The name of Aaron Hill is one which well deserves an honourable place in the records of British literature. No writer, perhaps, ever passed a life of greater activity, personal or menial; no one ever joined to high talents a more amiable disposition, or a more enlarged benevolence, He was the eldest son of George Hill, Esq. of Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, and was born on the tenth of February, 1686, in Beaufort Buildings, in the Strand. The family estate, of £2000 per annum, ought to have descended to him; but of this advantage he was deprived by the culpable conduct of his father, who sold the property, though without a legal right to do so. In consequence of this act of fraud, for so it must be called, the children were left dependent on their mother and grandmother. The latter, Mrs. Ann Gregory, felt a laudable anxiety that Aaron Hill should receive such an education as became his birth, and the station which he ought to have filled. At the age of nine years, therefore, he was sent to a school at Barnstaple, where, under the care of a Mr. Reyner, he imbibed the rudiments of learning. From Barnstaple he was removed to Westminster School, which was then conducted by Dr. Knipe, the successor of Busby. While at Westminster his genius was conspicuous, and it is said to have gained him profit as well as praise; he having frequently enlarged his scanty allowance of pocket money, by performing the tasks of boys who were less intelligent than he was, or less industrious. Such is the story which is told of him. It is probable, however, from the known sweetness of his disposition, that good nature had more influence than the desire of money in stimulating the exertions which he made for his companions.
When he was fourteen, Hill quitted 'Westminster School; and, on quitting it, he firmed a resolution which is strongly indicative of the firmness and romantic ardour of his character. He had often heard his mother speak with warm praise of Lord Paget, to whom she was nearly related, and who was then the British Ambassador to the Grand Signior. This nobleman he resolved to visit at Constantinople, in the natural hope that he would contribute to bring him forward in the world. That his grandmother approved of this extraordinary scheme speaks volumes in his favour; as it shows at once her belief that, young and ardent as he was, he was not deficient in prudence, and that his manners and acquirements were such as could not fail to secure to him the patronage of his noble relative. Having obtained her consent, be embarked in March, 1700, and reached the Turkish capital in safety.
The expectations of Hill were fully gratified. He was received by Lord Paget with almost parental kindness. It would, indeed, have been strange, had not an honourable and feeling mind been touched by the courage, the longing fir improvement, and the confiding spirit of the young adventurer. Lord Paget immediately took into his house a learned ecclesiastic, to whom be intrusted the tuition of his voluntary ward. When Hill had become master of all that could be gained at home, he was sent to travel with his tutor, and in this manner he visited Egypt. Palestine, and many parts of the East. In l703, Lord Paget returned to England; and, as his lordship journeyed by land, and made some slay at each of the European capitals on his route, Hill had an opportunity of observing all the principal foreign courts.
I cannot trace, with any clearness, the course of Hill, for some years after his arrival in England. It is said that Lord Paget "would have provided for him at his death, had not the malevolence of a certain female, who had great influence with him, prevented his good intentions." But Lord Paget did not die till 1712, when Hill no longer stood in need of his assistance. Thus far, therefore, the story rests on a slender basis; as the peer would have been justified in withholding a provision which had ceased to be necessary. It appears to be certain, however, that alienation or coldness took place, between Hill and his early patron, long before the decease of the latter; and, as it was not in his nature to be ungrateful, or to give wanton offence, it is probable that the change did not originate with him, but was produced in his relative, by the arts of some enemy, who was anxious for the removal of a dangerous competitor. His lordship was far advanced in years, and may, perhaps, like others, have been led into injustice by the blandishments and the syren voice of a woman. There can be no doubt that, from whatever cause, Hill was obliged to be the sole artificer of his own fortune. In one instance, we find him acting as governor, or traveling tutor, to Sir William Wentworth, a young Yorkshire baronet, with whom he made the tour of Europe, which occupied three years. This office, notwithstanding his youth, he performed with honour to himself, and advantage to his pupil.
There still remain unaccounted for three years of his life, previously to his settling in his native country. That they were passed abroad admits of no dispute, as he himself tells us that nine years of his early existence were devoted to traveling. It seems also to be equally indisputable, that these three years, or at least a part of them, were spent, as a volunteer, or a spectator, in foreign armies. Hill was proud of his military knowledge, and professed not to be a mere theorist; nor was he a man to claim an iota of merit which did not justly belong to him. In writing to one of the ministry, in 1718, he says, "I have so strangely affected a private, I might rather say a retired life, that neither in the late Queen's time, nor since the happy reign of his present glorious Majesty, have I cultivated any court interest, or so much as aimed at an office, either civil or military; though I have been a voluntary searcher into the duties of both, as well in cities as armies; and that, in great part, without the bounds of Europe." Thirty years afterwards, he writes to Richardson, in the same strain. "Long as this letter is already, I have something still to add, relating to a prose piece, I informed you I should want your judgment on. It is my tract of new improvements in the Art of War, by sea and land. This piece is very full of novelty, and possibly will have much future consequence. And yet, the supercilious narrowness in vogue may make it be supposed, that nothing of this nature can be worth regard, not authorized by a commission to think rationally. To such heads it were of little influence to say how much I saw and learned, in armies of three different nations, at the outset of my life, too soon engaged in foreign ramblings."
It appears to have been in 1709 that Hill ceased from his wanderings, and fixed his residence in England. In that year he is said to have published An Account of the Ottoman Empire, which, in spite of its faults, met with a favourable reception. Lady M. W. Montague, in one of her letters, speaks of it contemptuously; but she could not have a worse opinion of it than the author himself entertained at a riper age. He always spoke of it as "a puerile sally," lamented that he had suffered it to see the light, and did all that lay in his power to suppress it. Dr. Sprat, the Bishop of Rochester, was, nevertheless, of opinion, that "the book certainly contained the seeds of a great writer."
The poem of Camillus, written in 1707, but not printed till about 1709, and then anonymously, seems to be the first poetical effort which he made public. It is in praise of the brave and romantic earl of Peterborough; a subject worthy of being celebrated by the Muse. Though it has some spirited lines, it is on the whole but an indifferent production. Lord Peterborough was, however, so much pleased with the compliment, that he sought out the author, appointed him his secretary, and introduced him to Bolingbroke, and others of his friends.
In the following year, Hill quitted the post of secretary, in consequence of his marriage with the only daughter of Edward Morris, Esq. of Stratford, in Essex. With this lady, who possessed talent, beauty, and sweetness of temper, he also received a considerable fortune. Towards the close of the year, Lord Peterborough was desirous that Hill should accompany him abroad. His wishes were, however, rendered abortive by the resistance of the bride and her father; and Hill himself does not appear to have been sorry that he had so good a reason for declining to comply with the request of his lordship.
There was, besides, another cause which contributed to prevent Hill from leaving England. He had by this time become manager of Drury Lane Theatre, and likewise director of the Opera. In his former capacity he wrote, at the suggestion of Booth the actor, the tragedy of Elfrid, or the Fair Inconstant; in his latter, he gave to Rossi the groundwork of Rinaldo, an opera in three acts, to be written in Italian, and he then furnished an English translation of Rossi's drama. The music to the opera of Rinaldo, was the first which Handel produced after his arrival in this country; and it was composed in a fortnight, to the great astonishment of Rossi, who declared that "the Orpheus of the age" had scarcely allowed him time sufficient to write the words. Rinaldo was performed fifteen nights during the season, and its success is supposed to have chagrined Addison, who had not yet forgiven the fall of his own Rosamond. The tragedy of Elfrid was a hasty sketch; it having been begun and finished in less than a fortnight. Hill himself subsequently confessed it to be "an unpruned wilderness of fancy, with here and there a flower among the leaves, but without any fruit of judgment." Yet it was greeted with applause. Wishing to alone for its defects, he, after the lapse of twenty years, brought forward the tragedy of Athelwold, on the same story; which, though infinitely superior in merit to Elfrid, expired with the third night; not much, I think, to the credit of those by whom it was condemned.
In the management of the theatres Hill gave universal satisfaction. Few men, indeed, were so well qualified as he was for the performance of such a task. It is evident, from numerous passages in his letters, essays, and poems, that he had studied the theory of acting, that he was well acquainted with what is necessary for stage effect, and that he had a far purer taste in costume and declamation than was owned by the majority of the players of that period. He, however, did not long continue to be a manager. A misunderstanding with the Duke of Kent, who was then Lord Chamberlain, is said to have occasioned his retiring from the superintendance of the stage. He was solicited to resume his office; but to this solicitation, though it was more than once repeated, he gave a steady refusal. The celebrated Heidegger succeeded him in the direction of the Opera House.
Pique and resentment do not appear to have had any share in the refusal which was given by Hill. He was an indefatigable projector; and to his honour be it recorded, that in his projects he was always more anxious to benefit his country than to benefit himself. He, in fact, loved his country with the warmth and devotedness of a true patriot. It is probable, therefore, that he thought his time might be more usefully employed than in the regulating of theatrical amusements. It is certain that, after ho ceased to be a manager, he was, till the close of his existence, engaged in a series of schemes, some of which were of serious importance. Among the earliest of these is one which ho communicated to the Lord Treasurer Oxford, for "a new kind of contribution, general, just, and equal; no way prejudicial to trade, but, on the contrary, a great encouragement to it; which would immediately bring in a yearly revenue of four millions, add at least four and twenty to the national stock of money, reduce interest to four per cent. and proportionably increase the value of land." In what manner he purposed to attain an end so desirable, yet apparently so impracticable, he has not disclosed, and it would now, perhaps, be useless to attempt to discover it. The brief principles of equitable taxation, with which he introduces his scheme to the Lord Treasurer's notice, might be read with advantage by some modern ministers of finance.
In the autumn of 1713, Hill obtained a patent for his discovery that oil, equally sweet with that of the olive, might be made from the nut of the beech. This discovery would, he hoped, be of infinite utility, especially to the woollen manufacture. His own resources being too scanty to supply the funds for so extensive a scheme as he had formed, he raised in aid of them a sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, by a subscription on shares and annuities. As a security, the patent was assigned over in trust to the subscribers, who, acting in conceit with the patentee, were to constitute a company, under the name of the Beech Oil Company. Nearly three years were employed by Hill, and much of his fortune was expended, in endeavouring to establish the business on a firm basis. As the process was at length beginning to be profitable, he would, perhaps, have accomplished his purpose, had not disputes arisen between himself and some of the subscribers, who having, it seems, expected to become suddenly rich, had not patience to wait for gains which were to be slowly accumulated. Insinuations were thrown out against him, and he was under the necessity of vindicating his character, by publishing a statement of the case, in which he proved, not only that the whole of the money had been fairly laid out, but also that he had liberally waved those advantages to which ho was undeniably entitled by the terms of their agreement. By these dissensions, however, the death blow was given to the plan.
No sooner had this project failed than Hill embarked in another. From the lords proprietors of Carolina, a grant had been obtained by Sir Robert Montgomery, authorizing him to colonize that territory which now forms the states of West Florida and Georgia. In this scheme Hill took a part, and he afterwards purchased the grant from the original projector, it appeared to him that the purposed settlement, which it was his intention to fix on the Gulph of Mexico, and not on the Atlantic coast, would be highly beneficial to the trade of Great Britain, and would likewise contribute to check the encroachment of the French. Five hundred men, well armed and provided, was the number which he designed to send over at the outset. To enable him to do this, he applied to the government, to be permuted to raise money by way of lottery. All merely sordid motives he, however, disclaimed in the strongest terms.
No gain-polluted aim (said he) inspires my view,
I seek not office, nor reward pursue;
More nobly tired, my thoughts high schemes design,
To stretch dominion, and make empire shine.
For what reason his proposal was negatived or neglected, I am unable to say, but the lottery did not take place, and the consequence was that the scheme of colonization was never executed.
In the same year, 1718, he published Essays on reducing the Price of Coals, on Repairing Dagenham Breach, and on English Grape Wines. With respect to the first and second of these schemes, as I have not seen his pamphlet, I know nothing. The third continued to be a favourite with him as long as he lived. When he retired into the country, he actually carried it into effect, by planting more than a hundred thousand vines, and making a considerable quantity of wine, which he himself describes as superior to Burgundy. He also made an effort to introduce the Madeira grape into the Bermudan isles.
While he was engaged in these pursuits, a portion of his time was still devoted to literature. In 1716, he brought out, on the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, the tragedy of The Fatal Vision, or the Fall of Siam, a drama much above mediocrity, and which was crowned with success. The dresses and the scenes were new, and from his own designs. The profits of the play he generously relinquished to the actors.
In the same year, he gave to the world two books of an epic poem, founded on the redemption of the Israelites by Gideon. This epic was meant to be extended to twelve books, and it bore the name of its hero. The author finished no more than eight; and thirty-three years passed by before he printed a revised edition of the first three books, with the title of Gideon, or the Patriot. Of this poem I have seen only a short episode, which is preserved in the posthumous collection of his works. In its complete state it is said to be tedious, a fault which is unforgivable. The verse is irregularly lyrical, and, in the specimen which I have read, it wants melody and grace; it does not glide, but drags awkwardly and tardily along.
The character of the Czar Peter, imperfect as it was in many respects, was, nevertheless, of a kind to call forth the praise of a man who, like Hill, was alive to every thing connected with public improvement. In 1718, therefore, Hill sent from the press a highly panegyrical poem on the Russian Sovereign. For this the Empress, some years afterwards, in obedience to the will of her deceased husband, presented a gold medal to the author, whom she also intended to employ in writing the life of the Czar; but her intention was frustrated by her death.
Dissatisfied with the unnatural style of acting which prevailed, and the manner in which the theatres were conducted, Hill made several efforts to bring about a reform. This was one of his favourite objects. In 1721, it appears, from a letter addressed to Rich, that ho was engaged in establishing a new company. "I suppose you know (says he) that the Duke of Montague and I have agreed, and that I am to have that house half the week, and his French vermin the other half: but I would forbear acting at all there, this season, if you will let me your house, for two nights a week in Lent, and three a week after. On all those nights, I will pay the full actual charge of your company and my own, and either give you a sum certain, or share the remainder with you: I will use your musick, your door keepers, &c. but the players, the scenes, and the cloaths, shall be my own." I cannot, however, discover any proof that his scheme was carried into execution. It is probable that it was frustrated by the intrigues of the Patentees. After an interval of twelve years he resumed it with his accustomed ardour. In a letter to a friend, he thus writes — "You have heard of the design which I have now in hand, of establishing an Academical Theatre, for improving the taste of the stage, and training up young actors and actresses, for the supply of the patent theatres. So runs the declaration, with a view to obviate the malice and opposition of the other houses and their patrons. I have, in a manner, the whole company already formed, and can, I believe, be in readiness to open by the beginning of November, at farthest, with a race of plays and entertainments, so new in themselves, and the manner in which they will be acted, that the success will, I think, be ensured by the novelty." In that spirit of benevolence which was a part of his nature, he adds, "I am offered a patent on condition of paying a consideration of £400 per annum. But, just as I was going to close with this offer, it occurred to my thoughts, that you may easily make interest to obtain a licence, during pleasure, which will do the business as well as the patent, with this considerable difference in its favour — that the four hundred pounds per annum will, instead of being lost upon a person who deserves no regard, make easy the life of my friend, who is entitled to all my good wishes." Nothing can more strongly show the kindness and disinterestedness of Hill than this readiness to sacrifice a permanent patent, and content himself with a revocable licence, that he might benefit a friend. But this project, like the former, was defeated by untoward circumstances.
Scarcely a year passed by without his manifesting his charity or his generosity. Joseph Mitchell, who was known by the title of Sir Robert Walpole's poet, being in great distress, Hill, in 1720, wrote for him, and supported with all the weight of his interest, the affecting tragedy called The Fatal Extravagance, in one act, which was brought out and published as the composition of Mitchell, and answered the purpose of relieving his necessities. Mitchell afterwards expanded it into a regular drama of five acts.
In 1723 Hill produced his tragedy of Henry the Fifth, which was represented at Drury Lane. On this occasion he ordered costly scenery to be painted, which, together with the profits arising from the performance, he gave to the theatre. Of this play a part of the plot and language is taken from Shakspeare; and, though the work of a humbler hand cannot fail to suffer by comparison with that of Shakspeare, it must be owned that Hill has acquitted himself with a degree of spirit which does honour to his talent. in his preface, after having lamented the degraded state to which the stage was reduced, he concludes with — "But, in all events, I will be easy, who have no better reason to wish well to poetry, than my love for a mistress I shall never be married to: for, whenever I grow ambitious, I shall wish to build higher; and owe my memory to some occasion of more importance than my writings."
An officer of the army having fallen into difficulties, Hill, in 1724, began, in conjunction with Bond, a periodical paper, entitled The Plain Dealer, the emolument from which was employed in providing for the wants of the officer. Bond and Hill each alternately wrote six essays, and the work so regularly rose in merit during Hill's week, and declined during Bond's, that Savage wittily called the two writers "the contending powers of light and darkness."
Savage enjoyed the friendship of Hill, and it was productive of solid advantage to him. Hill was, indeed, indefatigable in his behalf: there is some reason to believe that he often assisted him with his purse; he endeavoured to promote the success of the tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury, to which he supplied the prologue and epilogue; and, in The Plain Dealer, he so pathetically stated to the public the unhappy case of Savage that, in a few days, seventy guineas were subscribed for a Miscellany of Poems, of which he himself furnished the greatest part. For many years he seems to have missed no opportunity of being serviceable to Savage; to whom he is even said to have given the first sketch of "The Volunteer Laureate."
We must now turn to him again in his character of a projector. In a tour which he made to the North of Scotland, where he appears to have possessed an estate, he convinced himself that the woods on the banks of the Spey, which belonged to the York Buildings Company, might be converted into a source of riches, by appropriating the timber to the uses of the navy. Having, in consequence, entered into an agreement with the company, he revisited Scotland, in the summer of 1728, to put his scheme in execution. Many obstacles were thrown in his way, but he overcame them all. When the trees were chained together in floats, the Highlanders refused to venture on them, till he himself went first, to satisfy them that no danger existed. Another impediment was then found, in the rocks which checkered various parts of the river. Of this, however, he got rid, by making immense fires on the rocks when time stream was low, and throwing water on the heated surface: the stone was thus calcined or fractured, and rendered easy of removal. The undertaking was proceeding with vigour and advantage, and a ship had been already built of the timber, when all further progress was prevented, by the directors of the company calling off their men and horses to work in their lead mines. It is probable that Hill at least sustained no loss by this speculation; and he gained from it some honours, he having been complimented with the freedom of Inverness, Aberdeen, and other towns, and splendidly entertained by the nobles and magistrates of the north.
On his return from Scotland, he joined his wife in Yorkshire, where she had taken up her residence for the recovery of her health. He remained with her in the country so long, that his absence from the metropolis had nearly proved fatal to his fortune. Some persons, to whom he had committed the management of important affairs, were guilty of a breach of trust, which might have caused his ruin, had he not hurried back in time to frustrate their infamous purpose.
It was while Hill was in the Highlands that Pope published The Dunciad. In that poem he alluded to Hill, though in lines which conveyed more of compliment than of satire. Hill, however, felt that to be held up as one of the competitors for the prize of dulness was no enviable distinction. He retaliated in The Progress of Wit, which displays in many parts sterling poetical talent, and of which the opening lines are excellent. While he resents the aggression upon him, he does ample justice to the genius of the aggressor. Pope was keenly stung by the merited reproof. A correspondence subsequently took place, in which the superiority is evidently on the side of Hill. "Pope," says Dr. Johnson, "was reduced to sneak and shuffle, sometimes to deny, and sometimes to apologize: he first endeavours to wound, and is then afraid to own that he meant the blow." For several years they remained on terms of friendship and epistolary intercourse; but there is reason to suppose that at length they again became cold or hostile, for in some of his letters, written alter the death of Pope, Hill mentions him in language which is not reconcilable with justice, or with his former publicly avowed opinion, and which, therefore, I regret that he could, even for a moment, allow himself to use.
In 1731, in which year his tragedy of Athelwold was condemned, the happiness of Hill received a severe shook by the death of his wife, whom he tenderly loved. "I have lost the friend of my heart, and the companion of my soul," said he in a letter to Mrs. Lowther. "We were one in an unusual sense; for our purposes, our interests, and our very thoughts and wishes were united. She was virtuous without pride; wise without consciousness; careful without meanness; reserved without stiffness; well bred without affectation; and sincere without indecency." In the inscription written by him for her monument, the concluding thought of which is imitated from Ben Jonson's beautiful epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke, he speaks of her with the same enthusiasm of praise.
Enough, cold stone! suffice her long-lived name,
Words are too weak to pay her virtue's claim:
Temples, and tombs, and tongues shall waste away,
And power's vain pomp in mouldering dust decay;
But ere mankind a wife more perfect see,
Eternity, O Time! shall bury thee.
By this lady, whom Savage has celebrated for her poetical genius, Hill had nine children, four of whom survived her.
When the grief of Hill had subsided, he returned to his schemes and literary pursuits with a vigour which was, perhaps, increased by the necessity of diverting his mind from dwelling on the calamity that he had sustained. His plan of reforming the stage he persisted in with a laudable but fruitless perseverance; and, as a part of it, he set on foot a periodical paper, called The Prompter, to which he contributed the essays marked "B." In 1733, he produced the tragedy of Zara, which is taken from Voltaire. It was originally acted at the Long Room, Villier's Street, for the benefit of Mr. Bond, who personated Lusignan, and died before the run of the play was over, it was also represented in the winter, at Drury Lane Theatre, and in it Mrs. Cibber made her first appearance as a tragic actress. The copyright he gave to Chetwood the bookseller. In the summer of 1736, he translated and adapted to the stage the Alzira of Voltaire, a task which he performed in less than three weeks, for the purpose of serving the Drury Lane Company, to which he presented the drama. His satire, entitled The Tears of the Muses, was published in 1737, and was, I believe, the last work which he gave to the world previous to his retiring from the bustle of the metropolis.
His retirement took place in the summer of 1737, and seems to have been partly occasioned by embarrassments, arising from "a long train of broken trusts," and partly by a wish for more quiet than he could enjoy in a crowded city. After leaving London, he went to Jersey, Guernsey, and Edinburgh, and probably also to the continent, as, in his letters he speaks of his having been "abroad," and of his having "visited our neighbour's seacoasts." In 1738, he settled at Plaistow, in Essex; an unfortunate choice of situation, as its dampness was productive of an exceedingly prejudicial effect on the health of himself and of his family. During his residence there he was often afflicted by severe illness. Alluding to one of those attacks of disease, he poetically says, in apologizing to Richardson for his long silence, "even after I was really recovered, in the usual signification of the word, my mind underwent a new malady, and I sickened into a restraint of my sentiments. A restless feverish unaptness for repose or reflection carried me about (like the children of Israel in their marches) with a cloud by day, and afire by night: and, in short, all the plague of our climate took an absolute and permitted possession of my faculties."
In addition to this source of discomfort, another appears, at one period, to have been opened on him by the conduct of his son. "There followed (says he to Richardson) a discovery of such domestic melancholy consequence that I do not know whether they, from sisterly, or I, from fatherly concern, have undergone the greatest share of restlessness. I fear vain application to prevent the ruin of a youth, who, being born without any aptitude to think, was destined to be led away by every light temptation." As, however, no farther allusion to this subject occurs in his correspondence, it is to be hoped that his fears were not realized.
In spite of mental and corporal obstacles, Hill's activity continued undiminished. While "hidden among green leaves and blossoms, and reading or seeing nothing that busied the public, except a few newspapers," his thoughts were occupied on the means of benefiting his country. He planted the vineyard, which has been already mentioned; he discovered, though without advantage to himself, a method of manufacturing potash equal to that of Russia; he endeavoured to introduce the sugarcane into South Carolina; he meditated improvements in military and naval warfare, "which would, if they were ever to be carried into practice, tend to alter very much the present face of power by sea and land;" and he communicated to the Admiralty an ingenious scheme for effectually blockading the whole of the enemy's ports, from Cherbourg to Cape Finisterre, by a triple line of fourth and fifth rate vessels.
In the midst of these projects, it is delightful to see the goodness of his heart perpetually manifesting itself. He enters warmly into the joys and sorrows of all his correspondents, among whom Richardson held an eminent place; disappointed in bringing out a drama, the preference having been given to one from the pen of Mallet, he rejoices at the success of his friend, though he himself was deprived by it of a resource on which he hind relied; to assist in releasing Theophilus Cibber from prison, he offers to him the profits of a tragedy; he dwells, with even parental fondness, on the winning infantine tricks and blooming graces of a soldier's child, "a volatile little bird of a boy," whom he had taken under his protection; and he laments with affectionate regret the death of a faithful servant, "who loved, and was beloved by, the whole family." To his own cares or misfortunes he seldom alludes, and never with spleen or impatience; but, under every mischance, appears in the noble light of a being with "obedient passions and a will resigned."
The pen of Hill was not idle. He composed much and planned more. At one time he designed to publish a collected edition of his works, but this design he relinquished. A tract on war, and another on agriculture, seem not to have been completed; and a history of the Duke of Marlborough's Blenheim campaign went no farther than intention. In 1743, he published The Fanciad, an heroic poem; in 1744, The Impartial, inscribed to Lord Carteret; in 1746, Free Thoughts on Faith, written in blank verse; in 1747, The Art of Acting, a poem; and in 1749, three books of his epic on Gideon. He also wrote An Enquiry into the Merit of Assassination, with a view to the Character of Caesar, and a tragedy called The Roman Revenge, which was highly, and not undeservedly, praised by Lord Bolingbroke.
The Fanciad has never come under my view; the other poems contain much strong sense, and many fine thoughts, particularly the poem on Faith, which is likewise remarkable for its liberality of sentiment.
The last work of Hill was the tragedy of Merope, from Voltaire, which was acted at Drury Lane Theatre, in 1749, with great applause. The principal character was performed by Garrick. Hill was now entangled in a Chancery suit, and his pecuniary resources were so much diminished that the profits of the benefit nights were become an object to him, and, for the first lime in his life, he consented to accept them. They amounted to a hundred and forty eight pounds.
The drama of Merope he dedicated to Lord Bolingbroke, and some affecting lines in the dedication show that ho foreboded his approaching dissolution. His end was, indeed, near at hand. For twelve months he had, with scarcely an interval, but with invincible fortitude, been suffering under the severest torture, supposed to be caused by an inflammation of the kidneys. Just as he was indulging the hope that his pecuniary difficulties were on the point of being removed, by the favourable decision of his Chancery suit, and on the very day before his tragedy was, by the Prince's command, to have been again acted for his benefit, nature sunk under time violence of the disease. Worn to a skeleton by incessant pain, he expired on the eighth of February, 1750, at the instant of the earthquake, of which, though his speech was gone, he appeared to be sensible. Richardson was with him in his dying moments. "I have (says he) just lost my dear and excellent-hearted friend, Mr. Hill, author of Gideon. I was present at some of his last scenes: my nerves can witness that I was. I am endeavouring to find opportunities to show my regard to his memory, by my good offices to three excellent daughters, who for their filial piety merit all praise, and, for their other merits, deserve to be the care of all who know them." Hill was interred in the same grave with his wife, near the monument of Lord Godolphin, in the great cloister of Westminster Abbey.
When the virtues of Hill were yet recent in the memory of those who knew him, the following character of him was drawn, and the narrative of his life supplies evidence that he was worthy of the praise thus liberally bestowed. "The character of Hill was in every respect truly amiable. His person was, in his youth, extremely fair and handsome. he was tall, not too thin, yet genteely made. His eyes were a dark blue, bright and penetrating, his hair brown, and his face oval. His countenance was generally animated by a smile. His address was most engagingly affable, yet mingled with a native unassumed dignity, which rendered him at once respected and admired. His voice was sweet, and his conversation elegant; and so extensive was his knowledge in all subjects, that scarcely any could occur in which he did not acquit himself in a most masterly and entertaining manner. His temper, though naturally warm when roused by injuries, was equally noble in a readiness to forgive them; and so much inclined was he to repay evil with good, that he frequently exercised that Christian lesson to the prejudice of his own circumstances. He was a generous master, a sincere friend, an affectionate husband, and an indulgent and tender parent; and, indeed, so benevolent was his disposition in general, even beyond the power of the fortune he was blessed with, that the calamities of those he knew, and valued as deserving, affected him more deeply than his own. In consequence of this he bestowed the profits of many of his works for the relief of his friends, and particularly his dramatic pieces, for none of which he could ever be prevailed on to accept a benefit for, except his Merope, which, at the very close of his life, was commanded to be represented for the relief of its author from those difficulties out of which he had frequently been the generous instrument of extricating others. His manner of living was temperate to the greatest degree, in every respect but that of late hours, which his indefatigable love of study frequently drew him into. No labour deterred him from the prosecution of any design that appeared to him to be praiseworthy and practicable; nor was it in the power of misfortune, which from his birth he seemed destined to encounter, to overcome, or even to shake his fortitude of mind."
Such is the animated picture which is given of him by one of his admirers. Yet, animated as it is, it dues not, perhaps, display the true character of Hill so forcibly and affectingly as he has himself displayed it in four lines:
Mean are the minds who but their own possess,
And reap no joy from others' happiness!
I groan beneath their pains whom sorrow wrings,
And, when their hope is rising, mine has wings.
My candid and highly intelligent friend, Dr. Anderson, has estimated with so much accuracy the poetical claims of Hill, that I shall borrow his words. "As a great and general writer, Hill must be allowed to stand in a very exalted rank of merit. His tragedies, particularly Zara and Merope, are generally known and admired. His poems seem not to have hitherto obtained so much notice as they deserve. Dr. Warton has unjustly represented him as 'an affected and fustian writer,' who, 'by some means or other, gained Pope's confidence and friendship.' Although it may be allowed that the rigid correctness with which he constantly reperused his compositions for alteration, the frequent use of compound epithets, singularity of sentiment, bold experiments in language, and an ordo verborum peculiar to himself, have justly laid him open to the charge of being, in some places rather too turgid, and in others somewhat stiff and obscure; yet, the nervous power, force, and weight of sentiment, opulence of imagery, and intrinsic sterling sense, with which his writings abound, amply atone for the harshness of the style and the peculiarity of the diction. They are evidently the production of a genius truly poetical; they have an air of originality, which has no resemblance of any contemporary writer; and the versification and sentiments have a cast peculiar to themselves, which cannot be successfully imitated. The images are animated, though sometimes indistinct; the descriptions forcible, though sometimes quaint; the language elevated, though sometimes forced; and the numbers majestic and flowing, though sometimes encumbered and sluggish. His faults are, not want of fire and enthusiasm, of which he has an ample share; but an elaborate exactness of language, that rather obscures than heightens the beauty and force of the thought; and a studied refinement of sentiment, supported by the utmost effort of language, which has more magnificence than sublimity, more dignity than grace.
"In extenuation of his faults, it ought to be observed, that the versatility of his genius was unfavourable to the attainment of excellence; and that he cultivated poetry only as a relaxation from the study of history, criticism, geography, physic, commerce, agriculture, war, law, chemistry, and natural philosophy, to which he devoted the greatest part of his time."