1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. John Armstrong

Alexander Campbell, in Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland (1798) 222-23.



JOHN ARMSTRONG, M.D. the ingenious author of The art of preserving health, a poem, and other admired productions. Our poet was a native of Liddesdale, and was born at Castleton, a small village on the banks of a rivulet which gives its name to this district of Roxburghshire, and joins the river Esk, a few miles before both streams fall into the Solway Firth, near Gratney. His father was pastor of the parish, and was deemed a worthy and pious man. Young Armstrong studied at the University of Edinburgh, and took his degree as Doctor of medicine, February 4, 1732. Soon after, he went to London, and commenced practice as a physician; but, it appears, he was neither popular nor successful. He published some medical tracts which obtained but little notice; and finding PAEN unpropitious to his essays in the healing art, he commenced poet, and sung The Economy of Love, a poem, in the manner of the amorous Ovid, and young and old "listened to the lay." A nobler production from the pen of our poet made its appearance in 1744, viz. The art of preserving health, a didactic poem. This truly valuable piece established at once his reputation as a physician and a poet. In 1746, he was appointed one of the physicians to the hospital of lame and sick soldiers; and in 1760 was appointed in the same capacity to the army then in Germany. After the peace at Paris, in 1763, he returned to London and resigned his connection with the army, after which, he again attempted to get into practice, but the strong desire of ease, quiet, and love of literature, combined against his success as a medical practitioner. From time to time he produced several pieces in prose and verse, in which appear a glowing imagination, and lively fancy, under the guidance of judgment, and a correct, well-regulated taste. He was much esteemed and respected by all who knew him personally, or through the medium of his works. On the 7th of September, 1779, he died, and left behind him, it is said, 3000 which his prudence and good management had laid up for old age.

Of all his literary productions, none deserve a more careful perusal than his Art of preserving health, a poem. What the elegant pen of Dr. Aikin hath delineated in a critique on this invaluable poetic jewel in his "critical essay" prefixed to Cadell and Davis's beautiful edition, (1796) precludes the necessity of any observations here.