Bourne, Vincent (DNB00)

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BOURNE, VINCENT (1695–1747), Latin poet, son of Andrew Bourne, was born in 1695, and admitted on the foundation of Westminster School in 1710. He was elected to a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 27 May 1714, proceeded B.A. in 1717, became a fellow of his college in 1720, and commenced M.A. in 1721. On Addison's recovery in 1717 from an attack of illness, Bourne addressed to him a copy of congratulatory Latin verses. In 1721 he edited a collection of 'Carmina Comitialia,' which contains, among the 'Miscellanea' at the end, some verses of his own. On leaving Cambridge he became a master at Westminster School, and continued to hold this appointment until his death. In 1734 he published his 'Poemata, Latine partim reddita, partim scripta,' with a dedication to the Duke of Newcastle, and in November of the same year he was appointed housekeeper and deputy sergeant-at-arms to the House of Commons. A second edition of his poems appeared in 1735, and a third edition, with an appendix of 112 pages, in 1743. Cowper, who was a pupil of Bourne's at Westminster, and who translated several of his pieces into English verse, says (in a letter to the Rev. John Newton dated 10 May 1781) : 'I love the memory of Vinny Bourne. I think him a better Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the writers in his way except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him.' Landor remarks on this judgment of Cowper's: 'Mirum ut perperam, ne dicam stolide, judicaverit poeta pæene inter summos nominandus ' (Poemata et Inscriptiones, ed. 1847, p. 300). Charles Lamb was a warm admirer of Bourne. In his 'Complaint of the Decay of Beggars' he inserted a translation of the 'Epitaphium in Canem,' together with the Latin original ; and in one of his letters to Wordsworth, written in 1815, there is a charming criticism of Bourne's poems, which he had then been reading for the first time : 'What a sweet, unpretending, pretty-manner'd, matterful creature ! Sucking from every flower, making a flower of everything ! His diction all Latin, and his thoughts all English ! ' A special favourite with Lamb was 'Cantatrices,' a copy of verses on the ballad-singers of the Seven Dials. Among Lamb's miscellaneous poems are nine translations from the Latin of Vincent Bourne. The charm of Bourne's poems lies not so much in the elegance of his Latinity (though that is considerable) as in his genial optimism and homely touches of quiet pathos. He had quick sympathy for his fellow-men, and loving tenderness towards all domestic animals. His epitaphs, particularly the 'Epitaphium in septem annorum puellulam,' are models of simplicity and grace. Bourne's little volume of Latin verses will keep his memory fragrant and his fame secure when many whose claims were more pretentious are forgotten. He was a man of peaceful temperament, content to pass his life in indolent repose. As a teacher he wanted energy, and he was a very lax disciplinarian. Cowper, in one of his letters to Rose (dated 30 Nov. 1788), says that he was so inattentive to his pupils, and so indifferent whether they brought him good or bad exercises, that 'he seemed determined, as he was the best, so to be the last, Latin poet of the Westminster line.' In another letter Cowper writes : 'I lost more than I got by him ; for he made me as idle as himself.' He was particularly noted for the slovenliness of his attire. Cowper relates that he remembered seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to his greasy locks, and box his ears to put it out again.' It is said that the Duke of Newcastle offered him valuable ecclesiastical preferment, and that he declined the offer from conscientious motives. In a letter to his wife, written shortly before his death, he says : 'I own and declare that the importance of so great charge [i.e. entering into holy orders], joined with a mistrust of my own sufficiency, made me fearful of undertaking it : if I have not in that capacity assisted in the salvation of souls, I have not been the means of losing any ; if I have not brought reputation to the function by any merit of mine, I have the comfort of this reflection—I have given no scandal to it by my meanness and unworthiness.' Bourne died on 2 Dec. 1747, and was buried at Fulham. He had written his own epitaph : 'Pietatis sinceræ summæque humilitatis, nec Dei usquam immemor nec sui, in silentium quod amavit descendit V. B.' From his will we learn that he had a son who was a lieutenant in the marines. A careful edition of Bourne's poems, with a memoir by the Rev. John Mitford, was published in 1840.

[Southey's Life and Works of Cowper, iii. 226, iv. 97-8, vi. 201 ; Welch's Alumni Westmonasterienses, ed. 1852, pp. 252, 264; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, viii. 428 n.; Nichols's Literary Illustrations, vii. 656-7; Aikin's Life of Addison, ii. 214; Bourne's Poemata, ed. Mitford, 1840.]

A. H. B.