Page images

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 schoolmaster, is the only reproach which all the perspi cacity of malice, animated by wit, has ever fixed upon his private life.

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.

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 Blackmore's time, a citizen was a term of reproach; and his place of abode was another topic to which his adversaries had recourse, in the penury of scandal.

Blackmore, therefore, was made a poet not by ne cessity but inclination, and wrote not for a liveli hood 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 pub

At Sadlers' Hall.










lic 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 re-
lates, "by such catches and starts, and in such oc
casional uncertain hours, as his profession afford
ed, 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 cen-
sures, 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 permis-
sion-poem, but a downright interloper. Those gen-
tlemen 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. 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 cen-
sure may be opposed the approbation of Locke and
the admiration of Molineux, which are found in
their printed letters. Molineux is particularly de-
lighted 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 contemp. tuous as they were, raised in him no implacable resentment: he and his critic were afterwards friends; and in one of his latter works he praises Dennis as "equal to Boileau 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) 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 equiva lent 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 knight. hood 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 suc cession of the house of Hanover than ever he had


What Blackmore could contribute to the succes slon, or what he imagined himself to have contri. buted, 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 im portance: 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.

[blocks in formation]

His ardour of poetry still continued; and not 43 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 preface to
"Prince Arthur," he had said of the dramatic
writers almost all that was alleged afterwards by
Collier; but Blackmore's censure was cold and
general, Collier's was personal and ardent; Black-
more taught his reader to dislike what Collier in-
cited him to abhor.

In his preface to "King Arthur" he endeavour.
ed to gain at least one friend, and propitiated
Congreve by higher praise of his "Mourning
Bride" than it has obtained from any other critic.
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 doubtless foresaw, and evidently 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 confer-
ring 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


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, "dead-born 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 an other 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 Advice to the Poets how to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough; but on occasion of another year of success, think ing himself qualified to give more instruction, he again wrote a poem of "Advice to a Weaver of Tapestry." Steele was then publishing the "Tat ler;" and, looking around him for something at which he might laugh, unluckily lighted on Sir Richard's work, and treated it with such contempt, that, as Fenton observes, he put an end to the spe cies of writers that gave Advice to Painters.

Not long after (1712) he published "Creation," a philosophical poem, which has been by my re commendation inserted in the late collection. Who ever 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 inquire. I have heard from Mr. Draper, an

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »