1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Keate

Anonymous, Obituary in Monthly Magazine 4 (August 1797) 153.



The late George Keate, esq. F.R.S. and F.A.S. whose death was mentioned in p. 77, of our last vol. was an amiable man and entertaining writer, descended of an ancient and opulent family. — He was educated at the school at Kingston, after quitting which, he repaired to Geneva, and resided there some years, cultivating the friendship of the great Voltaire. Having finished the tour of Europe, he commenced student in the Inner-Temple, was called to the bar, and sometimes attended Westminster-Hall, although he did not practise, either not meeting with much encouragement in the profession, or perhaps not possessing the application requisite to make himself a master of it. His first literary performance was Ancient and Modern Rome, a poem, written at Rome, in the year 1755, and published in 1760, with merited applause. — Soon after, he printed A short Account of the Ancient History, present Government, and laws of the Republic of Geneva. This work he dedicated to his friend Voltaire. In 1762, he produced an Epistle from Lady Jane Gray to Lord Guildford Dudley; and in 1763, The Alps, a poem, which, for truth of description, elegance of versification, and vigour of imagination, greatly surpasses all his other poetical productions. In 1764, he produced Netley Abbey; and in 1765, the Temple Student, and Epistle to a Friend, in which he smartly and agreeably rallies his own want of application in the study of the law, and intimates his irresistible penchant for the Belles Lettres. In 1769, he married Miss Hudson, of Wanlip, Leicester. Some months before which, he had published Ferney, an epistle to Mons. de Voltaire, in which he introduced a fine eulogium on Shakspeare, which procured him, soon after, the compliment, from the mayor and burgesses of Stratford, of a Sandish, mounted with silver, made out of the mulberry-tree planted by that illustrious bard. In 1773, he published The Monument in Arcadia, a dramatic poem, founded on a well-known picture of Poussin. — In 1781, he collected his poetical works in two volumes, with a dedication to Dr. Heberden, including a number of new pieces never before printed, and an excellent portrait of himself. Of these pieces, one was The Helvetiad, a fragment, written at Geneva, in the year 1756. He had intended to compose a poem of some length, on the subject of the emancipation of Switzerland from the oppression of the House of Austria, and had even settled the plan of his work, when he acquainted M. Voltaire with his intention, who advised him rather to employ his time on subjects more likely to interest public attention: "For," said he, "should you devote yourself to the completion of your present design, the Swiss would be much obliged to you, without being able to read you, and the rest of the world would care little about the matter." Feeling the force and justness of the remark, Mr. K. relinquished his plan, and never resumed it afterwards. In the year 1781, he published an epistle to Angelica Kaufmann. Some years after this, he became engaged in a tedious vexatious law suit, the particulars of which it is not necessary to detail. At the conclusion of the business, he showed that his good humour had not forsaken him; and, in 1787, he laid the principle circumstances in his case before the public, in a performance, entitled, The Distressed Poet, a serio-comic poem, in three cantoes, abounding with pleasant strokes, without any tincture of acrimony. The last, and perhaps best, of all his compositions, and which did the most honour to his genius and his liberality, was The Account of the Pelew Islands, which he drew up and published in 1788: this work is written with great elegance, and compiled with much care. Mr. K. undertook to draw up this narrative from the most generous motives, receiving no advantage whatever from the publication. Mr. Keate was also the author of several prologues and epilogues, spoken at Mr. Newcomb's school at Hackney; with some other pieces, scarcely of importance enough to be enumerated here. Mr. K's life passed without any vicissitudes of fortune, inheriting a large patrimonial estate, which he increased only by prudent attentions. — He died June 27, 1797, leaving one daughter married, in 1796, to J. Henderson, esq. of the Adelphi. He was hospitable and benevolent, in return for which he possessed the good-will of his fellow-men in an eminent degree.