1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Concanen

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 1:68-70.



THE SPECULATIST. Matthew Concanen, a native of Ireland, was the author of this collection. He was bred to the law; but not succeeding in this line, he resolved to try his fortune in London as a party-writer, and enlisted under the banners of administration in the "British" and "London Journals." In these papers, and in the Speculatist, he was, to adopt the language of the annotator on Pope [Warburton], "the author of several dull and dead scurrilities, and, by abusing the Poet and his friend Bolingbroke, obtained an introduction into the Dunciad." He was, however, notwithstanding this promotion, by no means devoid of ability, and had he abstained from party virulence, and personal allusion, would have been viewed by posterity in a more respectable light. His poems, and his play entituled "Wexford Wells," have merit; and it tells highly to his honour, that when appointed, by the interest of the Duke of Newcastle, attorney-general of the island of Jamaica, he filled that post for seventeen years with unblemished integrity, and with the universal esteem of the inhabitants. He retired to London in December, 1748, with an ample fortune most honourably acquired, and with the expectation of enjoying the close of life in ease and affluence; in this, however, he was miserably disappointed; for the change of climate so affected his constitution, that he survived his arrival but a few weeks, dying of a rapid consumption on January 22d, 1749.

The Speculatist procured Concanen no reputation, and not much pecuniary profit. The expences of printing, indeed, were defrayed by subscription; but the subscribers had reason to complain that it was little more than a re-publication of our author's former periodical papers. In No 35 of the Memoirs of the Society of Grubstreet, dated September 3d, 1730, this conduct of Concanen is severely and justly censured. "It was but lately," says the writer, "that I met with a book called The Speculatist, though by enquiry I find it has been above a month privately dispersed (in the manner proper to libels,) and hath crept about, in that blind way, as far as it had strength to go. I found it to be a great fraud and imposition on the subscribers; being no other than a wretched relique, patched up from the wrecks of British and London Journals. No doubt it will soon be (like its author) to be sold to more than will buy it. In some weeks it will be crying out for help in the advertisements, under the usual and laudable form of a few copies of the Speculatist being yet left undisposcd of, may be had at —." [Author's note: Vol. I, p. 169.] Concanen endeavoured to refute the charge, and his letter to this purpose is introduced into No 38 of the Memoirs, where he asserts, that nine-tenths of the subscribers were his particular friends, and previously knew that the Speculatist was intended for little more than a re-publication. This is no apology, however, as he suffered many to subscribe who were ignorant of the circumstance. The Speculatist occupies one volume octavo.