1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Hugh Downman

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the Author" European Magazine 1 (January 1782) 29.



Dr. Downman is the son of a gentleman of good fortune in the neighbourhood of Exeter. He was brought up at the public school in that city, and took his degrees (if we mistake not) at Baliol College, at Oxford. He was designed for the church; took orders to perform the duties of a clergyman for a few years in his father's neighbourhood. But a disorder, which has since proved to be a liver complaint, rendering any exertions of his voice painful and dangerous to him, he went to Edinburgh, and took his degrees in physic.

An early attachment to a very amiable and accomplished young lady, which did not meet the entire approbation of his family, though she was very nearly related to Lord Courtnay, and had a genteel fortune, fixed the first essays of his muse on love. The poems to Thespia, published at the end of the Land of the Muses, are the genuine effusions of a poetic fancy, and of a heart fraught with those sincere and ardent passions which have since marked his life.

While he was in Scotland, or soon after his return, he published the Land of the Muses, in imitation of Spencer. Hardly any thing so poetical has appeared in the last century; but the public relying chiefly on the account of the Reviewers, the poem was left to make its way, by the influence of taste and judgement in those who perused it. His reputation increased rapidly, and several editions of it have been sold.

On this work, his reputation as a poet principally rests, and it is a misfortune it should be in a language not commonly intelligible.

It is probable, that his attention was turned to the stage very early in life, as it is said, several of his pieces have been offered for representation. The publication of Lucius Junius Brutus was certainly meant as a reproach to his judgement of the managers. For, a very few alterations, suggested by a person acquainted with the theatre, would have rendered it a most excellent tragedy.

It is rumoured, that some disappointment in dramatic designs induced him to engage in the translation of Voltaire; but whether the Doctor's health will enable him to proceed in his undertaking is at present very doubtful.

The friends of genius and merit must lament, that his life has been a constant series of sufferings, and that there are not often any great hopes of his ever enjoying a tolerable state of health.