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Born at Corsham, in Wiltshire-Educated at Westminster and Oxford-Becomes a Fellow of
the College of Physicians-His first work an Heroic Poem— Prince Arthur'-King Arthur' -Attacked by Dennis---His 'Satire against Wit' and Quarrel with Dryden--His other Poems -His Religious Life-Death and Burial at Boxted, in Essex-Works and Character.
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 Edmand Hall, in Oxford, where he took the degree of M.A., June 3, 1674, and resided thirteen years—a much longer time than it is usual to spend at the university, and which be 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, bis 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 physic, he inquired, as he
I Wood's Ath. Ox. by Bliss, iv. 791
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 an hundred verses, except one copy of Latin verses in praise of a friend's book."
? At Sadler's Hall, See Cunningham's 'Handbook of London,'art. "Sadler's Hall.'
Preface to 'King Arthur,' 1697. Johnson has confounded two prefaces : one to ‘Prince Arthur,' in 1695; and one to 'King Arthur,' in 1697. His Preface to his second epic is a De fence of his former one, and what he himself adınits to be its "provoking preface." • Such as Dick's and Batson's. See Edmund Smith's 'Poem on the Death of Jahn Philips.' • Writes to the ruinbling of his coach's wheels.
Dryder: Prologue to The Pilgrim. At my first arrival I received the melancholy news of my father's death, and ever since have been engaged in so much noise and company that it was impossible for me to think of
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 their governor's hands, nor made the least court to the committee that sits in Covent-Garden (Will's Coffeehouse); mine is, therefore, not so much as a permission-poem, but a pure, 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, por imported any goods they had ever dealt in." He had lived in the city till he had learned its note.
"That ‘Prince Arthur' found many readers is certain; for in two years it had three editions-a very uncommon instance of favourable reception, at a time when literary curiosity was yet confined to particular classes of the nation.' Such success naturally raised animosity; and Dennis attacked it (1696] by a formal criticism, more tedious and disgusting than the work which he condemns. To this censure may be opposed the approbation of Locke and the admiration of Molyneux, which are found in their printed letters. Molyneux is particularly delighted with the song of Mopas,' which is therefore subjoined to this narrative.
It is remarked by Pope, that what “raises the hero often sinks the man." Of Blackmore it may be said, that as the poet sinks the man rises ; the animadversions of Dennis, insolent and con
rhyming it, unless I had been possest of such a Muse of Dr. Blackmore's, that could make a couple of heroic poems in a hackney-coach and a coffee-house. ---ADDISON to Mr. Wycha Alkis's Addison, ii. 161.
I remember (said Lintot] Dr. King would write verses in a tavern three hours after he could Dot speak; and there's Sir Richard, in that rumbling old chariot of his, between Fleet Ditch and St. Giles's Pound, shall make you half a Job.-Pope to the Earl of Burlington,
Dennis attacks him about the coach in the Prologue spoken by Joe Haines before 'A Plot and No Plot,' 1697. • Preface to 'Klag Arthur,' 1697.
Compare vol. 1., p. 153. The edition of 'Prince Arthur' in 12mo. appeared in 1714. & Remarks on a Book entituled Prince Arthur, an Heroick Poem, with some general Critical Observations and several new Remarks upon Virgil. By Mr. Dennis,' 8vo., 1696.
Dennis says, in his dedication to the witty Earl of Dorset, that "some admired it as a masterpiece of art and nature," while others exploded it with extreme contempt." Fin die own part be thought it, he tells us, neither admirable nor contemptible.
temptuous as they were, raised in him no implacable resentment : he and his critic were afterwards friends ; and in one of his latter works he praises Dennis as “equal to Boileau in poetry, and supe rior to bim in critical abilities."
He seems to have been more delighted with praise than pained by censure, and, instead of slackening, quickened his career. Having in two years produced ten books of 'Prince Arthur,' in two years more (1697) be sent into the world • King Arthur' in twelve. The provocation was now doubled, and the resentment of wits and critics may be supposed to bave increased in proportion. He found, however, advantages more than equivalent to all their outrages ; he
i was this year made one of the physicians in ordinary to King William, and advanced by him to the honour of knighthood, with a present of a gold chain and medal."
The malignity of the wits attributed his knighthood to his new poem ; but King William was not very studious of poetry," and Blackmore perhaps had other merit : for he says, in his dedication to · Alfred,' that “ he had a greater part in the succession of the house of Hanover than ever he had boasted."
Wbat Blackmore could contribute to the succession, or what he imagined himself to have contributed, cannot now be known. That he had been of considerable use, I doubt not but he believed, for I hold him to have been very honest; but he might easily ake a
• Reverse of Louis, he (example rare !)
Lov'd to deserve the praise he could not bear;
BLACKMORE: The Kit-Kats (1708).
10 Compare p. 533 and p. 613, vol i.
King William's notions were all military; and he expresses his kindness to Swift by offering to make him a captain of horse. - Joussos: Life of Surfi.
King William had so little leisure to attend to, or so little disposition to men of wit, that when St. Evremont was introduced to him, the King said, coldly, "I think you was a major. general in the French service."-WalPole's Anecdotes of Painting.
false estimate of his own importance : those whom their virtue restrains from deceiving others are often disposed by their vanity to deceive themselves Whether he promoted the succession or not, he at least approved it, and adhered invariably to his principles and party through his whole life.
His ardour of poetry still continued ; and not long after (1700) be published a 'Paraphrase on the Book of Job,' and other parts of the Scripture. This performance Dryden, who pursued him with great malignity, lived long enough to ridicule in a prologue."
The wits easily confederated against him, as Dryden, whose favour they almost all courted, was his professed adversary. He had besides given them reason for resentment, as, in his preface to ‘Prince Arthur,' be had said of the dramatic writers almost all that was alleged afterwards by Collier ; but Blackmore's censure was cold and general, Collier's was personal and ardent ; Blackmore taught his reader to dislike what Collier incited him to abhor."
In his preface to 'King Arthur' he endeavoured to gain at least one friend, and propitiated Congreve by higher praise of his ‘Mourning Bride' than it bas obtained from any other critic."
The same year (1700) he published a 'Satire against Wit'-proclamation of defiance which united the poets almost all against him, and which brought upon him lampoons and ridicule from every side." This he doubtless foresaw, and evidently despised ; nor
1: His man of Uz, stript of his Hebrew robe,
18 just the proverb, and "As poor as Job."
DRYDEN: Prologue to the Pilgrim, 12 Some of these poets, to excuse their guilt, allege for themselves, that the degeneracy of the age makes their lewd way of writing necessary; they pretend the auditors will not be pleased unless they are thus entertained from the stage. ... And there are among these writers some who think they might have risen to the highest dignities in other professions, had they employed their wit in those ways.- Prefuce to Prince Arthur, 1695. This is particularly levelled at Dryden.
13 In 1790 appeared in 12mo., 'Homer and Virgil not to be coʻnpared with the two Arthurs,' of which "the Publisher" informs “the reader” that "the Poetical Part was writ in haste, that it might have been given as a Manual at Mr. Dryden's Funeral." It is all ill-nature, without wit.
14 Two folio pamphlets appeared against him: one called 'Commendatory Verses ;" the other, “ Discommendatory Verses." The former is very bitter. The copy of it in the British Museum has the names of the authors in inanuscript, including several noblemen, and the then unknown name of Captain Steele.