Lives of the Poets: Gay, Thomson, Young etc.
Samuel Johnson

Part 1 out of 3

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Introduction by Henry Morley.

William King.
Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax.
Dr. Thomas Parnell.
Samuel Garth.
Nicholas Rowe.
John Gay.
Thomas Tickell.
William Somervil[l]e.
James Thomson.
Dr. Isaac Watts.
Ambrose Philips.
Gilbert West.
William Collins.
John Dyer.
William Shenstone.
Edward Young.
David Mallet.
Mark Akenside.
Thomas Gray.
George Lyttelton.


This volume contains a record of twenty lives, of which only one--
that of Edward Young--is treated at length. It completes our
edition of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, from which a few only of
the briefest and least important have been omitted.

The eldest of the Poets here discussed were Samuel Garth, Charles
Montague (Lord Halifax), and William King, who were born within the
years 1660-63. Next in age were Addison's friend Ambrose Philips,
and Nicholas Rowe the dramatist, who was also the first editor of
Shakespeare's plays after the four folios had appeared. Ambrose
Philips and Rowe were born in 1671 and 1673, and Isaac Watts in
1674. Thomas Parnell, born in 1679, would follow next, nearly of
like age with Young, whose birth-year was 1681. Pope's friend John
Gay was of Pope's age, born in 1688, two years later than Addison's
friend Thomas Tickell, who was born in 1686. Next in the course of
years came, in 1692, William Somerville, the author of "The Chace."
John Dyer, who wrote "Grongar Hill," and James Thomson, who wrote
the "Seasons," were both born in the year 1700. They were two of
three poets--Allan Ramsay, the third--who, almost at the same time,
wrote verse instinct with a fresh sense of outward Nature which was
hardly to be found in other writers of that day. David Mallet,
Thomson's college-friend and friend of after-years--who shares with
Thomson the curiosity of critics who would decide which of them
wrote "Rule Britannia"--was of Thomson's age.

The other writers of whose lives Johnson here gives his note were
men born in the beginning of the eighteenth century: Gilbert West,
the translator of Pindar, in 1706; George Lyttelton, in 1709.
William Shenstone, whose sense of Nature, although true, was mixed
with the conventions of his time, and who once asked a noble friend
to open a waterfall in the garden upon which the poet spent his
little patrimony, was born in 1714; Thomas Gray, in 1716; William
Collins, in 1720; and Mark Akenside, in 1721. In Collins, while he
lived with loss of reason, Johnson, who had fears for himself, took
pathetic interest. Akenside could not interest him much. Akenside
made his mark when young with "The Pleasures of Imagination," a good
poem, according to the fashion of the time, when read with due
consideration as a young man's first venture for fame. He spent
much of the rest of his life in overloading it with valueless
additions. The writer who begins well should let well alone, and,
instead of tinkering at bygone work, follow the course of his own
ripening thought. He should seek new ways of doing worthy service
in the years of labour left to him.

H. M.


William King was born in London in 1663; the son of Ezekiel King, a
gentleman. He was allied to the family of Clarendon.

From Westminster School, where he was a scholar on the foundation
under the care of Dr. Busby, he was at eighteen elected to Christ
Church in 1681; where he is said to have prosecuted his studies with
so much intenseness and activity, that before he was eight years'
standing he had read over, and made remarks upon, twenty-two
thousand odd hundred books and manuscripts. The books were
certainly not very long, the manuscripts not very difficult, nor the
remarks very large; for the calculator will find that he despatched
seven a day for every day of his eight years; with a remnant that
more than satisfies most other students. He took his degree in the
most expensive manner, as a GRAND COMPOUNDER; whence it is inferred
that he inherited a considerable fortune.

In 1688, the same year in which he was made Master of Arts, he
published a confutation of Varillas's account of Wickliffe; and,
engaging in the study of the civil law, became Doctor in 1692, and
was admitted advocate at Doctors' Commons.

He had already made some translations from the French, and written
some humorous and satirical pieces; when, in 1694, Molesworth
published his "Account of Denmark," in which he treats the Danes and
their monarch with great contempt; and takes the opportunity of
insinuating those wild principles by which he supposes liberty to be
established, and by which his adversaries suspect that all
subordination and government is endangered.

This book offended Prince George; and the Danish Minister presented
a memorial against it. The principles of its author did not please
Dr. King; and therefore he undertook to confute part, and laugh at
the rest. The controversy is now forgotten: and books of this kind
seldom live long when interest and resentment have ceased.

In 1697 he mingled in the controversy between Boyle and Bentley; and
was one of those who tried what wit could perform in opposition to
learning, on a question which learning only could decide.

In 1699 was published by him "A Journey to London," after the method
of Dr. Martin Lister, who had published "A Journey to Paris." And
in 1700 he satirised the Royal Society--at least, Sir Hans Sloane,
their president--in two dialogues, intituled "The Transactioner."

Though he was a regular advocate in the courts of civil and canon
law, he did not love his profession, nor, indeed, any kind of
business which interrupted his voluptuary dreams or forced him to
rouse from that indulgence in which only he could find delight. His
reputation as a civilian was yet maintained by his judgments in the
Courts of Delegates, and raised very high by the address and
knowledge which he discovered in 1700, when he defended the Earl of
Anglesea against his lady, afterwards Duchess of Buckinghamshire,
who sued for a divorce and obtained it.

The expense of his pleasures, and neglect of business, had now
lessened his revenues; and he was willing to accept of a settlement
in Ireland, where, about 1702, he was made Judge of the Admiralty,
Commissioner of the Prizes, Keeper of the Records in Birmingham's
Tower, and Vicar-General to Dr. Marsh, the primate.

But it is vain to put wealth within the reach of him who will not
stretch out his hand to take it. King soon found a friend, as idle
and thoughtless as himself, in Upton, one of the judges, who had a
pleasant house called Mountown, near Dublin, to which King
frequently retired; delighting to neglect his interest, forget his
cares, and desert his duty.

Here he wrote "Mully of Mountown," a poem; by which, though fanciful
readers in the pride of sagacity have given it a poetical
interpretation, was meant originally no more than it expressed, as
it was dictated only by the author's delight in the quiet of

In 1708, when Lord Wharton was sent to govern Ireland, King returned
to London, with his poverty, his idleness, and his wit; and
published some essays, called "Useful Transactions." His "Voyage to
the Island of Cajamai" is particularly commended. He then wrote the
"Art of Love," a poem remarkable, notwithstanding its title, for
purity of sentiment; and in 1709 imitated Horace in an "Art of
Cookery," which he published with some letters to Dr. Lister.

In 1710 he appeared as a lover of the Church, on the side of
Sacheverell; and was supposed to have concurred at least in the
projection of the Examiner. His eyes were open to all the
operations of Whiggism; and he bestowed some strictures upon Dr.
Kennet's adulatory sermon at the funeral of the Duke of Devonshire.

"The History of the Heathen Gods," a book composed for schools, was
written by him in 1711. The work is useful, but might have been
produced without the powers of King. The same year he published
"Rufinus," an historical essay; and a poem intended to dispose the
nation to think as he thought of the Duke of Marlborough and his

In 1711, competence, if not plenty, was again put into his power.
He was, without the trouble of attendance or the mortification of a
request, made Gazetteer. Swift, Freind, Prior, and other men of the
same party, brought him the key of the Gazetteer's office. He was
now again placed in a profitable employment, and again threw the
benefit away. An Act of Insolvency made his business at that time
particularly troublesome; and he would not wait till hurry should be
at an end, but impatiently resigned it, and returned to his wonted
indigence and amusements.

One of his amusements at Lambeth, where he resided, was to mortify
Dr. Tenison, the archbishop, by a public festivity on the surrender
of Dunkirk to Hill; an event with which Tenison's political bigotry
did not suffer him to be delighted. King was resolved to counteract
his sullenness, and at the expense of a few barrels of ale filled
the neighbourhood with honest merriment.

In the autumn of 1712 his health declined; he grew weaker by
degrees, and died on Christmas Day. Though his life had not been
without irregularity, his principles were pure and orthodox, and his
death was pious.

After this relation it will be naturally supposed that his poems
were rather the amusements of idleness than efforts of study; that
he endeavoured rather to divert than astonish; that his thoughts
seldom aspired to sublimity; and that, if his verse was easy and his
images familiar, he attained what he desired. His purpose is to be
merry; but perhaps, to enjoy his mirth, it may be sometimes
necessary to think well of his opinions.


The life of the Earl of Halifax was properly that of an artful and
active statesman, employed in balancing parties, contriving
expedients, and combating opposition, and exposed to the
vicissitudes of advancement and degradation; but in this collection
poetical merit is the claim to attention; and the account which is
here to be expected may properly be proportioned, not to his
influence in the State, but to his rank among the writers of verse.

Charles Montague was born April 16, 1661, at Horton, in
Northamptonshire, the son of Mr. George Montague, a younger son of
the Earl of Manchester. He was educated first in the country, and
then removed to Westminster, where, in 1677, he was chosen a King's
Scholar, and recommended himself to Busby by his felicity in
extemporary epigrams. He contracted a very intimate friendship with
Mr. Stepney; and in 1682, when Stepney was elected at Cambridge, the
election of Montague being not to proceed till the year following,
he was afraid lest by being placed at Oxford he might be separated
from his companion, and therefore solicited to be removed to
Cambridge, without waiting for the advantages of another year.

It seemed indeed time to wish for a removal, for he was already a
schoolboy of one-and-twenty.

His relation, Dr. Montague, was then Master of the college in which
he was placed a Fellow-Commoner, and took him under his particular
care. Here he commenced an acquaintance with the great Newton,
which continued through his life, and was at last attested by a

In 1685 his verses on the death of King Charles made such an
impression on the Earl of Dorset that he was invited to town, and
introduced by that universal patron to the other wits. In 1687 he
joined with Prior in "The City Mouse and the Country Mouse," a
burlesque of Dryden's "Hind and Panther." He signed the invitation
to the Prince of Orange, and sat in the Convention. He about the
same time married the Countess Dowager of Manchester, and intended
to have taken Orders; but, afterwards altering his purpose, he
purchased for 1,500 pounds the place of one of the clerks of the

After he had written his epistle on the victory of the Boyne, his
patron Dorset introduced him to King William with this expression,
"Sir, I have brought a MOUSE to wait on your Majesty." To which the
King is said to have replied, "You do well to put me in the way of
making a MAN of him;" and ordered him a pension of 500 pounds. This
story, however current, seems to have been made after the event.
The King's answer implies a greater acquaintance with our proverbial
and familiar diction than King William could possibly have attained.

In 1691, being member of the House of Commons, he argued warmly in
favour of a law to grant the assistance of counsel in trials for
high treason; and in the midst of his speech falling into some
confusion, was for a while silent; but, recovering himself,
observed, "how reasonable it was to allow counsel to men called as
criminals before a court of justice, when it appeared how much the
presence of that assembly could disconcert one of their own body."

After this he rose fast into honours and employments, being made one
of the Commissioners of the Treasury, and called to the Privy
Council. In 1694 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the
next year engaged in the great attempt of the recoinage, which was
in two years happily completed. In 1696 he projected the GENERAL
FUND and raised the credit of the Exchequer; and after inquiry
concerning a grant of Irish Crown lands, it was determined by a vote
of the Commons that Charles Montague, Esq., HAD DESERVED HIS
MAJESTY'S FAVOUR. In 1698, being advanced to the first Commission
of the Treasury, he was appointed one of the regency in the King's
absence: the next year he was made Auditor of the Exchequer, and
the year after created Baron Halifax. He was, however, impeached by
the Commons; but the Articles were dismissed by the Lords.

At the accession of Queen Anne he was dismissed from the Council;
and in the first Parliament of her reign was again attacked by the
Commons, and again escaped by the protection of the Lords. In 1704
he wrote an answer to Bromley's speech against occasional
conformity. He headed the inquiry into the danger of the Church.
In 1706 he proposed and negotiated the Union with Scotland; and when
the Elector of Hanover received the Garter, after the Act had passed
for securing the Protestant Succession, he was appointed to carry
the ensigns of the Order to the Electoral Court. He sat as one of
the judges of Sacheverell, but voted for a mild sentence. Being now
no longer in favour, he contrived to obtain a writ for summoning the
Electoral Prince to Parliament as Duke of Cambridge.

At the Queen's death he was appointed one of the regents; and at the
accession of George I. was made Earl of Halifax, Knight of the
Garter, and First Commissioner of the Treasury, with a grant to his
nephew of the reversion of the Auditorship of the Exchequer. More
was not to be had, and this he kept but a little while; for on the
19th of May, 1715, he died of an inflammation of his lungs.

Of him, who from a poet became a patron of poets, it will be readily
believed that the works would not miss of celebration. Addison
began to praise him early, and was followed or accompanied by other
poets; perhaps by almost all, except Swift and Pope, who forbore to
flatter him in his life, and after his death spoke of him--Swift
with slight censure, and Pope, in the character of Bufo, with
acrimonious contempt.

He was, as Pope says, "fed with dedications;" for Tickell affirms
that no dedication was unrewarded. To charge all unmerited praise
with the guilt of flattery, and to suppose that the encomiast always
knows and feels the falsehoods of his assertions, is surely to
discover great ignorance of human nature and human life. In
determinations depending not on rules, but on experience and
comparison, judgment is always in some degree subject to affection.
Very near to admiration is the wish to admire.

Every man willingly gives value to the praise which he receives, and
considers the sentence passed in his favour as the sentence of
discernment. We admire in a friend that understanding that selected
us for confidence; we admire more, in a patron, that judgment which,
instead of scattering bounty indiscriminately, directed it to us;
and, if the patron be an author, those performances which gratitude
forbids us to blame, affection will easily dispose us to exalt.

To these prejudices, hardly culpable, interest adds a power always
operating, though not always, because not willingly, perceived. The
modesty of praise wears gradually away; and perhaps the pride of
patronage may be in time so increased that modest praise will no
longer please.

Many a blandishment was practised upon Halifax which he would never
have known had he no other attractions than those of his poetry, of
which a short time has withered the beauties. It would now be
esteemed no honour, by a contributor to the monthly bundles of
verses, to be told that, in strains either familiar or solemn, he
sings like Montague.


The life of Dr. Parnell is a task which I should very willingly
decline, since it has been lately written by Goldsmith, a man of
such variety of powers, and such felicity of performance, that he
always seemed to do best that which he was doing; a man who had the
art of being minute without tediousness, and general without
confusion; whose language was copious without exuberance, exact
without constraint, and easy without weakness.

What such an author has told, who would tell again? I have made an
abstract from his larger narrative; and have this gratification from
my attempt, that it gives me an opportunity of paying due tribute to
the memory of Goldsmith.

Thomas Parnell was the son of a Commonwealthsman of the same name,
who, at the Restoration, left Congleton, in Cheshire, where the
family had been established for several centuries, and, settling in
Ireland, purchased an estate, which, with his lands in Cheshire,
descended to the poet, who was born at Dublin in 1679; and, after
the usual education at a grammar school, was, at the age of
thirteen, admitted into the College where, in 1700, he became Master
of Arts; and was the same year ordained a deacon, though under the
canonical age, by a dispensation from the Bishop of Derry.

About three years afterwards he was made a priest and in 1705 Dr.
Ashe, the Bishop of Clogher, conferred upon him the archdeaconry of
Clogher. About the same time he married Mrs. Anne Minchin, an
amiable lady, by whom he had two sons, who died young, and a
daughter, who long survived him.

At the ejection of the Whigs, in the end of Queen Anne's reign,
Parnell was persuaded to change his party, not without much censure
from those whom he forsook, and was received by the new Ministry as
a valuable reinforcement. When the Earl of Oxford was told that Dr.
Parnell waited among the crowd in the outer room, he went, by the
persuasion of Swift, with his Treasurer's staff in his hand, to
inquire for him, and to bid him welcome; and, as may be inferred
from Pope's dedication, admitted him as a favourite companion to his
convivial hours, but, as it seems often to have happened in those
times to the favourites of the great, without attention to his
fortune, which, however, was in no great need of improvement.

Parnell, who did not want ambition or vanity, was desirous to make
himself conspicuous, and to show how worthy he was of high
preferment. As he thought himself qualified to become a popular
preacher, he displayed his elocution with great success in the
pulpits of London; but the Queen's death putting an end to his
expectations, abated his diligence; and Pope represents him as
falling from that time into intemperance of wine. That in his
latter life he was too much a lover of the bottle, is not denied;
but I have heard it imputed to a cause more likely to obtain
forgiveness from mankind, the untimely death of a darling son; or,
as others tell, the loss of his wife, who died (1712) in the midst
of his expectations.

He was now to derive every future addition to his preferments from
his personal interest with his private friends, and he was not long
unregarded. He was warmly recommended by Swift to Archbishop King,
who gave him a prebend in 1713; and in May, 1716, presented him to
the vicarage of Finglass, in the diocese of Dublin, worth 400 pounds
a year. Such notice from such a man inclines me to believe that the
vice of which he has been accused was not gross or not notorious.

But his prosperity did not last long. His end, whatever was its
cause, was now approaching. He enjoyed his preferment little more
than a year; for in July, 1717, in his thirty-eighth year, he died
at Chester on his way to Ireland.

He seems to have been one of those poets who take delight in
writing. He contributed to the papers of that time, and probably
published more than he owned. He left many compositions behind him,
of which Pope selected those which he thought best, and dedicated
them to the Earl of Oxford. Of these Goldsmith has given an
opinion, and his criticism it is seldom safe to contradict. He
bestows just praise upon "The Rise of Woman," "The Fairy Tale," and
"The Pervigilium Veneris;" but has very properly remarked that in
"The Battle of Mice and Frogs" the Greek names have not in English
their original effect. He tells us that "The Bookworm" is borrowed
from Beza; but he should have added with modern applications: and
when he discovers that "Gay Bacchus" is translated from Augurellus,
he ought to have remarked that the latter part is purely Parnell's.
Another poem, "When Spring Comes On," is, he says, taken from the
French. I would add that the description of "Barrenness," in his
verses to Pope, was borrowed from Secundus; but lately searching for
the passage which I had formerly read, I could not find it. "The
Night Piece on Death" is indirectly preferred by Goldsmith to Gray's
"Churchyard;" but, in my opinion, Gray has the advantage in dignity,
variety, and originality of sentiment. He observes that the story
of "The Hermit" is in More's "Dialogues" and Howell's "Letters," and
supposes it to have been originally Arabian.

Goldsmith has not taken any notice of "The Elegy to the Old Beauty,"
which is perhaps the meanest; nor of "The Allegory on Man," the
happiest of Parnell's performances. The hint of "The Hymn to
Contentment" I suspect to have been borrowed from Cleveland.

The general character of Parnell is not great extent of
comprehension or fertility of mind. Of the little that appears,
still less is his own. His praise must be derived from the easy
sweetness of his diction: in his verses there is more happiness
than pains; he is sprightly without effort, and always delights,
though he never ravishes; everything is proper, yet everything seems
casual. If there is some appearance of elaboration in "The Hermit,"
the narrative, as it is less airy, is less pleasing. Of his other
compositions it is impossible to say whether they are the
productions of nature, so excellent as not to want the help of art,
or of art so refined as to resemble nature.

This criticism relates only to the pieces published by Pope. Of the
large appendages which I find in the last edition, I can only say
that I know not whence they came, nor have ever inquired whither
they are going. They stand upon the faith of the compilers.


Samuel Garth was of a good family in Yorkshire, and from some school
in his own county became a student at Peter House, in Cambridge,
where he resided till he became Doctor of Physic on July the 7th,
1691. He was examined before the College at London on March the
12th, 1691-2, and admitted Fellow June 26th, 1693. He was soon so
much distinguished by his conversation and accomplishments as to
obtain very extensive practice; and, if a pamphlet of those times
may be credited, had the favour and confidence of one party, as
Radcliffe had of the other. He is always mentioned as a man of
benevolence; and it is just to suppose that his desire of helping
the helpless disposed him to so much zeal for "The Dispensary;" an
undertaking of which some account, however short, is proper to be

Whether what Temple says be true, that physicians have had more
learning than the other faculties, I will not stay to inquire; but I
believe every man has found in physicians great liberality and
dignity of sentiment, very prompt effusion of beneficence, and
willingness to exert a lucrative art where there is no hope of
lucre. Agreeably to this character, the College of Physicians, in
July, 1687, published an edict, requiring all the Fellows,
Candidates, and Licentiates to give gratuitous advice to the
neighbouring poor. This edict was sent to the Court of Aldermen;
and, a question being made to whom the appellation of the POOR
should be extended, the College answered that it should be
sufficient to bring a testimonial from the clergyman officiating in
the parish where the patient resided.

After a year's experience the physicians found their charity
frustrated by some malignant opposition, and made to a great degree
vain by the high price of physic; they therefore voted, in August,
1688, that the laboratory of the College should be accommodated to
the preparation of medicines, and another room prepared for their
reception; and that the contributors to the expense should manage
the charity.

It was now expected that the apothecaries would have undertaken the
care of providing medicines; but they took another course. Thinking
the whole design pernicious to their interest, they endeavoured to
raise a faction against it in the College, and found some physicians
mean enough to solicit their patronage by betraying to them the
counsels of the College. The greater part, however, enforced by a
new edict, in 1694, the former order of 1687, and sent it to the
Mayor and Aldermen, who appointed a committee to treat with the
College and settle the mode of administering the charity.

It was desired by the aldermen that the testimonials of
churchwardens and overseers should be admitted; and that all hired
servants, and all apprentices to handicraftsmen, should be
considered as POOR. This likewise was granted by the College.

It was then considered who should distribute the medicines, and who
should settle their prices. The physicians procured some
apothecaries to undertake the dispensation, and offered that the
warden and company of the apothecaries should adjust the price.
This offer was rejected; and the apothecaries who had engaged to
assist the charity were considered as traitors to the company,
threatened with the imposition of troublesome offices, and deterred
from the performance of their engagements. The apothecaries
ventured upon public opposition, and presented a kind of
remonstrance against the design to the committee of the City, which
the physicians condescended to confute: and at last the traders
seem to have prevailed among the sons of trade; for the proposal of
the College having been considered, a paper of approbation was drawn
up, but postponed and forgotten.

The physicians still persisted; and in 1696 a subscription was
raised by themselves according to an agreement prefixed to "The
Dispensary." The poor were, for a time, supplied with medicines;
for how long a time I know not. The medicinal charity, like others,
began with ardour, but soon remitted, and at last died gradually

About the time of the subscription begins the action of "The
Dispensary." The poem, as its subject was present and popular, co-
operated with passions and prejudices then prevalent, and, with such
auxiliaries to its intrinsic merit, was universally and liberally
applauded. It was on the side of charity against the intrigues of
interest; and of regular learning against licentious usurpation of
medical authority, and was therefore naturally favoured by those who
read and can judge of poetry.

In 1697 Garth spoke that which is now called "The Harveian Oration;"
which the authors of "The Biographia" mention with more praise than
the passage quoted in their notes will fully justify. Garth,
speaking of the mischiefs done by quacks, has these expressions:
"Non tamen telis vulnerat ista agyrtarum colluvies, sed theriaca
quadam magis perniciosa, non pyrio, sed pulvere nescio quo exotico
certat, non globulis plumbeis, sed pilulis aeque lethalibus
interficit." This was certainly thought fine by the author, and is
still admired by his biographer. In October, 1702, he became one of
the censors of the College,

Garth, being an active and zealous Whig, was a member of the Kit-Cat
Club, and, by consequence, familiarly known to all the great men of
that denomination. In 1710, when the government fell into other
hands, he writ to Lord Godolphin, on his dismission, a short poem,
which was criticised in the Examiner, and so successfully either
defended or excused by Mr. Addison that, for the sake of the
vindication, it ought to be preserved.

At the accession of the present family his merits were acknowledged
and rewarded. He was knighted with the sword of his hero,
Marlborough; and was made Physician-in-Ordinary to the King, and
Physician-General to the army. He then undertook an edition of
Ovid's "Metamorphoses," translated by several hands; which he
recommended by a preface, written with more ostentation than
ability; his notions are half-formed, and his materials
immethodically confused. This was his last work. He died January
18th, 1717-18, and was buried at Harrow-on-the-Hill.

His personal character seems to have been social and liberal. He
communicated himself through a very wide extent of acquaintance; and
though firm in a party, at a time when firmness included virulence,
yet he imparted his kindness to those who were not supposed to
favour his principles. He was an early encourager of Pope, and was
at once the friend of Addison and of Granville. He is accused of
voluptuousness and irreligion; and Pope, who says that "if ever
there was a good Christian, without knowing himself to be so, it was
Dr. Garth," seems not able to deny what he is angry to hear and loth
to confess.

Pope afterwards declared himself convinced that Garth died in the
communion of the Church of Rome, having been privately reconciled.
It is observed by Lowth that there is less distance than is thought
between scepticism and Popery; and that a mind wearied with
perpetual doubt, willingly seeks repose in the bosom of an
infallible Church.

His poetry has been praised at least equally to its merit. In "The
Dispensary" there is a strain of smooth and free versification; but
few lines are eminently elegant. No passages fall below mediocrity,
and few rise much above it. The plan seems formed without just
proportion to the subject; the means and end have no necessary
connection. Resnel, in his preface to Pope's Essay, remarks that
Garth exhibits no discrimination of characters; and that what any
one says might, with equal propriety, have been said by another.
The general design is, perhaps, open to criticism; but the
composition can seldom be charged with inaccuracy or negligence.
The author never slumbers in self-indulgence; his full vigour is
always exerted; scarcely a line is left unfinished; nor is it easy
to find an expression used by constraint, or a thought imperfectly
expressed. It was remarked by Pope, that "The Dispensary" had been
corrected in every edition, and that every change was an
improvement. It appears, however, to want something of poetical
ardour, and something of general delectation; and therefore, since
it has been no longer supported by accidental and intrinsic
popularity, it has been scarcely able to support itself.


Nicholas Rowe was born at Little Beckford, in Bedfordshire, in 1673.
His family had long possessed a considerable estate, with a good
house, at Lambertoun in Devonshire. The ancestor from whom he
descended in a direct line received the arms borne by his
descendants for his bravery in the Holy War. His father, John Rowe,
who was the first that quitted his paternal acres to practise any
part of profit, professed the law, and published Benlow's and
Dallison's Reports in the reign of James the Second, when, in
opposition to the notions then diligently propagated of dispensing
power, he ventured to remark how low his authors rated the
prerogative. He was made a serjeant, and died April 30, 1692. He
was buried in the Temple church.

Nicholas was first sent to a private school at Highgate; and, being
afterwards removed to Westminster, was at twelve years chosen one of
the King's Scholars. His master was Busby, who suffered none of his
scholars to let their powers lie useless; and his exercises in
several languages are said to have been written with uncommon
degrees of excellence, and yet to have cost him very little labour.
At sixteen he had, in his father's opinion, made advances in
learning sufficient to qualify him for the study of law, and was
entered a student of the Middle Temple, where for some time he read
statutes and reports with proficiency proportionate to the force of
his mind, which was already such that he endeavoured to comprehend
law, not as a series of precedents, or collection of positive
precepts, but as a system of rational government and impartial
justice. When he was nineteen, he was, by the death of his father,
left more to his own direction, and probably from that time suffered
law gradually to give way to poetry. At twenty-five he produced the
Ambitious Step-Mother, which was received with so much favour that
he devoted himself from that time wholly to elegant literature.

His next tragedy (1702) was Tamerlane, in which, under the name of
Tamerlane, he intended to characterise King William, and Louis the
Fourteenth under Bajazet. The virtues of Tamerlane seem to have
been arbitrarily assigned him by his poet, for I know not that
history gives any other qualities than those which make a conqueror.
The fashion, however, of the time was to accumulate upon Louis all
that can raise horror and detestation; and whatever good was
withheld from him, that it might not be thrown away was bestowed
upon King William. This was the tragedy which Rowe valued most, and
that which probably, by the help of political auxiliaries, excited
most applause; but occasional poetry must often content itself with
occasional praise. Tamerlane has for a long time been acted only
once a year, on the night when King William landed. Our quarrel
with Louis has been long over; and it now gratifies neither zeal nor
malice to see him painted with aggravated features, like a Saracen
upon a sign.

The Fair Penitent, his next production (1703), is one of the most
pleasing tragedies on the stage, where it still keeps its turns of
appearing, and probably will long keep them, for there is scarcely
any work of any poet at once so interesting by the fable, and so
delightful by the language. The story is domestic, and therefore
easily received by the imagination, and assimilated to common life;
the diction is exquisitely harmonious, and soft or sprightly as
occasion requires.

The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson
into Lovelace; but he has excelled his original in the moral effect
of the fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and
bravery which cannot be despised, retains too much of the
spectator's kindness. It was in the power of Richardson alone to
teach us at once esteem and detestation, to make virtuous resentment
overpower all the benevolence which wit, elegance, and courage,
naturally excite; and to lose at last the hero in the villain. The
fifth act is not equal to the former; the events of the drama are
exhausted, and little remains but to talk of what is past. It has
been observed that the title of the play does not sufficiently
correspond with the behaviour of Calista, who at last shows no
evident signs of repentance, but may be reasonably suspected of
feeling pain from detection rather than from guilt, and expresses
more shame than sorrow, and more rage than shame.

His next (1706) was Ulysses; which, with the common fate of
mythological stories, is now generally neglected. We have been too
early acquainted with the poetical heroes to expect any pleasure
from their revival; to show them as they have already been shown, is
to disgust by repetition; to give them new qualities, or new
adventures, is to offend by violating received notions.

"The Royal Convert" (1708) seems to have a better claim to
longevity. The fable is drawn from an obscure and barbarous age, to
which fictions are more easily and properly adapted; for when
objects are imperfectly seen, they easily take forms from
imagination. The scene lies among our ancestors in our own country,
and therefore very easily catches attention. Rodogune is a
personage truly tragical, of high spirit, and violent passions,
great with tempestuous dignity, and wicked with a soul that would
have been heroic if it had been virtuous. The motto seems to tell
that this play was not successful.

Rowe does not always remember what his characters require. In
Tamerlane there is some ridiculous mention of the God of Love; and
Rodogune, a savage Saxon, talks of Venus and the eagle that bears
the thunder of Jupiter.

This play discovers its own date, by a prediction of the Union, in
imitation of Cranmer's prophetic promises to Henry VIII. The
anticipated blessings of union are not very naturally introduced,
nor very happily expressed. He once (1706) tried to change his
hand. He ventured on a comedy, and produced the Biter, with which,
though it was unfavourably treated by the audience, he was himself
delighted; for he is said to have sat in the house laughing with
great vehemence, whenever he had, in his own opinion, produced a
jest. But finding that he and the public had no sympathy of mirth,
he tried at lighter scenes no more.

After the Royal Convert (1714) appeared Jane Shore, written, as its
author professes, IN IMITATION OF SHAKESPEARE'S STYLE. In what he
thought himself an imitator of Shakespeare it is not easy to
conceive. The numbers, the diction, the sentiments, and the
conduct, everything in which imitation can consist, are remote in
the utmost degree from the manner of Shakespeare, whose dramas it
resembles only as it is an English story, and as some of the persons
have their names in history. This play, consisting chiefly of
domestic scenes and private distress, lays hold upon the heart. The
wife is forgiven because she repents, and the husband is honoured
because he forgives. This, therefore, is one of those pieces which
we still welcome on the stage.

His last tragedy (1715) was Lady Jane Grey. This subject had been
chosen by Mr. Smith, whose papers were put into Rowe's hands such as
he describes them in his preface. This play has likewise sunk into
oblivion. From this time he gave nothing more to the stage.

Being by a competent fortune exempted from any necessity of
combating his inclination, he never wrote in distress, and therefore
does not appear to have ever written in haste. His works were
finished to his own approbation, and bear few marks of negligence or
hurry. It is remarkable that his prologues and epilogues are all
his own, though he sometimes supplied others; he afforded help, but
did not solicit it.

As his studies necessarily made him acquainted with Shakespeare, and
acquaintance produced veneration, he undertook (1709) an edition of
his works, from which he neither received much praise, nor seems to
have expected it; yet I believe those who compare it with former
copies will find that he has done more than he promised; and that,
without the pomp of notes or boasts of criticism, many passages are
happily restored. He prefixed a life of the author, such as
tradition, then almost expiring, could supply, and a preface, which
cannot be said to discover much profundity or penetration. He at
least contributed to the popularity of his author. He was willing
enough to improve his fortune by other arts than poetry. He was
under-secretary for three years when the Duke of Queensberry was
Secretary of State, and afterwards applied to the Earl of Oxford for
some public employment. Oxford enjoined him to study Spanish; and
when, some time afterwards, he came again, and said that he had
mastered it, dismissed him with this congratulation, "Then, sir, I
envy you the pleasure of reading 'Don Quixote' in the original."

This story is sufficiently attested; but why Oxford, who desired to
be thought a favourer of literature, should thus insult a man of
acknowledged merit, or how Rowe, who was so keen a Whig that he did
not willingly converse with men of the opposite party, could ask
preferment from Oxford, it is not now possible to discover. Pope,
who told the story, did not say on what occasion the advice was
given; and, though he owned Rowe's disappointment, doubted whether
any injury was intended him, but thought it rather Lord Oxford's ODD

It is likely that he lived on discontented through the rest of Queen
Anne's reign; but the time came at last when he found kinder
friends. At the accession of King George he was made Poet-Laureate-
-I am afraid, by the ejection of poor Nahum Tate, who (1716) died in
the Mint, where he was forced to seek shelter by extreme poverty.
He was made likewise one of the land-surveyors of the customs of the
Port of London. The Prince of Wales chose him Clerk of his Council;
and the Lord Chancellor Parker, as soon as he received the seals,
appointed him, unasked, Secretary of the Presentations. Such an
accumulation of employments undoubtedly produced a very considerable

Having already translated some parts of Lucan's "Pharsalia," which
had been published in the Miscellanies, and doubtless received many
praises, he undertook a version of the whole work, which he lived to
finish, but not to publish. It seems to have been printed under the
care of Dr. Welwood, who prefixed the author's life, in which is
contained the following character:--

"As to his person, it was graceful and well made; his face regular,
and of a manly beauty. As his soul was well lodged, so its rational
and animal faculties excelled in a high degree. He had a quick and
fruitful invention, a deep penetration, and a large compass of
thought, with singular dexterity and easiness in making his thoughts
to be understood. He was master of most parts of polite learning,
especially the classical authors, both Greek and Latin; understood
the French, Italian, and Spanish languages, and spoke the first
fluently, and the other two tolerably well. He had likewise read
most of the Greek and Roman histories in their original languages,
and most that are wrote in English, French, Italian, and Spanish.
He had a good taste in philosophy; and, having a firm impression of
religion upon his mind, he took great delight in divinity and
ecclesiastical history, in both of which he made great advances in
the times he retired into the country, which was frequent. He
expressed on all occasions his full persuasion of the truth of
revealed religion; and, being a sincere member of the Established
Church himself, he pitied, but condemned not, those that dissented
from it. He abhorred the principles of persecuting men upon the
account of their opinions in religion; and, being strict in his own,
he took it not upon him to censure those of another persuasion. His
conversation was pleasant, witty, and learned, without the least
tincture of affectation or pedantry; and his inimitable manner of
diverting and enlivening the company made it impossible for any one
to be out of humour when he was in it. Envy and detraction seemed
to be entirely foreign to his constitution; and whatever
provocations he met with at any time, he passed them over without
the least thought of resentment or revenge. As Homer had a Zoilus,
so Mr. Rowe had sometimes his; for there were not wanting malevolent
people, and pretenders to poetry too, that would now and then bark
at his best performances; but he was so conscious of his own genius,
and had so much good-nature, as to forgive them, nor could he ever
be tempted to return them an answer.

"The love of learning and poetry made him not the less fit for
business, and nobody applied himself closer to it when it required
his attendance. The late Duke of Queensberry, when he was Secretary
of State, made him his secretary for public affairs; and when that
truly great man came to know him well, he was never so pleased as
when Mr. Rowe was in his company. After the duke's death, all
avenues were stopped to his preferment; and during the rest of that
reign he passed his time with the Muses and his books, and sometimes
the conversation of his friends. When he had just got to be easy in
his fortune, and was in a fair way to make it better, death swept
him away, and in him deprived the world of one of the best men, as
well as one of the best geniuses, of the age. He died like a
Christian and a philosopher, in charity with all mankind, and with
an absolute resignation to the will of God. He kept up his good-
humour to the last; and took leave of his wife and friends,
immediately before his last agony, with the same tranquillity of
mind, and the same indifference for life, as though he had been upon
taking but a short journey. He was twice married--first to a
daughter of Mr. Parsons, one of the auditors of the revenue; and
afterwards to a daughter of Mr. Devenish, of a good family in
Dorsetshire. By the first he had a son; and by the second a
daughter, married afterwards to Mr. Fane. He died 6th December,
1718, in the forty-fifth year of his age, and was buried on the 19th
of the same month in Westminster Abbey, in the aisle where many of
our English poets are interred, over against Chaucer, his body being
attended by a select number of his friends, and the dean and choir
officiating at the funeral."

To this character, which is apparently given with the fondness of a
friend, may be added the testimony of Pope, who says, in a letter to
Blount, "Mr. Rowe accompanied me, and passed a week in the Forest.
I need not tell you how much a man of his turn entertained me; but I
must acquaint you, there is a vivacity and gaiety of disposition,
almost peculiar to him, which make it impossible to part from him
without that uneasiness which generally succeeds all our pleasure."

Pope has left behind him another mention of his companion less
advantageous, which is thus reported by Dr. Warburton:--

"Rowe, in Mr. Pope's opinion, maintained a decent character, but had
no heart. Mr. Addison was justly offended with some behaviour which
arose from that want, and estranged himself from him, which Rowe
felt very severely. Mr. Pope, their common friend, knowing this,
took an opportunity, at some juncture of Mr. Addison's advancement,
to tell him how poor Rowe was grieved at his displeasure, and what
satisfaction he expressed at Mr. Addison's good fortune, which he
expressed so naturally that he (Mr. Pope) could not but think him
sincere. Mr. Addison replied, 'I do not suspect that he feigned;
but the levity of his heart is such, that he is struck with any new
adventure, and it would affect him just in the same manner if he
heard I was going to be hanged.' Mr. Pope said he could not deny
but Mr. Addison understood Rowe well."

This censure time has not left us the power of confirming or
refuting; but observation daily shows that much stress is not to be
laid on hyperbolical accusations and pointed sentences, which even
he that utters them desires to be applauded rather than credited.
Addison can hardly be supposed to have meant all that he said. Few
characters can bear the microscopic scrutiny of wit quickened by
anger; and, perhaps, the best advice to authors would be, that they
should keep out of the way of one another.

Rowe is chiefly to be considered as a tragic writer and a
translator. In his attempt at comedy he failed so ignominiously
that his Biter is not inserted in his works: and his occasional
poems and short compositions are rarely worthy either praise or
censure, for they seem the casual sports of a mind seeking rather to
amuse its leisure than to exercise its powers. In the construction
of his dramas there is not much art; he is not a nice observer of
the unities. He extends time and varies places as his convenience
requires. To vary the place is not, in my opinion, any violation of
nature, if the change be made between the acts, for it is no less
easy for the spectator to suppose himself at Athens in the second
act, than at Thebes in the first; but to change the scene, as is
done by Rowe, in the middle of an act, is to add more acts to the
play, since an act is so much of the business as is transacted
without interruption. Rowe, by this licence, easily extricates
himself from difficulties; as in Jane Grey, when we have been
terrified with all the dreadful pomp of public execution; and are
wondering how the heroine or the poet will proceed, no sooner has
Jane pronounced some prophetic rhymes than--pass and be gone--the
scene closes, and Pembroke and Gardiner are turned out upon the

I know not that there can be found in his plays any deep search into
nature, any accurate discriminations of kindred qualities, or nice
display of passion in its progress; all is general and undefined.
Nor does he much interest or affect the auditor, except in Jane
Shore, who is always seen and heard with pity. Alicia is a
character of empty noise, with no resemblance to real sorrow or to
natural madness.

Whence, then, has Rowe his reputation? From the reasonableness and
propriety of some of his scenes, from the elegance of his diction,
and the suavity of his verse. He seldom moves either pity or
terror, but he often elevates the sentiments; he seldom pierces the
breast, but he always delights the ear, and often improves the
understanding. His translation of the "Golden Verses," and of the
first book of Quillet's poem, have nothing in them remarkable. The
"Golden Verses" are tedious.

The version of Lucan is one of the greatest productions of English
poetry, for there is perhaps none that so completely exhibits the
genius and spirit of the original. Lucan is distinguished by a kind
of dictatorial or philosophic dignity, rather, as Quintilian
observes, declamatory than poetical; full of ambitious morality and
pointed sentences, comprised in vigorous and animated lines. This
character Rowe has very diligently and successfully preserved. His
versification, which is such as his contemporaries practised,
without any attempt at innovation or improvement, seldom wants
either melody or force. His author's sense is sometimes a little
diluted by additional infusions, and sometimes weakened by too much
expansion. But such faults are to be expected in all translations,
from the constraint of measures and dissimilitude of languages. The
"Pharsalia" of Rowe deserves more notice than it obtains, and as it
is more read will be more esteemed.


John Gay, descended from an old family that had been long in
possession of the manor of Goldworthy, in Devonshire, was born in
1688, at or near Barnstaple, where he was educated by Mr. Luck, who
taught the school of that town with good reputation, and, a little
before he retired from it, published a volume of Latin and English
verses. Under such a master he was likely to form a taste for
poetry. Being born without prospect of hereditary riches, he was
sent to London in his youth, and placed apprentice with a silk
mercer. How long he continued behind the counter, or with what
degree of softness and dexterity he received and accommodated the
ladies, as he probably took no delight in telling it, is not known.
The report is that he was soon weary of either the restraint or
servility of his occupation, and easily persuaded his master to
discharge him.

The Duchess of Monmouth, remarkable for inflexible perseverance in
her demand to be treated as a princess, in 1712 took Gay into her
service as secretary: by quitting a shop for such service he might
gain leisure, but he certainly advanced little in the boast of
independence. Of his leisure he made so good use that he published
next year a poem on "Rural Sports," and inscribed it to Mr. Pope,
who was then rising fast into reputation. Pope was pleased with the
honour, and when he became acquainted with Gay, found such
attractions in his manners and conversation that he seems to have
received him into his inmost confidence; and a friendship was formed
between them which lasted to their separation by death, without any
known abatement on either part. Gay was the general favourite of
the whole association of wits; but they regarded him as a playfellow
rather than a partner, and treated him with more fondness than

Next year he published "The Shepherd's Week," six English pastorals,
in which the images are drawn from real life, such as it appears
among the rustics in parts of England remote from London. Steele,
in some papers of the Guardian, had praised Ambrose Philips as the
pastoral writer that yielded only to Theocritus, Virgil, and
Spenser. Pope, who had also published pastorals, not pleased to be
overlooked, drew up a comparison of his own compositions with those
of Philips, in which he covertly gave himself the preference, while
he seemed to disown it. Not content with this, he is supposed to
have incited Gay to write "The Shepherd's Week," to show that, if it
be necessary to copy nature with minuteness, rural life must be
exhibited such as grossness and ignorance have made it. So far the
plan was reasonable; but the pastorals are introduced by a Proeme,
written with such imitation as they could attain of obsolete
language, and, by consequence, in a style that was never spoken nor
written in any language or in any place. But the effect of reality
and truth became conspicuous, even when the intention was to show
them grovelling and degraded. These pastorals became popular, and
were read with delight as just representations of rural manners and
occupations by those who had no interest in the rivalry of the
poets, nor knowledge of the critical dispute.

In 1713 he brought a comedy called The Wife of Bath upon the stage,
but it received no applause; he printed it, however, and seventeen
years after, having altered it and, as he thought, adapted it more
to the public taste, he offered it again to the town; but, though he
was flushed with the success of the Beggar's Opera, had the
mortification to see it again rejected.

In the last year of Queen Anne's life Gay was made secretary to the
Earl of Clarendon, Ambassador to the Court of Hanover. This was a
station that naturally gave him hopes of kindness from every party;
but the Queen's death put an end to her favours, and he had
dedicated his "Shepherd's Week" to Bolingbroke, which Swift
considered as the crime that obstructed all kindness from the House
of Hanover. He did not, however, omit to improve the right which
his office had given him to the notice of the Royal Family. On the
arrival of the Princess of Wales he wrote a poem, and obtained so
much favour that both the Prince and the Princess went to see his
What D'ye Call It, a kind of mock tragedy, in which the images were
comic and the action grave; so that, as Pope relates, Mr. Cromwell,
who could not hear what was said, was at a loss how to reconcile the
laughter of the audience with the solemnity of the scene.

Of this performance the value certainly is but little; but it was
one of the lucky trifles that give pleasure by novelty, and was so
much favoured by the audience that envy appeared against it in the
form of criticism; and Griffin, a player, in conjunction with Mr.
Theobald, a man afterwards more remarkable, produced a pamphlet
called "The Key to the What D'ye Call It," "which," says Gay, "calls
me a blockhead, and Mr. Pope a knave."

But fortune has always been inconstant. Not long afterwards (1717)
he endeavoured to entertain the town with Three Hours after
Marriage, a comedy written, as there is sufficient reason for
believing, by the joint assistance of Pope and Arbuthnot. One
purpose of it was to bring into contempt Dr. Woodward, the
fossilist, a man not really or justly contemptible. It had the fate
which such outrages deserve. The scene in which Woodward was
directly and apparently ridiculed, by the introduction of a mummy
and a crocodile, disgusted the audience, and the performance was
driven off the stage with general condemnation.

Gay is represented as a man easily incited to hope, and deeply
depressed when his hopes were disappointed. This is not the
character of a hero, but it may naturally imply something more
generally welcome, a soft and civil companion. Whoever is apt to
hope good from others is diligent to please them; but he that
believes his powers strong enough to force their own way, commonly
tries only to please himself. He had been simple enough to imagine
that those who laughed at the What D'ye Call It would raise the
fortune of its author, and, finding nothing done, sunk into
dejection. His friends endeavoured to divert him. The Earl of
Burlington sent him (1716) into Devonshire, the year after Mr.
Pulteney took him to Aix, and in the following year Lord Harcourt
invited him to his seat, where, during his visit, two rural lovers
were killed with lightning, as is particularly told in Pope's

Being now generally known, he published (1720) his poems by
subscription, with such success that he raised a thousand pounds,
and called his friends to a consultation what use might be best made
of it. Lewis, the steward of Lord Oxford, advised him to intrust it
to the Funds, and live upon the interest; Arbuthnot bade him to
intrust it to Providence, and live upon the principal; Pope directed
him, and was seconded by Swift, to purchase an annuity.

Gay in that disastrous year had a present from young Craggs of some
South Sea Stock, and once supposed himself to be master of twenty
thousand pounds. His friends persuaded him to sell his share; but
he dreamed of dignity and splendour, and could not bear to obstruct
his own fortune. He was then importuned to sell as much as would
purchase a hundred a year for life, "which," says Penton, "will make
you sure of a clean shirt and a shoulder of mutton every day." This
counsel was rejected; the profit and principal were lost, and Gay
sunk under the calamity so low that his life became in danger. By
the care of his friends, among whom Pope appears to have shown
particular tenderness, his health was restored; and, returning to
his studies, he wrote a tragedy called The Captives, which he was
invited to read before the Princess of Wales. When the hour came,
he saw the Princess and her ladies all in expectation, and,
advancing with reverence too great for any other attention, stumbled
at a stool, and, falling forwards, threw down a weighty Japan
screen. The Princess started, the ladies screamed, and poor Gay,
after all the disturbance, was still to read his play.

The fate of The Captives, which was acted at Drury Lane in 1723-4, I
know not; but he now thought himself in favour, and undertook (1726)
to write a volume of "Fables" for the improvement of the young Duke
of Cumberland. For this he is said to have been promised a reward,
which he had doubtless magnified with all the wild expectations of
indigence and vanity.

Next year the Prince and Princess became King and Queen, and Gay was
to be great and happy; but on the settlement of the household, he
found himself appointed gentleman usher to the Princess Louisa. By
this offer he thought himself insulted, and sent a message to the
Queen that he was too old for the place. There seem to have been
many machinations employed afterwards in his favour, and diligent
court was paid to Mrs. Howard, afterwards Countess of Suffolk, who
was much beloved by the King and Queen, to engage her interest for
his promotion; but solicitation, verses, and flatteries were thrown
away; the lady heard them, and did nothing. All the pain which he
suffered from neglect, or, as he perhaps termed it, the ingratitude
of the Court, may be supposed to have been driven away by the
unexampled success of the Beggar's Opera. This play, written in
ridicule of the musical Italian drama, was first offered to Cibber
and his brethren at Drury Lane and rejected: it being then carried
to Rich, had the effect, as was ludicrously said, of making Gay RICH
and Rich GAY. Of this lucky piece, as the reader cannot but wish to
know the original and progress, I have inserted the relation which
Spence has given in Pope's words:--

"Dr. Swift had been observing once to Mr. Gay what an odd pretty
sort of a thing a Newgate Pastoral might make. Gay was inclined to
try at such a thing for some time; but afterwards thought it would
be better to write a comedy on the same plan. This was what gave
rise to the Beggar's Opera. He began on it, and when first he
mentioned it to Swift, the doctor did not much like the project. As
he carried it on, he showed what he wrote to both of us, and we now
and then gave a correction, or a word or two of advice; but it was
wholly of his own writing. When it was done, neither of us thought
it would succeed. We showed it to Congreve, who, after reading it
over, said it would either take greatly or be damned confoundedly.
We were all, at the first night of it, in great uncertainty of the
event, till we were very much encouraged by overhearing the Duke of
Argyll, who sat in the next box to us, say, 'It will do--it must do!
I see it in the eyes of them.' This was a good while before the
first act was over, and so gave us ease soon; for that Duke (besides
his own good taste) has a particular knack, as any one now living,
in discovering the taste of the public. He was quite right in this,
as usual; the good-nature of the audience appeared stronger and
stronger every act, and ended in a clamour of applause."

Its reception is thus recorded in the notes to the "Dunciad":--

"This piece was received with greater applause than was ever known.
Besides being acted in London sixty-three days without interruption,
and renewed the next season with equal applause, it spread into all
the great towns of England; was played in many places to the
thirtieth and fortieth time; at Bath and Bristol fifty, etc. It
made its progress into Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, where it was
performed twenty-four days successively. The ladies carried about
with them the favourite songs of it in fans, and houses were
furnished with it in screens. The fame of it was not confined to
the author only. The person who acted Polly, till then obscure,
became all at once the favourite of the town; her pictures were
engraved and sold in great numbers; her life written, books of
letters and verses to her published, and pamphlets made even of her
sayings and jests. Furthermore, it drove out of England (for that
season) the Italian Opera, which had carried all before it for ten

Of this performance, when it was printed, the reception was
different, according to the different opinions of its readers.
Swift commended it for the excellence of its morality, as a piece
that "placed all kinds of vice in the strongest and most odious
light;" but others, and among them Dr. Herring, afterwards
Archbishop of Canterbury, censured it as giving encouragement, not
only to vice, but to crimes, by making a highwayman the hero and
dismissing him at last unpunished. It has been even said that after
the exhibition of the Beggar's Opera the gangs of robbers were
evidently multiplied.

Both these decisions are surely exaggerated. The play, like many
others, was plainly written only to divert, without any moral
purpose, and is therefore not likely to do good; nor can it be
conceived, without more speculation than life requires or admits, to
be productive of much evil. Highwaymen and housebreakers seldom
frequent the playhouse, or mingle in any elegant diversion; nor is
it possible for any one to imagine that he may rob with safety,
because he sees Macheath reprieved upon the stage. This objection,
however, or some other rather political than moral, obtained such
prevalence that when Gay produced a second part under the name of
Polly, it was prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain; and he was forced
to recompense his repulse by a subscription, which is said to have
been so liberally bestowed that what he called oppression ended in
profit. The publication was so much favoured that though the first
part gained him four hundred pounds, near thrice as much was the
profit of the second. He received yet another recompense for this
supposed hardship, in the affectionate attention of the Duke and
Duchess of Queensberry, into whose house he was taken, and with whom
he passed the remaining part of his life. The Duke, considering his
want of economy, undertook the management of his money, and gave it
to him as he wanted it. But it is supposed that the discountenance
of the Court sunk deep into his heart, and gave him more discontent
than the applauses or tenderness of his friends could overpower. He
soon fell into his old distemper, an habitual colic, and languished,
though with many intervals of ease and cheerfulness, till a violent
fit at last seized him and carried him to the grave, as Arbuthnot
reported, with more precipitance than he had ever known. He died on
the 4th of December, 1732, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The
letter which brought an account of his death to Swift, was laid by
for some days unopened, because when he received it, he was
impressed with the preconception of some misfortune.

After his death was published a second volume of "Fables," more
political than the former. His opera of Achilles was acted, and the
profits were given to two widow sisters, who inherited what he left,
as his lawful heirs; for he died without a will, though he had
gathered three thousand pounds. There have appeared likewise under
his name a comedy called the Distressed Wife, and the Rehearsal at
Gotham, a piece of humour.

The character given him by Pope is this, that "he was a natural man,
without design, who spoke what he thought, and just as he thought
it," and that "he was of a timid temper, and fearful of giving
offence to the great;" which caution, however, says Pope, was of no

As a poet he cannot be rated very high. He was, I once heard a
female critic remark, "of a lower order." He had not in any great
degree the MENS DIVINIOR, the dignity of genius. Much, however,
must be allowed to the author of a new species of composition,
though it be not of the highest kind. We owe to Gay the ballad
opera, a mode of comedy which at first was supposed to delight only
by its novelty, but has now, by the experience of half a century,
been found so well accommodated to the disposition of a popular
audience that it is likely to keep long possession of the stage.
Whether this new drama was the product of judgment or of luck, the
praise of it must be given to the inventor; and there are many
writers read with more reverence to whom such merit or originality
cannot be attributed.

His first performance, the Rural Sports, is such as was easily
planned and executed; it is never contemptible, nor ever excellent.
The Fan is one of those mythological fictions which antiquity
delivers ready to the hand, but which, like other things that lie
open to every one's use, are of little value. The attention
naturally retires from a new tale of Venus, Diana, and Minerva.

His "Fables" seem to have been a favourite work; for, having
published one volume, he left another behind him. Of this kind of
Fables the author does not appear to have formed any distinct or
settled notion. Phaedrus evidently confounds them with Tales, and
Gay both with Tales and Allegorical Prosopopoeias. A Fable or
Apologue, such as is now under consideration, seems to be, in its
genuine state, a narrative in which beings irrational, and sometimes
inanimate, arbores loquuntur, non tantum ferae, are, for the purpose
of moral instruction, feigned to act and speak with human interests
and passions. To this description the compositions of Gay do not
always conform. For a fable he gives now and then a tale, or an
abstracted allegory; and from some, by whatever name they may be
called, it will be difficult to extract any moral principle. They
are, however, told with liveliness, the versification is smooth, and
the diction, though now and then a little constrained by the measure
or the rhyme, is generally happy.

To "Trivia" may be allowed all that it claims; it is sprightly,
various, and pleasant. The subject is of that kind which Gay was by
nature qualified to adorn, yet some of his decorations may be justly
wished away. An honest blacksmith might have done for Patty what is
performed by Vulcan. The appearance of Cloacina is nauseous and
superfluous; a shoe-boy could have been produced by the casual
cohabitation of mere mortals. Horace's rule is broken in both
cases; there is no dignus vindice nodus, no difficulty that required
any supernatural interposition. A patten may be made by the hammer
of a mortal, and a bastard may be dropped by a human strumpet. On
great occasions, and on small, the mind is repelled by useless and
apparent falsehood.

Of his little poems the public judgment seems to be right; they are
neither much esteemed nor totally despised. The story of "The
Apparition" is borrowed from one of the tales of Poggio. Those that
please least are the pieces to which Gulliver gave occasion, for who
can much delight in the echo of an unnatural fiction?

"Dione" is a counterpart to "Amynta" and "Pastor Fido" and other
trifles of the same kind, easily imitated, and unworthy of
imitation. What the Italians call comedies from a happy conclusion,
Gay calls a tragedy from a mournful event, but the style of the
Italians and of Gay is equally tragical. There is something in the
poetical Arcadia so remote from known reality and speculative
possibility that we can never support its representation through a
long work. A pastoral of an hundred lines may be endured, but who
will hear of sheep and goats, and myrtle bowers and purling
rivulets, through five acts? Such scenes please barbarians in the
dawn of literature, and children in the dawn of life, but will be
for the most part thrown away as men grow wise and nations grow


Thomas Tickell, the son of the Rev. Richard Tickell, was born in
1686, at Bridekirk, in Cumberland, and in 1701 became a member of
Queen's College in Oxford; in 1708 he was made Master of Arts, and
two years afterwards was chosen Fellow, for which, as he did not
comply with the statutes by taking orders, he obtained a
dispensation from the Crown. He held his fellowship till 1726, and
then vacated it by marrying, in that year, at Dublin.

Tickell was not one of those scholars who wear away their lives in
closets; he entered early into the world and was long busy in public
affairs, in which he was initiated under the patronage of Addison,
whose notice he is said to have gained by his verses in praise of
Rosamond. To those verses it would not have been just to deny
regard, for they contain some of the most elegant encomiastic
strains; and among the innumerable poems of the same kind it will be
hard to find one with which they need to fear a comparison. It may
deserve observation that when Pope wrote long afterwards in praise
of Addison, he has copied--at least, has resembled--Tickell.

"Let joy salute fair Rosamonda's shade,
And wreaths of myrtle crown the lovely maid.
While now perhaps with Dido's ghost she roves,
And hears and tells the story of their loves,
Alike they mourn, alike they bless their fate,
Since Love, which made them wretched, made them great.
Nor longer that relentless doom bemoan,
Which gained a Virgil and an Addison."--TICKELL.

"Then future ages with delight shall see
How Plato's, Bacon's, Newton's, looks agree;
Or in fair series laurelled bards be shown,
A Virgil there, and here an Addison."--POPE.

He produced another piece of the same kind at the appearance of
Cato, with equal skill, but not equal happiness.

When the Ministers of Queen Anne were negotiating with France,
Tickell published "The Prospect of Peace," a poem of which the
tendency was to reclaim the nation from the pride of conquest to the
pleasures of tranquillity. How far Tickell, whom Swift afterwards
mentioned as Whiggissimus, had then connected himself with any
party, I know not; this poem certainly did not flatter the
practices, or promote the opinions, of the men by whom he was
afterwards befriended.

Mr. Addison, however he hated the men then in power, suffered his
friendship to prevail over his public spirit, and gave in the
Spectator such praises of Tickell's poem that when, after having
long wished to peruse it, I laid hold of it at last, I thought it
unequal to the honours which it had received, and found it a piece
to be approved rather than admired. But the hope excited by a work
of genius, being general and indefinite, is rarely gratified. It
was read at that with so much favour that six editions were sold.

At the arrival of King George, he sang "The Royal Progress," which,
being inserted in the Spectator, is well known, and of which it is
just to say that it is neither high nor low.

The poetical incident of most importance in Tickell's life was his
publication of the first book of the "Iliad," as translated by
himself, an apparent opposition to Pope's "Homer," of which the
first part made its entrance into the world at the same time.
Addison declared that the rival versions were both good, but that
Tickell's was the best that ever was made; and with Addison, the
wits, his adherents and followers, were certain to concur. Pope
does not appear to have been much dismayed, "for," says he, "I have
the town--that is, the mob--on my side." But he remarks "that it is
common for the smaller party to make up in diligence what they want
in numbers. He appeals to the people as his proper judges, and if
they are not inclined to condemn him, he is in little care about the
highflyers at Button's."

Pope did not long think Addison an impartial judge, for he
considered him as the writer of Tickell's version. The reasons for
his suspicion I will literally transcribe from Mr. Spence's

"There had been a coldness," said Mr. Pope, "between Mr. Addison and
me for some time, and we had not been in company together, for a
good while, anywhere but at Button's Coffee House, where I used to
see him almost every day. On his meeting me there, one day in
particular, he took me aside and said he should be glad to dine with
me at such a tavern, if I stayed till those people were gone
(Budgell and Philips). He went accordingly, and after dinner Mr.
Addison said 'that he had wanted for some time to talk with me:
that his friend Tickell had formerly, whilst at Oxford, translated
the first book of the Iliad; that he designed to print it, and had
desired him to look it over; that he must therefore beg that I would
not desire him to look over my first book, because, if he did, it
would have the air of double-dealing.' I assured him that I did not
at all take it ill of Mr. Tickell that he was going to publish his
translation; that he certainly had as much right to translate any
author as myself; and that publishing both was entering on a fair
stage. I then added that I would not desire him to look over my
first book of the Iliad, because he had looked over Mr. Tickell's,
but could wish to have the benefit of his observations on my second,
which I had then finished, and which Mr. Tickell had not touched
upon. Accordingly I sent him the second book the next morning, and
Mr. Addison a few days after returned it, with very high
commendations. Soon after it was generally known that Mr. Tickell
was publishing the first book of the Iliad, I met Dr. Young in the
street, and upon our falling into that subject, the doctor expressed
a great deal of surprise at Tickell's having had such a translation
so long by him. He said that it was inconceivable to him, and that
there must be some mistake in the matter; that each used to
communicate to the other whatever verses they wrote, even to the
least things; that Tickell could not have been busied in so long a
work there without his knowing something of the matter; and that he
had never heard a single word of it till on this occasion. This
surprise of Dr. Young, together with what Steele has said against
Tickell in relation to this affair, make it highly probable that
there was some underhand dealing in that business; and indeed
Tickell himself, who is a very fair worthy man, has since, in a
manner, as good as owned it to me. When it was introduced into a
conversation between Mr. Tickell and Mr. Pope by a third person,
Tickell did not deny it, which, considering his honour and zeal for
his departed friend, was the same as owning it."

Upon these suspicions, with which Dr. Warburton hints that other
circumstances concurred, Pope always in his "Art of Sinking" quotes
this book as the work of Addison.

To compare the two translations would be tedious; the palm is now
given universally to Pope, but I think the first lines of Tickell's
were rather to be preferred; and Pope seems to have since borrowed
something from them in the correction of his own.

When the Hanover succession was disputed, Tickell gave what
assistance his pen would supply. His "Letter to Avignon" stands
high among party poems; it expresses contempt without coarseness,
and superiority without insolence. It had the success which it
deserved, being five times printed.

He was now intimately united to Mr. Addison, who, when he went into
Ireland as secretary to the Lord Sunderland, took him thither, and
employed him in public business; and when (1717) afterwards he rose
to be Secretary of State, made him Under-Secretary. Their
friendship seems to have continued without abatement; for, when
Addison died, he left him the charge of publishing his works, with a
solemn recommendation to the patronage of Craggs. To these works he
prefixed an elegy on the author, which could owe none of its
beauties to the assistance which might be suspected to have
strengthened or embellished his earlier compositions; but neither he
nor Addison ever produced nobler lines than are contained in the
third and fourth paragraphs; nor is a more elegant funeral poem to
be found in the whole compass of English literature. He was
afterwards (about 1725) made secretary to the Lords Justices of
Ireland, a place of great honour; in which he continued till 1740,
when he died on the 23rd of April at Bath.

Of the poems yet unmentioned, the longest is "Kensington Gardens,"
of which the versification is smooth and elegant, but the fiction
unskilfully compounded of Grecian deities and Gothic fairies.
Neither species of those exploded beings could have done much; and
when they are brought together, they only make each other
contemptible. To Tickell, however, cannot be refused a high place
among the minor poets; nor should it be forgotten that he was one of
the contributors to the Spectator. With respect to his personal
character, he is said to have been a man of gay conversation, at
least a temperate lover of wine and company, and in his domestic
relations without censure.


Of Mr. Somervile's life I am not able to say anything that can
satisfy curiosity. He was a gentleman whose estate lay in
Warwickshire; his house, where he was born in 1693, is called
Edston, a seat inherited from a long line of ancestors; for he was
said to be of the first family in his county. He tells of himself
that he was born near the Avon's banks. He was bred at Winchester
school, and was elected fellow of New College. It does not appear
that in the places of his education he exhibited any uncommon proofs
of genius or literature. His powers were first displayed in the
country, where he was distinguished as a poet, a gentleman, and a
skilful and useful justice of the peace.

Of the close of his life, those whom his poems have delighted will
read with pain the following account, copied from the "Letters" of
his friend Shenstone, by whom he was too much resembled:--

"--Our old friend Somervile is dead! I did not imagine I could have
been so sorry as I find myself on this occasion. Sublatum
quaerimus. I can now excuse all his foibles; impute them to age,
and to distress of circumstances: the last of these considerations
wrings my very soul to think on. For a man of high spirit conscious
of having (at least in one production) generally pleased the world,
to be plagued and threatened by wretches that are low in every
sense; to be forced to drink himself into pains of the body, in
order to get rid of the pains of the mind is a misery."--He died
July 19, 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley on Arden.

His distresses need not be much pitied: his estate is said to be
fifteen hundred a year, which by his death has devolved to Lord
Somervile of Scotland. His mother. indeed, who lived till ninety,
had a jointure of six hundred.

It is with regret that I find myself not better enabled to exhibit
memorials of a writer who at least must be allowed to have set a
good example to men of his own class, by devoting part of his time
to elegant knowledge; and who has shown, by the subjects which his
poetry has adorned, that it is practicable to be at once a skilful
sportsman and a man of letters.

Somervile has tried many modes of poetry; and though perhaps he has
not in any reached such excellence as to raise much envy, it may
commonly be said at least, that "he writes very well for a
gentleman." His serious pieces are sometimes elevated; and his
trifles are sometimes elegant. In his verses to Addison, the
couplet which mentions Clio is written with the most exquisite
delicacy of praise; it exhibits one of those happy strokes that are
seldom attained. In his Odes to Marlborough there are beautiful
lines; but in the second Ode he shows that he knew little of his
hero, when he talks of his private virtues. His subjects are
commonly such as require no great depth of thought or energy of
expression. His Fables are generally stale, and therefore excite no
curiosity. Of his favourite, "The Two Springs," the fiction is
unnatural, and the moral inconsequential. In his Tales there is too
much coarseness, with too little care of language, and not
sufficient rapidity of narration. His great work is his Chase,
which he undertook in his maturer age, when his ear was improved to
the approbation of blank verse, of which, however, his two first
lines give a bad specimen. To this poem praise cannot be totally
denied. He is allowed by sportsmen to write with great intelligence
of his subject, which is the first requisite to excellence; and
though it is impossible to interest the common readers of verse in
the dangers or pleasures of the chase, he has done all that
transition and variety could easily effect; and has with great
propriety enlarged his plan by the modes of hunting used in other

With still less judgment did he choose blank verse as the vehicle of
"Rural Sports." If blank verse be not tumid and gorgeous, it is
crippled prose; and familiar images in laboured language have
nothing to recommend them but absurd novelty, which, wanting the
attractions of nature, cannot please long. One excellence of the
"Splendid Shilling" is, that it is short. Disguise can gratify no
longer than it deceives.


James Thomson, the son of a minister well esteemed for his piety and
diligence, was born September 7, 1700, at Ednam, in the shire of
Roxburgh, of which his father was pastor. His mother, whose name
was Hume, inherited as co-heiress a portion of a small estate. The
revenue of a parish in Scotland is seldom large; and it was probably
in commiseration of the difficulty with which Mr. Thomson supported
his family, having nine children, that Mr. Riccarton, a neighbouring
minister, discovering in James uncommon promises of future
excellence, undertook to superintend his education, and provide him
books. He was taught the common rudiments of learning at the school
of Jedburgh, a place which he delights to recollect in his poem of
"Autumn;" but was not considered by his master as superior to common
boys, though in those early days he amused his patron and his
friends with poetical compositions; with which, however, he so
little pleased himself that on every New Year's Day he threw into
the fire all the productions of the foregoing year.

From the school he was removed to Edinburgh, where he had not
resided two years when his father died, and left all his children to
the care of their mother, who raised upon her little estate what
money a mortgage could afford; and, removing with her family to
Edinburgh, lived to see her son rising into eminence.

The design of Thomson's friends was to breed him a minister. He
lived at Edinburgh, at a school, without distinction or expectation,
till at the usual time he performed a probationary exercise by
explaining a psalm. His diction was so poetically splendid, that
Mr. Hamilton, the professor of divinity, reproved him for speaking
language unintelligible to a popular audience; and he censured one
of his expressions as indecent, if not profane. This rebuke is
reported to have repressed his thoughts of an ecclesiastical
character, and he probably cultivated with new diligence his
blossoms of poetry, which, however, were in some danger of a blast;
for, submitting his productions to some who thought themselves
qualified to criticise, he heard of nothing but faults; but, finding
other judges more favourable, he did not suffer himself to sink into
despondence. He easily discovered that the only stage on which a
poet could appear with any hope of advantage was London; a place too
wide for the operation of petty competition and private malignity,
where merit might soon become conspicuous, and would find friends as
soon as it became reputable to befriend it. A lady who was
acquainted with his mother advised him to the journey, and promised
some countenance or assistance, which at last he never received;
however, he justified his adventure by her encouragement, and came
to seek in London patronage and fame. At his arrival he found his
way to Mr. Mallet, then tutor to the sons of the Duke of Montrose.
He had recommendations to several persons of consequence, which he
had tied up carefully in his handkerchief; but as he passed along
the street, with the gaping curiosity of a newcomer, his attention
was upon everything rather than his pocket, and his magazine of
credentials was stolen from him.

His first want was a pair of shoes. For the supply of all his
necessities, his whole fund was his "Winter," which for a time could
find no purchaser; till at last Mr. Millan was persuaded to buy it
at a low price; and this low price he had for some time reason to
regret; but, by accident, Mr. Whately, a man not wholly unknown
among authors, happening to turn his eye upon it, was so delighted
that he ran from place to place celebrating its excellence. Thomson
obtained likewise the notice of Aaron Hill, whom, being friendless
and indigent, and glad of kindness, he courted with every expression
of servile adulation.

"Winter" was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton, but attracted no
regard from him to the author; till Aaron Hill awakened his
attention by some verses addressed to Thomson, and published in one
of the newspapers, which censured the great for their neglect of
ingenious men. Thomson then received a present of twenty guineas,
of which he gives this account to Mr. Hill:--

I hinted to you in my last that on Saturday morning I was with Sir
Spencer Compton. A certain gentleman, without my desire, spoke to
him concerning me: his answer was that I had never come near him.
Then the gentleman put the question, if he desired that I should
wait on him? He returned, he did. On this the gentleman gave me an
introductory letter to him. He received me in what they commonly
call a civil manner; asked me some common-place questions, and made
me a present of twenty guineas. I am very ready to own that the
present was larger than my performance deserved; and shall ascribe
it to his generosity, or any other cause, rather than the merit of
the address."

The poem, which, being of a new kind, few would venture at first to
like, by degrees gained upon the public; and one edition was very
speedily succeeded by another.

Thomson's credit was now high, and every day brought him new
friends; among others Dr. Rundle, a man afterwards unfortunately
famous, sought his acquaintance, and found his qualities such that
he recommended him to the Lord Chancellor Talbot.

"Winter" was accompanied, in many editions, not only with a preface
and dedication, but with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. Mallet
(then Malloch), and Mira, the fictitious name of a lady once too
well known. Why the dedications are, to "Winter" and the other
Seasons, contrarily to custom, left out in the collected works, the
reader may inquire.

The next year (1727) he distinguished himself by three publications:
of "Summer," in pursuance of his plan; of "A Poem on the Death of
Sir Isaac Newton," which he was enabled to perform as an exact
philosopher by the instruction of Mr. Gray; and of "Britannia," a
kind of poetical invective against the Ministry, whom the nation
then thought not forward enough in resenting the depredations of the
Spaniards. By this piece he declared himself an adherent to the
Opposition, and had therefore no favour to expect from the Court.

Thomson, having been some time entertained in the family of Lord
Binning, was desirous of testifying his gratitude by making him the
patron of his "Summer;" but the same kindness which had first
disposed Lord Binning to encourage him, determined him to refuse the
dedication, which was by his advice addressed to Mr. Dodington, a
man who had more power to advance the reputation and fortune of a

"Spring" was published next year, with a dedication to the Countess
of Hertford, whose practice it was to invite every summer some poet
into the country, to hear her verses and assist her studies. This
honour was one summer conferred on Thomson, who took more delight in
carousing with Lord Hertford and his friends than assisting her
ladyship's poetical operations, and therefore never received another

"Autumn," the season to which the "Spring" and "Summer" are
preparatory, still remained unsung, and was delayed till he
published (1730) his works collected.

He produced in 1727 the tragedy of Sophonisba, which raised such
expectation that every rehearsal was dignified with a splendid
audience, collected to anticipate the delight that was preparing for
the public. It was observed, however, that nobody was much
affected, and that the company rose as from a moral lecture. It had
upon the stage no unusual degree of success. Slight accidents will
operate upon the taste of pleasure. There is a feeble line in the

"O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!"

This gave occasion to a waggish parody--

"O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O!"

which for a while was echoed through the town.

I have been told by Savage, that of the prologue to Sophonisba, the
first part was written by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish
it; and that the concluding lines were added by Mallet.

Thomson was not long afterwards, by the influence of Dr. Rundle,
sent to travel with Mr. Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the
Chancellor. He was yet young enough to receive new impressions, to
have his opinions rectified and his views enlarged; nor can he be
supposed to have wanted that curiosity which is inseparable from an
active and comprehensive mind. He may therefore now be supposed to
have revelled in all the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every
day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived splendidly without
expense: and might expect when he returned home a certain

At this time a long course of opposition to Sir Robert Walpole had
filled the nation with clamours for liberty, of which no man felt
the want, and with care for liberty which was not in danger.
Thomson, in his travels on the Continent, found or fancied so many
evils arising from the tyranny of other governments, that he
resolved to write a very long poem, in five parts, upon Liberty.
While he was busy on the first book, Mr. Talbot died; and Thomson,
who had been rewarded for his attendance by the place of secretary
of the briefs, pays in the initial lines a decent tribute to his
memory. Upon this great poem two years were spent, and the author
congratulated himself upon it as his noblest work; but an author and
his reader are not always of a mind. Liberty called in vain upon
her votaries to read her praises, and reward her encomiast: her
praises were condemned to harbour spiders, and to gather dust: none
of Thomson's performances were so little regarded. The judgment of
the public was not erroneous; the recurrence of the same images must
tire in time; an enumeration of examples to prove a position which
nobody denied, as it was from the beginning superfluous, must
quickly grow disgusting.

The poem of "Liberty" does not now appear in its original state;
but, when the author's works were collected after his death, was
shortened by Sir George Lyttelton, with a liberty which, as it has a
manifest tendency to lessen the confidence of society, and to
confound the characters of authors, by making one man write by the
judgment of another, cannot be justified by any supposed propriety
of the alteration, or kindness of the friend. I wish to see it
exhibited as its author left it.

Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and seems for a while to have
suspended his poetry: but he was soon called back to labour by the
death of the Chancellor, for his place then became vacant; and
though the Lord Hardwicke delayed for some time to give it away,
Thomson's bashfulness or pride, or some other motive perhaps not
more laudable, withheld him from soliciting; and the new Chancellor
would not give him what he would not ask. He now relapsed to his
former indigence; but the Prince of Wales was at that time
struggling for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. Lyttelton
professed himself the patron of wit; to him Thomson was introduced,
and being gaily interrogated about the state of his affairs said
"that they were in a more poetical posture than formerly," and had a
pension allowed him of one hundred pounds a year.

Being now obliged to write, he produced (1738) the tragedy of
Agamemnon, which was much shortened in the representation. It had
the fate which most commonly attends mythological stories, and was
only endured, but not favoured. It struggled with such difficulty
through the first night that Thomson, coming late to his friends
with whom he was to sup, excused his delay by telling them how the
sweat of his distress had so disordered his wig that he could not
come till he had been refitted by a barber. He so interested
himself in his own drama that, if I remember right, as he sat in the
upper gallery, he accompanied the players by audible recitation,
till a friendly hint frighted him to silence. Pope countenanced
Agamemnon by coming to it, the first night, and was welcomed to the
theatre by a general clap; he had much regard for Thomson, and once
expressed it in a poetical epistle sent to Italy, of which, however,
he abated the value by transplanting some of the lines into his
Epistle to Arbuthnot.

About this time (1737) the Act was passed for licensing plays, of
which the first operation was the prohibition of Gustavus Vasa, a
tragedy of Mr. Brooke, whom the public recompensed by a very liberal
subscription; the next was the refusal of Edward and Eleonora,
offered by Thomson. It is hard to discover why either play should
have been obstructed. Thomson likewise endeavoured to repair his
loss by a subscription, of which I cannot now tell the success.
When the public murmured at the unkind treatment of Thomson, one of
the Ministerial writers remarked that "he had taken a Liberty which
was not agreeable to Britannia in any Season." He was soon after
employed, in conjunction with Mr. Mallet, to write the masque of
Alfred, which was acted before the Prince at Cliefden House.

His next work (1745) was, Tancred and Sigismunda, the most
successful of all his tragedies, for it still keeps its turn upon
the stage. It may be doubted whether he was, either by the bent of
nature or habits of study, much qualified for tragedy. It does not
appear that he had much sense of the pathetic; and his diffusive and
descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue. His
friend Mr. Lyttelton was now in power, and conferred upon him the
office of Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands; from which, when
his deputy was paid, he received about three hundred pounds a year.

The last piece that he lived to publish was the "Castle of
Indolence," which was many years under his hand, but was at last
finished with great accuracy. The first canto opens a scene of lazy
luxury that fills the imagination. He was now at ease, but was not
long to enjoy it, for, by taking cold on the water between London
and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, with some careless
exasperation, ended in a fever that put an end to his life, August
27, 1748. He was buried in the church of Richmond, without an
inscription; but a monument has been erected to his memory in
Westminster Abbey.

Thomson was of stature above the middle size, and "more fat than
bard beseems," of a dull countenance and a gross, unanimated,
uninviting appearance; silent in mingled company, but cheerful among
select friends, and by his friends very tenderly and warmly beloved.
He left behind him the tragedy of Coriolanus, which was, by the zeal
of his patron, Sir George Lyttelton, brought upon the stage for the
benefit of his family, and recommended by a prologue, which Quin,
who had long lived with Thomson in fond intimacy, spoke in such a
manner as showed him "to be," on that occasion, "no actor." The
commencement of this benevolence is very honourable to Quin, who is
reported to have delivered Thomson, then known to him only for his
genius, from an arrest by a very considerable present; and its
continuance is honourable to both, for friendship is not always the
sequel of obligation. By this tragedy a considerable sum was
raised, of which part discharged his debts, and the rest was
remitted to his sisters, whom, however removed from them by place or
condition, he regarded with great tenderness, as will appear by the
following letter, which I communicate with much pleasure, as it
gives me at once an opportunity of recording the fraternal kindness
of Thomson, and reflecting on the friendly assistance of Mr.
Boswell, from whom I received it:--

"Hagley in Worcestershire, October the 4th, 1747.

"My Dear Sister,--I thought you had known me better than to
interpret my silence into a decay of affection, especially as your
behaviour has always been such as rather to increase than diminish
it. Don't imagine, because I am a bad correspondent, that I can
ever prove an unkind friend and brother. I must do myself the
justice to tell you that my affections are naturally very fixed and
constant; and if I had ever reason of complaint against you (of
which, by-the-bye, I have not the least shadow), I am conscious of
so many defects in myself as dispose me to be not a little
charitable and forgiving.

"It gives me the truest heart-felt satisfaction to hear you have a
good kind husband, and are in easy contented circumstances; but were
they otherwise, that would only awaken and heighten my tenderness
towards you. As our good and tender-hearted parents did not live to
receive any material testimonies of that highest human gratitude I
owed them (than which nothing could have given me equal pleasure),
the only return I can make them now is by kindness to those they
left behind them. Would to God poor Lizy had lived longer, to have
been a farther witness of the truth of what I say and that I might
have had the pleasure of seeing once more a sister who so truly
deserved my esteem and love! But she is happy, while we must toil a
little longer here below: let us, however, do it cheerfully and
gratefully, supported by the pleasing hope of meeting you again on a
safer shore, where to recollect the storms and difficulties of life
will not perhaps be inconsistent with that blissful state. You did
right to call your daughter by her name: for you must needs have
had a particular tender friendship for one another, endeared as you
were by nature, by having passed the affectionate years of your
youth together: and by that great softener and engager of hearts,
mutual hardship. That it was in my power to ease it a little, I
account one of the most exquisite pleasures of my life. But enough
of this melancholy, though not unpleasing, strain.

"I esteem you for your sensible and disinterested advice to Mr.
Bell, as you will see by my letter to him. As I approve entirely of
his marrying again, you may readily ask me why I don't marry at all.
My circumstances have hitherto been so variable and uncertain in
this fluctuating world, as induce to keep me from engaging in such a
state: and now, though they are more settled, and of late (which
you will be glad to hear) considerably improved, I begin to think
myself too far advanced in life for such youthful undertakings, not
to mention some other petty reasons that are apt to startle the
delicacy of difficult old bachelors. I am, however, not a little
suspicious that, was I to pay a visit to Scotland (which I have some
thought of doing soon), I might possibly be tempted to think of a
thing not easily repaired if done amiss. I have always been of
opinion that none make better wives than the ladies of Scotland; and
yet who more forsaken than they, while the gentlemen are continually
running abroad all the world over? Some of them, it is true, are
wise enough to return for a wife. You see, I am beginning to make
interest already with the Scots ladies. But no more of this
infectious subject. Pray let me hear from you now and then; and
though I am not a regular correspondent, yet perhaps I may mend in
that respect. Remember me kindly to your husband, and believe me to

"Your most affectionate Brother,
"James Thomson."
(Addressed) "To Mrs. Thomson in Lanark."

The benevolence of Thomson was fervid, but not active; he would give
on all occasions what assistance his purse would supply, but the
offices of intervention or solicitation he could not conquer his
sluggishness sufficiently to perform. The affairs of others,
however, were not more neglected than his own. He had often felt
the inconveniences of idleness, but he never cured it; and was so
conscious of his own character that he talked of writing an Eastern
tale "Of the Man who Loved to be in Distress." Among his
peculiarities was a very unskilful and inarticulate manner of
pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He was once reading to
Dodington, who, being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so
much provoked by his odd utterance that he snatched the paper from
his hands and told him that he did not understand his own verses.

The biographer of Thomson has remarked that an author's life is best
read in his works; his observation was not well timed. Savage, who
lived much with Thomson, once told me how he heard a lady remarking
that she could gather from his works three-parts of his character:
that he was "a great lover, a great swimmer, and rigorously
abstinent;" "but," said Savage, "he knows not any love but that of
the sex; he was, perhaps, never in cold water in his life; and he
indulges himself in all the luxury that comes within his reach."
Yet Savage always spoke with the most eager praise of his social
qualities, his warmth and constancy of friendship, and his adherence
to his first acquaintance when the advancement of his reputation had
left them behind him.

As a writer, he is entitled to one praise of the highest kind: his
mode of thinking and of expressing his thoughts is original. His
blank verse is no more the blank verse of Milton, or of any other
poet, than the rhymes of Prior are the rhymes of Cowley. His
numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without
transcription, without imitation. He thinks in a peculiar train,
and he thinks always as a man of genius; he looks round on Nature
and on Life with the eye which Nature bestows only on a poet; the
eye that distinguishes in everything presented to its view whatever
there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a
mind that at once comprehends the vast and attends to the minute.
The reader of the "Seasons" wonders that he never saw before what
Thomson shows him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson
impresses. His is one of the works in which blank verse seems
properly used. Thomson's wide expansion of general views, and his
enumeration of circumstantial varieties, would have been obstructed
and embarrassed by the frequent intersections of the sense, which
are the necessary effects of rhyme. His descriptions of extended
scenes and general effects bring before us the whole magnificence of
Nature, whether pleasing or dreadful. The gaiety of Spring, the
splendour of Summer, the tranquillity of Autumn, and the horror of
Winter, take in their turns possession of the mind. The poet leads
us through the appearances of things as they are successively varied
by the vicissitudes of the year, and imparts to us so much of his
own enthusiasm that our thoughts expand with his imagery and kindle
with his sentiments. Nor is the naturalist without his part in the
entertainment, for he is assisted to recollect and to combine, to
arrange his discoveries, and to amplify the sphere of his
contemplation. The great defect of the "Seasons" is want of method;
but for this I know not that there was any remedy. Of many
appearances subsisting all at once, no rule can be given why one
should be mentioned before another; yet the memory wants the help of
order, and the curiosity is not excited by suspense or expectation.
His diction is in the highest degree florid and luxuriant, such as
may be said to be to his images and thoughts "both their lustre and
their shade;" such as invests them with splendour, through which,
perhaps, they are not always easily discerned. It is too exuberant,
and sometimes may be charged with filling the ear more than the

These poems, with which I was acquainted at their first appearance,
I have since found altered and enlarged by subsequent revisals, as
the author supposed his judgment to grow more exact, and as books or
conversation extended his knowledge and opened his prospects. They
are, I think, improved in general; yet I know not whether they have
not lost part of what Temple calls their "race," a word which,
applied to wines in its primitive sense, means the flavour of the

"Liberty," when it first appeared, I tried to read, and soon
desisted. I have never tried again, and therefore will not hazard
either praise or censure. The highest praise which he has received
ought not to be suppressed: it is said by Lord Lyttelton, in the
Prologue to his posthumous play, that his works contained

"No line which, dying, he could wish to blot."


The poems of Dr. Watts were, by my recommendation, inserted in the
late Collection, the readers of which are to impute to me whatever
pleasure or weariness they may find in the perusal of Blackmore,
Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden.

Isaac Watts was born July 17, 1674, at Southampton, where his
father, of the same name, kept a boarding-school for young
gentlemen, though common report makes him a shoemaker. He appears,


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