Page images
PDF
EPUB

MEMOIR

OF

THE REV. H. F. CARY.

CHAPTER I.

1772–1790. Mr. Cary's Birth and Parentage.—Disposition in Childhood.—Loss

of his Mother.-His Education.—Publication of Ode to General Elliott.—Acquaintance with and Letters to Miss Seward.—Contributions to the “Gentleman's Magazine.” — Ode.- Sonnets.

Letters to Miss Seward. Henry FRANCIS CARY, the subject of this Memoir, was born at Gibraltar, on the sixth of December, 1772. He was the eldest son of William Cary, at that time a Captain in the First Regiment of Foot, by Henrietta, daughter of Theophilus Brocas, Dean of Killala. His grandfather, Henry Cary, was archdeacon, and his great-grandfather, Mordecai Cary, bishop of that diocese.

Within a few months after the birth of his eldest on, Captain Cary returned with his regiment to England, and in a few years taking umbrage at a junior captain, through the influence of the colonel,

[blocks in formation]

the Duke of Argyll, being allowed to purchase a majority over his head, sold his commission, and devoted himself to the more peaceful occupations of a country life, having settled in Staffordshire, for which county he twice served the office of high sheriff.

The development of character in the early life of men afterwards distinguished for their acquirements or their genius is ever a subject of interest. In the present instance the disposition and tendencies of the child exactly correspond with the temper and habits of the full-grown man. Those marks which throughout a long after-life distinguished the moral and intellectual character of the subject of this Memoir, are to be clearly traced in the slight account we have of his early infancy. In his moral character he was remarkable for tenderness of affection, gentleness, sincerity, and, where truth or right was concerned, a resolution in action seldom, if ever, surpassed. In his intellectual character, or in his endeavours to exercise and improve the powers of his mind, he seems, almost from the first dawn of the reasoning faculty within him, to have pursued that path of study best suited to his capacity.

At the early age of four he was subject to a complaint in his eyes that threatened total blindness, a circumstance which I mention because it enables me to introduce a testimony to his disposition when a child, which I have above remarked as distinguishing

him throughout life. In April, 1777, his mother, writing to a friend, says: “Poor Frank's situation is the great bar to our enjoyment; for the three or four first hours every day we are obliged to be almost totally in the dark, endeavouring to make him as little sensible as possible of his melancholy situation. He is for weeks following, perhaps, tolerably well, and then the complaint returns, but I think not quite so bad as it did last year. His sensibility and understanding are, I really think, extraordinary for his age,

and his affection for his father and me very uncommon.

The sincerity of this affection for his mother was not long afterwards manifested in a remarkable manner,-remarkable not only for the incident itself, but because it was the prelude to sufferings of a similar character, which similar losses seldom failed to occasion, and which seemed to grow with the strength of his own affections. When he was about six years of age the mother, for whom he had shown such “ uncommon affection," died; his father, alarmed at the poignancy of his sufferings for this loss, attempted to console him by the present of a gold watch, but the child in a paroxysm of grief threw the watch violently on the ground and dashed it to pieces. The incident is, perhaps, trifling in itself, but when viewed in connection with the effects produced by domestic losses and afflictions at a more advanced period of life, becomes important as a means of tracing his natural disposition to excitement, with its influence on the mind.

His mother left two other children: one a son, William, afterwards a Colonel in the Royal Artillery ; the other a daughter, Georgina, afterwards married to the Rev. Thomas Price, rector of Enville, in the county of Stafford.

From whom he received the first rudiments of his education I have been unable to discover, but it is certain that when he was only eight or nine years old he had attained to a proficiency in the Greek and Latin languages, unusual for so young a child ; he was then at school at Uxbridge, and I have heard him say, pleasantly laughing at his own precocious taste for translating and blank verse, that at that age he rendered a considerable portion of the first book of the Odyssey into his childish prose, and, having done so, cut it into lengths of ten syllables each, which he then wrote out under the persuasion that it was poetry.

In the year 1783 he was removed to Rugby School, of which Dr. James was at that time Head Master; but the delicate state of his health and the weakness of his constitution unfitted him for the turmoil of a public school. He continued there for about the space of two years, and was then placed at the Grammar School of Sutton Coldfield, in Warwickshire. Here he formed a romantic friendship with two of his schoolfellows, Thomas Lister, of Armitage Park, and

n Humberston, son of Dr. Humberston, a phyan, at Birmingham. A love of literature, unusual.in boys of their age, Bompanied doubtless by a congeniality of disposition, united and actuated the three friends. They agreed together to attempt a metrical version of the principal Greek poets : the task of translating Homer was assigned to Humberston; Lister undertook Hesiod, Anacreon, and Bion; Cary was also to attempt Hesiod and Anacreon, with Moschus and other minor poets, or their fragments. It was left in doubt to whom the arduous task of translating Pindar should be assigned. Their scheme, however, met with a sudden interruption by the dispersion of the friends; Humberston was sent to Edinburgh, to study medicine; Lister was forced, much against his will, to enter a banking establishment at Lichfield"; and Cary was, in the year 1787, removed to the Grammar School at Birmingham, at that time under the superintendence of Mr. Price, “whose name,” he says, in his Life of Johnson, "I cannot mention without reverence and affection.”

At this period, shortly after his removal to the school at Birmingham, Mr. Cary, being not yet fifteen years of age, ventured on publishing an ode to General Elliott, the gallant defender of Gibraltar : the subject may be deemed a singular one for a youthful poet to select, but he was probably led to it by the circumstance of Gibraltar being his own

« PreviousContinue »