1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Mitchell

David Erskine Baker, in Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sigs Y4v-Y5.



JOSEPH MITCHELL was the Son of a Stone-Cutter in North Britain, and was born about the Year 1684. — Mr. Cibber tells us, that he received an University Education while he remained in that Kingdom, but does not specify to which of the Seminaries of Academical Literature he stood indebted for that Advantage. — He quitted his own Country, however, and repaired to the Metropolis of its neighbouring Nation, with a view of improving his Fortune. — Here he got into Favour with the Earl of Stair and Sir Robert Walpole; on the latter of whom he was for great Part of his Life almost entirely dependent. — In short, he received so many Obligations from that open-handed Statesman, and, from a sense of Gratitude which seems to have been strongly Mr. Mitchell's Characteristic, was so zealous in his Interest, that he was even distinguished by the Title of Sir Robert Walpole's poet. — Notwithstanding this valuable Patronage, however, his natural Dissipation of Temper, his fondness for Pleasure, and Eagerness in the Gratification of every irregular Appetite, threw him into perpetual Distresses, and all those uneasy Situations which are the Consequences of Extravagance. — Nor does it appear that, after having experienced more than once the fatal Effects of those dangerous Follies, he thought of correcting his Conduct at a time when Fortune put it in his Power so to do. — For when, by the Death of his Wife's Uncle, several thousand Pounds devolved to him, he seems not have been relieved, by that Acquisition, from the Incumbrances which he laboured under; but, on the contrary, instead of discharging those Debts which he had already contracted, he lavished away, in the Repetition of his former Follies, those Sums which would not only have cleared his Reputation in the Eye of the World, but, also, with Prudence and Economy, might have rendered him easy for the Remainder of his Life.

As to the Particulars of his History, there are not many on Record; for his Eminence in public Character not rising to such an Height as to make the Transactions of his Life important to Strangers, and the Follies of his private Behaviour inducing those who were more intimate with him, rather to conceal than publish his Actions, there is a cloud of Obscurity hanging over them, which it is neither easy, nor indeed much worth while attempting, to withdraw from them. — His Genius was of the third or fourth rate, yet he lived in good Correspondence with most of the eminent Wits of his Time; particularly with Aaron Hill, Esq. whose estimable Character render'd it an Honour, and almost a stamp of Merit, to be noticed by him. — That Gentleman, on a particular Occasion, in which Mr. Mitchell had laid open the distressed Situation of his Circumstances to him, finding himself unable, consistently with Prudence, to relieve him by an immediately pecuniary Assistance (as he indeed but too greatly injured his own Fortune by Acts of almost unbounded Generosity), yet found Means of assisting him essentially by another Method; which was by presenting him with the Profits and Reputation also of a dramatic Piece in one act, entitled The Fatal Extravagance, a Piece which seemed in its very Title to convey a gentle Reproof to Mr. Mitchell on the Occasion of his own Distresses. — It was acted and printed in Mr. Mitchell's Name, and the Emoluments arising from it amounted to a very considerable Sum. Mr. Mitchell was ingenuous enough, however, to undeceive the World with regard to its true Author, and on every Occasion acknowledged the Obligations he lay under to Mr. Hill. The dramatic Pieces, which appear under this Gentleman's name, are,

1. Fatal Extravagance. Trag.

2. The Highland Fair. Ballad Opera.

The latter of these is really Mr. Mitchell's, and does not want Merit in its Way.

This Author died Feb. 6, 1738; and Mr. Cibber gives the following Character of him, with which we shall close this Account.

"He was (says that Writer) to have been a Poet of the third Rate; he has seldom reached the Sublime; his Humour, in which he more succeeded, is not strong enough to last; his Versification holds a State of Mediocrity; he possessed but little Invention; and, if he was not a bad Rhimester, he cannot be denominated a fine Poet, for there are but few Marks of Genius in his Writings."

His Poems were printed in two Volumes, 8vo. 1729.