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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 appened 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 noi that he has ever written a stanza that is sung or a couplet that is quoted. The general charac. ter of his miscellanies is, that they show little wit and little virtue.
Yet to him it must be cofessed that we are indebted for the correction of a national error, and for the cure of our Pindaric madness. He first taught the Englisl: 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 shown us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.
*"Except!” Dr. Warton exclaim's, “Is not this a high sort of poetry?" He mentions likewise that Congreve's opera, or Oratoria, of Semele was set to music by Handel, I believe in 1749. C.
SIR 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 EdmundHall 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 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 school-master 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, uf 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 physician's, 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
* At Saddler's Hall.
streets.” For the latter part of this apology he was accused of writing “ to the rumbling of his chariotwheels.” He had read, he says, “ but little poetry throughout his whole life; and for fifteen years before had not written an 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 censurers, which he expresses in language such as Cheapside easily furnished. “ I am not free of the poets' 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 adven. turer, 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 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 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