ROBERT DODSLEY was born of humble parentage, at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in 1703, and though destitute of the advantages of a liberal education, and acting in the capacity of a footman to the Hon. Mrs. Lowther, he published in early life a collection of poems, under the title of The Muse in Livery, which brought him into notice, and produced him some emolument.
That charming dramatic piece, The Toy Shop, soon followed; which being shewn to Pope in manuscript, obtained Dodsley the favour of that illustrious poet; and by his interest it was brought on the stage, and acted with great applause.
The success which bed attended the two first efforts of his genius, stimulated Dodsley to further exertions in the road to independence, which he justly valued more than idle fame; and in 1735, with the small savings he had made, he opened a bookseller's shop in Pall Mall, and by his good conduct and the encouragement of the public, he speedily rose to be one of the first in this truly respectable line of business. His shop was frequented by the most eminent literary characters of the day, and the good and great were proud to patronize him.
Business, however, did not wholly absorb his attention: he produced successively several little dramas and poems, and wrote or published various books of great merit and utility. The Economy of Human Life will attest his talents and good sense as long as the English language endures; and his tragedy of Cleone, for pathos and effect, is scarcely exceeded by any thing that ever Otway wrote.
Among the poetical works of Dodsley, Melpomene, Pain and Patience, and Colin's Kisses, are the most popular. Nature and simplicity breathe through the whole of his compositions; and some of his works shew that he was not deficient in humour.
Dodsley acquired a handsome fortune, and retiring from the active part of business, left his brother, the late James Dodsley, in the care of the concern.
During the latter part of his life, our poet was much afflicted with the gout, to which he at last fell a martyr in 1764, in the sixty-first year of his age. He was buried in the abbey church-yard at Durham, at which place he died, when on a visit to a friend. His tombstone records his worth, his industry, and his success.
His character is on all hands allowed to be very amiable. There was no circumstance by which he was more distinguished, than by the grateful remembrance which he retained and always expressed towards the memory of those to whom he owed the first obligations of being first taken notice of in life. He was a generous friend, an encourager of men of genius; modest, sensible, and humane; and he was beloved by the most illustrious men of his time, as much for the virtues of his heart, as he was admired for his writings.
As an author, he is entitled to considerable praise. His works are recommended by an ease and elegance; which are sometimes more pleasing than a more laboured and ornamented manner of writing. His prose is familiar, and yet chaste. His Essay on Fable will be a durable monument of his ingenuity. In his dramas he has always kept in view the one great principle, "delectando pariterque momendo," some general moral is constantly conveyed in each of his plays, and particular instructions are displayed in the particular strokes of satire. The dialogue, at the same time, is easy, the plot simple, and the catastrophe interesting and pathetic. In verse his compositions sufficiently show what genius alone, unassisted by learning, is capable of executing. His subjects are well chosen and entertaining; the diction is chaste and elegant; the sentiments, if not sublime, are manly and pleasing; and the numbers, if not exquisitely polished, are easy and flowing.