1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Concanen

Richard Ryan, in Biographica Hibernica. A Biographical Dictionary of the Worthies of Ireland (1819) 2:1-4.



MATTHEW CONCANEN, a minor poet, of considerable abilities, and a miscellaneous writer of some note in his day, was a native of Ireland, and was descended from a good family in that kingdom. He was liberally educated by his parents, and was bred to the law, in which profession he seems not to have made any great figure. From some cause or other, he conceived an aversion to Dr. Swift, for his abuse of whom the world has taxed him with ingratitude. Concanen, it is true, had once enjoyed some degree of Swift's favour (who was not always very happy in his choice of companions); and it is said, he had an opportunity of perusing some of the Doctor's poems in manuscript, which he unhesitatingly thought fit to appropriate and publish as his own. But this story is by no means authenticated. As affairs did not prosper much with him in Ireland, he came over to London, in company with a Mr. Stirling, a dramatic poet of little celebrity; and deeming nothing so profitable or so likely to recommend him to public notice as political writing, he speedily commenced an advocate for the government. There is an anecdote told of these authors, which we sincerely hope is not true, which is, that in order to render their trade more profitable, they resolved to espouse different interests, one should oppose and the other defend the ministry, and determined the side of the question each was to take by tossing up a halfpenny, when it fell to the share of Concanen to defend the ministry, which task he performed with as much abilities as ephemeral political writers generally discover. His companion, Stirling, afterwards went into orders, and became a clergyman in Maryland. Concanen was, for some time, concerned in the British, and London Journals, and in a paper called The Speculatist, which last was published in 1730. These periodical pieces are long since buried in neglect, and, doubtless, would have sunk to utter oblivion, had not Pope, by his satirical writings, given them a kind of disgraceful immortality. In these journals he published many scurrilities against Pope, and in a pamphlet entitled The Supplement to the Profound, he used him with great virulence and little candour. He not only imputed to him Brown'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 somebody humorously persuaded him to take for his motto, "De profundis clamavi." He afterwards wrote a paper called The Daily Courant, wherein he evinced much spleen against Lord Bolingbroke, and many of his friends. All those provocations excited Mr. Pope to allot him a place in his Dunciad, in his second book, line 287, where he represents the dunces diving in the mud of the Thames for the prize, he speaks thus of Concanen:—

Firm 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 decries.

In 1725, Concanen published an octavo volume of poems, 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. The gentlemen who assisted our author in his collection, were Dean Swift, Parnell, Dr. Delany, Messrs. Brown, Ward, and Stirling. In this collection there is a poem by Concanen, called A Match at Foot-ball, in three cantos, written, it is said, in imitation of Pope's Rape of the Lock. He was also concerned with Mr. Roome and another gentleman, in altering Browne's Jovial Crew, into a ballad opera, which was performed about the year 1730, and the profits given entirely to Mr. Concanen. His wit and literary abilities recommended him to the favour of the Duke of Newcastle, through whose interest, in 1732, he obtained the lucrative post of attorney-general of the island of Jamaica, which office he filled with the utmost integrity and honour, and to the perfect satisfaction of the inhabitants for more than seventeen years, when, having acquired an ample fortune, (one of his biographers says by marrying a planter's daughter,) he was desirous of passing the close of his life in his native country, with which intention he quitted Jamaica, and came to London, intending to pass some little time there before he went to settle entirely in Ireland. But the difference of climate between that metropolis and the island he had so long been accustomed to, had so violent an effect on his constitution, that he fell into a consumption, of which he died on the 22nd of January, 1749, a few weeks after his arrival in London.

His original poems, though short, are possessed of considerable merit; but much cannot be said of his play, entitled Wexford Walls. Concanen has several songs in The Musical Miscellany, published in 6 vols. in 1729. But a memorable letter addressed to him by Dr. Warburton, will perhaps be remembered longer than any writing of his own pen. This letter, which Mr. Malone first published (in his Supplement to Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 222), shews that, in 1726, Warburton, then an attorney at Newark, was intimate with Concanen, and an associate in the attacks made on Pope's fame and talents. In 1724, Concanen published a volume of Miscellaneous Poems, original and translated, by himself and others.