Samuel Johnson


Essay by Samuel Johnson

George Stepney, descended from the Stepneys of Pendegrast, in Pembrokeshire, was born at Westminster, in 1663. Of his father's condition or fortune I have no account[88]. Having received the first part of his education at Westminster, where he passed six years in the college, he went, at nineteen, to Cambridge[p], where he continued a friendship begun at school with Mr. Montague, afterwards earl of Halifax. They came to London together, and are said to have been invited into publick life by the duke of Dorset[89].

His qualifications recommended him to many foreign employments, so that his time seems to have been spent in negotiations. In 1692, he was sent envoy to the elector of Brandenburgh; in 1693, to the imperial court; in 1694, to the elector of Saxony; in 1696, to the electors of Mentz and Cologne, and the congress at Frankfort; in 1698, a second time to Brandenburgh; in 1699, to the king of Poland; in 1701, again to the emperour; and, in 1706, to the States General. In 1697, he was made one of the commissioners of trade. His life was busy and not long. He died in 1707, and is buried in Westminster Abbey, with this epitaph, which Jacob transcribed:

  H. S. E.
  Ob ingenii acumen,
  Literarum scientiam,
  Morum suavitatem,
  Rerum usum,

  Virorum amplissimorum consuetudinem,
  Linguae, styli, ac vitae elegantiam,
  Praeclara officia cum Britanniae tum Europae praestita,
  Sua aetate multum celebratus,
  Apud posteros semper celebrandus;
  Plurimas legationes obijt
  Ea fide, diligentia, ac felicitate,
  Ut augustissimorum principum
  Gulielmi et Annae
  Spem in illo repositam
  Numquam fefellerit,
  Haud raro superaverit.
  Post longum honorum cursum
  Brevi temporis spatio confectum,
  Cum naturae parum, famae satis vixerat,
  Animam ad altiora aspirantem placide efflavit.

On the left hand,

  G. S.
  Ex equestri familia Stepneiorum,
  De Pendegrast, in comitatu
  Pembrochiensi oriundus,
  Westmonasterii natus est, A. D. 1663,
  Electus in collegium
  Sancti Petri Westmonast. A. 1676,
  Sancti Trinitatis Cantab. 1682.
  Consiliariorum quibus Commercii
  Cura commissa est 1697.
  Chelseiae mortuus, et, comitante
  Magna procerum
  Frequentia, hue elatus, 1707.

It is reported that the juvenile compositions of Stepney "made grey authors blush." I know not whether his poems will appear such wonders to the present age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which the world has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote; and the performances of youth have many favourers, because the authors yet lay no claim to publick honours, and are, therefore, not considered as rivals by the distributors of fame.

He apparently professed himself a poet, and added his name to those of the other wits in the version of Juvenal; but he is a very licentious translator, and does not recompense his neglect of the author by beauties of his own. In his original poems, now and then, a happy line may, perhaps, be found, and, now and then, a short composition may give pleasure. But there is, in the whole, little either of the grace of wit, or the vigour of nature.



[Footnote 88: He was entered of Trinity college, and took his master's degree in 1689. H.]

[Footnote 89: Earl of Dorset.]