DRYDEN had brought to the office of Poet Laureate a great name, and he had adorned it with great poems. Since Dryden lesser poets had contributed smaller poems until the place had gathered only the traditions that mere age brings. For fifty years one or another had held the title, enjoyed the salary, and drunk the sack. It was time for another important poet to bring authority to the Laureateship if the office were not to continue no more than a minor place in the royal household.
Looking back across two hundred years we can see who were then the living giants (they were a small company) but people on the spot lacked our advantage of historical perspective. The appointment went to Laurence Eusden, thus ensuring for him a sort of immortality, since he cannot be left out of the list of Laureates although he is seldom admitted to the list of English poets.
Laurence Eusden was then thirty, which makes him the youngest of the Laureates on his appointment. He was born in 1688 at Spofforth in Yorkshire, where his father, another Laurence, was rector. The family was of Irish stock. Eusden was sent to St. Peter's School, York, and from thence to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he did well. In 1712 he became a Fellow of his college, and a sublector. He began to publish poems here and there: some verses addressed to Richard Bentley, then Master of Trinity; several competent translations from or into Latin and Greek; various occasional pieces, and a set of verses for the Cambridge Commencement.
The Verses Spoken at the Public Commencement at Cambridge were described by Austin and Ralph in The Lives of the Poets-Laureate ( 1853) as 'purient lines, which we dare not quote.' It occurred to me that perhaps the passage of a hundred years might have made them more acceptable, but on examining them I had some difficulty in detecting the bits to which those earlier historians took exception. I found this,