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An essay by Edmund Gosse


Title:     Amasia
Author: Edmund Gosse [More Titles by Gosse]

AMASIA: or, The Works of the Muses. A Collection of Poems. In three volumes. By Mr. John Hopkins. London: Printed by Tho. Warren, for Bennet Banbury, at the Blue-Anchor, in the Lower-Walk of the New-Exchange, 1700.

It has often been remarked that if the author of the poorest collection of minor verse would accurately relate in his quavering numbers what his personal observations and adventures have been, his book would not be entirely without value. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this is precisely what he cannot do. His rhymes carry him whither he would not, and he is lost in a fog of imitated phrases and spurious sensations. The very odd and very rare set of three little volumes, which now come before us, offer a curious exception to this rule. The author of Amasia was no poet, but he possessed the faculty of writing with exactitude about himself. He prattled on in heroic couplets from hour to hour, recording the tiny incidents of his life. At first sight, his voluble miscellany seems a mere wilderness of tame verses, but when we examine it closely a story gradually evolves. We come to know John Hopkins, and live in the intimacy of his circle. His poems contain a novelette in solution. So far as I can discover, nothing whatever is known of him save what he reveals of himself, and no one, I think, has ever searched his three uninviting volumes. In the following paragraphs I have put together his story as it is to be found in the pages of Amasia.

By a single allusion to the Epistolary Poems of Charles Hopkins, "very well perform'd by my Brother," in 1694, we are able to identify the author of Amasia with certainty. He was the second son of the Right Rev. Ezekiel Hopkins, Lord Bishop of Derry. The elder brother whom we have mentioned, Charles, was considerably his senior; for six years the latter occupied a tolerably prominent place in London literary society, was the intimate friend of Dryden and Congreve, published three or four plays not without success, and possessed a name which is pretty frequently met with in books of the time. But to John Hopkins I have discovered scarcely an allusion. He does not seem to have moved in his brother's circle, and his society was probably more courtly than literary. If we may trust his own account the author of Amasia was born, doubtless at Londonderry, on the 1st of January, 1675. He was, therefore, only twenty-five when his poems were published, and the exquisitely affected portrait which adorns the first volume must represent him as younger still, since it was executed by the Dutch engraver, F.H. van Hove, who was found murdered in October, 1698.

Pause a moment, dear reader, and observe Mr. John Hopkins, alias Sylvius, set out with all the artillery of ornament to storm the heart of Amasia. Notice his embroidered silken coat, his splendid lace cravat, the languishment of his large foolish eyes, the indubitable touch of Spanish red on those smooth cheeks. But, above all contemplate the wonders of his vast peruke. He has a name, be sure, for every portion of that killing structure. Those sausage-shaped curls, close to the ears, are confidants; those that dangle round the temples, favorites; the sparkling lock that descends alone over the right eyebrow is the passagère; and, above all, the gorgeous knot that unites the curls and descends on the left breast, is aptly named the meurtrière. If he would but turn his head, we should see his crèves-coeur, the two delicate curled locks at the nape of his neck. The escutcheon below his portrait bears, very suitably, three loaded muskets rampant. Such was Sylvius, conquering but, alas! not to conquer.

The youth of John Hopkins was passed in the best Irish society. His father, the Bishop, married--apparently in second nuptials, for John speaks not of her as a man speaks of his mother--the daughter of the Earl of Radnor. Lady Araminta Hopkins seems to have been a friend of Isabella, Duchess of Grafton, the exquisite girl who, at the age of five, had married a bridegroom of nine, and at twenty-three was left a widow, to be the first toast in English society. The poems of John Hopkins are dedicated to this Dowager-duchess, who, when they were published, had already for two years been the wife of Sir Thomas Hanmer. At the age of twelve, and probably in Dublin, Hopkins met the mysterious lady who animates these volumes under the name of Amasia. Who was Amasia? That, alas! even the volubility of her lover does not reveal. But she was Irish, the daughter of a wealthy and perhaps titled personage, and the intimate companion for many years of the beautiful Duchess of Grafton.

Love did not begin at first sight. Sylvius played with Amasia when they both were children, and neither thought of love. Later on, in early youth, the poet was devoted only to a male friend, one Martin. To him ecstatic verses are inscribed:

O Martin! Martin! let the grateful sound
Reach to that Heav'n which has our Friendship crown'd,
And, like our endless Friendship, meet no bound

But alas! one day Martin came back, after a long absence, and, although he still

With generous, kind, continu'd Friendship burn'd,

he found Sylvius entirely absorbed by Amasia. Martin knew better than to show temper; he accepted the situation, and

the lov'd Amasia's Health flew round,
Amasia's Health the Golden Goblets crown'd

Now began the first and happiest portion of the story. Amasia had no suspicion of the feelings of the poet, and he was only too happy to be permitted to watch her movements. He records, in successive copies of verses, the various things she did. He seems to have been on terms of delightful intimacy with the lady, and he calls all sorts of people of the highest position to witness how he suffered. To Lady Sandwich are dedicated poems on "Amasia, drawing her own Picture," on "Amasia, playing with a Clouded Fan," on "Amasia, singing, and sticking pins in a Red Silk Pincushion." We are told how Amasia "looked at me through a Multiplying-Glass," how she was troubled with a redness in her eyes, how she danced before a looking-glass, how her flowered muslin nightgown (or "night-rail," as he calls it) took fire, and how, though she promised to sing, yet she never performed. We have a poem on the circumstance that Amasia, "having prick'd me with a Pin, accidentally scratched herself with it;" and another on her "asking me if I slept well after so tempestuous a night." But perhaps the most intimate of all is a poem "To Amasia, tickling a Gentleman." It was no perfunctory tickling that Amasia administered:

While round his sides your nimble Fingers played,
With pleasing softness did they swiftly rove,
While, at each touch, they made his Heart-strings move.
As round his Breast, his ravish'd Breast they crowd,
We hear their Musick when he laughs aloud

This is probably the only instance in literature in which a gentleman has complacently celebrated in verse the fact that his lady-love has tickled some other gentleman.

But this generous simplicity was not long to last. In 1690 Hopkins's father, the Bishop, had died. We may conjecture that Lady Araminta took charge of the boy, and that his home, in vacation time, was with her in Dublin or London. He writes like a youth who has always been petted; the frou-frou of fine ladies' petticoats is heard in all his verses. But he had no fortune and no prospects; he was utterly, he confesses, without ambition. The stern papa of Amasia had no notion of bestowing her on the penniless Sylvius, and when the latter began to court her in earnest, she rebuffed him. She tore up his love-letters, she teased him by sending her black page to the window when he was ogling for her in the street below, she told him he was too young for her, and although she had no objection to his addressing verses to her, she gave him no serious encouragement. She was to be married, he hints, to some one of her own rank--some rich "country booby."

At last, early in 1698, in company with the Duchess of Grafton, and possibly on the occasion of the second marriage of the latter, Amasia was taken off to France, and Hopkins never saw her again. A year later he received news of her death, and his little romance was over. He became ill, and Dr. Gibbons, the great fashionable physician of the day, was called in to attend him. The third volume closes by his summoning the faithful and unupbraiding Martin back to his heart:

Love lives in Sun-Shine, or that Storm, Despair,
But gentler Friendship Breathes a Mod'rate Air

And so Sylvius, with all his galaxy of lovely Irish ladies, his fashionable Muses, and his trite and tortured fancy, disappears into thin air.

The only literary man whom he mentions as a friend is George Farquhar, himself a native of Londonderry, and about the same age as Hopkins. This playwright seems to be sometimes alluded to as Daphnis, sometimes under his own name. Before the performance of Love and a Bottle, Hopkins prophesied for the author a place where

Congreve, Vanbrook, and Wicherley must sit,
The great Triumvirate of Comick Wit

and later on he thought that even Collier himself ought to commend the Constant Couple, or A Trip to the Jubilee. At the first performance of this play, towards the close of 1699, Hopkins was greatly perturbed by the presence of a lady who reminded him of Amasia, and when he visited the theatre next he was less pleased with the play. He had a vague and infelicitous scheme for turning Paradise Lost into rhyme. These are the only traces of literary bias. In other respects Hopkins is interested in nothing more serious than a lock of Amasia's hair; the china cup she had, "round the sides of which were painted Trees, and at the bottom a Naked Woman Weeping;" her box of patches, in which she finds a silver penny; or the needlework embroidered on her gown. When Amasia died there was no reason why Sylvius should continue to exist, and he fades out of our vision like a ghost.

[The end]
Edmund Gosse's essay: Amasia