Some uncertainty hangs over the descent and birthplace of Thomas Yalden; but we incline to the authority of Anthony Wood, who says he was born in Oxford, in 1669, and that his father was an exciseman.
He was probably educated at the Grammar-school of Magdalen College and it appears, that he entered a Commoner of Magdalen Hall, under the celebrated Josiah Pullen, from whence he was elected a Demy of Magdalen College, and had for his cotemporaries, Addison and Sacheverell, with whom he was likewise linked in bands of intimacy, though their political principles were so discordant.
About 1695, he began to distinguish himself as a poet, and continued at intervals to produce pieces of sufficient merit to keep, if not to increase, the original expectations he had raised.
In 1700, he became a fellow of his college, and entering into holy orders, was presented by the society to a living in Warwickshire, compatible with his fellowship.
About 1706 he was received into the family of the duke of Beaufort; and proceeding to doctor in divinity, received the rectories of Chalten and Cleanville in Herefordshire, with some sinecures in Devonshire.
In 1713 he was chosen preacher of Bridewell Hospital, on the resignation of Atterbury, promoted to the see of Rochester. These are all the preferments he ever obtained. His principles being hostile to the house of Hanover, he was not likely to rise to eminence in the church; yet to the last, he retained the patronage of the Beaufort family, and the friendship of many persons in every rank of life, and of opposite parties. This is the more creditable to Yalden, as he fell under the suspicion of treasonable practices, in consequence of some connection with Bishop Atterbury; but though his papers were seized and himself taken into custody, on an investigation of the charges against him, his innocence became apparent, and he was set at liberty.
From this period he seems to have led a quiet inoffensive life; equally regardless of poetry and of politics. He died in 1736, in the 67th year of his age.
On the recommendation of Dr. Johnson, such of his poems as could be recovered, were received into the English Poets, published in 1779. Yet Johnson with great impartiality estimates his poetical talents, though he was probably biassed by his Jacobitism.
Yalden's Hymn to Darkness, is unquestionably his best performance. It is written in the model of Cowley, and in some instances is equal to any thing that celebrated poet ever produced. In his private character, he must have been particularly estimable, to have been so generally respected by all ranks and all parties.
His hymn is considered by Dr. Johnson, as his best performance; and is for the most part, imagined with great vigour, and expressed with great propriety. The seven first stanzas are good, but the 3d, 4th, and 7th, are the best: the 8th seems to involve a contradiction; the 10th is exquisitely beautiful; the 13th, 14th, and 15th, are partly mythological, and partly religious.