Night Thoughts.
On the 13th of October, 1703, he was entered an independent member of New College, that he might live at little expence in the warden's lodgings, who was a particular friend of his father's, till he should be qualified to stand for a fellowship at All Souls. In a few months the warden of New College died. He then removed to Corpus college. The president of this society, from regard also for his father, invited him thither, in order to lessen his academical expences. In 1708, he was nominated to a law-fellowship at All Souls by archbishop Tenison, into whose hands it came by devolution. Such repeated patronage, while it justifies Burnet's praise of the father, reflects credit on the conduct
of the son.
The manner in which it was exerted seems to <prove that the father did not leave behind much wealth.
On the 23d of April, 1714, Young took his degree of bachelor of civil laws, and his doctor's degree on the 10th of June, 1719.
Soon after he went to Oxford, he discovered, it is said, an inclination for pupils. Whether he ever commenced tutor is not known. None has hitherto boasted to have received his academical instruction from the author of the Night Thoughts.
It is probable that his college was proud of him no less as a scholar than as a poet; for in 1716, when the foundation of the Codrington library was laid, two years after he had taken his bachelor's degree, Young was appointed to speak the Latin oration. This is at least particular for being dedicated in English To the Ladies of the Codrington Family. To these ladies he says, “that he was unavoidably flung into a singularity, by being obliged to write an epistle-dedicatory void of common-place, and such a one was never published before by any author whatever; that this practice absolved them from any obligation of reading what was presented to them; and that the bookseller ap proved of it, because it would make people stare, was absurd enough, and perfectly right.”
Of this oration there is no appearance in his own edition of his works; and prefixed to an edition by Curll and Tonson, 1741, is a letter from Young to Curll, if we may credit Curll, dated December the 9th, 1739, wherein he says, that he has not leisure to review what he formerly wrote, and adds, "I have not the epistle to lord Lansdowne. If you will take my advice, I would have you omit that, and the oration on Codrington. I think the collection will sell better without them."
There are who relate, that, when first Young found himself independent, and his own master at All Souls, he was not the ornament to religion and morality which he afterwards became.
The authority of his father, indeed, had ceased, some time before, by his death; and Young was certainly not ashamed to be patronized by the infamous Wharton.
Wharton befriended in Young, perhaps, the poet, and particularly the tragedian. If virtuous authors must be patronized only by virtuous peers, who shall point them
Yet Pope is said by Ruffhead to have told Warburton, that "Young had much of a sublime genius, though without common sense; so that his genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into bombast. This made him pass a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets: but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency, and afterwards with honour."
They who think ill of Young's morality, in the early part of his life, may perhaps be wrong; but Tindal could not err in his opinion of Young's warmth and ability in the cause of religion. Tindal used to spend much of his time at All Souls. "The other boys," said the atheist, “I can always answer, because I always know whence they have their arguments, which I have read a hundred times; but that fellow Young is continually pestering me with something of his own."
After all, Tindal and the censurers of Young may be reconcilable. Young might, for two or three years, have tried that kind of life in which his natural principles would not suffer him to wallow long. If this were so, he has left behind him not only his evidence in favour of virtue, but the potent testimony of experience against vice.
We shall soon see that one of his earliest productions was more serious than what comes from the generality of unfledged poets.
Young perhaps ascribed the good fortune of Addison to the Poem to his Majesty, presented, with a couple of verses, to Somers; and hoped that he also might soar to wealth and honour on wings of the same kind. His first poetical flight was when queen Anne called up to the house of lords the sons of the earls of Northampton and Aylesbury, and added, in one day, ten others to the number of peers. In order to reconcile the people to one, at least, of the new lords, he published, in 1712, An epistle to the right honourable George lord Lansdowne. In this composition the poet pours
out his panegyric with the extravagance of a young man, who thinks his present stock of wealth will never be ex. hausted.
The poem seems intended also to reconcile the public to the late peace. This is endeavoured to be done by shewing that men are slain in war, and that in peace "harvests wave, and commerce swells her sail." If this be humanity, for which he meant it, is it politics? Another purpose of this epistle appears to have been, to prepare the public for the reception of some tragedy he might have in hand. His lordship's patronage, he says, will not let him "repent his passion for the stage;" and the particular praise bestowed on Othello and Oroonoko looks as if some such character as Zanga was even then in contemplation. The affectionate mention of the death of his friend Harrison of New College, at the close of this poem, is an instance of Young's art, which displayed itself so wonderfully some time afterwards in the Night Thoughts, of making the public a party in his private sorrow.
Should justice call upon you to censure this poem, it ought at least to be remembered that he did not insert it in his works; and that in the letter to Curll, as we have seen, he advises its omission. The booksellers, in the late body of English poetry, should have distinguished what was deliberately rejected by the respective authors. This I shall be careful to do with regard to Young. "I think," says he, "the following pieces in four volumes to be the most excusable of all that I have written; and I wish less apology was needful for these. As there is no recalling what is got abroad, the pieces here republished I have revised and corrected, and rendered them as pardonable as it was in my power to do."
Shall the gates of repentance be shut only against literary sinners?
When Addison published Cato, in 1713, Young had the honour of prefixing to it a recommendatory copy of verses. This is one of the pieces which the author of the Night Thoughts did not republish.
On the appearance of his poem on the Last Day, Addison did not return Young's compliment: but the Englishman of