Aaron Hill, Esq; was the son of George Hill, esq; of Malmsbury-Abbey in Wiltshire; a gentleman possessed of an estate of about £200 a year, which was entailed upon him, and the eldest son, and to his heirs for many descents. But the unhappy misconduct of Mr. George Hill, and the weakness of the trustees, entangled it in such a manner as hitherto has rendered it of no advantage to his family; for, without any legal title so to do, he fold it all, at different times, for sums greatly beneath the value of it, and left his children to their mother's care, and her mother's (Mrs. Ann Gregory) who took great pains with her grandson's education. At nine years old she put him to school to Mr. Rayner at Barnstable in Devonshire, from whence, he went to Westminster school; where soon (under the care of Dr. Knipe) his genius shewed itself in a distinguished light, and often made him some amends for his hard fortune, which denied him such supplies of pocket. money as his spirit wished, by enabling him to perform the tasks of many who had not his capacity.
Mr. Aaron Hill, was born in Beaufort-Buildings in the Strand, on February 10, 1684-5. At fourteen years of age he left Westminster school; and, shortly after, hearing his grandmother make mention of a relation much esteemed (lord Paget, then ambassador at Constantinople) he formed a resolution of paying him a visit there, being likewise very desirous to see that empire.
His grandmother being a woman of uncommon understanding, and great good-nature, would not oppose him in it; and accordingly he soon embark'd on board a ship, then going there, March 2, 1700, as appears by a journal which he kept during his voyage, and in his travels (though at so weak an age) wherein he gave the most accurate account of every particular, in a manner much above his years.
When he arrived, lord Paget received him with as much surprize, as pleasure, wondering that so young a person as he was (but then in his fifteenth year) should chuse to run the hazard of such a voyage to visit a relation, whom he knew but by character. The ambassador immediately provided for him a very learned ecclesiastic in his own house, and, under his tuition, sent him to travel, being desirous to improve, as far as possible, the education of a person he found worthy of it. With this tutor he had the opportunity of seeing Egypt, Palestine, and a great part of the Eastern country.
With lord Paget he returned home, about the year 1703, through great part of Europe; in which tour he saw most of the courts.
He was in great esteem with that nobleman; insomuch, that in all probability he had been still more distinguished by him at his death, than in his life time, had not the envious fears and malice of a certain female, who was in high authority and favour with that lord, prevented and supplanted his kind disposition towards him: My lord took great pleasure in instructing him himself, wrote him whole books in different languages, on which his student placed the greatest value; which was no sooner taken notice of by jealous observation, than they were stolen from his apartment, and suffered to be some days missing, to the great displeasure of my lord, but still much greater affliction of his pupil, whose grief for losing a treasure he so highly valued, was more than doubled, by perceiving that from some false insinuation that had been made, it was believed he had himself wilfully lost them: But young Mr. Hill was soon entirely cleared on this head.
A few years after, he was desired both on account of his sobriety and understanding, to accompany Sir William Wentworth, a worthy baronet of Yorkshire, who was then going to make the tour of Europe; with whom he travelled two or three years, and brought him home improved, to the satisfaction of that gentleman's relations.
'Twas in those different travels he collected matter for the history he wrote of Turky, and published in 1709; a work he afterwards often repented having printed; and (though his own) would criticise upon it with much severity. (But, as he used to say, he was a very boy when he began and ended it; therefore great allowance may be made on that account); and in a letter which has since been printed in his works, wrote to his greatly valued friend, the worthy author of Clarissa, he acknowledges his consciousness of such defects: where speaking of obscurity, he says,
"Obscurity, indeed (if they had penetration to mean that) is burying sense alive, and some of my rash, early, too affected, puerile scriblings must, and should, have pleaded guilty to so just an accusation."
The fire of youth, with an imagination lively as his was, seldom, if ever, go hand in hand with solid judgment. Mr. Hill did not give himself indeed time for correction, having wrote it so very expeditiously, as hardly would be credited. But (as Dr. Sprat, then bishop of Rochester, used to observe) there is certainly visible in that book, the seeds of a great writer. — He seldom in his riper years was guilty of the fault of non-correction; for he revis'd, too strictly rather, every piece he purposed for the public eye (exclusive of an author's natural fondness); and it has been believed by many, who have read some of his pieces in the first copy, that had they never been by a revisal deepened into greater strength, they would have pleased still more, at least more generally.
About the year 1709 he published his first poem, called Camillus; in vindication, and honour of the earl of Peterborough, who had been general in Spain. After that nobleman had seen it, he was desirous to know who was the author of it; which having found by enquiry, he complimented him by making him his secretary, in the room of Mr. Furly, who was gone abroad with another nobleman: And Mr. Hill was always held in high esteem with that great peer; with whom, however, he did not continue long; for in the year 1710 he married the only daughter of Edmund Morris, esq; of Stratford, in Essex; with whom he had a very handsome fortune: By her he had nine children, four of whom (a son, and three daughters) are still living.
In 1709 he was made master of the Theatre in Drury-Lane; and then, at the desire of Mr. Barton Booth, wrote his first Tragedy, (Elfrid, or the Fair Inconstant ) which from his first beginning of it he compleated in a little more than a week. — The following year, 1710, he was master of the Opera House in the Hay-Market; and then wrote an opera called Rinaldo, which met with great success: It was the first which that admirable genius Mr. Handel compos'd, after he came to England; (this he dedicated to Queen Anne). — His genius was adapted greatly to the business of the stage; and while beheld the management, he conducted both Theatres, intirely to the satisfaction of the public. — But in a few months he relinquished it, from some misunderstanding with the then lord chamberlain; and though he was soon after sollicited to take that charge again upon him (by a person the highest in command) he still declined it.
From that time he bent his thoughts on studies far more solid and desirable to him; to views of public benefit: For his mind was ardently devoted to the pursuit of general improvement. But, as one genius seldom is adapted to both theory and practice; so in the execution of a variety of undertakings, the most advantageous in themselves, by some mismanagement of those concerned with him, he fail'd of the success his labours merited.
As in particular, in an affair he set on foot about the year 1715, and was the sole discoverer of, for which he had a patent; the making of an Oil, as sweet as that from Olives, from the Beech-Nuts: But this being an undertaking of a great extent, he was obliged to work conjointly with other men's assistance, and materials; whence arose disputes among them, which terminated in the overthrowing the advantage then arising from it; which otherwise might have been great and lasting.
This, has occasioned that affair to be misunderstood by many; it therefore may not be thought improper, here, to set it in a juster light; and this cannot more exactly be given, than from his own words, called, A fair state of the Account, published in the year 1716.
"An impartial state of the case, between the patentee, annuitants, and sharers, in the Beech-Oil-Company. — Some part of which is here recited.
"The disappointments of the Beech-Oil-Company this year have made abundance of sharers peevish; the natural effect of peevishness is clamour, and clamour like a tide will work itself a passage, where it has no right of flowing; some gentlemen, misled by false conceptions both of the affair and its direction, have driven their discontent through a mistaken chanel, and inclined abundance who are strangers to the truth, to accuse the patentee of faults, he is not only absolutely free from, but by which he is, of all concern'd, the greatest sufferer.
"But, he is not angry with the angry; he considers they must take things as they hear them represented; he governs all his actions by this general maxim; never to be moved at a reproach, unless it be a just one.
"In October 1713 the patentee procured a grant for fourteen years, to him and his assigns, for the Beech-Oil invention.
"Anno 1714, he made and published proposals, for taking a subscription of £20,000 upon the following conditions:
"That every subscriber should receive, by half yearly payments, at Lady-Day and Michaelmas, during the continuance of the patent from Lady-Day 1715, inclusive, an annuity amounting to fifty-pound per cent. for any sum subscribed, excepting a deduction for the payment of the directors.
"That nine directors should be chosen on midsummer-day, who should receive complaints upon non-payments of annuities; and in such case, upon refusal, any five of the nine directors had power to meet and chuse a governor from among themselves, enrolling that choice in chancery, together with the reasons for it.
"That after such choice and enrollment, the patentee should stand absolutely excluded, the business be carried on, and all the right of the grant be vested (not as a mortgage, but as a sale without redemption) in the governor so chosen, for the joint advantage of the annuitants, in proportion to their several interests.
"As a security for making good the articles, the patentee did, by indenture enrolled in chancery, assign and make over his patent to trustees, in the indenture named, for the uses above mentioned.
"In the mean time the first half yearly payments to the annuitants, amounting to £3750 became due, and the company not being yet compleated, the patentee himself discharged it, and has never reckon'd that sum to the account between him and the company; which he might have done by virtue of the articles on which he gave admission to the sharers.
"For the better explanation of this scheme it will be necessary to observe, that while the shares were selling, he grew apprehensive that the season would be past, before the fifty pounds per share they were to furnish by the articles could be contributed: He therefore gave up voluntarily, and for the general good, £20,000 of his own 25,000 guineas purchase money, as a loan to the company till the expiration of the patent, after which it was again to be made good to him, or his assigns; and this money so lent by the patentee, is all the stock that ever has been hitherto employed by the company.
"But instead of making good the above-mentioned conditional covenant, the board proceeded to unnccessary warmth, and found themselves involved still more and more in animosities, and those irregularities which naturally follow groundless controversy. He would therefore take upon himself the hazard and the power of the whole affair, accountable however to the board, as to the money part; and yet would bind himself to pay for three years to come, a profit of forty shillings per annum upon every share, and then deliver back the business to the general care, above the reach of future disappointments.
"What reasons the gentlemen might have to refuse so inviting an offer is best known to themselves; but they absolutely rejected that part of it, which was to fix the sole power of management in the patentee. Upon which, and many other provocations afterward, becoming more and more dissatisfied, he thought fit to demand repayment of five hundred pounds, which he had lent the company; as he had several other sums before; and not receiving it, but, on the contrary, being denied so much as an acknowledgment that it was due, withdrew himself intirely from the board, and left them to their measures.
"Thus at the same time have I offered my defence, and my opinion: By the first I am sure I shall be acquitted from all imputations; and confirmed in the good thoughts of the concerned on either side, who will know for the future what attention they should give to idle reflections, and the falsehood of rumour; and from the last, I have hopes that a plan may be drawn, which will settle at once all disputed pretensions, and restore that fair prospect, which the open advantage of last year's success (indifferent as it was) has demonstrated to be a view that was no way chimerical.—
"They know how to judge of malicious insinuations to my prejudice, by this one most scandalous example, which has been given by the endeavours of some to persuade the out-sharers that I have made an extravagant profit from the losses of the adventurers. Whereas on the contrary, out of Twenty-five Thousand Guineas, which was the whole I should have received by the sale of the shares, I have given up Twenty Thousand Pounds to the use of the company, and to the annuities afterward and three thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds more paid to the annuitants, at Lady-Day 1715, or the company's account; and have never demanded it again, in consideration of their disappointments the first year.
"So that it plainly appears, that out of twenty-five thousand guineas, I have given away in two articles only, twenty-three thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds for the public advantage. And I can easily prove, that the little remainder has been short of making good the charges I have been at for their service; by which means I am not one farthing a gainer by the company, notwithstanding the clamour and malice of some unthinking adventurers: And for the truth of all this, I appeal to their own Office-Books, and defy the most angry among them to deny any article of it. See then what a grateful and generous encouragement may be expected by men, who would dedicate their labours to the profit of others.
November the 30th. 1716. A. HILL."
This, and much more, too tedious to insert, serves to demonstrate that it was a great misfortune, for a mind so fertile of invention and improvement, to he embarrassed by a narrow power of fortune; too weak alone to execute such undertakings.
About the same year he wrote another Tragedy, intitled the Fatal Vision, or the Fall of Siam (which was acted the same year, in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields) to which he gave this Motto out of Horace.
I not for vulgar admiration write;
To be well read, not much, is my delight.
And to his death he would declare in favour of that choice. — That year, he likewise published the two first books of an Epic Poem, called Gideon (founded on a Hebrew Story) which like its author, and all other authors, had its enemies; but many more admirers.
But his poetic pieces were not frequent in their appearance. They were the product of some leisure hours, when he relaxed his thoughts from drier study as he took great delight in diving into every useful science, viz. criticism, history, geography, physic, commerce in general, agriculture, war, and law; but in particular natural philosophy, wherein he has made many and valuable discoveries.
Concerning poetry, he says, in his preface to King Henry the Vth, where he laments the want of taste for Tragedy,
"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."
He had acquired so deep an insight in law, that he has from his arguments and demonstrations obliged some of the greatest council (formally) under their hands, to retract their own first-given opinions.
He wrote part of a Tract of War; another upon Agriculture; but they are left unfinished, with several other pieces.
In his younger days he bought a grant of Sir Robert Montgomery (who had purchas'd it of the lords proprietors of Carolina) with whom, &c. he had been concern'd, in a design of settling a new plantation in the South of Carolina, of a vast tract of land; on which he then designed to pursue the same intention. — But being not master of a fortune equal to that scheme, it never proved of any service to him, though many years since, it has been cultivated largely.
His person was (in youth) extremely fair, and handsome; his eyes were a dark blue, both bright and penetrating; brown hair and visage oval; which was enlivened with a smile, the most agreeable in conversation; where his address was affably engaging; to which was joined a dignity, which rendered him at once respected and admired, by those (of either sex) who were acquainted with him. — He was tall, genteelly made, and not thin. — His voice was sweet, his conversation elegant and capable of entertaining upon various subjects. — His disposition was benevolent, beyond the power of the fortune he was blessed with; the calamities of those he knew (and valued as deferring) affected him more than his own: He had fortitude of mind sufficient to support with calmness great misfortune; and from his birth it may be truly said he was obliged to meet it.
Of himself, he says in his epistle dedicatory to one of his poems,
"l am so devoted a lover of a private and unbusy life, that I cannot recollect a time wherein I wish'd an increase to the little influence I cultivate in the dignified world, unless when I have felt the deficience of my own power, to reward some merit that has charm'd me:"—
His temper, though by nature warm (when injuries were done him) was as nobly forgiving; mindful of that great lesson in religion, of returning good for evil; and he fulfilled it often to the prejudice of his own circumstances. He was a tender husband, friend, and father; one of the best matters to his servants, detesting the too common inhumanity, that treats them almost as if they were not fellow-creatures.
His manner of life was temperate in all respects (which might have promis'd greater length of years) late hours excepted; which his indefatigable love of study drew him into; night being not liable to interruptions like the day.
About the year 1718 he wrote a poem called the Northern-Star, upon the actions of the Czar Peter the Great; and several years after he was complimented with a gold medal from the empress Catherine (according to the Czar's desire before his death) and was to have wrote his life, from papers which were to be sent him of the Czar's: But the death of the Czarina, quickly after, prevented it. — In an advertisement to the reader, in the fifth edition of that poem, published in 1739, the author says of it.
"Though the design was profess'd panegyric, I may with modesty venture to say it was not a very politic, perhaps, but an honest example of praise without flattery. — In the verse, I am afraid there was much to be blamed, as too low; but, I aim sure there was none of that fault in the purpose: The poem having never been hinted, either before or after the publication, to any person (native or foreigner) who could be supposed to have interest in, or concern for, its subject.
"In effect, it had for six years or more been forgot by myself — and my country, — when upon the death of the prince it referred to, I was surprized by the condescension of a compliment from the empress his relict, and immediate successor; and thereby first became sensible that the poem had, by means of some foreign translation, reach'd the eye and regard of that emphatically great monarch, in justice to whom it was written."
Soon after he finished six books more of Gideon; which made eight, of the twelve he purpos'd writing; but did not live to finish it.
In 1723 he brought his Tragedy called King Henry the Vth, upon the stage in Drury-Lane; which is (as he declares in the preface) a new fabric, yet built on Shakespear's foundation.
In 1724, for the advantage of an unhappy gentleman (an old officer in the army) he wrote a paper in the manner of the Spectators, in conjunction with Mr. William Bond, &c. intitled the Plain Dealer; which were some time after published in two volumes octavo. And many of his former writings were appropriated to such humane uses; both those to which he has prefixed his name, and several others which he wrote and gave away intirely. But, though the many imagined authors are not living, their names, and those performances will be omitted here; yet, in mere justice to the character of Mr. Hill, we mention this particular.
In 1728, he trade a journey into the North of Scotland, where he had been about two years before, having contracted with the York-Buildings Company, concerning many woods of great extent in that kingdom, for timber for the uses of the navy and many and various were the assertions upon this occasion: Some thought, and thence reported, that there was not a stick in Scotland could be capable of answering that purpose; but he demonstrated the contrary: For, though there was not a great number large enough for masts to ships of the greatest burthen; yet there were millions, fit for all smaller vessels; and planks and banks, proper for every sort of building. — One ship was built entirely of it; and a report was made, that never any better timber was brought from any part of the world: But he found many difficulties in this undertaking; yet had sagacity to overcome them all (as far as his own management extended) for when the trees were by his order chain'd together into floats, the ignorant Highlanders refus'd to venture themselves on them down the river Spey; till he first went himself, to make them sensible there was no danger. — In which passage however, he found a great obstacle in the rocks, by which that river seemed impassible; but on these he ordered fires to be made, when by the lowness of the river they were most expos'd; and then had quantities of water thrown upon them: Which method being repeated with the help of proper tools, they were broke in pieces and thrown down, which made the passage easy for the floats.
This affair was carried on to a very good account, till those concern'd thought proper to call off the men and horses from the woods of Abernethy, in order to employ them in their lead mines in the same country; from which they hoped to make greater advantage.
The magistrates of Inverness paid him the compliment of making him a present of the freedom of that place (at an elegant entertainment made by them on that occasion) a favour likewise offered him at Aberdeen, &c.
After a stay of several months in the Highlands, during which time he visited the duke and duchess of Gordon, who distinguished him with great civilities, he went to York, and other places in that country; where his wife then was, with some relations, for the recovery of her health; but his staying longer there (on that account) than he intended, had like to have proved of unhappy consequence; by giving room for some, who imagined (as they wished) that he would not return, to be guilty of a breach of trust that aimed at the destruction of great part of what he then was worth; but they were disappointed.
In that retirement in the North, he wrote a poem intitled, The Progress of Wit, a Caveat for the use of an eminent Writer. It was composed of the genteelest praise, and keenest allegorical satire; and it gave no small uneasiness to Mr. Pope: Who had indeed drawn it upon himself, by being the aggressor in his Dunciad. — This afterwards occasioned a private paper-war between those writers, in which 'tis generally thought that Mr. Hill had greatly the advantage of Mr. Pope. For the particulars, the reader is referred to a shilling pamphlet lately published by Owen, containing Letters between Mr. Pope and Mr. Hill, &c.
The progress of wit begins with the eight following lines, wherein the SNEAKINGLY APPROVES affected Mr. Pope extreamly.
Tuneful Alexis on the Thames' fair side,
The Ladies play-thing, and the Muses pride,
With merit popular, with wit polite,
Easy tho' vain, and elegant tho' light:
Desiring, and deserving other's praise,
Poorly accepts a fame he ne'er repays:
Unborn to cherish, SNEAKINGLY APPROVES,
And wants the soul to spread the worth he loves.
During their controversy, Mr. Pope seemed to express his repentance, by denying the offence he had given; thus, in one of his letters, he says,
"That the letters A. H. were apply'd to you in the papers I did not know (for I seldom read them) I heard it only from Mr. Savage, as from yourself, and sent my assurances to the contrary: But I don't see how the annotator on the D. could have rectified that mistake publicly, without particularizing your name in a book where I thought it too good to be inserted, &c."
And in another place he says,
"I should imagine the Dunciad meant you a real compliment, and so it has been thought by many who have ask'd to whom that passage made that oblique panegyric. As to the notes, I am weary of telling a great truth, which is, that I am not author of them, &c."
Which paragraph was answer'd by the following in Mr. Hill's reply.
"As to your oblique panegyric, I am not under so blind an attachment to the goddess I was devoted to in the Dunciad, but that I know it was a commendation; though a dirtier one than I wished for; who am neither fond of some of the company in which I was listed — the noble reward, for which I was to become a diver; — the allegorical muddiness in which I was to try my skill; — nor the institutor of the games you were so kind to allow me a share in, &c." — A genteel severe reprimand.
Much about the same time he wrote another poem, called Advice to the Poets; in praise of worthy poetry, and in censure of the misapplication of poetry in general. The following lines here quoted, are the motto of it, taken from the poem.
Shame on your jingling, ye soft sons of rhyme,
Tuneful consumers of your reader's time!
Fancy's light dwarfs! whose feather-footed strains,
Dance in wild windings, thro' a waste of brains:
Your's is the guilt of all, who judging wrong,
Mistake tun'd nonsense for the poet's song.
He likewise in this piece, reproves the above named celebrated author, for descending below his genius; and in speaking of the inspiration of the Muse, he says,
I feel her now. — Th' invader fires my breast:
And my soul swells, to suit the heav'nly guest.
Hear her, O Pope! — She sounds th' inspir'd decree,
Thou great Arch-Angel of wit's heav'n! for thee!
Let vulgar genii, sour'd by sharp disdain,
Piqu'd and malignant, words low war maintain,
While every meaner art exerts her aim,
O'er rival arts, to lift her question'd fame;
Let half-soul'd poets still on poets fall,
And teach the willing world to scorn them all.
But, let no Muse, pre-eminent as thine,
Of voice melodious, and of force divine,
Stung by wits, wasps, all rights of rank forego,
And turn, and snarl, and bite, at every foe.
No — like thy own Ulysses, make no stay:
Shun monsters — and pursue thy streamy way.
In 1731 he brought his Tragedy of Athelwold upon the stage in Drury-Lane; which, as he says in his preface to it, was written on the fame subject as his Elfrid or the Fair Inconstant, which he there calls, "An unprun'd wilderness of fancy, with here and there a flower among the leaves; but without any fruit of judgment."—
He likewise mentions it as a folly, having began and finished Elfrid in a week; and both the difference of time and judgment are visible in favour of the last of those performances.
That year he met the greatest shock that affliction ever gave him; in the loss of one of the most worthy of wives, to whom he had been married above twenty years.
The following epitaph he wrote, and purpos'd for a monument which he designed to erect over her grave.
Enough, cold stone! suffice her long-lov'd name;
Words are too weak to pay her virtues claim.
Temples, and tombs, and tongues, shall waste away,
And power's vain pomp, in mould'ring dust decay.
But e'er mankind a wife more perfect see,
Eternity, O Time! shall bury thee.
He was a man susceptible of love, in its sublimest sense; as may be seen in that poetical description of that passion, which he has given in his poem called the Picture of Love; wrote many years ago (from whence the following two lines are taken)
No wild desire can this proud bliss bestow,
Souls must be match'd in heav'n, tho' mix'd below.
About the year 1735 he was concern'd with another gentleman in writing a paper called the Prompter; all those mark'd with a B. were his. — This was meant greatly for the service of the stage; and many of them have been regarded in the highest manner. — But, as there was not only instruction, but reproof, the bitter, with the sweet, by some could not be relish'd.
In 1736 having translated from the French of Monsieur de Voltaire, the Tragedy of Zara, he gave it to be acted for the benefit of Mr. William Bond; and it was represented first, at the Long-Room in Viliars-Streer, York-Buildings; where that poor gentleman performed the part of Lusignin (the old expiring king) a character he was at that time too well suited to; being, and looking, almost dead, as in reality he was before the run of it was over. — Soon after this play was brought upon the stage in Drury-Lane, by Mr. Fleetwood, at the earnest sollicitation of Mr. Theophilus Cibber; the part of Zara was played by Mrs. Cibber, and was her first attempt in Tragedy; of the performers therein he makes very handsome mention in the preface. This play he dedicated to his royal highness the Prince of Wales.
The same year was acted, at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, another Tragedy of his translating from the same French author, called Alzira, which was likewise dedicated to the Prince. — His dedications generally wore a different face from those of other writers; he there most warmly recommends Monsieur de Voltaire, as worthy of his royal highness's partiality; disclaiming for himself all expectations of his notice. But he was, notwithstanding, particularly honoured with his approbation.
These plays, if not a litteral translation, have been thought much better, for their having past his hands; as generously was acknowledged by Monsieur de Voltaire himself.
In 1737 he published a poem called, The Tears of the Muses; composed of general satire: in the address to the reader he says (speaking of satire)
"There is, indeed, something so like cruelty in the face of that species of poetry, that it can only be reconciled to humanity, by the general benevolence of its purpose attacking particulars for the public advantage."
The following year he wrote (in prose) a book called, An Enquiry into the Merit of Assassination, with a View to the Character of Caesar; and his Designs on the Roman Republic.
About this time, he in a manner left the world, (though living near so populous a part of it as London) and settled at Plaistow in Essex; where he entirely devoted himself to his study, family, and garden; and the accomplishment of many profitable views; particularly one, in which for years he had laboured through experiments in vain; and when he brought it to perfection, did not live to reap the benefit of it: The discovery of the art of making pot-ash like the Russian, which cost this nation, yearly, an immense sum of money.
In the year 1743 he published The Fanciad, an Heroic Poem; inscribed to his grace the duke of Marlborough: Who as no name was then prefixed to it, perhaps, knew not the author by whom he was distinguished in it.
Soon after he wrote another, intitled the Impartial; which he inscribed, in the same manner, to the lord Carteret (now earl of Granville). In the beginning of it are the following lines,
Burn, sooty slander, burn thy blotted scroll;
Greatness is greatness, spite of faction's soul.
Deep let my soul detest th' adhesive pride,
That changing sentiment, unchanges side.
It would be tedious to enumerate the variety of smaller pieces he at different times was author of.
His notions of the deity were boundlessly extensive; and the few lines here quoted from his Poem upon faith, published in 1746, must give the best idea of his sentiments upon that most elevated of all subjects.
What then must be believ'd? — Believe God kind,
To fear were to offend him. Fill thy heart
With his felt laws; and ad the good he loves.
Rev'rence his power. Judge him but by his works:
Know him but in his mercies. Rev'rence too
The most mistaken schemes that mean his praise.
Rev'rence his priests. — for ev'ry priest is his,—
Who finds him in his conscience.—
This year he published his Art of Acting, a Poem, deriving Rules from a new Principle, for touching the Passions in a natural Manner, &c. Which was dedicated to the Earl of Chesterfeld.
Having for many years been in a manner forgetful of the eight Books he had finished of his Epic Poem called Gideon, — in 1749 he re-perused that work, and published three of the Books; to which he gave the name of Gideon, or the Patriot. — They were inscribed to the late lord Bolingbroke; to whom he accounts as follows, for the alterations he had made since the first publication of two Books.
Erring, where thousands err'd, in youth's hot smart,
Propulsive prejudice had warp'd his heart:
Bold, and too loud he sigh'd, for high distress,
Fond of the fall'n, nor form'd to serve success;
Partial to woes, had weigh'd their cause too light.
Wept o'er misfortune, — and mis-nam'd it right:
Anguish, attracting, turn'd attachment wrong,
And pity's note mis-tun'd his devious rung.
'Tis much lamented by many who are admirers of that species of poetry, that the author did not finish it.
The same year (after a length of different applications, for several seasons, at both Theatres without success) his Tragedy, called Merope, was brought upon the stage in Drury-Lane by Mr. Garrick; to whom, as well as to another gentleman he likewise highly both admired and esteemed, he was greatly obliged; and his own words (here borrowed) will shew how just a sense he had of these obligations. — They begin the preface to the play.
"If there can be a pride that ranks with virtues, it is that we feel from friendships with the worthy. Mr. Mallet, therefore, must forgive me, that I boast the honour he has done my Merope — I have so long been a retreater from the world, that one of the best spirits in it told me lately, I had made myself an alien there. I must confess, I owe so many obligations to its ornaments of most distinguished genius, that I mutt have looked upon it as a great unhappiness to have made choice of solitude, could I have judged society in general, by a respect so due to there adorners of it."
And in relation to this Tragedy he says, after very justly censuring Monsieur de Voltaire, for representing in the preface to his Merope the English as incapable of Tragedy,
"To such provoking stimulations I have owed inducement to retouch, for Mr. Voltaire's use, the characters in his high boasted Merope; and I have done it on a plan as near his own as I could bring it with a safe conscience; that is to say, without distaste to English audiences."
This he likewise dedicated to lord Bolingbroke; and was the last he ever wrote. — There is a melancholy thread of fatal prophecy in the beginning of it; of his own approaching dissolution.
Cover'd in fortune's shade, I rest reclin'd;
My griefs all silent; and my joys resign'd.
With patient eye life's evening gloom survey:
Nor shake th' out-hast'ning sands; nor bid 'em stay.
Yet, while from life my setting prospects fly,
Fain wou'd my mind's weak offspring shun to die.
Fain wou'd their hope some light through time explore;
The name's kind pasport — When the man's no more.
From about the time he was solliciting the bringing on this play, an illness seized him; from the tormenting pains of which he had scarce an hour's intermission; and after making trial of all he thought could he of service to him in medicine; he was desirous to try his native air of London (as that of Plaislow was too moist a one) but he was then past all recovery, and wasted almost to a skeleton, from some internal cause, that had produced a general decay (and was believed to have been an inflamation in the kidneys; which his intense attachment to his studies might probably lay the foundation of. — When in town, he had the comfort of being honoured with the visits of the most worthy and esteemed among his friends; but he was not permitted many weeks to taste that blessing.
The same humane and generous Mr. Mallet, who had before aided his Merope, about this time was making interest for its being played again, for the advantage of its author: — His royal highness the prince of Wales had the great goodness to command it; and Mr. Hill just lived to express his grateful acknowledgements to those about him) upon hearing of it: — But no the day before it as to be represented he died, in the very minute of the earthquake, February the eighth, 1740, which he seemed sensible of, though then deprived of utterance. Had he lived two days longer, he had been sixty five years old. — He endur'd a twelvemonth's torment of the body with a calmness that confess'd a superiority of soul! He was interred in the same grave with her the most dear to him when living, in the great cloister of Westminister-Abbey, near the lord Godolphin's tomb.
It may he truly said of Mr. Hill, he was a great and general writer; and had he been possest of the estate he was intitled to, his liberality had been no less extensive than his genius. But often do we see misfortune's clouds obscure the brightest sunshine.
Besides his works which here have been enumerated, there are several other; particularly two poems, intitled the Creation, and the Judgment-Day; which were published many years ago. — Another in blank verse he published in the time of his retreat into Essex; it was called, Cleon to Lycidas, a Time Piece; the date nor marked by the printer.
Some years before his death, he talked of making a collection of his works for publication; but postponed it for the finishing some pieces, which he did not live to effect.
Since his death, four volumes of them have been published by subscription, for his family. He left one Tragedy, never yet acted; which was wrote originally about 1737, and intitled Caesar; but since, he has named it the Roman Revenge: — But as the author was avowedly a great admirer of Caesar's character, not in the light he is generally understood (that of a tyrant) but in one much more favourable, he was advised by several of the first distinction, both in rank and judgment, to make such alterations in it as should adapt it more to the general opinion; and upon that advice he in a manner new wrote the play: but as most first opinions are not easily eradicated, it has been never able to make a public trial of the success; which many of the greatest understanding have pronounced it highly worthy of. — The late lord Bolingbroke (in a letter wrote to the author) has called it one of the noblest drama's, that our language, or any age can boast.
These few little speeches are taken from the part of Caesar.
'Tis the great mind's expected pain, Calphurnia,
To labour for the thankless. — He who seeks
Reward in ruling, makes ambition guilt;
And living for himself disclaims mankind.
And thus speaking to Mark Anthony;
If man were placed above the reach of insult,
To pardon were no virtue. — Think, warm Anthony,
What mercy is — 'Tis, daring to be wrong'd,
Yet unprovok'd by pride, persist, in pity.
This again to Calphurnia.
No matter. — Virtue triumphs by neglect:
Vice, while it darkens, lends but foil to brightness:
And juster times, removing slander's veil,
Wrong'd merit after death is help'd to live.