'MR. Nic. Rowe is made poet laureat in the room of Mr. Tate, deceased. This Rowe is a great Whig, and but a mean poet.' In recording this Thomas Hearne1 was doing Rowe rather less than justice, for in 1715 the new Laureate had an impressive list of achievements to offer besides the bait of being 'a great Whig.'
Rowe, like the previous Laureates, was primarily a dramatist; and like them, he was badly served by his immediate biographers, so that an adequate tale of his life is now not easily told, despite the careful researches of Professor J. R. Sutherland. What the art of biography owes to Mason and Boswell may easily be understood by reference to the so-called 'lives' that preceded them ( Boswell's debt to Mason is seldom recognised although he himself acknowledged it). There are a few exceptions, but in the main, seventeenth century accounts of the great, even when written by friends and contemporaries, are inaccurate and cursory. Thus Dr. James Welwood at 'Mr. Rowe's request in his last sickness' furnished some account of the poet as preface to the posthumous publication of the translation of Lucan, and before this Stephen Hales had prefixed a note to Musarum Lachrymae, or Poems To the Memory of Nicholas Rowe, Esq. By Several Hands. ( 1719). Other near-contemporary accounts include T. Cibber in his Lives of the Poets, and Dr. Johnson's in his Lives. What all these authorities give us of solid fact can be summarised in a page; and they contradict one another.
Nicholas Rowe was born at Little Barford, in Bedfordshire, on June 20th, 1674. His father was a lawyer, John Rowe, whose family had been settled in Devonshire for generations, and it was perhaps the comparative nearness of Little Barford to London that prompted Mrs. Rowe to lie-in there at the house of her father, rather than in 'dull Devonshire.'
Nicholas proved a forward child at school, first at Highgate and later____________________