1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Mitchell

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 22:204-05.



JOSEPH MITCHELL, was the son of a stone-cutter in North-Britain, and was born about 1684. Cibber tells us that he received an university education while he remained in that kingdom, but does not specify where. He quitted his own country, however, and repaired to London, with a view of improving his fortune. Here he got into favour with the earl of Stair and sir Robert Walpole; on the latter of whom he was for great part of his life almost entirely dependent. He received, indeed, so many obligations from that open-handed statesman, and, from a sense of gratitude which seems to have been strongly characteristic of his disposition, was so. zealous in his interest, that he was distinguished by the title of "Sir Robert Walpole's poet." Notwithstanding this valuable patronage, his natural dissipation of temper, his fondness for pleasure, and eagerness in the gratification of every irregular appetite, threw him into perpetual distresses, and all those uneasy situations which are the inevitable consequences of extravagance. Nor does it appear that, after having experienced, more than once, the fatal effects of those dangerous follies, he thought of correcting his conduct at a time he had it in his power: for when, by the death of his wife's uncle, several thousand pounds devolved to him, instead of discharging those debts which he had already contracted, he lavished the whole away, in the repetition of his former follies. As to the particulars of his history, there are not many on record, for his eminence in public character not rising to such an height as to make the transactions of his life important to strangers, and the follies of his private behaviour inducing those who were intimate with him, rather to conceal than publish his actions, there is a cloud of obscurity hanging over them, which is neither easy, nor indeed much worth while, to withdraw from them. His genius was of the third or fourth rate, yet he lived in good correspondence with most of the eminent wits of his time, particularly with Aaron Hill, who on a particular occasion finding himself unable to relieve him by pecuniary assistance, presented him with the profits and reputation also of a successful dramatic piece, in one act, entitled "The Fatal Extravagance." It was acted and printed in Mitchell's name; but he was ingenuous enough to undeceive the world with regard to its true author, and on every occasion acknowledged the obligations he lay under to Hill. The dramatic pieces, which appear under this gentleman's name are, 1. "The Fatal Extravagance, a tragedy," 1721, 8vo. 2. " The Fatal Extravgance, a tragedy, enlarged," 1725, 12mo. 3. "The Highland Fair, ballad opera," 1731, 8vo. The latter of these is really Mitchell's, and is not without merit. This author died Feb. 6, 1738; and Cibber gives the following character of him: "He seems to have been a poet of the third rate; he has seldom reached the sublime; his humour, in which he more succeeded, is not strong enough to last; his versification holds a state of mediocrity; he possessed but little invention; and if he was not a bad rhimester, he cannot be denominated a fine poet, for there are but few marks of genius in his writings." His poems were printed 1729, in 2 vols. 8vo.