« ZurückWeiter »
would be superfluous and thrown away upon larger figures, where the strength and boldness of a masterly hand gives all the grace."
The author has given us two songs in the same paper, as illustrative of this ingenious piece of criticism, and they have much of the brilliancy and point upon which he insists. He is likewise believed to be the translator of a Lapland love song, inserted in N° 366 of the Spectator, and which, in point of versification, is entitled to the praise of ease and sweetness.
14. WILLIAM WOTTON, the son of the Rev. Henry Wotton, rector of Wrentham in Suffolk, was born in that parish on the 13th of August, 1666. Discovering, at a very early age, an extraordinary facility in the acquisition of languages, his father, who was an excellent scholar, took great pleasure in cultivating his talents. The result was, that when five years old he was, not without reason, esteemed a literary prodigy. He was not only better acquainted with his vernacu lar tongue than boys of double his years, but he had also made a considerable progress in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; and used to amuse himself by translating portions of the scriptures out of these languages into English. It was to the pro
digious strength of his memory, and which failed him not when advanced in life, that he was indebted for these singular acquirements.
Such precocity of talent soon led to distinguished notice. Before he had numbered ten years, he was admitted of Catharine Hall, Cambridge; the master of which, Dr. John Eachard, paid him, on his admission, the following remarkable compliment, which, whatever may have been his abilities, must, considering his age, be deemed highly hyperbolical: Gulielmus Wottonus, infra decem annos, nec Hammondo nec Grotio secundus. At College he continued to enlarge his stock of literature with a rapidity equal to the promise of his infancy; and at twelve years of age had added the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee languages to his former acquisitions.
In 1679, and in his thirteenth year, he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts; in 1681, through the interest of Dr. Turner, afterwards Bishop of Ely, he was appointed to a fellowship in St. John's College, and in 1691 he became Bachelor of Divinity. The same year he was presented by Lloyd, Bishop of St. Asaph, to the sinecure of Llandrillo in Denbighshire; and having been shortly afterwards created chaplain to the Earl of Nottingham, he was preferred by that nobleman, 1693, to the rectory of Middleton Keynes in
Buckinghamshire. To these honours and emoluments we have to add, that in 1705 he was made a prebendary of the church of Salisbury by Bishop Burnet; and in 1707 he had the degree of Doctor of Divinity conferred upon him by Archbishop Tenison.
Such were the dignities and preferments of our divine in the established church; but, though ample, they were not sufficient, from a want of economy, to shield him from the distresses of penury.
Of his literary character he supported the reputation which he had so early acquired by a variety of learned publications. Of these, one of the best known and most remarkable is his Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, first published in 1694, and intended as a refutation of Sir William Temple's celebrated essay on the same subject. To the second edition of his book, which appeared in 1697, Wotton annexed, by way of appendix, the elaborate Dissertations upon Phalaris by Bentley, a proceeding which not only involved him in the far-famed dispute with Boyle, but exposed him to the irony and sarcastic ridicule of Swift; who, in his "Tale of a Tub," and in his "Battle of the Books," has omitted no opportunity of placing our author in a ludicrous light. Wotton endeavoured to reply
and recriminate by a Defence of the Reflections, and by Observations upon the Tale of a Tub; but in vain; for the satire is preserved and the answers are forgotten. The "Reflections" of Wotton, which were written in his twenty-ninth year, display much literature and research, and are, at the same time, free from all traces of asperity or ostentation.
Our author's next publication of any great importance was, The History of Rome from the death of Antoninus Pius to the death of Severus Alexander, 8vo. 1701. This production, which was commenced at the request of Bishop Burnet, and intended by his lordship for the use of his pupil, the Duke of Gloucester, is a species of medallic history; and several useful tables of medals are prefixed to the work. M. Leibnitz, it is said, entertained so high an opinion of this book, that he strongly recommended it to the late King, when electoral prince of Hanover; "and it was," says a writer in the General Biographical Dictionary, the first piece of Roman History which he read in our language*."
The pecuniary difficulties under which, from the consequences of his own imprudence, our author now laboured, induced him in the year 1714 to retire into South Wales, where he prose* Vol. xii. p. 584, edition of 1784.
cuted his studies with unabated vigour. He wrote Memoirs of the Churches of St. David's and Landaff; and in 1718 published a valuable work in 2 vols. 8vo. under the title of Miscellaneous Discourses, relating to the Traditions and Usages of the Scribes and Pharisees, which had the honour of being praised and recommended by the celebrated Le Clerc *.
Dr. Wotton now applied himself with his usual success and assiduity to the study of the Welch language and antiquities; and, in 1722, he had acquired so complete a knowledge of this ancient tongue, that he ventured to preach a sermon in it before the British Society. The year following he gave to the public, in the Bibliotheca Literaria, a description of the "Caernarvon Record," whilst at the same time he was diligently employed upon a translation of the Welch Laws, a work of immense labour and erudition, but which did not appear until four years after his death. It was printed correctly from his manuscripts in 1730, and entitled Leges Wallica Ecclesiastica et Civiles Hoeli Boni, et aliorum Wallia principum, quas ex variis Codicibus Manuscriptis eruit, interpretatione Latina, notis, et glossario illustravit Gulielmus Wottonus, folio.
After a life principally occupied by literary * See Bibliotheq. Ancienne & Moderne, tom. xiv. p. 212.