Among the number of those who, by a happy combination of fortune and prudence, have escaped from obscurity and penury to affluence and reputation, Robert Dodsley holds a distinguished rank. He was born at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in 1703. His poetical talent having attracted the attention of the Hon. Mrs. Lowther, to whom he officiated as footman, he was induced to publish specimens of his compositions, under the title of The Muse in Livery. The dramatic piece of the Toy-Shop, his next production, introduced him to the notice of Pope, who patronized him so far as to procure it representation at Covent Garden, where it was acted with great success, in 1735; a year memorable in the life of Dodsley, being that in which he opened a bookseller's shop in Pall Mall, supported by the friendship of Chesterfield, Lyttelton, Shenstone, and Dr. Johnson. Here was laid the foundation of his prosperity. Besides many other distinguished literary undertakings, by which he acquired both fame and emolument, he had the merit of projecting the Annual Register, a work that was long supported by the high talents of Edmund Burke, and is looked up to as a model for the political annalist. This valuable publication commenced in the year 1758.
Unvitiated by worldly success, unnarrowed by the contractedness of his early circumstances, Dodsley omitted no opportunity of avowing his obligation to those who assisted in establishing his welfare, nor did he arrogantly refuse to others the kindness that had been so beneficially extended to himself. After having acquired considerable opulence, which enabled him to repose, during his latter years, from the fatigues of business, he fell a martyr to the gout, while on a visit to his friend Spence, at Durham, September 5, 1764; and was buried there, in the Abbey church-yard.
Prior appears to have been the poet whose steps Dodsley was most ambitious of following. Of the reality of his amours, of the personality of his Polly, his Caelia, his Kitty, when his original situation in life is retraced, there seems no reason to doubt. His feelings, unsophisticated in themselves, are often tittered in nervous and affecting language. He lived in a state of celibacy, though, in his poem entitled The Wife, he gives a decided preference to the hymeneal union! Batchelors may sometimes be best qualified to descant on the praises of matrimony.