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dently 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, “ ir “ is corrected, and revised for another impression ;" but the labour of revision was thrown away.
From this time he turned some of his thoughts to the celebration of living characters; and wrote a poem on the Kit-cat club, and Adviie to the Poets how to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough; but on occasion of another year of success, thinking himself qualified to give more instruction, he again wrote a poem of Advice to a Weaver of Tapestry. Steele was then publishing the Tatler; and looking round him for something at which he might laugh, unluckly lighted on Sir Richard's work, and treated it with such contempt, that as Fenton observes, he put an end to the species of writers that gave Advice to Painters. .
Not long after (1712) he published Creation, a philosophical Poem, which has been, by my recommendation, inserted in the late collection. Whoever judges of this by any other of Blackmore's performances, will do it injury. The praise given it by Addison (Spec. 339) is too well known to be tran-' scribed ; but some notice is due to the testimony of Dennis, who calls it a " philosophical Poem, which has equalled that of Lucretius in the beauty of "its versification, and infinitely surpassed it in the solidity and strength of “ its reasoning."
Why an author surpasses himself, it is natural to enquire. I have heard from Mr. Draper an eminent bookseller, an account received by him from
Ambrose Philips, “ That Blackmore, as he proceeded in this poem, laid ' " his manascript from time to time before a club of wits with whom he
« associated ;
« associated; and that every man contributed, as he could, either improves ment or correction; so that,” said Philips, “ there are perhaps no where “ in the book thirty lines together, that now stand as they were originally es written.”
The relation of Philips, I suppose, was true ; but when all reasonatie. all credible allowance is made for this friendly revision, the author will still retain an ample dividend of praise ; for to him must always be assigned the plan of the work, the distribution of its parts, the choice of topicks, the train of argument, and, what is yet more, the general predominance of philosophical judgement and poetical spirit. Correction seldom effects more than the suppression of faults: a happy line, ora single elegance, may perhaps be added; but of a large work the general character must always remain ; the original constitution can be very little helped by local remedies : inherent and radical dullness will never be much invigorated by intrinsick animation.
This poem, if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity among the first favourites of the English Muse : but to make verses was his transcending pleasure, and as he was not deterred by censure, he was not satiated with praise.
He deviated, however, sometimes into other tracks of literature, and condescended to entertain his readers with plain prose. When the Spectator stopped, he considered the polite world as destitute of entertainment, and in concert with Mr. Hughes, who wrote every third paper, published three rimes a week the Lay Monastery, founded on the supposition that some literary men, whose characters are described, had retired to a house in the coun try to enjoy philosophical leisure, and resolved to instruct the public, by communicating their disquisitions and amusements. Whether any rea! persons were concealed under fictitious names, is not known. The hero of the club is one Mr. Johnson ; such a constellation of excellence, that his character shall not be suppressed, though there is no great genius in the design, nor skill in the delineation. I
" The first I shall name is Mr. Johnson, a gentleman that owes to nature « excellent faculties and an elevated genius, and to industry and application “ many acquired accomplishments. His taste is distinguishing, just, and “ delicate ; his judgement clear; and his reason strong, accompanied with an “ imagination full of spirit, of great compass, and stored with refined ideas. “ He is a critick of the first rank : and, what is his peculiar ornament, he is " delivered from the ostentation, malevolence, and supercilious temper, that “ so often blemish men of that character. His remarks result from the nature "s and reason of things, and are formed by a judgement free, and unbiassed “ by the authority of those who have lazily followed each other in the same « beaten track of thinking, and are arrived only at the reputation of acute
grammarians and commentators; men, who have been copying one another “ many hundred years, without any improvement ; or, if they have ven“ tured farther, have only applied in a mechanical manner the rules of anti“ ent criticks, to modern writings, and with great labour discovered nothing " but their own want of judgement and capacity. As Mr. Johnson penetrates " to the bottom of his subject, by which means his observatiens are solid "s and natural, as well as delicate, só his design is always to bring to light " something useful and ornamental; whence his character is the reverse to " theirs, who have eminent abilities in insignificant knowledge, and a great “ felicity in finding out trifles. He is no less indutrious to search out the " merit of an author, than sagacious in discerning his errors and defects; “ and takes more pleasure in commending the beauties than exposing the “ blemishes of a laudable writing: like Horace, in a long work, he can bear
some deformities, and justly lay them on the imperfection of human nature " which is incapable of fautless productions. When an excellent Drama
s appears in publick, and by its intrinsick worth attracts a general applause, “ he is not stung with envy and spleen ; nor does he express a savage nature, " in fastening upon the celebrated author, dwelling upon his imaginary de
fects, and passing over his conspicuous excellences. He treats all writers upon the same impartial foot ; and is not, like the little criticks, taken up
entirely in finding out only the beauties of the ancient, and nothing but " the errors of the modern writers. Never did any one express more kind
ness and good-nature to young and unfinished authors; he promotes their " interests, protects their reputation, extenuates their faults, and sets off " their virtues, and by his candour guards them from the severity of his “ judgement. He is not like those dry critisks who are morose because they “ cannot write themselves, but is himself master of a good vein in poetry; " and though he does often employ it, yet he has sometimes entertained “ his friends with his unpublished performances,”
The rest of the Lay Monks seem to be but feeble Mortals, in comparison with the gigantic Johnson ; who yet, with all his abilities, and the help of the fraternity, could drive the publication but to forty papers, which were afterwards collected into a volume, and called in the title A Sequel to the Spectators.
Some years afterwards (1716 and 1717) he published two volumes of Essays in prose, which can be commended only as they are written for the highest and noblest purpose, the promotion of religion. Blackmore's prose is nof the prose of a poet ; for it is languid, sluggish, and lifeles; his diciton 'is neither daring nor exact, his flow neither rapid nor easy, and his periods neither smooth nor strong. His account of Wit will shew with how little clearness he is content to think, and how little his thoughts are recommended by his language.
“ As to its efficient cause, Wit owes its production to an extraordinary and “ peculiar temperament in the constitution of the possessor of it, in which « is found a concurrence of regular and exalted ferments, and an affluence “ of animal spirits, refined and rectified to a great degree of purity; whence, “ being endowed with vivacity, brightness, and celerity, as well in their re“ fecțions as direct motions, they become proper instruments for the spritesi ly operations of the mind; by which means the imagination can with “ great facility range the wide field of Nature, contemplate an infinite va. “ riety of objeets, and, by observing the similitude and disagreement of their " several qualities, single out and abstract, and then suit and unite those sc ideas which will best serve its purpose. Hence beautiful allusions, sur“ prising metaphors, and admirable sentiments, are always ready at hand : " and while the fancy is full of images collected from innumerable objects “ and their different qualities, relations, and habitudes, it can at pleasure « dress a common notion in a strange but becoming garb ; by which, as be" fore observed, the same thought will appear a new one, to the great de“ light and wonder of the hearer. What we call genius results from this s particular happy complexion in the formation of the first person that enjoys os it, and is Nature's gift, but diversified by various specifick characters and li“ mitations, as its active fire is blended and allayed by different proportions " of phlegm, or reduced and regulated by the contrast of opposite ferments. “ Therefore, as there happens in the composition of facetious genius a “ greater or less, though still an inferior, degree of judgement and prudence, " one man of wit will be yaried and distinguished from another.”
In these Essays he took little care to propitiate the wits; for he scorns to avert their malice at the expence of virtue or of truth.
“ Several, in their books, have many sarcastical and spitefulstrokes at re“ligion in general ; while others make themselves pleasant with the princi« ples of the Christian. Of the last kind, this age has seen a most audacious " example in the book entitled A Tale of a Tub. Had this writing been “ published in a pagan or popish nation, who are justly impatient of all in“ dignity offered to the established religion of their country, no doubt but " the author would have received the punishment he deserved. But the “ fate of this impious buffoon is very different ; for in a protestant king“ dom, zealous of their civil and religious immunities, he has not only ff escaped affronts and the effects of publick resentment, but has been ca
e has puble in the Essay
si ressed and patronized by persons of great figure, and of all denominations. « Violent party-men, who differed in allthings besides, agreed in their turn " to shew particular respect and friendship to this insolent derider of the " worship of his country, till at last the reputed writer is not only gone off « with impunity, but triumphs in his dignity and preferment. I do not “ know that any inquiry or search was ever made after this writing, or that
any reward was ever offered for the discovery of the author, or that the “ infamous book was ever condemned to be burnt in publick : whether this “ proceeds from the excessive esteem and love that men in power, during es the late reign, lad for wit, or their defect of zeal and concern for the “ Christian religion, will be determined best by those who are best ac" quainted with their character.”
In another place he speaks with becoming abhorrence of a godless author who has burlesqued a Psalm. This author was supposed to be Pope, who published a reward for any one that would produce the coiner of the accusation, but never denied it ; and was afterwards the perpetual and incessant, enemy of Blackmore.
One of his Essays is 'upon the Spleen, which is treated by him so much to his own satisfaction, that he has published the same thoughts in the same words ; first in the Lay. Monastery; then in the Essay; and then in the Preface to a Medical Treatise on the Spleen. One passage, which I have found already twice, I will here exhibit, because I think it better imagined, and better expressed, than could be expected from the common tenour of his prose :
" -As the several combinations of splenetic madness and folly produce “ an infinite variety of irregular understanding, so the amicable accommoda“tion and alliance between several virtues and vices produce an equal di“ versity in the dispositions and manners of mankind; whence it comes to « pass, that as many monstrous and absurd productions are found in the “ moral as in the intellectual world. How surprising is it to observe among “ the least culpable men, some whose minds are attracted by heaven and “ earth, with a seeming equal force; some who are proud of humility ; " others who are censorious and uncharitable, yet self-denying and devout.; “ so'me 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 gene“ rous 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