Mr. Bage. - PA Criticism Archive

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Anna Letitia Barbauld

MR. BAGE. [1] 

Robert Bage, Esq., the author of several novels which have met with a favourable reception from the public, was born in the year 1728 at Derby, where his father worked a paper-mill. Being intended for the same business, he had no other advantages than a common school education; but he was early distinguished for the vigour of his intellectual powers, and his love for knowledge. When arrived at maturity he married, and settled at Elford, a village a few miles from Tamworth in Warwickshire, where he set up a paper-mill, which he conducted to the day of his death.

A man is seldom so closely employed in business as not to have leisure for reading, if he has acquired a love for it. Mr. Bage taught himself the modern languages; and being inclined when about thirty to learn the more abstruse branches of mathematics, he engaged a teacher at Birmingham, where he spent an evening every week for the purpose of instruction.

Living in a retired situation, and always a man of business, though his company was much sought after by those who knew him, it was not
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his lot to mix in the fashionable or literary circles, and his works show more of thought than of refinement.—He is said to have first applied to his pen in order to divert his thoughts from a heavy pecuniary loss, which fell upon him in consequence of a partnership in an iron manufactory which he unfortunately engaged in.—He gave to the world Mount Heneth; Barham Downs; The Fair Syrian; James Wallace; Hermsprong, or Man as He Is Not; and Man as He Is.

Of these, Hermsprong is democratical in its tendency. It was published at a time when sentiments of that nature were prevalent with a large class of people, and it was much read. It has some strength of thought; but it is far from being a regular work, or exhibiting a consistent character. Man as He Is has more of a story, and more variety of character. Sir George Paradyne, the hero, is a young man of fortune, with noble and generous feelings and of a philosophical turn; but, being Man as he is, he is not able entirely to resist the temptations of fortune and gay company, by which he is drawn for a time into a course of dissipation: from this he is rescued by the representations of his tutor and the influence of honourable love; his mistress, who is a young lady of the most delicate feelings, refusing him her hand, though much his inferior in fortune, till he is brought to a more sober way of thinking. The character of Lady Paradyne, his mother, a vain, selfish, fine lady, fond of her son, but teasing him with lectures, is drawn with some humour. But the best sustained character is that of Miss Carlill, a quaker,


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in which the author has exceedingly well hit off the acutneness and presence of mind, and coolness in argument, by which the society she is supposed to belong to are so much distinguished. In her dialogue with a high-church clergyman, she is made to have as much the better of the argument as the late Mrs. Knowles was said to have had in a debate with Dr. Johnson. It is easy to see how much the author delights himself in the dry humour and poignant retorts by which she is made to support her argument. One of the most affecting incidents in these volumes is the sudden discovery of Mr. Mowbray's insanity. The whole is the work of a man who knows the world, and has reflected upon what he has seen; of a man whose mind has more strength than elegance; and whose opinions, often just; sometimes striking, are marked with traits of singularity, and do not unfrequently run counter to received notions and established usages.

Mr. Bage died in 1801, at the age of seventy-three. He left behind him a high character for integrity and benevolence. His friends seem to have been much attached to him. They describe his temper as open, mild, and sociable. He is said to have been very kind to his domestics, who lived with him till they were old, and even to his horses, when they were past work. He was happy in his matrimonial connexion, and left two sons: one promising youth died before him.

Notes

[1] The British Novelists; with an Essay; and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Mrs. Barbauld, 50 Vols. (London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington; W. Otridge and Son; A. Strahan; T. Payne; G. Robinson; W. Lowndes; Wilkie and Robinson; Scatcherd and Letterman; J. Walker; Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe; R. Lea; J. Nunn; Lackington and Co.; Clarke and Son; C. Law; Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme; Cadell and Davies; E. Jeffery; J.K. Newman; Crosby and Co.; J. Carpenter; S. Bagster; T. Booth; J. Murray; J. and J. Richardson; Black, Parry, and Kingsbury; J. Harding; R. Phillips; J. Mawman; J. Booker; J. Asperne; R. Baldwin; Mathews and Leigh; J. Faulder; Johnson and Co.; W. Creech, Edinburgh; and Wilson and Son, York, 1810), 48: i-iii. Michael Cole, Rachel Dejmal, and Mary A. Waters co-edited this essay for The Criticism Archive. BACK


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