Thursday, January 17, 2008


Pleasing, Useful Studies

From John Pomfret (1667-1703), The Choice:
If heaven the grateful liberty would give
That I might choose 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 stood;
Fields on this side, on that a neighboring wood;
It should within no other things contain
But what were useful, necessary, plain:
Methinks 'tis nauseous, and I'd ne'er endure
The needless pomp of gaudy furniture.
A little garden, grateful to the eye,
And a cool rivulet run murmuring by,
On whose delicious banks a stately row
Of shady limes or sycamores should grow;
At the end of which a silent study placed
Should be with all the noblest authors graced:
Horace and Virgil, in whose mighty lines
Immortal wit and solid learning shines;
Sharp Juvenal, and amorous 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 expressed so well;
With all those moderns, men of steady sense,
Esteemed 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.
In my "silent study," the books of Samuel Johnson would find a place of honor among "those moderns, men of steady sense, esteemed for learning and for eloquence." In his Lives of the Poets, Johnson devotes a page to Pomfret:
Of Mr. John Pomfret nothing is known but from a slight and confused account, prefixed to his poems by a nameless friend; who relates, that he was the son of the Rev. Mr. Pomfret, rector of Luton, in Bedfordshire; that he was bred at Cambridge, entered into orders, and was rector of Malden, in Bedfordshire, and might have risen in the church; but that, when he applied to Dr. Compton, bishop of London, for institution to a living of considerable value, to which he had been presented, he found a troublesome obstruction raised by a malicious interpretation of some passage in his Choice; from which it was inferred, that he considered happiness as more likely to be found in the company of a mistress than of a wife.

This reproach was easily obliterated; for it had happened to Pomfret, as to almost all other men who plan schemes of life; he had departed from his purpose, and was then married.

The malice of his enemies had, however, a very fatal consequence: the delay constrained his attendance in London, where he caught the smallpox, and died in 1703, in the thirty-sixth year of his age.

He published his poems in 1699; and has been always the favourite of that class of readers, who, without vanity or criticism, seek only their own amusement.

His Choice exhibits a system of life adapted to common notions, and equal to common expectations; such a state as affords plenty and tranquillity, without exclusion of intellectual pleasures. Perhaps no composition in our language has been oftener perused than Pomfret's Choice.

In his other poems there is an easy volubility; the pleasure of smooth metre is afforded to the ear, and the mind is not oppressed with ponderous, or entangled with intricate, sentiment. He pleases many; and he who pleases many must have some species of merit.
Related post: My Little Zoar.

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