1781 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Langhorne

Anonymous, "Memoirs of Dr. Langhorne" Westminster Magazine 9 (December 1781) 646-47.



DR. LANGHORNE was born about the year 1736, if we mistake not, at a country town in Yorkshire: his father was a wealthy farmer, but so influenced by his wife as to indulge her in a sort of town-house, in the Winter season, while himself attended his business. He was desirous of breeding the boy to his own business, but Mrs. Langhorne wished to have him a churchman, as more genteel. The father never gave the point up, though he agreed to educating the boy at a grammar-school, and was afterwards prevailed upon to send him to the University. This step ruined his own scheme, and effected his wife's. Young Langhorne, though very prudent, and guilty of no excesses, took a fancy to letters, and an academic life, which chimed in very much with his mother's destination. The father very sensibly remonstrated with him, explained the profits of his farm, and his own incapacity to advance him in the church, in which way of life a couple of curacies were the most he could expect; assuring him that he would not give up his farm for any four in the county. But education had spoiled him for a farmer, and he took orders. — Why he quitted college, and did not stay for a fellowship, is not known. Disappointments soon came upon him; his brother rivalled him in his father's esteem, and was bred to the farm. Young Langhorne was disgusted with his situation; advertised for a curacy near London; obtained one so near it, that he presently knew something of the town, and found himself involved in difficulties, to which the world are indebted for his taking up the pen. We believe his first attempt to get employment of the booksellers, was with Mr. Ralph Griffiths, the proprietor of the Monthly Review. Whether he worked in that journal, is not known; but he was certainly connected with Griffiths, as an author, for three or four years, though never, we believe, with any great success. He wanted exceedingly to become the Editor of a Magazine, and wrote many things to introduce himself, but never obtained it. For the first four or five years of his authorship, he was quite unknown to the world; lodged in a two-pair-of-stairs small apartment, in a court near Gray's-Inn-Gate, and, we believe, struggled with many difficulties. He owed his rise to Griffiths, who came one morning to breakfast with and give him serious advice, as he had done to many other authors before. — He first endeavoured to persuade him, that his best step was to return into the country, and take curacies in his father's neighbourhood, as he would then have advantages in the house he could not reap elsewhere; he would also have quiet and leisure to set about and pursue any work of consequence that he engaged in. He also advised him by all means to give up all thoughts of living by general authorship, such as had supported him in London, and to determine either to produced some work which should bring him profit through fame, or else to give up writing altogether. Whether Langhorne took his advice we know not; but he certainly went into the country, and spent a year with his father; then growing tired of the situation, and longing for another trial of London, he returned with some small manuscripts: — he went to Griffiths, who would engage in none of them, and recommended him to Mr. Becket, who gave him a trial of one piece, we think it was his Theodosia and Constantia; the agreement was conditional on the sale. — The success of this work, which was very good, secured Mr. Becket as a ready purchaser of others, and he continued his publisher for some years. Being a successful author was the height of Langhorne's ambition: finding, however, that in proportion as he wrote, his name became common, and being repeatedly advised by his bookseller, that this in time would, without the greatest talents, ruin the sale of his works; he thought earnestly of procuring some settlement in life, beyond that most precarious one of all, his pen. A fortunate distich on Mr. Bampfield's ornamented grounds in Somersetshire, did what all his plans could not have effected. There is a "witchery" in a beautiful spot, and Langhorne wrote and stuck up in it,

O'er Bampfield's woods, by various nature grac'd,
A "witch" presides — But then that "witch" is TASTE!

This trifle brought him acquainted with Mr. Bampfield, who, not long after, gave him a living of value; and the Doctor marrying a woman of some fortune, he was eligibly fixed, became a justice of the Peace, and wrote the best of all his works, The Country Justice, a poem. Upon the whole, his life was fortunate, and a sea of trouble saved him, in getting out of a dependence on his pen alone for his support.