This Gentleman, well known to the world by the friendship and intimacy which subsisted between him and Mr. Addison, was the son of the rev. Mr. Richard Tickell, who enjoy'd a considerable preferment in the North of England. Our poet received his education at Queen's-College in Oxford, of which he was a fellow.
While he was at that university, he wrote a beautiful copy of verses addressed to Mr. Addison, on his Opera of Rosamond. These verses contained many elegant compliments to the author, in which he compares his softness to Corelli, and his strength to Virgil.
The Opera first Italian masters taught,
Enrich'd with songs, but innocent of thought;
Britannia's learned theatre disdains
Melodious trifles, and enervate strains;
And blushes on her injur'd state to see,
Nonsense well tun'd with sweet stupidity.
No charms are wanting to thy artful song
Soft as Corelli, and as Virgil strong.
These complimentary lines, a few of which we have now quoted, so effectually recommended him to Mr. Addison, that he held in esteem ever afterwards; and when he himself was raised to the dignity of state, he appointed Mr. Tickell his under-secretary. Mr. Addison being obliged to resign on account of his ill-state of health, Mr. Craggs who succeeded him, continued Mr. Tickell in his place, which he held till that gentleman's death. When Mr. Addison was appointed secretary, being a diffident man, he consulted with his friends about disposing such places as were immediately dependent on him. He communicated to Sir Richard Steele, his design of preferring Mr. Tickell to be his under-secretary, which Sir Richard, who considered him as a petulant man, warmly opposed. He observed that Mr. Tickell was of a temper too enterprising to be governed, and as he had no opinion of his honour, he did not know what might be the consequence, if by insinuation and flattery, or by bolder means, he ever had an opportunity of raising himself. It holds pretty generally true, that diffident people under the appearance of distrusting their own opinions, are frequently positive, and though they pursue their resolutions with trembling, they never fail to pursue them. Mr. Addison had a little of this temper in him. He could not be persuaded to set aside Mr. Tickell, nor even had secrecy enough to conceal a great animosity between Sir Richard and Mr. Tickell, which subsided during their lives.
Mr. Tickell in his life of Addison, prefixed to his own edition of that great man's works, throws out some unmannerly reflexions against Sir Richard, who was at that time in Scotland, as one of the commissioners on the forfeited estates. Upon Sir Richard's return to London, he dedicates to Mr. Congreve, Addison's Comedy, called the Drummer, in which he takes occasion very smartly to retort upon Tickell, and clears himself of the imputation laid to his charge, namely that of valuing himself upon Mr. Addison's papers in the Spectator.
In June 1724 Mr. Tickell was appointed secretary to the Lords Justices in Ireland, a place says Mr. Coxeter, which he held till his death, which happened in the year 1740.
It does not appear that Mr. Tickell was in any respect ungrateful to Mr. Addison, to whom he owed his promotion on the other hand we find him take every opportunity to celebrate him, which he always performs with so much zeal, and earnestness, that he seems to have retained the most lasting sense of his patron's favours. His poem to the earl of Warwick on the death of Mr. Addison, is very pathetic. He begins it thus,
If dumb too long, the drooping Muse hath stray'd,
And left her debt to Addison unpaid,
Blame not her silence, Warwick, but bemoan,
And judge, O judge, my bosom by your own.
What mourner ever felt poetic fires!
Slow comes the verse, that real woe inspires:
Grief unaffected suits but ill with art,
Or flowing numbers with a bleeding heart.
Mr. Tickell's works are printed in the second volume of the Minor Poets, and he is by far the most considerable writer amongst them. He has a very happy talent in versification, which much exceeds Addison's, and is inferior to few of the English Poets, Mr. Dryden and Pope excepted. The first poem in this collection is addressed to the supposed author of the Spectator.
In the year 1713 Mr. Tickell wrote a poem, called The Prospect of Peace, addressed to his excellency the lord privy-seal; which met with so favourable a reception from the public, as to go thro' six editions. The sentiments in this poem are natural, and obvious, but no way extraordinary. It is an assemblage of pretty notions, poetically expressed; but conducted with no kind of art, and altogether without a plan. The following exordium is one of the most shining parts of the poem.
Far hence be driv'n to Scythia's stormy shore
The drum's harsh music, and the cannon's roar;
Let grim Bellona haunt the lawless plain,
Where Tartar clans, and grizly Cossacks reign;
Let the steel'd Turk be deaf to Matrons cries,
See virgins ravish'd, with relentless eyes,
To death, grey heads, and smiling infants doom,
Nor spare the promise of the pregnant womb:
O'er wasted kingdoms spread his wide command,
The savage lord of an unpeopled land.
Her guiltless glory just Britannia draws
From pure religion, and impartial laws,
To Europe's wounds a mother's aid the brings,
And holds in equal scales the rival kings:
Her gen'rous sons in choicest gifts abound,
Alike in arms, alike in arts renown'd.
The Royal Progress. This poem is mentioned in the Spectator, in opposition to such performances, as are generally written in a swelling stile, and in which the bombast is mistaken for the sublime. It is meant as a compliment to his late majesty, on his arrival in his British dominions.
An imitation of the Prophecy of Nereus. Horace, Book I. Ode XV. — This was written about the year 1715, and intended as a ridicule upon the enterprize of the earl of Marr; which he prophesies will be crushed by the duke of Argyle.
An Epistle from a Lady in England, to a gentleman at Avignon. Of this piece five editions were sold; it is written in the manner of a Lady to a Gentleman, whole principles obliged him to be an exile with the Royal Wanderer. The great propension of the Jacobites to place confidence in imaginary means; and to construe all extraordinary appearances, into ominous signs of the restoration of their king is very well touched.
Was it for this the sun's whole lustre fail'd,
And sudden midnight o'er the Moon prevail'd!
For this did Heav'n display to mortal eyes
Aerial knights, and combats in the skies!
Was it for this Northumbrian streams look'd red!
And Thames driv'n backwards shew'd his secret bed!
False Auguries! th' insulting victors scorn!
Ev'n our own prodigies against us turn!
O portents constru'd, on our side in vain!
Let never Tory trust eclipse again!
Run clear, ye fountains! be at peace, ye skies;
And Thames, henceforth to thy green borders rise!
An Ode, occasioned by his excellency the earl of Stanhope's Voyage to France.
A Prologue to the University of Oxford.
Thoughts occasioned by the fight of an original picture of King Charles the 1st, taken at the time of his Trial.
A Fragment of a Poem, on Hunting.
A Description of the Phoenix, from Claudian.
To a Lady; with the Description of the Phoenix.
Part of the Fourth Book of Lucan translated.
The First Book of Homer's Iliad,
Several Epistles and Odes.
This translation was published much about the same time with Mr. Pope's. But it will not bear a comparison; and Mr. Tickell cannot receive a greater injury, than to have his verses placed in contradistinction to Pope's. Mr. Melmoth, in his Letters, published under the name of Fitz Osborne, has produced some parallel passages, little to the advantage of Mr. Tickell, who if he fell greatly short of the elegance and beauty of Pope, has yet much exceeded Mr. Congreve, in what he has attempted of Homer.
In the life of Addison, some farther particulars concerning this translation are related; and Sir Richard Steele, in his dedication of the Drummer to Mr. Congreve, gives it as his opinion, that Addison was himself the author.
These translations, published at the same time, were certainly meant as rivals to one another. We cannot convey a more adequate idea of this, than in the words of Mr. Pope, in a Letter to James Craggs, Esq; dated July the 15th, 1715.
They tell me, the busy part of the nation are not more busy about Whig and Tory; than these idle fellows of the feather, about Mr. Tickell's and my translation. I (like the Tories) have the town in general, that is, the mob on my side; but it is usual with the smaller part to make up in industry, what they want in number; and that is the case with the little senate of Cato. However, if our principles be well considered, I must appear a brave Whig, and Mr. Tickell a rank Tory. I translated Homer, for the public in general, he to gratify the inordinate desires of one man only. We have, it seems, a great Turk in poetry, who can never bear a brother on the throne; and has his Mutes too, a set of Medlers, Winkers, and Whisperers, whose business 'tis to strangle all other offsprings of wit in their birth. The new translator of Homer, is the humblest slave he has, that is to say, his first minister; let him receive the honours he gives me, but receive them with fear and trembling; let him be proud of the approbation of his absolute lord, I appeal to the people, as my rightful judges, and matters; and if they are not inclined to condemn me, I fear no arbitrary high-flying proceeding, from the Court faction at Button's. But after all I have said of this great man, there is no rupture between us. We are each of its so civil, and obliging, that neither thinks he's obliged: And I for my part, treat with him, as we do with the Grand Monarch; who has too many great qualities, not to be respected, though we know he watches any occasion to oppress us."
Thus we have endeavoured to exhibit an Idea of the writings of Mr. Tickell, a man of very elegant genius: As there appears no great invention in his works, if he cannot be placed in the first rank of Poets; yet from the beauty of his numbers, and the real poetry which enriched his imagination, he has, at least, an unexceptionable claim to the second.