This gentleman was born at Gillingham near Shaftsbury, in the County of Dorset. His parents, and family were all of the Roman persuasion, but they could not instil their principles into our author, who, as soon as he began to reason, was able to discover the errors, and foppery of that church. His father was a member of the society of Grays-Inn, and suffered much for the Royal cause. The first rudiments of learning Mr. Gildon had at the place of his nativity; thence his relations sent him to the English college of secular priests at Douay in Hainault, with a design of making him a priest; but after five years study there, he found his inclination direct him to a quite different course of life. When he was nineteen years old he returned to England, and as soon as he was of age, and capable of enjoying the pleasures of gaiety, he came to London, where he spent the greatest part of his paternal estate. At about the age of twenty-three, to crown his other imprudences, he married, without improving his reduced circumstances thereby.
During the reign of King James II. he dedicated his time to the study of the prevailing controversies, and he somewhere declares, it cost him above seven years close application to books, before he could entirely overcome the prejudices of his education. He never believed the absurd tenets of the church of Rome; nor could he embrace the ridiculous doctrine of her infallibility: But as he had been taught an early reverence to the priesthood, and a submissive obedience to their authority, it was a long while before he assumed courage to think freely for himself, or declare what he thought.
His first attempt in the drama, was not till he had arrived at his 32d year; and he himself in his essays tells us, that necessity (the general inducement) was his first motive of venturing to be an author.
He is the author of three plays, viz.
1. The Roman Bride's Revenge, a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1697. This play was written in a month, and had the usual success of hasty productions, though the first and second acts are well written, and the catastrophe beautiful; the moral being to give us an example, in the punishment of Martian, that no consideration ought to make us delay the service of our country.
2. Phaeton, or the Fatal Divorce; a Tragedy acted at the Theatre-Royal 1698, dedicated to Charles Montague, Esq; This play is written in imitation of the ancients, with some reflexions on a book called a Short View of the Immorality of the English Stage, written by Mr. Collier, a Non-juring Clergyman, who combated in the cause of virtue, with success against Dryden, Congreve, Dennis, and our author. The plot of this play, and a great many of the beauties, Mr. Gildon owns in his preface, he has taken from the Medea of Euripides.
3. Love's Victim, or the Queen of Wales; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields.
He introduced the play called the Younger Brother, or the Amorous Jilt; written by Mrs. Behn but not brought upon the stage 'till after her decease. He made very little alteration in it. Our author's plays have not his name to them; and his fault lies generally in the stile, which is too near an imitation of Lee's
He wrote a piece called the New Rehearsal, or Bays the Younger; containing an Examen of the Ambitious Step-mother, Tamerlane, The Biter, Fair Penitent, The Royal Convert, Ulysses, and Jane Shore, all written by Mr. Rowe; also a Word or Two on Mr. Pope's Rape of the Lock, to which is prefixed a Preface concerning Criticism in general, by the Earl of Shaftsbury, Author of the Characteristics, 8vo. 1714. Scene the Rose Tavern. The freedom he used with Mr. Pope in remarking upon the Rape of the Lock, it seems was sufficient to raise that gentleman's resentment, who was never celebrated for forgiving. Many years after, Mr. Pope took his revenge, by stigmatizing him as a dunce, in his usual keen spirit of satire: There had arisen some quarrel between Gildon and Dennis, upon which, Mr. Pope in his Dunciad, B. iii. has the following lines,
Ah Dennis! Gildon ah! what ill-starr'd rage
Divides a friendship long confirm'd by age?
Blockheads with reason wicked wits abhor,
But fool with fool is barb'rous civil war.
Embrace; embrace my sons! be foes no more!
Nor glad vile poets with true critics gore.
This author's other works are chiefly these,
The Post-Boy Robb'd of his Mail, or the Packet Broke Open; consisting of Five Hundred Letters to several Persons of Quality, &c. 1692.
He published the Miscellaneous Works Of Charles Blount, Esq; to which he prefixed the Life of the Author, and an Account, and Vindication of his Death, in 12mo. 1695. In this volume are several of the publisher's own letters.
Likewise Letters, and Essays, on several Subjects, philosophical, historical, critical, amorous, &c. in Prose and Verse, to John Dryden, Esq; George Granville, Esq; Walter Moyle, Esq; Mr. Congreve, Mr. Dennis, and other ingenious gentlemen of the age.
Miscellaneous Poems, on several Occasions, and Translations from Horace, Persius, Petronius Arbiter, &c. with an Essay upon Satire, by the famous M. Dacier, 8vo. 1692.
A Review of Her Royal Highness Princess Sophia's Letters to the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, and that of Sir Rowland Gwynn's, to the Right Hon. the Earl of Stamford, 8vo. 1706.
Canons, or the Vision; a Poem, addressed to the Right Hon. James Earl of Carnarvon, &c 1717.
The Laws of Poetry, as laid down by the Duke of Buckingham in his Essay on Poetry, by the Earl of Roscommon in his Essay upon Translated Verse; and by Lord Lansdown on Unnatural Flights in Poetry, explained and illustrated, &c. 8vo. 1721.
A Continuation of Langbain's Lives of the Poets.
Mr. Coxeter has imputed to him a piece called Measure for Measure, or Beauty the best Advocate, altered from Shakespear, and performed at the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn-Fields 1700, with the addition of several Entertainments of Music. Prologue and Epilogue by Mr. Oldmixon.
The Deist's Manual, or Rational Enquiry into the Christian Religion, with some Animadversions on Hobbs, Spinoza, the Oracles of Reason, Second Thoughts, &c. to which is prefixed a Letter from the Author of the Method with the Deists, 1705.
Complete Art of Poetry.
Mr. Gildon died on the 12th of January 1723, and in the words of Boyer's Political State, vol. xxvii p. 102. we shall sum up his character.
On Sunday, January 12, died Mr. Charles Gildon, a person of great literature, but a mean genius; who having attempted several kinds of writing, never gained much reputation in any. Among other treatises, he wrote the English Art of Poetry, which he had practised himself very unsuccessfully in his dramatic performances. He also wrote an English Grammar, but what he seemed to build his chief hopes of fame upon, was, his late Critical Commentary on the Duke of Buckingham's Essay on Poetry, which last piece was perused, and highly approved, by his grace.