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wealth of letters. But he was happily independent of their praise or censure; and, instead of endeavouring to propitiate or to disperse his assailants, he went steadily on, in his usual avocations; uncon. cerned at what might be said of him, and determined to write as many more epics, as 'catches and starts of leisure would permit.
He gave satisfaction to his patients, and obtained the favour of the king; who equally offended the wits, by conferring upon Blackmore the honour of knighthood, and making him one of his physicians in ordinary. They thought, or at least asserted, that it was in consequence of his new poem; but it is not likely, that William the Second encumbered his memory with a single line of either; and it is certain, that, in the dedication to Alfred, the author hints at having had “a greater part in the succession of the house of Hanover than he had ever boasted.' He was an honest man; and little fitted to detect deception, whether it was practised upon him by others, or he practised it upon himself. What part he could have had, in the succession of the House of Hanover, it is difficult to imagine; and he has not condescended to tell us.
One would suppose, that, between medicine and poetry, his hands were sufficiently filled, without busying himself with politics. But, by 1700, three years from the publication of his second epic, he had finished a Paruphrase of Job, and a Satire upon Wit; in the first of which, he provoked the censure, and, in the last, defied the vengeance, of his critics. They rallied under the standard of Dryden; and lampoons and satires struck around and upon Sir Richard from every quarter. Yet, in 1705, he entered the field with another epic, in ten books. Men are not apt to continue censure, when it attracts no notice; and Eliza, being permitted to enjoy, without molestation, whatever celebrity she might acquire, her fate was such as would probably
have attended Prince Arthur and King Arthur, had they been left to themselves. Nobody either praised or dispraised the poem; and few ever took the trouble to read it.
It was time to change his hand; and, thinking he might succeed better with living heroes, he wrote, first, a poem upon the Kit-Cat-Club; next, Advice to the Poets how to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough; and then, Advice to a Weaver of Tapestry. Sir Richard Steele was, about this time, in want of some subject to amuse the readers of the Tatler; and, lighting upon these poems of Blackmore, ridiculed them in one of his numbers with so little mercy, and such complete effect, that the author was, in future, content to restrict his advice to his patients.
Nothing, however, could repress the fecundity of Blackmore's genius. His head was soon big with verse again; and, in 1712, he produced Creation, a Philosophical Poem, in seven Books. This is considered as by far the best of all his works; and we had rather admit the fact, than undertake to compare the poems. There seems to have been a good reason for the difference. I have heard from Mr. Draper, an eminent bookseller, (says Dr. Johnson,) an account received by him from Ambrose Philips, that Blackmore, as he proceeded in this poem, laid his manuscript from time to time before a club of wits with whom he associated; and that every man contributed, as he could, either improvement or correction; so that,' said Philips, there are no where in the book thirty lines together that now stand as they were originally written.' Still we are inclined to think, with the biographer, that Creation should be considered as Blackmore's poem; for, though his friends might polish and improve the surface, the plan and substance must have been exclusively his own.
Nor was it in prose alone, that Blackmore vouch
safed to entertain his countrymen. When the Spectator disappeared, he resolved, in conjunction with Hughes, to supply the void, which it had left in the amusements of the public; and commenced publishing, three times a week, a paper called the Lay Monastery. It was an idea worthy of Blackmore, that a set of literary monks, excluded from life, should undertake to teach others how to live. The chief of the band was a Mr. Johnson; who is endowed with all the very best qualities, both of a critic and an author; and whose character, though neither designed with genius," nor delineated with skill,' was transcribed by Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Blackmore. Hughes wrote every third number; but both together could not force the paper beyond forty. Blackmore was not a man to think its discontinuance attributable to any want of intrinsic excellence; and, with honest self-complacency, he collected his forty numbers into a volume, and entitled it a Sequel to the Spectators.
So little, indeed, was he discouraged by the result of his periodical effusions, that, in 1716 and 1717, he published two more volumes of Essays; of which the only merit seems to be that which many a dull author may claim—the design to do good. In August, 1717, he became an Elect of the College of Physicians; and, in the following October, was nominated Censor. The success of his Creation induced him to attempt another religious subject; and it was about this time that he published a similar poem upon Redemption, in we know not how many books. He had written three upon the Nature of Man, before the appearance of the Creation.
Blackmore learned, that congregations were in want of a good metrical translation of the Psalms; and, believing his powers to be co-extensive with his benevolence, he undertook to supply the de. ficiency, by publishing, in 1719, a New Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes used in
Churches. He obtained a license for its admission into public worship; but admitted it never was, and probably never will be. Nor had our poet yet abandoned the Epic Muse ; for, in 1723, Alfred was enveloped in twelve books, and came forth unnoticed. The same hero has since been the subject of two other unfortunate epics; one by Henry James Pye, in six books; and the other by Joseph Cottle, in twenty-four. Twelve and six are eighteen, and twenty-four make two-and-forty books of heroic poetry about Alfred!
Blackmore had now lost all his readers; and it is to his degradation, as an author, that Dr. Johnson attributes the deficiency of his future practice, as a physician. •Contempt, (it is said,) is a kind of gangrene, which, if it siezes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees.' We think, to speak in the same spirit, that the itch of composition is much more likely to destroy, by degrees, the character of a professional man. The symptoms of authorship, if not checked at their first appearance, become soon confirmed: all other occupation is gradually lost in the disease; and the man is, at last, given over, as a fated and remediless scribbler. It is not necessary, that he should be a contemptible writer; and, indeed, the more eminent he becomes, as an author, the less successful is he likely to be, as a physician, or a lawyer. Blackmore had long enjoyed an extensive practice; and, beginning to feel independent of business, he had little motive to restrin his propensity for composition. He probably neglected his patients; and they forsook him.
The books, which he afterwards produced, in quick succession, will show how completely he was beyond remedy. “I know not (says Dr. Johnson) whether I can enumerate all the treatises by which he has endeavoured to diffuse the art of healing ; for there is scarcely any distemper of dreadful name, which he has not taught the reader how to oppose.
He has written on the small-pox, with a vehement invective against inoculation; on consumptions, the spleen, the gout, the rheumatism, the king's evil, the dropsy, the jaundice, the stone, the diabetes, and the plague.' He is accused of attempting to degrade his profession; and of showing a supercilious contempt for the ancients. He committed, at any rate, a philological sin, which, to the compiler of a dictionary, is less excusable than any other. • When the reader finds, what I fear is true, (says Dr. Johnson,) that Blackmore did not know the difference between aphorism and apothegm, he will not pay Vich regard to his determinations concerning ancient learning
Having completed his course of physic, our au. thor next took up theology. He first composed Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis; then Modern Amans Unmasked; afterwards, Natural Theology, or Moral Duties considered apart from Positive; with some Observations on the Desirableness and Necessity of a Supernatural Revelation; and lastly, The Accomplished Preacher, or an Essay upon Divine Eloquence. Besides these, he wrote A True and Impartial History of the Conspiracy against King William, of Glorious Memory, in the year 1695. Our catalogue is now finished. The author died on the 8th of October, 1729.
The great defect of Blackmore's mind was a cer. tain feebleness, which, while it could not resist the multitude of thoughts, that crowded upon him, rendered him incapable of digesting them into order, or expressing them with clearness. He had not force enough to extricate himself from metaphysical subtilty; and he was constantly a prey to those ob. scure and mystical doctrines, which so long tormented the schoolmen. All intellectual phenomena must be accounted for, upon the supposition of ferments, vapours, and animal spirits. The explanation is commonly more inscrutable than the fact :