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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 this 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 re 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 en tertained 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 notional 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 is 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 8th 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 byword 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 his 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 him to complaint. While the distributors of literary fame were endeavouring to depreciate and degrade him, he either despised or defied them, wrote on as he had written before, and never turned aside to quiet them by civility, or repress them by confutation. He depended with great security on his own powers, and perhaps was for that reason less diligent in perusing books. His literature was, I think, but small. What he knew of antiquity, I suspect him to have gathered from modern compilers ; but, though he could not boast of much critical knowledge, his mind was stored with general principles, and he left minute researches to those whom he considered as little minds. With this disposition he wrote most of his poems. Having formed a magnificent design, he was careless of particular and subordinate elegances; he studied no niceties of versification ; he waited for no felicities of fancy, but caught his first thoughts in the first words in which they were presented; nor does it appear that he saw beyond his own performances, or had ever elevated his id as to that ideal perfection which every genius born to excel is condemned always to pursue, and never overtake. In the first suggestions of his imagination he acquiesced; he thought them good, and did not seek for better. His works may be read a long time without the occurrence of a single line that stands prominent from the rest. The poem on
“ Creation " has, however, the appearance of
more circumspection ; it wants neither harmony of numbers, accuracy of thought, nor elegance of diction. It has either been written with great care, or, what cannot be imagined of so long a work, with such felicity as made care less necessary. Its two constituent parts are ratiocination and description. To reason in verse is allowed to be difficult ; but Blackmore not only reasons in verse, but very often reasons poetically ; and finds the art of uniting ornament with strength and ease with closeness. This is a skill which Pope might have condescended 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 consecutive, 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 Blackmore are now little read, it is thought proper to insert, as a specimen from “Prince Arthur,” the song of Mopas mentioned by Molyneux :
“But that which Arthur with most pleasure heard
And arched the chambers of the vaulted sky,