« VorigeDoorgaan »
charitable, yet self-denying and devout; some who join contempt of the world with sordid avarice; and others who preserve a great degree of piety, with ill-nature and ungoverned passions! Nor are instances of this inconsistent mixture less frequent among bad men, where we often, with admiration, see persons at once generous and unjust, impious lovers of their country and flagitious heroes, good-natured sharpers, immoral men of honour, and libertines who will sooner die than change their religion; and though it is true that repugnant coalitions of so high a degree are found but in a part of mankind, yet none of the whole mass, either good or bad, are entirely exempted from some absurd mixture.'
He about this time (Aug.22, 1716) became one of the Elects of the College of Physicians; and was soon after (Oct. 1) chosen Censor. He seems to have arrived late, whatever was the reason, at his medical honours.
Having succeeded so well in his book on “Creation," by which he established the great principle of all religion, he thought his undertaking imperfect, unless he likewise enforced the truth of revelation; and for that purpose added another poem, on“ Redemption." He had likewise written, before his “Creation," three books on the “Nature of Man.”
The lovers of musical devotion have always wished for a more happy metrical version than they have yet obtained of the Book of Psalms." This wish the piety of Blackmore led him to gratify,
and he produced (1721) "A new Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes used in Churches;” which, being recommended by the archbishops and many bishops, obtained a licence for its admission into public worship; but no admission has it yet obtained, nor has it any right to come where Brady and Tate have got possession. Blackmore's name must be added to those of many others who, by the same attempt, have obtained only the praise of meaning well.
He was not yet deterred from heroic poetry. There was another monarch of this island (for he did not fetch his heroes from foreign countries) whom he considered as worthy of the epic muse; and he dignified “Alfred” (1723) with twelve books. But the opinion of the nation was now settled; a hero introduced by Blackmore was not likely to find either respect or kindness;' "Alfred” took his place by “Eliza” in silence and darkness; benevolence was ashamed to favour, and malice was weary of insulting. Of his four epic poems, the first had such reputation and popularity as enraged the critics; the second was at least known enough to be ridiculed; the two last had neither friends nor enemies.
Contempt is a kind of gangrene, which, if it seizes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees. Blackmore, being despised as a poet, was in time neglected as a physician; his practice, which was once invidiously great, forsook him in the latter part of his life; but being by nature, or by principle, averse from idleness, he employed his unwelcome leisure in writing books on physic, and teaching
others to cure those whom he could himself cure no longer. I know not whether I can enumerate all the treatises by which he has endeavoured to diffuse the art of healing; for there is scarcely any distemper of dreadful name, which he has not taught the reader how to oppose. He has written on the small-pox, with a vehement invective against inoculation; on consumptions, the spleen, the gout, the rheumatism, the king's-evil, the dropsy, the jaundice, the stone, the diabetes, and the plague.
Of those books, if I had read them, it could not be expected that I should be able to give a critical account. I have been told that there is something in them of vexation and discontent, discovered by a perpetual attempt to degrade physic from its sublimity, and to represent it as attainable without much previous or concomitant learning. By, the transient glances which I have thrown upon them, I have observed an affected contempt of the ancients, and a supercilious derision of transmitted knowledge. Of this indecent arrogance the following quotation from his preface to the " Treatise on the Small-pox" will afford a specimen: in which, when the reader finds, what I fear is true, that, when he was censuring Hippocrates, he did not know the difference between aphorism and apophthegm, he will not pay much regard to his determinations concerning ancient learning:
“As for his book of Aphorisms, it is like my Lord Bacon's of the same title, a book of jests, or a grave collection of trite and trifling observations; of which though many are true and certain, yet they signify nothing, and may afford diversion, but no instruction; most of them being much inferior to the sayings of the wise men of Greece, which yet are so low and mean, that we are entertained every day with more valuable sentiments at the table conversation of ingenious and learned men.”
I am unwilling, however, to leave him in total disgrace,
and will therefore quote from another preface a passage less reprehensible.
“Some gentlemen have been disingenuous and unjust to me, by wresting and forcing my meaning, in the preface to another book, as if I condemned and exposed all learning, though they knew I declared that I greatly honoured and esteemed all men of superior literature and erudition; and that I only undervalued false or superficial learning, that signifies nothing for the service of mankind; and that as to physic, I expressly affirmed that learning must be joined with native genius to make a physician of the first rank; but if those talents are separated, I asserted, and do still insist, that a man of native sagacity and diligence will prove a more able and useful practiser than a heavy national scholar, encumbered with a heap of confused ideas.”
He was not only a poet and a physician, but produced likewise a work of a different kind, "A true and impartial History of the Conspiracy against King William, of glorious Memory, in the Year 1695." This I have never seen, but suppose it at least compiled with integrity. He engaged likewise in theological controversy, and wrote two books against the Arians; "Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis;." and "Modern Arians unmasked.” Another of his works is “Natural Theology, or Moral Duties considered apart from Positive; with some Observations on the Desirableness and Necessity of a supernatural Revelation.' This was the last book that he published. He left behind him “The accomplished Preacher, or an Essay upon Divine Eloquence;” which was printed after his death by Mr. White, of Nayland, in Essex, the minister who attended his death-bed, and testified the fervent piety of his last hours. He died on the eighth of October, 1729.
BLACKMORE, by the unremitted enmity of the wits, whom he provoked more by his virtue than his dulness, has been exposed to worse treatment than he deserved. His name was so long used to point every epigram upon dull writers, that it became at last a bye-word of contempt; but it deserves observation, that malignity takes hold only of his writings, and that his life passed without reproach, even when his boldness of reprehension naturally turned upon him many eyes desirous to espy faults, which many tongues would have
made haste to publish. But those who could not blame could at least forbear to praise, and therefore of his private life and domestic character there are no memorials.
As an author he may justly claim the honours of magnanimity. The incessant attacks of his enemies, whether serious or merry, are never discovered to have disturbed bis quiet or to have lessened his confidence in himself; they neither awed him to silence nor to caution; they neither provoked him to petulance nor depressed hin to complaint. While the distributors of literary fame were endeavouring to depreciate and degrade him, he either despsed or defied them, wrote on as he had written before, and niver turned aside to quiet them by civility or repress them by emfutation.
He depended with great security, on his own powers, and perhaps was for that reason oss diligent in perusing books. His literature was, I think but small
. What he knew of antiquity, I suspect him tonave gathered from modern compilers; but, though he coud not boast of much critical knowfedge, his mind was storer with general principles, and he left minute researches to thos whom he considered as little minds.
With this dispositiorge wrote most of his poems. Having formed a magnificent dsign, he was careless of particular and subordinate elegance he studied no niceties of versification, he waited for no felicies of fancy, but caught his first thoughts in the first words i: which they were presented; nor does it appear that he saweyond his own performances, or had ever elevated his view to that ideal perfection which every genius born to excel is cedemned always to pursue, and never overtake. In the firstuggestions of his imagination he acquiesced; he thought ther good, and did not seek for better. His works may be read a ong time without the occurrence of a single line that stands pyminent from the rest. The
“Creation” has, however, poer
appearance of more circ-mfpection; it wants neither harmony of numbers, accuracy of thought, nor elegance of diction;
it has either been writte with great care, or, what cannot be imagined of so long a prk, with such felicity as made care less necessary.
Its twaonstituent parts are ratiocination and description. To reasoin verse is allowed to be difficult; but Blackmore not only reagas in verse, but very often reasons poetically, and finds thart of uniting ornament with strength, and ease with closene. This is a skill which Pope might have con
descended to learn from him, when he needed it so much in his “Moral Essays."
In his descriptions, both of life and nature, the poet and the philosopher happily co-operate; truth is recommended
by elegance, and elegance sustained by truth.
In the structure and order of the poem, not only the greater parts are properly consecutire, but the didactic and illustrative paragraphs are so happily mingled, that labour is relieved by pleasure, and the attention is led on through a long succession of varied excellence to the original position, the fundamental principle of wisdom and of virtue.
As the heroic poems of Bla&more are now little read, it is thought proper to insert, as a sp cimen from "Prince Arthur," the song of Mopas, mentioned by Molineux:
But that which Arthur with mos pleasure heard