Joseph Spence.

Anecdotes, observations, and characters, of books and men online

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JT may be proper to state that this re-impression
of Spence's Anecdotes has been printed ver-
batim fi'om my former edition, without the
sh'ghtest alteration.
I embrace this opportunity of supplying a deficiency in
the preface, which ought to have mentioned the somx-e
from which these Anecdotes were derived.

On the decease of Spence the whole of liis papers passed
into the hands of Dr. Lowth (afterwards Bishop of London),
one of his executors, by whom, at a period long subsequent,
they were given to a gentleman of the name of Forster,
who held some confidential post under the Bishop. At
Mr. Forster's death they became the property of his nephew,
from whom Mr. "William Carpenter obtained them, and
placed them in my hands with a view to this publication.


Man 29, 1858.

Apis matinffi

More modoque

Grata carpentis thy ma.


nf^IIE French abound in collections of this nature.

-Olj ^v1uc]i they have distinguished with the title
of Ana. England has produced few examples
of the kind, but they are eminently excellent.
It may be sufficient to name Selden's Table Talk, BosweU's
Life of Johnson, and the "VValpoliana.

^Ir. Spence seems to have been doubtful what title ho
should give to this collection:, and those of Popiana.
Spenceana, Symposia, and Table Talk, appear to have
been successively adopted and rejected.

"Whatever may have been the motive with whicli this
compilation was begun, it was evidently continued, com-
pleted, and transcribed, Avith a view to the public ; Mr.
Spence had conditionally sold it to Dodsley, meditating its
posthumous publication, but his executors were armed with
a discretionary power, and prevailed upon the Bookseller
to forgo his claim, probably deeming many of the Anec-
dotes of too recent date for publication, or possibly thinking
them of too trifling a nature to add anything to the repu-
tation of their friend ; or it may have been in compliance with
the wish of Lord Lincoln, (afterwards Duke of Newcastle,)
who was averse to their being made public. One of the
manuscript copies was, therefore, presented to his Lordsliip,
and the other consigned to a chest with all Mr. Spence's
manuscript remains. It is thus that these Anecdotes have


hitherto remained a Sealed Book, except to a privileged
few. Some of them, indeed, found their way to the public
through the medium of Warhurton, Warton, Johnson, and
Malone. To the two first of these writers they were com-
municated by Mr. Spence himself. Among his papers, I
find this memorandum, dated April 7th, 1744. — " ]Mr.
Warhurton thinks of writing j\Ir. Pope's Life, whenever the
world may have so great a loss, and I offered to gi^c him
any lights I could toward it."

He afterwards gave Dr. Warton the following more
circumstantial account :

" As they returned in the same carriage together fi'om
Twickenham, soon after the death of Mr. Pope, and joined
in lamenting his death, and celebrating his praises. Dr.
Warbm-ton said he intended to write his life; on which
Mr. Spence, vrith his usual modesty and cojadescension, said
that he also had the same intention ; and had fi'om time to
time collected from Mr. Pope's o^vn mouth, various par-
ticidars of his life, pursuits, and stufhes ; but would readily
give up to Dr. Warhurton all his collections on this subject,
and accordingly commimicated them to liim immediately."

" Warbui-ton (says Mr. Tyers) was entangled by late
friendships et recentihus odiis. His prospects of elevation
in the cluu'ch, made him too great for his subject. He
did nothing on this occasion ; but thirty years afterwards
he assisted Euffhead, and revised the life, as written by
his locum tenens, sheet by sheet." This is no doubt a true
account of the transaction, for in 1761, Warhurton says to
his friend Hurd, " I have sometimes thought of collecting
my scattered anecdotes, and critical observations together,
for a foundation of a Life of Pope, which the booksellers
teaze me for, you could help me nohhf to Jill up the
canvas.''^ This hint does not appear to have been seized
by Hurd with the avidity that was perhaps expected, and
the liife of Pope did not make its appearance until the


year 1769. Owen RuiFhead seems to have been a dull
plodding lawyer, and all that is of value in this ponderous
performance, must bo attributed to Warbmlon, whose hand
may be traced upon every important topic in the book.
Almost every anecdote of interest in that Ijife of Pope is
derived from this collection, and always without acknow-
ledgment. It is remarkable that it should not be published
imtil the year after Spence's death, as if there was some
consciousness of this appropriation. — AVarburton affected
to speak contemptuously of Spence ; had he any intimation
that Spence had ever spoken, as he has written, that
" AVarburton was, thirty years since, an attorney at Newark,
and got into orders by spitting into a nobleman's face at an
election ! "

Dr. Warton lived in habits of friendship with Spence,
and has enlivened his delightful Essay on the Genius and
AVritings of Pope, with many particulars derived from
these anecdotes ; and makes the following grateful acknow-
ledgment, which is of the greater value, as it caniQ too late
to flatter the living ear of his friend. After mentioning
Spence's Essay on the Odyssej^ as a work of the truest taste,
he says: " I am indebted to this learned and amiable man,
on whose friendship I set the gTeatest value, for most of
the anecdotes relating to Pope, mentioned in this work,
which he gave me Avhen I was making him a visit at
Bj'fleet, in 1754.''

Wlien Dr. Johnson was engaged to write the Lives of
the Poets, application was made to the Duke of Newcastle,
by Sir Lucas Pepys, for the loan of his manuscript, and it
was conceded to his use in the most liberal manner. He
acknowledges the *' great assistance" he derived from it,
and says: " I consider the communication as a favour
worthy of public acknowledgment," but does not mention
to whom he was obliged for it.

These Anecdotes were indeed almost the sole documents


he had for the Life of Pojie, and they will enable the
admirers of that capital specimen of critical biography to
appreciate his skill in fonning so interesting and eloquent a
narrative from such slight materials. In the Lives of
Addison, Tickell, and others, he has also made use of the
information these Anecdotes contain.

At a subsequent period, the late Mr. Malone was favoured
with the free use of the Anecdotes, when engaged in writing
the Life of Dryden, and he availed himself of the privilege
of making a complete transcript for his own use ; in doing
this, he has not observed the chronological order of the
original, but has classed the anecdotes, bringing all that
related to Pope under one class, which he has called
" Popiana ; " disposing the others under their respective
heads. He has added to his transcript a few notes and
corrections, and it was these which the late Mr. Beloe had
intended to use, when he announced the work for publication
some years since.

Having been favoured with a sight of this transcript,
since the greater part of the present edition was printed, I
am happy to observe that nothing of any material import
has escaped me which had occurred to Mr. Malone ; and I
may add, that some obscurities have been removed, by the
light which I have derived from the papers of IVIr. Spence.

The manuscripts which have been used for this publication
consist of one bound volume, in octavo, in which the
anecdotes had been copied fair from the first loose memo-
randum papers ; this appears to have commenced in August,
1728, and finishes in 1737. The variations of this copy I
have pointed out, and cited it as MS. B. Besides this ;
the anecdotes, digested and enlarged in five paper books
in folio, each containing two centuries or seeti6ns, the first
dated 1728, and the last terminating at Pope's death, in
1744. These have been carefully compared with the first


MS. memoranda, and with the bound jNIS. B. above-men-
tioned, and the important variations noticed.

The additional anecdotes, which 1 have tlu'own into a
Supplement, were derived from some loose papers and
memorandum books, and seem to evince an intention on
the part of Mr. Spence of continuing the Anecdotes down
to a later period. All the ^NISS. were in the hand-writing
of Mr. Spence, and on the first leaf of the Paper Book
containing the two first centuries, the following note was
written by him in pencil : '• All the people well acquainted
with Mr. Pope, looked on him as a most friendly, open,
charitable, and generous-hearted man ; — all the world
almost, that did not know him, were got into a mode of
having very different ideas of him : how proper this makes
it to publish these Anecdotes after my death." — Beneath
this is written with a pen, '• Left in this drawer because so
many things in them that were not enter'd in the ^"ellum

It is obvious that one of the principal objects of this
collection, must have been to record those things worthy of
remark which fell fi-om Pope in the course of famihar
conversation ; but it was subsequently emiched with curious
particulars, gathered from the same kind of intercourse with
other persons of eminence. This gives it a more miscel-
laneous form, and that variety, which is the very spirit of
such a woik, and fits it for the intended purpose, a Lounging
Book for an idle hour. A complete though brief Auto-
Biography of Pope may be collected from it, and the most
exact record of his opinions on important topics, probably
the more genuine and undisguised, because not premeditated,
but elicited by the impulse of the moment.

In regard to the account of the quarrel between Pope
and Addison, contained in the following pages, the necessity
must be apparent of examining with caution this ex-parte


evidence : I the more anxiously urge this, because I have
omitted to comment upon it in the notes. It is with great
pleasui'e I refer the reader to a spirited vindication of
Addison by Mr. Bowles, in a note to the fourth volume of
his edition of Pope's Works, p. 41.

In the variety of such a miscellaneous farrago, it might
be expected that some trifling and unimportant matter
would be found, some things too may have lost their interest
by the lapse of time ; but I have thought that most readers
Avould like to make their own -selection; what may be
deemed frivolous and useless by some, would be considered
of importance by others, and the omissions I have ventured
upon, are only of such articles as were already printed by
Islv. Spence himself, or which were of a nature to be totally
imworthy of a place, even in a collection of this kind.
After all, perhaps I have sinned in giving too much instead
of too little. The notes are merely such as occurred to me
in transcribing the work for the press ; more time, or a
more convenient access to books, would have enabled me
to enlarge them, but I know not how it would have been
possible to make two large volumes, as was the intention of
Mr. Beloe, whose materials were not near so copious as my
own. The Supplemental Anecdotes, the various additions
from iNIemorandum Papers, and the Letters, were not in
his hands, nor could lie have obtained them.

I have much pleasure in being the instrument of making
this curious repertory accessible to the lover of literary
anecdote. From a very early period of my life, I earnestly
desired to see it, and shoidd have been grateful to any one
who had placed it in my power, in a form similar to that in
wliich I have now the satisfaction of laying it before the

Bushey, Herts,
December 11, 1819.


OSEPH SPEXCE was born at Kingsclere,
Hants, on the 25th clay of April, 1699. His
father, whose name was also Joseph, was
Rector of Winnal near Winchester, and
afterwards of Ulverstoke in the same county.
I believe he died in 1721. By the mother's side Spence was
descended from the Neville family, she was a granddaughter
of Sir Thomas Lunsford, her maiden name Avas Mirabella

Young Spence, whose birth was premature, and who was
but a sickly boy, was taken under the protection of Mrs.
Fawkener, an opulent relation, and was educated under her
eye, until he had reached his tenth year, when he was sent
to a school at IMortimer in Berkshire, kept by ^h\ Haycock ;
from thence he went to Eton College, which he left in a
short time, for some unknown cause;*' and went to that of

* There is some reason to think that he may have been disgusted
with the severity of the school discipHne at that time, when Dr.
George was master, and Dr. Cooke (afterwards provost,) propositor.
Cole, in a letter to Horace AValpole, among his papers in the
British Museum, adverts to a piece of waggery on the part of
Spence, which, if true, gives some colour to the supposition. He
says that the vignette at the end of the 17th dialogue in the Jirst
edition of Polymetis, contains a caricature of Dr. Cooke, under the
character of a Pedagogue with an Ass's head. The resemblance
of Provost Cooke's features to those of the Ass, are said to have
been too striking not to be instantly perceived by those who knew
hini. — It is but justice to add, that though Cooke was a strict
I'.isciplinarian, he was nevertheless not deserving of the satire, if
it is true that it was levelled at him, which, after all, when


Winchester, where he conthiued until he became a member of
New College, Oxford, in 1720. He had been previously
entered at Magdalen Hall in the year 1717. His benefactress
had fully intended that he should have been amply provided
for by her will, but from the neglect or delay of the person
employed to draw it up, she died, in 1714, before it was exe-
cuted, and Spence lost at once his friend and the prospect of
succeeding to an estate of £600 a year. He was then too young
to have felt his loss very poignantly, and it is said, that in his
after life, he used rather to rejoice at it as an escape, saying,
that it might have made him idle and vicious to have been
rendered independent of exertion at that age.

In 1722 he became fellow of New College.

In 1724 * he entered into Holy Orders, and took the degree
of A.INI. November 2, 1727. And in the succeeding year
was chosen Professor of Poetry, the first day he became
capable of it, by being made Regent Master.

His fellow collegian, Christopher Pitt, writing to a friend
in 1728, says, " Mr. Spence is the completest scholar either
in solid or polite learning, for his years, that I ever knew.
Besides, he is the sweetest tempered gentleman breathing."
About the same time he was presented to the small Rectory
of Birchanger in Essex, where he used occasionally to reside
with his mother, to whom he always showed extraordinary
tenderness and attention. He had now, for the first time, an
opportunity of indulging in some degree his natural inclina-
tion for gardening, though he could here try his hand only
in miniature, and entertained himself with forming his little
plot of ground into what he called a Lizard Garden.

Toward the close of the year 1730 he received an invitation
to accompany Charles, Earl of Middlesex,! and made the
tour of France and Italy with that amiable young nobleman

Spence's mild disposition is recoUected, there may be reason to
doubt. It was removed in the third edition of Polymetis, and
another vignette of Hermes, the Egyptian Mercury, inserted in its

* In this year he published a Defence of Mr. Woolaston's
Notion of a Rule of our Actions.

I Afterwards the second Duke of Dorset.


in quality of a companion, and not as governor. Their route
was by Lyons, Turin, Milan, and Venice to Home, taking
Florence in their way back, and from thence by way of Paris
they returned to England. At Lyons he had the happiness
of meeting Thomson, the poet, (who was travelling with Mr.
Talbot) with whom he had previously contracted an intimacy
in England. Spence had spoken very highly of the Poet's
Winter on its first publication, in one of the editions of his
Essay on the Odyssey, which being a popiilar book, con-
tributed to make the poem more known. Thomson, who
always acknowledged the use of this recommendation, became
acquainted with him through the intervention of Dr. Young,*
and an intimacy commenced between them, which only ter-
minated with the lamented premature death of the poet,
whose amiable temper and benevolent spirit found congenial
qualities in Spence. Dr. Warton had seen a letter of Spence's
to ]\Ir. Christopher Pitt, earnestly soliciting him to subscribe
to the quarto edition of the Seasons, and mentioning a design
which Thomson had formed of writing a descriptive poem
on Blenheim ; a subject which would have shone in his hands.
At Verona he became intimate with the Marquis Maifei,
and he thus describes the gaiety and good humour of the
then venerable author of Merope. " The Marquis Scipio
Maffei, is one of the most eminent and learned men now in
Italy. He is an old bachelor, and talks as if the ladies had
played him some scurvy tricks in his youth. — He introduced
us to a ball, where he presided, and you cannot conceive
how busy the good old gentleman was among the ladies from
the eldest to the youngest. He would whisper each as soon
as ever she stood still, and was perpetually saying lively civil
things to all. Everybody is fond of him, he is a mighty
good man, and has done much for the Veronese ; aiuong other
things, he has just built a very pretty opera-house, with
rooms for dancing, conversation, and concerts, all contrived
and carried on by him, and at his expense."!

* V. AppenduK of Letters, No. IV.

t Mr. Spence gave to his mother a detail of his three tours, and
the principal occurrences in them in frequent letters, which are
still preserved.


At Venice they enjoyed the Carnival; — and he speaks
■with rapture of his first view of Naples, where he visited,
with enthusiastic reverence, the tomb of Virgil, and plucked
a leaf of laurel for his friend Pitt. But Rome was the place
he had most eagerly longed to visit, and he talks of it as
exceeding the highly coloured picture in his imagination.
It was probably here, that the thought was first elicited
which gave rise to his magnum opus, the Polymetis ; as
Gibbon conceived the design of his History, amid the Ruins
of the Capitol. — But he did not begin his collection for it
until he came to Florence, his first intention was to have
called it Nodes Florentine.

Spence had an eye for the beautiful in nature as well as in
art, and describes, with becoming ardour, the lovely Vale of
Arno, through Avhich they passed diu'ing the Vintage, At
Florence their stay was protracted through the winter months,
and the society and other enjoyments of the place were so
delightful to them, that they again saw the carnival here,
and were not unwillingly detained by an uncommonly in-
clement spring, until the month of June, when they repassed
the Alps, stayed at Paris a few days, and returned to England
at the commencement of July, 1733.

During his absence from England, and only a few days
before his return, he was re-elected Poetry Professor for
another five years. It is remarkable that Mr. Spence suc-
ceeded the Rev. Thomas Warton, father of the celebrated
and worthy author of thp History of English Poetry, who
himself afterwards filled the chair ; and that each of these
three professors were twice elected to the office, and held it
for ten years, the longest period the statute will allow.

Previous to going abroad he had published, in 1726, his
Essay on Pope's Odyssey, which not only acquired him
considerable reputation, but introduced him to the notice
of Pope, who is said to have been so well pleased with his
book as to seek his acquaintance; this acquaintance soon
ripened into friendship, which was lasting and uninterrupted,
they ever after, until Pope's death, lived in habits of the
strictest intimacy. Dr. Warton had seen " a copy of the


Essay on tlie Odyssey,* with marginal observations, written
in Pope's ownhanil, and generally acknowledging the justness
of Spence's observations, and in a few instances pleading,
humorously enough, that some favourite lines might be
spared." It is probable that the regard and esteem, in which
he was held by Pope, may have been, as Dr. Johnson asserts,
one of the causes of his introduction to the notice of the
great and powerful, but I know not whether he owed his
introduction to the Dorset family to him or no.

He describes a short visit he received from Pope, at Oxford.
In a letter to his mother from that place, dated September
4, 1735, in which he says, " I have not seen honest ]Mr. Duck
yet, but have had the pleasure of another visit that was
wholly unexpected to me. Monday last, after dinner, ac-
cording to the good sauntering custom that I use here every
day, I was lolling at a coffee house half asleep, and half
reading something about Prince Eugene and the armies on
the Rhine, when a ragged boy of an ostler came in to me with
a little scrap of j^aper not half an inch broad, which contained
the following words, ' INIr. Pope would be very glad to see
]\Ir. Spence at the Cross Inn just now.' — You may imagine
how pleased I was ; and that I hobbled thither as fast as my
spindle-shanks would carry me. There I found him, quite
fatigued to death, with a thin face lengthened, at least, two
inches beyond its usual appearance. He had been to take his
last leave of Lord Peterborough ; and came away in a chariot
of his lordship's, that holds but one person, for quick travel-
ling. When he was got within about three miles of Oxford,
coming down a hill in Bagly wood, he saw two gentlemen
and a lady sitting in distress by the way side. Near them
lay a chaise overturned and half broken to pieces ; in the
fall of which the poor lady had her arm broke. I\Ir. Pope
had the goodness to stop and offer her his chariot to carry

* Among iSIr. Spence's papers is a MS. copy of the two last
dialogues of the Essay on the Odyssey, corrected throughout by
Pope, and in which some few remarks appear on the blank pages.
There is also a copy of the first edition, corrected throughout, but
chiefly in what regards punctuation. It was probably these which
Dr. AVarton saw,



her to Oxford for help ; and so walked the three miles in the
very midst of a close sultry day, and came in dreadfully
fatigued. An inn, though designed for a place of rest, is but
ill suited to a man that's really tired ; so I prevailed on him
to go to my room, where I got him a little dinner, and where
he enjoyed himself for two or three hours ; and set out in
the evening, as he was obliged to do, for Colonel Dormer's,
in his way to Lord Cobham's, which was to be the end of his

In 1736 he republished, at Pope's desire, Gorboduc, the
celebrated tragedy of Sackville, Earl of Dorset, with a pre-
fatory account of the author. This may probably have been
intended as a compliment to his noble pupil. To his habits
of intimacy, and almost daily intercourse with Pope, we owe
the idea of the present collection of anecdotes, which was
begun very soon after the commencement of their acquaint-
ance, and terminated with Pope's death, its chief object was
undoubtedly to record his conversation, and the principal
incidents of his life.

Benevolence was one of the most distinguishing characte-
ristics of Spence's mind, and it had found a deserving object
in Stephen Duck, the thresher and poet, to serve whom he
wrote a kind of memoir, which, when he went abroad, he left
in the hands of his friend Mr. Lowth for publication, with
a sort of Grub-street title as a ruse de guerre; calling
himself Joseph Spence, Esquire, Poetry Professor ; he after-
wai-ds procured for Duck, from the Duke of Dorset, the
living of Byfleet, in Surrey ; introduced him to the notice of
Pope, and continued his countenance and friendship to him

Online LibraryJoseph SpenceAnecdotes, observations, and characters, of books and men → online text (page 1 of 31)