Stepney, George

, an English poet and statesman, was descended from a family at Pendigrast in Pembrokeshire, but born at London in 1663. It has been conjectured that he was either son or grandson of Charles third son of sir John Stepney, the first baronet of that family: Mr. Cole says his father was a grocer. He received his education at Westminster-school, and was removed thence to Trinity-college, Cambridge, in 1682; where he took his degree of A.B. in 1685, and that of M.A. in 1689. Being of the same standing with Charles Montague, esq. afterwards earl of Halifax, a strict friendship grew up between them, and they came to London together, and are said to have been introduced into public life by the duke of Dorset. To this fortunate incident was owing all the preferment Stepney afterwards enjoyed, who is supposed not to have had parts sufficient to have risen to any distinction, without such patronage. When Stepney first set out in life, he seems to have been attached to the tory interest; for one of the first poems he wrote was an address to James II. upon his accession to the throne. Soon after, when Monmouth’s rebellion broke out, the Cambridge men, to shew their zeal for the king, thought proper to burn the picture of that prince, who had formerly been chancellor of the university, and on this occasion Stepney wrote some good verses in his praise. | Upon the Revolution, he embraced another interest, and procured himself to be nominated to several foreign embassies. In 1692 he went to the elector of Brandenburg’s court, in quality of envoy; in 1693, to the Imperial court, in the same character; in 1694, to the elector of Saxony; and, two years after, to the electors of Mentz, Cologn, and the congress at Francfort; in 1698, a second time to Brandenburg; in 1699, to the king of Poland; in 1701, again to the emperor; and in 1706, to the States General; and in all his negotiations, is said to have been successful. In 1697 he was made one of the commissioners of trade. He died at Chelsea in 1707, and was buried in Westminster-abbey; where a fine monument was erected over him, with a pompous inscription. At his leisure hours he composed poetical pieces, which are republished in the general collection of English poets. He likewise wrote some political pieces in prose, particularly, “An Essay on the present interest of England, in 1701: to which are added, the proceedings of the House of Commons in 1677, upon the French king’s progress in Flanders.” This is reprinted in the collection of tracts, called “Lord Somers’s collection.

It is reported,” says Dr. Johnson, “that the juvenile compositions of Stepney ‘ made grey authors blush.’ I know not whether his poems will appear such wonders to the present age. One cannot always easily find the reason for which the world has sometimes conspired to squander praise. It is not very unlikely that he wrote very early as well as he ever wrote; and the performances of youth have many favourers, because the authors yet lay no claim to public honours, and are therefore not considered as rivals by the distributors of fame.

He apparently professed himself a poet, and added his name to those of the other wits in the version of Juvenal but he is a very licentious translator, and does not recompense his neglect of the author by beauties of” his own. lu his original poems, now and then, a happy line may perhaps be found, and now and then a short composition nun give pleasure. But there is in the whole little either of the grace of wit, or the vigour of nature." 1

1

Cibber’s Lives.—Johnson’s Poets.—Nichols’s Poems.—Cole’s ms Athenæ in Brit. Mus.