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Two rival armies all the plain o'erspread,
The Birth of the Muse is a miserable fiction, One good line it has, which was borrowed from Dryden. The concluding verses are these:
This said, no more remain'd. Th' etherial host Again impatient crowd the crystal coast. The father, now, within his spacious hands, Encompass'd all the mingled mass of seas and lands; And, having heav'd aloft the ponderous sphere, He launch'd the world to float in ambient air,
Of his irregular poems, that to Mrs, Arabella Hunt seems to be the best: his ode for St. Cecilia's Day, however, has some lines which Pope had in his mind when he wrote his own.
His imitations of Horace are feebly paraphrastical, and the additions which he makes are of little value. He sometimes retains what were more properly omitted, as when he talks of vervain and to propitiate Venus.
Of his translations, the satire of Juvenal was written very early, and may therefore be forgiven, though it have not the massiness and vigour of the original. In all his versions strength and sprightliness are wanting: his Hymn to Venus, from Homer, is perhaps the best. His lines are weakened with expletives, and his rhymes are frequently imperfect.
His petty poems are seldom worth the cost of criticism; sometimes the thoughts are false, and sometimes common. In his verses on lady Gethin, the
latter part is in imitation of Dryden's ode on Mrs. Killigrew; and Doris, that has been so lavishly flattered by Steele, has indeed some lively stanzas, but the expression might be mended ; and the most striking part of the character had been already shewn in Love for Love. His Art of Pleasing is founded on a vulgar, but perhaps impracticable principle, and the 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 appended 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 not that he has ever written a stanza that is sung, or a couplet that is quoted. The general character of his Miscellanies is, that they shew little wit and little virtue.
Yet to him it must be confessed, that we are indebted for the correction of a national error, and for the cure of our Pindarick madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular; and though certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyrick poetry, he has shewn us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in 'mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.
* “Except !" Dr. Warton exclaims, “Is not this a high sort of poetry?" He mentions likewise that Congreve's Opera or Oratorio of Semele was set to musick by Handel; I believe in 1743. 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 Edmund-Hall 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 haye 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 introduces, are pronounced by chance. He afterwards travelled: at Padua he was made doctor of Physick; 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 schoolmaster 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 physick, he enquired, as he says, of 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 Physicians, 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 topick to which his adversaries had recourse, in the penury of scandal.
* At Sadlers' Hall.
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 à nobler purpose, to engage poetry in the cause of Virtue.
I believe it is peculiar to him, that his first pub,lic work was an heroick 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 streets.” For the latter part of this apology he was accused of writing “ to the rumbling 66 of his chariot-wheels.” 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 66 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 6 hands: mine is therefore not so much as a per“ mission-poem, but a downright interloper. Those “ gentlemen who carry on their poetical trade in a
joint-stock, would certainly do what they could to 66 sink and ruin an unlicensed adventurer, notwithŚs standing I disturbed none of their factories, nor * imported any goods they have ever dealt in.” He had lived in the city till he had learned its note.