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TO ROBERT EARL OF OXFORD, AND EARL OF
Such were the notes thy once-lov'd Poet sung, Till Death untimely stopp'd his tuneful tongue. Oh just beheld, and lost! admir'd and mourn'd! With softest manners, gentlest arts adorn'd !
notes. Epistle to Robert Earl of Oxford,] This Epistle was sent to the Earl of Oxford with Dr. Parnelle's Poems published by our Author, after the said Earl's imprisonment in the Tower, and retreat into the country, in the Year 1721. P.
Ver. 1. Such were the notes] The notes were charming indeed! We have few pieces of Poetry superior to Parnelle's Rise of Woman; the Fairy Tale; the Hymn to Contentment; Health, an Eclogue; the Vigil of Venus; the Night-piece on Death ; the Allegory on Man; and the Hermit; of which Johnson speaks too contemptuously. The best account of the original of this last exquisite poem is given in the third volume of the History of English Poetry, p. 31 ; from whence it appears that it was taken from the eightieth chapter of that curious repository of ancient tales, the Gesta Romanorum. The story is related in the fourth volume of Howel's Letters, who says he found it in Sir Philip Herbert's Conceptions; but this fine Apologue was much better related in the Divine Dialogues of Dr. Henry More, Dial. ii. part 1; and Parnelle seems to have copied it chiefly from this Platonic Theologist, who had not less imagination than learning. Pope used to say, that it was originally written in Spanish: from the early connexion between the Spaniards and Arabians, it may be suspected that it was an Oriental tale. Voltaire has inserted it in his Zadig, without mentioning a syllable of the place whence he borrowed it.
Blest in each science, blest in ev'ry strain !
For him, thou oft hast bid the World attend,
Absent or dead, still let a friend be dear
And sure, if aught below the seats divine
NOTES. Ver. 21. And sure, if aught] Strength of mind appears to have been the predominant characteristic of Lord Oxford; of which he gave the most striking proofs when he was stabbed, displaced, imprisoned. These noble and nervous lines allude to these cir. cumstances: of his fortitude and firmness another striking proof remains, in a letter which the Earl wrote from the Tower to a friend, who advised him to meditate an escape, and which is worthy of the greatest hero of antiquity. This extraordinary letter I had the pleasure of reading, by the favour of the Earl's excellent granddaughter, the late Dutchess Dowager of Portland, who inherited that love of literature and science, so peculiar to her ancestors and family.
I am well informed that Bolingbroke was greatly mortified at Pope's bestowing these praises on his old antagonist, whom he mortally hated; yet I have seen two original letters in the hands of the same Dutchess of Portland, of Lord Bolingbroke to Lord
A soul supreme, in each hard instance try'd,
In vain to Deserts thy retreat is made ;
NOTES. Oxford, full of the most fulsome flattery of the man whom he affected to despise, and of very idle and profane applications of Scripture.
The visions of Parnelle, at the end of his Poems, published in the Guardian, are in a rugged inharmonious style; as indeed is the Life of Zoilus, printed 1717; and also the Essay on the Life of Homer, prefixed to our Author's translation : and his Essay on the Different Styles in Poetry is rather a mean performance.