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Of all classes of literature, it is generally admitted, that none is more pleasing to writers, or more interesting to readers of taste, than biographical accounts of characters who have been eminent for their learning or their talents. Indeed, this sort of knowledge has ever been sought after with avidity, for it is to the biography of departed eminence, when composed with characteristic truth, that posterity must refer for examples of every quality and action that is praiseworthy, great, and glorious. But, of all others, the lives of poets have ever proved particularly entertaining; because, as Horace justly observes, they are born, but not made. “Poeta nascitur, non fit;” and because, in all ages, they have from the greatest to those of the most meagre pretensions, generally experienced the utmost extremes of good and evil, the most extraordinary vicissitudes and shades of calamity. Gibbon has observed, that “the nobility of the Spencers has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of a Marlborough, but that the Fairy Queen is the most precious jewel in their coronet;” by which he evidently means, that titles receive additional lustre, when those to whom they descend, or are given, possess poetical qualifications. It therefore follows, that these qualifications, when united with piety and genius, are holden by the world in such deservedly high estimation, that no earthly recompense can reflect ou them additional grandeur. But the labours of the necrologist, though excessive, are, when weighed in the scale of impartiality and Justice, generally found deficient. They are often executed from mercenary motives, by men, “who write to share the fame of the deceased;” by near relatives, from whom an exposure of the faults of their object cannot be expected, and whose pictures are all lucid and brilliant, without those touches of shade which afford a proper contrast to a mass of splendour. On the other hand, if the life of a man of eminence be written by a stranger, who is emulous to acquire for his own productions that portion of applause to which all who write aspire, we are led to expect that his biography will be tinctured with a degree of envious asperity:-we have seen, that the immortal Pope could not refrain from envying, and even persecuting, those who aspired to the favour of the Muses"; and we have no reason to assert, notwithstanding our boasted progress in illumination and theophilanthropy, that the present is more liberal than preceding ages. The most material imperfection, however, in lives of deceased characters, composed by persons unconnected with their families, is a want of proper and authentic materials, from which alone an inperishable wreath should be formed, for the tombs of those whose characters and abilities entitle them to our attentive consideration. Such was the case with respect to Dr. John LANG hor Ne; for, though many attempts have been made to write his biography, they have all, in a great degree, failed, by omitting very interesting incidents in his mortal career. Indeed, the materials of the writers were so scanty and unconnected, that the public have, till very lately, been unacquainted even with his ancestors, his birth, and his education.
But, at length, these deficiencies have been supplied in a brief, though interesting, account, written by his son, the Rev. J. T. LANG hon NE, vicar of Harmondsworth and Drayton, Middlesex; and we now learn, that our author's father was the Rev. Joseph Lasanonse, who held a living in Lincolnshire, but who died at an early age, leaving a widow and four children, of which the doctor was the youngest.
* Vide a very interesting and uncommonly cheap volume, entitled a “Diction. ary of Celebrated Women, by Matilda Betham,” articles THOMAS,
He was born at Kirkby-Stephen, Westmorland, in March, 1735, and was only four years old at the death of his father, when his mother, being in circumstances far from affluent, gave him the first rudiments of education, which he afterwards completed at Appleby. His progress in classical learning is a striking instance, to the many on record, of what is to be effected by perseverance and a desire for study; he having been able, at the early age of thirteen, to read and construe the Greek Testament.
At the age of eighteen, having acquired a perfect knowledge of ancient literature, and his circumstances being inadequate to his expectations, he engaged himself as a private tutor in a family near Ripon, where he wrote “Studley Park, an Elegy written amongst the Ruins of Pontefract Castle, and an Ode to the River Eden,” all of which being considered by their author as nothing more than juvenile efforts, were despised by him, though they really possess a considerable portion of merit. Studley Park was written in praise of a beautiful spot, and perhaps with a hope of finding a patron in its possessor, in which, however, having failed, he did not retain the poem in his collection; but it is now before the public, and by no means diminishes the reputation he has gained.
He afterwards became an assistant at the free-school in Wakefield, where he soon acquired deacon's orders, and gained much popularity as a preacher. In 1759, he was engaged as a preceptor to the sons of R. Cracroft, Esq. of Hackthorn, Lincolnshire, and here he soon gave a proof of the liberality of his heart, by publishing a volume of poems for the benefit of a reduced gentleman in distress. In the preface to this volume he feelingly observes, “If any one, into whose hands this work shall fall, should be dissatisfied with his purchase, let him remember that it is published for the relief of a gentleman in distress; and that he has not thrown away five shillings in the purchase of a worthless book, but contributed so much to the assistance of indigent merit. I had rather have my readers feel that pleasure which arises from the sense of having done one
virtuous deed, than all they can enjoy from the works of poetry and wit.” *
Having a desire to take the degree of bachelor of divinity, he entered himself, in 1760, at Clare Hall, where he wrote the poenus on the accession and marriage of his present majesty, which are now published in the tale of “Solyman and Almena.”
As, by the statutes of the university of Cambridge, a person may take his degrees without being compelled to become a resident, Mr. Langhorne was enabled to continue in the family of Mr. Cracroft, where, from a congeniality of sentiment, an attachment of the most tender nature originated between him and Miss Ann, the second daughter of that gentleman. This young lady was very accomplished, and, by her love for study, formed a striking contrast to the generality of modern females. She devoted much attention to the cultivation of the elegant arts, and, under the tuition of Mr. Langhorne, she became proficient in the Italian language. It also appears, that she peculiarly excelled in that delightful, that heavenly science, which
can soften steel and stone,
And this being her favourite study, our readers will readily conceive the impression it must have made on a heart of far less sensibility than that of Mr. Langhorne; for justly has it been observed, that
“The man who hath no music in his soul,
The situation, however, in which this gentleman was placed can only be conceived, to its full extent, by those who have been in a similar predicament. Such can form a just idea of the feelings of our author, who, although possessed of all the facility of eloquence and gentlemanly manners which result from a liberal education and a mind of sensibility, although he found his heart overflowing with the sublimest sensation, yet it was long ere he could acquire sufficient resolution to make a declaration of his passion to her, who was the favourite daughter of his opulent employer. At length, however, he made known his feelings, and the result was a strong, though secret, attachment on the part of his pupil, who, from prudential motives and an apprehension, probably well founded, that the great disproportion of their circumstances would preclude the consent of her family to such a union, at first gave a direct refusal to his solicitations. Mr. Langhorne, however, by addressing to her some odes, elegies, and amatory expostulations, happily kept up the flame which he had elicited, and she remained
“Constant as courage to the brave in battle,
But the disappointment which he had experienced rendering his situation at Hackthorn insupportable, he, in 1761, removed to Dagenham, in Essex, where he officiated as a curate, and though, like most men of talents and genius, he was obliged to depend on his exertions for support, yet he devoted a considerable portion of time to cultivate the friendship of the Muses, who had already adopted him as their favoured pupil. In 1759, he wrote the “Death of Adonis, a Pastoral Elegy, from Bion”,” which, I think, though I have never observed it particularly noticed in any criticism on his works, is one of the most charming of his poetical compositions. For instance, what can be prettier than the frantic address of Venus to the already dead Adonis.
“Yet stay, lov'd youth, a moment, ere we part,
• It was my intention to contrast some passages of this Elegy with extracts from a very elegant prose translation of Bion, by Edward du Bois, Esq. published in 1799, but the limits in which this memoir must be confined frustrates my in