1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Dodsley

David Erskine Baker, in Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sigs K1v-K2v.



This ingenious Author is now living. In what Year, or at what Place he was born, I am not certain, though I have heard the latter to have been either in Warwickshire or Nottinghamshire; his first setting out in Life was in a servile Station, 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, tho' cloath'd with the greatest Simplicity of Design, so strongly recommended it's 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 altho' he had himself no Connection with the Theatres, yet procured him such an Interest as infus'd it's being immediately brought on the Stage, where it met with the Success it merited: as did also a Farce called the King and Miller of Mansfield, which made it's Appearance in the ensuing Year, viz. 1736. — From the Success of these Pieces he enter'd 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 rais'd him to great Eminence in his Profession, in which he is now almost, if not altogether, at the Head. — Yet, neither in this Capacity, nor in that of a Writer, has Success had any improper Effect on him. — In one Light he has preserved the strictest Integrity, in the other the most becoming Humility. — Mindful of the early Encouragement his own Talents met with, he has been ever ready to give the same Opportunity of Advancement to those of others, and has on many Occasions been not only the Publisher but the Patron of Genius. — But there is no Circumstance which adds more Lustre to his Character, than the grateful Remembrance he retains, and ever expresses, to the Memory of those to whom he owed the Obligation of his first being taken Notice of in Life. — A remarkable Instance of which shew'd itself some Years ago, in the Zeal and Ardour which he shew'd in Vindication of the Character of his great Patron and Friend Mr. Pope, from an Accusation brought against him by a late noble Lord; in which, what Justice or Falsehood there was in the Charge, or how far the Partiality of Friendship might or might not paint the Circumstance itself in a more favourable Light than it deserved, I shall not here pretend to decide; but it was certainly the Office of a sincere Friend to stand up in Defence of the Memory of one, who no longer had it in his Power (from the silent Grave) to answer any Accusation whatever. — I shall not, however, dwell any longer on the Amiableness of Mr. Dodsley's Character as a Man, since many besides myself are well acquainted with it. — As a Writer, there is an Ease and Elegance that runs thro' all his Works, which sometimes is 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.

After what I have said of them I shall now take leave of his Pieces as follow,

1. Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green. Farce.

2. Cleone. Trag.

3. King and Miller of Mansfield. Farce.

4. Sir John Cockle at Court. Farce.

5. Toyshop. Dram. Satire.

6. Triumph of Peace. Masque.

Besides these, he has 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 has also performed two Works of great Service to the Cause of Genius, as they are the Means of preserving Pieces of Merit, that might otherwise sink 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.