Read THE REVD. MR. JOHN POMFRET of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. III, free online book, by Theophilus Cibber, on

This Gentleman’s works are held in very great esteem by the common readers of poetry; it is thought as unfashionable amongst people of inferior life, not to be possessed of the poems of Pomfret, as amongst persons of taste not to have the works of Pope in their libraries.  The subjects upon which Pomfret wrote were popular, his versification is far from being unmusical, and as there is little force of thinking in his writings, they are level to the capacities of those who admire them.

Our author was son of the rev.  Mr. Pomfret, rector of Luton in Bedfordshire, and he himself was preferred to the living of Malden in the same county.  He was liberally educated at an eminent grammar school in the country, from whence he was sent to the university of Cambridge, but to what college is not certain.  There he wrote most of his poetical pieces, took the degree of master of arts, and very early accomplished himself in most kinds of polite literature.  A gentleman who writes under the name of Philalethes, and who was an intimate friend of Pomfret’s, has cleared his reputation from the charge of fanaticism, which some of his malicious enemies brought against him.  It was shortly after his leaving the university, that he was preferred to the living of Malden abovementioned, and was, says that gentleman, so far from being tinctured with fanaticism, that I have often heard him express his abhorrence of the destructive tenets maintained by that people, both against our religious and civil rights.  This imputation it seems was cast on him by there having been one of his sur-name, though not any way related to him, a dissenting teacher, and who published some rhimes upon spiritual subjects, as he called them, and which sufficiently proved him an enthusiast.

About the year 1703 Mr. Pomfret came up to London, for institution and induction, into a very considerable living, but was retarded for some time by a disgust taken by dr.  Henry Compton, then bishop of London, at these four lines, in the close of his poem entitled The Choice.

  And as I near approach’d the verge of life,
  Some kind relation (for I’d have no wife)
  Should take upon him all my worldly care,
  While I did for a better state prepare.

The parenthesis in these verses was so maliciously represented to the bishop, that his lordship was given to understand, it could bear no other construction than that Mr. Pomfret preferred a mistress before a wife; though the words may as well admit of another meaning, and import no more, than the preference of a single life to marriage; unless the gentlemen in orders will assert, that an unmarried Clergyman cannot live without a mistress.  But the bishop was soon convinced that this aspersion against him, was no more than an effort of malice, as Mr. Pomfret at that time was really married.  The opposition which his enemies made to him, had, in some measure, its effect; for by the obstructions he met with, he was obliged to stay longer in London than he intended, and as the Small-pox then raged in the metropolis, he sickened them, and died in London in the 36th year of his age.

The above-mentioned friend of Mr. Pomfret, has likewise shewn the ungenerous treatment he met with in regard to his poetical compositions, in a book entitled Poems by the Earl of Roscommon, and Mr. Duke, printed 1717, in the preface to which, the publisher has peremptorily inserted the following paragraph.  ’In this collection says he, of my lord Roscommon’s poems, care has been taken to insert all I possibly could procure, that are truly genuine, there having been several things published under his name, which were written by others, the authors of which I could set down if it were material.  Now, says the gentleman, this arrogant editor would have been more just, both to the public, and to the earl of Roscommon’s memory, in telling us what things had been published under his lordship’s name by others, than by concealing the authors of any such gross impositions.  Instead of which, he is so much a stranger to impartiality, that he has been guilty of the very crime he exclaims against; for he has not only attributed the prospect of death to the earl of Roscommon, which was wrote by Mr. Pomfret, after the decease of that lord; but likewise another piece entitled the Prayer of Jeremy Paraphrased, prophetically representing the passionate grief of the Jewish people, for the loss of their town, and sanctuary, written by Mr. Southcot, a gentleman who published it in the year 1717, so that it is to be hoped, in a future edition of the earl of Roscommon’s, and Mr. Duke’s poems, the same care will be taken to do these gentlemen justice, as to prevent any other person from hereafter injuring the memory of his lordship.’

Mr. Pomfret published his poems in the year 1690, to which he has prefixed a very modest and sensible preface, ’I am not so fond of fame, says he, as to desire it from the injudicious many; nor as so mortified a temper as not to wish it from the discerning few.  ’Tis not the multitude of applauders, but the good fame of the applauders, which establishes a valuable reputation.’

His poetical compositions consist chiefly of

1.  The Choice, which we shall insert as a specimen.

2.  Cruelty and Lust, an Epistolary Essay, founded upon the famous Story which happened in the reign of King James ii.  Kirk, who was that Prince’s general against the duke of Monmouth. was sollicited by a beautiful lady in behalf of her husband, who then lay under sentence of death.  The inhuman general consented to grant his fair petitioner her request; but at no less a price than that of her innocence.  The lady doated on her husband, and maintained a hard struggle between virtue, and affection, the latter of which at last prevailed, and she yielded to his guilty embraces.  The next morning Kirk, with unparalleled brutality, desired the lady to look out at the window of his bedchamber, when she was struck with the horrid sight of her husband upon a scaffold, ready to receive the blow of the executioner; and before she could reach the place where he was, in order to take a last embrace, her husband was no more.

How far the lady may be justified in this conduct, is not our business to discuss:  if it is called by the name of guilt, none ever had more pressing motives; and if such a crime could admit of an excuse, it must be upon such an occasion.

3.  Several Epistles to his Friends under affliction.

4.  Upon the Divine Attributes.

5.  A Prospect of Death.

5.  Upon the General Conflagration, and the ensuing Judgment.  There were two pieces of our author’s, published after his death by his friend Philalethes; the first of these entitled Reason, was wrote by him in the year 1700, when the debates concerning the doctrine of the Trinity were carried on with so much heat by the Clergy one against another, that the royal authority was interposed in order to put an end to a controversy, which could never be settled, and which was pernicious in its consequences.  This is a severe satire, upon one of the parties engaged in that dispute, but his not inserting it amongst his other poems when he collected them into a volume, was, on account of his having received very particular favours, from some of the persons therein mentioned.  The other is entitled Dies Novissima, or the Last Epiphany, a Pindaric Ode on Christ’s second Appearance to judge the World.  In this piece the poet expresses much heart-felt piety:  It is animated, if not with a poetical, at least with so devout a warmth, that as the Guardian has observed of Divine Poetry, ’We shall find a kind of refuge in our pleasure, and our diversion will become our safety.’

This is all the account we are favoured with of the life and writings of Mr. Pomfret:  A man not destitute either of erudition or genius, of unexceptionable morals, though exposed to the malice of antagonists.  As he was a prudent man, and educated to a profession, he was not subject to the usual necessities of the poets, but his sphere being somewhat obscure, and his life unactive, there are few incidents recorded concerning him.  If he had not fortune sufficient to render him conspicuous, he had enough to keep his life innocent, which he seems to have spent in ease and tranquillity, a situation much more to be envied than the highest blaze of fame, attended with racking cares, and innumerable sollicitudes.

The choice.

  If Heav’n the grateful liberty would give,
  That I might chuse my method how to live. 
  And all those hours propitious fate should lend,
  In blissful ease and satisfaction spend,

    Near some fair town I’d have a private seat,
  Built uniform; not little, nor too great: 
  Better if on a rising ground it flood
  On this side fields, on that a neighb’ring wood. 
  It should within no other things contain,
  But what were useful, necessary, plain: 
  Methinks ’tis nauseous, and I’d ne’r endure
  The needless pomp of gawdy furniture. 
  A little garden, grateful to the eye,
  And a cool rivulet run murm’ring by: 
  On whose delicious banks a slately row
  Of shady Lymes or Sycamores should grow. 
  At th’ end of which a silent study plac’d,
  Should be with all the noblest authors grac’d. 
  Horace and Virgil, in whose mighty lines
  Immortal wit and solid learning shines. 
  Sharp Juvenal, and am’rous Ovid too,
  Who all the turns of love’s soft passion knew: 
  He that with judgment reads his charming lines,
  In which strong art with stronger nature joins,
  Must grant his fancy, does the best excel;
  His thoughts so tender, and express’d so well. 
  With all those moderns, men of steady sense,
  Esteem’d for learning, and for eloquence. 
  In some of these, as fancy should advise. 
  I’d always take my morning exercise: 
  For sure no minutes bring us more content,
  Than those in pleasing, useful studies spent.

    I’d have a clear, and competent estate,
  That I might live genteely, but not great: 
  As much as I could moderately spend,
  A little more, sometimes t’ oblige a friend. 
  Nor should the sons of poverty repine
  Too much at fortune, they should taste of mine;
  And all that objects of true pity were
  Should be reliev’d with what my wants could spare: 
  For that, our Maker has too largely giv’n,
  Should be return’d, in gratitude to Heav’n,
  A frugal plenty mould my table spread;
  With healthy, not luxurious, dimes fed: 
  Enough to satisfy, and something more
  To feed the stranger, and the neighb’ring poor: 
  Strong meat indulges vice, and pamp’ring food
  Creates diseases, and inflames the blood. 
  But what’s sufficient to make nature strong,
  And the bright lamp of life continue long,
  I’d freely take, and, as I did possess,
  The bounteous author of my plenty bless.

    I’d have a little vault, but always stor’d
  With the best wines each vintage could afford. 
  Wine whets the wit, improves its native force,
  And gives a pleasant flavour to discourse: 
  By making all our spirits debonair,
  Throws off the lees, the sediment of care,
  But as the greatest blessing Heav’n lends,
  May be debauch’d and serve ignoble ends: 
  So, but too oft, the Grape’s refreshing juice
  Does many mischievous effects produce. 
  My house should no such rude disorders know,
  As from high drinking consequently flow: 
  Nor would I use what was so kindly giv’n
  To the dishonour of indulgent Heav’n. 
  If any neighbour came, he should be free,
  Us’d with respect, and not uneasy be,
  In my retreat, or to himself or me. 
  What freedom, prudence, and right reason give,
  All men may with impunity receive: 
  But the least swerving from their rule’s too much;
  For what’s forbidden us, ’tis death to touch.

    That life might be more comfortable yet,
  And all my joys resin’d, sincere, and great;
  I’d chuse two friends, whose company would be
  A great advance to my felicity. 
  Well born, of humour suited to my own;
  Discreet, and men, as well as books, have known. 
  Brave, gen’rous, witty, and exactly free
  From loose behaviour, or formality. 
  Airy, and prudent, merry, but not light;
  Quick in discerning, and in judging right. 
  Secret they should be, faithful to their trust;
  In reas’ning cool, strong, temperate, and just. 
  Obliging, open, without huffing, brave,
  Brisk in gay talking, and in sober, grave. 
  Close in dispute, but not tenacious; try’d
  By solid reason, and let that decide. 
  Not prone to lust, revenge, or envious hate;
  Nor busy medlers with intrigues of state. 
  Strangers to slander, and sworn foes to spight: 
  Not quarrelsome, but stout enough to fight. 
  Loyal, and pious, friends to Cæsar, true
  As dying martyrs, to their Maker too. 
  In their society I could not miss
  A permanent, sincere, substantial bliss.

    Would bounteous Heav’n once more indulge; I’d chuse
  (For who would so much satisfaction, lose,
  As witty nymphs in conversation, give)
  Near some obliging, modest fair to live;
  For there’s that sweetness in a female mind,
  Which in a man’s we cannot hope to find: 
  That by a secret, but a pow’rful art,
  Winds up the springs of life, and does impart
  Fresh vital heat, to the transported heart.

    I’d have her reason all her passions sway;
  Easy in company, in private gay: 
  Coy to a fop, to the deserving free,
  Still constant to herself, and just to me. 
  A soul she should have, for great actions fit;
  Prudence and wisdom to direct her wit: 
  Courage to look bold danger in the face,
  No fear, but only to be proud, or base: 
  Quick to advise, by an emergence prest,
  To give good counsel, or to take the best. 
  I’d have th’ expression of her thoughts be such
  She might not seem reserv’d, nor talk too much. 
  That shew a want of judgment and of sense: 
  More than enough is but impertinence. 
  Her conduct regular, her mirth resin’d,
  Civil to strangers to her neighbours kind,
  Averte to vanity, revenge, and pride,
  In all the methods of deceit untry’d. 
  So faithful to her friend, and good to all,
  No censure might upon her actions fall: 
  Then would e’en envy be compell’d to say,
  She goes the least of woman kind astray.

    To this fair creature I’d sometimes retire,
  Her conversation would new joys inspire;
  Give life an edge so keen, no surly care
  Would venture to assault my soul, or dare
  Near my retreat to hide one secret snare. 
  But so divine, so noble a repast
  I’d seldom, and with moderation taste,
  For highest cordials all their virtue lose
  By a too frequent, and too bold an use: 
  And what would cheer the spirit in distress;
  Ruins our health, when taken to excess.

    I’d be concern’d in no litigious jar,
  Belov’d by all, not vainly popular. 
  Whate’er assistance I had pow’r to bring
  T’ oblige my country, or to serve my King,
  Whene’er they call’d, I’d readily afford
  My tongue, my pen, my counsel, or my sword. 
  Law suits I’d shun, with as much studious care,
  As I would dens where hungry lions are: 
  And rather put up injuries, than be
  A plague to him, who’d be a plague to me. 
  I value quiet at a price too great,
  To give for my revenge so dear a rate: 
  For what do we by all our bustle gain,
  But counterfeit delight, for real pain;

    If Heav’n a date of many years would give,
  Thus I’d in pleasure, ease, and plenty live. 
  And as I near approach’d the verge of life,
  Some kind relation (for I’d have no wife)
  Should take upon him all my worldly care,
  While I did for a better state prepare. 
  Then I’d not be with any trouble vex’d;
  Nor have the evening of my days perplex’d. 
  But by a silent, and a peaceful death,
  Without a sigh, resign my aged breath: 
  And when committed to the dust, I’d have
  Few tears, but friendly, dropt into my grave. 
  Then would my exit so propitious be,
  All men would wish to live and die, like me.