1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Atkinson

Anonymous, Memoir in Atkinson, Hibernian Eclogues (1791) vi-x.



The Author of the following Poems was born at Bishop Auckland in the County of Durham, March 28th, 1770. If high descent can bestow real dignity on any person whatever, he certainly has some right to lay claim to it; as his Grandmother's maiden name on his father's side was Howard, she being a distant relation to the noble Duke of that name: — whilst his Grandmother on his Mother's side, whose maiden name was Bellasyse, was allied to the Earl of Fauconberg.

The Father of this unfortunate youth, (who was a Lieutenant in the army) dying when he was an infant; upon his arrival at a proper age his mother sent him to an excellent classic school at Kirby-hill, in the north of Yorkshire, where, under the auspices of The Rev. Messrs. Dixon and Hale, he first of all imbibed that passion for the muses which has ever actuated his soul in the most sensible manner. — Of that sweet village he ever speaks with extacy, and looks back with transport on the happy days when he wandered through its beautiful vicinity, and admired the charms of nature with a Pope or a Thomson in his hand. — It was there that he penned numerous little effusions of fancy which he committed to the flames almost as soon as wrote; and in particular, when only about 12 years old made a bold attempt indeed at his age, and composed two Cantos of a Poem on the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.

But alas this happy situation was not to last long! — our Bard was doomed to be expelled from the seats of innocence and peace, and what was more piercing from the cultivation of the classics. He had an Uncle who was of opinion that no sphere of life was so proper for youth to be placed in as that of business, and therefore unfortunately not paying proper attention to his nephew's turn of mind, he prevailed upon his parent to tear him from the society of Virgil and Milton to become acquainted with Galen and Hippocrates! — This his mother was the more ready to do, since having imbibed the principles of the Methodists, and afterwards those of the Quakers, she could not bear the idea of permitting her son to be a Clergyman in the established church, which profession she at first intended he should adopt.

Accordingly she bound him apprentice to a surgeon and apothecary in Newcastle; in which place he no longer "trod the pure virgin snows himself as pure," but launching as it were into a new kind of existence, far different from that in which he had spent his earlier years, through inexperience he was led to deviate into the paths of folly by the example of a gay fellow apprentice; and being inadequate to carry on the business which he was placed in, whilst dispensing medicines, his mind was so totally taken up with Apollo and the nine, that he was frequently on the point of administering cathartics for emetics, and emetics for cathartics, thereby imminently endangering the safety of many that were committed to his care; till at last his master very justly growing out of patience with his conduct, and he himself being heartily tired of the business, his indentures were restored to him, and a separation took place between them in the beginning of the year 1789.

From this period may be dated the commencement of poor Atkinson's calamities: and few are the youths that have experienced in a more piercing degree the buffets of misfortune!

Upon separating from his master he fled for shelter to his aged parent, who though she truly felt for his melancholy situation, had it not properly in her power to relieve him, since from motives which she esteemed religious, she had for some years back resigned a pension of 20 per annum; (which government allows to the widows of Lieutenants,) and therefore had no other resource left except in the shattered remains of her fortune, which she had placed in the hands of her brother above mentioned; but this small moiety, (being exasperated at Mrs. Atkinson's conduct for resigning her pension, and at her son for quitting his business,) he thought proper to lay claim to; (upon what grounds he knows best,) and to deprive both the unfortunate Mother and Son of almost their sole earthly provision. — Long steeped up to the very lips in poverty, they experienced all the bitterness of want, till at last through the assistance of a near relation, they were enabled to come over to Ireland, in order to procure a small property which was bequeathed to our Author by his Father's Mother from which they hoped to experience relief.

Accordingly they landed at Dublin, but soon after their arrival found that the property in question could not be touched till he came of age! — Here again, in a strange place, they became involved in such a complicated scene of distress as our confined limits will not allow us to attempt describing. — The Poem entitled the Complaint (see page 41) will delineate it in some measure; suffice it to say, that struck with admiration at the brave independent spirit which the Irish have lately evinced in the cause of freedom; and smit with a sympathetic feeling for the sufferings of our wretched peasantry, he composed the following poems; and rather than forsake the muse which adhered to him in the vale of tribulation, refused to accept of an offer which his Uncle made by letter of providing for him again in business upon condition of his going to London.

With respect to the following poems, it is to be hoped the Author's juvenile time of life will plead for mercy with the criticks. — Whatever may prove the public decision concerning them, no one can justly alledge they are wrote by a pen tinctured with partiality: since although the Author attacks the arbitrary conduct of the English, he is himself an ENGLISHMAN! and although he pleads for the oppressed Roman Church, he is a member of the ESTABLISHED CHURCH!