JOHN HAWKESWORTH, an elegant and ingenious English writer, was born either in 1715, or 1719, in London, and was, as some report, brought up to the trade of a watchmaker. Sir John Hawkins, however, informs us that he was, when very young, a hired clerk to one Harwood, an attorney in Grocers'-alley in the Poultry. His parents were probably dissenters, as he was a member of the celebrated Mr. Bradbury's meeting, from which, it is said, he was expelled for some irregularities. It does not appear that he followed any profession, but devoted himself to study and literary employment. So early as 1744 he succeeded Dr. Johnson in compiling the parliamentary debates for the Gentleman's Magazine, to which he afterwards contributed many of his earlier productions in verse. In 1746, he wrote in that publication, under the name of Greville, the "Devil Painter, a tale;" the "Chaise Percee," from the French; "Epistle to the King of Prussia;" "Lines to the Rev. Mr. Layng" (who was at this time a writer in the Magazine), and to the celebrated Warburton: "On a series of theological inquiries:" "A Thought from Marcus Antoninus;" "The Smart." In 1747 he contributed ''The Accident;" "Ants' Philosophy Death of Arachne;" "Chamnt and Honorius;" "Origin of Doubt;" "Life," an ode; "Lines to Hope;" "Winter," an ode;" "The Experiment," a tale. In 1748, "The Midsummer Wish;" " Solitude;" "The two Doves," a fable; "Autumn;" in 1749, "Poverty insulted;" "Region allotted to Old Maids;" "The Nymph at her Toilet;" "God is Love;" "Cloe's Soliloquy." Some of these are signed H. Greville. Whether he wrote any prose compositions is doubtful. Mr. Duncombe, on whose authority the above list is given, says nothing of prose.
In 1752-3-4, he was concerned with Drs. Johnson, Bathurst, and Warton, in the Adventurer, and from the merit, of his papers acquired much reputation and many friends. At this time, his wife kept a school for the education of young ladies, at Bromley in Kent; and his ambition was to demonstrate by his writings how well qualified he was to superintend a seminary of that kind. But a incident happened after the publication of the Adventurer which gave a new turn to his ambition. Archbishop Herring, who had read his essays with much delight, and had satisfied himself that the character of the author would fully justify the honour intended, conferred on him the degree of doctor of civil law, with which he was so elated, as to imagine that it opened a way for the profession of a civilian, and, having prepared himself by study, made an effort to be admitted a pleader in the ecclesiastical courts, but met with such opposition as obliged him to desist. After this disappointment, he devoted his attention again to the concerns of his school, which was much encouraged, and became a source of considerable emolument. This degree, however, and the consequence he began to acquire in the world, alienated him from some of the most valuable of his early friends. Although he had until this time, lived in habits of intimacy with Dr. Johnson, he appears to have withdrawn from him; and it is singular, that in all Mr. Boswell's narrative of that eminent man's life, there is not one instance of a meeting between Johnson and Hawkesworth. This seems in some degree to confirm sir John Hawkins's account, which states that "his success wrought no good effects upon his mind and conduct:" Dr. Johnson made the same remark, and with a keen resentment of his behaviour; and sir John thinks "he might use the same language to Hawkesworth himself, and also reproach him with the acceptance of an academical honour to which he could have no pretensions, and which Johnson, conceiving to be irregular, as many do, held in great contempt;" thus much is certain, that soon after the attainment of it the intimacy between them ceased.
In 1756, at Garrick's desire, Dr. Hawkesworth altered the comedy of "Amphytrion, or the two Sosias," from Dryden, and in 1760 wrote "Zimri," an oratorio, set to music by Stanley, which appears to have been approved by the public. About the same time he altered for Drury-lane theatre, Southern's tragedy of "Oroonoko," by some omissions and some additions, but the latter, in the opinion of the critics, not enough to supply the place of the former. In 1761 he appeared to more advantage as the author of a dramatic fairy tale, "Edgar and Emmeline," acted at Drury-lane theatre with great success. Dr. Hawkesworth, having gained much popularity from the eastern stories introduced in the Adventurer, this year gave to the public, in two volumes, his fine tale of "Almoran and Hamet," which, notwithstanding some inconsistencies and improbabilities of fable, is entitled to very high praise for its moral tendency, and was long a favourite with the public.
In 1765 he published dean Swift's works, with explanatory notes, and a life written upon a plan long before laid down by Dr. Johnson; and here it is worthy of remark, that whatever coolness may at one time have subsisted between them, all traces of animosity had been effaced from the mind of Dr. Johnson, when he characterized Hawkesworth as a man "capable of dignifying his narration with so much elegance of language and force of sentiment." To this edition, the critics of the day discovered many objections, which have, however, been since removed by more accurate information respecting Swift, and by the indefatigable researches of his more recent editor, Mr. Nichols, a man who cannot be praised too highly for having enlarged the resources of literary history.
In 1766, Dr. Hawkesworth was the editor of three additional volumes of Swift's Letters, with notes and illustrations. In this publication he discovers an uncommon warmth against infidel publications, and speaks of Bolingbroke and his editor Mallet with the utmost detestation: that in this he was sincere, will appear from the following proof. We have already mentioned, that in 1744 he succeeded Dr. Johnson as the writer or compiler of the parliamentary debates in the Gentleman's Magazine; in this office, if it may be so termed, he continued until 1760, when the plan of the Magazine was improved by a Review of New Publications. Mr. Owen Ruffhead was the first who filled this department, and continued to do so about two years, according to sir John Hawkins, when he was succeeded by Dr. Hawkesworth; but there must have been an intermediate reviewer, if sir John be correct in the time when Mr. Ruffhead ceased to, write, as Dr. Hawkesworth's first appearance as a critic is ascertained, upon undoubted authority, to have been April 1765. In the Month of October of that year, there appeared in the Magazine an abstract of Voltaire's "Philosophical Dictionary," by a correspondent. Dr. Hawkesworth's friends, to whom it appears his connection with the Magazine was no secret, were alarmed to see an elaborate account of so impious a work; and one of them wrote to him on the subject. An extract from his answer, now before us, and dated Nov. 8, 1765, will perhaps fill up a chasm in his personal as well as literary history.
"I am always sorry when I hear anonymous performances, not expressly owned, imputed to particular persons; that which a man never owned either privately or in public, I think he should not be accountable for. I speak feelingly on this subject, for though Mr. Duncombe assured you that the Magazine was solely under my direction, I must beg leave to assure you that it is not, nor ever was, there being in almost every number some things that I never see, and some things that I do not approve. There is in the last number an account of Voltaire's 'Philosophical Dictionary,' a work of which I never would give any account, because I would not draw the attention of the public to it. It is true that the extracts exhibited in this article do not contain any thing contrary to religion or good morals; but it is certain that these extracts will carry the book into many hands that otherwise it would never have reached; and the book abounds with principles which a man ought to be hanged for publishing, though he believed them to be true, upon the same principle that all states hang rebels and traitors, though the offenders think rebellion and treason their duty to God. I beg, Sir, that you would do me the justice to say this whenever opportunity offers, especially with respect to the political part of the Magazine, for I never wrote a political pamphlet or paper, ever directly or indirectly assisted in the writing of either in my life."
In 1768 he published an excellent translation of "Telemachus," in 4to. He continued to review new books the magazine, but without offering any publications from his own pen that can now be traced, until 1772, when he was invited to write an account of the late voyages to the South Seas, a fatal undertaking, and which in its consequences deprived him of peace of mind and life itself. When these navigators returned home, the desire of the public to be acquainted with the new scenes and new objects which were now brought to light, was ardently excited, and different attempts were made to satisfy the general curiosity. There soon appeared a publication entitled "A Journal of a Voyage round the World." This was the production of some person who had been upon the expedition; and, although the account was dry and imperfect it served in a certain degree to relieve the public eagerness. The journal of Sydney Parkinson, draughtsman to sir Joseph Banks, to whom it belonged by ample purchase, was likewise printed, from a copy surreptitiously obtained; but an injunction from the court of chancery for some time prevented its appearance. This work, though dishonestly given to the world, was recommended by its plates. But it was Dr. Hawkesworth's account of Lieutenant Cook's voyage which completely gratified the public curiosity, as it was written by authority, was drawn up from the journal of the lieutenant, and the papers of sir Joseph Banks; and besides the merit of the composition, derived an extraordinary advantage from the number and excellence of its charts and engravings, which were furnished at the expence of government. The large price given by the bookseller for this work, and the avidity with which it was read, displayed in the strongest light the anxiety of the nation to be fully informed in every thing that belonged to the late navigation and discoveries.
This account, chiefly from the pen of Dr. Kippis, captain Cook's biographer, in the Biographia Britannica, is too favourable: the public was not satisfied with this work. The literary journals, indeed, examined it with candour, and rather with favour; but men of science were disappointed, and the friends of religion and morals were shocked. No infidel could have obtruded opinions more adverse to the religious creed of the nation, than what Dr. Hawkesworth advanced in his preface. He denied a special providence; he supposed that providence might act in some general way in producing events, but contended that one event ought not to be distinguished, or accounted an extraordinary interposition more than another. He asks, "If the deliverance of the Endeavour was an extraordinary interposition, why did not Providence interpose to prevent the ship from striking at all, rather than to prevent her from being beaten to pieces after she had struck?" a question which was considered as much fitter for the month of a professed scoffer than that of a man whose regard for revealed religion approached, in the opinion of some, to intemperate zeal. In his "Almoran and Hamet," his notions of providence are confused and perplexed; but in this he has attacked revealed religion, by striking off one of its principal duties, and one of its most consoling hopes, the duty and efficacy of prayer, of which he was not, however, insensible when he wrote No. 2 of the Adventurer.
An innumerable host of enemies now appeared in the newspapers and magazines; some pointed out blunders in matters of science, and some exercised their wit in poetical translations and epigrams; these might hurt his feelings as an author; but the greater part, who arraigned his impious sentiments and indecent narratives, probably rendered his sufferings as a man more acute. Against their charges he stood defenceless; and no defence indeed could be attempted with a reasonable expectation of success. But what, we are told, completed his chagrin, was the notice frequently given in an infamous magazine published at that time, that "All the amorous passages and descriptions in Dr. Hawk—th's Collection of Voyages (should be) selected and illustrated with a suitable plate." And this, in defiance of public decency, was actually done, and he whose fame had been raised on his labours in the cause of piety and morals, was thus dragged into a partnership in the most detestable depravity that the human mind can invent.
That such a reception given to a work of which he thought he might be proud, and from which he drew so great an emolument, should have irritated his mind, can excite little surprize. No respect for the services he had rendered to religion or virtue could obliterate the memory of his declension; and it certainly aggravated the pain his friends felt, when they considered that whatever was objectionable in this work, had come from his pen without provocation and without necessity, either from the nature of the undertaking, or the expectation of the public. He was, indeed, so sensible that his opinions would shock the feelings of his readers, that he thought it necessary to apologize for them in a very respectful, although unsatisfactory manner.
Soon after the publication of this ill-fated book, he became known to a lady who had great property and interest in the East India company; and through her means was chosen a director of that body, at the general election, in April 1773. The affairs of the company were at this time in a confused state, and the public mind greatly agitated by the frequent debates both in parliament and at the India-house. Dr. Hawkesworth (who in the list is styled John Hawkesworth, esq.) probably attended the meetings, but took no active share: his health was indeed now declining; and he expired at the house of his friend Dr. Grant, of Lime-street, Nov. 17, 1773. He was interred at Bromley, in Kent, where a monument was erected to his memory.
Of his personal character the following friendly sketch appeared in the Annual Register for 1773, and was no doubt intended to counteract some disadvantageous reports respecting his principles, which were circulated about the time of his death. "Nature had endowed him with an uncommonly fine understanding, which had been improved not only by long study, but by converse with mankind. His fertile mind teemed with ideas, which he delivered in so clear, and yet concise a manner, that no one could be at a loss perfectly to comprehend his meaning, or ever tired by hearing him speak; especially as his diction was so unaffectedly pure, and his language so simply elegant, that the learned and unlearned attended with equal pleasure to that unstudied flow of eloquence, which, without seeming to look for them, always adopted those words which were most suitable to the subject, as well as most pleasing to his hearers. It has been objected to him, that he suffered his passions to hold too strong a dominion over him; and it must be confessed a too keen sensibility seemed to him, as indeed it ever is to all who possess it, a pleasing but unfortunate gift. Alive to every tender sentiment of friendship, his heart dilated with joy whenever heaven put it in his power to be beneficial to those he loved; but this feeling disposition was the means of leading him into such frequent, though transient gusts of passion, as were too much for his delicate constitution to bear, without feeling the effects of them. Yet with all these quick sensations, he was incapable of lasting resentment or revenge; and had he never found an enemy till he had done an injury, he would, we may venture to pronounce, have left the world without having known one."