Wednesday 20 July 2022

'He sleeps among the dull of ancient days'

 I was pleased (and rather surprised) to see that the distinction of recording the hottest temperature ever in the UK (40.3C) was achieved yesterday by the village of Coningsby in Lincolnshire. Coningsby is just the kind of quiet, unassuming, more or less nondescript Mercian village that I like. Its church, St Michael's, has a one-handed clock, the dial of which is painted onto the tower, which, unusually, has an arched passageway passing under it, part of a footpath from the high street to the old school.
 The Rector here in the 1720s was one Laurence Eusden, the nation's youngest ever Poet Laureate, and one of its least distinguished. Appointed at the age of 30, on the strength of an ode celebrating the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Newcastle's marriage, he succeeded the rather more distinguished Nicholas Rowe, and held the office for 12 years, enduring much derision. His reputation continued to fall after his death. In his Lives of the Poets, Johnson wrote that 'the Laureateship was in this instance preserved and handed down by perhaps our worst poet'. Johnson's brief account of Eusden's poems is peppered with phrases such as 'far-fetched flatteries', 'fulsome fustian' and 'servile adulation and tiresome triplets'. At Coningsby, Eusden took to drink, but still managed to make a translation of Tasso. He died in 1730. 
'The reader,' Johnson concludes, 'will, we fear, agree with us that more than enough has been said of this versifier. Though a clumsy courtier, his flatteries gained for him in that era patronage. In the present one, his powers of puffery would have been turned to a different account. He might have exhausted imagination in celebrating the virtues of blacking, or the praises of cheap clothing.'
'Know, Eusden thirsts no more for sack or praise;
He sleeps among the dull of ancient days.'
(Pope, The Dunciad

No comments:

Post a Comment