1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Ralph

David Erskine Baker, in Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sigs Ccv-Cc2.



JAMES RALPH, one of the greatest political, tho' not one of the greatest poetical, Writers of the present Age. — Of his Family we can trace no Particulars; but it is said his Descent was mean, and that he solely raised himself from Obscurity by his Merit; a Circumstance which redounds more to his Honour than would a long Bead-roll of great Ancestors, "stuck o'er with Titles, and hung round with Strings."

Mr. Ralph's first Appearance in the World, before he became distinguished for his Writings, was, as we are informed, in the Character of a School-Master, at Philadelphia, in North America; which remote Situation not suiting his active Mind, he came to England, about the beginning of the Reign of George II. We have not learnt what was then the immediate Object of his Pursuit, but it was probably something in the Public Offices dependent on the Court; for he soon became a Frequenter of the Levees, and attached to some great Men, to whom his Abilities recommended him. — He did not, however, at first make any Figure in the political World, but rather applied himself to the writing for the Stage, in which he was not very successful. He also produced some Pieces of Poetry, particularly Night, a Poem, of which Mr. Pope thus takes Notice in his Dunciad:

Silence, ye Wolves! while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
And makes Night hideous! Answer him, ye Owls!

This Passage Mr. Pope has illustrated by a very abusive Note, wherein Mr. Ralph's Character is most unmercifully torn to Pieces; which Severity, it seems, was occasioned by a Piece attributed to our Author, entitled Sawney, a Poem, in which the sacred Triumvirate, Dean Swift, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Gay, were attacked. — Mr. Ralph was very falsely and injuriously represented in The Dunciad. — Mr. Pope says, he was so illiterate, that he did not even understand French: Whereas it is very certain that he was Master of the French and Latin Languages, and not altogether ignorant of the Italian; and was, in Truth, a very ingenious Prose-Writer, although he did not succeed as a Poet. His History of England, commencing at the Restoration, is much esteemed, as were his Political Pamphlets, some of which were looked upon as Master Pieces. — He was likewise concerned in writing Essays in several Periodical Papers; in which he became so formidable to the Ministry towards the End of Sir Robert Walpole's time, that it was deemed expedient to take him off by a Pension. — He had great Expectations from the late Prince of Wales, who frequently made Use of Mr. Ralph's Pen in the Controversies in which it is well known that Prince was engaged: But, by the Death of his Royal Highness, all our Author's views of Preferment were entirely cut off. — At the Accession of Geo. III. however, Mr. Ralph, though considerably advanced in Years, began to be taken Notice of, and his Hopes revived; but, alas! the great Circumventer of all human Expectations, Death, put a final Period to all his Schemes, in the Beginning of the Year 1762, at his House in Chiswick; after suffering a long and severe Affliction from the Gout, of which Disorder also his only Daughter, about eighteen, died a few Weeks after him.

His dramatic Writings are,

1. Fashionable Lady; or, Harlequin's Opera

2. Fall of the Earl of Essex. Trag.

3. Lawyer's Feast. Farce.

4. Astrologer. Com.

One of Mr. Ralph's last Productions had also some Relation to the Stage, and was esteemed a very excellent and very entertaining Performance. — It was entitled, The Case of Authors.