While it is so frequently made a matter of complaint by most biographers, that the noiseless tenor of an author's life affords so few materials for the pen, is so barren of incident, and deficient in novelty and interest, as to call forth all their anecdotic powers to excite the attention of their readers; we lament the opportunity afforded us by our author of relating some few facts beyond the mere limits of his literary labours, facts too notorious to be suppressed, too immoral to be palliated.
The life of Churchill may be divided into two periods, as unequal in their length as in the celebrity which attached to them. During the first period of seven and twenty years, with the exception of a few indiscretions, his conduct in every relation, as son, as brothers husband, friend, and father, was rigidly and exemplarily, though obscurely, virtuous and correct; the remaining six years of his life present us with an odious contrast.
It is somewhat singular that no authentic memoirs should hitherto have been published of a poet once so celebrated, and who during the latter period of his life excited more than any of his contemporaries the attention of the public. The variety of letters, essays, papers, poems, and paragraphs relating to him with which the press teemed from 1761 to 1765 would scarcely be credited, except after as laborious a research into the Reviews, Pamphlets, Magazines, and Newspapers of that period as has been made by us in the course of our remarks on the following poems. Yet a man thus the universal theme of censure, praise, or imitation, died in the full meridian of his reputation, and not one of his surviving literary friends was found to undertake the task of rescuing his fame from the exaggerated aspersions of his enemies, and thus pay to his memory the just tribute of an authentic narrative.
The first account that was published of our author after his death, appeared in the Annual Register for 1764, and that partial and inaccurate statement has been the groundwork of all the biographical notices of his life which have hitherto appeared. His biographers, perfectly sensible of the paucity of their materials, have endeavoured to compensate for their deficiency in real information, by exerting their inventive talents. False relations, witticisms, forged letters, and imaginary anecdotes, have been substituted for truth, consistency, and impartiality. It is not by any means either our wish, or intention to engage in a refutation of the numerous errors and misrepresentations with which these narratives abound; such a refutation might indeed serve to swell our volume, but the triumph would be too dearly purchased at the expence of our readers' patience. It will be our endeavour therefore to confine ourselves, without farther adverting to the faults of others, to the single object of laying before the public a short and unembellished account of our author, possessing no other advantages than what authenticity and impartiality can bestow.
Charles Churchill was the eldest son of the Reverend Charles Churchill, rector of Rainham, near Grays, in Essex, and many years curate and lecturer of St. John the Evangelist, Westminster. He was born at his father's house in Vine-street, in the last-mentioned parish, some time in February, 1731. When about eight years of age, be was sent to Westminster school, of which seminary Dr. Nichols and Dr. Pierson Lloyd were then masters; while his father, who was every way qualified for the office, superintended his education during the intervals of public study, as his private tutor. His proficiency in classical learning was considerable, but not so extraordinary as to intitle him to any pre-eminence over several of his school-fellows in the same class with himself. He as yet exhibited no promise of that brilliancy of imagination, that vigour and force of genius, which, in his maturer years, were his peculiar characteristics.
At the age of fifteen, he became a candidate to be admitted on the foundation at Westminster, and went in head of the election; soon afterwards a circumstance happened which seemed in some measure to indicate the future strength and bent of his abilities. Having by some trifling puerile misdemeanour incurred the displeasure of his masters, he was by them enjoined to compose a poetical declamation in Latin, and speak it publicly in the school room, by way of apology for his misbehaviour. This task he acquitted himself of in so proper yet spirited a manner, as to obtain the unqualified approbation of his masters, without forfeiting the esteem of his schoolfellows by any undue concessions.
On entering his nineteenth year he quitted Westminster school, and, as is generally supposed, applied for matriculation at the university of Oxford; here it is said he was repulsed on account of his alleged deficiency in the learned languages. We cannot vouch for the authenticity of this anecdote, but must suppose he was more successful in his answers, or the questions to have been less difficult, at his next examination, at Cambridge, in 1749, in which year we find him admitted of Trinity College in that University. Immediately after his admission he returned to London, thoroughly disgusted with both Universities; neither of which can claim any share in his education, which was begun and finished at Westminster.
An intimacy formed by Churchill, while at Westminster, with a young lady of the name of Scot, whose father lived in the immediate neighbourhood of the school, led to a marriage between them, which, justly apprehensive of their parents' disapprobation, was clandestinely solemnized at the Fleet. To this premature and inconsiderate measure, most of the difficulties in which our author was afterwards involved may fairly be ascribed; and, in his endeavours to forget or elude those difficulties, he acquired such habits of dissipation as indirectly terminated his life, and from acquiring which he was not likely to be deterred by the example, or reclaimed by the moral influence, of the partner he had thus injudiciously selected, before he had attained those powers of discrimination so infinitely necessary, yet so seldom attended to, in forming that important connexion on which the subsequent colour of a man's life entirely depends. But we are anticipating events.
His father, who had been reluctantly reconciled to this imprudent match, received the youthful couple into his house, in Vine-street, soon after their nuptials. Here they resided about a twelvemonth, during which period the conduct of our author was exemplarily regular and domestic. Indeed the calm and tranquil scenes of life were infinitely better calculated for his studious and contemplative disposition, than the incessant turmoil, noise, and bustle of the great and busy world.
In the year 1751, influenced by family reasons, Churchill retired to Sunderland, in the North of England. In that retirement he devoted almost the whole of his time to his favourite poetical amusements; at length, however, he saw the necessity, as he was designed for the church, of applying to more serious and useful studies, which he now commenced with the most determined assiduity. This course of indefatigable application he uniformly pursued until the age of two-and-twenty, when he visited the metropolis to take possession of a small fortune, to which he became intitled in right of his wife.
During his residence in London, at this time, he occasionally frequented the theatres, and made many of those critical observations which, seven years afterwards; embellished and adorned the Rosciad. Shakspeare, his favourite author, then appeared in meridian splendour; Garrick, Pritchard, and Cibber, exhibited his various beauties in the strongest point of view, and gave full force, dignity, and maturity, to the scenic art.
At the customary age, our author was ordained deacon by Dr. Willes, Bishop of Bath and Wells, on his friend Mr. Bailey's curacy of Cadbury, in Somersetshire, whither he immediately removed. He no sooner embraced the clerical profession, than he earnestly laboured from principle to discharge the important duties now incumbent on him, to the utmost of his abilities. His doctrine was Orthodox, while his conduct was regular, studious, and unaffectedly consistent with his function.
When a little turned of five-and-twenty, he was, without any difficulty, on the mere strength of his good character and reputation for learning, and notwithstanding his having taken no degree, nor having ever studied at either of the Universities, ordained priest by Dr. Sherlock, Bishop of London and Master of the Temple, on his father's curacy of Rainham, in Essex. He still persevered in the same tenor of behaviour, and engaged more closely than ever in the study of theology. He now appeared to have bid a final adieu to the Muses, of whose enchanting society he had once been so deeply enamoured. Barrow and Tillotson superseded his former favourites Juvenal and Dryden.
His family increasing, he soon perceived that his scanty curacy would prove insufficient to support it with common decency and credit: he therefore determined to adopt some scheme, which, while it should be professionally consistent, might at once supply his exigencies, and rather increase than diminish his reputation among his parishioners. In pursuance of this plan he opened a school, and obtained, in a short space of' time, as much encouragement as could be expected in a situation so obscure.
[Author's note: We have endeavoured to ascertain the truth of the anecdote, so often repeated, of Churchill's retiring into Wales upon a curacy of £30 a year, his commencing cyder merchant to improve his revenue, his ill success in that speculation, and its termination in a sort of rural bankruptcy. The manuscripts in our possession make no mention of these circumstances, and we have every reason to believe that Rainham and Cadbury were the only country churches in which Churchill ever officiated as curate.]
To men of genius in general an occupation of this nature must ever be intolerably irksome. The monotonous bondage and elementary drudgery of a school but ill accord with strong sense and a vigorous imagination; and our author often acknowledged that this proved the most disagreeable pursuit in which he had ever been engaged, and that nothing could have supported him under it but the heartfelt consciousness of the unimpeachable rectitude and propriety of his conduct.
He was removed from this disagreeable engagement by an event infinitely more distressing to his feelings. In the year 1758, his father died, by which his family lost a most affectionate monitor and friend, and society an invaluable member; this tribute is justly due to the memory of a man whose strict undeviating integrity, and amiable disposition of mind, endeared him to a numerous acquaintance; in the large circle of which he had scarcely ever excited in others, or experienced in himself, the slightest emotion of animosity or ill will.
Immediately upon the death of his father, our author was unanimously elected as his successor to the curacy and lectureship of St. John the Evangelist. This honourable testimony of respect for his father's memory, and for his own merit, became with him an additional incentive to persist in the line of conduct he had hitherto adopted. As a parochial priest, he performed his duties with the utmost punctuality, and in the pulpit he was plain, rational, and emphatic.
When he had been a few months settled at Westminster, notwithstanding his wellgrounded aversion to the employment, he once more engaged in the business of tuition, but upon an infinitely more eligible footing than he had ever been before. He now undertook to give lessons in the English tongue to the young ladies at Mrs. Dennis's boarding school in Queen's-square, Bloomsbury; and likewise in his leisure hours attended several young gentlemen, who, having acquired a competent skill in the dead languages, were desirous of receiving some assistance in forming their taste, and directing their studies with respect to the classical authors of antiquity. He acquitted himself of these engagements much to his own credit, and entirely to the satisfaction of his employers.
Such was Charles Churchill, until he was twenty-seven years of age; at which time a total alteration took place in his general system of conduct and behaviour in life. Some acute observers of human nature have imagined, that there is a climacteric of the mind as well as of the body, and that at certain periods revolutions happen in the intellectual as well as in the corporeal world of man. Perhaps this doctrine might have been thought applicable to our author's case, had not the real cause of this apparently sudden and extraordinary change been too palpably evident. The anxiety arising from domestic infelicity unhinged his mind though naturally of a firm texture, and seemed to give an entirely new bias to his disposition.
Here we must draw the great line of separation, which, as we have before suggested, divided the life of our author into two very distinct and dissimilar portions; the one serious, rational, and consistent, the other irregular, dissipated, and licentious.
At this time the friendship between Churchill and Robert Lloyd, which had been formed in their boyish days at Westminster school, but which the different situations into which they were afterwards thrown, and the various incidents of their lives, had interrupted for a succession of years, revived with all that glow of sensibility and ardour of attachment, characteristic of men of strong passions and of warm imaginations. Such men recollect with heartfelt complacency the chearful scenes of pure and artless innocence, and the delightful recollection of them has a happy tendency to revive and cement their friendship in a future and more mature period of their lives.
Robert Lloyd, after having studied at Oxford, where he acquired a high reputation for classical knowledge, and for his proficiency in every branch of polite literature, was appointed to the situation of an usher in Westminster school, of which his father, Dr. Lloyd, was the second master. His character had risen with every opportunity which offered for a display of his abilities. At Westminster, he was considered not only as a useful master, but as an ornament to that celebrated seminary. His epigrammatical productions were pointed and concise, and his Latin prologues partook of the beautiful simplicity of Terence. The disgust he felt at filling a station so subordinate and laborious, induced him to resign it, and trust solely to his literary abilities for a subsistence. The first piece by which he distinguished himself was the Actor, an admirable poem, in which he manifested a peculiar vein of humour combined with great justness of criticism and facility of versification. Thus, deservedly high in reputation, the road to honours and preferment seemed opening to his view, and promised much of happiness and fame; but an utter disregard for prudence and economy blasted all these brilliant expectations, and deeply involved him in a series of calamities. An eccentric disposition, and an unbounded liberality, the too frequent concomitants of a lively imagination, proved his destruction. Under these circumstances did our author's intimacy with Lloyd recommence, and, urged by the same motive, a restless inquietude of mind, they together hurried into scenes of dissipated conviviality.
The future is rarely sacrificed to the present, without producing consequences of the most distressing nature. A few months only had elapsed, before Churchill experienced in the most sensible manner the justice of this observation. He found that he had wantonly and precipitately plunged himself into an abyss of misery, the effect of which upon his friends he so feelingly describes in the following lines:
When all around me, with an air
Of hopeless sorrow, look'd despair;
When they or said, or seem'd to say,
There is but one, one only way.
Better, and be advis'd by us,
Not be at all, than to be thus.
GHOST, Book IV.
At this critical and alarming juncture, Dr. Lloyd fortunately stept forth to his assistance, his efforts were no less successful than benevolent. Our author was enabled by his assistance to effect a compromise with his creditors, who upon receiving five shillings in the pound, fully liberated him from their demands, and he was thus relieved from the impending horrors of a jail. An anecdote on the subject of this compromise, highly creditable to the character of our author, occurs in the Biographia Britannica, the editor whereof states, that in an instance which fell under his own knowledge, as an executor and guardian, Mr. Churchill, as soon as he had acquired some money by the sale of his publications, voluntarily came forward and paid the full amount of the original debt; Mr. Kippis adds, that it was highly probable, from this unsolicited and unexpected act of equitable retribution, that his conduct was the same in other cases.
A short time previous to this transaction, and soon after the renewal of his intimacy with Lloyd, his genius once more reverted into its natural channel. The example and success of his friend, in the walks of literature and poetry, excited a friendly emulation, and stimulated him to the exertion of his poetical abilities. The Bard, a poem in hudibrastic verse, was his first production after reentering the regions of Parnassus. It was offered for sale to Mr. Waller, an eminent bookseller in Fleet-street, who without any hesitation rejected it as a contemptible performance. The author seems to have coincided with him in this opinion, as he could never afterwards be induced to publish it. The Conclave was his next attempt in the poetical line; this was a satire levelled against the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, Dr. Zachary Pearce, late Bishop of Rochester, then being Dean. It was written in Alexandrine verses, and was remarkably poignant and sarcastic; the characters were nervously drawn, boldly coloured, and nicely discriminated. This poem he also designed for publication; but, on its being submitted to the gentlemen of the long robe, they pronounced the satire to be of too personal a nature to admit of being printed, without danger of incurring legal animadversion. Though disappointed in the brilliant expectations he had formed of the success of his poem, Churchill was not to be deterred from his object by this repulse. He now determined to fix his choice upon a subject of more universal interest, and accordingly after two months close attendance on the theatres, completed the Rosciad. Being encouraged in his present plan by the approbation of a few of those literary friends, to whose judgment the manuscript had been submitted, he was induced to offer the Rosciad to several booksellers, at the trifling sum of Five Guineas; but meeting with a peremptory refusal, he determined, at length, to publish it on his own account, and accordingly it appeared in March 1761, when the opinion of his friends was fully confirmed by the rapidity of its sale, which exceeded their most sanguine expectations. The strength harmony, and natural flow of the verse, the variety of the numbers, the manliness of sentiment, the diversity of characters, the easy vein of humour, and the justice of the remarks and observations, contributed to render it equally pleasing to the lovers of wit, poetry, and criticism.
The circumstances attending the publication of this poem, its popularity, and the attribution of it to Lloyd, Colman, and Thornton, the reader will find detailed in a subsequent page; we shall here only add, that very few even of his most intimate acquaintance gave Churchill credit for that fertility of thought, and strength of imagination, displayed in the Rosciad. So difficult is it to determine from a man's conversation, the scope, extent, and vigour of his understanding.
The judgment passed upon this work by the Critical Reviewers roused our author to the publication of a poetical Apology, addressed to them, which at once established his fame in the literary world. It is one of the most finished and correct of his productions, the diction is regular and connected, and the numbers happily adapted to the sense, while the satire is spirited and just, pointed and severe.
Lloyd, who, by the success of the poem he had himself written on a similar subject, had probably given our author the first hint towards his plan, was somewhat disgusted at the extravagant applause bestowed upon the Rosciad; but the decided superiority which Churchill displayed in his subsequent productions, reconciled Lloyd to an inferior station on the Parnassian mount. Not content, however, with a tacit submission, he publicly expressed his acquiescence in the justice of the sentence, which had been pronounced in favour of his friend. The ingenuous complacency of mind, and the total absence of envy, which we find displayed in the compliments he pays his friend Churchill, evince no inconsiderable portion of self knowledge, and are characteristic of that happy amenity of disposition for which Lloyd was distinguished, and which gained and secured to him the best affections of our author, who from this period was almost his inseparable companion, one sentiment governing the minds, and one purse administering to the wants, of both. Lloyd in the following lines pays the homage of respect to the superior genius of our author, while he at the same time justly appreciates the extent of his own poetic powers:
For me, who labour with poetic sin,
Who often woo the muse I cannot win,
Whom pleasure first a willing poet made,
And folly spoilt by taking up the trade,
Pleas'd I behold superior genius shine,
Nor ting'd with envy, wish that genius mine,
To Churchill's muse can bow with decent awe,
Admire his mode, nor make that mode my law;
Both may, perhaps, have various powers to please;
Be his the strength of numbers, mine the ease.
The profits accruing from the extensive sale of the Rosciad and the Apology enabled our author to make that full restitution to his creditors, which we have before noticed; the merit arising from this noble because voluntary, act of justice, was tarnished by the general irregularity of his conduct. The celebrity he had acquired, obtained for him an immediate introduction to the society of men whose literary endowments were disgraced by the utmost dissoluteness of life and manners. His nocturnal revels and frequent absences from home rendered every return to it more irksome, and the frequent altercations which ensued between him and Mrs. Churchill, who possessed but little of the spirit of conciliation, and whose conduct opened some field for recrimination , ended in February, 1761, in a total separation. This circumstance, together with the general outcry raised against him by his parishioners for his total disregard of his religious functions, and the unbecoming nature of his dress, induced him to resign the curacy and lectureship of St. John's, which but a few years before had been conferred on him, in consequence of the high character he then possessed for learning and morality. He now totally renounced all claim to the clerical character, became quite a man of the town, and indulged in all the excesses to which youth, and unbridled licentiousness could prompt.
[Author's note: The midnight orgies of our author and his associates are thus described in Charles Johnson's masterly but caustic satire entitled Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea. "The company to which my new master was in such haste to go, consisted of a few persons whom a similarity of temper had linked in the closest intimacy; with these he spent the remainder of the evening, in a manner which few would dislike, though fewer still could approve; the spirited wit and liveliness of their conversation gilded the grossest debaucheries, at the same time that the rectitude and sublimity of their sentiments, whenever their hearts could find an opportunity to speak, made the vices of their practice still more horrible by the contrast." This account of the society precedes a pathetic incident, in which Chrysal's master displays an uncommon portion of active benevolence. As the anecdote accords with the character of our author, which induced him enthusiastically to follow the first impulses of his heart, we see no reason for doubting that he was the real hero of this affecting tale.]
To vindicate his conduct from the just censure of the public, Churchill addressed his next poem entitled Night to Lloyd, his friend and partner in excess. This vindication proceeds on the exploded doctrine, that the barefaced avowal of vice is less culpable than the practice of it under an hypocritical assumption of virtue. The measure of guilt in the individual is, we conceive, tolerably equal; but the sanction and dangerous example afforded in the former case, renders it, in a public point of view, an evil of tenfold magnitude.
The next work he published was the first book of the Ghost, a poem which he afterwards continued at intervals, and which he seems to have composed of several disjointed plans, strung together, and forming a sort of poetical common-place book, in which the author indulges in a greater license of digression, and carelessness of diction, than he had hitherto ventured upon. The experiment failed of success, and excepting a few well drawn characters, the author's reputation would have received no detriment by the suppression of this tedious heap of hudibrastic incongruities.
In the year 1762, Churchill plunged deeper and more irrecoverably in the mire of debauchery and faction, by the commencement of his acquaintance with Mr. Wilkes, whose coadjutor he became in that invenomed vehicle of falsehood and sedition, the North Briton. What share he took of the labour in that publication we are unacquainted with; but Mr. Kearsley, in his examination before, the secretaries of state, told them, that Mr. Charles Churchill received the profit arising from its sale. This circumstance rendered him of importance enough to be included with Wilkes in the list of those whom the messengers had verbal instructions to apprehend under the general warrant issued for that purpose, the execution of which gave rise to the most popular and only beneficial part of the warm contest that ensued with government. Churchill was with Wilkes at the time the latter was apprehended, and himself only escaped owing to the messengers ignorance of his person, and to the presence of mind with which Wilkes addressed him by the name of Thompson.
The materials of the Prophecy of Famine, were first proposed to Churchill as the subject of a paper for the North Briton; but on more mature consideration, he determined upon converting it into a poem. This he did with extraordinary success and felicity of expression; and, though we are far from justifying the spirit of nationality with which it is imbued, we cannot but consider it as one of the most admirable specimens of satirical composition in the language. On the subject of this poem it has been observed, that the author displays in it a peculiar happiness of throwing his thoughts into poetical paragraphs, so that the sentence swells to the conclusion, as in prose.
Hogarth was the next victim immolated at the shrine of party; and, though he began the, attack, was wholly unprepared either to support his own cause, or successfully to ridicule that of his opponents. The wretched attempts he made to expose the failings of Earl Temple, and the Earl of Chatham; and his coarse caricature of our author, served only to confirm the poet's assertion of his dotage. It has been generally supposed that this epistle, which is throughout written in our author's best manner, accelerated the death of the ingenious artist to whom it was addressed. This circumstance, we are by no means inclined to believe to the full extent; though there can be no doubt, but that a man so vain as Hogarth must have been sensibly affected by so severe an attack on him, in a poem which promised to equal, if not surpass, his own works in duration.
As the only authentic correspondence of Churchill consists of no more than six short letters, we shall subjoin them to these. memoirs, and must refer the reader to the second of them, for the author's own sense of the provocation that had been given by Hogarth.
We are now arrived at the most painful part of our duty, that of relating an event which gave Churchill more real anxiety of mind than any other transaction of his life.
Early in 1763, he had formed an intimacy with Miss C. the daughter of a tradesman in Westminster; this poor young creature he seduced, prevailed on her to quit her father's roof, and lead a life of infamy with him. Satiated by a fortnight's gratification of his passion, during which short period she had full leisure afforded her for sorrow and repentance, they prevailed upon a real friend to communicate her penitence and sufferings to her father, who by their joint intreaties was induced again to receive her into his family. This instance of parental tenderness sensibly affected her, and she most probably would by her future conduct have justified the lenient kindness of her father, and having once felt the pangs of vice would never again have deviated from the paths of virtue, had she not been continually exposed to the taunts and goadings of an elder sister, the bitterness of whose reproaches induced this unhappy young woman to apply once more to Churchill for protection. Actuated by a false sense of gratitude and honour, he thought himself imperiously bound to receive her into his arms; had he made an ample provision for her support, and declined all farther intercourse, his former offence might have admitted of some extenuation, but this renewal of the connexion, aggravated the crime. While this transaction was fresh in the public mind, and with a view in some measure to efface the unfavourable impression it had made, he published the Conference, in which the emotions of a mind not hardened in guilt, and severely labouring under the pressure of self-conviction, are pathetically described, and several passages of that poem are strongly expressive of manly sensibility and acuteness of feeling.
Accompanied by Miss C. he, in the summer of 1763, made an excursion into Wales, and resided a few weeks at Monmouth, the rusticity of whose inhabitants he has celebrated in Gotham. On his return to London he received the disagreeable information of his friend Lloyd's imprisonment in the Fleet. Actuated by that ardour, which on all occasions distinguished him, he flew to his assistance, and demonstrated by his actions, the warmth and sincerity of his friendship.
A few months after Lloyd's confinement, it was proposed, by his most intimate acquaintance, to raise a subscription for the purpose of extricating him from his immediate embarrassments. Our author made every possible exertion to forward this benevolent design, but all his efforts proved abortive. Unfortunately for Lloyd, his pretended friends were more ostentatious than liberal, and had meanly proposed what they did not possess sufficient spirit and generosity to carry into execution. What adversity alone can teach, he now learnt, the insincerity of the warmest professions, and the instability of the most inviolable friendships; Garrick, Thornton, Colman, and Hogarth, whom he had so frequently be-rhimed and bepraised, coolly abandoned him to his fate; Wilkes was abroad, and Churchill proved the only staunch and generous friend on whom he could safely rely for support in his distress. To the liberality of our author, and to the avarice of the booksellers, Lloyd was indebted for a tolerably comfortable subsistence during his tedious confinement.
It is not to be wondered at that these depressing circumstances of poverty and dereliction, should prey upon the mind of Lloyd, who, to use a vulgar but expressive phrase, had been no one's enemy but his own. The amiable mildness and affectionate warmth of his own attachments gave double force to the cruel neglect he experienced from his old school and college connexions. He seemed to wish to live for no other purpose than to express his gratitude to Churchill, whom, with a broken heart, he followed to an early grave.
Accustomed on every occasion warmly to espouse the cause of his friends, the rencontre between Wilkes and Martin, gave rise to Churchill's next poem the Duellist, the first hook of which was published in November 1763, soon after that transaction had taken place. In this satire, which though in the same metre, far exceeds the Ghost in spirit and correctness, he did not confine himself entirely to the subject of his muse, but indulged in some severe reflections on persons not immediately connected with the hero of the poem. The allegorical part of it is highly finished, and the personification of the various pursuits, passions, and vices of mankind, displays great animation, and force of imagery. The Cave of Fraud is admirably described, and its hateful inhabitants seem present to our view.
Our author closed his poetical labours for the year 1763, with the Author, with which poem his various critics and reviewers professed themselves to be better pleased than with any of his preceding publications. The satire, except in one or two instances, is of a public and general nature, and well directed; the superiority of genius is asserted with spirit and supported by argument, and the trammels of a collegiate life are sarcastically displayed. His apology for quitting his gown is manly and indignant, but unsatisfactory.
For about six months after his return from Wales, Churchill lodged at Richmond, from whence he removed to a house on Acton Common, where he fixed his residence with an intention to retrieve a shattered constitution, and to sit down in the quiet enjoyment of that competence which the patronage of the public had bestowed. Here in the society of the friends he loved, he proposed passing his days in lettered ease, removed from the immediate seat of business, but sufficiently near to observe the progress of the grand machine of literature and politics, and occasionally to employ his active mind in lashing the prime movers of it.
His first production, in 1764, was Gotham, in which he deviates from his usual style, and indulges in descriptive poetry to a greater degree than he had done on any former occasion. In the first book he, in the description of the several ages of mankind, seems disposed to enter the lists with Shakspeare and Horace. In the second, the business and labours of a poet are critically enlarged upon, while he bows to the superior merit of his great predecessors, and acknowledges the slovenly and careless texture of his own compositions, yet seems perfectly conscious of their worth.
Materials rich, though rude, inflam'd with thought
Though more by fancy, than by judgment, wrought.
His characters of the Stuarts, in the same book, are drawn with historical fidelity. The versification of the third book is more harmonious than either of the preceding; the severe, exclusive duties of royalty, and the painful sacrifice of more engaging pursuits to the strict discharge of them, are admirably depicted.
The contest for the high-stewardship of Cambridge afforded too fair a subject to escape our author's pen. The desire of such a man as the Earl of Sandwich to preside over one of the great seminaries for the improvement of the youth of this kingdom in religion and learning, could not fail of inspiring Churchill with a wish to display to the public the advantages that must have accrued to the cause of virtue and morality in the event of his Lordship's succeeding to that situation. The scope afforded by such a subject constitutes this as perhaps the severest satire ever written by the pen of man.
The fire and spirit displayed by our author in the Candidate, appear to have exhausted his present stock; and his next poem, the Farewell, is consequently unusually deficient in both qualifications.
In his succeeding production, the Times, his muse appears to have recovered her usual vigour. Nothing can exceed the energy of this satire; the prominent vices of the principal European states are well discriminated, and the picture of the degraded state of Italy, and of its effeminate inhabitants, is drawn in colours particularly strong and glowing.
Independence, the great idol of our author's adoration, forms the subject of his next poem, in which he draws no unfavourable portrait of his own soul, though he treats its case with but little ceremony; he probably felt no hesitation in owning "ingenium Galbae, male, habitat." "Monsieur est mal loge." Lord Lyttelton, who was in the same predicament, is treated by him with unjustifiable severity; this poem might have been considerably improved had the author lived to revise a second edition.
The Journey, and the Fragment of a Dedication, were posthumous publications, which did not detract from the merit of their author, though in each of them an honourable character is sacrificed at the shrine of private resentment.
We have now closed the catalogue of our author's publications, and have reached the ultimate period of his life.
Towards the end of October 1764, he accompanied his friend Mr. Cotes to France, to pay a visit to Wilkes then a voluntary exile in that country. They met at Boulogne where Churchill, immediately upon his arrival, was seized with a miliary fever, which baffled the skill of two eminent physicians by whom he was attended. Mr. Cotes was a great advocate for Dr. James's powder, and insisted upon administering it, to which the medical gentlemen consented, but observed that the battle was lost. They at the same time said, that if the powder produced any favourable effect, it would operate as a cathartic, or by perspiration, but that if it acted as an emetic, (which in fact it did) the patient would be immediately carried off. The event corresponded with their prediction, and Churchill died at Boulogne, on the fourth of November, in the thirty-fourth year of his age. At the moment when his danger was most imminent, the physicians, according to the law of the country, were obliged to apprise the priests of his danger, that they might attend to perform their spiritual functions, and, the patient being a protestant, to use their endeavours for his conversion. Accordingly they repeatedly demanded admission for this purpose, but their attempts were parried with his usual address, by Wilkes, who thus prevented them from troubling his dying friend. This gentleman has informed the world that the goodness of Churchill's heart, and the firmness of his philosophy, shone in full lustre during the whole time of his very severe illness, and that the comprehensive faculties of his mind remained unimpaired till within a few moments of his death.
Churchill's body was brought from Boulogne for interment at Dover, where it was deposited in the old church-yard formerly belonging to the collegiate church of St. Martin, with a stone over him on which are inscribed his age, the time of his death, and this line from his own works—
Life to the last enjoy'd, here Churchill lies.
A tablet sacred to his memory has since been placed in the church by Mr. Underwood, the author of several poetical pieces.
The unexpected death of a man who had now for near four years, unceasingly, occupied the attention of the public, could not take place without occasioning a considerable sensation. He was sincerely lamented by his friends and acquaintance, and his popularity, with a great body of the people, gave to his death the appearance of a national loss. Such was at first the enthusiasm in favour of his memory, that there was a talk of erecting a monument to him in Westminster-Abbey, but the idea soon subsided, and will scarcely ever be revived.
In the year 1765, the celebrated Abbe Winckelman having presented Wilkes with an antique sepulchral urn of alabaster, the latter caused the following inscription, closely imitative of the terse style of the antients, to be engraven on it:
Civi optime de patria merito
The same inscription is also engraved on a Doric pillar, erected to his memory by Mr. Wilkes, in the grove of Sandham cottage in the Isle of Wight. It is in the middle of the grove, behind it are weeping willows, cypresses, and yews. Laurels seem to grow out of the column, as from Virgil's tomb at Naples, and come nearly down to the tablet on the pillar, which is fluted, and appears in some parts already injured by time. On the foreground are large myrtles, bays, laburnums, &c. The pillar is broken, and is about nine feet in height, and five in diameter.
Churchill left two sons, Charles and John, the charge of whose education was generously undertaken by Sir Richard Jebb, who sent the former to the university of Cambridge with a handsome allowance. They neither of them proved worthy of this support, they inherited the faults, without the virtues and abilities of their father, and died like him, victims to their disregard of temperance and prudence.
Of the numerous publications relating to our author and his works, which appeared during his life, and soon after his death, notice has occasionally been taken in the remarks upon his poems; and we shall not trespass on the patience of our readers, by any farther mention of them here. They have, like many other things, become valuable, only because they are scarce, and became scarce, only because they were of no value; their titles, names, and merits, are preserved in the reviews of the day, the works themselves may be found in the libraries of the antiquarian scavengers of English literature. It would likewise be a needless task to enumerate the various editions of our author's works, the present one contains all he ever published, except his sermons, and some poetical trifles, ascribed to him on dubious authority, and which appeared in the Library, a periodical journal of the year 1761.
On a short review of Churchill's writings we must pronounce them to be like his life, irregular, unequal, and inconsistent. In the same page may frequently be contrasted the strength, fire, and brilliancy of Dryden, to the roughness of Oldham and of Donne. In either case, however, a noble vein of moral satire pervades his poems, and he in them stands forth the undaunted bard of liberty, the scourge of tyranny, and the firm friend to the laws and constitution of his country. Led away by the enthusiasm of friendship, Churchill occasionally sullied and deserted these noble principles, by adopting the libellous and factious language of the profligate supporters of a good cause. Unfortunately we cannot assert the patriotism of our author, without impeaching his understanding, when we feel ourselves compelled to acknowledge him as the dupe of a designing demagogue. This, however, we believe to have been the fact, for while we cannot but regret the numerous errors and irregularities too apparent in the conduct of our author; we yet see no traces of systematic vice or deception in his disposition. This was frank and open in the extreme; to hypocrisy he was an utter stranger, his great failing, and the original source of his misconduct, was the paying an inconsiderate and implicit obedience to the dictates of a heart, which was naturally sound, but which, under the influence of his witty and dissolute companions, took a wrong bias, and from that period progressively diverged farther and farther from the path of virtue.
No poet of equal celebrity, had ever fewer testimonies paid to his memory and merits, than Churchill; he was too severe a censor of his literary contemporaries, for them to contribute to the extension of his fame, whose object it had been to detract from theirs. The partial pen of Lloyd, who appears throughout all his poems desirous of expressing his admiration for his friend, forms nearly a solitary exception. We shall confine ourselves to the following extract, as at once affording a pleasing specimen of his poetry and gratitude:
Is there a man, whose genius strong,
Rolls like a rapid stream along,
Whose muse, long hid in chearless night,
Pours on us like a flood of light,
Whose active, comprehensive mind
Walks Fancy's regions, unconfin'd;
Whom, nor the surly sense of pride
Nor affectation, warps aside;
Who drags no author from his shelf,
To talk on with an eye to self;
Careless alike, in conversation
Of censure, or of approbation;
Who freely thinks, and freely speaks
And meets the wit he never seeks,
Whose reason calm, and judgment cool,
Can pity, but not hate a fool;
Who can a hearty praise bestow,
If merit sparkles in a foe;
Who, bold and open, firm and true
Flatters no friends, yet loves them too;
Churchill will be the last to know
His is the portrait, I would shew.
Succeeding writers took the tone from their predecessors, and Cowper is almost the only author of celebrity who has done justice to the abilities and character of our author.
[Author's note: The following epigram, on the death of Churchill, was written by Cunningham:
Says Tom to Richard, "Churchill's dead!"
Says Richard, "Tom, you lie:
Old Rancour the report hath spread;
But Genius cannot die."
From the heap of anonymous jeux d'esprit which occasionally appeared on the subject of our author, we select the following whimsical comparison between him and John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.
In Anna's wars immortal Churchill rose,
And, great in arms, subdu'd Britannia's foes;
A greater Churchill now commands our praise,
And the palm yields her empire to the bays.
Though John fought nobly at his army's head,
And slew his thousands with the balls of lead;
Yet must the hero to the bard submit,
Who hurls unmatch'd the thunderbolts of wit.]
Johnson and Goldsmith are said to have spoken slightingly of him, and indeed it would have been singular, if after the provocation he had received from our author, the former had not condemned him, whilst Goldsmith would of course endeavour to support the opinion of his friend. Few writers have however ventured to impeach their own judgment, by committing to paper any remarks in derogation of Churchill's talents; though they would not commend, they dared not censure, and have therefore only preferred silence to praise. [Author's note: Warton and Knox are exceptions to this observation; the former in his Essay on Poetry, immolates Churchill at the shrine of Gray; and the latter, in his flimsy "Essays," consigns Churchill to that oblivion, in which notwithstanding the piteous narrative of his escape from martyrdom at Brighton, the Doctor has himself been overwhelmed.]
It has of late been usual with most editors [author's note: We could here in malice to our readers, refer them to a late edition of the works of Warton], to conclude the life, with an essay on the genius, of their author: this custom is in our opinion, more honoured in the breach, than the observance; and in the room of an affected and pedantic dissertation, written more with a view to display the editor's than his author's genius, we shall close our account of the life and writings of Charles Churchill, with the following just delineation of his character, by Cowper, a poet equal to our author in energy and originality, but voluntarily inferior to him in harmony of diction.
Contemporaries all surpass'd, see one;
Short his career, indeed, but ably run;
Churchill; himself unconscious of his powers,
In penury consum'd his idle hours;
And, like a scatter'd seed at random sown,
Was left to spring by vigour of his own.
Lifted at length, by dignity of thought
And dint of genius to an affluent lot,
He laid his head in luxury's soft lap
And took, too often, there his easy nap.
If brighter beams than all he threw not forth,
'Twas negligence in him not want of worth,
Surly and slovenly, and bold, and coarse,
Too proud for art, and trusting in mere force,
Spendthrift alike of money and of wit
Always at speed, and never drawing bit,
He struck the lyre in such a careless mood
And so disdain'd the rules he understood,
The laurel seem'd to wait on his command,
He snatch'd it rudely from the Muse's hand.