1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 3:369-70.



The poetical reputation of Aaron Hill has been far inferior to his merits; probably because he never produced any poem of length, and seems to have pleased his fancy or amused his friends by occasional efforts, regardless of their fate. As a dramatic writer, however, he has acquired great and deserved celebrity: his Zara and Merope are first rate performances, and still retain possession of the English stage.

Hill was born in London, in 1685. His father was a Wiltshire gentleman of fortune, but left little to his son, who, after passing some time at Westminster school, with an enthusiasm connected with genius, set out for Constantinople, when only fourteen years old, to visit his kinsman, Lord Paget, then ambassador at the Ottoman Porte. His lordship seems to have been pleased with the attention of his young friend, and provided him a tutor, in whose company he passed through Egypt, Palestine, and other countries of the East, returning to England with his excellency about 1703, with a mind amply stored with natural and acquired knowledge. It was not the good fortune, however, of Hill to receive any posthumous favour from his early patron, and he was glad to accept the office of secretary to the Earl of Peterborough, with whom he continued till his marriage, in 1710, with a young lady of great merit and beauty.

Having a taste for the stage, he became manager of Drury-Lane; but a misunderstanding happening between him and the Lord Chamberlain, he soon relinquished that situation, and obtained a patent for making sweet oil from beech-nuts, which engaged his attention for some time, but at last was found to be unproductive. He next engaged with the York Building company, to furnish masts for the navy, from the pine forests on their estates in Scotland; but this public spirited project likewise fell to the ground.

The remainder of his life was spent in the exercise of benevolence, and in the quiet prosecution of his studies. He died at Plaistow in Essex, in 1750, in the 68th year of his age, and was buried in the great cloister of Westminster Abbey, in the same grave with his wife.

We regret that our limits do not allow us to dwell longer on the life of this amiable man, who, with the best heart and the ablest head, seems to have been the shuttlecock of fortune from his cradle to his grave.

Mr. Anderson has recorded an affecting passage, I had almost written prediction, of his advancing dissolution, which happened very soon after his Merope was represented; and it will be found in the dedication to the above mentioned tragedy.

Cover'd in fortune's shade I rest reclin'd,
My grief all silent, and my joys resign'd;
With patient eye life's evening gloom survey,
Nor shake the hasting sands, nor bid them stay.
Yet while from life my setting prospects fly,
Fain would my mind's weak offspring shun to die,
Fain would their hope some light through time explore,
The name's kind passport when the man's no more.

Among the long and illustrious list of persons who were proud to call themselves his friends, were Bolingbroke, Pope, Chesterfield, Voltaire, Thomson, Savage, Dyer, Fielding, Garrick, and Richardson, the last named of whom summed up his character in a warm and beautiful effusion of poetry.