1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Jackson Pratt

Anonymous, Obituary in European Magazine 66 (November 1814) 412-13.



This gentleman, who has long been known and admired in the literary world, lately closed his earthly career, at his apartments in Colemore-row, Birmingham. He descended from a very respectable family, and his father, we believe, was high-sheriff of Huntingdonshire. He commenced his literary course very early in life, under the name of Courtney Melmoth. The first of his productions which attracted the notice of the public, was a tribute to the memory of Goldsmith, whose poetical works were the model of his own, and whom he has followed more successfully than any subsequent writer. His poem of Sympathy has passed through many editions, and is characterized by feeling, energy, and beauty. When he had established a fame by his poems and novels, he threw off his assumed name, and increased his reputation by his succeeding productions. He was one of the most prolific writers of his day; and it is but a just tribute to his character to say, that all his works strongly tend to promote the interest of benevolence and virtue. Though his literary fame has been somewhat overcast by the extraordinary success of several contemporary poets, yet it is probable that many of his works will be admired when most of theirs have sunk into oblivion. His chief error was not knowing how to check the exuberance of his feelings and imagination; and therefore he sometimes diffused his sentiments to a tedious extent. His first novel, entitled Liberal Opinions, was published in detached volumes, which were eagerly perused as they successively appeared. They display the imperfection which we have noticed, but exhibit, at the same time, some well-drawn characters, particularly those of Benignus and Dramer; and the work is altogether amusing and interesting. His Shenstone Green, Emma Corbett, and The Pupil of Pleasure, have passed through many editions, and are likely to preserve their station. His Gleanings and Cottage Pictures have been deservedly admired: but the former are certainly extended to a wearisome excess. A judicious selection from his works, and a candid account of his life, would form an interesting and amusing miscellany; and, probably, may be expected from his literary coadjutor, Dr. Mavor. Mr. Pratt was intimately connected with many distinguished characters of our times; among these were Dr. Potter, the translator of Aeschylus and Euripides; the Colmans; Dr. Beattie; and, indeed, most of those characters whose works will live with the literature of their country. The collection of letters which Mr. Pratt received, form a considerable mass, and a selection would be an interesting addition to our epistolary treasures. His Sympathy was first handed to the late Mr. Cadell, by another of his friends, Gibbon the historian. Dr. Hawkesworth was one of Mr. Pratt's most intimate friends; and the latter wrote a tragedy, entitled The Fair Circassian, which was founded on the novel of Almoran and Hamet, written by the former. This tragedy was represented with considerable success at Drury-lane Theatre, and the heroine was performed by the present Countess of Derby. The character was intended for Mrs. Siddons, of whom Mr. Pratt was one of the earliest friends and patrons; but that luminary of the stage did not adorn the theatrical world in the metropolis till the following year. Mr. Pratt entered into deacon's orders, during which he published a beautiful elegy, entitled The Partridges; which is to be found in all the collections of fugitive poetry; and likewise The Sublime and Beautiful of Scripture; but his prospects in the church being overcast, he never took priest's orders; and soon entered into partnership with a bookseller at Bath; but he found that a shop was little congenial to his disposition and habits, and, therefore, soon relinquished the connection. The early life of Mr. Pratt was marked by such indiscretions as frequently accompany genius, obliged to subsist by its own labours; but he was always ready to employ his efforts in the service of humanity, and was particularly zealous in the cause of unfriended talents. No man who ever attained public distinction was more exempt from envy; and, though he may, in the vicissitudes of a life unsupported by fortune, have fallen into errors, nothing of malice or ill-nature can be justly imputed to him; and, as his works are all intended to promote the interests of virtue, none of those errors should be "remembered in his epitaph."