William Walsh

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 3:151-55.

This poet was the son of Joseph Walsh, of Aberley in Worcestershire. He became a gentleman-commoner of Wadham College Oxford, in Easter-Term, 1678, when he was only fifteen years of age; he left it without a degree, retired to his native county, and some time after went to London. He wrote a Dialogue concerning Women, being a Defence of the Fair-Sex, addressed to Eugenia, and printed in the year 1691. This is the most considerable of our author's productions, and it will be somewhat necessary to take further notice of it, which we cannot more effectually do, than by transcribing the words of Dryden in its commendation. — That great critic thus characterises it. "The perusal of this dialogue, in defence of the Fair-Sex, written by a gentleman of my acquaintance, much surprised me: For it was not easy for me to imagine, that one so young could have treated so nice a subject with so much judgment. It is true, I was not ignorant that he was naturally ingenious, and that he had improved himself by travelling; and from thence I might reasonably have expected, that air of gallantry which is so visibly diffused through the body of the work, and is, indeed, the soul that animates all things of this nature; but so much variety of reading, both in antient and modern authors, such digestion of that reading, so much justness of thought, that it leaves no room for affectation or pedantry; I may venture to say, are not over common amongst practised writers, and very rarely to be found amongst beginners. It puts me in mind of what was said of Mr. Waller, the father of our English numbers, upon the sight of his first verses, by the wits of the last age; that he came our into the world forty thousand strong, before they had heard of him. Here in imitation of my friend's apostrophes, I hope the reader need not be told, that Mr. Waller is only mentioned for honour's sake, that I am desirous of laying hold on his memory on all occasions, and thereby acknowledging to the world, that unless he had written, none of us all could write. My friend, had not it seems confidence enough to send this piece out into the world, without my opinion of it, that it might pass securely, at least among the fair readers, for whose service it was principally designed. I am not so presuming, as to think my opinion can either be his touch-stone, or his passport; but, I thought I might send him back to Ariosto, who has made it the business of almost thirty stanza's, in the beginning of the thirty-seventh book of his Orlando Furioso; not only to praise that beautiful part of the creation, but also to make a sharp satire on their enemies; to give mankind their own, and to tell them plainly, that from their envy it proceeds, that the virtue and great actions of women are purposely concealed, and the failings of some few among them exposed, with all the aggravating circumstances of malice. For my own part, who have always been their servant, and have never drawn my pen against them, I had rather see some of them praised extraordinarily, than any of them suffer by detraction, and that at this age, and at this time particularly, wherein I find more heroines, than heroes; let me therefore give them joy of their new champion: If any will think me more partial to him, than I really am, they can only say, I have returned his bribe; and the worst I wish him is, that he may receive justice from the men, and favour only from the ladies."

This is the opinion of Mr. Dryden in favour of this piece, which is sufficient to establish its reputation. Mr. Wood, the antiquarian, observes, that this Eugenia was the mistress of Walsh; but for this he produces no proof, neither is it in the least material whether the circumstance is true or no. Mr. Walsh is likewise author of several occasional poems, printed 1749, amongst the works of the Minor Poets, and which he first published in the year 1692, with some letters amorous and gallant, to which is prefixed the following address to the public.

Go, little book, and to the world impart
The faithful image of an amorous heart;
Those who love's dear deluding pains have known,
May in my fatal sorrows read their own:
Those who have lived from all its torments free,
May find the things they never felt by me.
Perhaps advis'd avoid the gilded bait,
And warn'd by my example shun my fate.
Whilst with calm joy, safe landed on the coast:
Review the waves, on which I once was tost.
Love is a medley of endearments, jars,
Suspicions, quarrels, reconcilements, wars;
Then peace again. O would it not be best,
To chase the fatal poison from our breast?
But since, so few can live from passion free,
Happy the man, and only happy he
Who with such lucky stars begins his love,
That his cool judgment does his choice approve.
Ill grounded passions quickly wear away;
What's built upon esteem can ne'er decay.

Mr. Walsh was of an amorous complexion, and in one of his letters mentions three of his amours, in pretty singular terms. "I valued (says he) one mistress, after I left loving her; I loved another after I left valuing her; love and value the third, after having lost all hopes of her; and according to the course of my passions, I should love the next after having obtained her. However, from this time forward, upon what follies soever you fall, be pleased, for my sake, to spare those of love; being very well satisfied there is not one folly of that kind (excepting marriage) which I have not already committed. I have been, without raillery, in love with the beauty of a woman whom I have never seen; with the wit of one whom I never heard speak, nor seen any thing she has written, and with the heroic virtues of a woman, without knowing any one action of her, that could make me think she had any; Cupid will have it so, and what can weak mortals do against so potent a god?" Such were the sentiments of our author when he was about 30 years of age.

Queen Anne constituted Mr. Walsh her master of the horse. On what account this place, in particular, was allotted him, we know not; but, with regard to his literary abilities, Mr. Dryden in his postscript to his translation of Virgil, has asserted, that Mr. Walsh was the best critic then living; and Mr. Pope, speaking of our author, thus concludes his Essay on Criticism, viz.

To him, the wit of Greece, and Rome was known,
And ev'ry author's merit, but his own.
Such late was Walsh: the muses judge and friend,
Who justly knew to blame, or to commend;
To failings mild, but zealous for desert,
The clearest head, and the sincerest heart.

In the year 1714 the public were obliged with a small posthumous piece of Mr. Walsh's, entitled Aesculapius, or the Hospital of Fools, in imitation of Lucian. There is printed amongst Mr. Walsh's other performances, in a volume of the Minor Poets, an Essay on Pastoral Poetry, with a Short Defence of Virgil, against some of the reflexions of M. Fontenelle. This critic had censured Virgil for writing his pastorals in a too courtly stile, which, he says, is not proper for the Doric Muse; but Mr. Walsh has very judiciously shewn, that the Shepherds in Virgil's time, were held in greater estimation, and were persons of a much Superior figure to what they are now. We are too apt to figure the ancient countrymen like our own, leading a painful life in poverty, and contempt, without wit, or courage, or education; but men had quite different notions of these things for the first four thousand years of the world. Health and strength were then more in esteem; than the refinements of pleasure, and it was accounted more honourable to till the ground, and keep a flock of sheep, than to dissolve in wantonness, and effeminating sloth.

Mr. Walsh's other pieces consist chiefly of Elegies, Epitaphs, Odes, and Songs; they are elegant, tho' not great, and he seems to have had a well cultivated, tho' not a very extensive, understanding. Dryden and Pope have given their sanction in his favour, to whom he was personally known, a circumstance greatly to his advantage for had there been no personal friendship, we have reason to believe, their encomiums would have been less lavish; at least his works do not carry so high an idea of him, as they have done. Mr. Walsh died about the year 1710.