1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Pattison

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 24:263-64.



WILLIAM PATTISON, an unfortunate poet, was born at Peasmarsh, in the county of Sussex, in 1706, and was the son of a farmer at that place, who rented a considerable estate of the earl of Thanet. He discovered excellent parts, with a strong propensity to learning; and his father, not being in circumstances to give him a proper education, applied to his noble landlord, who took him under his protection, and placed him at Appleby school in Westmoreland. Here he became acquainted with Mr. Noble, a clergyman of great learning and fine taste, who promoted his studies and directed his taste. Upon his leaving Appleby, he went to Sidney college in Cambridge, where he pursued the plan Mr. Noble had given him, and went through the classics, as well as au our English poets, with great advantage. Of these last, Spenser's "Fairy Queen" and Brown's "Britannia's Pastorals" are said to have given him the greatest delight. He had, however, unfortunately contracted a habit of desultory reading, and had no relish for academical studies. His temper could not brook restraint; and his tutor, he thought, treated him with great rigour. A quarrel ensued; and, to avoid the scandal of expulsion, with which he was threatened, he took his name out of the college book, and went to London. Even now his friends would have forgiven him, and procured his readmission; but the pleasures of the town, the desire of being known, and his romantic expectations of meeting with some generous patron to reward his merit, rendered him deaf to all advice. He led a pleasurable life, frequented Button's, and became acquainted with some of the most eminent wits of the time. As he had no fortune, nor any means of subsistence, but what arose from the subscriptions for the poems he proposed to publish; and, as he wanted even common prudence to manage this precarious income, he was soon involved in. the deepest distress and most deplorable wretchedness. In a poem, entitled "Effigies Authoris," addressed to lord Burlington, he describes himself as destitute of friends, of money; a prey to hunger; and passing his nights on a bench in St. James's park. In a private letter to a gentleman, he thus expressed himself: "Spare my blushes; I have not enjoyed the common necessaries of life these two days and can hardly hold to subscribe myself," &c. Curll, the bookseller, finding some of his compositions well received, and going through several impressions, took him into his house; and, as Pope affirms in one of his letters, starved him to death. But this does not appear to be strictly true; and his death is more justly attributed to the small-pox, which carried him off in 1727, in his 21st year. His biographer says, that he had a surprising genius, and had raised hopes in all that knew him, that he would become one of the most eminent poets of the age; but such of his poems as we find in the collection published in 2 vols. 8vo, in 1728, would not in our days be thought calculated to support such high expectations.