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He was not yet deterred from heroic poetry. There was another monarch of this island, (for he did not fetch his heroes from foreign countries) whom he considered as worthy of the epic Muse; and he dignified Alfred (1723) with twelve books. But the opinion of the nation was now settled; a hero introduced by Blackmore was not likely to find either respect or kindness; Alfred took his place by Eliza in silence and darkness: Benevolence was ashamed to favour, and Malice was weary of insulting. Of his four epic poems, the first had such reputation and popularity as enraged the critics; the second was at least known enough to be ridiculed; the two last had neither friends nor enemies. Contempt is a kind of gangrene, which, if it seizes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees. Blackmore, being despised as a, poet, was in time neglected as a physician; his practice, which was once invidiously great, forsook him in the latter part of his life; but being by nature, or by principle, averse from idleness, he employed his unwelcome leisure in writing books on physic, and teaching others to cure those whom he could himself cure no longer. I know not 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. Of those books, if I had read them, it could not be expected that I should be able to give a critical account. I have been told that there is something in them of vexation and discontent, discovered by a perpetual attempt to degrade physic from its sublimity, and to represent it as attainable without much previous or concomitant learning. By the transient glances which I have thrown upon them, I have observed an affected contempt of the ancients, and a supercilious derision of transmitted knowledge. Of this indecent arrogance the following quotation from his preface to the Treatise on the Small-pox will afford a specimen; in which, when the reader finds, what I fear is true, that, when he was censuring Hippocates, he did not know the difference between aphorism and apophthegm, he will not pay much regard to his determinations concerning ancient learning. “As for his book of Aphorisms, it is like my lord Bacon's of the same title, a book of jests, or a grave collection of trite and trifling observations; of which though many are true and certain, yet they signify nothing, and may afford diversion, but no instruction; most of them being much inferiour to the sayings of the wise men of Greece, which yet are so low and mean, that we are entertained every day with more valuable sentiments at the table conversation of ingenious and learned men.” I am unwilling, however, to leave him in total disgrace, and will therefore quote from another preface a passage less reprehensible. “Some gentlemen have been disingenuous and unjust to me, by wresting and forcing my meaning, in the preface to another book, as if I condemned and exposed all learning, though they knew I declared that I greatly honoured and esteemed all men of superiour literature and erudition; and that I only undervalued false or superficial learning, that signifies nothing for the service of mankind; and that as to physic, I expressly affirmed that learning must be joined with native genius to make a physician of the first rank; but if those talents are separated, I asserted, and do still insist, that a man of native sagacity and diligence will prove a more able and useful practiser, than a heavy notional scholar, encumbered with a heap of confused ideas.” He was not only a poet and a physician, but produced likewise a work of a different kind. A true and impartial History of the Conspiracy against King William of glorious Memory, in the Year 1695. This I have never seen, but suppose it at least compiled with integrity. He engaged likewise in theological controversy, and wrote two books against the Arians, Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis: and Modern Arians unmasked. Another of his works is Natural Theology, or Moral Duties considered apart from Positive; with some Observations on the Desirableness and Necessity of a supernatural Revelation. This was the last book that he published. He left behind him The accomplished Preacher, or an Essay upon Divine Eloquence; which was printed after his death by Mr. White of Nayland in Essex, the minister who attended his death-bed, and testified the fervent piety of his last hours. He died on the eighth of October, 1729.
BLACKMORE, by the unremitted enmity of the wits, whom he provoked more by his virtue than his dulness, has been exposed to worse treatment than he deserved. His name was so long used to point every epigram upon dull writers, that it became at last a by-word of contempt: but it deserves observation, that malignity takes hold only of his writings, and that his life passed without reproach, even when his boldness of reprehension naturally turned upon him many eyes desirous to espy faults, which many tongues would have made haste to publish. But those who could not blame could at least forbear to praise, and therefore of his private life and domestic character there are no memorials.
As an author he may justly claim the honours of magnanimity. The incessant attacks of his enemies, whether serious or merry, are never discovered to have disturbed his quiet, or to have lessened his confidence in himself: they neither awed him to silence nor to caution; they neither provoked him to petulance, nor depressed him to complaint. While the distributors of literary fame were endeavouring to depreciate and degrade him, he either despised or defied them, wrote on as he had written before, and never turned aside to quiet them by civility, or repress them by confutation.
He depended with great security on his own powers, and perhaps was for that reason less diligent in perusing books. His literature was, I think, but small. What he knew of antiquity, I suspect him to have gathered from modern compilers: but, though he could not boast of much critical knowledge, his mind was stored with general principles, and he left minute researches to those whom he considered as little minds.
With this disposition he wrote most of his poems. design, he was careless of particular and subordinate elegances; he studied no niceties
of versification; he waited for no felicities of fancy; but caught his first thoughts in the first words in which they were presented: nor does it appear that he saw beyond his own performances, or had ever elevated his views to that ideal perfection which every genius born to excel is condemned always to pursue, and never overtake. In the first suggestions of his imagination he acquiesced; he thought them good, and
Having formed a magnificent
did not seek for better. His works may be read a long time without the occurrence of a single line that stands prominent from the rest. The poem on Creation has, however, the appearance of more circumspection; it wants neither harmony of numbers, accuracy of thought, nor elegance of diction: it has either been written with great care, or, what cannot be imagined of so long a work, with such felicity as made care less necessary. Its two constituent parts are ratiocination and description. To reason in verse, is allowed to be difficult; but Blackmore not only reasons in verse, but very often reasons poetically; and finds the art of unting ornament with strength, and ease with closeness. This is a skill which Pope might have condescended to learn from him, when he needed it so much in his Moral Essays. In his descriptions both of life and nature, the poet and the philosopher happily co-operate; truth is recommended by elegance, and elegance sustained by truth. In the structure and order of the poem, not only the greater parts are properly consecutive, but the didactic and illustrative paragraphs are so happily mingled, that labour is relieved by pleasure, and the attention is led on through a long succession of varied excellence to the original position, the fundamental principle of wisdom and of virtue.
As the heroic poems of Blackmore are now little read, it is thought proper to insert, as a specimen from Prince Arthur, the song of Mopas mentioned by Molineux.
* < But that which Arthur with most pleasure heard,
T He the Great Spirit sung, that all things till'd,
How some, whose parts a slight contexture show, Sink hovering through the air, in fleecy snow; How part is spun in silken threads, and clings Fontangled in the grass in glewy strings; How others stamp to stones, with rushing sound Fall from their chrystal quarries to the ground; How some are laid in trains, that kindled fiy, In harmless fires by night, about the sky; How some in winds blow with impetuous force, And carry ruin where they bend their course, While some conspire to form a gentle breeze, To fan the air, and play among the trees; How some, enraged, grow turbulent and loud, Pent in the bowels of a frowning cloud, That cracks, as if the axis of the world Was broke, and Heaven's bright towers were downwards hurl’d, He sung how Earth's wide ball, at Jove's command, Did in the midst on airy columns stand; s and how the soul of plants, in prison held, And bound with sluggish fetters, lies conceal’d, AJ Till with the Spring's warm beams, almost releas'd, -- T. From the dull weight, with which it lay opprest, \so its vigour spreads, and makes the teeming Farth *- Heave up, and labour with the sprouting birth: The active spirit freedom seeks in vain, It only works and twists a stronger chain; Urging its prison's sides to break away, It makes that wider, where 'tis forc'd to stay: Till, having form'd its living house, it rears LIts head, and in a tender plant appears. Hence springs the oak, the beauty of the grove, Whose stately trunk fierce storms can scarcely move. Hence grows the cedar, hence the swelling vine Does round the elm its purple clusters twine. Hence painted flowers the smiling gardens bless, Both with their fragrant scent and gaudy dress. Hence the white lily in full beauty grows, Hence the blue violet, and blushing rose. He sung how sun-bcams brood upon the Earth, And in the glebe hatch such a numerous birth; Which way the genial warmth in Summer storms Turns putrid vapours to a bed of worms; How rain, transform'd by this prolific power, Falls from the clouds an animatcd shower. He sung the embryo's growth within the womb, And how the parts their various shapes assume; |- With what rare art the wondrous structure's wrought, of From one crude mass to such perfection brought; That no part useless, none misplac'd we see, Non- are forgot, and more would monstrous be, v