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in his own county--he wrote, remonstrated, resolved-he saw.cor. ruption ride in titled triumph,' and national existence, he assured himself
, could not long survive the extinction of national virtue. He hailed the rise of that great luminary, which saved Europe, but beheld his meridian splendour with disgust. He quitted a promising situation at court with ostentatious contempt; and, if he were really the author of the Epistle to Sir William Chambers, he treated the person of his sovereign with unpardonable insolence and ina justice. His tory Metropolitan fared no better, and when the zealous and loyal prelate Archbishop Markham had inveighed with too much warmth in his primary charge, and at the first place of visitation, against the detestable character of a factious clergyman,' his precentor, though by another mouth, answered the charge with more than becoming asperity at the next. In this contempt of superiors, and hatred of subordination, he resembled Milton. It was constitutional in him : he allowed it to become inveterate, When an undergraduate, he lampooned one of the first characters in the university in a copy of very scurrilous verses, which now probably survives only in the memory of one person, and shall die with it; and when a dignitary, he libelled his own Métropolitan. Amidst all these dissimilarities, (such is the mutual attraction of genius and critical skill, he maintained, to the last day of his life, an uninterrupted friendship with the most cautious and courts ly of prelates--Bishop Hurd.' Mason smoothed the lawns of Hartlebury, while the Prelate smoothed his strains; and such was the fascination of pursuits so congenial to the tempers of both, that in their intercourse the Furies of political debate were. charmed into silence.
Ως άρα φωνησανγος, Ερίννυες έσχεδον ανδην. This long-lived and dignified friend was the only one among his early connexions whom Mason did not survive. He spent his later years principally at Aston, where he had taught
one little acre to command
Each envied happiness of light and shade,' and where the exercise of hospitality and charity, together with a growing spirit of devotion, shed a calm and tranquil light over his closing days, which he had probably learned to prefer to the fire of his youth and the turbulence of his middle age. After the publication of his English Garden, (neither the most poetical nor vigorous of his compositions,) the Muse's visits were neither long nor frequent: but he continued to exercise his declining powers in a single annual sonnet, devoted to the remembrance of his own birth-day, till within a few weeks of his death, which happened April 5th, 1796, in the 73d year of his age. Vol. xv. Nói xxx
How seldom has the character of a true poet been united to that of a regular and wealthy clergyman! Young, Pitt, and Brome are, perhaps, the only instances, besides our author, in the whole compass of English poetical biography. Be it remembered, however, that the term - biography' properly applies to the dead. This hint, we trust, will be ‘vocal to the intelligent. But Mason was, from the beginning, a moral and a prudent man; and though the disposal of his father's property appears to have been unkind and inofficious, he never knew the temptations of want: he loved, he cherished, but unfortunately he boasted too loudly of independence. He seems to have been fond of connexions in a rank so far above his own, that they must necessarily have cost him nothing; and, among his equals, the haughty reserve, the squeamish delicacy of Gray, had taught him to disrelish promiscuous and ill-assorted society. . Know thy own worth and reverence the Lyre might have been his motto; and it was happy for him that in the capital of a remote province, besides other associates of taste and elegance, he found one friend of a mind and habits thoroughly congenial to his own. For this connexion, though with a layman, he was partly indebted to the orthodoxy of his own principles; for the faith of Dr. Burgh was as pure as his life, and Mason, in the midst of his political connexions with unitarians and schismatics, never swerved from the standard of doctrine and discipline in his own church, but, with happy inconsistency, fought its battles against the very men to whom, in another and a kindred cause, he had given the right hand of fellowship. Dazzled by the first glare of the French RevoJution, he sang its glories and its prospects ; but the horrors, which quickly followed, opened his eyes, and he tried to make his peace with the friends of order and legitimate government, by an awkward and ungraceful PALINODIA.
The literature of Mason has been underrated. This mistake is partly owing to the absence of all parade of learning in his works, and partly, perhaps, 'to the gigantic erudition of his friends ; but his attainments, as a scholar, might be far beneath those of Hurd and Gray, and, at the same time, far above those of ordinary classical scholars. He was bred, indeed, at a country school, and therefore never tried to emulate the forms of classical composition;" but his taste was good, his knowledge of the learned languages not defective, and he was certainly able, without a master, to transfer " the choral graces of Sophocles into his own dramatic compositions. That he failed in his attempt to transplant these graces to the English stage was no imputation on his knowledge or his talents ; they were copied with skill and with animation, but the genius, we may be permitted to say, the better genius, of our own
drama presented an insuperable bar. Mason only failed where Milton had failed before.
Without being a professed black-letter man,' he was deeply read in old English poetry; and when the Rowleian controversy arose, he was heard to declare; that himself could have written as good verses as those imputed to Chatterton, and in the same garb of antiquity, at the same early age. In this assertion he was fully justified by the Musæus. He was well read in Italian poetry; French verses he professed himself unable to endure. His deepest researches into antiquity were in quest of anecdotes of ancient art. After all he does not appear, even in the years of pupilage, much Jess in those of ease and independence, to have been an habitual student: in the scientific pursuit of his own university he made little proficiency, and when he became master of his own time and habits, the 'vitam quæ faciunt beatiorem' included the spade, the pallet, and the lyre, as well as the library. Fond as he was of plants, he seems to have been no regular botanist, and while he praises the
Science of the wondrous Swede' he intimates the uselessness of his arrangements for the purposes of artificial landscape. It was, perhaps, to his credit, that in a country neighbourhood, and among persons unable to judge of his higher qualifications, he was considered rather as a man of strong sense and independent spirit, than as a peculiar and unintelligible character. Among people of ordi, nary understanding he trusted for estimation to the liberal use of an ample income, and was not disappointed. In the domestic relations he was very inadequately tried: he was a fond husband, how. ever, for the short time in which he possessed a wife, and he never became a father. In the testamentary disposition of his property (whatever might be the inducement) he disappointed the expectations of his nearest relations. What he thought of the other sex may be inferred from the fact that he chose his "Maria' principally for her taciturnity. Such, however, he was, that his virtues far preponderated over his infirmities, and his death produced a chasm, which has not yet been, nor is likely to be, supplied, by the appearance of another poet of the same order, who, gifted with real genius, and even an exuberant imagination, was never betrayed by either into extravagance or eccentricity of conduct; but who discharged the common offices of life as a man and a clergyman, with a uniform propriety and decorum, of which uninspired good sense alone is usually the prompter and preserver.
Mr. Mason must next be considered in another light, than as a man or even a scholar. From the first specimens which are preserved of his Muse he appears to have been gifted by nature with the materials of a great poet; his faults were those of superfluity, not of defect; his imagination was copious to excess; his diction
florid even to the confines of bombast. His first short performances are almost a tissue of personifications; he had an early and singular faculty of imitation; and the Museus itself, though every individual copy which it attempted fell very far short of the great original, displayed a versatility of style, an habit and depth of reading, a correctness of ear, and a command of varied language, rarely united in so young a man. Though Mason spent all his early years, and long after the Muse began her visits, either
On that bleak and boisterous shore
To his and Ocean's Tritons, or on the tame and uninspiring banks of the Cam,-yet his sout was stored from the first with picturesque imagery, of which, perhaps, the earliest forms, if not derived from painting, were properly creations. We are almost inclined to believe the former to have been the case; for after he became a professed painter, and had visited those scenes, in his native country, which realized the wild visions of Salvator Rosa, he had evidently contracted a practice of applying artificial, as the test of natural beauty.
But Mason never became stationary in these countries, nor ever attended to the plain and pastoral manners of their inhabitants, which have misled the small poets of later days from simplicity to silliness, and produced a kind of moral portrait painting which sickens every man of sense by its very exactness. Mason, indeed, by habit and by constitution, though an enthusiastic admirer of dead nature, had nothing of the pastoral poet about him. Notwithstanding his political propensities-he conversed most willingly with the great--his personal and domestic habits were elegant and he beheld the poor, rather as objects of equitable and compassionate treatment, than as beings with whom he could endure to mingle in order to copy their manners, or to transcribe their fanguage. Another preservative from this soft and maukish turn of mind, was a strong sense of humour, and a disposition satirical and even sarcastic. In bosoms so fortified, the sentimental and the romantic find no place. The roar of a cataract, the smooth and sunny expanse of å lake, the impending horrors of a rock, or the deep gloom of a forest, Mason would have sung, or have painted, with the animation of genius; but his eye would have wandered without attention over the groups of his own species, which occupied these enchanting scenes, his ear would has been deaf to the peculiarities of their dialect, and his fancy little moved by the simplicity of their manners.
Betwixt Mason and his tuneful friend there was in this respect one important difference: he, perhaps, exalted artificial scenery tog high; Mr. Gray, on the contrary, looked with scorn on the tri
vial imitations which man presumed to attempt of the beauties and grandeur of nature.
This is easily accounted for: Mason had the means of gratifying his leading propensity, which Gray had not. He was a practical landscape painter, and Aston was an archetype of the English Gar. den. Mr. Gray had no grounds to lay out, and could neither paint nor purchase landscapes. He was contemporary with another kindredspirit
, both in taste and poetry; but between Shenstone and himself there were fewer points of resemblance than were to have been expected. To the Bard of the Leasowes Mason has not done justice: he describes, indeed, the scene, which, in the infancy of such pursuits, that elegant but uphappy man created, as
still lovelier than his song : Yet was that song
Nor rude nor unharmonious, when attuned
To pastoral plaint or tale of slighted love.' But these topics are unskilfully or invidiously chosen; and never was praise more thriftily bestowed or more unhappily applied. Was it the jalousie de métier' which misled a nature usually just and generous--or was it by some momentary perversion of intellect, that Mason, whose judgment was usually right, failed to perceive where Shenstone's strength lay? That his poetry was always exalted by taste, and that his happiest strains beyond all comparison are those in which he describes natural scenery, or teaches the principles of landscape painting, no attentive and competent judge could have doubted for a moment. In the Rural Elegance, short as it is, besides a natural and easy flow of harmonious versification, there is far more of the Philosophy of Taste,' (we borrow fo once an expression from our northern neighbours,) than in all the English Garden, which is professedly didactic.
On the Caractacus and Elfrida it would be idle to comment. The public taste has at length assigned to them the rank of beautiful dramatic poems, with much fancy, some tinsel, great classical taste, and an entire unfitness for representation, Perhaps, however, an attempt to revive them might be made, omitting the choruses'; for, with rhyme or without, in the shape of Glover's Medea
Mason's Elfrida, between the genius of the English stage and that of Greece, there is this essential and radical difference, that the one indispensably requires, and the other obstinately rejects, a chorus,
In elegies and moral epistles, Mason was excellent;the flow of his versification, the warmth but honest independence of his opinions, the tone of intellectual superiority which he maintains in addressing the great, the exalted sentiments of morality and religion swhich he generally infuses into these short but exquisite composį.