Sir Richard Blackmore

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 5:335-40.

SIR RICHARD BLACKMORE, physician to king William III, and queen Anne, and a very voluminous writer, was son of Mr. Robert Blackmore, an attorney at law. He received the first part of his education at a country school, from whence he was removed to Westminster in the thirteenth year of his age. He was afterwards sent to St. Edmund's-hall, in the university of Oxford, where he continued thirteen years. He is said to have been engaged for some time in the profession of a school-master; but it is probable he did not long continue in that situation; and, says Dr. Johnson, to have been once a schoolmaster, is the only reproach which all the perspicacity of malice, animated by wit, has ever fixed upon his private life. It appears that he travelled afterwards into Italy, and took the degree of doctor in physic, at the university of Padua. He also visited France, Germany, and the Low Countries, and having spent about a year and a half abroad, he returned again to England. On his arrival in London, he engaged in the practice of physic there, and was chosen fellow of the royal college of physicians. He early discovered his attachment to the principles of the revolution; and this circumstance, together with the eminence which he had attained in his profession, recommended him to the notice and favour of king William. Accordingly, in 1697, he was appointed one of his majesty's physicians in ordinary; he had also a gold medal and chain bestowed on him by that prince, and received from him the honour of knighthood. Upon the king's death, he was one of the physicians who gave their opinions at the opening of his majesty's body. When queen Anne ascended the throne, he was appointed one of her physicians, and continued in that station for some time. Sir Richard Blackmore was the author of a variety of pieces both in prose and verse; and the generality of his productions had many admirers in his own time; for the third edition of his "Prince Arthur, an heroic poem in ten books," was published in 1696, fol. The following year he also published in folio "King Arthur, an heroic poem, in twelve books." In 1700 he published in folio, in verse, "A Paraphrase on the book of Job; as likewise on the songs of Moses, Deborah, David; on four select Psalms; some chapters of Isaiah; and the third chapter of Habbakuk." He appears to have been naturally of a very serious turn, and therefore took great offence at the licentious and immoral tendency of many of the productions of his contemporary authors. To pass a censure upon these was the design of his poem, entitled "A Satire upon Wit," or rather the abuse of it, which was first published in 1700. But this piece was attacked and ridiculed by many different writers, and there seemed to be a kind of confederacy of the wits against him. How much, however, they felt his reproof, appears from the following circumstance. In Tom Brown's works are upwards of twenty different satirical pieces in verse against Blackmore, said to be written by colonel Codrington, sir Charles Sedley, colonel Blount, sir Samuel Garth, sir Richard Steele, Dr. Smith, Mr. William Burnaby, the earl of Anglesea, the countess of Sandwich, Mr. Manning, Mr. Mildmay, Dr. Drake, colonel Johnson, Mr. Richard Norton, &c. and most of these pieces are particularly levelled at our author's "Satire upon Wit." One topic of abuse against Blackmore was, that he lived in Cheapside. He was sometimes called the "Cheapside Knight," and the "City Bard;" and Garth's verses, in the collection just cited, are addressed " to the merry Poetaster at Sadlers Hall in Cheapside." In Cibber's lives we are also told, that "sir Richard had, by the freedom of his censures on the libertine writers of his age, incurred the heavy displeasure of Dryden, who takes all opportunities to ridicule him, and somewhere says, that he wrote to the rumbling of his chariot-wheels. And as if to be at enmity with Blackmore had been hereditary to our greatest poets, we find Mr. Pope taking up the quarrel where Dryden left it, and persecuting this worthy man with yet a severer degree of satire. Blackmore had been informed by Curl, that Mr. Pope was the author of a Travestie on the first Psalm, which he takes occasion to reprehend in his 'Essay on Polite Learning,' Vol. II. p. 270. He ever considered it as the disgrace of genius, that it should be employed to burlesque any of the sacred compositions, which, as they speak the language of inspiration, tend to awaken the soul to virtue, and inspire it with a sublime devotion."

On the 16th of November 1713, he began a paper, printed three times a week, called the "Lay Monk." Only forty numbers of it were published, which, in 1714, were collected into a volume, under the title of the "Lay Monastery." The Friday's papers in this collection were written by Hughes, and the rest by sir Richard. In a letter to Mr. Hughes, he declared that he was not determined to the undertaking by a desire of fame or profit, but from a regard to the public good. In 1716, he published in 2 vols. 8vo, "Essays upon several subjects," and in 1718, "A collection of poems," in 1 vol. 8vo. But the work which procured him the greatest reputation, was his "Creation, a philosophical poem, demonstrating the Existence and Providence of a God, in seven books." This passed through several editions, and was greatly applauded by Mr. Addison. Mr. Locke also formed a very favourable opinion of sir Richard Blackmore; although perhaps he estimated his poetical talents too highly. In 1721, our author published in 12mo, "A new version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the tunes used in churches." This was recommended by public authority, as proper to be used in the churches and chapels of England, but it does not appear to have been generally adopted. Towards the close of his life, his practice as a physician is said to have declined; which might probably arise from the numerous attempts which were made to lessen his reputation. He died on the 8th of October, 1729, in an advanced age; and manifested in his last illness the same fervent piety, which had distinguished him in his life. He was certainly a man of considerable learning and abilities, and a most zealous advocate for the interests of religion and virtue. He wrote, indeed, too much, and was deficient in point of taste; nor did he take sufficient time to polish his compositions. But he was far from being destitute of genius; and it is sufficiently manifest, that it was not his dullness, which excited so much animosity against him. Hardly any author has ever been more satirized than sir Richard Blackmore, and yet, so far as we can judge from his writings, there have been few, perhaps none, who have had better intentions. He had very just ideas of the true ends of writing; and it would have been happy for the world, if such ideas had been adopted by, and really influenced, authors of more brilliant genius. And though his historical and epic poems exposed him to some degree of ridicule, yet he was far from being a proper object of the extreme contempt with which he was treated. The merit of his poem on Creation, and the excellency of his life, might have procured him better usage. And whatever were the defects of his compositions, he was justly entitled to commendation for the morality of their tendency. He who labours to reform mankind is more deserving of our esteem, than he who would corrupt them, whatever may be the powers of genius possessed by the latter, or whatever reputation his wit may have procured him. The fashion of the times, or the mutual jealousies and animosities of contemporary wits and authors, often occasion great injustice to be done to worthy men and useful writers. But time will, generally, in a great degree, remove such prejudices; and those who form an impartial estimate of the character and various productions of Blackmore, will acknowledge, that as a writer, with all his faults, he had considerable merit; that as a man, he was justly entitled to great applause. For, numerous as his enemies and opponents were, they seem to have been incapable of fixing the least imputation upon his character; and those who personally knew him spoke highly of his virtues. We think it an act of justice to endeavour to remove from a worthy man some part of that load of obloquy with which his memory has been overwhelmed. To this character, from the Biog. Britannica, we may add, that Dr. Johnson has increased the number of those liberal-minded men who have endeavoured to rescue sir Richard Blackmore's name from the contempt with which it has been treated, and to do justice to his abilities as well as his virtues. To his "Creation" the doctor has given high praise, and has drawn the character of it with singular precision and elegance. From the inaccuracy with which Blackmore in his poems has pronounced the ancient names of nations or places, Dr. Johnson has inferred, that the thirteen years he spent at the university, seem to have passed with very little attention to the business of the place. A strong testimony, however, to his diligence whilst at Edmund-hall, has lately been produced in the Gentleman's Magazine, from Turner's "Book of Providence." "Dr. Richard Blackmore," says Turner, "my contemporary and colleague (fellow collegian) at Oxon, now living, and one of the college in London, was, in his first years, one of the most eager and diligent students I ever knew; sitting up at his book till twelve, one, two, and sometimes three o'clock in the morning, and then lying down only upon his chairs till prayer-time, till his health broke, and he was constrained by necessity to retire into the country, to repair himself by physic."

Besides the works mentioned in this account of his life, sir Richard wrote: 1. "Eliza, a poem in ten books," 1705, folio. 2. The Redeemer, a poem in six books," 1721, 8vo. 3. "King Alfred, in twelve books," 1723, 8vo. 4. "History of the Conspiracy against king William the Third," 1723, 8vo. 5. "A discourse on the Plague, with a preparatory account of malignant fevers, in two parts; containing an explication of the nature of those diseases, and the methods of cure," 1720, 8vo. 6. "A treatise on the Small-pox, in two parts; and a dissertation upon the modern practice of Inoculation," 1722, 8vo. 7. "A treatise on Consumptions and other distempers belonging to the breast and lungs," 1724, 8vo. 8. "A treatise on the Spleen and Vapours, or hypochondriacal and hysterical affections; with three discourses on the nature and cure of the Cholic, Melancholy, and Palsy," 1725, 8vo. 9. "A critical dissertation upon the Spleen," 1725. 10. "Discourses on the Gout, Rheumatism, and the King's Evil," 1726, 8vo. 11. "Dissertations on a Dropsy, a Tympany, the Jaundice, the Stone, and the Diabetes," 1727, 8vo. 12. "Just prejudices against the Arian hypothesis," 1725, 8vo. 13. "Modern Arians unmasked," 1721, 8vo. 14. "Natural Theology, or moral Duties considered apart from positive with some observations on the desirableness and necessity of a supernatural revelation," 1728, 8vo. 15. "The accomplished Preacher; or, an essay upon divine eloquence," 1731, 8vo. This last piece was published after the author's death, in pursuance of his express order, by the rev. Mr. John White, of Nayland, in Essex; who attended sir Richard during his last illness, and bore testimony to the elevated piety with which he prepared for his approaching dissolution.