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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/75

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Pye
Pye
60

tion could have more effectually deprived the post of reputable literary associations, and a satire, ‘Epistle to the Poet Laureate,’ 1790, gave voice to the scorn with which, in literary circles, the announcement of his appointment was received. Pye performed his new duties with the utmost regularity, and effected a change in the conditions of tenure of the office by accepting a fixed salary of 27l. in lieu of the ancient dole of a tierce of canary. Every year on the king's birthday he produced an ode breathing the most irreproachable patriotic sentiment, expressed in language of ludicrous tameness. His earliest effort was so crowded with allusions to vocal groves and feathered choirs that George Steevens, on reading it, broke out into the lines:

And when the pie was opened
    The birds began to sing;
And wasn't that a dainty dish
    To set before a king?

Occasionally Pye essayed more ambitious topics in his ‘War Elegies of Tyrtæus imitated’ (1795); ‘Naucratia, or Naval Dominion’ (1798), dedicated to King George; and ‘Carmen Seculare for the year 1800’ (1799). What has been described as his magnum opus, ‘Alfred,’ an epic poem in six books, appeared in 1801, and was dedicated to Addington. Pye was the intimate friend of Governer John Penn (1729–1795) [q. v.], and published in 1802 ‘Verses on several Subjects, written in the vicinity of Stoke Park in the Summer and Autumn of 1801.’ In 1810 appeared his ‘Translation of the Hymns and Epigrams of Homer.’

Pye also interested himself in the drama. On 19 May 1794 his three-act historical tragedy ‘The Siege of Meaux’ was acted at Covent Garden, and was repeated four times (Genest, vii. 165). The Ireland forgeries at first completely deceived him, and on 25 Feb. 1795 he signed, with others, a paper testifying his belief in their authenticity. But when he was requested to write a prologue for the production at Drury Lane of Ireland's play of ‘Vortigern’ (absurdly ascribed to Shakespeare), he expressed himself too cautiously to satisfy Ireland, who deemed it prudent to suppress Pye's effort. On 25 Jan. 1800 ‘Adelaide,’ a second tragedy by Pye, based on episodes in Lyttelton's ‘Henry II,’ was performed at Drury Lane, with Kemble as Prince Richard, and Mrs. Siddons as the heroine. The great actor and actress never appeared, wrote Genest (vii. 462), to less advantage. On 29 Oct. 1805 an inanimate comedy, ‘A Prior Claim,’ in which his son-in-law, Samuel James Arnold [q. v.], co-operated, was also produced at Drury Lane (Genest, vii. 700). In 1807 Pye published ‘Comments on the Commentators of Shakespeare, with Preliminary Observations on his Genius and Writings,’ which he dedicated to his friend Penn. ‘The Inquisitor,’ a tragedy in five acts, altered from the German (‘Diego und Leonor’) by Pye and James Petit Andrews, was published in 1798, but was never performed, because its production on the stage was anticipated by that of Holcroft's adaptation of the same German play under the same English title at the Haymarket on 25 June 1798 (ib. x. 209).

In May 1813 an edition of Pye's select writings in six volumes was announced, but happily nothing more was heard of it (Gent. Mag. 1813 pt. i. p. 440). He died at Pinner on 11 Aug. 1813. He was twice married. His first wife, Mary, daughter of Colonel William Hook, wrote a farce, ‘The Capricious Lady,’ which was acted at Drury Lane on 10 May 1771 for the benefit of Mr. Inchbald and Mrs. Morland. It was not printed. By her, who died in 1796, Pye had two daughters—Mary Elizabeth (d. 1834), wife of Captain Jones of the 35th regiment; and Matilda Catherine, who married in 1802 Samuel James Arnold, and died in 1851. Pye married, in November 1801, a second wife, Martha, daughter of W. Corbett, by whom he had a son, Henry John (1802–1884), and a daughter, Jane Anne, wife of Francis Willington of Tamworth, Staffordshire. The son succeeded in 1833, under the will of a distant cousin, to the estate of Clifton Hall, Staffordshire, where the family is still settled.

‘The poetical Pye,’ as Sir Walter Scott called him, was ‘eminently respectable in everything but his poetry;’ in that he was contemptible, and incurred deserved ridicule. For many years he was linked in a scornful catch-phrase, ‘Pye et parvus Pybus.’ The latter was another poetaster, Charles Small Pybus, long M.P. for Dover, who published, in pretentious shape, a poem called ‘The Sovereign,’ in 1800, and was castigated by Porson in the ‘Monthly Review’ for that year. Both Pye and Pybus figure in the epigram, attributed to Porson:

    Poetis nos lætamur tribus,
    Pye, Petro Pindar, Parvo Pybus.
    Si ulterius ire pergis,
    Adde his Sir James Bland Burges.

(Dyce, Porsoniana, p. 355.) Byron refers sarcastically to Pye in ‘The Vision of Judgment,’ stanza xcii.:

    The monarch, mute till then, exclaim'd ‘What! what!
    Pye come again? No more—no more of that!’