1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Merry

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 69 (March 1799) 252-54.



Dec. 24. At Baltimore, in America, walking in his garden, about 8 o'clock in the morning, suddenly dropped down in a fit of apoplexy, and, before 11, yielded his last breath, Robert Merry, esq. Several gentlemen of the faculty attended, and every possible means of recovery were in vain had recourse to. He was eldest son of Rob. M. esq. late governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, by a sister of the late Judge Willes; was born 1755; educated at Harrow under the private tuition of Dr. Parr; admitted of Christ college, Cambridge, and of Lincoln's inn. On the death of his father he bought a commission in the horse-guards, and was several years adjutant and lieutenant to the first troop, commanded by Lord Lothian. He quitted this service, and travelled some years on the Continent, making a long residence at Florence, where he was a member of the celebrated academy Della Crusca, being a principal contributor to the Florence Miscellany, written by a few English of both sexes, among whom were Mrs. Piozzi, Mr. Greathead, &c. "whom chance had jumbled together in that city, and who took a fancy to while away their time in scribbling high-flown panegyricks on themselves, and complimentary 'canzonettas' on two or three Italians, who understood too little of the language in which they were written to be disgusted with them. In this there was not much harm, nor, indeed, much good; but, as folly is progressive, they soon wrought themselves into an opinion that they really deserved the fine things which were mutually said and sung of each other." (See some of their productions in our vol. LVII. pp. 257, 258). In 1787, he published, at London, "Paulina, or the Russian Daughter," a poetical tale founded on fact; and, next year, "Diversity, a Poem." Also, another poem, called "The Laurel of Liberty;" "Lorenzo," a tragedy, represented at Covent-garden; "An Ode for the 14th of July, 1794," performed at the Crown and Anchor tavern (LXI. 673); "Fenelon, or the Nuns of Cambray," a serious drama, altered from the French; and the "Pains of Memory," a poem, 1796; an ode on his Majesty's recovery, recited by Mrs. Siddons at a Gala given by the subscribers to Brookes's club; "The Magician no Conjurer," a comic, or, as the author of "The Maeviad" calls it, "idiotical" Opera, acted four nights in the winter of 1791. June 29, 1787, he sent a little poem, intituled "The Adieu and the Recall to Love," signed Della Crusca, to The World, a news-paper of the day, "set up by a knot of fantastic coxcombs, alike ignorant and conceited, who took upon them to direct the taste of the town, by prefixing a short panegyrick to every trifle." At this auspicious period the first cargo of poetry arrived from Florence, and was given to the publick through the medium of this favoured paper. While the epidemic malady was spreading, Della Crusca came over, and immediately announced himself by a sonnet to Love. Anna Matilda wrote an incomparable piece of nonsense in praise of it; and these "two great luminaries of the age," as Mr. Bell calls them, fell desperately in love with each other. From that period, not a day passed without an amatory epistle — the fever turned to a frenzy — and from one end of the kingdom to the other all was nonsense and Della Crusca. Heaven itself, if we may believe Mrs. Robinson, took part in the general infatuation,

Round to catch the "heavenly" song,
Myriads of "wondering" seraphs throng.

It was answered by another poem, intituled, "The Pen," signed Anna Matilda. This correspondence was kept up two years by various new writers; and it was at last discovered that the two first were Mr. M. and Mrs. Robinson, who had an interview towards the conclusion of the correspondence; and the poetry was reprinted in volumes, under the title of "The Poetry of the World," which reached a fourth edition in two vols. 12mo, intituled "The British Album," in which Mr. M.'s "Diversity" and "Ambitious Vengeance" are inserted. The first interview between Mr. M. and Mrs. R. produced disgust, and this fatal meeting put an end to the whole. When the Baviad came forth, Della Crusca appeared no more in the Oracle. The re-appearance of some of this knot as writers for the stage called forth "The Maeviad."

Mr. Merry was an accomplished man, and certainly possessed a degree of poetical genius that might have given permanence to his works, if his Muse had not been seduced by the tinsel of affectation. He may be considered as one of the victims of the French Revolution; for his mind was deeply tainted by the principles upon which that detestable event was founded; and he was induced to consider friendship and reputation as a slight sacrifice at the altar of Jacobinism. Before the lamentable disorders in France, he was highly esteemed by numerous and respectable friends, who admired him for his knowledge, humour, and companionable qualities; but the change in his political opinions gave a sullen gloom to his character, which made him relinquish all his former connexions, and unite with people far beneath his talents, and quite unsuitable to his habits. He once possessed a good fortune, which was devoted to a fashionable style of living; and, by family interest, as well as by his talents, he might have raised himself in the army, which he quitted early in life. He married, Aug. 29, 1791, Miss Brunton, the actress, and induced her to exercise her talents in America, because Republican principles prevailed in that country, and to procure him a maintenance. Those who knew Mr. Merry in former days must regret that a man, to whom Nature had been so bountiful, and who began life with so fair a prospect, should not have escaped the influence of that political contagion which has spread misery over private life, as well as endangered the best foundations of society, more than any other event which is recorded in the history of mankind. He has been loudly stigmatized and decried by an elegant satirist of the present time, and the "most correct poetical writer since Pope," William Gifford, in "The Baviad, and "The Maeviad." His false glitter, negligence, and obscurity, are highly reprehensible. See a very good character of him in "The Ghost of Pope."

Behold La Crusca's Paridel advance,
From courts or stews, from Florence or from France;
Before him Swift and Addison retire;
He brings new prose, new verse, new lyric fire;
Proves a designer works without design,
And fathoms Nature with a Gallic line.