Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Broome, William

BROOME, WILLIAM (1689–1745), the son of a poor farmer, was born at Haslington in Cheshire, where he was baptised on 3 May 1689. He was educated at Eton, and is said to have been captain of the school for a whole year, vainly waiting for a scholarship to take him to King's College, Cambridge. At last, in 1708, he was admitted a subsizar of St. John's College, being sent by the kindness of friends. At college he obtained a small exhibition. Among his Cambridge contemporaries he associated with Cornelius Ford and with the Hon. Charles Cornwallis, both of them valuable friends whom he retained through life. The former has related that Broome was very shy and clumsy as an undergraduate, but that he versified so readily that he became known in college as 'the Poet.' At the age of twenty-three Broome appeared before the world as a writer. He contributed some very poor verses, modelled on Pope's pieces, to 'Lintot's Miscellany' in 1712, and in the same year was published the prose translation of the 'Iliad' by Ozell, Oldisworth, and Broome. It was as an excellent Greek scholar, as a translator of Homer, and as a great admirer of Pope, that he was introduced to the latter in 1714, at the house of Sir John Cotton, at Madingley, near Cambridge. Pope at once perceived that Broome was a man calculated to be of service to him in his Homeric undertaking, and on returning to London he began that correspondence with him which lasted without intermission for fourteen years, and with intervals for more than twenty. Broome would be entirely forgotten were it not for his connection with Pope's 'Homer.' The first labour which Pope set him was to read and condense the notes of Eustathius, an archbishop of Thessalonica, who had annotated Homer in the eleventh century. The crabbed Greek of this commentator baffled Pope, who was far inferior to Broome as a scholar. In November 1714 Pope set Broome on this work, which proved exceedingly tedious, but was admirably carried out by him. There had been no terms agreed upon for these notes, and when Pope approached the subject of payment, Broome, who was pleased to put the poet under an obligation, refused to be paid. He was, in fact, well-to-do, having had the excellent living of Sturston in Suffolk given to him by his friend Cornwallis. He married Mrs. Elizabeth Clarke, a wealthy widow, on 22 July 1726, and for the rest of his life he enjoyed something like opulence. He had now become acquainted with Elijah Fenton, a man somewhat older than himself, of similar tastes and perhaps equal talents, infatuated like himself with admiration for Pope. According to one story, Broome and Fenton had been encouraged by the success of Pope's 'Iliad' to begin a verse-translation of the 'Odyssey;' but it seems more probable that the latter scheme was started by Pope. At all events, there is no doubt that in 1722 Pope proposed to the two friends to join him in this work as journeymen labourers. The history of this famous co-operation, the close of which was marked by Broome's poetical epistle to Pope appended in 1726 to the final note in the 'Odyssey,' is to be found at length in the correspondence of Pope. Broome was embittered by the scandalous reports which were published on the subject, and was easily persuaded that the 570l. which he had himself received for his share of the work was an insufficient sum.

In the meantime Broome had been active as a writer. In 1723 he published a 'Coronation Sermon,' and a prologue to Fenton's tragedy of 'Mariamne,' and in 1726 he collected his 'Poems on Several Occasions' (March 1727), a second edition of which appeared in 1739. For the copyright of this volume Lintot was persuaded by Pope to give Broome 35l. Broome was unfortunate in his children. His eldest daughter, Anne (b. 1 Oct. 1718), died in October 1723, and he dedicated to her memory the ode entitled 'Melancholy,' certain lines of which seem to have been noticed by Gray. His other daughter died at the age of two years in March 1725. Broome was left childless and in deep dejection, but on 16 March 1726 he was cheered by the birth of a son, Charles John, who survived him.

In 1728 Broome's anger against Pope became so much embittered that he almost ceased to write to him. He ceased at the same time to make any effort in literature, for, as he said in 1735, when he again made advances to Pope, 'you were my poetical sun, and since your influence has been intercepted by the interposition of some dark body, I have never thought the soil worth cultivating, but resigned it up to sterility.' To this he was doubtless further impelled by the death of his most intimate literary friends, Fenton in 1730 and Ford in 1731, both of whom had been his frequent guests in the remote parsonage of Sturston. In April 1728 he had been made LL.D., on occasion of the king's visit to Cambridge, and in September of the same year he was presented to the living of Pulham in Norfolk, which he held with Sturston. He afterwards received from his loyal patron, now become the first earl Cornwallis, two Suffolk livings, the rectory of Oakley Magna and the vicarage of Eye, whereupon he resigned Sturston and Pulham. He was also chaplain to Lord Cornwallis, who attempted, but without success, to obtain him promotion in the church.

Pope had been annoyed by popular exaggeration of the part Broome had enjoyed in the preparation of the 'Odyssey.' Henley had given expression to this scandal in a stinging couplet:

Pope came off clean with Homer; but they say
Broome went before, and kindly swept the way.

Pope thought that Broome should have positively denied this vague indictment of Pope's originality, and when he was silent he revenged himself meanly by a line in the 'Dunciad:'

Hibernian politics, Swift, thy doom,
And Pope's, translating four whole years with Broome.

After several editions of the 'Dunciad' had appeared, Broome, in September 1735, broke his long silence by writing an obsequious letter to Pope, not mentioning the impertinent line, but intended to suggest that bygones should be bygones. Pope altered the line to

thy fate,
And Pope's, ten years to comment and translate.

Pope, however, found Broome exacting and tiresome, and allowed the correspondence to lapse once more. Broome only appeared in public on one more occasion, with an 'Assize Sermon' in 1737. In his later years he amused himself by translating Anacreon for the 'Gentleman's Magazine.' He died at Bath on 16 Nov. 1745, and was buried in the abbey church. He was exactly a year younger than Pope, and he outlived him about the same length of time. His only son, Charles John Broome, died at Cambridge, as an undergraduate, in December 1747, and, in accordance with the poet's will, his property reverted to Lord Cornwallis.

Broome was a smooth versifier, without a spark of originality. His style was founded upon Pope's so closely that some of what he thought were his original pieces are mere centos of Pope. He was therefore able, like Fenton, but even to a greater extent, to reproduce the style of Pope with marvellous exactitude in translating the 'Odyssey.' Of that work the eighth, eleventh, twelfth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-third books, as well as all the notes, are Broome's. His early rudeness of manner gave way to a style of almost obsequious suavity,and his letters, though ingenious and graceful, do not give an impression of sincerity. Of his own poems not one has remained in the memory of the most industrious reader, and he owes the survival of his name entirely to his collaboration with Pope.

[Dr. Johnson wrote a memoir of Broome in his Lives of the Poets. A short life was published by T. W. Barlow. In Elwin and Courthope's Pope's Correspondence will be found a minute account of Broome's relations with the poet, and the text of the letters which passed between them.]

E. G.