1773 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Lloyd

A Sincere Friend, "New and Genuine Memoirs of Mr. R. Lloyd" Westminster Magazine 1 (March 1773) 181-85.



Mr. Robert Lloyd was the son of the celebrated and learned Dr. Lloyd, second-master of Westminster-school; under whom he acted as usher to that learned seminary, and where he ever distinguished himself as an excellent classical scholar. We have often heard his contemporaries argue, who was best entitled to the bays; and it was ever granted by Churchill, Thornton, Colman, Bensly, &c. to Mr. Lloyd. The confinement of a scholastic life not suiting with the active genius of the poet, Mr. Lloyd soon expressed a great dissatisfaction at those bookish restrictions; and, breaking from the trammels by degrees, he became at last a professed Man of the Town. Having studied at Oxford with advantage and reputation, where he acquired the degree of A.M. he launched out upon the great stage of the world, and published his celebrated Poem of the ACTOR, which acquired him a reputation he most deservedly merited. It was the fame of this poem which touched the poetical mettle of Churchill, and fired his mind for the composition of the Rosciad, which the Public preferring to the Actor, often made Lloyd with some acrimony call him the Leviathan of literature. Mr. Lloyd afterwards published some poetical epistles, and a volume of poems; but his friend Churchill's genius so far out-stripped him in the race, that he was quite discouraged in the pursuit of fame.

Thus Nisus fell upon the slipp'ry place,
While his young friend perform'd and won the race.

But notwithstanding this yielded superiority to his friend, they were inseparable; and one purse and one sentiment governed the minds of the two. Lloyd was of a tacit disposition, reserved, and attentive; he took much snuff, and would often sit the auditor of conversation, rather than the promoter. We are informed of an invitation which he once received from a nobleman, celebrated in the republic of letters, entreating his company to dinner, as being a great admirer of his reputed wit and genius. However, to the great disappointment of the noble, he never uttered a syllable the whole entertainment.

Mr. Lloyd having resigned his situation in Westminster-school, and his literary productions not succeeding to his wishes, or equal to his necessities, occasioned him to contract some debts which were not altogether so agreeable to his freedom. Men of genius are too often distressed; and though all the rising generations since the days of Homer censure the barbarity of Greece for the neglect of that incomparable and most majestic bard, for whose birth seven cities after his death contended, yet they could see a living genius sinking under the hand of distress, without giving any assistance or relief, to save a Heaven-inspired bard.

Smyrna, Rhodos, Colophon, Salamis, Chios, Argos, Athenae,
Cedite jam: Caelum Patria MOEONIDAE.

Salamis, Athens, Colophon of fame,
Rhodes, Smyrna, Chios, Argos, yield your claim:
Heav'n's Homer's City, and from Gods he came.

Mr. Churchill very justly observed, that if Virgil was alive, and was so unhappily situated, every street would produce a Maecenas to relieve him; though the merits of his friend entitled him to the protection of the world, as much as the Farmer of Mantua deserved the countenance of Augustus; whom the poets of that period have made immortal by their verses; and yet I verily believe the emperor to have been as dull as any deputy of the city common council.

Mr. Lloyd's affairs rather gathering the cloud about them, than brightening up, and a debt of £500 being brought against him, of which Mr. Thornton was a creditor, and the most obdurate (though they had been bosom-friends from infancy), a release from the Fleet began to be without hope; for though Mr. Churchill made him a handsome weekly allowance, yet he could not discharge so heavy a debt at once; and Mr. Lloyd's creditors were unwilling to relinquish their full claims.

It was now that Mr. Charles Denis (who is since dead) of most excellent manners, and most pure and lively wit, became acquainted with Mr. Lloyd, and joined with him in a translation of Marmontel; which not being so well executed as might have been expected from two such geniuses, occasioned Mr. Colman to take advantage of their neglects; and he published a better edition of that celebrated French author.

From these walls of durance vile, Lloyd sent forth his St. James's Magazines, which contain some excellent compositions of the men of letters of that period. In this confinement too he wrote his Capricious Lovers, which was acted with some applause, but not equal to its deserts for music and poetry.

About this time, Mr. Churchill went to Boulogne to meet with Mr. Wilkes, where he died of a military fever; and some abrupt herald unhappily bringing the dismal tidings, and suddenly breaking the unwelcome news to Lloyd, who was at dinner, occasioned an immediate sickness. He threw up his victuals, said to his friends, "I shall follow poor Charles," took to his bed, and never rose from it more:

Like a white poppy sinking on the plain,
Whose heavy head is over-charg'd with rain.

In this sickness, he was attended by Miss Patty Churchill, a favourite sister of the Poet, who possessed his fire, his sense, and genius. She was a young lady of most exemplary manners, and was betrothed to Mr. Lloyd; but so great an effect had these two melancholy catastrophes upon her mind, that she did not long survive her brother and his friend.

Perhaps, since that recorded attachment of Nisus and Euryalus, we have not had two such cemented and uncorrupted friendships as these gentlemen possessed for each other; nor was any grief, upon any memorable occasion, more feeling or more grateful than that of our unhappy author.

Ye moon and stars, bear witness to the truth!
His only crime (if friendship can offend)
Is too much love to his unhappy friend.
One fame, one faith, one fate, shall both attend,
My life's companion, and my bosom friend.

Mr. Lloyd was about thirty-three years old when he died; he was about five feet six inches in stature, of a fair complexion, with a Roman nose. He was mild, affable, good-natured, and generous to a degree of poetical profuseness. As a poet, his compositions are sweet, smooth, and harmonious, and are composed of happy materials, between the styles of Gay and Prior. As his subjects are not so immediately temporary and political, his works may be longer read than Mr. Churchill's; and we hope we shall not be deemed partial or extravagant if we say, that his compositions and style will be the standard of the English language for the period he lived in.

While this unhappy but most excellent poet was under such restrictions, the Fleet became the seat of the Muses; and all the men of wit and genius of the age repaired to this gloomy temple; but such company dispelled the very idea of confinement, and gave his apartments the air of the court of Apollo.

Mr. James Bensly about this period too had the misfortune to break his leg, by a fall from his horse on Lincoln-Heath. An amputation being performed, and not properly secured, he bled to death in the nigh, without the assistance of the Faculty. This ingenious gentleman formed the Triumvirate; and in his classical knowledge he was allowed to be inferior to none, and equal to Mr. Lloyd. He was bred to business, and succeeded his father as an agent to sea-officers, but failed. He was too highly seasoned by the cooks of Castely, and too much captivated by the maids of Aganippe, to follow the dull plodding circle of Cent. per Cent. The atmosphere of Change-Alley was dank and heavy to a mind like his, which soared to the celestial regions of Helicon.

Ye sacred Muses, with whose beauty fir'd,
My soul is ravish'd, and my brain inspir'd.

Mr. Bensly was nearly of an age with his cotemporaries. Not one of the Three reached the meridian of forty years; and they died within a few weeks of each other, beloved, admired, revered, read, honoured, and lamented.

As Mr. Lloyd, in the misfortunes of the latter part of his life, was frequently reproached with having used too liberal and extravagant freedoms with the former part of it, particularly in having spent so much of it in nocturnal amusements with Mr. Churchill; we shall transcribe a few lines from Churchill's Poem called Night, which was written directly as an apology for their inseparable fellowship.

When foes insult, and prudent friends dispense,
In pity's strains, the worst of insolence,
Oft with thee LLOYD, I steal an hour from grief,
And in the social converse find relief.
The mind, of solitude impatient grown,
Loves any sorrows rather than her own.

Let slaves to business, bodies without soul,
Important blanks in Nature's mighty roll,
Solemnize nonsense in the day's broad glare,
We NIGHT prefer, which heals or hides our care.

ROGUES justified, and by success made bold,
Dull fools and coxcombs sanctified by Gold,
Freely may bask in Fortune's partial ray,
And spread their feathers op'ning to the day;
But thread-bare Merit dares not shew the head
'Till vain Prosperity retires to bed.
Misfortunes, like the Owl, avoid the light;
The sons of CARE are always sons of NIGHT.

Then in Oblivion's grateful cup I drown
The galling sneer, the supercilious frown,
The strange reserve, the proud affected state
Of upstart knaves grown rich, and fools grown great.
No more that abject wretch disturbs my rest,
Who meanly overlooks a friend distrest.
Purblind to Poverty the Worldling goes,
And scarce sees rags an inch beyond his nose;
But from a crowd can single out his grace,
And cringe and creep to fools who strut in lace.