1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Jackson Pratt

John Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 9:722-23.



Mr. Samuel Jackson Pratt was descended from a very respectable family; his father, it is believed, having been High-Sheriff of Huntingdonshire; and was born at St. Ives, in that county, on Christmas-day 1749. Mr. Pratt commenced his literary course very early in life, under the name of Courtney Melmoth. The first of his productions which attracted the notice of the publick was, "The Tears of Genius, occasioned by the Death of Dr. Goldsmith, 1774," whose poetical works are the model of his own, and whom he has followed more successfully than any subsequent writer. His poem of "Sympathy" has passed through many editions, and is characterized by feeling, energy, and beauty. — When he had established a fame by his Poems and Novels, he threw off his assumed name, and increased his reputation by his succeeding productions. He was one of the most prolific writers of his day; and it is but a just tribute to his character to say, that all his works strongly tend to promote the interests of benevolence and virtue. Though his literary fame has been somewhat overcast by the extraordinary success of several contemporary Poets, yet it is probable that many of his works will be admired when most of theirs have sunk into oblivion. His chief error was, not knowing how to check the exuberance of his feeling and imagination; and, therefore, he sometimes diffused his sentiments to a tedious extent. His first Novel, intituled, "Liberal Opinions upon Animals, Man, and Providence," 1775, &c. was published in detached volumes, which were eagerly perused as they successively appeared. — They display the imperfection we have noticed; but exhibit, at the same time, some well-drawn characters, particularly those of Benignus and Draper, and the work altogether is highly amusing and interesting. His "Shenstone Green," "Emma Corbett," "The Pupil of Pleasure, or the New System [Lord Chesterfield's] illustrated," have passed through many editions, and are likely to preserve their station. His "Gleanings," and "Cottage Pictures," have been deservedly admired; but the former are certainly extended to a wearisome excess. A judicious selection from his works, and a candid account of his life, would form an. interesting and amusing miscellany, and probably may be expected from his friend and literary coadjutor, Dr. Mavor. — Mr. Pratt was intimately connected with many distinguished characters of our times. Among these were Dr. Potter, the translator of Aeschylus and Euripides, the elder Colman, Dr. Beattie, and, indeed, most of those characters whose works will live with the literature of their country. The collection of Letters which Mr. Pratt received form a considerable mass; and a selection would be an interesting addition to our epistolary treasures. His "Sympathy" was first handed to the late Mr. Cadell by another of his friends, Gibbon the Historian. Dr. Hawkesworth was one of Mr. Pratt's most intimate friends; and the latter wrote a Tragedy, intituled, "The Fair Circassian, 1780," which was founded on the novel of "Almoran and Hamet," written by the former. This Tragedy was represented with considerable success at Drury-lane Theatre, and the heroine was performed by the present Countess of Derby. The character was intended for Mrs. Siddons, of whom Mr. Pratt was one of the earliest friends; but that Luminary of the Stage did not adorn the theatrical world in the Metropolis till the following year. — Mr. Pratt's other dramatic productions were, "Joseph Andrews," a farce, 1778; never published. "School for Vanity," a comedy, 1785. "New Cosmestic," a comedy, 1790. "Fire and Frost," a comic opera, 1805. "HailFel1ow, well met," a drama, 1805. "Love's Trials," a comic opera, 1805. "The Mine," a dramatic ballet; not published. "The Saxon Princess," a tragedy; not published. "The Vale of Petrarch," a dramatic poem; not published. — Mr. Pratt was for a short time in the Church, during which he published a beautiful Elegy, intituled, "The Partridges," which is to be found in all the collections of fugitive poetry. He afterwards ventured on theatrical boards; and performed Hamlet at Covent-garden in 1774, but not with such success as to tempt him to adopt the profession of an Actor, though he was followed and admired as a public reader in this country, in Scotland, and in Ireland. He then entered into a partnership with a Bookseller at Bath; but he found that a shop was little congenial to his disposition and habits, and therefore soon relinquished the connexion. The early life of Mr. Pratt was marked by such indiscretions as too frequently accompany genius, obliged to subsist by its own labours; but he was always ready to employ his efforts in the service of humanity, and was particularly zealous in the cause of unfriended talents; witness his "Specimens of the Poetry of Joseph Blackett; with an Account of his Life, and some Introductory Observations." No man who ever attained public distinction was more exempt from envy; and though he may, in the vicissitudes of a life unsupported by fortune, and exposed to all the casualties of a precarious subsistence, have fallen into errors, nothing of malice or ill-nature can justly be imputed to him; and, as his works are all intended to promote the interests of virtue, none of those errors should be "remembered in his epitaph." — Mr. Pratt died at Birmingham) Oct. 4, 1814. — For other Works, not here mentioned, see Gent. Mag. vol. LXXXIV. ii 399.