1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Mitchell

Joseph Robertson, in Lives of the Scottish Poets (1822) 6:148-50.



JOSEPH MITCHELL, was "one of a club of small wits who, about 1719, published (at Edinburgh) a very poor miscellany, to which Dr. Young, the author of the Night Thoughts, prefixed a copy of verses," Mr. Ramsay of Ochtertye. He came afterwards to London, and was patronized by the Earl of Stair and Sir Robert Walpole; by the latter so particularly, that he got the name of "Sir Robert Walpole's poet." He might have become affluent, but giving himself up to dissipation, lived in a state of constant distress. "The Fatal Extravagance," a Tragedy, which was originally acted and published in Mitchell's name, was written by Aaron Hill, and made a present by him to Mitchell, in order that, with the profits of it, he might relieve himself from some pecuniary difficulty. Mitchell was ingenuous enough to be himself the first to undeceive the public. The "Highland Fair," a ballad opera, brought out in 1731, was his own composition, and is in a better vein of humour than any of his other pieces. Among Burns' MSS. there was found a memorandum, stating that "Pinky House" was "by J. Mitchell." He seems, says Cibber, "to have been a poet of the third rate." Of his critical judgment there is a curious anecdote recorded. As soon as Thomson published his Winter, he presented a copy to Mitchell, who gave him his opinion of it in the following couplet:

Beauties and faults so thick lie scatter'd here,
Those I could read, if these were not so near.

Thomson replied—

Why "all" not faults, injurious Mitchell! why
Appears one beauty to thy blasted eye?
Damnation worse than thine, if worse can be,
Is all I ask, and all I want from thee.

On a friend's remarking to Thomson that the expression of "blasted" eye would look like a personal reflection, as Mitchell really had that misfortune, he made an awkward change of the epithet into "blasting." A collection of Mitchell's poems, in two volumes, was published in 1729.