« PreviousContinue »
VII.-HE TALKED OF DAGGERS AND OF DARTS...
IX.—I GRACED Don Pedro'S REVELRY.......
WINTHROP MACKWORTH PRAED was born in 1802, in London, where his parents were connected with a great banking house which still remains in the family. At a very early age he was placed at Eton, where Henry Nelson Coleridge, John Moultrie and others who have since been distinguished in literature or in political affairs were his schoolfellows. With Moultrie he set up The Etonian, one of the cleverest and most spirited undergraduate magazines ever sent from a college. To this he was the largest contributor, and its success was so great that it went through four editions, and established for him a reputation for extraordinary precocious talent. From Eton he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he carried away an unprecedented number of prizes for Greek and Latin odes and epigrams and English poems. On leaving the university he settled in London, and soon after became associated with T. B. Macaulay, Hookham Frere, and others, in the conduct of Knights Quarterly Magazine, of which his articles were the life and main attraction. This miscellany being discontinued, he wrote a large number of playful lyrics for the New Monthly Magazine and the illustrated annuals, and pungent political satires for the journals.
In youth he shared the liberalism of Southey, but like the laureate he became conservative while advancing into manhood. The abilities he displayed in public con
troversy induced his election to the House of Commons, and he was a member for Aylesbury, St. Germains and Yarmouth, in three successive Parliaments. Though a love of ease, and social propensities, prevented the best cultivation of his powers, and the quick seizure of each opportunity, necessary to eminence in politics, he did enough to justify the earnest anticipations of his friends, and to earn for himself the title of a “rising man.” He held the place of Secretary of the Board of Control, from December in 1834 to April in 1835, and other offices, in higher series, promised to reward his continuance in public life. At this period his early friend Moultrie, who had entered the ministry of the Established Church, addressed him in the following sonnets :
In youth and early manhood thou and I
In youth's impetuous days thy heart was warm,
In the autumn of 1838 the health of the young commoner began to decline, and he gave up his employments and his ambitions, to retire into his home and prepare for death; and on the fifteenth of July, 1839, he died, in the thirty-seventh year of his age.
The writer of this preface, while a boy, was accustomed to read with delight the pieces of Praed as they appeared in our periodicals, and when news came of the poet's death, he directed the importation of a copy of his works, and was surprised with the information that they had never been collected; but the bookseller who had ordered them from London-Mr. Langley, whose store was then in the Astor House-readily undertook the publication of as many of his compositions as were accessible in old souvenirs and magazines, and the result was the only volume of them hitherto printed—a volume which now has become rare, so that Miss Mitford states, in the recently published Reminiscences of her Life, that she procured it with considerable difficulty.
The merits of Praed are peculiar and very great. As a writer of vers de societe he is without an equal among English authors. Nothing can be more graceful, natural, and agreeable, than his Every Day Characters; we find nowhere a more brilliant play of fancy than in Lillian and his other arabesque stories, in which the most curious rural superstitions are embroidered so deftly on the feelings of the drawing room; and perhaps there is no other example in which a humor so quiet, airy and delicious, is so happily interblent with moving tenderness, as in Josephine, and many of his other apparently careless yet really most exquisitely finished productions. This humorous melancholy, this gayety, with undertones of sadness, is perhaps our author's chief distinction.
The present edition of these poems is much more full than any hitherto published, and it may have the effect of inducing some English publisher to give us a complete collection of the works of an author whose carelessness of his literary reputation should not deprive the world of one of the most charming books for which any writer of our time has furnished material.
R. W. G. New York, April, 1852.