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very considerable part must have been written much sooner, Some he is said to have committed to the flames a little before his death: these were probably his juvenile effusions. What remain were transcribed from his own copies.
He died at Manchester September 28, 1763, in the seventy-second year of his age. His character is given briefly in these words: "As the general tenour of his life was innocent and inoffensive, so he bore his last illness with resignation and cheerfulness. The great truths of Christianity had made from his earliest years a deep impression on his mind, and hence it was that he had a peculiar pleasure in employing his pen upon serious subjects." Of his family we are told only that he had several children, and that his eldest son was taken early into the shop of his grandfather, where he acquired a handsome fortune.
To this short account it may be added, that his opinions and much of his character are discoverable in his poems. At first he appears to have been a disciple of Mr. Law, zealously attached to the church of England, but with pretty strong prejudices against the Hanoverian succession. He afterwards held some of the opinions which are usually termed methodistical, but he rejected Mr. Hervey's doctrine of imputed righteousness, and entertained an abhorrence of predestination. His reading on subjects of divinity was extensive, and he watched the opinions that came from the press with the keenness of a polemic; whenever any thing appeared adverse to his peculiar sentiments, he immediately opposed it in a poem, but as scarcely any of his writings were published in his life-time, he appears to have employed his pen chiefly for his own amusement or that of his friends.
At what time he began to lean towards the mysticism of Jacob Behmen is uncertain. An anonymous writer in the Gentleman's Magazine (vol. LI.) says, that in 1744 he learned High Dutch of a Russian at Manchester, in order to read Jacob's works in the original, and being asked "whether Jacob was more intelligible in that than in the English translation, he affirmed that he was equally so in both; that he himself perfectly understood him, and that the reason others do not, was the blindness-and naughtiness of their hearts." If this account be true, Byrom was farther gone in Behmenism than we should conjecture from his works. It certainly does not appear by them that he really thought he understood Jacob perfectly, for he adopts, concerning him, the reply of Socrates concerning Heraclitus' writings:
All that I understand is good and true,
In the present collection may be found a version of one of Behmen's epistles, which will at least afford the reader an opportunity of determining whether it be most intelligible in prose or verse.
The character of Byrom, as a poet, has been usually said to rest on his pastoral of Colin and Phebe, which has been universally praised for its natural simplicity. Yet, if we inquire what it is that pleases in this poem, we shall probably find that it is, not the serious and simple expression of a pastoral lover, but the air of delicate humour which runs through the whole, and inclines me to think, contrary to the received opinion, that he had no other object in view. Much, therefore, as this piece has been praised, he appears to have more fully established his character, in many of those poems, written at a more advanced age, and published, for the first time, in two elegant volumes, at Manchester, in 1773. I allude principally to The Verses spoken extempore at the
1 These for some years past have been sold at a very high price.
Meeting of a Club-The Astrologer-The Pond-Contentment, or The happy Workman-Most of his Tales and Fables, and the paraphrase on the twenty-third psalm, entitled A Divine Pastoral. In these there appears so much of the genuine spirit of poetry, and so many approaches to excellence, that it would be difficult, even upon the principles of fastidious criticism, and impossible upon those of comparison, to exclude Byrom from a collection of English poets. His Muse is said to have been so kind, that he always found it easier to express his thoughts in verse than in prose, and although this preference appears in many cases where the gravity of prose only ought to have been employed, yet merely as literary curiosities, the entire works of Byrom are too interesting to be longer neglected.
It is almost superfluous to add that, with such an attachment to rhyme, he wrote with ease: it is more to his credit that he wrote in general with correctness, and that. his mind was stored with varied imagery and original turns of thought, which he conveys in flowing measure, always delicate and often harmonious. In his Dialogue on Contentment, and his poem On the Fall of Man in Answer to Bishop Sherlock, he strongly reminds us of Pope in the celebrated Essay, although in the occasional adoption of quaint conceits he appears to have followed the example of the earlier poets. Of his long pieces, perhaps the best is Enthusiasm, which he published in 1751, and which is distinguished by superior animation and a glow of vigorous fancy suited to the subject. He depicts the classical enthusiast, and the virtuoso, with a strength of colouring, not inferior to some of Pope's happiest portraits in his Epistles.
His controversial and critical verses, I have already hinted, are rather to be considered as literary curiosities than as poems, for what can be a poem which excludes the powers of invention, and interdicts the excursions of fancy? Yet if there be a merit in versifying terms of art, some may also be allowed to the introduction of questions of grammar, criticism and theology, with so much ease and perspicuity.
Byrom's lines On the Patron of England are worthy of notice, as having excited a controversy which is perhaps not yet decided. In this poem he endeavoured to prove the non-existence of St. George, the patron saint of England, by this argument chiefly, that the English were converted by Gregory the First, or the Great, who sent over St. Austin for that purpose: and he conceives that in the ancient Fasti, Georgius was erroneously set down for Gregorius, and that George no where occurs as patron until the reign of Edward III. He concludes with requesting that the matter may be considered by Willis, Stukeley, Ames or Pegge, all celebrated antiquaries, or by the society of antiquaries at large, stating the plain question to be, "Whether England's patron was a knight or a pope?”
This challenge must have been given some time before the year 1759 when all these antiquaries were living, but in what publication, if printed at all, I have not been able to discover. Mr. Pegge, however, was living when Byrom's collected poems appeared, and judged the question of sufficient importance to be discussed in the society.
In 1749 he published An Epistle to a Gentleman of the Temple. In 1755 a pamphlet was published, entitled The Contest, in which is exhibited a preface in favour of blank verse: with an experiment of it in an ode upon the British country life, by Roger Comberbach, esq.: an epistle from Dr. Byrom to Mr. Comberbach, in defence of rhyme, and an eclogue by Mr. Comberbach, in reply to Dr. Byrom, 8vo. Chester. This pamphlet I have never seen. It was published by Mr. Comberbach, and is probably alluded to in our author's Thoughts on Rhyme and Blank Verse. Comberbach was a barrister.
His Observations on the History of St. George were printed in the fifth volume of the Archaeologia, in answer, not only to Byrom, but to Dr. Pettingal, who, in 1760, expressed his unbelief in St. George, by a dissertation on the equestrian figure worn by the knights of the garter; Mr. Pegge is supposed to have refuted both. The controversy was, however, revived at a much later period (1795) by Mr. Milner of Winchester, who, in answer to the assertions of Gibbon, the historian, has supported the reality of the person of St. George, with much ingenuity.
It only remains to be noticed that The Lancashire Dialect, printed in Byrom's works, is here omitted as unintelligible to readers in general, and one or two other pieces are likewise rejected, which are offensively tinctured with political prejudices long and deservedly forgotten. Our poet's verses On buying the Picture of F. Malebranche, a pleasing jeu d'esprit, is now added from Mr. Nichols' Collection of Fugitive Poetry.
Byrom's devotional pieces are entirely preserved. Those composed on the collects, and on subjects connected with the great festivals of our church, will not, I think, suffer much by a comparison with those of Watts, but it must be confessed that Cowper, in our own times, has given a peculiar and elegant simplicity to this species of poetry which none of his predecessors attained.
TO THE EDITION PUBLISHED IN 1773 IN TWO VOLUMES OCTAVO.
THE publication of the following sheets is in compliance with the request of many of Mr. Byrom's friends, who were much pleased with some of his poetical compositions which had casually circulated in his life-time. Much might here be said of the author's learned and poetical talents; but it does not seem to be the business of an editor to endeavour to anticipate the reader's judgment.-By it's own intrinsic worth, and the candid opinion of the public, the following work is left to stand or fall.
A deference due to the public may however make it necessary to assure them, that the poems here presented are the genuine production of Mr. Byrom. They are carefully transcribed from his own manuscripts; but as many of them were written rather for private, than for public perusal, it is hoped that all favourable allowance will be made for small inaccuracies.
The reader may be surprised perhaps to find in these volumes so many learned and critical questions discussed in verse.—This is indeed a singularity almost peculiar to our author: but he had so accustomed himself to the language of poetry, that he always found it the easiest way of expressing his sentiments upon all occasions. He himself used to give this reason to his friends for treating such subjects in so uncommon a method; and it is presumed, that if they are not found deficient in other respects, the novelty of the manner will be rather a recommendation than otherwise.
At a time when party disputes are so happily subsided, it may seem to want an apology, that in the following collection some few pieces are inserted, which appear to be tinctured with a party spirit1. A small attention however will convince the warmest partizan, that what Mr. Byrom has written of this cast was intended to soften the asperity, and prevent the mischiefs of an over-heated zeal. Since this was the author's chief motive for writing, it is imagined no other apology will be necessary for the publication of such pieces.
The great truths of Christianity had made, from his earliest years, a deep impression upon the author's mind; and as it was his manner to commit his sentiments of every kind to verse, so he had a peculiar pleasure in employing his pen upon serious subjects.-To the purposes of instruction, and the interests of virtue, all his abilities were ever made subservient. This will appear, more particularly, from the second volume of the following sheets, in which it was thought proper to select such pieces as treat on subjects of a deeper and more important nature. The reader, it is not doubted, will be pleased to find that the author's natural talent for wit and humour has so often given place to something more solid and substantial,
• Some of these are omitted in the present edition. C.