1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Russell

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the Author" European Magazine 3 (March 1783) 203-04.



Mr. William Russell, the author of this poem [The Tragic Muse], was born in Scotland; he came to London in the year 1767, and entered into the service of Mr. Strahan, the King's Printer, as a Composer, where he remained but a short while, having turned his thoughts to the Muses. He has introduced into the literary world a number of articles, some of which bear his name: the productions that we know to a certainty to be his, are the following, History of Modern Europe, in two volumes; History of Women, in two volumes, Fables moral and sentimental. Julia, a poetical Romance; an Ode to Fortune; part of the first volume of the New Annual Register, and the Poem now reviewed. Of all these productions the History of America is entitled to the greatest share of praise; it was published, if we recollect right, in numbers, and had a good sale. He has been heard to relate an anecdote of himself, which we shall take notice of. He waited on Mr. Garrick with a tragedy, built on the same story of Mr. Murphy's Zenobia, as the very time Mr. Murphy's distinguished performance was in rehearsal. This Gentleman has been very much censured for gross egotism, accompanied with a degree of heat about his writings, that the judicious have laughed hearty at. Indeed when we review the weakness of human nature, and liken every Irishman who tells us he is descended from the first Monarchs of antiquity, and to literary Scotchmen, who will have themselves Thomsons, Robertsons, and Blairs, we must pass over, with a smile, and without severe censure, this vanity of our author.

The greatest part of his labours are compilations, these are within the judgment of every sensible school-boy to execute, consequently a compiler's share of praise is but faint; and as to our author's original compositions, and indeed many others of the present day, that rise superior to him what are the effusions of their genius, but what the immortal Sterne justly observes of such writings, "pouring out of one bottle into another?"