1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Dodsley

Isaac Reed, in Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse (1782) 1:127-29.



ROBERT DODSLEY. This author was born in the year 1703, near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, as it is supposed; and his first setting out in life was in a servile station (footman to the Honourable Mrs. Lowther), which, however, his abilities very soon raised him from; for having written The Toyshop, and that piece being shewn to Mr. Pope, the delicacy of satire which is conspicuous in it, though clothed with the greatest simplicity of design, so strongly recommended its author to the notice of that celebrated poet, that he continued from that time to the day of his death a warm friend and zealous patron to Mr. Dodsley; and although he had himself no connection with the theatres, yet procured him such an interest as ensured its being immediately brought out on the stage, where it met with the success it merited: as did also a farce called The King and the Miller of Mansfield, which made its appearance the following year, viz. 1736. From the success of these pieces he entered into that business which, of all others, has the closest connection with, and the most immediate dependence on, persons of genius and literature, viz. that of a bookseller. In this station Mr. Pope's recommendation, and his own merit, soon obtained him not only the countenance of persons of the first abilities, but also of those of the first rank, and in a few years raised him to great eminence in his profession, in which he was almost, if not altogether, at the head. Yet, neither in this capacity, nor in that of a writer, had success any improper effect on him. In one light he preserved the strictest integrity, in the other the most becoming humility. Mindful of the early encouragement his own talents met with, he was ever ready to give the same opportunity of advancement to those of others, and he was, on many occasions, not only the publisher but the patron of genius. But there is no circumstance which adds more character, than the grateful remembrance he retained, and ever expressed, to the memory of those to whom he owed the obligation of his first being taken notice of in life. We shall not, however, dwell any longer on the amiableness of Dodsley's character as a man. As a writer, there is an ease and elegance that run through all his works, which sometimes are more pleasing than a more laboured and ornamented manner. In verse, his numbers are flowing, if not sublime; and his subjects constantly well chosen and entertaining. In prose, he is familiar, yet chaste; and in his dramatic pieces he has ever kept in his eye the one great principle, "delectando pariterque momendo;" some general moral is constantly conveyed in the general plan, and particular instruction dispersed in the particular strokes of satire. The dialogue moreover is easy, the plots are simple, and the catastrophes interesting and pathetic.

Mr. Dodsley by his profession acquired a very handsome fortune, with which he retired form business before his death, which happened the 25th day of Sept. 1764, at the house of his friend Mr. Spence, at Durham. He wrote,

1. The Toyshop. D. S. 8vo. 1735.
2. The King and the Miller of Mansfield. D. F. 8vo. 1737.
3. Sir John Cockle at Court. F. 8vo. 1738.
4. The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green. B. O. 8vo. 1741.
5. Rex et Pontifex. Pent. 8vo. 1745.
6. The Triumph of Peace. M. 4to. 1749.
7. Cleone. T. 8vo. 1759.

Besides these, he published a little collection of his own works, in one volume, 8vo. under the modest title of Trifles, and a poem of considerable length, entitled, Public Virtue, in 4to. 1754.

He also executed two works of great service to the cause of genius, as they are the means of preserving pieces of merit, that might otherwise have sunk into oblivion, viz. the publication of a collection of poems by different eminent hands, in six vol. 12mo. and a collection of plays by old authors, in twelve volumes of the same size.