1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Jackson Pratt

Francis William Blagdon, "Biographical Sketches: Mr. Pratt" Flowers of Literature for 1803 (1804) 35-40.



Those misfortunes which, indeed, too frequently cloud the prospects of the sons and daughters of genius, and impede their future figure and advancement, overshadowed the morning of the life of Mr. Pratt. [Author's note: Was born at St. Ives, in Huntingdonshire, about the year 1749-50 old style, upon Christmas day. He survived fifteen brothers or sisters, most of whom died young. His father was a gentleman of great worth, good family, and of considerable property.] The gloom with which his spring of existence was overcast, severe disappointments of a tender nature, and embarrassments brought on by family differences , gave a premature check to all attempts of fixing in the liberal professions, in either of which he was unquestionably endowed with qualities to become eminent [Author's note: By a long chancery suit, he lost a considerable part of his patrimonial property; the family estates and mansion-house; the name of which was Rockwood Hall, in Essex. The house itself is famous in history, having concealed Elizabeth from the rage of her sister Mary].

To our author's varieties of fortune, the public are probably indebted for no slight share of their amusement and gratification. Few, if any, of our English writers having contributed more to the stock of their literary pleasure than Mr. Pratt, whose numerous writings, in favour of philanthropy, have now ranked him high in the public esteem, and whose productions must have a proportionate effect, in diffusing that delicacy and liberality of sentiment, and those rich effusions of fancy, which are no less ornamental than beneficial to society.

Mr. Pratt's productive pen has proceeded in one undeviating progress, no less chaste in design than beautiful in execution, through the whole circle of the Belles Lettres; and there are very few literary subjects of which it has not, in the unwearied and unwearying course of its multifarious labours, presented us with a specimen of that versatility of talent for which he is remarkable.

Our author's performances in prose and verse were for some years anonymous, or under an assumed signature, diffused in private circles or among his friends. His first efforts were made in monthly publications, where they were soon sufficiently noticed to be copied into various vehicles.

When he was no more than twenty years of age, Mr. Pratt published a poetical work called The Tears of Genius, occasioned by the death of Dr. Goldsmith, or a poetical commemoration of the departed English bards, whose sentiments and style are caught with much spirit and accuracy; and thus the work is as happy, in its execution as in its idea. This poem, as well as Sympathy, a poem almost unequalled for its delightful versification, benevolent sentiment, and exquisite imagery, was collected, and given to the world, with others which the author deemed most worthy, under the title of Miscellanies, in four volumes. The muse of Mr. Pratt has shone forth at various times, and, till very lately, with additional lustre; in her poetical tribute to the talents of the English Roscius; in the effusions which she has offered at the shrine of unexampled goodness, as displayed by that extraordinary character, the great philanthropist Howard; in vindicating the rights of nature, and inculcating the virtues of humanity; and in various impromptus on temporary subjects.

Mr. Pratt has not been so happy in his criticisms, as in his poetry. His critical works, however, are not destitute of merit: his observations on the admirable genius of the sublime, though very unequal to the writer of the Night Thoughts, display, amidst some juvenilities, a solid judgment and taste. His commentary and illustrations of the most interesting and beautiful narratives of the Bible, presented in the most pathetic and attractive manner, afford a pleasing example of the author's abilities for literary criticism.

Encouraged by public favour, our author produced a work of the novel kind, in which he discovered to the public that peculiar facility of delineating characters, whether ludicrous or pathetic, which he has since carried to a degree of perfection equalled by few: he is the successful rival of Fielding, Richardson, Sterne. As a novelist, Mr. Pratt has happily personified Lord Chesterfield's maxims in his famous letters; and by a natural train of events, in a story that touches every chord of the human heart, demonstrated the pernicious and fatal tendency of that dazzling casuist. He has in a second romance given the contrast to the first, which had been deemed dangerous; and, with the like felicity of diction, and the same splendour of fancy, avoided, sedulously, whatever could prove hostile to delicacy or morals. He has created, peopled, and endowed a village on the principles of the poet Shenstone, who had hinted at the delight he should have had in building an entire neighbourhood, filling it with inhabitants, and then settling them according to their rank, feelings, and talents; and, in realizing this idea, he has proved its fallacy, and made the reader lament that it is only a fairy dream. He has also, in a universally-admired novel, affectingly illustrated and described those woes of war which raged most furiously during the American contest. He has at last, as a novelist, in a work that may be denominated of the old school, where there is neither ghost, goblin, nor spectre, given sketches of literary conversations, woven into an affecting and interesting story, which, to the moral delicacies of Richardson, unites much of the humour of Fielding.

Since the year 1788, Mr. Pratt resided chiefly on the continent; and he has given to the public the observations he made abroad. He is a traveller very different from all those enumerated by Sterne. Lively and pleasant exhibitions of manners, amusing and interesting anecdotes, reflections gay, grave, sportive, and sentimental, all expressed in a familiar and animated style, such are the qualities which distinguish our author as a tourist. His humorous or pathetic stories are of the first order of composition. The heart owns him resistless.

On the return of Mr. Pratt to England, one of the public prints expressed a wish that he would no more alienate himself to glean in foreign lands. He has complied with this wish, and since presented us a Harvest home. According to a learned critic, he has shown himself a faithful delineator of his countrymen, and a generous and manly defender of his native land. His picture of England presents the island in all its scenic beauties, coloured by the affections, and pourtrayed with the hand both of a painter and of a poet. The smiling remark is judiciously brought its to chase away the tear produced by the pathetic narratives.

Mr. Pratt, who has always avowed a disinclination to engage in the heats of party, has, nevertheless, invariably shown himself, in his actions and in various well-timed pamphlets, a warm and patriotic friend to the good order of that social compact, by which all men are bound to their native country. His life, in short, has been constantly distinguished by a uniform support and practice of the most amiable qualities