1774 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Lloyd

William Kenrick, Memoir in Lloyd, Poems (1774) 1:v-xxxix.



"He that writes the life of another," says the IDLER, "is either his friend or his enemy, and wishes either to exalt his praise or aggravate his disgrace." This is a strange assertion, and would be much stranger if it were true. There is neither a moral nor physical necessity that Indifference, with respect to persons, and Impartiality, with regard to facts, may not sometimes take place in the breast of the biographer. If this ever was the case, I will venture to say it is so with the present writer; who was too distant an acquaintance of Mr. Lloyd's to be called his friend, though not so distant from being his friend, as to be his enemy.

It is a juster observation of the same author, that the sedentary life of the student so widely differs from the active life of the man of business, that the history of the former seldom affords the reader the like instruction or amusement.

Unhappily for Mr. Lloyd, though never engaged in the active scenes of business, to afford a diversified tale of entertaining adventures, his life was not so uniform as to be wholly unchequered with change of circumstance, or destitute of that diversity of incident, which may accord the most instructive and useful lesson to men of letters and ingenuity; particularly to those who devote themselves to the Muses.

Mr. Robert Lloyd was the son of the reverend Dr. Lloyd, second master of Westminster-school; by whom he was so early initiated in the classics, that his fertile genius soon became pregnant with the stores of Greek and Roman literature. Thus qualified, he repaired, at a proper age, from Westminster to Oxford; where he pursued his studies, and made such an occasional display of his genius, as to reflect no little credit on his tutorage, if not some honour on the University; which in due time conferred on him the degree of Master of Arts.

From Oxford Mr. Lloyd returned to Westminster-school; in which he for some time assisted his father, as an usher in that learned seminary. With this situation, the duties of which he was particularly well qualified to discharge, he appears, nevertheless, to have been highly dissatisfied.

—Were I at once impower'd to shew
My utmost vengeance on my foe,
To punish with extremest rigour,
I could inflict no penance bigger
Than using him as learning's tool,
To make him Usher of a school.—
For me, it hurts me to the soul
To brook confinement or controul,
Still to he pinion'd down to teach
The syntax and the parts of speech;
Or, what perhaps is drudging worse,
The links, and joints, and rules of verse;
To deal out authors by resale
Like penny pots of Oxford ale;
—Oh! 'tis a service irksome more
Than tugging at the slavish oar!

If our author's motive for relinquishing this irksome station were really what he assigns, in the subsequent lines, his desire of farther improving his own mind instead of vainly attempting the improvement of others,

Of working on a barren soil,
And lab'ring with incessant pains
To cultivate a blockhead's brains;

If such, I say, were his motive, it was a laudable one!

For such his task, a dismal truth!
Who watches o'er the bent of youth;
And while a paltry stipend earning,
He sows the richest seeds of learning,
And tills their minds with proper care,
And sees them their due produce bear,
No joys, alas! his toil beguile,
His own lies fallow all the while!

It is more than probable, however, that this impatience of restraint and disgust at scholastic confinement, were heightened by the author's intimacy with his fellow collegians, those excentric geniuses Messrs. Churchill, Thornton and Bensley; whose congenial talents and disposition might serve to encourage each other in the pursuit of such youthful amusements, as insensibly betrayed them into a liberality of life and conversation, which the prudential part of the world perhaps too severely condemned.

For let a man of parts be wrong,
'Tis triumph to the leaden throng.
The Fools shall cackle out reproof,
The very ass shall raise his hoof;
And he who holds in his possession,
The single virtue of discretion,
Who knows no overflow of spirit,
Whose want of passions is his merit,
Whom wit and taste and judgment flies,
Shall shake his noddle and seem wise.

It is nevertheless a melancholy reflection, and sufficiently mortifying to men of parts and genius, that every one of his spirited companions fell, with himself, a sacrifice, in the prime of life, to the want of that discretion in themselves, which they so wittily ridiculed and as imprudently despised in others.

Dr. Swift observes, "that there is no talent so useful towards rising in the world, or which puts men more out of the reach of fortune, than that quality generally possessed by the dullest sort of people, and is in common speech called discretion; a species of lower prudence, by the assistance of which, people of the meanest intellectuals, without any other qualifications, pass through the world in great tranquillity, and with universal good treatment, neither giving nor taking offence."

The example of the indiscreet fraternity of geniuses above-mentioned, may serve to corroborate the truth of this observation, by affording a striking contrast to the behaviour exemplified by that shrewd observer of human life and manners, the sarcastic Dean.

In justice however to men of Genius, it may be observed, as a venerable Bishop of the Gallican Church once did to the volatile Voltaire, that the world is too much obliged to them for the pleasure and improvement resulting from their productions, not to forgive them many personal, though moral, imperfections.

Lord Orrery goes so far as gravely to exculpate the immorality of men of uncommon parts, by philosophically accounting for their deviation from those common principles of action which influence ordinary minds. But though genius, like charity, may be allowed to hide a multitude of sins, I cannot subscribe to his Lordship's system of exculpation.

The first performance which established Mr. Lloyd's reputation as a poet, and of course rendered him respectable in the literary world, was the ACTOR, addressed to his then intimate and liberal friend Mr. Thornton. This is one of his best productions; in which he passes very high encomiums both on Mr. Garrick and Mr. Thornton; displaying, as on many other occasions, a strong attachment and most friendly regard for both; which in the sequel was but ill-requited.

It is supposed that the reputation Mr. Lloyd acquired by this poem, first stimulated his friend Churchill to enter the lists of poetical fame, and write his celebrated Rosciad. The superior popularity of this piece gave our Author at first some little disgust; but, on the farther exertion of Mr. Churchill's abilities, the superiority in force of numbers and power of imagery, appearing so greatly on the side of his friend, Mr. Lloyd, with the modesty becoming real genius, and the complacency of a disposition untainted by envy, joined the rest of his admirers, in the unlimited applause bestowed on that eminent Poet.

The proof our author gave on this occasion, of his possessing a considerable portion of that most valuable scientific quality, so rarely to be met with, self-knowledge, is characteristically and happily struck off in the following lines.

For me who labour with poetic sin,
Who often woo the muse I cannot win,
Whom pleasure first a willing poet made,
And folly spoilt by taking up the trade,
Pleas'd I behold superior genius shine,
Nor ting'd with envy wish that genius mine.
To CHURCHILL'S muse can bow with decent awe,
Admire his mode, nor make that mode my law:
Both may, perhaps, have various pow'rs to please;
Be his the STRENGTH of NUMBERS mine the EASE.

This ingenuous concession on the part of Mr. Lloyd, appears to have so far endeared him to Churchill, that, to use the expression of one of their common friends, they were inseparable, one sentiment governing the minds, and one purse administering to the wants of both. The same writer describes Mr. Lloyd as of a tacit disposition, reserved and attentive; he took much snuff, says he, and would often sit the auditor of conversation rather than the promoter.

On the same authority, we are told, of an invitation which Mr. Lloyd received from a nobleman, celebrated in the republic of letters, requesting his company to dinner; as he was a great admirer of his reputed wit and genius: the invitation being accepted, Mr. Lloyd, to the great disappointment of the noble peer, uttered not a syllable during the whole entertainment.

I am the more tempted to doubt the truth of this Anecdote, as our author is declared by another writer, who ought to have known him well, that in conversation he was very engaging. My absence from England during the few years Mr. Lloyd made a figure in the republic of letters, suspended a personal acquaintance, commenced in very early life; and unrenewed till his disposition appeared to have been soured by misfortune and perhaps his genius somewhat debilitated by intemperance. I am therefore an improper judge of his talents for conversation; to which, however, if oratorical abilities be in any measure conducive, he did not seem to possess them in any eminent degree; our author being one of the worst reciters of his own writings that I ever remember to have heard. At the same time, what he wanted in power of declamation was amply supplied by tenaciousness of memory and facility of composition; the productions of no writer perhaps, ancient or modern, being more truly said to be written currente calamo than those of our Author.

So ready was his pen and retentive his mind that, when his devotion to the Muses has been interrupted by the orgies of Bacchus, and the suspended fable like that of Butler's tale, been broke off in the middle, he has pursued it from memory with the utmost composure, when the fever of the brain was over, and finished the composition as consistently as if the copy had been all the while before him.

His attachment to the pleasures of the table, particularly to those of the bottle, in which he was induced to indulge himself too freely for his constitution, was a topic of much censure and complaint against him, both with his real and his pretended friends, except indeed those who shared in the convivial sodality.

The foremost of these jovial companions, his celebrated friend Churchill, attempted, on the other hand to apologize for him, and even to justify the practice as well by precept as example. His gay and spirited Epistle, entitled Night, inscribed to our author, is a professed Apology, if not a formal justification of their nocturnal festivity .

Let naves to business, bodies without soul,
Important blanks in Nature's mighty roll,
Solemnize nonsense in the day's broad glare,
We NIGHT prefer which heals or hides our care.

Rogues justified, and by success made bold,
Dull fools and coxcombs sanctified by Gold;
Freely may bask in Fortune's partial ray,
And spread their feathers op'ning to the day;
But thread-bare Merit dares not shew the head
'Till vain Prosperity retires to bed.
Misfortunes, like the Owl, avoid the light;
The sons of CARE are always sons of NIGHT.

The poetical merit of these lines must not be suffered to vouch for their truth; unless we doubt the conclusion of the famous Bacchanalian ode, so vociferously and joyously chaunted in the same nocturnal revels.

What have we with day to do?
Sons of Care, 'twas made for you.

The truth seems to be that, however eagerly these sons of Anacreon might enter on the career of these jovial amusements, they continued their race, out of pique at the worldly disrespect, which they had unadvisedly and perhaps unexpectedly incurred. This is pathetically insinuated in the following lines extracted from the same poem

When foes insult and prudent friends dispense,
In pity's strains, the worst of insolence,
Oft with thee, Lloyd, I steal an hour from grief,
And in thy social converse find relief.
The mind, of solitude impatient grown,
Loves any sorrows rather than her own.

Then in Oblivion's grateful cup I drown
The galling sneer, the supercilious frown,
The strange reserve the proud affected state
Of upstart knaves grown rich, and fools grown great.
No more that abject wretch disturbs my rest,
Who meanly overlooks a friend distrest.
Purblind to Poverty the Worldling goes,
And scarce sees rags an inch beyond his nose;
But from a crowd can single out his grace,
And cringe and creep to fools who strut in lace.

Such is often the revenge of suicide genius. By railing at others it thinks to excuse itself; imputing to ignorance or malevolence the cause of that ruin in which, against its own better knowledge, it is inevitably as unpardonably involved.

Mr. Lloyd having resigned the Ushership of Westminster school, became an author by profession; and, notwithstanding his decided merit, experienced most of the vicissitudes of fortune, to which gentlemen of that precarious profession are liable. His sense of his situation under those circumstances, is frequently expressed in his occasional poems; particularly in the little piece entitled the Temple of Favour, addressed to the present Editor. It is on this occasion he apostrophises on the subject of making a trade of Genius.

But says he very reasonably

Can authors an exemption draw
From nature's or the common law?
They err alike with all mankind,
But not the same indulgence find.
Their lives are more conspicuous grown,
More talked of, pointed at, and shewn,
Till every error deems to rise
To SINS of most gigantic size!

O glorious trade, for wit's a trade,
Where men are ruin'd more than made.
Let crazy LEE, neglected GAY,
The shabby OTWAY, DRYDEN grey,
Those tuneful Servants of the nine,
(Not that I blend their names with mine)
Repeat their lives, their works, their fame,
And teach the world come useful shame!

It is so natural a transition for a man of wit to become a man of the town, and for the expences, necessary to support the latter character, to exceed the income of the former, that it is no wonder our author was induced to engage in publications that promised to produce profit rather than praise. Among there was the St. James's Magazine; from which many of the pieces contained in the following collection are extracted. The necessary haste, with which most of them were expedited to the press, will induce the confederate reader rather to wonder they are so correct, than that they are not much less so.

This work not meeting with that success, which from its merit might be reasonably expected, our Author found himself unable to discharge home obligations of a pecuniary nature; which he had improvidently laid himself under an the flattering propped of such success.

The consequence of this disappointment was the exertion of that barbarous power, which the absurd custom of this country has given to the creditor over the person of his debtor, by permitting the imprisonment of the latter till the former be fully satisfied. Mr. Lloyd was of course confined within the walls of the Fleet; even Mr. Thornton, though his bosom friend from their infancy, refusing to be his security for the liberty of the Rules; a circumstance, which, giving rife to home ill-natured altercation, induced this quondam friend to become an inveterate enemy, in the quality of his most inexorable creditor.

It has been said, on this occasion, that "while this unhappy but most excellent poet was under such restrictions, the Fleet became the seat of the Muses; and all the men of wit and genius in the age repaired to this gloomy temple. Such company dispelled the very idea of confinement, and gave his apartments the air of the court of Apollo."

Certain it was that Mr. Lloyd was visited in his confinement by a number of those who had, or would be thought to have pretensions to wit; but it was a just distinction he himself made between his numerous acquaintance, and those few, very few friends, by whom he was not wholly abandoned to misfortune.

In this state of dereliction and depression it is no wonder he was subject to a despondency, from which cheerful conversation and the exhilarating glass afforded only a temporary relief. His support, under the tedium vitae that assailed him in such disagreeable circumstances, he drew from very different resources, the generosity of his friend Churchill and the avarice of the booksellers. In conjunction with Mr. Charles Denis he at this time undertook a translation of the Contes Moraux of Marmontel: a hasty performance that did them little credit, and would have done them still less, had not a second attempt by Mr. Colman to translate that elegant author at greater leisure, proved almost equally abortive. Correctness was the utmost that could be expected from a Colman; which, had he been sufficiently versed in the idiom of the French language, he might possibly have attained: but cold correctness could not give us a Marmontel; whose warmth of description, justness of thought, and elegance of expression require similar abilities in his translator.

Mr. Lloyd also during his confinement wrote a ballad opera, entitled the Capricious Lovers, taken from a favourite piece of another French author. It was acted at Drury Lane Theatre with some applause; but not with so much as it merited; although our author's genius does not appear to have led him strongly to dramatic composition.

It was observable that, with Mr. Thornton, almost all the friends and companions of our author's youth, turned their backs on him, especially those on whom he had lavished many encomiums in his own writings, and whom he had occasionally assisted in the composition or correction of theirs; a striking proof of the inability of schoolboy friendships and college connections! It is with much humour he rallies the meretricious species of reciprocal attachment among brother authors, in his epistle, entitled the Poet.

While your good word, or conversation,
Can lend a brother reputation,
While verse or preface quaintly penn'd,
Can raise the consequence of friend,
How visible the kind affection!
How close the partial fond connection!
Then He is quick and I'm discerning,
And I have wit and He has learning;
My judgment's strong, and His is chaste,
And Both — ay Both are MEN of TASTE!

The jealousy of rival wits he has, on the other hand, represented as capable of being excited by the slightest motives, and carried to the utmost length on the most trifling provocation.

Jealous of every putt of fame,
The idle whistling of a name,
The property of half a line,
Whether a comma's yours or mine,
Shall make a Bard, a Bard engage,
And shake the friendship of an age.

The sensibility of Mr. Lloyd appears to have been greatly hurt by the coldness and contempt, with which many of his brother wits and poetical friends behaved to him, in his adversity. Of this he feelingly complains, in his epistle to Mr. Woty, a poet indeed, but of a disposition so different from that of the genus irritable vatum that it is with great propriety our author, while he forgivingly censures those, from whose gratitude he might have expected another return, passes a just compliment to the modest worth of his equally ingenious and ingenuous friend.

Genius self-center'd feels alone
That merit he esteems his own;
And cold, o'er jealous, and severe,
Hates, like a Turk, a brother near;
Malice steps in, good nature flies,
Folly prevails, and friendship dies:
Peace to all such, if peace can dwell
With those who bear about a hell,
Who shall all worth with envy's breath,
By their own feelings stung to death.
Give me the man whose open mind
Means social good to all mankind;
Who, when his friend, from fortune's round,
Is toppled headlong to the ground,
Can meet him with a warm embrace,
And wipe the tear from sorrow's face.
Who, less intent to shine than please,
Wears his own mirth with native ease;
In short, whose picture, painted true,
In ev'ry point resembles you.

The above lines, with many other extracts that might be made from his writings, serve to confirm the truth of the character given him by a cotemporary writer; that he had a grateful heart, and shewed by his warm attachment to his friends, how extremely sensible he was of every kindness. It is a fact, that though the rigid moralist might have some reason to censure the irregularities of our author's life, they were of such a nature as betrayed no intentional mischief or malevolence of temper; reflecting on him the character so well known under the denomination of No one's enemy but his own, rather than that of a friend only to himself and an enemy to others. If his grateful attachment to Mr. Churchill need any other proof than the fatal one of breaking his heart at his death, the following letters to their common friend Mr. Wilkes, the one written before and the other after Mr. Churchill's decease, sufficiently speak our author's apprehensions and sense of that melancholy event.

"My dear Wilkes,

Your letters have given me inexpressible uneasiness concerning my friend Charles; and your not giving me a direction, leaves me in still greater anxiety that this may not reach you, and I consequently hear nothing how he does. Indeed we are all much alarmed; for though the seeming spirits of your letter to me gave us hopes it might not be so bad with him, that which Jack has received, entirely quashes them. Pray let me hear from you the earliest opportunity. I hope I shall not be doubly unfortunate in the loss of my friends, and be reduced to the comfortless necessity of brooding over my own calamities in this ungrateful situation. Dear Wilkes, give me all the information you can, and what services I can do, I in duty owe to you both; command. I am, in the sincerest affection,

Yours ever,

R. LLOYD."

"Dear Wilkes,

Tuesday, Nov. 20. Fleet.

I will spare your own feelings and mine by any reflections on our irreparable loss. You did not, I imagine, receive my letter directed for you at an uncertainty, at the post house, or if you did, you returned no answer, I suppose because you could give no comfort. I am pleased to find from Mr. Cotes, who communicated your letter to him this day to me, that you will be kind to the remains of our dear friend. What is in my power to execute, you will direct and command. And I could much wish, you would, as early as you can, bring your mind to write on such a subject. — Do, if it is only for the fake of my consolation, who indeed mode truly want it, write to me, and as the memory of Charles was dear to you, do not forget him, who is mode unfortunate in the loss of the living and the dead friend.

I am with the greatest sincerity of friendship and affection,

Yours ever,

R. LLOYD."

The news of Mr. Churchill's death being announced somewhat abruptly to our author, while he was sitting at dinner, he was seized with a sudden sickness, and saying "I shall follow poor Charles," took to his bed, from which he never rose again.

In his sickness he was attended by a favourite sister of his deceased friend, Miss Patty Churchill; of whom it is said that she possessed a considerable portion of the sense, spirit and genius of her brother. This young lady is reported to have been betrothed to Mr. Lloyd, and that so mournful was the effect, which the melancholy catastrophe of her lover and brother had on her susceptible mind, that she caught the contagion of grief, which preyed on her spirits, and did not permit her long to survive them.

To expatiate farther on our author's merit, as a writer, would be needless, as nothing can be more fully said of him than he hath occasionally said of himself, in reply to the censures of the Critics.

Hist! 'tis a CRITIC. — Yes — 'tis he —
What wou'd your graceless form with me?
Is it t' upbraid me with the crime
Of spinning unlaborious rhyme,
Of stringing various thoughts together,
In verse, or prose, or both, or neither?
A vein, which tho' it must offend
You lofty Sirs, who can't descend,
To fame has often made its way
From BUTLER, PRIOR, SWIFT and GAY.

In his classical allusions and happy imitations of the Greek and Latin poets, Mr. Lloyd perhaps bears away the palm from all other English poets. I do not mean to refer the reader for a proof of this to his translation of Homer's Hymn; which appears (as well as his imitation of Spencer) to be a very juvenile performance. The classical reader, however, cannot fail of being pleased with most of his Latin compositions, his translation of Mr. Gray's celebrated ode, and particularly, on making the comparison, with his English Imitation of Theocritus.

It is yet remarkable, that Mr. Lloyd, though so excellent a classical scholar, had not the least tincture of the pedant in his character; none being more ready to turn pedants into ridicule; particularly those affected pedagogues, who attempted to reduce the numbers of English verse to the scale of Greek and Roman feet. Our author was indeed one of those whom he describes under the title of real scholars.

Whose knowledge unaffected flows
And fits as easy as their cloathes;
Who care not tho' an 'ac' or 'sed'
Misplac'd, endanger PRISCIAN'S head;
Nor think his wit a grain the worse,
Who cannot frame a Latin verse,
Or give a Roman proper word
To things a Roman never heard.

It may be supposed that the loss of a writer of such eminence was, at least in verse, universally lamented. It was otherwise; his brother bards seemed as loth to celebrate his talents, as the world, in general, to acknowledge his virtues. I do not yet hear of any intention to erect a monument to his memory, or even of a poetical decoration for his tomb-stone. I shall supply their place, therefore, and take leave of the reader with the closing lines of a copy of verses, written on his death by his name-sake Mr. Evan Lloyd. They have some merit, though it does not appear that, in this case, the mantle of Elijah was bequeathed to his successor Elisha.

Peace to thy ashes, LLOYD, ill treated Bard!
Hard was thy lot, sweet bird! in this rude age,
That coop'd thee up to whistle in a cage:
Yet thou could'st even Freedom's self survive,
And blythly sing, while CHURCHILL was alive;
But when your mate was snatch'd, you droop'd and died,
Blest was the trial, for thy truth was tried.
For ages hence your chaplet shall be green;
And, ages past, no withering leaf be seen;
Softly repose upon the Muse's breast,
And Phoebus' self shall sing you to your rest.