CHARLES GILDON, a dramatic and miscellaneous writer, was born at Gillingham, near Shaftesbury in Dorsetshire, in 1665. His parents and family were Roman catholics, and consequently endeavoured to instill the same principles into our author, but without success. His father was a member of the society of Gray's-inn, and had suffered considerably in the royal cause. Mr. Gildon received the first rudiments of his education at Gillingham; but when twelve years of age, his parents sent him over to Doway, and entered him in the English college of secular priests there, with a view of bringing him up likewise to the priesthood; but, during a progress of five years' study he only found his inclinations more strongly confirmed for a quite different course of life.
At nineteen years of age he returned to England, and when he was of age, and by the entrance into his paternal fortune, which was not inconsiderable, rendered in every respect capable of enjoying the gaieties and pleasures of this polite town, he came up to London. Here he soon spent the best part of what he had, and crowned his imprudences by marrying a young lady without any fortune, at about the age of twenty-three, adding to his other incumbrances that of a growing family, without any way of improving his reduced finances. During the reign of James II. he studied the religious controversies of that period, which ended in his becoming an infidel: In 1693 he ushered into the world The Oracles of Reason, written by Charles Blount, esq. after that author's unhappy end, with a pompous eulogium and a defence self-murder. He was afterwards, however, as Dr. Leland informs us, "convinced of his error; of which he gave a remarkable proof, in a good book which he published in 1705, entitled The Deist's Manual; or, a rational enquiry into the Christian Religion; the greatest part of which is taken up in vindicating the doctrines of the existence and attributes of God, his providence and government of the world, the immortality of the soul, and a future-state."
Having greatly injured his fortune by thoughtlessness and dissipation, he was now obliged to consider on some method for retrieving it; or, indeed, rather for the means of subsistence; and he himself candidly owns, in his essays, that necessity was his first motive for venturing to be an author; nor was it till he had arrived at his two-and-thirtieth year, that he made any attempt in the dramatic way.
He died Jan. 12, 1723-4. His literary character is given in Boyer's Political State, vol. XXVII. p. 102, as "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 practiced 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 Critical Commentary on the duke of Buckingham's Essay on Poetry, which last piece was perused and highly approved by his grace."
Much of this is certainly true. His plays, enumerated in the Biographia Dramatica, procured him little reputation. He had some talent, however, for criticism, and Pope was weak enough to believe that Addison employed Gildon to write against him. Pope introduced him into the Dunciad for another reason, his New Rehearsal, or, Bays the Younger; containing an examen of Mr. Rowe's plays, and a word or two on Mr. Pope's Rape of the Lock, 1714. Gildon wrote the Life of Betterton, published in 1710.