1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Blackmore

James Boswell, in Life of Johnson (1791); ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 2:123-25.



Upon entering his study, I was glad that he was not alone, which would have made our meeting more awkward. There were with him, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Tyers, both of whom I now saw for the first time. My note had, on his own reflection, softened him, for he received me very complacently; so that I unexpectedly found myself at ease, and joined in the conversation.

He said, the criticks had done too much honour to Sir Richard Blackmore, by writing so much against him. That in his Creation he had been helped by various wits, a line by Philips and a line by Tickell; so that by their aid, and that of others, the poem had been made out.

I defended Blackmore's supposed lines, which have been ridiculed as absolute nonsense:—

A painted vest Prince Voltiger had on,
Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won.

I maintained it to be a poetical conceit. A Pict being painted, if he is slain in battle, and a vest is made of his skin, it is a painted vest won from him, though he was naked.

[In a note added in a later edition Boswell reports that the lines in question were not Blackmore's, but a deliberate misquotation from Edward Howard's British Princes.]