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DR. EDWARD YOUNG.
THE pen of biography cannot be better employ ed than in the service of an author, who displayed eminent genius and abilities in the cause of virtue and religion. Such was Dr. Young, the subject of these memoirs.
His father, whose name was also Edward Young, was Fellow of Winchester College, Rector of Upham in Hampshire, and, in the latter part of his life, Dean of Sarum; chaplain to William and Mary, and afterwards to queen Ann. Jacob tells us that the latter, when Princess Royal, did the honour to stand godmother to our poet; and that, upon her ascending the throne, he was appointed Clerk of the Closet to her Majesty.
It does not appear that this gentleman distinguished himself in the Republic of Letters, otherwise than by a Latin Visitation Sermon, preached in 1686, and by two volumes of Sermons, printed in 1702, and which he dedicated to Lord Bradford, through whose interest he probably received some of his promotions. A
The Dean died at Sarum in 1705, aged 63; after a very short illness, as appears by the exordium of Bishop 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 whence, 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 conversation 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 zeal 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 to the Queen, and acknowledges an obligation, which has been differently understood, either as referring 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,
At the instigation of this peer, he was once candidate for a seat in Parliament, but without success, and the expences were paid by Wharton.
This, however, might be mere report, at this period, 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 equa bility 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,
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 pitied." 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