"I LOVE the memory of Vinny Bourne," said Cowper in a letter to Newton in 1781, thirty-four years after Bourne's death. "I think him," he went on, "a better Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the writers in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him." Landor, in 1847, thought this criticism of Cowper's an unintelligent one; he could not conceive how a poet so great as Cowper came to pass such a judgment. The truth is that Landor was a better scholar than Cowper, and was thinking more of Bourne's Latinity than of his choice of subjects or mode of treatment. Cowper was not, it appears, a very acute Latinist, and his renderings of Vincent Bourne's poems, as we shall see, proved that he cared little for the simple terseness of Bourne's elegiacs. What is remarkable in Cowper's criticism is his preference of Ovid to Propertius. Ovid must almost have thought in pentameters; he had from boyhood an incredible facility in verse; "Et quod tentabam dicere, versus erat," he says, in that interesting autobiographical poem about his boyhood and youth; "I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came." Ovid was a perfect master of his craft; he is one of the least amateurish of poets; he had the power of producing with luminous precision the exact effect that he intended, and as often as he intended. As a narrator he is perhaps without a rival; but his scope is limited, and his metrical scheme is, like Pope's, without variety. But if Ovid appears in his verse as a somewhat placid egotist, Propertius is full of unchastened fire and passion. His writing, like that of Catullus, bears the undefined stamp of something which can only be named genius. Bourne is more Ovidian perhaps than Propertian; and if his verses have not the easy and lucid movement of Ovid, this is amply compensated for by their originality of subject and treatment.
And we may now call into court a still better critic than either Cowper or Landor, the surefooted Charles Lamb, who in his innumerable appreciations of writers both in verse and prose, hardly ever makes a false step, save from some affectionate bias of the heart, hardly ever pronounces a judgment that has not been cordially endorsed by posterity. Writing to Wordsworth in 1815, he says, "Since I saw you, I have had a treat in the reading way, which comes not every day, the Latin poems of Vincent Bourne, which were quite new to me. What a heart that man had, all laid out upon town schemes, a proper counterpoise to some people's rural extravaganzas! Why I mention him is that your 'Power of Music' reminded me of his poem of 'The Ballad-Singer in the Seven Dials.' Do you remember his epigram on the old woman who taught Newton the ABC, which, after all, he says, he hesitates not to call Newton's Principia? I was lately fatiguing myself by going through a volume of fine words by Lord Thurlow; excellent words; and if the heart could live by words alone, it could desire no better regales; but what an aching vacuum of matter! I don't stick at the madness of it, for that is only a consequence of shutting his eyes, and thinking he is in the age of the old Elizabeth poets. From thence I turned to Bourne. What a sweet, unpretending, pretty-mannered, matterful creature! Sucking from every flower, making a flower of everything, his diction all Latin and his thoughts all English. Bless him! Latin wasn't good enough for him. Why was he not content with the language which Gay and Prior wrote in?" And again, in one of the "Essays of Elia," "A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis," he says: "Well fare the soul of unfastidious Vincent Bourne, most classical, and, at the same time, most English of the Latinists, who has treated of this human and quadrupedal alliance, this dog-and-man friendship, in the sweetest of his poems, the 'Epitaphium ad Canem,' or 'Dog's Epitaph.' Reader, peruse it; and say if customary sights, which could call up such gentle poetry as this, were of a nature to do more harm or good to the moral sense of the passengers through the daily thoroughfares of a vast and busy metropolis." Here, of course, Lamb is really speaking of the spirit of the poems; his own Latinity, as shown by the Latin letters which he was fond of intermingling with his correspondence, was more copious than correct. Lamb, it is true, saw poetry in Bernard Barton, but that, as we have said, was an affair of the heart; if he could write as he did of Vincent Bourne, we may be sure that his words are worth attention.
The biographical facts of Bourne's life are of the simplest. He was born in 1695, educated at Westminster and proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became a Fellow in 1720. His earliest published poetical effort seems to have been a copy of congratulatory verses addressed to Addison on his recovery from a severe illness in 1717. In 1721 he editedCarmina Comitialia, containing Tripos verses, satirical poems on local events, and miscellaneous poems. From Cambridge he returned to Westminster as a master, and there he remained till his death in 1747. In 1734 he was appointed, perhaps through the influence of the Duke of Newcastle, who had been a boy at Westminster with him, and to whom he dedicated the first edition of his poems, Housekeeper and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms to the House of Commons.
As a teacher he seems to have been wholly without energy or practical power. He made no attempt to preserve discipline, and Cowper, who was in his form for a time, says that he remembers seeing the Duke of Richmond, then a boy at the school, set fire to his greasy locks and box his ears to put the conflagration out. He does not even appear to have stimulated, as absent-minded, unpractical teachers often do, the keener and more ardent minds among his pupils. "I lost more than I got by him," says Cowper, "for he made me as idle as himself." Cowper also says that he was so inattentive to his pupils, and so utterly indifferent whether they brought him good or bad exercises, that "he seemed determined, as he was the best, so to be the last, Latin poet of the Westminster line." As to his good-nature, however, there appear to have been two opinions, as can be seen from a trenchant entry in Nichol's Literary Anecdotes. "Vincent Bourne was usher to the Fourth Form at Westminster, and remarkably fond of me. I never heard much of the goodness of heart. T. F." He was noted, too, for extreme slovenlinessin attire. Cowper says: "He was such a sloven, as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for everything that could disgust you in his person; and indeed in his writings, he has almost made amends for all." And again to Mr. Rose, in 1788, he writes: "I shall have great pleasure in taking now and then a peep at my old friend Vincent Bourne, the neatest of all men in his versification, though, when I was under his ushership at Westminster, the most slovenly in his person."
So Vincent Bourne lived his shabby, unpretending life, the secretum iter, et fallentis semita vitæ. Every one must have known some one of this kind,—good-natured, easy-going, murmuring a phantom music in his head, indifferent to what went on about him, without ambition or personal dignity. His patron, the Duke of Newcastle, was anxious to benefit him, but Vinny could not be coerced into taking Orders, and so the Prebend at Westminster and the Canonry at Christchurch, which were destined for him, went elsewhere. And yet he seems to have had some obscure visions of preferment, founded on a promise given by Dr. Arbuthnot, the friend of Pope. Bourne wrote in a copy of Arbuthnot's work on Coins: "[As] to the reputation of Dr. Arbuthnot, I never met with less honour and generosity than I have received from him; I scorn to charge that upon his country which he has been guilty of in his private character; he should have remembered his promise, and would have done it, if he had not been a courtier;" and there is a preceding passage, which looks as if Bourne had given Arbuthnot literary assistance which had neither been acknowledged nor repaid.
Bourne, in a curious letter to his wife, written shortly before and in anticipation of his death, gives her the reasons which prevented him from taking orders; he says that the importance of so great a charge, joined with a mistrust of his own sufficiency, made him fearful of undertaking it. And he adds, "If I have not in that capacity assisted in the salvation of souls, I have not been the means of losing any; if I have not brought reputation to the function by any merit of mine, I have the comfort of this reflection, I have given no scandal to it by my meanness and unworthiness." This letter shows that he considered the pastoral office in a different light from most of his contemporaries, as one of great personal responsibility; and the whole letter breathes a spirit of intense contrition and pathetic humility at the thought of the opportunities he has missed and the idleness and vanity of his life. He does not however write as if with any sense of his shortcomings as a teacher, for he says that his one desire has been to be humbly serviceable in his quiet sphere of duty. But the most touching part of the letter is the vague dismay which, in spite of his deep and sincerely Christian hope, he finds in the thought of dissolution; the terrors of the grave lie very hard upon him, as they would upon a man of imagination and sensibility who had lived a thoughtless and easy-going life. The whole letter is a singular contrast to another rhetorical epistle which has been preserved, addressed to a young lady on the thoughts suggested by a graveyard, in which he says with a pretentious philosophy that the more human document belies, that "the frequent perusal of gravestones and monuments, and the many walks I have taken in a churchyard, have given me so great a distaste for life." Poor Vinny! When he came to die he had little of the philosopher about him, but shivered and cried at the dark passage.
It may be a matter of wonder how Bourne found time or inclination to marry; but he did so, and the maiden's name was Lucia. He even begat children, of whom one was a Lieutenant of Marines, and left some vague property, a house in Westminster and land in Bungay. The poet's death took place in 1747, not unexpected by himself, as I have said, and by a disease which, he records with grateful thankfulness, left him in full and calm possession of his faculties. He had written his own epitaph, which may be thus rendered: Vincent Bourne, of unfeigned piety and utter humility, who in no place forgot his God or forgot himself, descends into the silence which he loved. It is a touching estimate, and shows, in its anxiety to deal only with essentials, how incidental his work was to his character; he forms no pompous appreciation of the value of his writings, but leaves them, like Sibylline leaves, for the wind to whirl away, the only testimony to his quiet and observant eye, his love of simple things, his intense interest in nature and humanity. Qui bene latuit, bene vixit, he might have said.
Cowper wrote to Newton in 1781, in reply to a letter suggesting that he should translate Vincent Bourne's Latin poems, and offering literary assistance. It appears to have been one of the few occasions on which Newton gave Cowper sensible advice. Cowper replies that he is much obliged for the offer of help: "It is but seldom, however, and never, except for my amusement, that I translate; because I find it impossible to work by another man's pattern. I should at least be sure to find it so in a business of any length. Again, that is epigrammatic and witty in Latin which would be perfectly insipid in English, and a translator of Bourne would frequently find himself obliged to supply what is called the turn.... If a Latin poem is neat, elegant, and musical, it is enough; but English readers are not so easily satisfied. To quote myself, you will find, on comparing 'The Jackdaw' with the original, that I was obliged to sharpen a point, which, though smart enough in the Latin, would in English have appeared as plain and blunt as the tag of a lace.... Vincent Bourne's humour is entirely original; he can speak of a magpie or a cat in terms so exquisitely appropriated to the character he draws, that one would suppose him animated by the spirit of the creature he describes. And with all his drollery, there is a mixture of rational and even religious reflection at times, and always an air of pleasantry, good-nature, and humanity, that makes him in my mind one of the most amiable writers in the world. It is not common to meet with an author who can make you smile, and yet at nobody's expense, who is always entertaining and yet always harmless; and who, though always elegant and classical to a degree not always found in the classics themselves, charms more, by the simplicity and playfulness of his ideas, than by the neatness and purity of his verse."
To turn to the poems in detail, almost the first thing that strikes one is the originality of his subjects. Nothing was common or unclean to our poet, at a time when poetry, except in Cowper's hands, was grandiose and affected to an uncommon degree. Vincent Bourne may be held to have been in a remote connection the parent of the poetry of common life, for he undoubtedly exerted a strong influence on Cowper. I do not think it is too much to say that Cowper's best contributions to literature, his exquisite lyrics on birds and hares and dogs, which will live when "The Task" and "Tirocinium" have gone down to the dust, would never have been written had it not been for Vincent Bourne. In the year 1750, the future of English poetry was dark; there were only two considerable writers at work, Gray and Collins. There was, it is true, a certain respectful attitude to nature prevalent, but it was a conventional attitude. Cowper, as I believe inspired by Bourne, was the first to make it unconventional. Then came the sweet notes of Burns across the border, and the victory was won.
Let me now give a few instances of Bourne. First must come "The Jackdaw," and I have given Cowper's rendering; but I have also ventured to subjoin a version of my own, not because I challenge even the most distant comparison with Cowper's sparkling and graceful lyric, but because Cowper's is in no sense a translation. It is a poem of which the line of thought is suggested by Bourne, and at a few points touches the Latin poem; but the turn, the colouring is Cowper's own. In my own translation, though I have several times sacrificed verbal accuracy, I have endeavoured to keep as closely to the Latin as is consistent with writing English at all.
Nigras inter aves avis est, quæ plurima turres,
Antiquas ædes, celsaque fana colit.
Nil tam sublime est, quod non audace volatu,
Aeriis spernens inferiors, petit.
Quo nemo ascendat, cui non vertigo cerebrum
Corripiat, certe hunc seligit illa locum.
Quo vix a terra tu suspicis absque tremore,
Illa metus expers incolumisque sedet.
Lamina delubri supra fastigia, ventus
Qua cœli spiret de regione, docet;
Hanc ea præ reliquis mavult, secura pericli,
Nec curat, nedum cogitat, unde cadat.
Res inde humanas, sed summa per otia, spectat,
Et nihil ad sese, quas videt, esse videt.
Concursus spectat, plateaque negotia in omni,
Omnia pro nugis at sapienter habet.
Clamores, quos infra audit, si forsitan audit,
Pro rebus nihili negligit, et crocitat.
Ille tibi invideat, felix cornicula, pennas,
Qui sic humanis rebus abesse velit.
(By William Cowper.)
There is a bird, who by his coat,
And by the hoarseness of his note,
Might be supposed a crow;
A great frequenter of the church,
Where bishop-like he finds a perch,
And dormitory too.
Above the steeple shines a plate,
That turns and turns, to indicate
From what point blows the weather;
Look up—your brains begin to swim,
'Tis in the clouds; that pleases him,
He chooses it the rather.
Fond of the speculative height,
Thither he wings his airy flight,
And thence securely sees
The bustle and the raree-show
That occupy mankind below,
Secure and at his ease.
You think, no doubt, he sits and muses
Of future broken bones and bruises,
If he should chance to fall;
No! not a single thought like that
Employs his philosophic pate,
Or troubles it at all.
He sees that this great roundabout
The world, with all its motley rout,
Church, army, physic, law,
Its customs and its businesses
Is no concern at all of his,
And says—what says he?—Caw.
Thrice happy bird! I too have seen
Much of the vanities of men,
And sick of having seen 'em,
Would cheerfully these limbs resign
For such a pair of wings as thine,
And such a head between 'em.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Of fowls with black and glossy coat,
One dear familiar bird I note;
In towers and ancient piles he dwells,
Above the din of sacred bells;
High fanes he seeks; with daring flight
Aspires, despising aught but height;
He sits where mortals mount with pain
Of reeling pulse and dizzy brain;
And where you shudder with alarm,
He's perched aloft, and free from harm.
The vane that on the steeple shows
Whither and whence the free wind blows,
He choosing, owns no care at all,
Much less is careful lest he fall;
And thence in lofty ease surveys
Mankind's inexplicable ways.
He sees the streets, the concourse dim,
They hold no interest for him;
And if some murmur upward floats
He heeds not, but with pensive notes
Beguiles the hour. Blest bird, I'd be
A winged and airy thing, like thee!
From human things I'd sit aloof
Like thee, above the minster-roof.
Next shall come Lamb's favourite, the Epitaph on the Beggar's Dog. Lamb's rendering is very fairly exact.
Pauperis hic Iri requiesco Lyciscus, herilis,
Dum vixi, tutela vigil columenque senectæ,
Dux cæco fidus; nec, me ducente, solebat,
Prætenso hinc atque hinc baculo, per iniqua locorum
Incertam explorare viam; sed fila secutus,
Quæ dubios regerent passus, vestigia tuta
Fixit inoffenso gressu; gelidumque sedile
In nudo nactus saxo, qua prætereuntium
Unda frequens confluxit, ibi miserisque tenebras
Lamentis, noctemque oculis ploravit obortam.
Ploravit nec frustra; obolum dedit alter et alter,
Queis corda et mentem indiderat natura benignam.
Ad latus interea jacui sopitus herile,
Vel mediis vigil in somnis; ad herilia jussa
Auresque atque animum arrectus, seu frustuia amice
Porrexit sociasque dapes, seu longa diei
Tædia perpessus, reditum sub nocte parabat.
Hi mores, hæc vita fuit, dum fata sinebant,
Dum neque languebam morbis, nec inerte senecta,
Quæ tandem obrepsit, veterique satellite cæcum
Orbavit dominum: prisci sed gratia facti
Ne tota intereat, longos deleta per annos,
Exiguum hunc Irus tumulum de cespite fecit,
Et si inopis, non ingratæ munuscula dextræ;
Carmine signavitque brevi, dominumque canemque
Quod memoret, fidumque canem dominumque benignum.
Poor Irus' faithful wolf-dog here I lie,
That wont to tend my old blind master's steps,
His guide and guard; nor, while my service lasted,
Had he occasion for that staff, with which
He now goes picking out his path in fear
Over the highways and crossings, but would plant,
Safe in the conduct of my friendly string,
A firm foot forward still, till he had reach'd
His poor seat on some stone, nigh where the tide
Of passers-by in thickest confluence flow'd:
To whom with loud and passionate laments
From morn to eve his dark estate he wail'd.
Nor wail'd to all in vain: some here and there,
The well-disposed and good, their pennies gave;
I meantime at his feet obsequious slept;
Not all-asleep in sleep, but heart and ear
Prick'd up at his least motion: to receive
At his kind hand my customary crumbs,
And common portion in his feast of scraps;
Or when night warned us homeward, tired and spent
With our long day and tedious beggary.
These were my manners, this my way of life,
Till age and slow disease me overtook,
And sever'd from my sightless master's side.
But, lest the grace of so good deeds should die,
Through tract of years in mute oblivion lost,
This slender tomb of turf hath Irus rear'd,
Cheap monument of no ungrudging hand,
And with short verse inscribed it, to attest,
In long and lasting union to attest,
The virtues of the Beggar and the Dog.
It may be noted that Lamb treats Lyciscus, which was evidently intended merely as a name, as referring to the species of dog; Virgil uses Lycisca as a dog's name in the third Eclogue. Probably Bourne was thinking of a fox-terrier, and the term wolf-dog is pompous and incongruous. Lamb's last line but three is a very lame one; it is a difficult point to determine, but did not he mean "no ungrateful hand"? The true sense of the original line is, "the slender gift of a hand which although poor is not ungrateful."
Bourne shows also a remarkable observation of street life, the quaint water-side manners, the odd obscure life that eddied near the river highway and round about the smoky towers of Wren. Absent-minded he may have been, but observant he was to a peculiar degree, and that not of broad poetical effects, but of the minute detail and circumstance of every-day life. It would be easy to multiply instances, but this extract from the "Iter per Tamisin," of the bargeman lighting his pipe, will serve to show what I mean. Why does he call tobacco pœtum, it may be asked? The only solution that I can suggest is that Pink-eye, or Squint-eye, was a cant term for some species of the weed at the time. It can hardly be, I think, the word peat Latinised. The version, as in the case of those which follow, is my own.
His ita dispositis, tubulum cum pyxide magna
Depromit, nigrum longus quem fecerat usus.
Hunc postquam implêrat pæto, silicemque pararat,
Excussit scintillam; ubi copia ponitur atri
Fomitis, hinc ignem sibi multum exugit, et haustu
Accendens crebro, surgentes deprimit herbas
Extremo digito: in cineres albescere pætum
Incipit et naso gratos emittit odores.
This thus disposed, a pipe with ample bowl
He handles, blackened with familiar use;
Stuffs with the fragrant herb, and flint prepares
To strike the spark: and thence from fuel stored,
Black provender, he spouts a plenteous flame,
Kindling with frequent gusts of breath indrawn:
Meanwhile he tends with cautions finger-tip
The rising fibres; into lightest ash
Whitening, they pour the aromatic fumes.
Vincent Bourne had that passionate sympathy with and delight in youth that is the surest testimony to a heart that does not grow old. The pretty ways and natural gestures of childhood pleased him. He was fond of his boys, and allowed that fondness to be evident, at a time when brow-beating and insolent severity were too much the fashion. In his epitaphs it is curious to note how many deal with the young, and touch on the immemorial fragrance of early death with a peculiar pathos. There is an epitaph on a Westminster boy of twelve years old, where hemost touchingly alludes to the thought that he died both beautiful and innocent; and an epitaph on a little girl who, he said in quaint phrase, had the modest red of roses and the pure whiteness of lilies in her face. Again the inscription to the memory of the young Earl of Warwick, who died at the age of twenty-four, is full of delicate beauty; but I will give in full what seems to me the sweetest of all. It is printed among the authentic epitaphs, but it is, I imagine, purely fanciful.
EPITAPHIUM IN SEPTEM ANNORUM PUELLULAM.
Quam suavis mea Chloris, et venusta,
Vitæ quam fuerit brevis, monebunt
Hic circum violæ rosæque fusæ:
Quarum purpura, vix aperta, clausa est.
Sed nec dura nimis vocare fata,
Nec fas est nimium queri caducæ
De formæ brevitate, quam rependit
Aeterni diuturnitas odoris.
My pretty Chloris—ah, how sweet
The roses o'er your head shall show;
The violets, strewn above your feet
How brief the life that sleeps below.
We must not chide the grudging fates.
Nor say how short a lot was thine,
For, ah, how amply compensates
The eternal fragrance of thy shrine.
I subjoin to these a couple of epigrams which give a good idea of the natural and solemn way in which he approaches death, as an event not necessarily of a gloomy and forbidding character, but as tending to draw out and develop an intimate and regretful hope in the survivors. There is nothing austere about his philosophy; it puts aside pompous and formal consolations, and goes right to the heart of the matter, with a child-like simplicity. The first deals with the Pyramids, the second with an incident, real or fancied, connected with the burial of Queen Mary at Westminster.
Pyramidum sumptus, ad cœlum et sidera ducti,
Quid dignum tanta mole, quid intus habent?
Ah! nihil intus habent, nisi nigrum informe cadaver;
Durata in saxum est cui medicata caro.
Ergone porrigitur monumentum in jugera tota!
Ergo tot annorum, tot manuumque labor!
Integra sit morum tibi vita: hæc pyramis esto,
Et poterunt tumulo sex satis esse pedes.
Aspiring monument of human toil
What lies beneath that's worth so vast a coil?
A shapeless blackened corpse, set all alone,
Embalmed and mummied into silent stone.
The mighty pile its ponderous circuit rears;
Ah, ingenuity! ah, wasted years!
Pure be thy life; let pompous trappings be!
Six feet of kindly earth's enough for thee!
Quæ tibi regalis dederant diadematis aurum,
Dant et funereum fana, Maria, tholum.
Quisque suis vicibus, mæsto stant ordine flentes;
Oreque velato femina triste silet.
Parva avis interea, residens in vertice summo,
Emittit tremula lugubre voce melos.
Vespera nec claudit, nec lucem Aurora recludit,
Quin eadem repetat funebre carmen avis,
Tale nihil dederint vel Mausolea; Mariæ
Hæc pietas soli debita vera fuit.
Venales lacrymæ, jussique facessite fletus;
Sumptibus hic nullis luctus emendus erit.
The ancient fane that crowned thy flashing head,
Oh queen, oh mother! now receives thee dead.
The mourning train, in funeral pomp arrayed,
Weeping adore the venerable shade.
A duteous bird the while, high perched above,
Utters the tremulous notes of tender love.
Each waning eve, each dewy opening day,
That gentle heart repeats his solemn lay.
No lamentable anthem pealing high
Can match the gift of pious minstrelsy.
Tears, venal tears, ye cannot give relief.
No lavished gold can purchase natural grief!
There have been several editions of Vincent Bourne; three of them deserve, bibliographically, a word. The first is the third of his publications, a very rare and beautiful book, which by the kindness of Mr. Austin Dobson I have been privileged to examine. This is Poematia, Latine partim reddita, partim scripta, printed by J. Watts, 1734, and dedicated to the Duke of Newcastle; it is a small volume printed in italics of the tribe of Aldus, with quaint head and tail pieces, and red lines ruled by hand. The next is the Miscellaneous Poems of 1772, a handsome quarto, published by subscription. The third is Poems by Vincent Bourne published by Pickering in 1840, with a memoir and notes by the Rev. John Mitford. This is a carefully and beautifully printed book, with but one drawback. Whenever an ornamental head-piece is inserted at the top of a page, the number of the page is omitted. This tiresome affectation makes it very difficult to find any particular poem.
An exhaustive account of Vincent Bourne's Latinity would be a long enumeration of minute mistakes—mistakes arising from the imperfect acquaintance of the scholars of the day with the principles of correct Latinity. To give a few obvious instances, metrically, Bourne is not aware of the rule which forbids a short syllable to stand before sp, sc, st, sq. In classical Latin, such a collocation of consonants does not lengthen the preceding short syllable, but is simply inadmissible. Then again, he is very unsound in the quantity of final o. I am not speaking of such words as quando, ego, where there is a certain doubt. But he makes short such words as fallo, and even such a word as experiendo;, which is quite impossible. He also ends his pentameters with trisyllables such as niteat, a practice which has no Ovidian countenance. Grammatically, a considerable licence is observable in the use of the indicative for the subjunctive, as, for instance, after si forsitan and nedum. But these, it may be said, are minor points, and in form and arrangement his Latin is pure enough. His verse is of the school of Ovid and Tibullus, but his vocabulary is not Augustan; this, however, may be due to the fact that his choice of subjects necessitates the use of many words for which there is no Augustan authority.
It can hardly be expected that Vincent Bourne will be read or appreciated by the general reader. But any one with an adequate stock of Latin, who is given to wandering among the byways of literature, will find him a singularly original and poetical writer. His was no academic spirit, writing, with his back to the window, of frigid generalities and classical ineptitudes. He was rather a man with a warm heart and a capacious eye, finding any trait of human character, any grouping of the grotesque or tender furniture of life, interesting and memorable. He reminds one of the man in Robert Browning's poem, "How it Strikes a Contemporary," who went about in his old cloak, with quiet observant eyes, noting the horse that was beaten, and trying the mortar of the new house with his stick, and came home and wrote it all to his lord the king. Vincent Bourne had of course no moral object in his writings; he had merely the impulse to sing, and we may regret with Lamb that so delicate and sensitive a spirit chose a vehicle which must debar so many from walking in his company. With his greasy locks and dirty gown, his indolence and his good-humour, the shabby usher of Westminster, with his pure spirit and clear eyes, has a place reserved for him in the stately procession, "where is nor first, nor last."