1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Yalden

Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 2:297-303.



THOMAS YALDEN, the sixth son of Mr. John Yalden of Sussex, was born in the city of Exeter in 1671. Having been educated in the grammar-school belonging to Magdalen College in Oxford, he was in 1690, at the age of nineteen, admitted commoner of Magdalen Hall, under the tuition of Josiah Pullen, a man whose name is still remembered in the university. He became next year one of the scholars of Magdalen College, where he was distinguished by a lucky accident.

It was his turn one day to pronounce a declamation, and Dr. Hough, the president, happening to attend, thought the composition too good to be the speaker's. Some time after, the doctor, finding him a little irregularly busy in the library, set him an exercise for punishment, and, that he might not be deceived by any artifice, locked the door. Yalden, as it happened, had been lately reading on the subject given, and produced with little difficulty a composition, which so pleased the president that he told him his former suspicions, and promised to favour him.

Among his contemporaries in the college were Addison and Sacheverell, men who were in those times friends, and who both adopted Yalden to their intimacy. Yalden continued throughout his life to think as probably he thought at first, yet did not lose the friendship of Addison.

When Namur was taken by king William Yalden made an ode. There was never any reign more celebrated by the poets than that of William, who had very little regard for song himself, but happened to employ ministers who pleased themselves with the praise of patronage.

Of this ode mention is made in an humorous poem of that time, called The Oxford Laureat, in which, after many claims had been made and rejected, Yalden is represented as demanding the laurel, and as being called to his trial instead of receiving a reward.

His crime was for being a felon in verse,
And presenting his theft to the king;
The first was a trick not uncommon or scarce,
But the last was an impudent thing:
Yet what he had stol'n was so little worth stealing,
They forgave him the damage and cost;
Had he ta'en the whole ode, as he took it piece-mealing,
They had fin'd him but ten pence at most.

The poet whom he was charged with robbing was Congreve.

He wrote another poem on the death of the duke of Gloucester.

In 1710 he became fellow of the college; and next year, entering into orders, was presented by the society with a living in Warwickshire, consistent with his fellowship, and chosen lecturer of moral philosophy, a very honourable office.

On the accession of queen Anne he wrote another poem; and is said, by the author of the Biographia, to have declared himself of the party who had the honourable distinction of High-churchmen.

In 1706 he was received into the family of the duke of Beaufort. Next year he became doctor in divinity, and soon after resigned his fellowship and lecture; and as a token of his gratitude gave the college a picture of their founder.

He was made rector of Chalton and Cleanville, two adjoining towns and benefices in Hertfordshire, and had the prebends or sinecures of Deans, Hains, and Pendles in Devonshire. He had before been chosen, in 1698, preacher of Bridewell Hospital, upon the resignation of Dr. Atterbury.

From this time he seems to have led a quiet and inoffensive life, till the clamour was raised about Atterbury's plot. Every loyal eye was on the watch for abettors or partakers of the horrid conspiracy; and Dr. Yalden, having some acquaintance with the bishop, and being familiarly conversant with Kelly his secretary, fell under suspicion, and was taken into custody.

Upon his examination he was charged with a dangerous correspondence with Kelly. The correspondence he acknowledged, but maintained that it had no treasonable tendency. His papers were seized; but nothing was found that could fix a crime upon him except two words in his pocket-book, "thorough-paced doctrine." This expression the imagination of his examiners had impregnated with treason, and the doctor was enjoined to explain them. Thus pressed he told them that the words had lain unheeded in his pocket-book from the time of queen Anne, and that he was ashamed to give an account of them; but the truth was that he had gratified his curiosity one day by hearing Daniel Burgess in the pulpit, and those words were a memorial hint of a remarkable sentence by which he warned his congregation to "beware of thorough-paced doctrine, that doctrine which coming in at one ear passes through the head, and goes out at the other."

Nothing worse than this appearing in his papers and no evidence arising against him, he was set at liberty.

It will not be supposed that a man of this character attained high dignities in the church; but he still retained the friendship and frequented the conversation of a very numerous and splendid set of acquaintance. He died July 16, 1736, in the 66th year of his age.

Of his poems many are of that irregular kind which, when he formed his poetical character, was supposed to be Pindarick. Having fixed his attention on Cowley as a model, he has attempted in some sort to rival him, and has written a Hymn to Darkness, evidently as a counter-part to Cowley's Hymn to Light.

This hymn seems to be his best performance, and is for the most part imagined with great vigour and expressed with great propriety. I will not transcribe it. The seven first stanzas are good; but the third, fourth, and seventh are the best; the eighth seems to involve a contradiction; the tenth is exquisitely beautiful; the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth are partly mythological and partly religious, and therefore not suitable to each other: he might better have made the whole merely philosophical.

There are two stanzas in this poem where Yalden may be suspected, though hardly convicted, of having consulted the Hymnus ad Umbram of Wowerus, in the sixth stanza, which answers in some sort to these lines:

Illa suo praeest nocturnis numine sacris— . . .
Perque vias errare novis dat spectra figuris,
Manesque excites medios ululare per agros
Sub noctem, et questu notos complere penates.

And again at the conclusion:

Illa suo senium secludit corpore toto
Haud numerans jugi fugientia secula lapsu, . . .
Ergo ubi postremum mundi compage soluta
Hanc rerum molem suprema absumpserit hora, . . .
Ipsa leves cineres nube amplectetur opaca
St prisco imperio rursus dominabitur UMBRA.

His Hymn to Light is not equal to the other. He seems to think that there is an East absolute and positive where the morning rises.

In the last stanza, having mentioned the sudden eruption of new created light, he says, "Awhile th' Almighty wondering stood [viewed]." He ought to have remembered that infinite knowledge can never wonder. All wonder is the effect of novelty upon ignorance.

Of his other poems it is sufficient to say that they deserve perusal, though they are not always exactly polished, though the rhymes are sometimes very ill sorted, and though his faults seem rather the omissions of idleness than the negligences of enthusiasm.