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He who reads these lines enjoys for a moment the powers of a poet; he feels what he remembers to have felt before; but he feels it with great increase of sensibility; he recognizes a familiar image; but meets it again, amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty, and enlarged with majesty.
Yet could the author, who appears here to have enjoyed the confidence of nature, lament the death of queen Mary in lines like these:
The rocks are cleft, and new-descending rills
For grief they sigh, forgetful of their loves. And, many years after, he gave no proof that time had improved his wisdom or his wit; for, on the death of the marquis of Blandford, this was his song:
And now the winds, which had so long been still,
Began to roar and howl with horrid yell,
And echo multiplied each mournful sound. In both these funeral poems, when he has yelled out many syllables of senseless dolour, he dismisses his reader with senseless consolation: from the grave of Pastora rises a light that forms a star; and, where Amaryllis wept for Amyntas, from every tear sprung up a violet. But William is his hero, and of William he will sing :
The hovering winds on downy wings shall wait around,
And catch, and waft to foreign lands, the flying sound. It cannot but be proper to shew what they shall have to catch and carry: .
'Twas now, when flowery lawns the prospect made, And flowing brooks beneath a forest shade, A lowing heifer, loveliest of the herd, Stood feeding by; while two fierce bulls prepar'd Their armed heads for fight, by fate of war to prove The victor worthy of the fair one's love; Unthought presage of what met next my view; For soon the shady scene withdrew. And now, for woods, and fields, and springing flowers, · Behold a town arise, bulwark'd with walls and lofty towers ; Two rival armies all the plain o'erspread, Each in battalia rang'd, and shining arms array'd ; With eager eyes beholding both from far
Namur, the prize and mistress of the war. 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,
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 gums 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 is 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 Pindaric madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular; and though certainly be had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyric poetry, he has shewn us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness. BLACKMORE.
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 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 introduces, 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, bis 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 physic, he inquired, 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 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 streets." For the latter part of this apology he was accused of writing “ to the rumbling of his chariot-wheels." He had read, he says, “ but little poetry throughout his whole life; and, for fifteen years before, had not written a 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 adventurer, 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 learned its note.