1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Jackson Pratt

David Rivers, in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors (1798) 2:155-58.



Robert Pratt. This voluminous gentleman was, some time ago, a bookseller of the City of Bath. His first attempt at distinction consisted in reading passages of some of the most celebrated poets, in public. When he first assumed the character of an author, his signature was Courtney Melmoth, under which his first production (in the year 1774) was a quarto pamphlet of wretched stanzas, entitled The Tears of Genius, occasioned by the Death of Dr. Goldsmith. In the year following, Mr. Courtney Melmoth produced, Vols. I. and II. (in duodecimo) of Liberal Opinions upon Animals, Man, and Providence, with the History of Benignus; a miserable farrago, which dragged its senseless length to six volumes. Mr. Courtney, soon afterward, published Observations on Young's Night Thoughts, in an octavo volume; the Pupil of Pleasure, a novel, in illustration of the system in Lord Chesterfield's Letters, and in which the hero of the piece is divested of every sentiment of honour, delicacy, and humanity!! the Sublime and Beautiful of Scripture, in two duodecimo volumes; an Apology for the Life and Writings of David Hume, Esq. in a duodecimo volume; Travels for the Heart, in two duodecimo volumes; the Shadows of Shakespeare, a monody, occasioned by the death of Mr. Garrick, and honoured with a Bath-Easton Prize; Shenstone Green, a novel, in three duodecimo volumes, founded on a passage in Shenstone's works "Had I a fortune of eight or ten thousand pounds a year, I would build myself a neighbourhood;" The Tutor of Truth, a novel, in opposition to the Pupil of Pleasure; and Emma Corbet, a novel, in three duodecimo volumes, published in 1780.

Mr. Courtney Melmoth, having, by this time, scribbled himself out of notice, Sympathy, a poem was published, anonymously, in 1781; and, in the same year, the Fair Circassian, a tragedy, taken from Hawkesworth's Almoran and Hamet, was produced at Drury Lane, and published by MR. PRATT, with a dedication to the Prince of Wales. Since this time Mr. Pratt has always prefixed his name to his productions. In the year 1783, he brought out a Comedy at Drury Lane, entitled, The School for Vanity, which was, perhaps, rather capriciously condemned; and, two years afterward, he published Landscapes in Verse, a poem; and four crown octavo volumes of Miscellanies, in which many of his former productions were reprinted. Mr. Pratt's next productions were, The Triumph of Benevolence, a poem, occasioned by the design of erecting a monument to Mr. Howard; Humanity, a poem; and an Ode on his Majesty's Recovery; after which his absence on the Continent afforded his pen a long repose. On his return he made, in 1795, an offering to his Muse to his native country, by an Ode to the Benevolence of England; and another to the pockets of his countrymen, by three octavo volumes of Gleanings, through Wales, Holland, and Westphalia. Since that time, Mr. Pratt has written a novel, in five duodecimo volumes, entitled, Family Secrets, Literary and Domestic; and two three-penny Letters, one to the British Soldiers, the other to the Tars of England.

A short time before Mr. Pratt's return from the Continent, the following paragraph was inserted, for several days, successively, in the London newspapers, "A few days since, died, at Basle in Switzerland, the ingenious Mr. Pratt. His loss will be severely felt by the literary world; as he joined to the accomplishments of the gentleman, the erudition of the scholar!!!" Soon afterward came a second paragraph, as follows, "As no event of late has caused a more general sorrow than the supposed death of the ingenious Mr. Pratt; we are happy to have it in our power to assure his numerous admirers, that he is as well as they can wish, and (what they will be delighted to hear) busied in preparing his TRAVELS for the press!!!!!!"

It is difficult to say, which of Mr. Pratt's literary productions have been most approved. By the above list of them, the reader will observe that he may say with Dr. Johnson, "he has written his share." Beside these, we only recollect a farce, entitled, Joseph Andrews, which was acted at Drury Lane, in 1788, for Mr. Bentley's benefit, but never published. Of his verses, we think The Triumph of Benevolence, the best. Upon the whole, the stationers and printers must thank him for his excellent custom; but, if he ever wrote for fame, he seems mightily to have mistaken the means of obtaining his object.