1910 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Spence

Ralph Straus, in Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher, and Playwright (1910) 43-44.



Of more lasting importance, however, than the patronage of the Leicester House faction was the friendship of Joseph Spence. Of all Dodsley's many friends, this gentle clergyman seems to have been the most loyal and the most devoted. But four years older than the publisher, he could already boast of a distinguished career. He had been educated at Eton, Winchester, and New College, where he was chosen Fellow in 1722. Four years later he had come into prominence by publishing an extremely able criticism of Pope's Odyssey, a book which brought him the poet's warmest thanks and friendship. Two years later his University gave him the rectory of Birchanger in Essex, and appointed him Professor of Poetry, in which capacity he immediately showed himself to be actively interested in any struggling poet who came his way. James Thompson and Stephen Duck both owed much to him, and it was only to be expected that Dodsley, recommended to him by Mr. Pope, should come in for a measure of his appreciation. As we have seen, he edited for Dodsley the reprint of Gorboduc in 1735, and from that time seems to have shown a very real interest in almost every one of Dodsley's undertakings. "His life," says one of his biographers, "was in its way an ideal one. He possessed sufficient culture to enjoy supreme literary art in others, while he could contemplate their triumphs without envy. He was fortunate in his friends, for the best and noblest in the land loved him. He never suffered, like Gay, from scarcity of money; nor, on the other hand, was he ever inconvenienced with too much." At the time of Dodsley's Muse in Livery he had been out of England, bear-leading Lord Middlesex, afterwards Duke of Dorset, but had returned in 1733. Now, just after the publication of Leonidas, he took a second tour abroad, but was back in England in 1738, in time to help Dodsley in the troublesome matter of the next year. Edmund Curll seems to have resented the various kindnesses shown by him to the whilom footman, and did not hesitate to speak his mind. In an epistle to Pope, which he issued about this time, occurs the following "snarling quatrain":

'Tis kind, indeed, a Livery Muse to aid,
Who scribbles farces to augment his trade.
When you, and Spence, and Glover drive the nail,
The devil's in it, if the plot should fail.

Dodsley, however, could afford to ignore such attacks.