« ForrigeFortsett »
LIFE OF CAWTHORN.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
A few scanty memoirs of Mr. Cawthorn were inserted in the last edition of Dr. Johnson's English Poets, 1790. To these I am now enabled to make some additions from a letter written by Mr. Goodwin of Sheffield, and printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1791. but the account is still meagre and unsatisfactory.
James Cawthorn, the son of Thomas Cawthorn, upholsterer and cabinet-maker in Sheffield, by Mary, daughter of Mr. Edward Langhton, of Gainsborough, was born at Sheffield, Nov. 4, 1719. His early inclination to letters, joined to a sprightly turn and quick apprehension, induced his parents to send him to the grammar-school of Sheffield, then superintended by the rev. Mr. Robinson. Here he made a considerable proficiency in classical learning, and became so soon ambitious of literary fame as to attempt a periodical paper, entitled The Tea Table, but was discouraged by his father, who probably thought that he was too young for an observer of men and manners, and too ignorant of the world to become its adviser. The name of his paper he might have borrowed from Mrs. Haywood, who was the ostensible author of The Tea Table, about the years 1724 and I72S, in which she was supported by some of the political writers of that day.
In 1735, Mr. Cawthorn was removed to the grammar-school at Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmoreland, where he made his first poetical attempts, several of which are said to be still extant in his hand-writing; three of these were admitted into the edition of his works published in 1771, but one of them proved to be a production of Mr. Christopher Pitt. In 1736", however, he published at Sheffield a poem entitled The Perjured Lover, formed on a lesser poem, which he wrote about that time, on the popular story of Inkle and Yarico. This has been consigned to oblivion. In the same year he appears to have been employed as an assistant under the rev. Mr. Christian, of Rotherain. In 1758, he was matriculated of Clare-Hall Cambridge, but his name is not to be found among the graduates, nor can we learn how long he pursued his academical studies. When promoted to the school of Tunbridge, he had obtained the degree of M. A. probably from some northern university.
After he left Cambridge, he came to the metropolis, and was for some time assistant *» Mr. Clare, master of an academy in Soho Square, whose daughter, Mary, he married. By her lie bad several children who all died in their infancy. He appears about this period to have taken orders, and in 1743 was elected master of Tunbridge school. In this situation he wrote the poetical exercises which were spoken by the young gentlemen on the annual visitations of the company of Skinners, who are the patrons of the school. These exercises form a considerable, and perhaps the best part of his printed works. On April J 5th, 17G1, he was killed by a fall from his horse, and was buried in Tunbridge church. Over his remains is the following inscription:
Hie situs est
Jacosus Cawthorn, A. M.
SchoUe Tunbrigiensis magister,
Qui juventuti turn moribus turn literis instituenda
Operam magno non sine honore dedit
Opibus, quas larga manu distribuit,
Fruitur, ct in aeternnm fruetur.
Obiit, heu citius! Aprilis 15, 1761,
Soror masia -ex grato animo hoc posuit.
It is recorded as something very remarkable, that he had appointed Virgil's fifth eclogue to be recited at the approaching visitation of the Skinners' Company.
His acquired knowledge must have been very considerable, as his allusions to various branches of the sciences and of polite literature are frequent, and bespeak a familiarity with the subject: yet his literary talents, it is said, bore a small proportion to his moral excellence. In all the relative duties his conduct was virtuous, humane, and affectionate. We are more in the dark as to his behaviour as a schoolmaster. Mr. Goodwin intimates that he supported his character by that happy mixture of dignity and kindness which is supposed to render severity unnecessary; but in the short sketch of his life, in the last edition of the English poets, we are told, that, although generous and friendly in the common intercourse of life, he was singularly harsh and severe in the conduct of his school. From the same authority we learn, that he had some extraordinary foibles. With little skill in horsemanship, he was fond of riding, and with no acquaintance with music, he was an admirer of concerts and operas. He has been known to ride to London from Tunbridge, in order to be present at a musical performance, though he was under the necessity of being back by seven o'clock the next morning. His horseinanslu'p may be given up: but his knowledge of the fine arts was so general that it is difficult to believe that he was ignorant of the principles of music. To the school, he was in one respect an useful benefactor. In conjunction with his patrons, he founded a library now annexed to it.
In 17*6 he published his Abelard to Eloisa, and two occasional sermons, one in 1745 preached at St. Margaret's church, Westminster, at the election of two burgesses; the other in 1748, preached at St. Antholin's, before the Skinners'Company, whose hall is situated in that parish. These, with The Perjured Lover, were the only pieces published in his lifetime. In 1771, his poems were collected in an octavo volume, and printed by subscription, but without any account of the author, or much attention to his memory. Several trifling pieces were included, which he would probably have rejected.
As a poet, he displays considerable variety of power, yet perhaps he is rather to be placed among the ethical versifiers, than ranked with those who have attempted with success the higher flights of genius. As an imitator of Pope, he is superior to most of LIFE OF CAWTHORN. 231
those who have formed themselves in that school, yet his imitations are often so close as to appear the effect rather of memory than of judgment. His Abelard to Eloisa was a bold, and, if I mistake not, a confident attempt; yet we miss the impassioned bursts and glowing scenes, true to nature and feeling, which have placed the Eloisa of Pope beyond all reach of competition. There is a dignity and consistency in Eloisa's sentiments and feelings which is never interrupted by familiarity of phrase. Cawthorn's Abelard vibrates so often between passion and penitence, that he seems to be quibbling with his conscience, or stating with mechanical repetition, the pro and con of sensuality and religion; and where Pope has failed in delicacy of allusion to Abelard's misfortune, Cawthom has yet more frequently failed, by more frequently recurring to a subject which no language can render decent. It must be allowed, however, that there are in this composition many passages of energetic pathos, and some individual lines of striking beauty. His Epistle from Lady Jane Grey to Lord Dudley is another attempt in the heroic manner, in which he has been more successful: the subject was his own, and there is less of ambitious effort in treating it. His principal excellence, however, lies in solid reflection on men and manners, and in satirical pictures and allusions: here he has all the gaiety of the most favoured disciples of the Horatian school, and far more ease than in his other compositions. The Birth and Education of Genius, and Wit and Learning, are among the happiest allegories in our language: and The Regulation of the Passions, and Life unhappy, &.c. are not less admirable for justness of sentiment and elegance of versification. It would be unjust not to point out A Father's Extempore Consolation, an exquisite little piece, written on the death of hit twinchildren.
TO MISS ,
OF UOR1EUANDEN, IK KENT.
Wmw Wit and Science trimm'd their wither'd bays,
Sick of the world's applause, yet fond to warm
0 West with temper, blest with skill to pour Life's every comfort on each social hour; Chaste as thy blushes, gentle as thy mien, Too grave for folly, and too gay for spleen; lodulg'd to win, to soften, to inspire, To melt with music, and with wit to fire; To blend, as judgment tells thee how to please, Wisdom with smiles, and majesty with ease; Alike to Virtue as the Graces known, And proud to love all merit but thy own!
Tbesi; arc thy honours, these will charms sup
When those dear suns sliall set in either eye;
Abelard and Eloisa flourished in the twelfth century: they were two of the most distinguished persons of their age in learning and beauty, but for nothing more famous than for their unfortunate passion. After a long course of calamities, they retired each to a several convent, and consecrated the remainder of their days to religion. It was many years after this separation that a letter of Abelard's to a friend, which contained the history of his misfortunes, fell into the hands of Eloisa: this occasioned those celebrated letters (out of which the following is partly extracted) which give so lively a picture of the struggles of grace and nature, virtue and passion. Mr. Pope.
Ah! why this boding start? this sudden pain,