1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Blackmore

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 1:16-19.



Sir Richard Blackmore, the chief author of this production [The Lay Monastery], and a most indefatigable writer, was the son of an Attorney in the county of Wiltshire, and, after the usual routine of education, was in 1668 entered at Edmund Hall, Oxford. He took his degree of M.A. in this university, in 1676, where he resided thirteen years; at the expiration of which period, it is probable, that for a short time he assumed the employment of a schoolmaster. He soon, however, relinquished this occupation for the study of physic, and visiting the continent, graduated at Padua. After a tour of eighteen months, he returned to his native country, and, commencing practice in London, was created a Fellow of the College of Physicians in 1687. Having acquired considerable celebrity in his profession, he had the honour, in 1697, of being appointed physician in ordinary to King William; this was speedily followed by the rank of Knighthood; and when Queen Anne ascended the throne, he was also nominated one of her physicians, and continued to officiate as such for several years. He died in October 1729, after a long life of industry, piety, and unblemished morality.

The numerous compositions of Sir Richard Blackmore, may be arranged under the heads of medical, poetical, theological, and miscellaneous. They are now, in a great measure, and perhaps not undeservedly, neglected; though, as they were uniformly written in support of virtue and moral order, and occasionally display passages of some literary merit, they were by no means proper subjects for the ridicule and abuse with which they were indiscriminately overwhelmed. He acquired, however, no inconsiderable share of fame by his first epic production, entitled Prince Arthur, a poem which passed through three editions in two years, could boast of Locke and Molyneux among the number of its admirers, and which strongly excited the attention of the critics,

Unhappily, the encouragement of the public given to this first effort, stimulated Sir Richard to further exertions, and by the year 1723, he had produced three more bulky epics, King Arthur, Eliza, and Alfred; the four poems including no less than forty-four books. With the mediocrity and perseverance of our author, the world, however, soon grew satiated, and his heroes were scarcely ushered into life, before they began to exhibit symptoms of dissolution. Yet, notwithstanding the length of these poetical flights, Sir Richard found time for a vast variety of other excursions into the regions of Parnassus; and among these, for one on which his reputation, as a disciple of the Muses, seems now solely to rest. In 1712 appeared his Creation, a philosophical poem in seven books, of which both the matter and stile have been highly commended by Addison and Johnson; the latter affirming, that "this poem, if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity among the first favourites of the English muse." To this opinion few will probably assent; and though the recommendation of the Doctor has introduced this work into the body of our English Poetry, we may venture to predict that it will not long maintain its station. Splendid as the subject is, the sentiments and imagery are trite, and the versification insufferably tedious and languid.

Of the prose of Blackmore, his Essays and the Lay Monastery are the best. This last production was intended as a sequel to the Spectators, the seventh volume of which was at that time supposed to have closed the undertaking. It was originally published in single papers, under the title of the Lay Monk, and the first number appeared on November 16th, 1713, It was presented to the public thrice a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and, having reached forty numbers, expired on February 15th, 1714. It was re-published the same year in one volume, and under its present title, and passed through a second edition, which now lies before me, in 1727. Sir Richard was assisted in this work by Mr. Hughes, who wrote all the Friday's papers....