JOHN HAWKSWORTH, whose parents were in humble circumstances of life, was born in the year 1715. After enjoying moderate advantages of education, he was brought up to mechanical employment as a watchmaker; an art which has a tendency to create habits of reflection and inquiry, by which the professor may insensibly rise to the character of a philosopher and a scholar.
While a watchmaker, he began to make attempts in the gay and airy walks of polite literature. These attempts were favoured by an advantage in the state of literary publication at that time, of which he could not, thirty or forty years sooner, have had opportunity to avail himself. The Tatler, the Spectator, the Guardian, in the reign of queen Ann, set an example of periodical publication, supported in part by the voluntary aid of correspondents, which, from that period, has never ceased in this country to be busily followed.
Hawkesworth sent his first compositions for insertion to the Gentleman's Magazine, and their favourable reception excited him to new trials. He continued them, till his aid became so useful, and his productions were so much distinguished, that in the year 1743, he was engaged to execute under Mr. Cave's superintendence the task of Editor of the Gentleman's Magazine.
He wrote both in poetry and in prose. His poetical pieces were in general but short copies of verses, rather grave than airy, and though pregnant with meaning, yet not unadorned with some of the lighter graces. In prose, his favourite attempts were to recommend ethical truth, by arraying it in those guises of fancy, which were then the most popular in the elegant literature of England. He translated many pieces from the French. He selected extracts from some new books, and made abridgements of others. The Parliamentary Debates written for that Magazine, from July 1736 to November 1740, by William Guthrie, the historian; and from that period till March 1743 by Dr. Samuel Johnson; were also from this date, for some time, either composed or corrected, in continuance of the same series, by Mr. Hawkesworth. He had, likewise, to examine the communications of correspondents, and to compile the details of political and private history.
This sort of literary business left to Mr. Hawkesworth, as he has himself related, "no time to read for amusement." But in these labours as editor, his taste became correct and refined; his mind was filled with materials of imagery for the new creations of fancy; his judgment formed habits, and gained principles of just discrimination; he learned to assume the confidence of genius in his own powers; and came to write with a readiness and facility which, beside their use in study and business, have the further advantage of being nearly allied to vigour and perspicacity of mind.
For about ten years its direction remained in Mr. Hawkesworth's hands. During that time, he lived in habits of friendly intercourse with various poets and men of letters, correspondents in the Gentleman's Magazine. There is in Fawkes' poems, a lively epistle in verse, in which that poet, who was a clergyman, then resident near town, invites Mr. Hawkesworth to a dinner at his parsonage-house. It imitates Horace's fine invitation to Virgil; using also some hints from his invitations, in two other odes to Mecenas, and from his epistle to Torquatus, so admirably imitated by the witty, festive epicurean Dr. King. Fawkes promises his expected guest good mutton and old port; and advises him, if Cave should be urgent for copy, to steal out at the back door of his house, without letting it be known that he was going to pass the afternoon from home.
In his connexion with Mr. Cave, he was introduced to the acquaintance of Dr. Samuel Johnson. He shared the respect of Cave for Johnson's learning and genius. With great diligence, he endeavoured to attain to excellence of style in prose, by imitating the models exhibited by Johnson, in his Life of Savage, in his Debates of the Houses of Parliament, in his Plan of the English Dictionary, and in the other fugitive pieces in prose which he had, by that time, published. Johnson received him into his friendship; and delighted to make him sometimes an antagonist in that swordplay of wit and logic, which was his favourite amusement, sometimes the disciple of that wisdom, which in his triumphs of controversy he was accustomed to pour forth. In 1749, Johnson established his first literary club, and Hawkesworth was invited to become a member of it. From that time, at least till the period of his retirement to Bromley in Kent, he commonly attended the meetings of the club at a weekly supper at Horseman's, in Ivy-lane, at which Johnson seldom failed to attend. He there refreshed his mind with social converse and with convivial enjoyment, after the fatigue of his ordinary toils in literature; and he drew from the overpowering copiousness with which Johnson communicated all the stores of his rich and vigorous intellect, new accessions of knowledge, which he had not leisure to seek in slow and regular study.
While this club continued its meetings, Johnson, on the 20th of March 1750, began the publication of the numbers of the Rambler, which he carried on till the 14th of March 1752. In Johnson's work, the club had no immediate share. In the summer, after the conclusion of the Rambler, and when the collection of that work into volumes had probably begun to remove all uncertainty or its ultimate success, the counsels of the club in Ivy-lane encouraged Hawkesworth to propose the plan of the Adventurer. Mr. J. Payne agreed to become the publisher, at the price of two guineas a number, copy-money. Hawkesworth was to be the editor and principal author of the work. Dr. Bathurst agreed to become an auxiliary. Johnson, both because he had so recently discussed almost every topic of taste, morals, and manners, in the Rambler, and because a less solemn way of writing than his was intended, did not himself, at the first projecting of the new paper, engage to take any part in it. But he wrote to persuade his friend, Joseph Warton, to supply for it some papers of criticism.
On the 7th of November 1752, the first number of the Adventurer was published. Its reception was favourable; and in the course of its publication, it came to be still more and more liked by common readers. The numbers were published twice a week; and the last appeared on the 9th of March 1754. It was divided, by the plan of the first publication, into two volumes folio, each containing seventy numbers. The classical mottos were not at first translated; but a translation of these, with a table of contents, was given at the end of each volume. Soon after the folio edition was completed, the bookseller reprinted the work in tour volumes in duodecimo.
Hawkesworth was himself the writer of the greater part of those numbers. But he had also the advantage of powerful assistance. Dr. Bathurst sent a few, which have the signature of "A," but in the composition of which he is believed to have done little else than hold the pen while Johnson dictated. When Bathurst's avocations obliged him to decline further concern in this work, Johnson was himself persuaded to take a direct and avowed part in it. His papers are marked with the signature "T," and compose no inconsiderable proportion of the whole. Dr. Joseph Warton did not disappoint the expectations with which his assistance had been asked. His papers of criticism, with the signature "Z." were regularly supplied; and contributed essentially to the general popularity of the work.
The Adventurer is less pregnant with vigorous wit and with deep reflection than the Rambler. In his attempt at wit and sprightliness, Hawkesworth was rarely fortunate. With the speculative philosophy of ethics, he was but imperfectly acquainted; nor had he that perspicacity of intellect and vigilance of observation on the living world, without which original remarks on the essential manners of man will not easily suggest themselves. The praise which is peculiarly and eminently his, is that of skill to illustrate common truths by well-imagined combinations of incidents, and by the delineation of characters which, though not powerfully drawn, were however, in their superficial distinctions, sufficiently natural. It was an age of novels, as of periodical essays, in which he wrote. Hawkesworth was evidently a diligent reader of the best novels. All those incidents in human life, which were the most susceptible of being introduced with advantage in a fictitious narrative, were familiar to his mind. He had taste and judgment to distinguish in what arrangements they might be, with the most natural propriety, united and applied the most fitly to the illustration of some general truth of moral import. And he had a liveliness of imagination capable of bringing those changes of human fortune, which he knew, into new and happy assemblages. Hence the origin of those beautiful tales, the presence of which gives its most eminent peculiarity of character to the Adventurer, and which for beauty of design, for natural diversity and propriety of incidents, for the force and clearness with which they suggest the moral truths, which they were severally intended to convey, greatly excel whatever has been given to the world of the same fort, in any other periodical publication. In his eastern tales, he wants the genuine resemblance of the manners and modes of expression proper to the inhabitants of the east. But pardon him this defect, and you shall find it to be compensated by almost every other merit. His tales, of which the manners are English, want no such allowance; but however rigorously tried by criticism, will ever challenge its highest approbation. In his more brief stories and allegories, he almost equally excels, yet not without wanting sometimes that light felicity, archness, and grace, in which resides the secret charm of almost all fictions, which are, at the fame time, very short and very pleasing. Whenever Hawkesworth attempts to be directly didactic in morals, he fails in dignity and impressive force, and is generally trite. In speculative ethics, or what may be called the philosophy of morals, he is always confused and uncertain in his views. Mr. William Duncombe, in a paper of remarks, which has been since printed, showed that Hawksworth had, injudiciously and unsuccessfully endeavoured, in the story of Yamodin and Samira, to prove that there is no universal rule of moral conduct as it respects society. In other instances, the general ethical positions in the Adventurer might have been attacked with equal advantage.
Hawkesworth's style, in his papers in this work, has the structure, and generally the correctness, but not the pomp, the force, nor the "ardentia verba" of Johnson's. Hawkesworth's own papers were the most popular part of the publication: and it should seem by the concluding paper, that he was not unwilling to value his own efforts, as proceeding from a genius more fertile and elegant than that of any of his coadjutors.
Some time before undertaking the Adventurer, he had married a lady, whose habits and accomplishments encouraged him to open a boarding school for the education of young ladies at Bromley in Kent. The boarding-school at Bromley became remarkable as a school of elegance, propriety, and virtue; and by the success of their industry, this worthy couple soon saw themselves in the way to the acquisition of a competent provision for the ease and comfort of their old age.
Another path to independency in fortune seemed, for a time, to open itself before Mr. Hawkesworth. Archbishop Herring, as appears from his letters, an uncommonly pure and elegant writer of his mother-tongue, yet so zealously disposed to prefer the concerns of virtue to those of wit, that he had ventured to reprobate the exhibition of the Beggar's Opera, as pernicious to the public morals, even at the risk of being accused by Swift and Pope of asinine dullness, was resident in the palace at Lambeth at the time when the Adventurer came out in numbers. He was charmed with its elegance; amused with the beautiful displays of imagination in its tales; and moved to esteem for the principal author, on account of the pious and virtuous tendency of every train of reasoning, and of every example contained in it. His patronage had already distinguished the modest, learned, and classical Jortin. And he was now induced to honour also Hawkesworth with a token of his regard. By the exercise of a power which belongs to the archbishop of Canterbury, he conferred on him the degree of Doctor in Laws; an honour suitable to that knowledge of the general laws of the social union of men, which Hawkesworth had in the Adventurer evinced himself to possess. Hawkesworth flattered himself that he might derive something more substantial than barren honour, from this kindness of the archbishop. As a doctor of laws, he was authorized to act as counsellor and pleader in those courts of justice in which the civil and canon law are under the statute law of England, employed as principles and rules of decision. He attempted under this privilege to practise at Doctor's Commons. But the proctors were not forward to employ one who had not been regularly educated to the profession: and those licentiates, bachelors, and doctors, who had entered into practice by graduation at either of the universities, and by a long course of attendance on the proceedings of the courts, were extremely indignant that any person should intrude among them upon the mere strength of a Lambeth degree. Hawkesworth, then only five or six-and-thirty years of age, might by perseverance have triumphed over this opposition; but he disdained a lengthened contention with the prejudices of persons whom he, no doubt, thought very much his inferiors in the respects of genuine worth and talents. He withdrew from the field, and returned to his accustomed pursuits.
With the Gentleman's Magazine, he had still a certain connexion. Mr. Melmoth had a few years before published, under the title of Fitzosborne's Letters, a very pleasing series of essays in the epistolary form, on some of the most agreeable topics in morality and criticism. Melmoth, in that volume, gave offence to some of the admirers of Herring, by a criticism, in which the instances of incorrectness in an extract out of one of that author's sermons were printed in Italic characters. Hawkesworth, in October 1754, sent a short paper of remarks to be inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine, in which, by introducing a passage out of Melmoth's own compositions, and printing also the inaccuracies in Italics, he showed that critic's style to be not less exceptionable than the style of the great prelate, whom he had presumed in this respect to censure. Several persons were pleased with this check offered to Melmoth's pride of criticism. Mr. Duncombe observes of Hawkesworth's article, in one of his Letters to archbishop Herring — in the words of the Roman poet,
—Ne lex justior ulla, est,
Quam necis artifices arte perire sua.
Lord Bolingbroke died in 1751, of the effects of a cancer, under which he had, in vain, applied to quack operators for a cure. His works in philosophy being bequeathed to Mr. Mallet, were by him collected, and with as little delay as possible made public. They came out on the very day on which Mr. Pelham, the minister, died. The utmost indignation of the faithful votaries of christianity was excited by their intention and spirit. Hawkesworth, among others, took the pen to expose their sophistry. In a short and unaffected, but very well written paper the Gentleman's Magazine for October 1754, he has exhibited a summary of the leading positions of lord Bolingbroke's philosophy, with a clear exposition of their futility, equally honourable to his piety and to his talents. It was at that time much commended, and may still be read with profit.
The structure of some of the tales in the Adventurer, seemed to indicate Dr. Hawkesworth to be well qualified to contrive the fable, and regulate the involution and developement of the plot of a dramatic piece. In 1759, therefore, he was induced to alter for the stage the Oroonoko of Southern. It was acted in the altered form to which he had reduced it, at the theatre in Drury-lane in March 1760. The public approved his alterations; which consisted chiefly in expunging the scenes of low comedy which Southern had incongruously intermingled with the evolution of a tragic tale, whose deep pathos rejected all such association. The critics complained that he had done nothing but expunge.
The success of his alterations in Oroonoko, encouraged him to another and more original dramatic attempt. It was a beautiful small piece, under the name of Edgar and Emmeline, which he next produced. It was brought out for representation at the theatre in Drury-lane, in the spring of 1762. The fairy machinery employed in it had a liveliness and a pleasing wildness by which the public were exceedingly delighted. It was a favourite entertainment at the theatre for the rest of that season; nor has it, hitherto, been laid entirely aside. In the closet it may be read with pleasure.
He had, before this time, begun to estrange himself much from the society of Johnson; and was even intoxicated to such a degree by the popularity of his writings, that he no longer esteemed Johnson to be, in native talents, at all superior to himself. Yet he could not help still following the career of Johnson with what he might himself deem generous emulation, while others could regard it only as close imitation. Johnson had lately produced, in Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, a philosophical fiction, exhibiting a view at once faithful, elegant, and profound, of the ills of life, and of the caprices of human conduct, than which the wisdom of all ages can show nothing more masterly and discriminating. It had been read with the utmost eagerness by the public. Hawkesworth would try whether he might not excel Johnson in this species of composition. He produced Almoran and Hamet; a beautiful tale. in which the economy of Providence for the punishment of vice and the reward of virtue in the present life, is, by a fine and apposite fiction, strikingly illustrated; but which is far from preserving that truth of eastern scenery and manners from so justly unfolding the natural probabilities of life, or from any approach to that richness of moral instruction which distinguishes the Prince of Abyssinia. Almoran and Hamet appears to have been written expressly for the amusement and instruction of a king. It was addressed to his present majesty by special permission, not long after his accession to the throne. The character of Hamet appears to have been intended to represent the mild, yet steady, and not inert virtues, by which our sovereign was expected to reign in the hearts of his people; to mark that respect for constitutional liberty which has ever distinguished his government. It was well received, and has been frequently reprinted; but is as far from rivalling the popularity, as from equalling the merit of the work of Johnson.
The beautiful epic poem of Telemachus, the most excellent of the productions of Fenelon, had not been translated into English with the exactness, propriety, and elegance, which a work so popular and so classical well deserved. Dr. Hawkesworth, particularly on account of its usefulness in the education of youth, was induced to execute a new translation of it. This was published in a splendid volume in quarto, and has been occasionally reprinted.
During all this time, he continued to reside at Bromley in Kent, and gradually to relinquish the familiar acquaintance of those who had been his ordinary companions when he wrote the Adventurer. The reputation of Mrs. Hawkesworth's boarding-school continued to be very high, till she and her husband found it convenient to forego an occupation of so much care and fatigue. Two ladies of large fortune, being charmed with the society of Dr. and Mrs. Hawkesworth, as well as much pleased with their house and its local situation, proposed to them, on condition that these two ladies should be, from that time, their only boarders, pecuniary advantages, arising so nearly to an equality with the whole profits of the school, that the proposal was readily accepted. From that time, the doctor continued to live at his ease, as a private gentleman of competent and in this leisure to form new valuable connexions of friendship among persons of wealth and rank.
In the disposal of the fruits of his own and his wife's industry, he had become a proprietor of East India stock. His stock was equal to that qualification in property which the laws of the company's constitution require in candidates for the directorship. Such was the respectability of his character for talents, integrity, and skill in business, and such was the influence and zeal of his friends, partly by the care of the two ladies who lived in his house, that he was chosen one of the directors of the affairs of the East India company. The functions of this imperial and commercial trust were discharged by him in a manner highly worthy of his own reputation, and of the confidence of his friends and the public.
On account both of his literary fame, and of the consideration to which he had risen in society, he was appointed by government to prepare for the press, the narratives of those voyages of discovery which were made by British navigators in the first ten years of his present majesty's reign. In a period of time extremely short in comparison with the labour, he wrote out the narratives of the different voyages, from the journals of the Commanders which were put into his hands; submitted his narratives to the perusal and correction of the gentlemen on whose authority they were written; and with the full approbation of the lords of the admiralty, sent out the work from the press.
The course of his previous studies was not such as to have peculiarly qualified him for this undertaking. Nor was the entire management of the publication so intrusted to him, that he could feel himself quite at liberty to form it agreeably to his own precise notions of the due perfection of such a work. He was not a navigator, a hydrographer, a naturalist, an astronomer, or a chemist. The charts were not communicated to him while he wrote the narratives: nor was he allowed to compare the charts with the narratives till it was too late to correct the one by the other, so as to make them perfectly correspond. Yet, under these disadvantages, he must be acknowledged to have executed his task with great ability, faithfulness, and elegance. There are no narratives of voyages in the English language, which possess, so exactly as these, that propriety and elegance of style, not without dignity, yet free from affectation, which are the most suitable to this species of writing.
His stipulated profits from the work could not be intercepted from him: and these arose to no less than £6000 sterling. But it was no sooner published than all the strength of criticism was excited against the writer. It was considered as being the work of the government; and therefore all, who were in political opposition to the ministry, were eager to censure it. Several of the persons who had gone upon the voyages were dissatisfied that they should not have been allowed to tell each his own tale; and were, of course, in a humour to find that it had not been rightly told by another. Almost every eminent man of letters felt more or less offence, that, for such a great national work, Hawkesworth should have been preferred to him. The public had not clear or just ideas of what such a work ought to be, expecting in it something like the histories of Robertson, Hume, and Voltaire; and judged it to be the fault of Hawkesworth, that it had in it so much of dry and minute details that could be interesting only to seamen. One class of readers thought that Hawkesworth had adventured, in his speculations, too boldly into the regions of free-thinking. A Mr. Dalrymple, who had advanced opinions respecting the existence of a southern continent, which further discovery has wholly refuted, was angry that the conduct, particularly of the voyage in which captain Cooke was accompanied by Mr. Banks, had not been intrusted to him: and he expressed his resentment in a pamphlet on the work of Hawkesworth.
Yet in all this opposition there was nothing very formidable. The first edition of the Voyages was published in toe beginning of May 1773. In the same year, Dr. Hawkesworth prefixed to the second edition a paper of answers to his critics, in which he satisfactorily vindicated himself, and his work, from all their objections and censures. Without imitating Mr. Dalrymple in the use of sneers and cavils, as remote from wit and reason as from good-breeding, he found no difficulty in placing both that gentleman's pretensions and his criticism in a light the most pleasantly ridiculous.
But his mind was wounded deeper than he was willing to confess, by the clamours and censures to which his work had exposed him. His spirits sunk under the blow. Bodily illness was added to passionate, desponding affliction of mind. He had disdained to be thought the imitator even of Johnson; and he now saw his labour reprobated as the disgrace of his country. His life terminated on the 16th of November, 1773: and we are not certain that this good man, so eminently a lover and a teacher of virtue, did not — such is human frailty — actually perish by his own hand.
Forget this last act — excuse somewhat of the arrogance of success — and his life was eminently and elegantly virtuous. — He died in the fifty-ninth year of his age, and was buried at Bromley in Kent. His works preserve their popularity undiminished, and still do infinite good.