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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
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 Gethin, the latter part is in 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 hoped a 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 couplet that is quoted. The general character of his Miscellanies is, that they shew 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 shewn us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.
SIB 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.
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 names of nations or places, which he often produces, are pronounced by chance. He afterwards travelled: at Padua he was made doctor of physic; 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 diá 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 perspicacity 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." verseness 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 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 writirg “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
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. 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 Molineux, which are found in their printed letters. Molineux is particularly delighted with the song of Mapas, 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 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 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 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 Johnson's Lives. II.
(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; 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
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 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 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