1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Mallet

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 464.



Of Mallet's birth-place and family nothing is certainly known; but Dr. Johnson's account of his descent from the sanguinary clan of Mac Gregor is probably not much better founded than what he tells us of his being janitor to the High-School of Edinburgh. That officer has from time immemorial lived in a small house at the gate of the school, of which he sweeps the floors and rings the bell. Mallet at the alleged time of his bring thus employed was private tutor in the family of Mr. Home of Dreghorn, near Edinburgh. By a Mr. Scott he was recommended to be tutor to the sons of the Duke of Montrose and after travelling all the Continent with his pupil, and returning to London, made his way, according to Dr. Johnson into the society of wits, nobles and statesmen by the influence of the family in which he had lived. Perhaps the mere situation of a nobleman's tutor would not have gained such access to a diffident man; but Mallet's manners and talent were peculiarly fitted to make their way in the world. His ballad of William and Margaret, in 1724 first brought him into notice. He became intimate with Pope and had so much celebrity in his day as to be praised in rhyme both by Savage and Lord Chesterfield. In time he was appointed under-secretary to the Prince of Wales. Some of his letters in the earlier part of his life express an interest and friendship for the poet Thomson which do honour to his heart; but it cannot be disguised that his general history exhibits more address than principle and his literary career is unimportant. Some years before his death he was appointed keeper of the book of entries for the port of London and enjoyed a pension for an address to the public which contributed to hasten the execution of Byng — a fact for which if true his supposed ancestors the MacGregors might have been ashamed to acknowledge him.