1699 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Gildon

Charles Gildon, in Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1699) 174-75.



He is, as I'm inform'd, a Gentleman born at Gillingham, near Shaftsbury, in the County of Dorset. His Parents and Family were all of the Romish Persuasion, and in the time of the Civil War, doubly incur'd the Penalties of the Prevailing Side; both as engag'd in the Royal Party, and as Recusants in Religion; for which, after the Plunderings of the War, his Grandfather paid two thirds of his Estate, all the Time of that Government. His Father was of the Honourable Society of Grays-Inn, and tho' a great Zealot for the Faith he was born in, he cou'd not convey that Zeal to his Son, our Author, whom he dying, left but Nine Years of Age, having sold the best part of the Estate that our Author was born to, before he died. Gillingham, the Place of his Nativity, gave our Author the first Rudiments of Learning, under a very Honest and Learned Master, one Mr. Young. Thence his Relations sent him to the English Colledge of Secular Priests at Doway in Hainault, with a design of making him a Priest, if his Inclination cou'd away with that Function; which was suppos'd the best Support of a Gentleman whose Fortunes and Religion could promise him no greater Advantage. But after Five Years Study there, he found his Inclinations point him another way; and at the Age of about Nineteen he returns for England; and as soon as One and Twenty, put it into his Power of enjoying those Pleasures that Age generally pursues. he came to London, where having spent the Remainder of his Paternal Estate, betwixt Two or Three and Twenty he married, and most of the Reign of King James, he spent in reading the Controversies of that Time; being dissatisfied with several of the Tenets of the Church of Rome, that he had imbib'd with his Mother's Milk, as they say. In him there was an Example how difficult a thing it is, to overcome the Prejudice of Education; for I am assur'd that it cost him above Seven Years Study and Contest, before he could entirely shake off all those Opinions that had grown up with him from a Child; tho' he cou'd not answer to himself the Conviction of his Reason in the Points of Religion, yet he did what is said of Medea, by Ovid:

Video meliora probq;
Delesiosa sequor—

I have heard him say, that the first Book that gave him the greatest Conviction was, the Discourse of the late pious and ingenious Dr. Tillotson, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, against Transubstantiation, lent him by a Lawyer, that at the same time cheated him of about Four Hundred Pounds, tho' he made way for that Peace of Mind that this Book first opened the Door to.

If I shou'd do with our Author, what some other Writers of Lives have done, I might here tell you of his Inclinations to Poetry from his Childhood, and talk of his Performances; but he being my Friend, I shall forbear all things that may argue me guilty of Partiality; and shall only say, as he tells us in a Letter of his Essays, that Necessity was the first Motive of his venturing to be an Author....