1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Ralph

Rufus Wilmot Griswold, in Poets and Poetry of America (1860) 23.



Among FRANKLIN'S more intimate associates, was JAMES RALPH, a young printer, characterized by him as "ingenious, genteel in his manners, and extremely eloquent." He had been a schoolmaster in Maryland, and a clerk in Philadelphia, and now had such confidence in his literary abilities that he was disposed to abandon the pursuit of printing entirely for that of authorship. CHARLES OSBURNE, another acquaintance, endeavoured to dissuade him from attempting a literary life, assuring him that his capacities were better suited for his trade; but it was in vain, and FRANKLIN soon after assisted in a little scheme of deception, the result of which confirmed him in all the suggestions of his vanity. FRANKLIN, RALPH, OSBURNE, and JOSEPH WATSON, agreed to write verses for each other's criticism, as a means of mutual improvement; and as FRANKLIN had no inclination for the business, he was persuaded to offer as his own a piece by RALPH, who believed that OSBORNE had depreciated his talents from personal envy. The stratagem succeeded; the production was warmly applauded by OSBURNE, and RALPH enjoyed his triumph. RALPH accompanied FRANKLIN to England, and was very badly treated by him there, as FRANKLIN admits. He became a prolific author, in prose and verse. His longest poem, Zeuma, or the Love of Liberty, was partly written in Philadelphia, and was first published in London, in 1729. A few lines from it will sufficiently display his capacities in this way:

Tlascala's vaunt, great ZAGNAE'S martial son,
Extended on the rack, no more complains
That realms are wanting to employ his sword;
But, circled with innumerable ghosts,
Who print their keenest vengeance on his soul,
For all the wrongs, and slaughters of his reign,
Howls out repentance to the deafen'd skies,
And shakes hell's concave with continual groans.

In the following fifteen years he wrote several plays, some of which were acted at Drury Land. Among his shorter poems were two called Cynthia, and Night, and a satire in which he abused POPE, SWIFT, and GAY. This procured him the distinction of a notice in The Dunciad,—

Silence, ye wolves! while RALPH to Cynthia howls,
And makes Night hideous: answer him, ye owls!

His book on The Use and Abuse of Parliaments was much talked of, and his History of England during the Reign of William the Third is praised by HALLAM as "accurate and faithful," and led FOX to refer to him as "a historian of great acuteness and diligence." His last work was The Case of Authors stated, with regard to Booksellers, the Stage, and the Public. He died on the twenty-fourth of January, 1762.