Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



HIS eminent fatyrical poet, was the fon of the reverend Mr. John Oldham, a nonconformist minifter, and grandfon to Mr. John Oldham, rector of Nun-Eaton, near Tedbury in Gloucestershire. He was born at Shipton (where his father had a congregation, near Tedbury, and in the fame county) on the 9th of Auguft 1653. He was educated in grammar learning, under the care of his father, till he was almoft fitted for the university; and to be compleatly qualified for that purpose, he was fent to Tedbridge fchool, where he spent about two years under the tuition of Mr. Henry Heaven, occafioned by the earnest request of alderman Yeats of Bristol, who having a fon at the same school, was defirous that Mr. Oldham fhould be his companion, which he imagined would much conduce to the advancement of his learning. This for fome time retarded Oldham in the profecution of his own studies, but for the time he loft in forwarding Mr. Yeat's fon, his father afterwards made him an ample amends. Mr. Oldham being fent to Edmund Hall in Oxford, was committed to the care of Mr. William Stephens of which hall he became a bachelor in the beginning of June 1670. He was foon obferved to be a good latin fcholar, and chiefly addicted himself to the study of poetry, and other polite acquirements *. In the year 1674, he took the degree of bachelor of arts, but left the university be

* Life of Mr. Oldham, prefixed to his works, vol. i. edit. Lond. 1722.

VOL. II. No. 10.




fore he compleated that degree by determination, being much against his inclination compelled to go home and live for fome time with his father. The next year he was very much afflicted for the death of his dear friend, and conftant companion, Mr. Charles Mervent, as appears by his ode upon that occafion. In a fhort fime after he became ufher to the freeschool at Croyden in Surry. Here it was, he had the honour of receiving a vifit from the earl of Rochefter, the earl of Dorfet, Sir Charles Sedley, and other perfons of diftinction, meerly upon the reputation of fome verfes which they had seen in manufcript. The mafter of the school was not a little furprized, at fuch a vifit, and would fain have taken the honour of it to himself, but was foon convinced that he had neither wit nor learning enough to make a party in fuch company. This adventure was no doubt very happy for Mr. Oldham, as it encreafed his reputation and gained him the countenance of the Great, for after about three years continuance at Croyden school, he was recommended by his good friend Harman Atwood, Efq; to Sir Edward Thurland, a judge, near Rygate in the fame county, who appointed him tutor to his two grandfons. He continued in this family till 1680. After this he was fometime tutor to a fon of Sir William Hicks, a gentleman living within three or four miles of London, who was intimately acquainted with a celebrated Phyfician, Dr. Richard Lower, by whofe peculiar friendship and encouragement, Mr. Oldham, at his leifure hours ftudied phyfic for about a year, and made fome progrefs in it, but the bent of his poetical genius was too ftrong to become a proficient in any school but that of the mufes. He freely acknowledges this in a letter to a friend,' written in July 1678.


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

While filly I, all thriving arts refuse,
And all my hopes, and all my vigour lose,
In fervice of the worst of jilts a muse.





[ocr errors]

Oft I remember, did wife friends diffuade,
And bid me quit the trifling barren trade.
Oft have I tryed (heaven knows) to mortify
This vile and wicked bent of poetry;
But ftill unconquered it remains within,
Fixed as a habit. or fome darling fin.
In vain I better fludies there would fow;
Oft have I tried, but none will thrive or grow.
All my beft thoughts, when I'd moft ferious be,
Are never from its foul infection free:
Nay God forgive me when I fay my prayers,
I fcarce can help polluting them with verfe.
The fab'lous wretch of old revets'd I feem,
Who turn whate'er I touch to drofs of rhime.


Our author, had not been long in London, before he was found out by the noblemen who visited him at Croyden, and who now introduced him to the acquaintance of Mr. Dryden. But amongst the Men of quality he was moit affectionately careffed by William Earl of Kingston, who made him an offer of becoming his chaplain; but he declined an employment, to which fervility and dependence are fo neceffarily connected. The writer of his life obferves, that our author in his fatire addreffed to a friend, who was about to quit the university, and came abroad into the world, lets his friend know, that he was frighted from the thought of fuch an employment, by the fcandalous fort of treatment which often accompanies it. This ufage deters men of generous minds from placing themfelves in fuch a ftation of life; and hence perfons of quality are frequently excluded from the improving, agree




[ocr errors][ocr errors]

able converfation of a learned, and obfequious friend. In this fatire Mr. Oldham writes thus,


Some think themselves exalted to the sky,
If they light on fome noble family.
Diet and horfe, and thirty-pounds a year,
Besides the advantage of his lordship's ear.
The credit of the business and the state,
Are things that in a youngster's sense sound great,
Little the unexperienced wretch does know,
What flavery he oft must undergo;

Who tho' in filken ftuff, and caffoc dreft,
Wears but a gayer livery at best.
When diner calls, the implement muft wait,
With holy words to confecrate the meat ;
But hold it for a favour seldom known,
If he be deign'd the honour to fit down.
Soon as the tarts appear, Sir Crape withdraw,
Thofe dainties are not for a spiritual maw.
Obferve your distance, and be sure to stand
Hard by the ciftern, with your cap in hand :
There for diverfion you may pick your teeth,
Till the kind voider comes for your relief,
For meer board wages, fuch their freedom fell,
Slaves to an hour, and vaffals to a bell:
And if th' employments of one day be stole,
They are but prifoners out upon parole:
Always the marks of flavery remain,

And they tho' loose, still drag about their chain.
And where's the mighty profpe&t after all,
A chaplainship ferv'd up, and seven years thrall?
The menial thing, perhaps for a reward,
Is to fome flender benefice prefer'd,
With this provifo bound that he must wed,
My lady's antiquated waiting maid,
In dreffing only skill'd, and marmalade.
Let others who fuch meanneffes can brook,
Strike countenance to ev'ry great man's look:



[merged small][ocr errors]

Let thofe, that have a mind, turn flave to eat,
And live contented by another's plate:
I rate my freedom higher, nor will I,
For food and rayment truck my liberty.
But if I must to my laft fhift be put,
To fill a bladder, and twelve yards of gut,
Richer with counterfeited wooden leg,

And my right arm tyed up, I'll choose to beg.
I'll rather choose to ftarve at large, than be,
The gaudieft vaffal to dependancy.

The above is a lively and animated description of the miseries of a flavish dependance on the great, particularly that kind of mortification which a chap-. lain muft undergo. It is to be lamented, that gentlemen of an academical education fhould be fubjected to obferve fo great a distance from those, over whom in all points of learning and genius they may have a fuperiority. Tho' in the very nature of things this muft neceffarily happen, yet a high spirit cannot bear it, and it is with pleasure we can produce Oldham, as one of thofe poets who have fpurned dependence, and acted confiftent with the dignity of his genius, and the luftre of his profeffion.

When the earl of Kington found that Mr. Oldham's fpirit was too high to accept his offer of chaplainfhip, he then careffed him as a companion, and gave him an invitation to his houfe at Holmes-Pierpont, in Nottinghamshire. This invitation Mr. Oldham accepted, and went into the country with him, not as a dependant but friend; he confidered himself as a poet, and a clergyman, and in confequence of that, he did not imagine the earl was in the leaft degraded by making him his bofom companion. Virgil was the friend of Mæcenas, and ihone in the court of Auguftus, and if it should be observed that Virgil was a greater poet than Oldham, it may be answered, Mæcenas was a greater man than

Q 3


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »