Few memorials of Thomas Tickell have been transmitted to us by his cotemporaries, in proportion to the rank he held in society and in literature: He was the son of a clergyman, and born at Bridekirk, near Carlisle, in 1686. After receiving a grammatical education in his native county, he was entered of Queen's college, Oxford, where he took the degree of master of arts, and was afterwards elected fellow. There he distinguished himself by classical attainments and his poetical talents; and soon attracted the notice of Addison and Steele, whom he assisted in the Spectator, and other periodical works, in which they were engaged.
The poem entitled The Prospect of Peace, gained very great applause, and its tendency, yet more than its intrinsic merit, will at all times insure it praise from the judicious. His object was to reclaim the nation from the pride of conquest to the pleasure of tranquillity.
Tickell having shewn himself by his writings a strenuous supporter of the Hanoverian succession, became patronized by the court; and when Addison went into Ireland as secretary to Lord Sunderland, he accompanied him thither, and was employed in public business; and when his friend became a minister of state, Tickell was appointed his under-secretary, in which situation he was continued by Mr. Craggs.
Indeed, to the patronage of Addison he seems to have owed his whole advancement in life; and the friendship which had been shewn him appears to have been gratefully returned by the affectionate regard he shewed to the memory of that luminary of English literature.
On the death of Mr. Craggs, Tickell became secretary to the lord justices of Ireland, in which lucrative situation he continued till his death, which happened in 1740, in the 54th year of his age.
Tickell married, and had several children. His eldest son, the late Richard Tickell, Esq. seems to have possessed an abundant share of paternal talents.
Pleasing in his manners, of honor and integrity in his principles, the subject of this brief memoir owed as much to his conduct as to his acquirements. As a poet, he was distinguished rather for taste and elegance. His verses on the death of Addison are highly polished; and his ballad of Colin and Lucy is tender, natural, and deservedly popular. But we attempt not a general critique on his works.
Anderson (to whose arrangements and sentiments the editor of this selection gratefully acknowledges various obligations) has said with great truth that as a poet, Tickell is characterised by elegance of diction, correctness of judgment, tenderness of sentiment, opulence of allusion, and harmony of numbers. His versification exceeds that of Addison, and is inferior to few of the English poets, except Dryden and Pope.
The Elegy on Addison, says Dr. Johnson, could owe none of its beauties to the assistance which might be suspected to have strengthened or embellished his earlier compositions, but neither be nor Addison ever produced nobler lines than were contained in the third and fourth paragraphs, nor is a more sublime or more elegant funeral poem to be found in the whole compass of English literature.
Of his Royal Progress, it is just to say that it is neither high nor low; of his Kensington Garden, the versification is smooth and elegant, but the fiction unskillfully compounded of Grecian deities and Gothic fairies. Neither species of these exploded beings could have done much; and when they are brought together, they only confuse and encumber each other; yet it has eminent beauties.
To Tickell cannot be denied a high place among the minor poets; nor should it be forgotten that he was one of the contributors to the Spectator.
If by the term minor poet, the quantity of his poetry is meant, he is not improperly so called, but if the quality is thereby understood, it is a disparagement.