Lee, Nathaniel

, an English dramatic poet, was the son of Dr. Richard Lee, who had the living of Hatfield, in Hertfordshire, where he died in 1684. He was bred at Westminster-school under Dr. Busby, whence he removed to Trinity-college, in Cambridge, and became scholar upon that foundation in 1668. He proceeded B. A. the same year; but, not succeeding to a fellowship, quitted the university, and came to London, where be made an unsuccessful attempt to become an actor in 1672. The part he performed was Duncan in sir William Davenant’s alteration of Macbeth. Cibber says that Lee “was so pathetic a reader of his own scenes, that I have been informed by an actor who was present, that while Lee was reading to major Mohun at a rehearsal, Mohun, in the warmth of his admiration, threw down his part, and said, Unless I were able to play it as well as you read it, to what purpose, | should I undertake it! And yet (continues the laureat) this very author, whose elocution raised such admiration in so capital an actor, when he attempted to he an actor himself, soon quitted the stage in an honest despair of ever making any profitable figure there.” Failing, therefore, in this design, he had recourse to his pen for support; and composed a tragedy, called “Nero Emperor of Rome,” in 1675; which being well received, he produced nine plays, besides two in conjunction with Dryden, between, that period and 1684, when his habits of dissipation, aided probably by a hereditary taint, brought on insanity, and in November he was taken into Bedlam, where he continued four years under care of the physicians. In April 1688, he was discharged, being so much recovered as to be able to return to his occupation of writing for the stage; and he produced two plays afterwards, “The Princess of Cleve,” in 1689, and The Massacre of Paris,“in 1690, but, notwithstanding the profits arising from these performances, he was this year reduced to so low an ebb, that a weekly stipend of ten shillings from the theatre royal was his chief dependence. Nor was he so free from his phrenzy as not to suffer some temporary relapses; and perhaps his untimely end might be occasioned by one. He died in 1691 or 1692, in consequence of a drunken frolic, by night, in the street; and was interred in the parish of Clement Danes, near Temple-Bar. He is the author of eleven plays, all acted with applause, and printed as soon as finished, with dedications of most of them to the earls of Dorset, Mulgrave, Pembroke, the duchesses of Portsmouth and Richmond, as his patrons. Addison declares, that among our modern English poets there was none better turned for tragedy than Lee, if, instead of favouring his impetuosity of genius, he had restrained and kept it within proper bounds. His thoughts are wonderfully suited to tragedy, but frequently lost in such a cloud of words, that it is hard to see the beauty of them. There is infinite fire in his works, but so involved in smoke, that it does not appear in half its lustre. He frequently succeeds in the passionate parts of the tragedy, but more particularly where he slackens his efforts, and eases the style of those epithets and metaphors with which he so much abounds. His” Rival Queens“andTheodosiusstill keep possession of the stage. None ever felt the passion of love pore truly j nor could any one describe it with more | tenderness; and for this reason he has been compared to Ovid among the ancients, and to Otway among the moderns. Dryden prefixed a copy of commendatory verses to the” Rival Queens“and Lee joined with that laureat in writing the tragedies of” The duke of Guiseand” CEdipus.“Notwithstanding Lee’s imprudence and eccentricities, no man could be more respected by his contemporaries. In Spence’s” Anecdotes" we are told that ViU liers, duke of Buckingham, brought him up to town, where he never did any thing for him; and this is said to have contributed to bring on insanity. 1

1 Gibber’s Lives. Btog. Dram. Censur* Lit, vl. I, Spence’s Anecdotes, ms.