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tence is to ward or strike; the contest of smartness is never intermitted; his wit is a meteor playing to and fro with alternate coruscations. His comedies have, therefore, in some degree, the operation of tragedies; they surprise rather than divert. and raise admiration oftener than merriment. But they are the works of a mind replete with images and quick in combination. Of his miscellaneous poetry I cannot say any thing very favourable. The powers of Congreve seem to desert him when he leaves the stage, as Antæus was no longer strong than when he could touch the ground. It cannot be observed without wonder, that a mind so vigorous and fertile in dramatic compositions, should on any other occasion discover nothing but impotence and poverty. He has in these little pieces neither elevation of fancy, selection of language, nor skill in versification; yet, if I were required to select from the whole mass of English poetry the most poetical paragraph, I know not what I could prefer to an exclamation in "The Mourning Bride:
No, all is hush'd and still as death. 'Tis dreadful! How reverend is the face of this tall pile, Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads, To bear aloft its arch'd and pond'rous roof,
By its own weight made steadfast and immoveable, Looking tranquillity! it strikes an awe And terror on my aching sight; the tombs And monumental caves of death look cold, And shoot a chillness to my trembling heart. Give me thy hand, and let me hear thy voice, Nay, quickly speak to me, and let me hear Thy voice-my own affrights me with its echoes. He who reads these lines enjoys for a moment the powers of a poet; he feels what he remembers to have felt before; but he feels it with great increase of sensibility; he recognizes a familiar image, but meets it again amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty and enlarged with majesty.
Yet could the Author, who appears here to have enjoyed the confidence of Nature, lament the death of Queen Mary in lines like these :
The rocks are cleft, and new-descending rills Furrow the brows of all th' impending hills. The water-gods to flood their rivulets turn,
And each, with streaming eyes, supplies his wanting
The fauns forsake the woods, the nymphs the grove, And round the plain in sad distraction rove :
In prickly brakes their tender limbs they tear,
And, many years after, he gave no proof that time had improved his wisdom or his wit; for, on the death of the Marquis of Blandford, this was his song:
Began the swelling air with sighs to fill:
And now the winds, which had so long been still,
In both these funeral poems, when he has yelled out many syllables of senseless dolour, he dismisses his reader with senseless consolation: from the grave of Pastora rises a light that forms a star; and where Amaryllis wept for Amyntas, from every tear sprung up a violet.
But William is his hero, and of William he will sing:
The hovering winds on downy wings shall wait around,
And catch and waft to foreign lands, the fiying sound.
It cannot but be proper to show what they shall have to catch and carry:
'Twas now, when flowery lawns the prospect made,
And flowing brooks beneath a forest-shade,
Behold a town arise, bulwark'd with walls and lofty towers;
Two rival armies all the plain o'erspread,
"The Birth of the Muse" is a miserable fic tion. One good line it has, which was bor
rowed from Dryden. The concluding verses are | Gethin, the latter part is in imitation of Drythese:
This said, no more remain'd. Th' ethereal host
And, having heaved aloft the ponderous sphere,'
Of his irregular poems, that to Mrs. Arabella Hunt seems to be the best; his "Ode for St. 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 have not the massiness and vigour of the original. In all his versions strength and sprightliness are wanting; his Hymn to 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 criticism; sometimes the thoughts are false, and sometimes common. In his verses on Lady
àen'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 shown 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 hoped a lasting name, is totally neglected, and known only as 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 couplet that is quoted. The general character of his Miscellanies is, that they show little wit and little 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 Pindaric 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 lyric poetry, he has shown us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.
SIR RICHARD BLACKMORE is one of those men whose writings 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.
sic; 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 became 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 perspicacity of malice, animated by wit, has ever fixed upon his private life.
He was the son of Robert Blackmore, 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 * "Except!" Dr. Warton exclaims, "Is not this names of nations or places, which he often proa high sort of poetry ?" He mentions, likewise, that duces, are pronounced by chance. He afterwards Congreve's Opera, or Oratorio, of "Semele" was travelled: at Padua he was made doctor of phy-set to music by Handel, I believe in 1743.-C.
When he first engaged in the study of physic, he inquired, 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.
Such success naturally raised animosity; and Dennis attacked it by a formal criticism, more tedious and disgusting than the work which he condemns. To this censure may be opposed the approbation of Locke and the admiration of Molineaux, which are found in their printed letters. Molineaux is particularly delighted with the song of Mopas, which is therefore subjoined to this narrative.
Whether he rested satisfied with this direction, or sought for better, he commenced physician, and obtained high eminence and extensive It is remarked by Pope, that what "raises practice. He became fellow of the College of the hero often sinks the man." Of Blackmore Physicians, April 12, 1687, being one of the it may be said, that as the poet sinks, the man thirty which, by the new charter of King rises; the animadversions of Dennis, insolent James, were added to the former fellows. His and contemptuous as they were, raised in him residence was in Cheapside,* and his friends no implacable resentment: he and his critic were chiefly in the city. In the early part of were afterwards friends; and in one of his latBlackmore's time, a citizen was a term of re-ter works he praises Dennis as "equal to Boiproach; and his place of abode was another to-leau in poetry, and superior to him in critical pic 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 heroic 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 a 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 censures, which he expresses in language such as Cheapside easily furnished. "I am not free of the poet's company, having never kissed the governor's hands: mine is therefore not so much as a permission-poem, but a downright interloper. Those gentlemen who carry on their poetical trade in a joint stock would certainly do what they could to sink and ruin an unlicensed adventurer, notwithstanding I disturbed none of their factories, nor imported any goods they have ever dealt in." He had lived in the city till he had learnt 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 nation.
*At Sadlers' Hall,
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) he sent into the world" King Arthur" in twelve. The provocation was now doubled, and the resentment of wits and critics may be supposed to have increased 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 the present of a gold chain and a 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 be 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 Job," 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 them reason for resentment; as, in his
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, whe calls it a "philosophical poem, which has equal
preface to Prince Arthur, he had said of the | tion. Whoever judges of this by any other of dramatic writers almost all that was alleged 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 endea-led that of Lucretius in the beauty of its versifivoured to gain at least one friend, and propitiated Congreve by higher praise of his "Mourning Bride" than it has obtained from any other critic.
cation, and infinitely surpassed it in the solidity and strength of its reasoning."
Why an author surpasses himself, it is nat ural to inquire. I have heard from Mr. Draper, The same year he published "A Satire on an eminent bookseller, an account received by Wit;" a proclamation of defiance, which united him from Ambrose Philips, "That Blackmore, the poets almost all against him, and which as he proceeded in this poem, laid his manubrought upon him lampoons and ridicule from script from time to time before a club of wits every side. This he doubtless foresaw, and evi- with whom he associated; and that every man dently despised; nor should his dignity of mind contributed, as he could, either improvement or be without its praise, had he not paid the hom-correction: so that," said Philips, there are age to greatness which he denied to genius, and perhaps no where in the book thirty lines todegraded himself by conferring that authority gether that now stand as they were originally over the national taste which he takes from the written." 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 bankruptcy which he affects to fear, he will erect a 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 remember that by any author, serious or comical, I have found "Eliza" either praised or blamed. She "dropped," as it seems, "deadborn from the press.' It is never mentioned, and was never 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.
The relation of Philips, I suppose, was true; but when all reasonable, all credible, allowance is made for this friendly revision, the Author will still retain an ample dividend of praise for to him must always be assigned the plan of the work, the distribution of its parts, the choice of topics, the train of argument, and, what is yet more, the general predominance of philosophical judgment and poetical spirit. Correction seldom effects more than the suppression of faults; a happy line, or a single elegance, may perhaps be added; but of a large work the general character must always remain; the original constitution can be very little helped by local remedies; inherent and radical dulness will never be much invigorated by extrinsic animation.
This poem, if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity among the first favourites of the English muse; but to make verses was his transcendent pleasure, and as he was not deterred by censure he was not satiated with praise.
He deviated, however, sometimes into other tracks of literature, and condescended to entertain his readers with plain prose. When the "Spectator" stopped, hé considered the polite world as destitute of entertainment: and, in concert with Mr. Hughes, who wrote every third paper, published three times a week "The Lay Monastery," founded on the supposition that some literary men, whose characters are described, had retired to a house in the country to enjoy philosophical leisure, and resolved to
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 Advice 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 around him for something at which he might laugh, unluck-instruct the public, by communicating their disily 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 collec
quisitions and amusements. Whether any real persons were concealed under fictitious names, is not known. The hero of the club is one Mr. Johnson; such a constellation of excellence, that his character shall not be suppressed, though there is no great genius in the design nor skill in the delineation.
ed his friends with his unpublished performances.
The rest of the Lay Monks seem to be but feeble mortals, in comparison with the gigantic Johnson; who yet, with all his abilities, and the help of the fraternity, could drive the publication but to forty papers, which were afterwards collected into a volume, and called in the
Some years afterwards (1716 and 1717) he published two volumes of Essays in prose, which can be commended only as they are written for the highest and noblest purpose→→ the promotion of religion. Blackmore's prose is not the prose of a poet: for it is languid, sluggish, and lifeless; his diction is neither daring nor exact, his flow neither rapid nor easy, and his periods neither smooth nor strong. His account of Wit will show with, how little clearness he is content to think, and how little his thoughts are recommended by his language.
"The first I shall name is Mr. Johnson, a gentleman that owes to nature excellent faculties and an elevated genius, and to industry and application many acquired accomplishments. His taste is distinguishing, just, and delicate: his judgment clear, and his reason strong, accompanied with an imagination full of spirit, of great compass, and stored with refined ideas. He is a critic of the first rank; and, what is his.title "A Sequel to the Spectators." peculiar ornament, he is delivered from the ostentation, malevolence, and supercilious temper, that so often blemish men of that character. His remarks result from the nature and reason of things, and are formed by a judgment free and unbiassed by the authority of those who have lazily followed each other in the same beaten track of thinking, and are arrived only at the reputation of acute grammarians and commentators: men, who have been copying one another many hundred years, without any improvement; or, if they have ventured farther, have only applied in a mechanical manner the "As to its efficient cause, wit owes its rules of ancient critics to modern writings, and production to an extraordinary and peculiar with great labour discovered nothing but their temperament in the constitution of the possessor own want of judgment and capacity. As Mr. of it, in which is found a concurrence of regular Johnson penetrates to the bottom of his subject, and exalted ferments, and an affluence of animal by which means his observations are solid and spirits, refined and rectified to a great degree of natural, as well as delicate, so his design is purity; whence, being endowed with vivacity, always to bring to light something useful and brightness, and celerity, as well in their reflecornamental; whence his character is the reverse tions as direct motions, they become proper to theirs, who have eminent abilities in insig-instruments for the sprightly operations of the nificant knowledge, and a great felicity in find-mind; by which means the imagination can ing out trifles. He is no less industrious to search out the merit of an author than sagacious in discerning his errors and defects; and takes more pleasure in commending the beauties than exposing the blemishes of a laudable writing; like Horace, in a long work, he can bear some deformities, and justly lay them on the imperfection of human nature, which is incapable of faultless productions. When an excellent drama appears in public, and by its intrinsic worth attracts a general applause, he is not stung with envy and spleen; nor does he express a savage nature, in fastening upon the celebrated author, dwelling upon his imaginary defects, and passing over his conspicuous excellences. He treats all writers upon the same impartial footing; and is not, like the little critics, taken up entirely in finding out only the beauties of the ancient, and nothing but the errors of the modern writers. Never did any one express more kindness and good nature to young and unfinished authors; he promotes their interests, protects their reputation, extenuates their faults, and sets off their virtues, and by his candour guards them from the severity of his judgment. He is not like those dry critics who are morose because they cannot write themselves, but is himself master of a good vein in poetry; and though he does not often employ it, yet he has sometimes entertain
with great facility range the wide field of nature, contemplate an infinite variety of objects, and, by observing the similitude and disagreement of their several qualities, single out and abstract, and then suit and unite, those ideas which will best serve its purpose. Hence beautiful allusions, surprising metaphors, and admirable sentiments, are always ready at hand; and while the fancy is full of images, collected from innumerable objects and their different qualities, relations, and habitudes, it can at pleasure dress a common notion in a strange but becoming garb; by which, as before observed, the same thought will appear a new one, to the great delight and wonder of the hearer. What we call genius results from this particular happy complexion in the first formation of the person that enjoys it, and is Nature's gift, but diversified by various specific characters and limitations, as its active fire is blended and allayed by different proportions of phlegm, or reduced and regulated by the contrast of opposite ferments. Therefore, as there happens in the composition of a facetious genius a greater or less, though still an inferior, degree of judgment and prudence, one man of wit will be varied and distinguished from another."
In these Essays he took little care to propitiate the wits; for he scorne to avert their malice at the expense of virtue or of truth.