The Life of Granville

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George Granville, afterwards Lord Lanſdowne of Biddiford, in the county of Devon, was born in 1667. He was deſcended from the illuſtrious family of that name, ſeated for many ages in Devonſhire and Cornwall, the founder of which was Richard de Granville, ſecond ſon of Rollo, firſt Duke of Normandy, who accompanied William the Conqueror, in his expedition to England, and was rewarded for his ſervices with the caſtle and lordſhip of Biddiford. Sir Richard Granville, his anceſtor, ſerved the Emperor Ferdinand againſt the Turks in 1566, and was preſent with Don John of Auſtria, at the famous battle of Lepanto, and on his return was made Vice-Admiral of England. He was ſlain near the Azores Iſlands; having in one ſhip alone ſuſtained a fight for fifteen hours, againſt the whole naval power of Spain. Sir Bevil Granville, grandſon to Sir Richard, raiſed conſiderable forces at his own expence for Charles I., and died in the King’s cauſe, at the battle of Lanſdowne in 1643. John Granville, the eldeſt ſon of Sir Bevil, was intruſted by Monk with the moſt private tranſactions of the Reſtoration; and created Earl of Bath and Viſcount Lanſdowne, in 1661. His father, the honourable Bernard Granville, the ſecond ſon of Sir Bevil, had, by a ſpecial warrant from Charles II. the rank of an Earl’s younger ſon, was one of the repreſentatives for the borough of Liſkeard in Cornwall, in the Parliament which met in 1661, and one of the Grooms of his Majeſty’s Bed-chamber.

He received his early education under the tuition of Sir William Ellis, a man of letters, whoſe abilities afterwards recommended him to ſeveral public employments.

In 1667, the tenth year of his age, he was entered a nobleman in Trinity College, Cambridge, as appears from a copy of Latin verſes on the Marriage of the Prince of Orange and the Lady Mary, in the “Cambridge Congratulations” of that year, ſigned Georgius Granville, Nobilis e Coll. Trin.

In 1679, before he was twelve years old, he pronounced a copy of his own verſes to the Princeſs Mary d’Eſte of Modena, then Ducheſs of York, when ſhe viſited the Univerſity. He was admitted to the degree of Maſter of Arts, at thirteen, and left the Univerſity ſoon after.

It was probably about this time that he wrote the verſes to the Earl of Peterborough, upon his accompliſhment of the Duke of York’s marriage with the Princeſs of Modena, whoſe charms appear to have gained a ſtrong prevalence over his imagination.

At the acceſſion of King James, he again exerted his poetical powers, and addreſſed the new monarch in three ſhort panegyrical pieces,[1] which were commended by Waller, whoſe praiſe excited in the young poet a rapture of acknowledgement,

In numbers ſuch as Waller’s ſelf might uſe.

However miſtaken he might be in his zeal for that miſguided Prince, or however enamoured of the Queen, he has left no reaſon for ſuppoſing that he approved either the imprudent piety of the Queen, or the violence with which the King’s religion was obtruded on the nation.

He had early imbibed principles of loyalty; and when the tyranny of James called the Prince of Orange to vindicate the liberties of Britain he thought it his duty to ſacrifice his life for the intereſt of his Sovereign.

Without conſidering, or being then incapable of diſcovering the dangers to which the conſtitution was expoſed by the violence of his proceedings, he wrote a letter to his father from Yorkſhire, about a month before the Prince of Orange landed, expreſſing the moſt ardent deſire to ſerve the King in perſon.[2]

“I cannot bear” ſays he, “living under the reſtraint of lying obſcure and idle in a country retirement, when every man who has the leaſt ſenſe of honour ſhould be preparing for the field.

“You may remember, with what reluctance I ſubmitted to your commands upon Monmouth’s rebellion, when no importunity could prevail with you to permit me to leave the academy: I was too young to be hazarded; but give me leave to ſay, it is glorious at any age to die for one’s country, and the ſooner the nobler the ſacrifice.

“I am now older by three years. My uncle Bath was not ſo old, when he was left among the ſlain at the battle of Newbury, nor you yourſelf, when you made your eſcape from your tutors to join your brother at the defence of Scilly.

“You are pleaſed to ſay, it is yet doubtful if the Hollanders are raſh enough to make ſuch an attempt; but be that as it will, I beg leave to inſiſt upon it, that I may be preſented to his Majeſty, as one whoſe utmoſt ambition it is to devote his life to his ſervice, and my country’s, after the example of all my anceſtors.

“The gentry aſſembled at York, to agree upon the choice of repreſentatives for the county, have prepared an addreſs, to aſſure his Majeſty they are ready to ſacrifice their lives and fortunes for him, upon this and all other occaſions; but, at the ſame time, they humbly beſeech him to give them ſuch magiſtrates as may be agreeable to the laws of the land; for at preſent there is no authority to which they can legally ſubmit.

“They have been beating up for volunteers at York and the towns adjacent, to ſupply the regiments at Hull; but no body will liſt. By what I can hear, every body wiſhes well to the King, but they would be glad his miniſters were hanged.

“The winds continue ſo contrary, that no landing can be ſo ſoon as was apprehended; therefore I may hope, with your leave and aſſiſtance, to be in readineſs before any action can begin.”

His biographers have not told us whether his father yielded to his importunities, or whether he was preſented to the King; but if he really joined the army, it was without any danger to his perſon, for the Revolution was effected in England, without ſhedding one drop of blood.

Having no public employment, and poſſeſſed of but a contracted fortune, he lived in retirement, during the reign of King William, and devoted his attention to literary purſuits and amuſements; the fruits of which appeared in his plays and poems, chiefly written within that period.

He is ſaid, however, to have preſerved himſelf, at this time, from diſgrace and difficulties by œconomy, which he forgot or neglected in life more advanced, and in better fortune.

About this time he became enamoured of the Counteſs of Newburgh, whom he has celebrated with ſo much ardour by the name of Myra; though it is probable that moſt of the verſes addreſſed to Myra, however diſguiſed and ſeemingly applied, were originally deſigned for Mary d’Eſte of Modena, Queen-Conſort of James; and it appears that he continued conſtant to his theme; for in his Progreſs of Beauty, written many years after, when ſhe was no longer a Queen, he could not forbear placing her at the head of his celebrated beauties.

In 1690, he addreſſed a copy of verſes to Mrs. Elizabeth Higgons, in anſwer to a very elegant poetical addreſs ſent him by that lady in his retirement.

In 1696, he brought on the ſtage at Lincoln’s-inn Fields, The She-Gallants, a comedy, which was acted with conſiderable applauſe. Though it is ſaid, in the preface, to be “but the child of a child,” yet it contains an infinite deal of wit, fine ſatire, and great knowledge of mankind. He reviſed and improved this play at a maturer time of life, and printed it with the title of Once a Lover and always a Lover; but it is not free from groſſneſs and indecency.

In 1698, his Heroic Love, or the Cruel Separation, a tragedy, was acted at Lincoln’s-inn Fields, with great applauſe. It is a mythological ſtory upon the love of Agamemnon and Briſeis. The prologue was written by Mr. St. John, afterwards Lord Bolingbroke, and the epilogue by his relation Mr. Bevil Higgons. It was praiſed in proſe by the critics, and in verſe by Dryden.

Auſpicious poet, wert thou not my friend,
How could I envy, what I muſt commend:
But ſince ’tis Nature’s law, in love and wit,
That youth ſhould reign, and with’ring age ſubmit;
With leſs regret, thoſe laurels I reſign,
Which, dying on my brow, revive on thine.

In 1701, The Jew of Venice, a comedy, altered from Shakſpeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” was acted at Lincoln’s-inn Fields with applauſe. The alterations are in ſome reſpects judicious; but, on the whole, rather leſſen than improve the beauty and effect of the original. The character of Shylock, as Rowe remarks, is made comic, and we are prompted to laughter inſtead of deteſtation. In the ſecond act is introduced a muſical maſque, called Peleus and Thetis. The profits were deſigned for Dryden, but upon that great poet’s death were given to his ſon.

At the acceſſion of Queen Anne, having received a conſiderable addition to his fortune by the death of his father, and his uncle the Earl of Bath, he was choſen into Parliament, for Fowey in Cornwall.

In 1702, he engaged in a joint tranſlation of the Orations of Demoſthenes againſt Philip, and contributed a verſion of the Second Olynthian, to inflame the adherents of liberty againſt the French Monarch, which is ſtill very much eſteemed.

In 1706, he had his eſtate again augmented by an inheritance from his elder brother, Sir Bevil Granville, who, as he returned from his government of Barbadoes, died at ſea.

The ſame year, his Britiſh Enchanters, or No Magic like Love, a dramatic poem, or as it was firſt called, a tragedy, was acted at the theatre in the Hay-market. It was written ſometime before, and is juſtly eſteemed the beſt of his dramatic performances. Its ſucceſs was great; but was put a ſtop to by the diviſion of the theatre and a prohibition of muſical pieces. Addiſon wrote the epilogue.

He continued to ſerve in Parliament, and was ſucceſſively choſen for Leſtwithiel and Helſton; and in 1710 was choſen knight of the ſhire for Cornwall; and, at the memorable change of the miniſtry that year, he was made Secretary at War in the place of Walpole.

In 1711, when the new miniſtry, apprehenſive of the Peace of Utrecht being rejected in the Houſe of Lords, adviſed the Queen to make twelve peers in a day, he was created Baron Lanſdowne of Biddiford, in the county of Devon.

Though the proſtitution of the royal prerogative to the violence of party, was regarded as an unprecedented and dangerous expedient, yet the promotion of Granville was juſtly remarked to be not invidious; becauſe his perſonal merit was very conſpicuous, and he was the heir of a family in which two peerages, that of the Earl of Bath, and Lord Granville of Potheridge, had lately become extinct. To this honour was added, ſoon after, the dedication of Pope’s “Windſor Foreſt.”

Being now high in the favour of the Queen, and in the confidence of the Tories, he was appointed Comptroller of the Houſehold, and made a Privy Counſellor in 1712; and the next year, he was advanced to be Treaſurer of the Houſehold.

At the acceſſion of King George, he was removed from his employment, which was given to the Earl of Cholmendeley, and his connection with the Tories prevented his being employed in that and the ſucceeding reign.

Having proteſted againſt the bill for attainting Ormond and Bolingbroke, he fell under the ſuſpicion of plotting againſt the government, and was, after the inſurrection in Scotland, ſeized, September 26, 1715, as a ſuſpected man, and confined in the Tower, till February 8, 1717, when he was releaſed, and reſtored to his ſeat in Parliament.

Being confined in the Tower, in the ſame room in which Walpole had been priſoner, and had left his name on the window, he wrote theſe lies under it:

Good unexpected, evil unforeſeen,
Appear by turns, as Fortune ſhifts the ſcene,
Some rais’d aloft, come tumbling down again,
And fall ſo hard, they bound and riſe again.

In 1719, he made a very ardent and animated ſpeech againſt the repeal of the bill to prevent occaſional conformity, which, though it was then printed, he has not inſerted into his works.

In 1712, being embarraſſed, as has been ſuppoſed, by his profuſion, he went abroad, with the pretence of recovering his health, and reſided ſeveral years on the continent, in a ſtate of leiſure and retirement.

During his reſidence abroad, he wrote A Vindication of General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, from ſome calumnies of Dr. Burnet, and ſome miſtakes of Mr. Archdeacon Echard, in relation to the ſale of Dunkirk and the Portugal Match, and A Vindication of Sir Richard Granville, General in the Weſt for King Charles I., from the miſrepreſentations of the Earl of Clarendon and Mr. Archdeacon Echard, which were publiſhed at his return to England in 1732.

The defence of General Monk, and his relation, Sir Richard Granville, was anſwered civilly by Oldmixon in his “Reflexions, Hiſtorical and Political, &c.;” to which his Lordſhip replied in A Letter to the Author of Reflexions, Hiſtorical and Political, dated, Old Windſor, Aug. 22. 1732, which was followed by “Remarks, &c.” on that letter, by Thomas Burnet, Eſq., the biſhop’s ſon, written with equal candour and civility.

In 1733, he found a more formidable opponent in Dr. Colbatch of Trinity College, Cambridge, who undertook the vindication of Mr. Echard, which he executed with great vigour and judgment, but with too much aſperity. He was more ſucceſsful than either of his predeceſſors, and his Lordſhip very prudently declined an anſwer.

In 1732, he publiſhed a very beautiful and ſplendid edition of his works in 4 to., in which he omitted what he diſapproved, and enlarged what ſeemed deficient.

He now appeared at Court, and was kindly received by Queen Caroline, to whom, and to the Princeſs Anne, he preſented his works, with Verſes on the blank leaves, with which he concluded his poetical labours.

He died at his houſe in Hanover Square, Jan. 30, 1735, in the 68th year of his age; having a few days before buried his wife, the Lady Anne Villiers, widow of Thomas Thynne, Eſq. (father of Thomas, Lord Viſcount Weymouth), and daughter of Edward Villiers, Earl of Jerſey, by whom he had four daughters, Anne, Mary, Grace, and Elizabeth, but no ſon. His title of nobility is now enjoyed by that diſtinguiſhed ſtateſman, and illuſtrious ornament and patron of ſcience and literature, the Marquis of Lanſdowne, who married Sophia, daughter of the late Earl of Granville, the repreſentative of the family of Bath and Lanſdowne.

Granville’s works have been often printed both in 4 to., and in 12 mo.; beſides which, there is in “Somers’s Tracts,” vol. iv., a Letter from a Nobleman abroad, to his Friend in England, 1722.

The character of Granville ſeems to have been amiable and reſpectable. His good-nature and politeneſs have been celebrated by Pope, and many other poets of the firſt eminence. The luſtre of his rank, no doubt, procured him more incenſe than the force of his genius would otherwiſe have attracted; but he appears not to have been deſtitute of fine parts, which were, however, rather elegantly poliſhed, than great in themſelves.

There is perhaps nothing more intereſting in his character, than the veneration he had for ſome, and the tenderneſs he had for all his family. Of the former, his hiſtorical performances afford ſome pleaſing proofs; of the latter, there are extant two letters, one to his couſin the laſt Earl of Bath, and the other to his couſin Mr. Bevil Granville, on his entering into holy orders, written with a tenderneſs, a freedom, and an honeſty, which render them invaluable.

The general character of his poetry, is elegance, ſprightlineſs, and dignity. He is ſeldom tender, and very rarely ſublime. In his ſmaller pieces he endeavours to be gay; in the larger to he great, of his airy and light productions the chief ſource is gallantry, and the chief defect a ſuperabundance of ſentiments and illuſtrations from mythology. He ſeldom fetches an amorous ſentiment from the depth of ſcience. His thoughts are ſuch as a liberal converſation and large acquaintance with life would eaſily ſupply. His diction is chaſte and elegant; and his verſification, which he borrowed from Waller, is rather ſmooth than ſtrong.

“Mr. Granville,” ſays Dr. Felton,[3] “is the poetical ſon of Waller. We obſerved with pleaſure, ſimilitude of wit in the difference of years, and with Granville do meet at once the fire of his father’s youth, and the judgment of his age. He hath rivalled him in his fineſt addreſs, and is as happy as ever he was in raiſing modern compliments upon ancient ſtory, and ſetting off the Britiſh valour and the Engliſh beauty with the old gods and goddeſſes!”

“Granville,” ſays Lord Orford,[4] “imitated Waller; but as that poet has been much excelled ſince, a faint copy of a faint maſter muſt ſtrike ſtill leſs. It was fortunate for his Lordſhip, that in an age when perſecution raged ſo fiercely againſt luke-warm authors, he had an intimacy with the inquiſitor-general; how elſe could ſuch lines as this have eſcaped the Bathos?”

—————When thy gods
Enlighten thee to ſpeak their dark decrees.

Heroic Love, scene i.

The eſtimate of his poetical character, as given by Dr. Johnſon, is, in ſome reſpects, leſs favourable than the opinion of the general readers of poetry.

“Granville was a man illuſtrious by his birth, and therefore attracted notice; ſince he is by Pope ſtyled “the polite” he muſt be ſuppoſed elegant in his manner, and generally loved; he was in times of conteſt and turbulence ſteady to his party, and obtained that eſteem which is always conferred upon firmneſs and conſiſtency. With theſe advantages, having learned the act of verſifying, he declared himſelf a poet, and his claim to the laurel was allowed.

“But by a critic of a later generation, who takes up his book without any favourable prejudices, the praiſe already received will be thought ſufficient; for his works do not ſhow him to have had much comprehenſion from nature, or illumination from learning. He ſeems to have had no ambition above the imitation of Waller, of whom he has copied the faults, and very little more. He is for ever amuſing himſelf with the puerilities of mythology; his King is Jupiter, who, if the Queen brings no children, has a barren Juno. The Queen is compounded of Juno, Monus, and Minerva. His Poem on the Ducheſs of Grafton’s law-ſuit, after having rattled a while with Juno and Pallas, Mars and Alcides, Caſſiope, Niobe, and the Propétides, Hercules, Minos, and Rhadamanthus, at laſt concludes its folly with profaneneſs.

“His verſes to Myra, which are moſt frequently mentioned, have little in them of either art or nature, of the ſentiments of a lover, or the language of a poet; there may be found here and there a happier effort, but they are commonly feeble and unaffecting, or forced and extravagant.

“His little pieces are ſeldom either ſprightly or elegant, either keen or weighty. They are trifles written by idleneſs, and publiſhed by vanity. But his prologues and epilogues have a juſt claim to praiſe.

“The Progreſs of Beauty ſeems one of his moſt elaborate pieces, and is not deficient in ſplendour and gaiety; but the merit of original thought is wanting. Its higheſt praiſe is the ſpirit with which he celebrates King James’s conſort, when ſhe was a queen no longer.

“The Eſſay on Unnatural Flights in Poetry is not inelegant nor injudicious, and has ſomething of vigour beyond moſt of his other performances; his precepts are juſt, and his cautions proper; they are indeed not new, but in a didactic poem novelty is to be expected only in the ornaments and illuſtrations. His poetical precepts are accompanied with agreeable and inſtructive notes.

“The maſque of Peleus and Thetis has here and there a pretty line, but it is not always melodious, and the concluſion is wretched.

“In his Britiſh Enchanter, he has bidden defiance to all chronology, by confounding the inconſiſtent manners of different ages; but the dialogue has often the air of Dryden’s rhyming tragedies; and the ſongs are lively, though not very correct. This is, I think, far the beſt of his works; for if it has many faults, it has likewiſe paſſages which are at leaſt pretty, though they do not riſe to any high degree of excellence.”


  1. To the King; In the Firſt Year of His Majeſty’s Reign,” “To the King,” and “To the King.” (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. Whilſt it has not been publiſhed individually, it is reprinted in full in Dr. Johnſon’s diſcourſe on Granville in The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. In his Diſſertation on Reading the Claſſics. (Wikisource contributor note)
  4. In his Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors, vol. 4. (Wikisource contributor note)