1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Walsh

Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 1:328-30.



WILLIAM WALSH, the son of Joseph Walsh, Esq., of Abberley in Worcestershire, was born in 1663, as appears from the account of Wood, who relates that at the age of fifteen he became, in 1678, a gentleman commoner of Wadham College.

He left the university without a degree, and pursued his studies in London and at home; that he studied, in whatever place, is apparent from the effect, for he became, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, "the best critick in the nation."

He was not, however, merely a critick or a scholar, but a man of fashion, and, as Dennis remarks, ostentatiously splendid in his dress. He was likewise a member of parliament and a courtier, knight of the shire for his native county in several parliaments; in another the representative of Richmond in Yorkshire; and gentleman of the horse to Queen Anne under the duke of Somerset,

Some of his verses shew him to have been a zealous friend to the Revolution; but his political ardour did not abate his reverence or kindness for Dryden, to whom he gave a Dissertation on Virgil's Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the laws of French versification.

In 1705 he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very early the power of poetry. Their letters are written upon the pastoral comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing to publish.

The kindnesses which are first experienced are seldom forgotten. Pope always retained a grateful memory of Walsh's notice, and mentioned him in one of his latter pieces among those that had encouraged his juvenile studies:

Granville the polite,
And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write.

In his Essay on Criticism he had given him more splendid praise, and, in the opinion of his learned commentator, sacrificed a little of his judgement to his gratitude.

The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between 1707, when he wrote to Pope, and 1711, when Pope praised him in his Essay. The epitaph makes him forty-six years old: if Wood's account be right, he died in 1709.

He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by anything done or written by himself.

His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of Women, which Dryden honoured with a Preface.

Aesulapius, or the Hospital of Fools, published after his death.

A collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.

To his Poems and Letters is prefixed a very judicious preface upon Epistolary Composition and Amorous Poetry.

In his Golden Age Restored, there was something of humour, while the facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned; and in all his writings there are pleasing passages. He has however more elegance than vigour, and seldom rises higher than to be pretty.