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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 16. His Homeric Scholarship; The Hermit

Goldsmith, Collins and Blair show signs of having studied Parnell, whose own work, apart from the manifest impress of Pope and Swift, was influenced, it is thought, to some extent, by Milton. Apart from his contribution to Pope’s Homer, which took the form of a learned essay in the taste of the time on “The Life, Writings and Learnings of Homer,” and a few imitative poems, Parnell did not write anything of importance. Pope was glad of his aid at the time, but, after Parnell’s death, expressed a hope that his essay might be made “less defective.” His poems, generally in heroic measure, run smoothly. The Flies, an Eclogue, has merit as a picture. An Elegy to an old Beauty enjoys an adventitious fame. After ridiculing the lady’s strenuous efforts at resisting the ravages of time, Parnell goes on to explain how the daughter Fanny has acquired her mother’s old artifices, with interest:

  • And all that’s madly wild, or oddly gay
  • We call it only pretty Fanny’s way.
  • A Nightpiece on Death is an early example of a convention which reached its acme with Gray’s Elegy. A Hymn to Contentment is another fashionable exercise on the theme of Plantin, Desportes, Wotton and Pomfret, written in easy flowing octosyllabics. All these copies of verse—the last and most meritorious of which as a model, and greatly admired during the age of Johnson, is The Hermit—were published posthumously in Poems on Several Occasions, issued by the poet’s friend, corrector and patron, Pope, in December, 1721. The only separate volume issued previously by Parnell was his Homer’s Battle of the Frogs and Mice with the Remarks of Zoilus (May, 1717), satirising two objects of Pope’s aversion, Theobald and Dennis. His scholarship had been of material service to Pope as translator, apart from his Introductory Essay on Homer (1715), which Pope, as usual, exalted in public and deplored in private.