ROBERT LLOYD was born at Westminster, in the year 1733. His father, Dr. Pierson Lloyd, was second master of Westminster-school, afterwards chancellor of York, and portionist of Weddesdon, in Bucks. His learning, judgment, and moderation endeared him to all who partook of his instructions during a course of almost fifty years spent in the service of the public at Westminster-school. He had a pension from his Majesty of £500 conferred upon him in his old age, which was ordered to be paid without deduction, and which he enjoyed until his death, Jan. 5, 1781.
Robert was educated at Westminster-school, where, unfortunately, he had for his associates Churchill, Thornton, Colman, and some others, to whose example his erroneous life may be ascribed. In 1751, he stood first on the list of Westminster scholars, who went to Trinity College, Cambridge, at the same time that his school-fellow Colman obtained the same rank among those sent to Oxford. In 1755, he took the degree of bachelor, and in 1761 that of master of arts.
While at the university he wrote several of his smaller pieces, and acquired the reputation of a lively and promising genius. But his conduct was marked by so many irregularities as to induce his father to wish him more immediately under his eye; and with the hope of reclaiming him to sobriety and study, he procured him the place of usher at Westminster-school. His education had amply qualified him for the employment, but his inclination led him to a renewed connection with Churchill, Thornton, and others, who deemed themselves exempt from the duties and decencies of moral life.
At what time he quitted the school we are not told. In 1760 and 1761 he superintended the poetical department of a short-lived periodical publication, entitled, The Library, of which the late Dr. Kippis was the editor. In 1760 he published the first of his productions which attracted much notice, The Actor. It was recommended by an easy and harmonious versification, and by the liberality of his censures, which were levelled at certain improprieties common to actors in general. By this poem, Churchill is said to have been stimulated to write his Rosciad, in which he descended from general to personal criticism. The subjects, however, were so alike, that Lloyd was for some time supposed to be the author of the Rosciad, which he took an early opportunity to deny, and not only acknowledged his inferiority, but attached himself more closely than ever to the fame and fortunes of Churchill.
In the same year he attempted a small piece of the musical kind, called, The Tears and Triumphs of Parnassus, and the following season had another little opera performed at Drury-lane Theatre in honour of their present majesties' nuptials, entitled, Arcadia; or, The Shepherd's Wedding. The profit arising from these pieces was not great, but probably enough to induce him to become an author by profession, although no man ever ventured on that mode of life with fewer qualifications. His poetical productions were of such a trifling cast as to bring him very small supplies, and he had neither taste nor industry for literary employment.
In 1762, he attempted to establish a periodical work, The St. James's Magazine, which was to be the depository of his own effusions, aided by the contributions of his friends: the latter, however, came in tardily; Churchill, from whom he had great expectations, contributed nothing, although such of his poems as he published during the sale of the magazine were liberally praised. Thornton gave a very few prose essays, and poetical pieces were furnished by Dennis and Emily, two versifiers of forgotten reputation. Lloyd himself had none of the steady industry which a periodical work requires, and his magazine was often made up, partly from books, and partly from the St. James's Chronicle, of which Colman and Thornton were proprietors and regular contributors. Lloyd also translated some of Marmontel's Tales for the magazine, and part of a French play, in order to fix upon Murphy the charge of plagiarism. This magazine, after existing about a year, was dropt for want of encouragement, as far as Lloyd was concerned; but was continued for some time longer by Dr. Kenrick, a man of much general knowledge and acuteness, but of an irritable temper, and course and acrimonious in his resentments.
Lloyd's imprudence and necessities were now beyond relief or forbearance, and his creditors confined him within the Fleet prison, where he afforded a melancholy instance of the unstable friendship of wits. Dr. Kenrick informs us that even Thornton, though his bosom friend from their infancy, refused to be his security for the liberty of the rules; a circumstance, which, giving rise to some ill-natured altercation, induced this quondam friend to become an inveterate enemy in the quality of his most inexorable creditor.
As Dr. Kenrick has carefully avoided dates in his account of Lloyd, I can only conjecture that it was during his imprisonment that he published a very indifferent translation of Klopstock's Death of Adam. After that, his Capricious Lovers, a comic opera, was acted for a few nights at Drury-lane Theatre. This is an adaptation of Favart's Ninette a la Cour to the English stage, but Lloyd had no original powers in dramatic composition. Churchill and Wilkes are said to have afforded him a weekly stipend from the commencement of his imprisonment until his final release. How this was paid we know not: Wilkes had been long out of the kingdom, and Churchill, who left Lloyd in a gaol when he went to France, bequeathed him a ring only as a remembrance. It is more probable that his father assisted him on this occasion, although it might not be in his power to pay his debts. He had in vain tried every means to reclaim him from idleness and intemperance, and had long borne "the drain or burthen" which he was to his family. The known abilities of this unhappy son "rendered this blow the more grievous to so good a father," who is characterized as a man that "with all his troubles and disappointments, with all the sickness and distress of his family, still preserved his calm, placid countenance, his easy cheerful temper, and was at all times an agreeable friend and companion, in all events a true Christian philosopher."
Deserted by his associates, Lloyd became careless of his health, and fled for temporary relief to the exhilarating glass, which brought on fits of despondency. His recollections must indeed have been truly painful, when he remembered for what and for whom he had given up the fairer prospects of his youth. He appears to have been wholly undeserving the neglect of those with whom he loved to associate. In his friendships he was warm, constant, and grateful, "more sinned against than sinning;" and it would be difficult to find an apology for the conduct of those prosperous friends to whose reputation he had contributed in no inconsiderable degree by his writings. Among those, however, Hogarth appears to have been unjustly ranked. An irreconcileable quarrel had long subsisted between this artist and Churchill's friends, and, much decayed in health, Hogarth languished for some time at Chiswick, where he died nearly two months before Lloyd.
The news of Churchill's death being announced somewhat abruptly to Lloyd, while he was sitting at dinner, he was seized with a sudden sickness, and saving, "I shall follow poor Charles," took to his bed, from which he never rose. It is added by his biographer, that during his last illness he was attended with great affection by Miss Patty Churchill, a sister of the poet, to whom he was betrothed, and who died of grief soon after. This story is not very probable; and it is certain that the lady did not die till September 1768.
Lloyd's short and unhappy life, terminated December 15, 1764, and his remains were deposited, without ceremony, on the 19th, in the churchyard of St. Bride's parish. Ten years afterwards, his poetical works were published in two handsome volumes, by Dr. Kenrick, who prefixed some memoirs, written in a negligent manner, and without a single date of birth, death, events, or publications. Some additional pieces were inserted in the last edition of Dr. Johnson's poets; but The Law Student, hitherto printed as Lloyd's, was afterwards claimed by Colman, and is now omitted. The Ballad, also, "Hark, hark, 'tis a Voice from the Tomb," is omitted, as belonging to Moore, and printed in his own edition of his works, in 1756. Lloyd borrowed it for the St. James's Magazine, and was so imprudent or forgetful as to affix his name to it in the table of contents.
As Lloyd's poems have already been added to the works of the English poets, it may be improper to discard what has once received the public sanction; but he certainly merits no very distinguished rank among men of real genius. His chief excellence was the facility with which he wrote a number of smooth and pleasing lines, tinctured with gay humour, on any topic which presented itself. But he has no where attempted, or afforded its much reason to think, that by any diligence or effort, he could have attained the higher species of his art. He has neither originality of thought, nor elegance of expression. It has been observed that those poets who have been degraded by the licentiousness of their lives have rarely surpassed the excellence, of whatever degree, which first brought them into notice. Lloyd, however, had not the excuse, which has been advanced in some recent instances. He was neither spoilt by patronage, nor flattered into indolence by injudicious praise, and extravagant hopes. The friends of his youth were those of his mature years, and of the few whom he lost, he had only the melancholy recollection that some of them had quitted him from shame, and some from ingratitude.
The Actor was his most favoured piece, and which he never surpassed, but it sunk before the Rosciad: the rest of his poems are effusions addressed to friends on subjects which relate principally to himself, and with a distinction which friends only would think valuable. They have not, like Churchill's, the advantage of being connected public men or measures, which may be remembered or sought for. In translation he might probably have succeeded, if he had not lost perseverance; but he does not appear to have attempted it, until compelled by distress, when his spirit was broken by anxiety, or poorly cheered by intemperance.
He was a professed imitator of Prior; and Cowper, who was once his associate, in an Epistle published by Mr. Hayley, compliments him as
—born sole heir and single
Of dear Mat. Prior's easy jingle.
Mr. Wilkes's character of Lloyd must not be omitted. "Mr. Lloyd was mild and affable in private life, of gentle manners, and very engaging in conversation. He was an excellent scholar, and an easy natural poet. His peculiar excellence was the dressing up an old thought in a new, neat, and trim manner. He was contented to scamper round the foot of Parnassus on his little Welsh poney, which seems never to have tired. He left the fury of the winged steed and the daring heights of the sacred mountain to the sublime genius of his friend Churchill."
Much of this character Lloyd himself anticipated, particularly in these lines:
I cannot strive with daring flight
To reach the bold Parnassian height:
But at its foot, content to stray,
In easy unambitious way,
Pick up those flowers, the Muses send,
To make a nosegay for my friend.—
You, — ever in this easy vein,
This prose in verse, this measur'd talk,
This pace, that's neither trot nor walk,
Aim at no flight, nor strive to give
A real poem fit to live.
Although he followed Churchill in some of his prejudices, and learned to rail at colleges, and at men of prudence, we find him generally good-tempered and playful. His satire is seldom bitter, and probably was not much felt. Having consented to the palm to Churchill, the world took him at his word; and his enemies, if he had any, have been those who were very easily provoked.