Page images

Two rival armies all the plain o'erspread,
Each in battalia rang'd, and shining arms array'd;
With eager eyes beholding both from far,

Namur, the prize and mistress of the war. The Birth of the Muse is a miserable fiction. One good line it has, which was borrowed from Dryden. The concluding verses are these :

This said, no more remain'd. Th'etherial host
Again impatient crowd the crystal coast.
The father, now, within his spacious hands,
Encompass'd all the mingled mass of seas and lands;
And, having heav'd aloft the ponderous sphere,

He launch'd the world to float in ambient air. Of his irregular poems, that to Mrs. Arabella Hunt seems to be the best : his ode for Cecilia's Day, however, has some lines which Pope had in his mind when he wrote his own.

His imitations of Horace are feebly paraphrastical, and the additions which he makes are of little value. He sometimes retains what were more properly omitted, as when he talks of vervain and gums to propitiate Venus,

Of his translations, the satire of Juvenal was written very early, and may therefore be forgiven, though it had not the massiness and vigour of the original. In all his versions strength and spriteliness are wanting. bis Hymn io Venus, from Homer, is perhaps the best. His lines are weakened with expletives, and his rhymes are frequently imperfect.

His petty poems are seldom worth the cost of criticisin; sometimes the thoughts are false, and sometimes common. In his verses on lady Gethin, the latter part is an imitation of Dryden's ode on Mrs. Killigrew; and Doris, that has been so lavishly flattered by Steele, has indeed some lively stanzas, but the expression might be mended ; and the most striking part of the character had been already shewn in Love for Love, His Art of Pleasing is founded on a vulgar, but perhaps impracticable principle, and the staleness of the sense is not concealed by any novelty of illustration or elegance of diction,

This tissue of poetry, from which he seems to have hope da lasting name, is totally neglected, and known only as it appended to his plays,

While comedy or while tragedy is regarded, his plays are likely to be read; but, except what relates to the stage, I know not that he has ever written a stanza that is sung, or a coupler that is quoted. The general character of his Miscellanies is, that they shew little wit, and litrle virtue.

Yet to him it must be confessed that we are indebted for the correction of a national error, and for the cure of our Pindarick madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular, and though certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyrick poetry, he has shewn us that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness



IR RICHARD BLACKMORE is one of those men whose writ.

ings have attracted much notice, but of whose life and manners very little has been communicated, and whose lot it has been to be much oftener mentioned by enemies than by friends.

He was the son of Robert Black more of Corsham in Wiltshire, styled by Wood Gentleman, and supposed to have been an attorney: having been for some time educated in a country-school, he was sent at thirteen to Westminster, and in 1668 was entered at Edmund-Hall in Oxford, where he took the degree of M. A. June 3, 1676, and resided thirteen years; a much longer time than it is usual to spend at the university; and which he seems to have passed with very little attention to the business of the place ; for, in his poems, the ancient names of nations or places, which he often introduces, are pronounced by chance. He afterwards traveled: at Padua he was made doctor of physick ; and, after having wandered about a year and a half on the Continent, returned home.

In some part of his life, it is not known when, his indigence compelled him to teach a school, an humiliation with which, though it certainly lasted but a little while, his enemies did not forget to reproach him, when he he came conspicuous enough to excite malevolence; and let it be remembered for his honour, that to have been once a school-master is the only reproach which all the perspicuity of malice, animated by wit, has ever fixed upon his private life.

When he first engaged in the study of physic, he enquired, as he says, of Dr. Sydenham what authors he should read, and was directed by Sydenham, to Don Quixote: “ which," said he, " is a very good book; I read it still ” The perverseness of mankind makes it often mischievous in men of eminence to give way to merriment, the idle and the illiterate will long shelter themselves under this foolish apophthegm.

Whether he rested satisfied with this direction, or sought for better, he commenced physician, and obtained high eminence and extensive practice. He became fellow of the College of Physicians, April 12, 1687, being one


of the thirty which, by the new charter of king James, were added to the former Fellows. His residence was in Cheapside *, and his friends were chiefly in the city. In the early part of Black more's time, a citizen was a term of reproach ; and his place of abode was another topick to which his adversaries had recourse in the penury of scandal.

Blackmore, therefore, was made a poet not by necessity but inclination, and wrote not for a livelihood but for fame; or, if he may tell his own motives, for a nobler purpose, to engage poetry in the cause of Virtue.

I believe it is peculiar to him, that his first public work was an heroick poem. He was not known as a maker of verses, till he published in 1695) Prince Arthur, in ten books, written, as he relates, “ by such catches and

starts, and in such occasional uncertain hours as his profession afforded, “ and for the greatest part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the

streets.” For the latter part of this apology he was accused of writing " to the rumbling of his chariot-wheels.” He had read, he says, “ but “ little poetry throughout his whole life; and for fifteen years before had

not written an hundred verses, except one copy of Latin verses in praise « of a friend's book."

He thinks, and with some reason, that from such a performance perfection cannot be expected; but he finds another reason for the severity of his censurers, which he expresses in language such as Cheapside easily furnished. “ I am not free of the Poets Company, having never kissed the governor's “ hands; mine is therefore not so much as a permission poem, but a down“ right interloper. Those gentlemen who carry on their poetical trade in a “ joint stock, would certainly do what they could to sink and ruin an unli. “ censed adventurer, notwithstanding I disturbed none of their factories, nor “ imported any goods they had ever dealt in.” He had lived in the city till he had learned its note.

That Prince Arthur found many readers, is certain; for in two years it had three editions ; a very uncommon instance of favourable reception, at a time when literary curiosity was yet confined to particular classes of the natien. Such success naturally raised animosity; and Dennis attacked it by a formal criticism, more tedious and disgusting than the work which he con demns. To this censure may be opposed the approbation of Locke and the admiration of Molineux, which are found in their printed Letters. MoJineux is particularly delighted with the song of Mopas, which is therefore subjoined to this narrative.

It is remarked by Pope, that what “ raises the hero often sinks the man." Of Blackmore it may be said, that as the poet sinks, the man rises; the animadversions of Dennis, insolent and contemptuous as they were, raised

Ac Sadler's Hall.

m Mim no implacablé resentment: he and his ćritick were afterwards friends : and in one of his latter works he praises Dennis as “ equal to Boilcau in

poetry, and superior to him in critical abilities."

He seems to have been more delighted with praise than pained by censure, and, instead of slackening, quickened his career. Having in two years produced ten books of Prince Arthur, in two years more (1697) be sent into the world King Arthur in twelve. The provocation was now doubled, and the resentment of wits and criticks may be supposed to have encreased in

proportion. He found, however, advantages more than equivalent to all their outrages; he was this year made one of the physicians in ordinary to king William, and advanced by him to the honour of knighthood, with a present of a gold chain and medal. · The malignity of the wits attributed his knighthood to his new poem; but king William was not very studious of poetry, and Blackmore perhaps had other merit : for he says, in his Dedication to Alfred, that he had a

greater part in the succession of the house of Hanover than ever he had « boasted."

What Blackmore could contribute to the Succession, or what he imagined himself to have contributed, cannot now be known. That he had been of considerable use, I doubt not but he believed, for I hold him to have been very honest; but he might easily make a false estimate of his own importance: those whom their virtue restrains from deceiving others, are often disposed by their vanity to deceive themselves. Whether he promoted the Succession or not, he at least approved it, and adhered invariably to his principles and party through his whole life.

His ardour of poetry still continued; and not long after (1700) he published a Paraphrase on the Book of Fob, and other parts of the scripture. This performance Dryden, who pursued him with great malignity, lived long enough to ridicule in a Prologue.

The wits easily confederated against him, as Dryden, whose favour they almost all courted, was his professed adversary. He had besides given thern reason for resentment, as, in his Preface to Prince Arthur, he had said of the Dramatick Writers almost all that was alledged afterwards by Collier; but Blackmore's censure was cold and general, Collier's was personal and ardent; Blackmore taught his reader to dislike, what Collier incited him to abhor.

In his Preface to King Arthur he endeavoured to gain at least one friend, and propitiated Congreve by higher praise of his Mourning Bride than it has obtained from any other critick.

The same year he published a Satire on Wit; a proclamation of defiance which united the poets almost all against him, and which brought upon him lampoons and ridicule from every side. This he doabtless foresaw, and evi. Vol. 1. 3 A


dently despised; nor should his dignity of mind be without its praise, had he not paid the homage to greatness, which he denied to genius, and degraded himself by conferring that authority over the national taste, which he takes from the poets, upon men of high rank and wide influence, but of less wit, and not greater virtue.

Here is again discovered the inhabitant of Cheapside, whose head cannot keep his poetry unmingled with trade. To hinder that intellectual barkruptcy which he affects to fear, he will erect à Bank for Wit.

In this poem he justly censured Dryden's impurities, but praised his powers; though in a subsequent edition he retained the satire and omitted the praise. What was his reason I know not ; Dryden was then no longer in

his way.

His head still teemed with heroic poetry, and (1705) he published Eliza in ten books. I am afraid that the world was now weary of contending about Blackmore's heroes; for I do not remeinber that by any author, serious or comical I have found Eliza either praised or blamed. She “ dropped, " as it seems, “ dead born from the press.” It is never mentioned, and was rever seen by me till I borrowed it for the present occasion. Jacob says, “ it “ is corrected, and revised for another impression ;” but the labour of revision was thrown away.

From this time he turned some of his thoughts to the celebration of living characters; and wrote a poem on the Kit-cat club, and Adviie to the Poets how to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough; but on occasion of another year of success, thinking himself qualified to give more instruction, he again wrote a poem of Advice to a Weaver of Tapestry. Steele was then publishing the Tatler; and looking round him for something at which he might laugh, unluckly lighted on Sir Richard's work, and treated it with such contempt, that as Fenton observes, he put an end to the species of writers that gave Advice to Painters.

Not long after (1712) he published Creation, a philosophical Poem, which has been, by my recommendation, inserted in the late collection. Whoever judges of this by any other of Blackmore's performances, will do it injury, The praise given it by Addison (Spec. 339) is too well known to be transcribed; but some notice is due to the testimony of Dennis, who calls it a “ philosophical Poem, which has equalled that of Lucretius in the beauty of “ its versification, and infinitely surpassed it in the solidity and strength of “ its reasoning."

Why an author surpasses himself, it is natural to enquire. I have heard from Mr. Draper an eminent bookseller, an account received by him from Ambrose Philips, “ That Blackmore, as he proceeded in this poem, laid “his manuscript from time to time before a club of wits with whom he

“ associated ;

« PreviousContinue »