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without matter, yet matter, being extended, could not be without
Few books have been perused by me with greater pleasure 26 than his Improvement of the Mind, of which the radical principles may indeed be found in Locke's Conduct of the Understanding, but they are so expanded and ramified by Watts as to confer upon him the merit of a work in the highest degree useful and pleasing. Whoever has the care of instructing others may be charged with deficience in his duty if this book is not recommended '.
I have mentioned his treatises of Theology as distinct from his 27 other productions, but the truth is that whatever he took in hand was, by his incessant solicitude for souls, converted to Theology. As piety predominated in his mind, it is diffused over his works; under his direction it may be truly said, 'Theologiæ Philosophia ancillatur,' philosophy is subservient to evangelical instruction: it is difficult to read a page without learning, or at least wishing, to be better. The attention is caught by indirect instruction, and he that sat down only to reason is on a sudden compelled to pray.
It was therefore with great propriety that, in 1728, he received 28 from Edinburgh and Aberdeen an unsolicited diploma, by which he became a Doctor of Divinity. Academical honours would have more value if they were always bestowed with equal judgement.
He continued many years to study and to preach, and to do 29 good by his instruction and example, till at last the infirmities of age disabled him from the more laborious part of his ministerial functions, and, being no longer capable of publick duty, he offered to remit the salary appendant to it; but his congregation would not accept the resignation 2.
By degrees his weakness increased, and at last confined him to 30 his chamber and his bed, where he was worn gradually away without pain, till he expired Nov. 25, 1748, in the seventy-fifth year of his age 3.
Not long after the publication of the Lives Johnson wrote of his stepdaughter :-'Poor Lucy's health is very much broken. She takes very little of either food or exercise, and her hearing is very dull, and her utterance confused; but she will have
Watts's Improvement of the Mind?
2 Gibbons, p. 146.
3 lb. p. 318; Gent. Mag. 1748, P. 525.
Few men have left behind such purity of character or such monuments of laborious piety. He has provided instruction for all ages, from those who are lisping their first lessons, to the enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke; he has left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature unexamined; he has taught the art of reasoning, and the science of the stars.
His character, therefore, must be formed from the multiplicity and diversity of his attainments, rather than from any single performance; for it would not be safe to claim for him the highest rank in any single denomination of literary dignity: yet perhaps there was nothing in which he would not have excelled, if he had not divided his powers to different pursuits.
As a poet, had he been only a poet, he would probably have stood high among the authors with whom he is now associated. For his judgement was exact, and he noted beauties and faults with very nice discernment; his imagination, as the Dacian Battle' proves, was vigorous and active, and the stores of knowledge were large by which his fancy was to be supplied. His ear was well-tuned, and his diction was elegant and copious. But his devotional poetry is, like that of others, unsatisfactory 2. The paucity of its topicks enforces perpetual repetition, and the sanctity of the matter rejects the ornaments of figurative diction. It is sufficient for Watts to have done better than others what no man has done well 3.
34 His poems on other subjects seldom rise higher than might be
expected from the amusements of a Man of Letters, and have different degrees of value as they are more or less laboured, or as the occasion was more or less favourable to invention *.
Eng. Poets, lvi. 93.
Ante, COWLEY, 146. 'When Johnson would try to repeat the Dies irae, he could never pass the stanza ending, Tantus labor non sit cassus, without bursting into a flood of tears; which sensibility I used to quote against him when he would inveigh against devotional poetry.' MRS. PIOZZI, John. Misc. i. 284. 'Pity! Religion has so seldom found
A skilful guide into poetic ground!' COWPER, Table Talk, Works, viii. 143.
Cowper wrote on Sept. 18, 1781:'Report informs me that Dr. Johnson has been severe enough in his ani
madversions upon Dr. Watts, who was nevertheless, if I am in any degree a judge of verse, a man of true poetical ability; . . . frequently sublime in his conceptions, and masterly in his execution.' Ib. xv. A fortnight later, after reading the Life, he wrote:-'Nothing can be more judicious, or more characteristic of a distinguishing taste, than Johnson's observations upon Watts; though I think him a little mistaken in his notion that divine subjects have never been poetically treated with success.' Ib. iv. 129.
'JOHNSON. Dr. Watts's poems are by no means his best works; I
He writes too often without regular measures, and too often in 35 blank verse; the rhymes are not always sufficiently correspondent. He is particularly unhappy in coining names expressive of characters'. His lines are commonly smooth and easy, and his thoughts always religiously pure; but who is there that, to so much piety and innocence, does not wish for a greater measure of spriteliness and vigour2? He is at least one of the few poets with whom youth and ignorance may be safely pleased; and happy will be that reader whose mind is disposed by his verses or his prose to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his benevolence to man, and his reverence to God 3.
here restored according to its original.' Warburton, v. 34. (The surreptitious editions' were published by Pope. Ante, POPE, 148.) According to Nichols, it was on Dr. Watts's 'very serious though gentle remonstrance' that other names were substituted. Lit. Anec. v. 218.
3 How much in Watts piety predominated over poetry is shown by his saying: 'I had rather be the author of Mr. Baxter's Call to the Unconverted than of Milton's Paradise Lost Gibbons, p. 157.
[The verdict of after generations has gone against Johnson's criticism of Watts's devotional poetry in at least one instance. Perhaps there is no hymn more familiar to Englishmen in all time of our tribulation' than 'Our God, our help in ages past,' sung to its fine old tune of St. Anne.]
F the birth or early part of the life of AMBROSE PHILIPS I have not been able to find any account'. His academical education he received at St. John's College in Cambridge, where he first solicited the notice of the world by some English verses, in the Collection published by the University on the death of queen Mary 2.
From this time how he was employed, or in what station he passed his life, is not yet discovered 3. He must have published his Pastorals before the year 1708*, because they are evidently prior to those of Pope 5.
He afterwards (1709) addressed to the universal patron, the duke of Dorset, A Poetical Letter from Copenhagen, which was published in The Tatler, and is by Pope in one of his first letters
which is as durable and extensive as the poem itself.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), x. 391.
3 In 1700 was published his abridgement of Hacket's Life of Williams, post, PHILIPS, 5; and in 1703 he wrote a poem From Holland to a Friend in England, Eng. Poets, lvii. 43.
Eng. Poets, lvii. 5. They appeared with those of Pope in vol. vi (1709) of Tonson's Misc. Cunningham's Lives of the Poets, iii. 259. Some of them were very possibly in circulation earlier. For Addison's reference to them see, post, PHILIPS, II n. Ante, POPE, 33.
It is entitled To the Earl of Dorset, and is dated 'Copenhagen, March 9, 1709. Eng. Poets, lvii. 45. The Earl was created Duke in 1720. Collins's Peerage, i. 785. Johnson calls Dorset's father 'the universal patron.' Ante, HALIFAX, 5. In two other places he calls him Duke of Dorset. Ante, DRYDEN, 27; PRIOR, 18. He probably confused the two men. Addison wrote
mentioned with high praise, as the production of a man who could write very nobly'.'
Philips was a zealous Whig, and therefore easily found access 4 to Addison and Steele'; but his ardour seems not to have procured him any thing more than kind words 3, since he was reduced to translate The Persian Tales for Tonson, for which he was afterwards reproached, with this addition of contempt, that he worked for half-a-crown 5. The book is divided into many
to Philips :-'I think you should find out some moral topic, or reflection, or compliment to Lord Dorset for your conclusion.' Addison's Works, V. 376. The advice was not taken, and his Lordship is only mentioned in the line
'What present shall the Muse to Dorset bring?'
Swift, who mentions the verses on March 22, 1708–9 (Works, xv. 322), must have seen them in manuscript. They appeared in The Tatler of May 7, 1709, No. xii.
Pope wrote on Oct. 28, 1710:'In the whole I agree with The Tatler [No. x] that we have no better eclogues in our language [than Philips's]. This gentleman, if I am not much mistaken in his talent, is capable of writing very nobly, as I guess by a small copy of his on the Danish Winter.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 106. On Dec. 21, 1712, Pope wrote:- Mr. Philips has two lines which seem to me what the French call very picturesque— “All hid in snow in bright confusion lie,
And with one dazzling waste fatigue the eye."' Ib. p. 178. 'The opening of this poem is incomparably fine. The latter part is tedious and trifling.' GOLDSMITH, Works, iii. 436.
Ante, ADDISON, 115; SWIFT, 51 n.
When simple Macer, now of high
James Moore Smyth (alias James
In Pope's Barbarous Revenge on Mr. Curll, among the 'Instructions to a porter how to find Mr. Curll's authors' is the following:-'At a blacksmith's shop in the Friars, a Pindaric writer in red stockings.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), x. 471.
Steele wrote to Swift on Oct. 8, 1709-Mr. Philips is still a shepherd, and walks very lonely through this unthinking crowd in London.' Swift's Works, xv. 332. On Dec. 15, 1710, when the Tories were in power, Swift wrote to Stella :-'Addison is soliciting me to make another of his friends Queen's Secretary at Geneva; and I will do it if I can; it is poor Pastoral Philips.' Ib. ii. 111. On June 30, 1711, he wrote:-'I will do nothing for Philips; I find he is more a puppy than ever.' Ib. p. 291. See also ib. iii. 8o. For an anecdote of Philips and the bailiff see ante, SAVAGE, 35 n.
The Thousand and one Days. Persian Tales. Translated from the French of La Croix, 1709. Lady M. W. Montagu wrote to Pope from Belgrade in 1717:-'I pass for a great scholar with him [a learned Turk], by relating to him some of the Persian tales, which I find are genuine. At first he believed I understood Persian.' Montagu's Letters, 1837, i. 349.
5 The Bard whom pilfer'd Pastorals
Who turns a Persian tale for half-a-crown.'
POPE, Prol. Sat. 1. 179. 'Pope accuses him of poverty in a