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He was the son of a respectable clergyman, who was curate and lecturer of St. John's, Westminster. He was educated at Westminster school, and entered of Trinity college, Cambridge, but not being disposed
"O'er crabbed authors life's gay prime to waste, Or cramp wild genius in the chains of taste,"
he left the university abruptly, and coming to London, made a clandestine marriage in the Fleet. His father, though much displeased at the proceeding, became reconciled to what could not be remedied, and received the imprudent couple for about a year under his roof. After this young Churchill went for some time to study theology at Sunderland, in the north of England, and having taken orders, officiated at Cadbury, in Somersetshire, and at Rainham, a living of his father's in Essex, till upon the death of his father, he succeeded in 1758 to the curacy and lectureship of St. John's. Here he conducted himself for some time with a decorum suitable to his profession, and increased his narrow income by undertaking private tuition. He got into debt, it is true, and Dr. Lloyd, of Westminster, the father of
his friend the poet, was obliged to mediate with his creditors for their acceptance of a composition; but when fortune put it into his power Churchill honourably discharged all his obligations. His Rosciad appeared at first anonymously, in 1761, and was ascribed to one or other of half the wits in town; but his acknowledgment of it, and his poetical "Apology," in which he retaliated upon the critical reviewers of his poem, (not fearing to affront even Fielding and Smollet), made him at once famous and formidable. The players, at least, felt him to be so. Garrick himself, who though extolled in the Rosciad was sarcastically alluded to in the Apology, courted him like a suppliant; and his satire had the effect of driving poor Thom. Davies, the biographer of Garrick, though he was a tolerable performer, from the stage. A letter from another actor, of the name of Davis, who seems rather to have dreaded than experienced his severity, is preserved in Nichols's Literary Anecdotes of the eighteenth century, in which the poor comedian deprecates the poet's censure in an expected publication, as likely to deprive him of
1 Nichols, in his Literary Anecdotes of the eighteenth century, vol. vi. p. 424, gives this information of Thom. Davies's being driven off the stage by Churchill's satire, on the authority of Dr. Johnson. This Davies was the editor of Dramatic Miscellanies, and of the Life and Works of Lillo. The name of the other poor player who implored Churchill's mercy was T. Davis, his name being differently spelt from that of Garrick's biographer. Churchill's answer to him is also preserved by Nichols.
bread. What was mean in Garrick might have been an object of compassion in this humble man; but Churchill answered him with surly contempt, and holding to the plea of justice, treated his fears with the apparent satisfaction of a hangman. His moral character, in the mean time, did not keep pace with his literary reputation. As he got above neglect he seems to have thought himself above censure. His superior, the Dean of Westminster, having had occasion to rebuke him for some irregularities, he threw aside at once the clerical habit and profession, and arrayed his ungainly form in the splendour of fashion, Amidst the remarks of his enemies, and what he pronounces the still more insulting advice of his prudent friends upon his irregular life, he published his epistle to Lloyd, entitled Night, a sort of manifesto of the impulses, for they could not be called principles, by which he professed his conduct to be influenced. The leading maxims of this epistle are, that prudence and hypocrisy in these times are the same thing; that good hours are but fine words; and that it is better to avow faults than to conceal them. Speaking of his convivial enjoyments he says,
"Night's laughing hours unheeded slip away, Nor one dull thought foretells approaching day."
In the same description he somewhat awkwardly introduces
"Wine's gay God, with TEMPERANCE at his side, While HEALTH attends."
How would Churchill have belaboured any fool or hypocrite who had pretended to boast of health and temperance in the midst of orgies that turned night into day!
By his connexion with Wilkes he added political to personal causes of animosity, and did not diminishi the number of unfavourable eyes that were turned upon his private character. He had certainly, with all his faults, some strong and good qualities of the heart; but the particular proofs of these were not likely to be sedulously collected as materials of his biography, for he had now placed himself in that light of reputation when a man's likeness is taken by its shadow and darkness. Accordingly, the most prominent circumstances that we afterwards learn respecting him are, that he separated from his wife, and seduced the daughter of a tradesman in Westminster. At the end of a fortnight, either from his satiety or repentance, he advised this unfortunate woman to return to her friends; but took her back again upon her finding her home made intolerable by the reproaches of a sister. His reputation for inebriety also received some public acknowledgments. Hogarth gave as much celebrity as he could to his love of porter, by representing him in the act of drinking a mug of that liquor in the shape of a bear; but the painter