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BY DR. JOHNSON.
ILLIAM WALSH, the son of Joseph Walshı, esq. of Abberley in Worcestershire, was
, . born in 1663, as appears from the account of Wood, who relates, that at the age of fifteen he became, in 1678, a gentleman commoner of Wadham College.
He left the university without a degree, and pursued his studies in London and at home; that he studied, in whatever place, is apparent from the effect, for he became, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, the best critic in the nation.
He was not, however, merely a critic or a scholar, but a man of fashion, and, as Dennis remarks, ostentatiously splendid in his dress. He was likewise a member of parliament and a courtier, knight of the shire for his native county in several parliaments; in another the representative of Richmond in Yorkshire ; and gentleman of the horse to queen Aune, under the duke of Somerset.
Some of his verses show him to have been a zealous friend to the Revolution; but his political ardour did not abate his reverence or kindness for Dryden, to whom he gave a Dissertation on Virgil's Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the laws of French versification.
In 1705, he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very early the power of poetry. Their letters are written upon the pastoral comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing to publish.
The kindnesses which are first experienced are seldom forgotten. Pope always retained a grateful memory of Walsh's notice, and mentioned him in one of his latter pieces among those that had encouraged his juvenile studies :
Granville the polite,
In his Essay on Criticism he had given him more splendid praise ; and, in the opinion of his learned commentator, sacrificed a little of his judgment to his gratitude.
The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between 1707, when he wrote to Pope, and 1711, when Pope praised him in his Essay. The epitaph makes him forty-six years old : if Wood's account be right, he died in 1709. VOL. VIII.
He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by any thing done or written by himself.
His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of Women ; which Dryden honoured with a preface.
Esculapius, or the Hospital of Fools, published after his death.
A Collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.
To lis Poems and Letters is prefixed a very judicious preface upon epistolary composition and amorous poetry.
In his Golden Age restored, there was something of humour, while the facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned ; and in all his writings there are pleasing passages. He has, however, more elegance than vigour, and seldom rises higher than to be pretty.
It has been so usual among modem authors to write prefaces, tliat a man is thought rade to his reader, who does not give him some account beforehand of what he is to expect in the book.
The greatest part of this collection consists of amorons verses. Those who are conversant with the writings of the ancients, will observe a great difference between what they and the moderns have published upon this subject. The occasions upon which the poems of the former are written, are such, as happen to every man almost that is in love; and the thoughts such, as are natural for every man in love to think. The moderns, on the other hand, have sought out for occasions that none meet with but themselves; and fill their verses with thoughts that are surprising and glittering, but not tender, passionate, or natural to a man in love.
To judge which of these two are in the right, we ought to consider the end that people propose in writing love verses: and that I take not to be the getting fame or admiration from the world, but the obtaining the love of their mistress ; and the best way I conceive to make her love yon, is to convince her that you love her. Now this certainly is not to be done by forced conceits, far-fetched similies, and shining points; but by a true and lively representation of the pains and thonghts attending such a passion.
Si vis me here, dolendum est
I would as soon believe a widow in great grief for her husband, because I saw her dance a corant about his coffin, as believe a man in love with his mistress for his writing such verses, as some great modern wits have done upon theirs.
I am satisfied that Catullus, Tibollas, Properties, and Ovid, were in love with their mistresses while they upbraid them, quarrel with them, threaten them, and forswear them; but I contess I cannot believe Petrarch iu love with bis, when he writes conceits upon her name, her gloves, and the place of her birth. I know it is natural for a lover, in transports of jealousy, to treat his mistress with all the violence imaginable ; but I cannot think it natural for a man, who is much in love, to amuse himself with such trifles as the other. I am pleased with Tibullus, when he says, he could live in a desert with his mistress where never any human footsteps appeared, because I doubt not but le really thinks what he says ; but I confess I can hardly forbear langhing when Petrarch tells us, he could live without any other sustenance than his mistress's looks. I can very easily believe a man may love a woman so well, as to desire no company but hers; but I can never believe a man can love a woman so well, as to have no need of meat and drink if he may look upon her. The first is a thought so natural for a lover, that there is no man really in love, but thinks the saine thing; the other is not the thought of a man in love, but of a man who would impose upon us with a pretended love, (and that indeed very grossly too) while he had really none at all.
It would be endless to pursue this point; and any man who will but give himself the trouble to compare what the ancients and moderns have said upon the same occasions, will soon perceive the advantage the former have over the others. I have chosen to mention Petrarch only, as being by much the most famous of all the moderns who have written love-verses : and it is, indeed, the great reputation which be has gotten, that has given encouragement to this false sort of wit in the world : for people, seeing the great credit he had, and has indeed to this day, not only in Italy, but over all Europe, have satisfied themselves with the imitation of him, never inquiring whether the way he took was the right or not.