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intervening events; they form the prominent feature of his life and character, and upon them his reputation with posterity is, in a great measure, built. In 1702, four years
after the appearance of his first play, he brought forward a second tragedy, named Tamerlane ; and which, from its allusion to personages then acting an important part on the political stage, met with more applause than it intrinsically merited. When it was known that Tamerlane was drawn for King William, and Bajazet for Lewis the Fourteenth, nothing at that time was 'wanting to render it a favourite with the public.
To this popular production succeeded, in 1703, the tragedy of the Fair Pemitent, which, from the beauty and melody of the versification, the sweetness of the diction, and the interesting conduct of the fable, still continues to attract, with power equal to what it first possessed, the lovers and admirers of the drama. It has had the merit, likewise, of furnishing to Richardson the basis on which he has constructed the highly-finished character of Lovelace.
The next two tragedies of Rowe; the Ulysses acted in 1706, and the Royal Convert in 1708, met with a very cold reception on the stage, and are now no longer temembered. The poet, hówever, made ample atonement for these failures
by the composition of his Jane Shore, the best and most pathetic of his plays, and which, together with his Fair Penitent, will remain a durable monument of his genius. The last dramatic effort of our author was Lady June Grey, greatly inferior in every respect to its immediate prede. cessor, and which seems to have excited little attention, either on its first appearance, or since.'
Rowe, as a dramatic poet, has not attained the highest excellencies of his art; he is not distin. guished for his powers of exciting either pity or terror, nor are his characters boldly or accurately discriminated; in these respects, which form the essential virtues of the tragic bard, he is not only inferior to Shakspeare, with whom competition may be pronounced nearly hopeless, but to Fletcher, to Massinger, and to Otway.* The qualities which have enabled Rowe to maintain his station on the stage are, the dignity and me. lody of his verse; the amatory softness which breathes through many of his scenes; the beauty of his sentiments, and the interesting construction of his fables.
Not 'content with the cypress wreath of Melpomene, our poet ventured, in 1706, to court the
• See 'some excellent observations on the comparative merits of Massinger and Rowe in Cumberland's Observer, No. 88.
Muse of Comedy, and brought forward at the theatre at Lincoln's-inp-fields a piece of this description, in three acts, called The Biter. It was; however, so completely deficient in the vis comică, that, though it is recorded of its author that he sat laughing almost convulsively in the house at what he deemed incomparable strokes of wit, the audience unanimously, and very seriously and indignantly, condemned it to perpetual oblivion.
Two works which employed much of Mr. Rowe's time and attention remain to be noticed. The first is an edition of Shakspeare's plays, which he published in 1709, with a short life of Shakspeare prefixed. He appears not to have been well qualified for this task ; Rowe, says Mr. Capell, “ went no further than to the edi. tion nearest to him in time, which was the folio of 1685, the last and worst of these impressions : this he re-published with great exactness; correcting here and there some of its grossest mistakes, and dividing into acts and scenes the plays that were not divided before.* The second is a version of Lucan's Pharsalia, in, the rhymed couplet of ten syllables, which, though finished before, was not published until ten years after his
Capells edition of Shakspeare, Introduction, p. 15, 16. London, 1707.
death. This is a very successful attempt, and exhibits the spirit and genius of the Roman bard with great energy and fidelity. The versification, if not equal, in point of vigour, richness, and variety, to that of Pope, or Mickle, as. it appears in the Iliad and Lusiad, is rarely defective in smoothness and modulation, and sometimes displays a considerable portion of melody and beauty. The miscellaneous poems of Rowė, published in the editions of the British Poets, are, with the exception of The Despairing Shepherd, of little value. · The pecuniary circumstances of our author, which had been originally independent, were in the latter part of his life augmented to affluence by places under government. In the reign of Queen Anne, he had been appointed by the Duke of Queensberry secretary for public affairs; and upon the death of his Grace, it is related that, with a view to preferment, he frequently attended the levees of the Earl of Oxford, where at length an incident of rather a ludicrous nature put an end to his assiduities.
“ Mr. Rowe," says the writer of his life in the Biographia Britannica, “ going one day to pay his court to the Earl, then advanced to be Lord High Treasurer, was courteously received by his lordship, who asked him if he understood Spanish well? He
answered no; but thinking that the Earl might intend to send him into Spain on some honourable commission, he presently added, that he did not doubt in a short time both to understand and speak it: and the treasurer approving of what he said, Mr. Rowe took his leave, and immediately retired to a private country farm-house; where in a few months having learnt Spanish, he waited again upon the Earl, to acquaint him with his diligence; whereupon his lordship asking if he was sure he understood the language thoroughly, and our author answering in the affirmative, that fathomless minister burst out into the following exclamation : «How happy are you, Mr. Rowe, that you can enjoy the pleasure of reading and understanding Don Quixote in the original !'*"
For the disappointment which he thus suffered he was liberally consoled on the accession of George the First, when he was immediately made poet-laureat, and one of the land surveyors of the customs in the port of London. To these not very congenial employments were shortly afterwards added the clerkship of the council to the Prince of Wales, and the secretaryship of the presentations, to which, without any solicitation on his part, he was instantly appointed by the
• Vol. v. p. 3521, Note E.