1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Dodsley

William Tooke, Note to The Journey; Poetical Works of Charles Churchill (1804) 2:367-68n.



Let them with Glover o'er Medea doze;
Let them with Dodsley wail Cleone's woes,
Whilst he, fine-feeling creature, all in tears,
Melts as they melt, and weeps with weeping peers....

Cleone, a tragedy by Robert Dodsley, having been rejected by Garrick, was first acted at Covent-Garden in 1758: it is founded upon the old legend of St. Genevieve, written originally in French, and translated into English by Sir William Lower near two hundred years ago. Pope began a tragedy on the same subject, but not liking it, he destroyed the manuscript. It is one of those strange tales devised by romance writers when that species of composition was in its infancy, and had not yet assumed the garb of probability. The play was acted a few seasons with some success, but has now lain dormant for many years; the production of a fashionable bookseller of extensive patronage and trade, was hailed by his authors and noble customers as a wonderful effort of genius, he is thus made to speak for himself by Shaw, a contemporary satirist.

—a bookseller and bard
May sure with justice claim the first regard.
A double merit's surely his, that's wont
To make the fiddle, and then play upon't;
But more, to prove beyond a doubt my claim
Behold the work on which I build my fame!
Search every tragic scene of Greece and Rome,
From antient Sophocles to modern Home,
Examine well the conduct, diction, plan,
And match, then match Cleone, if you can.
RACE.

Though Dodsley was unequal to receive the sublime inspiration of Melpomene, his lighter pieces, particularly the Miller of Mansfield, and the Toy Shop in verse, and the Economy of Human Life, in prose, are no unfavourable specimens of his genius. There is an easy, chaste familiarity in his lighter pieces, whether prose or verse, which will always render them popular and pleasing. That he should even acquire the reputation he deservedly attained is matter of astonishment, when we consider that be was originally a livery servant, while it is highly creditable to his memory that he never forgot his origin, and was always unaffectedly grateful to his benefactors. His integrity in trade was unsullied, and his conduct to authors was liberal in the extreme. That valuable publication, the Annual Register, originated with him in 1758, at the suggestion of Burke, who was the principal contributor to it. Dodsley died in September 1764.