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English poets have generally been educated for the church or the law. Rowe was called to the bar, but never practised in the profession; for his success, as a dramatist, procured him noble patrons, who bestowed upon him, or rather loaded him with places of honour and emolument. Amongst the number of his occupations were, Under Secretary of State, Land Surveyor of the Customs, Secretary to the Lord Chancellor for the Presentations, Clerk of the Council to the Prince of Wales, and Poet Laureate.
In every department he did honour to the choice of his employer; but in the province of the theatre he alone acquired fame.
"Tamerlane" was the second play he produced; and he always spoke of it as his favourite production. This partiality probably arose from the enthusiastic rapture with which it was received by an audience, who beheld—as the poet had designed they should— their own beloved monarch in the person of the virtuous Tamerlane; and their old enemy, the King of France, in the reprobate Bajazet.
"The fashion of the times," says Johnson, " was to accumulate upon Lewis the Fourteenth, all that could raise horror and detestation; and whatever good was withheld from him, that it might not be thrown away, was bestowed on King William."
It was the custom, till within a very few years, to perform this tragedy constantly on the 5th of November, in honour of the landing of the Prince of Orange, afterwards King William—but as that political fire, which once gave brightness to its gloomy scenes, no longer blazes, it is now seldom acted, and never with strong marks of approbation.
As Rowe was a good man; a religious man; his chief delight the study of divinity, and ecclesiastical history: with such propensities, and such a capacious mind to improve by them, it is to be deplored that he should hope to compliment a christian king, and strictly pious as William was known to be, by a calumnious representation of his declared enemy:— that title alone should have made the character of his royal adversary sacred.
As the author's most religious and moral intentions are, in this respect, unwarily blemished ; so has he, as incautiously, preserved his wicked Bajazet from utter detestation, by endowing him with one endearing quality—he has frankness. This is a virtue so con» genial to every Englishman, that, now all the party zeal which once made this tyrant hated, has subsided, Bajazet is more favoured by the audience, and every actor would sooner represent him, than the self-approving Tamerlane.
The sorrows of love, in this play, areinteresting to read, but childishly insipid in the action. Arpasia excites admiration, but neither pity, nor delight. The Arpasia of Mrs. Siddons has, indeed, the power of inspiring a degree of horrible wonder in the dying scene; when, dropping down dead at the Sultan's feet, she gives, by the manner and disposition of her fall, such assurance of her having suddenly expired, that an auditor of a lively imagination casts up his eyes to Heaven, as if to catch a view of her departed spirit.
Rowe, after sending many a hero and heroine to their graves, by various untimely ends, died himself peaceably in his own bed, in the year 1718, aged forty-five. The following lines, from this tragedy, seem exactly to describe that joyful fortitude which he professed to experience in his dying moments ; and which, probably, he anticipated when he wrote them.
. Nor has my soul
"One unrepented guilt upon remembrance,
Stratocles Prince Op Tanais
ACT THE FIRST.
Before Tauerlank's Tent.
Enter the Prince Of Tanais, Zama, and Mir Van*
Prince. Hail to the sun! from whose returning
Zam. Our Asian world,
Mir. Hear you of Baja/et?
Prince. Late in the evening,