Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eusden, Laurence

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EUSDEN, LAURENCE (1688–1730), poet laureate, whose family is said to have occupied a good position in Ireland, was son of the Rev. Laurence Eusden, rector of Spofforth, Yorkshire, and was baptised there 6 Sept. 1688. He went to St. Peter's School, York, and was admitted as pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, 24 March 1705. He graduated B.A. in 1708, M.A. in 1712. On 2 April 1706 he became a scholar of his college, was admitted as a minor fellow on 2 Oct. 1711, and advanced to a full fellowship on 2 July 1712. He became third sublector on 2 Oct. 1712, and a year later was admitted as second sublector. His first production in print was a translation into Latin of Lord Halifax's poem on the battle of the Boyne, to which he drew attention by a poem to the noble author in Steele's ‘Poetical Miscellanies’ (1714), and these effusions procured him Halifax's patronage. Eusden celebrated the marriage of the Duke of Newcastle to Lady Henrietta Godolphin (1717) in a poem of unblushing flattery, which the duke repaid with the post of poet laureate (24 Dec. 1718), then vacant by the death of Rowe, and in his gift as lord chamberlain. The appointment provoked considerable ridicule. Thomas Cooke (1703–1756) [q. v.], in his ‘Battle of the Poets’ (1725), speaks of Eusden as ‘by fortune rais'd, by very few been read, by fewer prais'd;’ and Sheffield, duke of Buckingham, in his ‘Session of the Poets,’ says that Apollo's troubles were ended when

In rush'd Eusden and cry'd, Who shall have it
But I the true laureate, to whom the king gave it?
Apollo begg'd pardon and granted his claim,
But vowed that till then he ne'er heard of his name.

Between 1722 and 1725 Eusden took orders in the English church, and was appointed chaplain to Richard, lord Willoughby de Broke. Through the favour of Mr. Cotesworth he was instituted to the rectory of Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and died there on 27 Sept. 1730. Gray, in a letter to Mason dated 19 Dec. 1757 (Works, ed. 1884, ii. 345), says that ‘Eusden was a person of great hopes in his youth, though at last he turned out a drunken parson,’ a judgment which is confirmed by the lines of Pope. In the ‘Dunciad,’ book i. 293, we are told that ‘Eusden thirsts no more for sack or praise;’ line 425 of book ii. of the same poem originally ran, ‘How Laurus lay inspir'd beside a sink;’ and Eusden is generally considered the ‘parson much bemus'd in beer’ of the epistle to Arbuthnot, verse 15. He left behind him in manuscript a translation of part of Tasso's works and a life of the poet. His library is said to have been sold in 1763.

Southey's censure (Later English Poets, i. 280) is a just criticism of Eusden's poems, ‘a strain of fulsome flattery in mediocre poetry,’ but his poetical translations are sometimes eulogised for possessing ‘some command of language and smoothness of versification.’ His works were: 1. ‘The Royal Family; a Letter to Addison on the King's Accession,’ 1714. 2. ‘Original Poems and Translations by Mr. Hill, Mr. Eusden, &c.,’ 1714. 3. ‘Translations from Claudian and Statius,’ poem to Lord Halifax on reading the critique in the ‘Spectator’ on Milton, &c., in Steele's ‘Poetical Miscellanies,’ 1714. 4. ‘Verses at the Last Publick Commencement at Cambridge,’ 1714, two editions; more animated than most of Eusden's compositions, but not infrequently indecent. 5. ‘Poems by the Earl of Roscommon, Duke of Buckingham, and Richard Duke,’ 1717. Roscommon's essay on translated verse in this edition is printed with a Latin version by Eusden. 6. ‘Poem on Marriage of the Duke of Newcastle to Lady Henrietta Godolphin,’ 1717. 7. ‘Poem to Her Royal Highness on the Birth of the Prince,’ 1718. 8. ‘Ode for the New Year,’ 1720; the first of a series of such productions satirised by Pope in the lines

Like journals, odes, and such forgotten things,
As Eusden, Philips, Settle writ of kings.

9. Three poems addressed to Lord-chancellor Macclesfield and his son, Lord Parker, 1722. 10. ‘The Origin of the Knights of the Bath,’ 1725. 11. Three poems to the king and queen, 1727. Steele mentions Eusden in No. 555 of the ‘Spectator’ as among his assistants in that journal, and he is usually credited with a curious letter in the number for 7 June 1711 on ‘Idols,’ with some ‘amusing illustrations of customs.’ He is supposed to have contributed to its successor, ‘The Guardian,’ a letter in No. 124, which is entitled ‘More Roarings of the Lion,’ and he was certainly the author of the poetical translations from Claudian in Nos. 127 and 164. In the translation of Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses,’ which appeared in 1717 under the name of Dr. Garth and others, and was reissued in Whittington's ‘British Poets,’ vols. xciv. and xcv., he rendered portions of books iv. and x. Eusden was one of the fortunate few who were permitted to prefix commendatory verses to Addison's ‘Cato.’ Pope sneers at him again in the ‘Dunciad,’ book i. line 104, as eking out ‘Blackmore's endless line,’ and he was the ‘L. E.’ of Pope and Swift's treatise of the bathos. The best specimens of Eusden's muse will be found in Nichols's collection of poems, iv. 128–63, 226–49.

[Austin and Ralph's Poets Laureate, 239–45; Hamilton's Poets Laureate, 140–5; Chalmers's Essayists, xvi. xx.; Cibber's Poets, iv. 193–7; Jacob's Poets, ii. 51–3; Nichols's Illustrations of Lit. ii. 617, and Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 637; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 28, 152–3, xii. 336; Trin. Coll. Records.]

W. P. C.