1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

John Aikin, in Select Works of the British Poets (1820) 524.



The REV. CHARLES CHURCHILL, a poet, once of great repute, was the son of a curate of St. John's Westminster, in which parish he was born in 1731. He received his early education at the celebrated public school in the vicinity, whence he was sent to Oxford; but to this university he was refused admission on account of deficient classical knowledge. Returning to school, he soon closed his further education by an early and imprudent marriage. Receiving holy orders from the indulgence of Dr. Sherlock, he went down to a curacy in Wales, where he attempted to remedy the scantiness of his income, by the sale of cyder; but this expedient only plunged him deeper in debt. Returning to London, he was chosen, on his father's death, to succeed him as curate and lecturer of St. John's. His finances still falling short, he took various methods to improve them; at the same time he displayed an immoderate fondness for theatrical exhibitions. This latter passion caused him to think of exercising those talents which he was conscious of possessing; and in March, 1761, he published, though anonymously, a view of the excellencies and defects of the actors in both houses, which he entitled The Rosciad. It was much admired, and a second edition appeared with the author's name. Churchill was now at once raised from obscurity to eminence; and the Rosciad, which have selected as his best work, is, in fact, the one of his numerous publications on which he bestowed due labour. The delineations are drawn with equal energy and vivacity; the language and versification, though not without inequalities, are superior to the! ordinary strain of current poetry, and many of the observations are stamped with sound judgment and correct taste.

The remainder of his life, though concurring with the period of his principal fame, is little worth of notice. He became a party writer, joining with Wilkes and other oppositionists, and employed his pen assiduously in their cause. With this were joined a lamentable defect of moral feeling, inhibited by loose and irregular manners. Throwing off his black suit, he decorated his large and clumsy person with gold lace; and dismissing his wife, debauched from her parents the daughter of a tradesman in Westminster. His writings at length became mere rhapsodies; and taking a journey to France for the purpose of visiting Mr. Wllkes then an exile in that country, he was seized with fever, which put a period to his life on November 1764, at the age of 34.