1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Concanen

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 5:27-31.



This gentleman was a native of Ireland, and was bred to the Law. In this profession he seems not to have made any great figure. By some means or other he conceived an aversion to Dr. Swift, for his abuse of whom, the world taxed him with ingratitude. Concanen had once enjoyed some degree of Swift's favour, who was not always very happy in the choice of his companions. He had an opportunity ofreading some of the Dr.'s poems in MS. which it is said he thought fit to appropriate and publish as his own.

As affairs did not much prosper with him in Ireland, he came over to London, in company with another gentleman, and both commenced writers. These two friends entered into an extraordinary agreement. As the subjects which then attracted the attention of mankind were of a political cast, they were of opinion that no species of writing could so soon recommend them to public notice and in order to make their trade more profitable, they resolved to espouse different interests; one should oppose, and the other defend the ministry. They determined the side of the question each was to espouse, by tossing up a half-penny, and it fell to the share of Mr. Concanen to defend the ministry, which task he performed with as much ability, as political writers generally discover.

He was for some time, concerned in the British, and London journals, and a paper called The Speculatist. These periodical pieces are long since buried in neglect, and perhaps would have even sunk into oblivion, had not Mr. Pope, by his satryrical writings, given them a kind of disgraceful immortality. In these journals he published many scurrilities against Mr. Pope; and in a pamphlet called, The Supplement to the Profound, he used him with great virulence, and little candour. He not only imputed to him Mr. Brome's verses (for which he might indeed seem in some degree accountable, having corrected what that gentleman did) but those of the duke of Buckingham and others. To this rare piece some body humorously perswaded him to take for his motto, De profondis clamavi. He afterwards wrote a paper called The Daily Courant, wherein he shewed much Spleen against lord Bolingbroke, and some of his friends. All these provocations excited Mr. Pope to give him a place in his Dunciad. In his second book, I. 287, when he represents the dunces diving in the mud of the Thames for the prize, he speaks thus of Concanen;

True to the bottom see Concanen creep,
A cold, long winded, native of the deep!
If perseverance gain the diver's prize,
Not everlasting Blackmore this denies.

In the year 1725 Mr. Concanen published a volume of poems in 8vo. consisting chiefly of compositions of his own, and some few of other gentlemen; they are addressed to the lord Gage, whom he endeavours artfully to flatter, without offending his modesty. "I shall begin this Address, says he, by declaring that the opinion I have of a great part of the following verses, is the highest indication of the esteem in which I hold the noble character I present them to. Several of them have authors, whose names do honour to whatever patronage they receive. As to my share of them, since it is too late, after what I have already delivered, to give my opinion of them, I'll say as much as can be said in their favour. I'll affirm that they have one mark of merit, which is your lord ship's approbation; and that they are indebted to fortune for two other great advantages, a place in good company, and an honourable protection." The gentlemen, who assisted Concanen in this collection, were Dean Swift, Mr. Parnel, Dr. Delany, Mr. Brown, Mr. Ward, and Mr. Stirling. In this collection there is a poem by Mr. Concanen, called A Match at Football, in three Cantos written, 'tis said, in imitation of The Rape of the Lock. This performance is far from being despicable; the versification is generally smooth the design is not ill conceived, and the characters not unnatural. It perhaps would be read with more applause, if The Rape of the Lock did not occur to the mind, and, by forcing a comparison, destroy all the satisfaction in perusing it; as the disproportion is so very considerable. We shall quote a few lines from the beginning of the third canto, by which it will appear that Concanen was not a bad rhimer.

In days of yore a lovely country maid
Rang'd o'er these lands, and thro' these forests stray'd;
Modest her pleasures, matchless was her frame,
Peerless her face, and Sally was her name.
By no frail vows her young desires were bound,
No shepherd yet the way to please her found.
Thoughtless of love the beauteous nymph appear'd,
Nor hop'd its transports, nor its torments fear'd.
But careful fed her flocks, and grac'd the plain,
She lack'd no pleasure, and she felt no pain.
She view'd our motions when we toss'd the ball,
And smil'd to see us take, or ward, a fall;
'Till once our leader chanc'd the nymph to spy,
And drank in poison from her lovely eye.
Now pensive grown, he shunn'd the long-lov'd plains,
His darling pleasures, and his favour'd swains,
Sigh'd in her absence, sigh'd when she was near,
Now big with hope, and now dismay'd with fear:
At length with falt'ring tongue he press'd the dame,
For some returns to his unpity'd flame;
But she disdain'd his suit, despis'd his care,
His form unhandsome, and his bristled hair;
Forward she sprung, and with an eager pace
The god pursu'd, nor fainted in the race;
Swift as the frighted hind the virgin flies,
When the woods ecchoe to the hunters cries:
Swift as the fleetest hound her flight she trac'd,
When o'er the lawns the frighted hind is chac'd;
The winds which sported with her flowing vest
Display'd new charms, and heightened all the rest:
Those charms display'd, increas'd the gods desire,
What cool'd her bosom, set his breast on fire:
With equal speed, for diff'rent ends they move,
Fear lent the virgin wings, the shepherd love:
Panting at length, thus in her fright she pray'd,
Be quick ye pow'rs, and save a wretched maid.
Protect my honour, shelter me from shame,
Beauty and life with pleasure I disclaim.

Mr. Concanen was also concerned with the late Mr. Roome, and a certain eminent senator, in making The Jovial Crew, an old Comedy, into a Ballad Opera; which was performed about the year 1730; and the profits were given entirely to Mr. Concanen. Soon after he was preferred to be attorney-general in Jamaica, a post of considerable eminence, and attended with a very large income. In this island he spent the remaining part of his days, and, we are informed made a tolerable accession of fortune, by marrying a planter's daughter, who surviving him was left in the possession of several hundred pounds a year. She came over to England after his death, and married the honourable Mr. Hamilton.