1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William King

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 2:170-71.



The ingenious Dr. William King was a native of London, and was born in 1663. Being paternally allied to the family of Clarendon, he received a good classical education at Westminster School, under Dr Richard Busby, from whence he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in his eighteenth year. At this illustrious seminary, he is said to have been a very diligent student; and having devoted his particular attention to civil law, he took a doctor's degree in 1692. But though he possessed unquestionable talents, and distinguished himself in the defence of the Earl of Anglesea, against his lady, who sued for a divorce and obtained it, he gradually gave way to an indolent disposition, and application to business seemed to be his aversion. By the interest of his friends, however, he was appointed judge of the admiralty in Ireland, and held some other important offices in that country, but, on a change of administration there, he returned to England in 1708, with no other portion than wit, and confirmed and habitual idleness.

In some years previous to this, he had gained considerable reputation as a prose writer, and now he appears to have derived his principal subsistence from the efforts of his pen. Becoming a zealous tory, he defended the cause he had espoused with great spirit, both in prose and verse, which recommended him to Swift, Prior, and others of the same party. By their influence, and as it is said without solicitation, he was appointed writer of the Gazette, and keeper of the paper office. But an act of insolvency, which speedily followed, having increased the business of his situation, his native indolence induced him to resign, preferring poverty with ease, to independence with application.

Retiring to Lambeth, in 1712, he amused himself with composition; but his health declining he resigned his breath with Christian fortitude, on Christmas-day of that year, in the forty-ninth year of his age.

His poems have been aptly characterised as the amusements of idleness, rather than the effects of study. He possessed a turn for mirth and raillery, and was better qualified to make his readers laugh than to move the tender passions. His Art of Cookery evinces abundance of wit and ingenuity; and though he wrote An art of Love, it has the merit of being free from that licentiousness which is found in Ovid. In short, though King lived irregularly, he was by no means prone to gross vices. Trifles were his delight, and he pursued them, regardless of fame, fortune, and public opinion.

Mr. Anderson informs us, that he would say a great many ill-natured things, but never do one. He was made up of tenderness and pity, and tears would fall from him on the smallest occasion. Mr. A. further observes, that his character united some striking contrarieties. He was a man of eminent learning and singular piety; but more zealous for the cause, than the appearance of religion. His chief pleasure consisted in trifles, and he was never happier than when he thought he was hid from the world. Few people pleased him in conversation, and it was a certain proof of his liking them if his behaviour was tolerably agreeable. His discourse was cheerful, his wit pleasant and entertaining, and his philosophy and good sense prevailed over his natural temper, which is said not to have been amiable.