The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753)
Part 4 out of 6
arrived at a proper age, he was chosen member of Parliament, and did
not remain long in the house before he distinguished himself as a
very eminent speaker. Having espoused the court interest, his zeal
and merit recommended him to very considerable public employments,
particularly that of being one of the commissioners of the royal navy,
which place he quitted in the year 1712. The ingenious Mr. Southern in
his dedication of his Innocent Adultery, to Mr. Hammond, speaks thus
of him. 'If generosity with friendship, learning with good sense,
true wit and humour, with good-nature, be accomplishments to qualify a
gentleman for a patron, I am sure I have hit right in Mr. Hammond.'
Our author obliged the public with a Miscellany of Original Poems, by
the Most Eminent Hands; in which himself had no small share. In this
miscellany are several poetical performances of Mrs. Martha Fowkes,
a lady of exquisite taste in the belle accomplishments. As to Mr.
Hammond's own pieces, he acknowleges in his preface, that they were
written at very different times, and particularly owned by him, lest
they should afterwards be ascribed to other persons; as the Ode on
Solitude, was falsely ascribed to the earl of Roscommon, and other
pieces of his, were likewise given to other authors.
This author wrote the Life of Walter Moyle Esq; prefixed to his
works.----Mr. Hammond died about the year 1726.
[Footnote A: Coxeter's Miscellaneous Notes.]
* * * * *
The Revd. Mr. LAWRENCE EUSDEN.
This gentleman was descended from a very good family in the kingdom of
Leland, but received his education at Trinity college in Cambridge.
He was honoured with the encouragement of that eminent patron of the
poets the earl of Halifax, to whom he consecrated the first product of
his Muse. He enjoyed likewise the patronage of the duke of Newcastle,
who being lord chamberlain, at the death of Mr. Rowe, preferred him to
Mr. Eusden was for some part of his life chaplain to Richard lord
Willoughby de Brook: In this peaceful situation of life, one would not
expect Mr. Eusden should have any enemies, either of the literary, or
any other sort. But we find he has had many, amongst whom Mr. Pope is
the most formidable both in power and keenness. In his Dunciad, Book
I. Line 101. where he represents Dulness taking a view of her sons, he
She saw old Pryn, in restless Daniel shine,
And Eusden eke out Blackmore's endless line.
Mr. Oldmixon likewise in his Art of Logic and Rhetoric, page 413,
affirms, 'That of all the Galimatias he ever met with, none comes up
to some verses of this poet, which have as much of the ridiculum and
the fustian in them, as can well be jumbled together, and are of that
sort of nonsense, which so perfectly confounds all ideas, that there
is no distinct one left in the mind. Further he says of him, that he
hath prophesy'd his own poetry shall be sweeter than Catullus, Ovid
and Tibullus; but we have little hope of the accomplishment of it from
what he hath lately published.' Upon which Mr. Oldmixon has not spared
a reflexion, that the placing the laurel on the head of one who wrote
such verses, will give posterity a very lively idea of the justice and
judgment of those who bestowed it.
Mr. Oldmixon no doubt by this reflexion insinuates, that the laurel
would have better become his own brows than Eusden's; but it would
perhaps have been more decent for him to acquiesce in the opinion of
the duke of Buckingham (Sheffield) who in his Session of the Poets
thus mentions Eusden.
--In rush'd Eusden, and cry'd, who shall have it,
But I the true Laureat to whom the king gave it?
Apollo begg'd pardon, and granted his claim,
But vow'd that till then, he ne'er heard of his name.
The truth is, Mr. Eusden wrote an Epithalamium on the marriage of
his grace the duke of Newcastle, to the right honourable the lady
Henrietta Godolphin; which was considered as so great a compliment by
the duke, that in gratitude for it, he preferred him to the laurel.
Nor can I at present see how he could have made a better choice: We
shall have occasion to find, as we enumerate his writings, that he
was no inconsiderable versifier, and though perhaps he had not the
brightest parts; yet as we hear of no moral blemish imputed to him,
and as he was dignified with holy-orders, his grace acted a very
generous part, in providing for a man who had conferred an obligation
on him. The first rate poets were either of principles very different
from the government, or thought themselves too distinguished to
undergo the drudgery of an annual Ode; and in this case Eusden seems
to have had as fair a claim as another, at least a better than his
antagonist Oldmixon. He succeeded indeed a much greater poet than
himself, the ingenious Mr. Rowe, which might perhaps draw some
ridicule upon him.
Mr. Cooke, in his Battle of the Poets, speaks thus of our author.
Eusden, a laurel'd bard, by fortune rais'd
By very few was read, by fewer prais'd.
A fate which some critics are of opinion must befall the very poet
himself, who is thus so ready to expose his brother.
The chief of our author's poetical writings are these,
To the lord Hallifax, occasioned by the translating into Latin his
lordship's Poem on the Battle of the Boyne.
On the duke of Marlborough's victory at Oudenaid.
A Letter to Mr. Addison.
On the king's accession to the throne.
To the reverend doctor Bentley, on the opening of Trinity-College Chapel,
On a Lady, who is the most beautiful and witty when she is angry.
This poem begins with these lines.
Long had I known the soft, inchanting wiles,
Which Cupid practised in Aurelia's smiles.
'Till by degrees, like the fam'd Asian taught,
Safely I drank the sweet, tho' pois'nous draught.
Love vex'd to see his favours vainly shown,
The peevish Urchin murthered with a frown.
Verses at the last public commencement at Cambridge, spoken by the
The Court of Venus, from Claudian.
The Speech of Pluto to Proserpine.
Hero and Leander, translated from the Greek of Musaeus.
This Piece begins thus,
Sing Muse, the conscious torch, whose mighty flame,
(The shining signal of a brighter dame)
Thro' trackless waves, the bold Leander led,
To taste the dang'rous joys of Hero's bed:
Sing the stol'n bliss, in gloomy shades conceal'd,
And never to the blushing morn reveal'd.
A Poem on the Marriage of his grace the duke of Newcastle to the
right honourable Henrietta Godolphin, which procured him, as we have
observed already, the place of laureat. The lord Roscommon's Essay on
translated verse, rendered into Latin.
An Epistle to Sir Robert Walpole.
Three Poems; I. On the death of the late king; II. On the Accession of
his present majesty. III. On the Queen.
On the arrival of Prince Frederic.
The origin of the Knights of the Bath, inscribed to the Duke of
An Ode for the Birth-Day, in Latin and English, printed at Cambridge.
He died at his rectory at Conesby in Lincolnshire, the 27th of
* * * * *
The Revd. MR. LAWRENCE EACHARD,
This Gentleman, who has been more distinguished as an historian than
a poet, was the son of a clergyman, who by the death of his elder
brother, became master of a good estate in Suffolk.
He received his education at the university of Cambridge, entered into
holy-orders, and was presented to the living of Welton and Elkington
in Lincolnshire, where he spent above twenty years of his life; and
acquired a name by his writings, especially the History of England.
This history was attacked by Dr. Edmund Calamy, in a letter to the
author; in which, according to the Dr. the true principles of the
Revolution, the Whigs and the Dissenters are vindicated; and many
persons of distinction cleared from Mr. Eachard's aspersions.
Mr. John Oldmixon, who was of very opposite principles to Eachard,
severely animadverted upon him in his Critical History of England,
during the reigns of the Stuarts; but as Oldmixon was a hireling, and
a man strongly biassed by party prejudices, little credit is due to
his testimony: Which is moreover accompanied with a perpetual torrent
of abuse. Mr. Eachard's general Ecclesiastical History, from the
nativity of Christ to the first establishment of Christianity by human
laws, under the emperor Constantine the Great, has been much esteemed.
Our author was in the year 1712 installed archdeacon of Stowe, and
prebend of Lincoln. He published a translation of Terence's Comedies,
translated by himself and others; but all revised and corrected by him
and Sir Roger L'Estrange: To which is prefixed the life of Terence.
Besides these, Mr. Eachard has translated three Comedies from Plautus,
With critical remarks upon each play. To which he has prefixed a
judicious parallel between Terence and Plautus; and for a clearer
decision of the point, that Terence was the more polite writer of
Comedy, he produces the first act of Plautus's Aulularia, and the
first act of his Miles Gloriosus, against the third act of Terence's
Eunuch. It ought to be observed (says Mr. Eachard) 'That Plautus was
somewhat poor, and made it his principal aim to please, and tickle
the common people; and since they were almost always delighted with
something new, strange, and unusual, the better to humour them, he was
not only frequently extravagant in his expressions, but likewise in
his characters too, and drew them often more vicious, more covetous,
and more foolish than they really were, and this so set the people a
gazing and wondering. With these sort of characters many of our modern
Comedies abound, which makes them too much degenerate into farce,
which seldom fails of pleasing the mob.'
Mr. Eachard has, in justice to Mr. Dryden, given us some instances
of his improvement of Amphitryon, and concludes them with this just
remark in compliment to our nation; 'We find that many fine things of
the ancients, are like seeds, that when planted on English ground, by
a poet's skilful hand, thrive and produce excellent fruit.'
These three plays are printed in a pocket-volume, dedicated to Sir
Charles Sedley; to which is prefixed a recommendatory copy of verses,
by Mr. Tate.
Mr. Eachard died in the year 1730.
* * * * *
Mr. JOHN OLDMIXON,
Was descended from the ancient family of the Oldmixons, of Oldmixon
near Bridgewater in Somersetshire[A]. We have no account of the
education of this gentleman, nor the year in which he was born. The
first production we meet with of his was Amyntas, a pastoral, acted at
the Theatre-Royal, taken from the Amynta of Tasso. The preface informs
us, that it met with but ill success, for pastoral, though never
so well written, is not fit for a long entertainment on the English
Theatre: But the original pleased in Italy, where the performance of
the musical composer is generally more regarded than that of the poet.
The Prologue was written by Mr. Dennis. Mr. Oldmixon's next piece was
entitled the Grave, or Love's Paradise; an Opera represented at
the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, 1700. In the preface, the author
acquaints the critics, 'That this play is neither translation, nor
parody; that the story is intirely new; that 'twas at first intended
for a pastoral, tho' in the three last acts the dignity of the
character raised it into the form of a tragedy.' The scene a Province
of Italy, near the Gulph of Venice. The Epilogue was written by Mr.
Our author's next dramatic piece is entitled: The Governor of Cyprus,
a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields,
dedicated to her grace the duchess of Bolton.
Mr. Oldmixon, in a Prose Essay on Criticism, unjustly censures Mr.
Addison, whom also, in his imitation of Bouhour's Arts of Logic and
Rhetoric, he misrepresents in plain matter of fact: For in page 45 he
cites the Spectator, as abusing Dr. Swift by name, where there is not
the least hint of it; and in page 304 is so injurious as to suggest,
that Mr. Addison himself wrote that Tatler, Numb. XLIII. which says of
his own simile, 'That it is as great as ever entered into the mind of
man.' This simile is in Addison's poem, entitled the Campaign. Where,
says the author of the Letter, 'The simile of a ministering Angel,
sets forth the most sedate and the most active courage, engaged in
an uproar of nature, a confusion of elements, and a scene of divine
'Twas then great Marlbro's mighty soul was prov'd,
That, in the shock of charging hosts unmov'd,
Amidst confusion, horror, and despair,
Examin'd all the dreadful scenes of war;
In peaceful thought, the field of death survey'd
To fainting squadrons sent the timely aid,
Inspir'd repuls'd battalions to engage,
And taught the doubtful battle where to rage.
So when an Angel by divine command,
With rising tempests shakes a guilty hand,
Such as of late o'er pale Britannia past,
Calm and serene, he drives the furious blast,
And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm.
That this letter could not be written by Mr. Addison, there is all the
evidence the nature of the thing will admit, to believe; for first,
Sir Richard Steele avow'd it to be his, and in the next place, it is
not probable that Mr. Addison himself had so high an opinion of this
simile, as to call it as great as ever entered into the thought of
man; for it has in reality no uncommon greatness in it. The image
occurs a thousand times in the book of Psalms; so that it has not
novelty to recommend it, and the manner of its being expressed, is no
way extraordinary. The high terms in which it is celebrated, is the
language of friendship, not of judgment. It is very probable Sir
Richard Steele, warm'd with a favourite subject, and zealous for the
fame of Addison, might express himself thus hyperbolically concerning
it; but Mr. Addison was too judicious a critic, to think or speak of
it in these terms, and was besides too cautious to run the risk of
doing it himself in so public a manner. In a word, Mr. Oldmixon was an
envious man, and we have seen with how little ground of resentment
he railed against Eusden, because that gentleman was preferred to the
Mr. Oldmixon joined the general cry of the underling writers against
Mr. Pope; and wrote many letters in the Flying Post, with an intention
to reduce his reputation, with as little success as his other
antagonists had done. In his prose Essay on Criticism, and in the Arts
of Logic and Rhetoric, he frequently reflects on Pope, for which he
has received a place in his Dunciad.
When that eminent satyrist in his second Book, line 270, represents
the Dunces diving for the Prize of Dulness, he in a particular manner
dignifies Oldmixon, for he makes him climb a lighter, that by leaping
from it, he may sink the deeper in the mud.
In naked majesty Oldmixon stands,
And, Milo-like, surveys his arms and hands,
Then sighing thus: 'And am I now threescore?
'Ah why, ye Gods! should two and two make 'four?
He said and climb'd a stranded lighter's height,
Shot to the black abyss, and plung'd down-right.
The Senior's judgment all the crowd admire,
Who but to sink the deeper, rose the higher.
Mr. Oldmixon wrote a history of the Stuarts in folio, and a Critical
History of England, in two volumes octavo. The former of these
pieces was undertaken to blacken the family of the Stuarts. The most
impartial writers and candid critics, on both sides, have held this
work in contempt, for in every page there breathes a malevolent
spirit, a disposition to rail and calumniate: So far from observing
that neutrality and dispassionate evenness of temper, which should
be carefully attended to by every historian, he suffers himself to
be transported with anger: He reviles, wrests particular passages and
frequently draws forced conclusions. A history written in this spirit
has no great claim to a reader's faith. The reigns of the Stuarts
in England were no doubt chequer'd with many evils; and yet it is
certainly true, that a man who can fit deliberately down to search
for errors only, must have a strong propension to calumny, or at least
take delight in triumphing over the weakness of his fellow creatures,
which is surely no indication of a good heart.
Mr. Oldmixon, being employ'd by bishop Kennet, in publishing the
Historians in his collection, he perverted Daniel's Chronicle in
numberless places. Yet this very man, in the preface to the first of
these, advanced a particular fact, to charge three eminent persons
of interpolating the lord Clarendon's History, which fact has been
disproved by the bishop of Rochester, Dr. Atterbury, then the only
survivor of them; and the particular part he pretended to be falsifed
produced since, after almost ninety years, in that noble author's own
He was all his life a virulent Party-Writer, and received his reward
in a small part in the revenue at Liverpool, where he died in an
advanced age, but in what year we cannot learn.
Mr. Oldmixon, besides the works we have mentioned, was author of a
volume of Poems, published in 1714.
The Life of Arthur Maynwaring, Esq; prefixed to the works of that
author, by Mr. Oldmixon.
England's Historical Epistles (Drayton's revived).
The Life of queen Anne.
[Footnote A: See Jacob's Lives of the Poets, p. 197.]
* * * * *
LEONARD WELSTED, Esq;
This gentleman was descended from a very good family in
Leicestershire, and received the rudiments of his education in
Westminster school. We are informed by major Cleland, author of a
Panegyric on Mr. Pope, prefixed to the Dunciad, that he was a member
of both the universities.
In a piece said to have been written by Mr. Welsted, called The
Characters of the Times, printed in 8vo. 1728, he gives this account
of himself; 'Mr. Welsted had in his youth raised so great expectations
of his future genius, that there was a kind of struggle between the
two universities, which should have the honour of his education; to
compound this, he civilly became a member of both, and after having
passed some time at the one, he removed to the other. From thence he
returned to town, where he became the darling expectation of all the
polite writers, whose encouragement he acknowledged in his occasional
poems, in a manner that will make no small part of the fame of his
protectors. It also appears from his works, that he was happy in
the patronage of the most illustrious characters of the present age.
Encouraged by such a combination in his favour, he published a book of
poems, some in the Ovidian, some in the Horatian manner, in both which
the most exquisite judges pronounced he even rivalled his masters.
His love verses have rescued that way of writing from contempt. In his
translations he has given us the very soul and spirit of his author.
His Odes; his Epistles; his Verses; his Love Tales; all are the most
perfect things in all poetry.'
If this representation of our author's abilities were just, it would
seem no wonder, if the two universities should strive with each other
for the honour of his education, but it is certain the world have
not coincided with this opinion of Mr. Welsted; who, by the way, can
hardly be thought the author of such an extravagant self-approbation,
unless it be an irony, which does not seem improbable.
Our author, however, does not appear to have been a mean poet; he had
certainly from nature an exceeding fine genius, but after he came to
town he became a votary to pleasure, and the applauses of his friends,
which taught him to overvalue his talents, perhaps slackened his
diligence, and by making him trust solely to nature, flight the
assistance of art.
In the year 1718 he wrote the Triumvirate, or a Letter in Verse from
Palemon to Celia from Bath, which was meant as a satire against Mr.
Pope. He wrote federal other occasional pieces against this gentleman,
who, in recompence of his enmity, has mentioned him twice in his
Dunciad. In book ii. 1. 200 where he represents the poets flattering
their patrons with the fulsome strains of panegyric, in order to
procure from them that which they very much wanted, viz. money, he
shews Welsted as unsuccessful.
But Welsted most the poet's healing balm,
Strives to extract from his soft giving palm;
Unlucky Welsted! thy unfeeling master,
The more thou ticklest, gripes his fist the faster.
Mr. Welsted was likewise characterised in the Treatise of the Art of
Sinking, as a Didapper, and after as an Eel. He was likewise described
under the character of another animal, a Mole, by the author of the
following simile, which was handed about at the same time.
Dear Welsted, mark in dirty hole
That painful animal a Mole:
Above ground never born to go,
What mighty stir it keeps below?
To make a molehill all this strife!
It digs, pukes, undermines for life.
How proud a little dirt to spread!
Conscious of nothing o'er its head.
'Till lab'ring on, for want of eyes,
It blunders into light--and dies.
But mentioning him once was not enough for Mr. Pope. He is again
celebrated in the third book, in that famous Parody upon Benham's
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme;
Tho' deep, yet clear; tho' gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage; without o'er flowing full.
Which Mr. Pope has thus parodied;
Flow Welsted, flow; like thine inspirer, beer,
Tho' stale, not ripe; tho' thin, yet never clear;
So sweetly mawkish, and so smoothly dull;
Heady, not strong; and foaming, tho' not full.
How far Mr. Pope's insinuation is true, that Mr. Welsted owed his
inspiration to beer, they who read his works may determine for
themselves. Poets who write satire often strain hard for ridiculous
circumstances, in order to expose their antagonists, and it will be
no violence to truth to say, that in search of ridicule, candour is
In the year 1726 Mr. Welsted brought upon the stage a comedy called
The Dissembled Wantons or My Son get Money. He met with the patronage
of the duke of Newcastle, who was a great encourager of polite
learning; and we find that our author had a very competent place in
His poetical works are chiefly these,
The Duke of Marlborough's Arrival, a Poem printed in fol. 1709,
inscribed to the Right Hon the Earl of Dorset and Middlesex.
A Poem to the Memory of Mr. Philips, inscribed to Lord Bolingbroke,
printed in fol. 1710.
A Discourse to the Right Hon. Sir Robert Walpole; to which is annexed
Proposals for Translating the whole Works of Horace, with a Specimen
of the Performance, viz. Lib. Ist. Ode 1, 3, 5 and 22, printed in 4to.
An Ode to the Hon. Major General Wade, on Occasion of his disarming
the Highlands, imitated from Horace.
To the Earl of Clare, on his being created Duke of Newcastle. An Ode
on the Birth-Day of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. To the
Princess, a Poem. Amintor and the Nightingale, a Song. These four were
printed together in 1716.
Of False Fame, an Epistle to the Right Hon. the Earl of Pembroke, 8vo.
A Letter to his Grace the Duke of Chandois.
To the Duke of Buckingham, on his Essay on Poetry.
Several small pieces in the Free Thinker.
Epistles, Odes, &c. written on several Subjects; with a Disseration
concerning the Perfection of the English Language.
Mr. Welsted has translated Longinus's Treatise on the Sublime.
* * * * *
JAMES MORE SMYTH, Esq;
This gentleman was son of Arthur More, esq; one of the lords
commissioners of trade, in the reign of Queen Anne; his mother was the
daughter of Mr. Smyth, a man of considerable fortune, who left this
his grandson a handsome estate, on which account he obtained an Act of
Parliament to change his name to Smyth.
Our author received his education at Oxford, and while he remained
at the university he wrote a comedy called The Rival Modes, his only
dramatic performance. This play was condemned in the representation,
but he printed it in 1727, with the following motto, which the author
of the Notes to the Dunciad, by way of irony, calls modest.
Hic coestus, artemque repono.
Upon the death of our author's grandfather, he enjoyed the place of
paymaster to the band of gentlemen-pensioners, in conjunction with his
younger brother, Arthur More; of this place his mother procured the
reversion from his late Majesty during his father's lifetime. Being a
man of a gay disposition, he insinuated himself into the favour of his
grace the duke of Wharton, and being, like him, destitute of prudence,
he joined with that volatile great man in writing a paper called the
Inquisitor, which breathed so much the spirit of Jacobitism, that the
publisher thought proper to sacrifice his profit to his safety, and
By using too much freedom with the character of Pope, he provoked that
gentleman, who with great spirit stigmatized him in his Dunciad.
In his second book Mr. Pope places before the eyes of the dunces
the phantom of a poet. He seems willing to give some account of the
possibility of dulness making a wit, which can be done no otherwise
than by chance. The lines which have relation to Mr. More are so
elegantly satyric, that it probably will not displease our readers to
find them inserted here.
A poet's form she plac'd before their eyes,
And bad the nimblest racer seize the prize;
No meagre muse-rid mope, adult and thin,
In a dun night gown of his own loose skin,
But such a bulk as no twelve bards could raise,
Twelve starv'ling bards of these degenerate days.
All as a partridge plump, full-fed, and fair,
She form'd this image of well-bodied air,
With pert, slat eyes, she window'd well its head,
A brain of feathers, and a heart of lead,
And empty words she gave, and sounding strain,
But senseless, lifeless! idol void and vain!
Never was dash'd out at one lucky hit,
A fool so just a copy of a wit;
So like, that critics said, and courtiers swore,
A wit it was, and call'd the phantom More.
Though these lines of Pope are sufficiently satirical, yet it seems
they very little affected Mr. More. A gentleman intimately acquainted
with him informs us, that he has heard Mr. More several times repeat
those lines, without discovering any chagrin; and he used to observe,
that he was now secure of being transmitted to posterity: an honour
which, says he, I could never have arrived at, but by Pope's means.
The cause of the quarrel between this gentleman and that great poet
seems to have been this.
In a letter published in the Daily Journal March 18, 1728, written by
Mr. More, he has the following words, 'Upon reading the third volume
of Pope's Miscellanies, I found five lines which I thought excellent,
and happening to praise them, a gentleman produced a modern comedy,
the Rival Modes, published last year, where were the same verses to
a tittle. These gentlemen are undoubtedly the first plagiaries that
pretend to make a reputation, by stealing from a man's works in his
own life-time, and out of a public print.' But it is apparent from the
notes to the Dunciad, that Mr. More himself borrowed the lines from
Pope; for in a letter dated January 27, 1726, addressed to Mr. Pope,
he observes, 'That these verses which he had before given him leave to
insert in the Rival Modes, would be known for his, some copies being
got abroad. He desires, nevertheless, that since the lines in his
comedy have been read to several, Mr. Pope would not deprive it of
As a proof of this circumstance, the testimony of lord Bolingbroke
is adduced, and the lady of Hugh Bethel, esq; to whom the verses were
originally addressed, who knew them to be Mr. Pope's long before the
Rival Modes was composed.
Our author further charges Mr. Pope with being an enemy to the church
and state. 'The Memoirs of a Parish Clerk, says he, was a very dull,
and unjust abuse of the bishop of Sarum (who wrote in defence of our
religion and constitution) who has been dead many years.' 'This also,
continues the author of the Notes to the Dunciad, is likewise untrue,
it being known to divers, that these Memoirs were written at the
seat of the lord Harcourt in Oxfordshire, before the death of bishop
Burnet, and many years before the appearance of that history, of which
they are pretended to be an abuse. Most true it is that Mr. More had
such a design, and was himself the man who pressed Dr. Arbuthnot, and
Mr. Pope to assist him therein; and that he borrowed those Memoirs of
the latter, when that history came forth, with intent to turn them to
such abuse, but being able to obtain from Pope but one single hint,
and either changing his mind, or having more mind than ability, he
contented himself to keep the said Memoirs, and read them as his own
to all his acquaintance. A noble person there is, into whose
company Pope once chanced to introduce him, who well remembered the
conversation of Mr. More to have turned upon the contempt he had for
that reverend prelate, and how full he was of a design he declared
himself to have of exposing him; this noble person is the earl of
Thus Mr. Pope was obliged to represent this gentleman as a plagiary,
or to pass for one himself. His case indeed, as the author of the
notes to the Dunciad observes, was like that of a man who, as he
was sitting in company, perceived his next neighbour had stolen his
handkerchief. 'Sir, said the thief, finding himself detected, do not
expose me, I did it for mere want; be so good but to take it privately
out of my pocket again, and say nothing.' The honest man did so, but
the other cried out, See, gentlemen! what a thief we have among us!
look, he is stealing my handkerchief.' The plagiarism of this person
gave occasion to the following epigram;
More always smiles whenever he recites;
He smiles (you think) approving what he writes;
And yet in this no vanity is shown;
A modest man may like what's not his own.
The smaller pieces which we have heard attributed to this author, are,
An Epigram on the Bridge at Blenheim, by Dr. Evans; Cosmelia, by Mr.
Pitt, Mr. Jones, &c. The Saw-Pit, a Simile, by a Friend; and some
unowned Letters, Advertisements, and Epigrams against Mr. Pope in
the Daily Journal. He died in the year 1734, and as he wrote but one
comedy unsuccessfully, and no other pieces of his meeting with any
applause, the reader will probably look upon him as a man of little
genius; he had a power however of rendering his conversation agreeable
by a facetious and gentleman-like manner, without any of the stiffness
of the scholar, or the usual petulance of a poet. He always lived in
affluent circumstances, and by mixing with genteel company, his habit
of elegance was never lost, a fate which too frequently happens to
those, who, notwithstanding the brightest parts, are excluded the
circle of politeness by the oppressions of poverty. In this light Mr.
Pope must have considered him, or he, who was one of the politest men
of the age, as well as the greatest poet, would never have introduced
him to the earl of Peterborough. It does not appear that Mr. More had
parts otherwise sufficient to entitle him to the notice of Pope, and
therefore he must have considered him only as a gentleman. Had he
possessed as much prudence, as politeness, he would have avoided
by all means incurring the displeasure of Pope, who, as he was the
warmest friend, was likewise a very powerful and implacable enemy. In
this controversy, however, it is evident enough that Mr. Moore was
the aggressor, and it is likewise certain that his punishment has been
equal to his offence.
He died October 18, 1734, at Whister, near Isleworth in Middlesex, for
which county he was a justice of peace.
* * * * *
Mr. JOHN DENNIS,
This celebrated critic was born in London in the year 1657, his father
being a Sadler, and an eminent citizen[A].
He received his early education at Harrow on the Hill, under the pious
and learned Dr. William Horn, having for his schoolfellows many young
noblemen, who afterwards made a considerable figure in the state.
He removed from Harrow to Caius College in Cambridge, where he was
admitted January 13, 1675, in the 18th year of his age. In due time
Mr. Dennis took the degree of bachelor of arts, and after quitting
the university he indulged a passion which he had entertained for
travelling, and set out for France and Italy. In the course of his
travels he, no doubt, made such observations upon the government and
genius of the people whom he visited, as enabled him to make a
just comparison between foreign states and his own country. In
all probability, while he was in France and Italy, he conceived an
abhorrence of despotic government, the effects of which he then had
an opportunity more intimately to discern; for he returned home still
more confirmed in Whig principles, by which his political conduct was
Our author in his early years became acquainted with some of the
brightest geniuses which then illuminated the regions of wit, such as
Dryden, Wycherly, Congreve, and Southern. Their conversation was
in itself sufficient to divert his mind from the acquisition of any
profitable art, or the exercise of any profession. He ranked himself
amongst the wits, and from that moment held every attainment in
contempt, except what related to poetry, and taste.
Mr. Dennis, by the instances of zeal which he gave for the Protestant
succession in the reign of King William, and Queen Anne, obtained the
patronage of the duke of Marlborough, who procured him the place
of one of the Queen's waiters in the Custom-house, worth 120 l.
per annum, which Mr. Dennis held for six years. During the time he
attended at the Custom-house, he lived so profusely, and managed
his affairs with so little economy, that in order to discharge some
pressing demands, he was obliged to dispose of his place. When the
earl of Hallifax, with whom he had the honour of being acquainted,
heard of Mr. Dennis's design, he sent for him, and in the most
friendly manner, expostulated with him upon the folly, and rashness
of disposing of his place, by which (says his lordship) you will
soon become a beggar. Mr. Dennis represented his exigences, and the
pressing demands that were then made upon him: which did not however
satisfy his lordship, who insisted if he did sell it, it should be
with some reversion to himself for the space of forty years, a term
which the earl had no notion Mr. Dennis could exceed. But he was
mistaken in his calculation upon our poet's constitution, who
out-lived the term of forty years stipulated when he sold his place,
and fulfilled in a very advanced age, what his lordship had prophesied
would befal him. This circumstance our author hints at in his
dedication of his poem on the Battle of Ramellies, to lord Hallifax,
'I have lately, says he, had very great obligations to your lordship,
you have been pleased to take some care of my fortune, at a time when
I most wanted it, and had the least reason to expect it from you.'
This poem on the Battle of Ramellies is a cold unspirited performance;
it has neither fire, nor elevation, and is the true poetical sister
of another poem of his, on the Battle of Blenheim, addressed to Queen
Anne, and for which the duke of Marlborough rewarded him, says Mr.
Coxeter, with a present of a hundred guineas. In these poems he
has introduced a kind of machinery; good and bad angels interest
themselves in the action, and his hero, the duke of Marlborough,
enjoys a large share of the celestial protection.
Mr. Dennis had once contracted a friendship[B] with Sir Richard
Steele, whom he afterwards severely attacked. Sir Richard had promised
that he would take some opportunity of mentioning his works in public
with advantage, and endeavour to raise his reputation. When Sir
Richard engaged in a periodical paper, there was a fair occasion
of doing it, and accordingly in one of his Spectators he quotes the
following couplet, which he is pleased to call humorous, but which
however is a translation from Boileau.
One fool lolls his tongue out at another,
And shakes his empty noddle at his brother.
The citation of this couplet Mr. Dennis imagined, was rather meant to
affront him, than pay a compliment to his genius, as he could discover
nothing excellent in the lines, and if there was, they being only a
translation, in some measure abated the merit of them. Being fired with
resentment at this affront, he immediately, in a spirit of fury, wrote
a letter to the Spectator, in which he treated him with very little
ceremony, and informed him, that if he had been sincere in paying a
compliment to him, he should have chosen a quotation from his poem on
the Battle of Ramellies; he then points out a particular passage,
of which he himself had a very high opinion, and which we shall here
insert as a specimen of that performance.
A coelestial spirit visits the duke of Marlborough the night before
the battle, and after he has said several other things to him, goes on
A wondrous victory attends thy arms,
Great in itself, and in its sequel vast;
Whose ecchoing sound thro' all the West shall run,
Transporting the glad nations all around,
Who oft shall doubt, and oft suspend their joy,
And oft imagine all an empty dream;
The conqueror himself shall cry amaz'd,
'Tis not our work, alas we did it not;
The hand of God, the hand of God is here!
For thee, so great shall be thy high renown,
That same shall think no music like thy name,
Around the circling globe it shall be spread,
And to the world's last ages shall endure;
And the most lofty, most aspiring man,
Shall want th' assurance in his secret prayers
To ask such high felicity and fame,
As Heav'n has freely granted thee; yet this
That seems so great, so glorious to thee now,
Would look how low, how vile to thy great mind,
If I could set before th' astonished eyes,
Th' excess of glory, and th' excess of bliss
That is prepar'd for thy expiring soul,
When thou arriv'st at everlasting day.
The quotation by Mr. Dennis is longer, but we are persuaded the reader
will not be displeased that we do not take the trouble to transcribe
the whole, as it does not improve, but rather grows more languid.
How strangely are people deceived in their own productions! In the
language of sincerity we cannot discover a poetical conception, one
striking image, or one animated line in the above, and yet Mr. Dennis
observes to Sir Richard Steele, that these are the lines, by quoting
which, he would really have done him honour.
But Mr. Dennis's resentment did not terminate here; he attempted to
expose a paper in the Spectator upon dramatic conduct, in which
the author endeavours to shew that a poet is not always obliged to
distribute poetical justice on this very reasonable account, that
good and evil happen alike to all men on this side the grave. To this
proposition our critic objects, 'that it is not only a very false, but
a dangerous assertion, that we neither know what men really are, nor
what they suffer. Besides, says he, let it be considered, that a man
is a creature, who is created immortal, and a creature consequently
that will find a compensation in futurity, for any seeming inequality
in his destiny here; but the creatures of a poetical creator, are
imaginary, and transitory; they have no longer duration than the
representation of their respective fables, and consequently if
they offend, they must be punished during that representation, and
therefore we are very far from pretending, that poetical justice is
an equal representation of the justice of the Almighty.' In support
of this opinion our critic produces the example of Euripides, and the
best poets amongst the ancients, who practised it, and the authority
of Aristole, who established the rule. But nature, or Shakespear,
which is another word for nature, is by no means in favour of this
equal distribution. No character can be represented in tragedy
absolutely perfect, as no such character exists; but a character which
possesses more virtues than vices, may be upon the whole amiable, and
yet with the strictest propriety may be made the chief sufferer in the
drama. If any passion strongly predominates in the heart of man,
it will often expose him to such snares, entangle him in such
difficulties, and oppress him with such wants, that in the very nature
of things, he must sink under the complicated weight of misery. This
may happen to a character extremely amiable, the passion which governs
him may be termed unhappy, but not guilty, or if it should partake the
nature of guilt, fallible creatures cannot always combat with success
against guilty passions.
The drama being an imitation of nature, the poet causes a composition
of characters formed in his imagination to be represented by players;
these characters charm, or displease, not only for what they do;
during the representation of the fable, but we love, or hate them for
what they have done before their appearance; and we dread, or warmly
expect the consequences of their resolutions after they depart the
stage. The illusion would not be sufficiently strong, if we did not
suppose the dramatic persons equally accountable to the powers above
us, as we are ourselves. This Shakespear has taken care forcibly to
impress upon his audience, in making the ghost of the murthered king
of Denmark, charge his son not to touch his mother's life, but leave
her to heaven; and the reflexions of her own conscience to goad and
Mr. Dennis's reasoning, upon the whole amounts to this, that no
perfect character should suffer in the drama; to which it may be
answered, that no perfect character ever did suffer in the drama;
because no poet who draws from nature, ever introduced one, for this
very good reason, that there are none in existence.
Mr. Dennis, who was restless in attacking those writers, who met with
success, levelled some more criticisms against the Spectators; and
amongst the rest endeavoured to expose Mr. Addison's Illustrations of
the Old Ballad, called Chevy Chace; of which we shall only say,
that he performed this talk more successfully than he executed his
Animadversions upon Poetical Justice.
We have already taken notice of the warm attachment Mr. Dennis always
had to the Whig-Interest, and his particular zeal for the
Hanoverian succession. Ht wrote many letters and pamphlets, for the
administration of the earl of Godolphin, and the duke of Marlborough,
and never failed to lash the French with all the severity natural to
When the peace (which the Whigs reckoned the most inglorious that
ever was made) was about to be ratified, Mr. Dennis, who certainly
over-rated his importance, took it into his imagination, that when the
terms of peace should be stipulated, some persons, who had been
most active against the French, would be demanded by that nation as
hostages; and he imagined himself of importance enough to be made
choice of, but dreaded his being given up to the French, as the
greatest evil that could befall him. Under the influence of this
strong delusion, he actually waited on the duke of Marlborough, and
begg'd his grace's interposition, that he might not be sacrificed to
the French, for says he, 'I have always been their enemy.' To this
strange request, his grace very gravely replied, 'Do not fear, Mr.
Dennis, you shall not be given up to the French; I have been a
greater enemy to them than you, and you see I am not afraid of being
sacrificed, nor am in the least disturbed.' Mr. Dennis upon this
retired, well satisfied with his grace's answer, but there still
remained upon his spirits a dread of his becoming a prey to some of
the enemies of Great Britain.
He soon after this retired into the country, to spend some time at a
friend's house. While he was walking one day by the sea side, he saw a
ship in full sail approaching towards the shore, which his distracted
imagination dictated, was a French ship sent to carry him off. He
hurried to the gentleman's house with the utmost precipitation,
upbraided him with treachery, as being privy to the attempts of the
French against his life, and without ceremony quitted his house, and
posted to London, as fast as he could.
Mr. Dennis, who never cared to be an unconcerned spectator, when any
business of a public or important nature was in agitation, entered
the lists with the celebrated Mr. Sacheverel, who in the year 1702
published at Oxford a piece called the Political Union, the purport
of which was to shew, that the Church and the State are invariably
connected, and that the one cannot subsist without the other. Mr.
Dennis in answer to this, in a letter to a member of parliament, with
much zeal, force of argument, and less ferocity than usual, endeavours
to overthrow the proposition, and shew the danger of priestcraft, both
to religion and government.
In this letter he very sensibly observes, 'That since the very spirit
of the christian religion, is the spirit of union and charity, it
follows by consequence, that a spirit of division, is a spirit of
malice, and of the Devil. A true son of the church, is he who appears
most for union, who breathes nothing but charity; who neglects all
worldly greatness to bear his master's yoke; and, who has learned of
him to be meek and lowly of heart.'
He shews that the moderate part of the Church of England are the
truest church; and that violent party which differs from the moderate
ought to be called Dissenters, because they are at a greater distance
from charity, which is the characteristic of a true church, than any
Dissenters. By which, says he, 'It appears that Mr. Sacheverel has
made a rod to whip himself, for if only the true Church of England
is to remain, and if the moderate part is the true church, the most
violent ought the least to be tolerated, because they differ from
charity; and consequently are more ready to disturb the public peace.'
In 1703 he published proposals for putting a speedy end to the war, by
ruining the commerce of the French and Spaniards, and securing our own
without any additional expence to the nation. This was thought a very
judicious, and well designed plan.
In 1706 our author published an Essay on the Italian Opera, in
which, with an irresistable force, he shews the extreme danger that a
generous nation is exposed to, by too much indulging effeminate
music. In the preface he quotes a passage from Boileau, in which that
satirist expresses himself with much severity against emasculating
diversions; and the Italian music in particular.
He observes, 'That the modern Italians have the very same sun and soil
with the antient Romans, and yet are their manners directly opposite.
Their men are neither virtuous, wise, or valiant, and they who have
reason to know their women, never trust them out of their sight. 'Tis
impossible to give any reason for so great a difference between the
ancient Romans, and the modern Italians, but only luxury; and the
reigning luxury of modern Italy, is that soft and effeminate music,
which abounds in the Opera.'
In this Essay Mr. Dennis remarks, that entertainments entirely made
up of music can never instruct the mind, nor promote one excellent
purpose in human nature. 'Perhaps, says he, the pride and vanity that
is in mankind, may determine the generality to give into music, at the
expence of poetry. Men love to enjoy their pleasures entirely, and not
to have them restrained by awe, or curbed by mortification. Now there
are but few judicious spectators at our dramatic representations,
since none can be so, but who with great endowments of nature have had
a very generous education; and the rest are frequently mortified, by
passing foolish judgments: But in music the case is vastly different;
to judge of that requires only use, and a fine ear, which the footman
oft has a great deal finer than his master. In short, a man without
common sense may very well judge of what a man writes without common
sense, and without common sense composes.' He then inquires what
the consequence will be if we banish poetry, which is, that taste,
politeness, erudition and public spirit will fall with it, and all for
a Song. The declension of poetry in Greece and Rome was soon followed
by that of liberty and empire; according to Roscommon in his Essay on
True poets are the guardians of a state,
And when they fail, portend approaching fate:
For that which Rome to conquest did inspire,
Was not the Vestal, but the Muses fire;
Heav'n joins the blessings, no declining age
E'er felt the raptures of poetic rage.
In 1711 Mr. Dennis published an Essay upon Public Spirit, being a
satire in prose, upon the Manners and Luxury of the Times, the chief
sources of our present Parties and Divisions. This is one of the most
finished performances of our author; the intention is laudable, and
the execution equal to the goodness of the design. He begins the
Essay, with a definition, of the love of our country, shews how
much the phrase has been prostituted, and how seldom understood, or
practised in its genuine sense. He then observes how destructive it is
to indulge an imitation of foreign fashions; that fashions are often
followed by the manners of a people from whom they are borrowed; as
in the beginning of king Charles the IId's reign. After the general
distraction which was immediately consequent upon the Restoration,
lord Halifax informs us, the people began to shake off their slavery
in point of dress, and to be ashamed of their servility in that
particular; 'and that they might look the more, says his lordship,
like a distinct people, they threw off their fashions, and put on
vests: The French did not like this independence, this slight shewn to
their taste, as they thought it portended no good to their politics,
considering that it is a natural introduction, first to make the world
their asses, that they may afterwards make them their slaves.
They sent over the duchess of Portsmouth, who, besides many other
commissions, bore one to laugh us out of our vests, which she
performed so effectually, that in a moment we were like so many
footmen, who had quitted their masters livery, we took it again, and
returned to our old service. So that the very time of doing this gave
a very critical advantage to France, since it looked like an evidence
or returning to their interests, as well as their fashions.'
After giving this quotation from the marquis of Halifax, he proceeds
to inveigh against the various kinds of luxury, in which people of
fashion indulge themselves.
He observes that luxury has in a particular manner been destructive
to the ladies: 'That artificial dainties raise in their constitutions
fierce ebullitions, and violent emotions, too rude for the delicate
texture of their fibres; and for half the year together, they
neither take any air, nor use any exercise to remove them. From hence
distempers of body and mind; from hence an infinity of irregular
desires, unlawful amours, intrigues, vapours, and whimsies, and all
the numerous, melancholy croud of deep hysterical symptoms; from
hence it comes to pass that the fruit of their bodies lie in them like
plants in hot-beds; from hence it proceeds that our British maids, who
in the time of our Henrys, were not held marriageable till turned
of twenty, are now become falling ripe at twelve, and forced to
prematureness, by the heat of adventitious fire. Nor has luxury only
changed our natures, but transformed our sexes: We have men that are
more soft, more languid, and more passive than women. On the other
side we have women, who, as it were in revenge, are masculine in their
desires, and masculine in their practices.'
In a pretty advanced age Mr. Dennis, who then laboured under severe
necessities, published two volumes of Letters, by subscription, which
are by far the most entertaining part of his writings. They have more
sprightliness and force in them than, from reading his other works,
we would be disposed to imagine. They are addressed to persons
distinguished by their fortune, genius, and exalted station; the
duke of Marlborough, the Lord Lansdowne, earl of Godolphin, earl of
Halifax, Mr. Dryden, Mr. Prior, Mr. Wycherley, Henry Cromwel, Esq;
Walter Moyle, Esq; and Sir Richard Blackmore. He entitles them
Letters, Moral and Critical. The Critical are chiefly imployed upon
Mr. Addison's Cato, which he censures in some places with great
justice, and critical propriety: In other places he only discovers
spleen, and endeavours to burlesque noble passages, merely from
resentment to the author.
There is likewise published amongst these letters, an enquiry into
the genius and writings of Shakespear. He contends for Shakespear's
ignorance of the ancients, and observes, that it would derogate
much from his glory to suppose him to have read, or understood them,
because if he had, his not practicing their art, and not restraining
the luxuriance of his imagination would be a reproach to him. After
bestowing the highest panegyric upon Shakespear, he says, 'That he
seems to have been the very original of our English tragical harmony;
that is the harmony of blank verse, diversified often by dissyllable
and trisyllable terminations. For that diversity distinguishes it from
heroic harmony, and bringing it nearer to common use, makes it more
proper to gain attention, and more fit for action, and dialogue. Such
verses we make when we are writing prose, we make such verse in common
One of the reasons Mr. Dennis assigns for Shakespear's want of
learning, is, that Julius Caesar, in the play which goes by his name,
makes but a third rate figure, and had he (says the author) consulted
the Latin writers, he could not have been guilty of such an error; but
this is far from being conclusive, which might us well be owing to
his having a contempt for Caesar's character, and an enthusiastic
admiration for those of Brutus and Cassius.
Another prose Essay of Mr. Dennis's, which does him very great honour,
is his Grounds of Criticism in Poetry. Amongst many masterly things,
which he there advances, is the following. 'The antient poets (says
he) derived that advantage which they have over the moderns, to the
constituting their subjects after a religious manner; and from the
precepts of Longinus, it appears that the greatest sublimity is to be
derived from religious ideas.'
Mr. Dennis then observes, that one of the principal reasons, that has
made the modern poetry so contemptible, is that by divesting itself of
religion, it is fallen from its dignity, and its original nature and
excellence; and from the greatest production in the mind of man, it is
dwindled to an extravagant, and vain amusement. When subjects are in
themselves great, the ideas of the writer must likewise be great; and
nothing is in its nature so dignified as religion. This he illustrates
by many examples from Milton, who when he raises his voice to heaven,
and speaks the language of the divinity, then does he reach the true
sublime; but when he descends to the more trifling consideration of
human things, his wing is necessarily depressed, and his strains are
less transporting. We shall now take a view of Mr. Dennis, in that
part of his life and writings, in which he makes a less considerable
figure, by exposing himself to the resentment of one so much his
superior; and who, after a long provocation, at last, let loose his
rage against him, in a manner that no time can obliterate. Mr. Dennis
we have already observed, waged a perpetual war with successful
writers, except those few who were his friends; but never engaged with
so much fury, and less justice, against the writings of any poet, as
those of Mr. Pope.
Some time after the death of Dryden, when Pope's reputation began to
grow, his friends who were sanguine in his interest, were imprudent
enough to make comparisons, and really assert, that Pope was the
greatest poet of the two: Dennis, who had made court to Dryden, and
was respected by him, heard this with indignation, and immediately
exerted all the criticism and force of which he was master, to reduce
the character of Pope. In this attempt he neither has succeeded, nor
did he pursue it like a gentleman.
In his reflexions on Pope's Essay on Criticism, he uses the following
unmannerly epithets. 'A young squab, short gentleman, whose outward
form tho' it should be that of a downright monkey, would not differ
so much from human shape, as his unthinking, immaterial part does
from human understanding.--He is as stupid and as venomous as an
hunch-backed toad.--A book through which folly and ignorance, those
brethren so lame, and impotent, do ridiculously look very big, and
very dull, and strut, and hobble cheek by jowl, with their arms on
kimbo, being led, and supported, and bully-backed, by that blind
Hector impudence.' The reasons which our critic gives for this
extraordinary fury are equally ridiculous. 'I regard him (says he) as
an enemy, not so much to me, as to my king, to my country, and to my
religion. The epidemic madness of the times has given him reputation,
and reputation is power; and that has made him dangerous. Therefore
I look on it as my duty to king George, and to the liberties of my
country, more dear than life to me, of which I have now been 40
years a constant assertor, &c. I look upon it as my duty I say to
do,--Reader observe what,--To pull the lion's skin from this little
ass, which popular error has thrown round him, and shew that this
little author, who has been lately so much in vogue, has neither sense
in his thoughts, nor English in his expressions. See his Remarks on
Homer, Pref. p. 2. and p. 91.
Speaking of Mr. Pope's Windsor-Forrest, he says, 'It is a wretched
rhapsody, impudently writ in emulation of Cooper's-Hill. The author
of it is obscure, is ambiguous, is affected, is temerarious, is
After these provocations, it is no wonder that Pope should take an
opportunity of recording him in his Dunciad; and yet he had some
esteem for our author's learning and genius. Mr. Dennis put his name
to every thing he wrote against him, which Mr. Pope considered as
a circumstance of candour. He pitied him as a man subject to the
dominion of invidious passions, than which no severer sensations can
tear the heart of man.
In the first Book of his Dunciad. line 103, he represents Dullness
taking a view of her sons; and thus mentions Dennis,
She saw slow Philips creep like Tate's poor page,
And all the mighty mad in Dennis rage.
He mentions him again slightly in his second Book, line 230, and in
his third Book, line 165, taking notice of a quarrel between him and
Mr. Gildon, he says,
Ah Dennis! Gildon ah! what ill-starr'd rage
Divides a friendship long confirm'd by age?
Blockheads, with reason, wicked wits abhor,
But fool with fool, is barbr'ous civil war,
Embrace, embrace, my sons! be foes no more!
Nor glad vile poets, with true critic's gore.
Our author gained little by his opposition to Pope, in which he must
either have violated his judgment, or been under the influence of the
strongest prejudice that ever blinded the eyes of any man; for not to
admire the writings of this excellent poet, is an argument of a total
deprivation of taste, which in other respects does not appear to be
the case of Mr. Dennis.
We shall now take a view of our author in the light of a dramatist.
In the year 1697 a comedy of his was acted at the Theatre-Royal
in Drury-Lane, called A Plot and No Plot, dedicated to the Earl of
Sunderland. The scope of this piece is to ridicule the credulity and
principles of the Jacobites, the moral of which is this, 'That there
are in all parties, persons who find it their interest to deceive
the rest, and that one half of every faction makes a property in
fee-simple of the other, therefore we ought never to believe any thing
will, or will not be, because it is agreeable, or contrary to our
humours, but because it is in itself likely, or improbable. Credulity
in men, engaged in a party, proceeds oftner from pride than weakness,
and it is the hardest thing in the world to impose upon a humble man.'
In 1699 a tragedy called Rinaldo and Armida was acted at the Theatre
in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, dedicated to the Duke of Ormond. Scene the
top of a mountain in the Canaries. The hint of the chief characters
is owing to Tasso's Gierusalemme, but the manners of them being by our
author thought unequal in that great Italian, he has taken the liberty
to change them, and form his characters more agreeable to the subject.
The reasons for doing it are expressed in the preface and prologue to
Our author's next tragedy was upon the subject of Iphigenia, daughter
to Agamemnon King of Argos, acted at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn
1704. Iphigenia was to have been sacrificed by her father, who was
deluded by the fraud of Calchas, who proclaimed throughout the Grecian
fleet, that the offended gods demanded of Agamemnon the sacrifice of
his daughter to Lucina, and till, that oblation was offered, the fleet
would remain wind-bound. Accordingly, under pretence of marrying
her to Achilles, she was betrayed from Argos, but her mother,
Clytemnestra, discovering the cheat, by a stratagem prevented its
execution, and effected her rescue without the knowledge of any one
but her husband Agamemnon. A Grecian virgin being sacrificed in her
place, Iphigenia is afterwards wrecked on the Coast of Scythia, and
made the Priestess of Diana. In five years time her brother Orestes,
and his friend Pylades, are wrecked on the same shore, but saved from
slaughter by the Queen of Scythia, because she loved Orestes. Orestes,
on the other hand, falls in love with the Priestess of Diana; they
attempt an escape, and to carry off the image of the Goddess, but are
prevented. The Queen then dooms Orestes to the altar, but Pylades,
from his great friendship, personates Orestes, and disconcerts the
design. The story and incidents of this play are interesting and
moving, but Mr. Dennis has not wrought the scenes much in the spirit
of a tragedian: This was a subject admirably suited for the talents
of Otway. The discovery of Orestes's being the brother of Iphigenia
is both surprizing and natural, and though the subject is not well
executed, yet is this by far the most affecting tragedy of our author;
it is almost impossible to read it without tears, though it abounds
The fourth play introduced upon the stage by Mr. Dennis, 1704, was, a
tragedy called Liberty Asserted, dedicated to Anthony Henley, esq;
to whom he says he was indebted for the happy hint upon which it was
formed. Soon after this he wrote another tragedy upon the story of
Appius and Virginia, which Mr. Maynwaring, in a letter to Mr. Dennis,
calls one of our best modern tragedies; it is dedicated to Sidney Earl
He altered Shakespear's Merry Wives of Windsor, and brought it on the
stage under the title of The Comical Gallant. Prefixed to this, is
a large account of Taste in Poetry, and the Causes of its Degeneracy
addressed to the Hon. George Granville, Esq; afterwards Lord
Our author's next dramatic production was Coriolanus, the Invader
of his Country, or the Fatal Resentment, a Tragedy; altered from
Shakespear, and acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane. This piece
met with some opposition the first night; and on the fourth another
play was given out. The second night's audience was very small, though
the play was exceedingly well acted. The third night had not the
charges in money; the fourth was still worse, and then another play
was given out, not one place being taken in the boxes for any ensuing
night. The managers were therefore obliged to discontinue it.
This usage Mr. Dennis highly resented; and in his dedication to the
duke of Newcastle, then lord chamberlain, he makes a formal complaint
against the managers. To this play Mr. Colley Cibber took the pains to
write an epilogue, which Mrs. Oldfield spoke with universal applause,
and for which poor peevish, jealous Dennis, abused them both.
Mr. Dennis happened once to go to the play, when a tragedy was acted,
in which the machinery of thunder was introduced, a new artificial
method of producing which he had formerly communicated to the
managers. Incensed by this circumstance, he cried out in a transport
of resentment, 'That is my thunder by G--d; the villains will play my
thunder, but not my plays.' This gave an alarm to the pit, which
he soon explained. He was much subject to these kind of whimsical
transports, and suffered the fervor of his imagination often to subdue
the power of his reason; an instance of which we shall now relate.
After he was worn out with age and poverty, he resided within the
verge of the court, to prevent danger from his creditors. One Saturday
night he happened to saunter to a public house, which he discovered in
a short time was out of the verge. He was sitting in an open drinking
room, and a man of a suspicious appearance happened to come in. There
was something about the man which denoted to Mr. Dennis that he was a
Bailiff: this struck him with a panic; he was afraid his liberty was
now at an end; he sat in the utmost solicitude, but durst not offer to
stir, lest he should be seized upon. After an hour or two had passed
in this painful anxiety, at last the clock struck twelve, when Mr.
Dennis, in an extasy, cried out, addressing himself to the suspected
person, 'Now sir, Bailiff, or no Bailiff, I don't care a farthing for
you, you have no power now.' The man was astonished at this behaviour,
and when it was explained to him, he was so much affronted with the
suspicion, that had not Mr. Dennis found his protection in age, he
would have smarted for his mistaken opinion of him.
In the year 1705 a comedy of Mr. Dennis's called Gibraltar, or The
Spanish Adventure, was acted unsuccessfully at Drury-Lane Theatre. He
was also author of a masque called Orpheus and Euridice.
Mr. Dennis, considered as a dramatic writer, makes not so good a
figure as in his critical works; he understood the rules of writing,
but it is not in the power of every one to carry their own theory into
execution. There is one error which he endeavoured to reform, very
material for the interest of dramatic poetry. He saw, with concern,
that love had got the entire possession of the tragic stage, contrary
to the authority of the ancients, and the example of Shakespear. He
resolved therefore to deviate a little from the reigning practice, and
not to make his heroes such whining slaves in their amours, which
not only debases the majesty of tragedy, but confounds most of the
principal characters, by making that passion the predominant quality
in all. But he did not think it safe at once to shew his principal
characters wholly exempt from it, lest so great and sudden a
transition should prove disagreeable. He rather chose to steer a
middle course, and make love appear violent, but yet to be subdued
by reason, and give way to the influence of some other more noble
passion; as in Rinaldo, to Glory; in Iphigenia, to Friendship; and
in Liberty Asserted, to the Public Good. He thought by these means an
audience might be entertained, and prepared for greater alterations,
whereby the dignity of tragedy might be supported, and its principal
characters justly distinguished.
Besides the works which we have already mentioned, Mr. Dennis is
author of the following pieces, mostly in the Pindaric way.
Upon our Victory at Sea, and burning the French Fleet at La Hogne in
Part of the Te Deum Paraphrased, in Pindaric Verse.
To Mr. Dryden, upon his Translation of the Third Book of Virgil's
Georgics. Pindaric Ode.
A Pindaric Ode on the King, written in the beginning of August 1691;
occasioned by the Victory at Aghrim.
To a Painter drawing a Lady's Picture, an Epigram.
Prayer for the King's Safety in the Summer's Expedition in 1692, an
The Court of Death, a Pindaric Poem; dedicated to the Memory of her
Most Sacred Majesty Queen Mary.
The Passion of Byblis, made English from the Ninth Book of Ovid's
The Monument, a Poem; sacred to the Memory of the best, and greatest
of Kings, William III.
Britannia Triumphans, or A Poem on the Battle of Blenheim; dedicated
to Queen Anne.
On the Accession of King George to the Imperial Crown of Great
The following specimen, which is part of a Paraphrase on the Te Deum,
serves to shew, that Mr. Dennis wrote with more elegance in Pindaric
odes, than in blank verse.
Now let us sing a loftier strain,
Now let us earth and earthly things disdain,
Now let our souls to Heaven repair,
Direct their most aspiring flight,
To fields of uncreated light,
And dare to draw empyreal air.
'Tis done, O place divinely bright!
O Sons of God divinely fair!
O sight! unutterable sight!
O unconceivable delight!
O joy which only Gods can bear!
Heark how their blissful notes they raise,
And sing the Great Creator's praise!
How in extatic song they cry,
Lo we the glorious sons of light,
So great, so beautiful, so bright,
Lo we the brightest of created things,
Who are all flame, all force, all spirit, and all eye,
Are yet but vile, and nothing in thy sight!
Before thy feet O mighty King of kings,
O Maker of this bounteous all!
Thus lowly reverent we fall.
After a life exposed to vicissitudes, habituated to many
disappointments, and embroiled in unsuccessful quarrels, Mr. Dennis
died on the 6th of January 1733, in the 77th year of his age. We have
observed that he outlived the reversion of his place, after which
he fell into great distress, and as he had all his life been making
enemies, by the ungovernable fury of his temper, he found few persons
disposed to relieve him. When he was near the close of his days, a
play was acted for his benefit. This favour was procured him by the
joint interest of Mr. Thomson, Mr. Martin, Mr. Mallet, and Mr. Pope.
The play was given by the company then acting at the little Theatre in
the Hay-market, under the direction of Mr. Mills sen. and Mr. Cibber
jun. the latter of whom spoke a prologue on the occasion, written by
Mr. Dennis was less happy in his temper, than his genius; he possessed
no inconsiderable erudition, which was joined to such natural parts,
as if accompanied with prudence, or politeness, might have raised him,
not only above want, but even to eminence. He was happy too in having
very powerful patrons, but what could be done for a man, who declared
war against all the world? Dennis has given evidence against himself
in the article of politeness; for in one of his letters he says, he
would not retire to a certain place in the country, lest he should be
disturbed in his studies by the ladies in the house: for, says he,
I am not over-fond of the conversation of women. But with all his
foibles, we cannot but consider him as a good critic, and a man of
His perpetual misfortune was, that he aimed at the empire of wit, for
which nature had not sufficiently endowed him; and as his ambition
prompted him to obtain the crown by a furious opposition to all other
competitors, so, like Caesar of old, his ambition overwhelmed him.
[Footnote A: Jacob's Lives of the Poets.]
[Footnote B: Which friendship he ill repaid. Sir Richard once became
bail for Dennis, who hearing that Sir Richard was arrested on his
account, cried out; "'Sdeath! Why did not he keep out of the way, as I
* * * * *
G. GRANVILLE, L. LANSDOWNE,
Was descended from an illustrious family, which traced their ancestry
from Rollo, the first duke of Normandy. He was second son of Bernard
Granville, and grandson of the famous Sir Bevil Granville, killed
at the battle of Lansdowne 1643. This nobleman received the first
tincture of his education in France, under the tuition of Sir
William Ellis, a gentleman, who was eminent afterwards in many public
When our author was but eleven years of age, he was sent to Trinity
College in Cambridge, where he remained five years, but at the age of
thirteen was admitted to the degree of master of arts, having, before
he was twelve years old, spoken a copy of English verses, of his own
composition, to the Duchess of York, when her Royal Highness paid a
visit to that university.
At the time when the nation was embroiled by the public distractions,
occasioned by the efforts of King James II. to introduce Popery,
lord Lansdowne did not remain an unconcerned spectator. He had early
imbibed principles of loyalty, and as some of his forefathers had
fallen in the cause of Charles I. he thought it was his duty to
sacrifice his life also, for the interest of his Sovereign. However
mistaken he might be in this furious zeal for a Prince, the chief
scope of whose reign was to overthrow the law, and introduce absolute
dominion, yet he appears to be perfectly sincere. In a letter he wrote
to his father upon the expected approach of the Prince of Orange's
fleet, he expresses the most ardent desire to serve the King in
person[A]. This letter we shall insert, but beg our readers patience
to make a digression, which will justify what we have said concerning
The genuine mark of a tyrant is cruelty, and it is with concern we
can produce an instance of the most inhuman barbarity in that Prince,
which ever stained the Annals of any reign. Cruelty should be the
badge of no party; it ought to be equally the abhorrence of all; and
whoever is tainted with it, should be set up to view, as a terror
to the world, as a monster, whom it is the interest of mankind to
After the suppression of Monmouth's rebellion, many of the unfortunate
persons engaged In it fled to London, and took shelter there, 'till
the Act of Indemnity should be published. They who afforded them
shelter, were either of the Monmouth faction, or induced from
principles of humanity, to administer to their safety: what would
become of the world, if our friends were always to forsake us in
distress? There lived then in London an amiable lady, attached to no
party, who enjoyed a large fortune, which she spent in the exercise of
the most extensive beneficence. She made it her business to visit the
Jails, and the prisoners who were most necessitous and deserving,
she relieved. Her house was an asylum for the poor; she lived but for
charity, and she had every hour the prayers of the widow and orphan
poured out to her. It happened that one of the rebels found shelter in
her house; she suffered him to be screened there; she fed and cloathed
him. The King had often declared that he would rather pardon those
who were found in arms against him, than the people who harboured, or
secretly encouraged them. This miscreant, who sometimes ventured out
at night to a public house, was informed, that the King had made
such a declaration, and it entered into his base heart to betray his
benefactress. He accordingly went before a magistrate, and lodged an
information, upon which the lady was secured, brought to a trial, and
upon the evidence of this ungrateful villain, cast for her life. She
suffered at a stake with the most resigned chearfulness, for when
a woman is convicted of treason, it seems, she is sentenced to be
burnt[B]. The reader will easily judge what sort of bowels that King
must have, who could permit such a punishment to take place upon
a woman so compleatly amiable, upon the evidence of a villain so
consummately infamous, and he will, we are persuaded, be of opinion
that had his Majesty possessed a thousand kingdoms, he deserved to
lose them all for this one act of genuine barbarity.
Lord Lansdowne. who did not consider, or was not then capable of
discovering, the dangers to which this prince exposed his people,
wrote the following letter to his father, earnestly pressing him to
permit his entering voluntarily into king James's service.
'Your having no prospect of obtaining a commission for me, can no way
alter, or cool my desire at this important juncture, to venture my
life, in some manner or other, for my King and country. I cannot bear
to live under the reproach of lying obscure and idle in a country
retirement, when every man, who has the least sense of honour,
should be preparing for the field. You may remember, sir, with what
reluctance I submitted to your commands upon Monmouth's rebellion,
when no importunity could prevail with you to permit me to leave the
academy; I was too young to be hazarded; but give me leave to say, it
is glorious, at any age, to die for one's country; and the sooner, the
nobler sacrifice; I am now older by three years. My uncle Bath was not
so old, when he was left among the slain at the battle of Newberry,
nor you yourself, sir, when you made your escape from your Tutors, to
join your brother in the defence of Scilly. The same cause is now come
round about again. The King has been misled, let those who misled
him be answerable for it. Nobody can deny but he is sacred in his
own person, and it is every honest man's duty to defend it. You are
pleased to say it is yet doubtful, if the Hollanders are rash enough
to make such an attempt. But be that as it will, I beg leave to be
presented to his Majesty, as one, whose utmost ambition is to devote
his life to his service, and my country's, after the example of all my
ancestors. The gentry assembled at York, to agree upon the choice of
representatives for the county, have prepared an Address to assure his
Majesty they are ready to sacrifice their lives and fortunes for him
upon this, and all other occasions, but at the some time they humbly
beseech him to give them such magistrates as may be agreeable to the
laws of the land, for at present there is no authority to which they
can legally submit. By what I can hear, every body wishes well to the
King, but would be glad his ministers were hanged. The winds continue
so contrary, that no landing can be so soon as was apprehended,
therefore I may hope, with your leave and assistance, to be in
readiness before any action can begin; I beseech you, sir, most
humbly, and most earnestly, to add this one act of indulgence more,
to so many testimonies I have so constantly received of your
goodness, and be pleased to believe me always with the utmost duty and
We are not told whether his father yielded to his importunity, or
whether he was presented to his Majesty; but if he really joined the
army, it was without danger to his person, for the revolution was
effected in England without one drop of blood. In the year 1690 Lord
Lansdowne wrote a copy of verses addressed to Mrs. Elizabeth
Higgins, in answer to a poetical Address sent him by that lady in
his retirement. The verses of the lady are very elegant, and are only
exceeded by the polite compliments his lordship wrote in answer to
them. They both deserve a place here,
Why Granville is thy life to shades confin'd,
Thou whom the Gods design'd
In public to do credit to mankind?
Why sleeps the noble ardour of thy blood,
Which from thy ancestors so many ages past,
From Rollo down to Bevil flowed,
And then appeared again at last,
In thee when thy victorious lance
Bore the disputed prize from all the youth of France.
In the first trials which are made for fame,
Those to whom fate success denies,
If taking council from their shame,
They modestly retreat are wise;
But why should you, who still succeed,
Whether with graceful art you lead
The fiery barb, or with a graceful motion tread
In shining balls where all agree
To give the highest praise to thee?
Such harmony in every motion's sound,
As art could ne'er express by any sound.
So lov'd and prais'd whom all admire,
Why, why should you from courts and camps retire?
If Myra is unkind, if it can be
That any nymph can be unkind to thee;
If pensive made by love, you thus retire,
Awake your muse, and string your lyre;
Your tender song, and your melodious strain
Can never be address'd in vain;
She needs must love, and we shall have you back again.
His lordship's Answer thus begins.
Cease, tempting syren, cease thy flattering strain,
Sweet is thy charming song, but song in vain:
When the winds blow, and loud the tempests roar,
What fool would trust the waves, and quit the shore?
Early and vain into the world I came,
Big with false hopes and eager after fame:
Till looking round me, e'er the race began,
Madmen and giddy fools were all that ran.
Reclaimed betimes, I from the lists retire,
And thank the Gods, who my retreat inspire.
In happier times our ancestors were bred,
When virtue was the only path to tread.
Give me, ye Gods, but the same road to fame,
Whate'er my father's dar'd, I dare the same.
Changed is the scene, some baneful planet rules
An impious world contriv'd for knaves and fools.
He concludes with the following lines
Happy the man, of mortals happiest he,
Whose quiet mind of vain desires is free;
Whom neither hopes deceive, nor fears torment,
But lives at peace, within himself content,
In thought or act accountable to none
But to himself, and to the Gods alone.
O sweetness of content, seraphic joy!
Which nothing wants, and nothing can destroy.
Where dwells this peace, this freedom of the mind?
Where but in shades remote from human kind;
In flow'ry vales, where nymphs and shepherds meet,
But never comes within the palace-gate.
Farewel then cities, courts, and camps farewel,
Welcome ye groves, here let me ever dwell,
From care and bus'ness, and mankind remove,
All but the Muses, and inspiring love:
How sweet the morn, how gentle is the night!
How calm the evening, and the day how bright!
From thence, as from a hill, I view below
The crowded world, a mighty wood in shew,
Where several wand'rers travel day and night,
By different paths, and none are in the right.
In 1696 his Comedy called the She Gallants was acted at the
Theatre-Royal[C] in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields. He afterwards altered this
Comedy, and published it among his other works, under the title of
Once a Lover and Always a Lover, which, as he observes in the preface,
is a new building upon an old foundation.
'It appeared first under the name of the She-Gallants, and by the
preface then prefixed to it, is said to have been the Child of a
Child. By taking it since under examination; so many years after, the
author flatters himself to have made a correct Comedy of it; he found
it regular to his hand; the scene constant to one place, the time not
exceeding the bounds prescribed, and the action entire. It remained
only to clear the ground, and to plant as it were fresh flowers in the
room of those which were grown into weeds or were faded by time; to
retouch and vary the characters; enliven the painting, retrench the
superfluous; and animate the action, where it appeared the young
author seemed to aim at more than he had strength to perform.'
The same year also his Tragedy, intitled Heroic Love, was acted at the
Theatre. Mr. Gildon observes, 'that this Tragedy is written after the
manner of the antients, which is much more natural and easy, than that
of our modern Dramatists.' Though we cannot agree with Mr. Gildon,
that the antient model of Tragedy is so natural as the modern; yet
this piece shall have very great merit, since we find Mr. Dryden
addressing verses to the author upon this occasion, which begin thus,
Auspicious poet, wert thou not my friend,
How could I envy, what I must commend!
But since 'tis nature's law, in love and wit,
That youth should reign, and with'ring age submit,
With less regret, those laurels I resign,
Which dying on my brow, revive on thine.
Our author wrote also a dramatic poem, called the British
Enchanters[D], in the preface to which he observes, 'that it is the
first Essay of a very infant Muse, rather as a task at such hours
as were free from other exercises, than any way meant for public
entertainment. But Mr. Betterton having had a casual sight of it, many
years after it was written, begged it for the stage, where it met with
so favourable a reception as to have an uninterrupted run of upwards
of forty nights. To this Mr. Addison wrote the Epilogue.' Lord
Lansdowne altered Shakespear's Merchant of Venice, under the title of
the Jew of Venice, which was acted with applause, the profits of which
were designed for Mr. Dryden, but upon that poet's death were given to
In 1702 he translated into English the second Olynthian of
Demosthpracticewas returned member for the county of Cornwall, in
the parliament which met in November 1710, and was soon after
made secretary of war, next comptroller of the houshold, and then
treasurer, and sworn one of the privy council. The year following he
was created baron Lansdowne of Biddeford in Devonshire[E].
In 1719 he made a speech in the house of lords against the practicee
of occasional conformity, which is printed among his works, and among
other things, he says this. 'I always understood the toleration to
be meant as an indulgence to tender consciences, not a licence for
hardened ones; and that the act to prevent occasional conformity was
designed only to correct a particular crime of particular men, in
which no sect of dissenters was included, but these followers of
Judas, which came to the Lord's-Supper, from no other end but to sell,
and betray him. This crime however palliated and defended, by so many
right reverend fathers in the church, is no less than making the God
of truth, as it were in person subservient to acts of hypocrisy; no
less than sacrificing the mystical Blood and Body of our Saviour to
worldly and sinister purposes, an impiety of the highest nature! which
in justice called for protection, and in charity for prevention. The
bare receiving the holy Eucharist, could never be intended simply as
a qualification for an office, but as an open declaration, an
undubitable proof of being, and remaining a sincere member of the
church. Whoever presumes to receive it with any other view profanes
it; and may be said to seek his promotion in this world, by eating and
drinking his own damnation in the next.'
This accomplished nobleman died in February, Anno 1735. By his lady,
Mary, widow of Thomas Thynne, Esq; (father of Thomas lord viscount
Weymouth) and daughter of Edward Villiers, earl of Jersey, he had
issue, four daughters, Anne, Mary, Grace and Elizabeth.
His lady died but a few days before him.
Mr. Pope, with many other poets of the first eminence, have celebrated
lord Lansdowne, who seems to have been a good-natur'd agreeable
nobleman. The lustre of his station no doubt procured him more
incense, than the force of his genius would otherwise have attracted;
but he appears not to have been destitute of fine parts, which were
however rather elegantly polished, than, great in themselves.
Lord Landsdowne likewise wrote a Masque, called Peleus and Thetis.
His lordship's works have been often printed both in quarto and in
[Footnote A: Gen. Dict. Art. Granville.]
[Footnote B: See Burnet's History of his own Times.]
[Footnote C: General Dictionary, ubi supra.]
[Footnote D: It was called a Dramatic Opera, and was decorated at a
great expence, and intermixed with Songs, Dances, &c.]
[Footnote E: Upon the accession of King George the 1st, the lord
Lansdowne was seized, and imprisoned in the Tower, upon an impeachment
of high treason; but was soon after honourably discharged, without
being brought to a trial.]
* * * * *
Mr. JOHN GAY,
This eminent Wit was descended of an ancient family in Devonshire, and
educated at the free-school of Barnstaple in the same county, under
the care of Mr. William Rayner, an excellent master[A].
Mr. Gay had a small fortune at his disposal, and was bred, says Jacob,
a Mercer in the Strand; but having a genius for high excellences, he
considered such an employment as a degradation to it, and relinquished
that occupation to reap the laurels of poetry.
About the year 1712 he was made secretary to the duchess of Monmouth,
and continued in that station 'till he went over to Hanover, in the
beginning of the year 1714, with the earl of Clarendon, who was sent
there by Queen Anne; upon whose death he returned to England, and
lived in the highest esteem and friendship with persons of the first
quality and genius. Upon Mr. Gay's arrival from Hanover, we find among
Mr. Pope's letters one addressed to him dated September 23, 1714,
which begins thus,
'Welcome to your native soil! welcome to your friends, thrice welcome
to me! whether returned in glory, blessed with court-interest, the
love and familiarity of the great, and filled with agreeable hopes;
or melancholy with dejection, contemplative of the changes of fortune,
and doubtful for the future. Whether returned a triumphant Whig, or a
desponding Tory, equally all hail! equally beloved and welcome to me!
If happy, I am to share in your elevation; if unhappy, you have still
a warm corner in my heart, and a retreat at Binfield in the worst of
times at your service. If you are a Tory, or thought so by any man, I
know it can proceed from nothing but your gratitude to a few people,
who endeavoured to serve you, and whose politics were never your
concern. If you are a Whig, as I rather hope, and as I think your
principles and mine, as brother poets, had ever a bias to the side
of liberty, I know you will be an honest man, and an inoffensive one.
Upon the whole, I know you are incapable of being so much on either
side, as to be good for nothing. Therefore, once more, whatever you
are, or in whatever state you are, all hail!'[B]
In 1724 his tragedy entitled the Captives, which he had the honour to
read in MS. to Queen Caroline, then Princess of Wales, was acted at
the Theatre-Royal in Drury Lane.
In 1726 he published his Fables, dedicated to the Duke of Cumberland,
and the year following he was offered the place of gentleman usher to
one of the youngest Princesses, which, by reason of some slight shewn
him at court, he thought proper to refuse. He wrote several works of
humour with great success, particularly The Shepherd's Week, Trivia,
The What d'ye Call It, and The Beggars Opera, which was acted at the
Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields 1728. The author of the Notes on this
line of the Dunciad, b. iii. I. 326.
Gay dies unpensioned with a hundred friends;
observes that this opera was a piece of satire, which hits all tastes
and degrees of men, from those of the highest quality to the very
rabble. "That verse of Horace
Primores populi arripuit populumque tributim,
could never be so justly applied as in this case. The vast success of
it was unprecedented, and almost incredible. What is related of the
wonderful effects of the ancient music, or tragedy, hardly came up
to it. Sophocles and Euripides were less followed and famous; it was
acted in London sixty three days uninterrupted, 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. It made its progress into Wales, Scotland
and Ireland, where it was performed twenty-four days together. It was
lastly acted in Minorca. The fame of it was not confined to the author
only; the ladies carried about with them the favourite songs of it in
fans; and houses were furnished with it in screens. The girl 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 years; that idol of the nobility and the people,
which Mr. Dennis by the labours and outcries of a whole life, could
not overthrow, was demolished by a single stroke of this gentleman's
Dr. Swift in his Intelligencer Numb. 3. has given us a vindication of
Mr. Gay, and the Beggars Opera; he observes, 'that though an evil taste
be very apt to prevail both in Dublin and in London; yet, there is a
point which whoever can rightly touch, will never fail of pleasing a
very great majority; so great that the dislikers, out of dullness, or
affectation, will be silent, and forced to fall in with the herd; the
point I mean is, what we call humour, which, in its perfection, is
allowed to be much preferable to wit, if it he not rather the most
useful, and agreeable species of it.----Now I take the comedy, or
farce (or whatever name the critic will allow it) called The Beggar's
Opera, to excel in this article of humour, and upon that merit to have
met with such prodigious success, both here and in England.' The dean
afterwards remarks, 'that an opinion obtained, that in this opera,
there appears to be some reflexions on courtiers and statesmen. It is
true indeed (says he) that Mr. Gay hath been somewhat singular in the
course of his fortunes, attending the court with a large stock of real
merit, a modest and agreeable conversation, a hundred promises, and
five hundred friends, hath failed of preferment, and upon a very
weighty reason; he lay under the suspicion of having written a Libel,
or Lampoon, against a great minister, it is true that great minister
was demonstratively convinced, and publickly owned his conviction,
that Mr. Gay was not the author, but having laid under the suspicion,
it seemed very just that he should suffer the punishment, because in
this most reformed age the virtues of a great minister are no more to
be suspected, than the chastity of Caesar's wife.' The dean then tells
us, that our author in this piece has, by a turn of humour entirely
new, placed vices of all kinds in the strongest, and most odious
light, and thereby done eminent service both to religion and morality.
'This appears from the unparalleled success he has met with; all
ranks, parties, and denominations of men, either crowding to see his
Opera, or reading it with delight in their closets; even ministers of
state, whom he is thought most to have offended, appearing frequently
at the Theatre, from a consciousness of their own innocence, and
to convince the world how unjust a parallel, malice, envy and
disaffection to the government have made.----In this happy performance
of Mr. Gay, all the characters are just, and none of them carried
beyond nature, or hardly beyond practice. It discovers the whole
system of that commonwealth, or that imperium in imperio of iniquity
established among us, by which, neither our lives, nor our properties
are secure, either in highways, or in public assemblies, or even in
our own houses; it shews the miserable lives and constant fate of
those abandoned wretches; for how small a price they sell their souls,
betrayed by their companions, receivers, and purchasers of those
thefts and robberies. This comedy contains likewise a satire, which
though it doth by no means affect the present age, yet might have been
useful in the former, and may possibly be so in ages to come, I mean
where the author takes occasion of comparing those common robbers of
the public, and their several stratagems of betraying, undermining,
and hanging each other, to the several acts of politicians in the time
of corruption. This comedy likewise exposes, with great justice, that
unnatural taste for Italian music among us, which is wholly unsuitable
to our Northern climate, and the genius of the people, whereby we
are overrun with Italian effeminacy. An old gentleman said to me many
years ago, when the practice of an unnatural vice grew so frequent in
London, that many were prosecuted for it; he was sure it would be
the forerunner of Italian operas and singers, and then we would want
nothing but stabbing, or poisoning, to make us perfect Italians. Upon
the whole I deliver my judgment; that nothing but servile attachment
to a party, affectation of singularity, lamentable dullness, mistaken
zeal, or studied hypocrisy, can have any objection against this
excellent moral performance of Mr. Gay[C].'
The astonishing success of the Beggar's Opera induced our author to
add a second part, in which, however, he was disappointed, both in
profit and fame. His opera entitled Polly, designed as a sequel of the
former, was prohibited by the lord chamberlain from being represented
on the stage, when every thing was ready for the rehearsal of it, but
was soon after printed in 4to. to which the author had a very large
subscription. In the preface Mr. Gay gives a particular account of the
whole affair in the following manner; 'On Thursday December 12 (says
he) I received this answer from the chamberlain, that it should not
be allowed to be acted, but suppressed. This was told me in general
without any reasons assigned, or any charge against me of my having
given any particular offence. Since this prohibition I have been
told, that I am accused, in general terms, of having written many
disaffected libels, and seditious pamphlets. As it hath ever been my
utmost ambition (if that word may be used upon this occasion) to
lead a quiet and inoffensive life, I thought my innocence in this
particular would never have needed a justification; and as this
kind of writing is what I ever detested, and never practiced, I am
persuaded so groundless a calumny can never be believed, but by those
who do not know me. But when general aspersions of this sort have been
cast upon me, I think myself called upon to declare my principles, and
I do with the strictest truth affirm, that I am as loyal a subject,
and as firmly attached to the present happy establishment, as any of
those who have the greatest places or pensions. I have been informed
too, that in the following play I have been charged with writing
immoralities; that it is filled with slander and calumny against
particular great persons, and that Majesty itself is endeavoured to be
brought into ridicule and contempt.
As I know that every one of these charges was in every point
absolutely false, and without the least grounds, at first I was not at
all affected by them; but when I found they were still insisted upon,
and that particular passages which were not in the play were quoted,
and propagated to support what had been suggested, I could no longer
bear to lye under those false accusations; so by printing it, I have
submitted, and given up all present views of profit, which might
accrue from the stage, which will undoubtedly be some satisfaction
to the worthy gentlemen, who have treated me with so much candour and
humanity, and represented me in such favourable colours. But as I am
conscious to myself, that my only intention was to lash in general the
reigning and fashionable vices, and to recommend, and set virtue in as
amiable a light as I could; to justify and vindicate my own character,
I thought myself obliged to print the opera without delay, in the
manner I have done.' The large subscription Mr. Gay had to print it,
amply recompens'd any loss he might receive from it's not being acted.
Tho' this was called the Sequel to the Beggar's Opera, it was allowed
by his best friends, scarce to be of a piece with the first part,
being in every particular, infinitely beneath it.
Besides the works which we have already mentioned, Mr. Gay wrote
several poems, printed in London in 2 vol. 12mo.
A Comedy called The Wife of Bath, first acted 1715, and afterwards
revived, altered, and represented at the Theatre Royal in
Three Hours after Marriage, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal, in
which he was assisted by Pope and Arbuthnot, but had the mortification
to see this piece very ill received, if not damned the first night.
He wrote likewise Achilles, an Opera; acted at the Theatre in Covent
Garden. This was brought on the stage after his death, and the profits
were given to his Sisters.
After experiencing many vicissitudes of fortune, and being for some
time chiefly supported by the liberality of the duke and duchess
of Queensberry, he died at their house in Burlington Gardens, of a
violent inflammatory fever, in December 1732, and was interred
in Westminster, by his noble benefactors just mentioned, with
the following epitaph written by Mr. Pope, who had the sincerest
friendship for him on account of his amiable qualities.
'Of manners gentle, of affections mild;
In wit a man, simplicity a child;
Above temptation in a low estate,
And uncorrupted even amongst the great;
A safe companion, and an easy friend,
Unblamed thro' life, lamented in thy end:
These are thy honours! not that here thy bust
Is mix'd with heroes, or with kings thy dust,
But that the worthy and the good shall say,
Striking their pensive bosoms--here lies GAY;'
Then follows this farther inscription,
Here lie the ashes of Mr. John Gay;
The warmest friend;
The most benevolent man:
In low circumstances of fortune;
In the midst of a corrupt age;
And that equal serenity of mind,
Which conscious goodness alone can give
Thro' the whole course of his life.
Favourite of the muses
He was led by them to every elegant art;
Refin'd in taste
And fraught with graces all his own:
In various kinds of poetry
Superior to many,
Inferior to none,
His works continue to inspire
what his example taught,
Contempt of folly, however adorned;
Detestation of vice, however dignified;
Reverence of virtue, however disgraced.
Charles and Catherine, duke and duchess of Queensberry, who loved this
excellent man living, and regret him dead, have caused this monument
to be erected to his memory.
Mr. Gay's moral character seems to have been very amiable. He was of
an affable, sweet disposition, generous in his temper, and pleasant
in his conversation. His chief failing was an excessive indolence,
without the least knowledge of economy; which often subjected him to
wants he needed not otherwise have experienced. Dean Swift in many
of his letters entreated him, while money was in his hands, to buy
an annuity, lest old age should overtake him unprepared; but Mr. Gay
never thought proper to comply with his advice, and chose rather to
throw himself upon patronage, than secure a competence, as the dean
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