1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 5:129-130.



CHARLES CHURCHILL, the "British Juvenal," was born in the parish of St. John's, Westminster, in 1731; his father was curate and lecturer of the parish, and had also a living in the country. He received his early education at the school of his native city, where he evinced great precocity of talents, as well as eccentricity of conduct.

Before he was eighteen years of age, he entered into the marriage state; but what began in passion, ultimately terminated in disgust. Having obtained orders, he retired to Wales on a curacy of 30 a year, and it is said was much beloved by his parishioners; but endeavouring to improve his income by trade, he engaged in the business of a dealer in cyder, and soon involved himself in difficulties, which occasioned his removal from that part of the country.

Returning to London, by the death of his father he succeeded to the curacy and lecturership of St. John's, worth about 100 per annum; which being barely sufficient for his subsistence, by the advice or example of his friend Lloyd, who had already gained some reputation as a writer, he turned his thoughts to poetry, and soon produced The Rosciad, the first and the best of his works, though from its temporary subject, little interesting to readers of the present period. This excited the public curiosity, and laid at once the foundation of his future fame,

His Apology to the Critical Reviewers soon followed, which was likewise read with avidity, but is now neglected.

Flattered by success, and emancipated, as he thought, from vulgar restraints, Churchill at once threw off his gown and his wife, and launching in the vortex of dissipation, became a man of pleasure. In order to palliate his conduct, which he knew admitted of no justification, he composed his Night, an Epistle to Robert Lloyd, which enforces, in elegant and vigorous poetry, the pernicious maxim, "that whatever may be our follies, we should take no pains to conceal them."

The Ghost, in which he ridicules the superstition of Johnson, and the imposture that had been carried on for some time in Cock-lane, was his next performance. The Prophecy of Famine followed; and this, though the dullest of all his pieces, from its political allusions, was the most successful. The Author, however, is an animated composition.

It would be tiresome to enumerate all the taxes which his ingenuity levied on public curiosity, by the sale of his hasty satirical and political productions. Suffice it to say, that his extravagance kept pace with the liberality of his admirers, and that his real friends had to lament his flagrant deviations from all the charities and all the candour of life.

After a short, but brilliant, literary career, Churchill crossed the Channel to visit Mr. Wilkes, who was in exile at Bouglogne, and being there seized with a miliary fever, which baffled all medical skill, he paid the debt of nature on the 4th of November, 1764, in the 33d year of his age. His body was brought to England, and buried at Dover; at which place, on a small stone, in the old church-yard, formerly belonging to the collegiate church of St. Martin, is the following inscription: "Life to the last enjoy'd, here Churchill lies:" Mr. Davies, upon what he thinks good authority, has related, that Churchill's last words were, "What a fool have I been!" He might have cause for such a reflection; yet Mr. Wilkes, whose testimony must be decisive, has informed the world, that the goodness of Churchill's heart, and the firmness of his philosophy, were in full lustre during the time of his very severe illness; and that the amazing faculties of his mind were not in the least impaired till a few moments before his death. He left two sons; the youngest of whom was generously educated at the expence of the late Sir Richard Jebb, bart.