1848 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

John Forster, in Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith (1848; 1871) 1:365-66.



As the poem [Goldsmith's The Traveller] was passing through the press, Churchill died. It was he who had pressed poetry into the service of party, and for the last three years, to apparent exclusion of every nobler theme, made harsh political satire the favoured utterance of the Muse. But his rude strong spirit had suddenly given way. Those unsubdued passions; those principles, unfettered rather than depraved; that real manliness of soul, scorn of convention, and unquestioned courage; that open heart and liberal hand; that eager readiness to love or to hate, to strike or to embrace; had passed away for ever. Nine days earlier, his antagonist Hogarth had gone the same dark journey; and the reconciliation that would surely, even here, have sooner or later vindicated their common genius, the hearty English feeling which they shared, and their common cordial hatred of the false pretences of the world, was left to be accomplished in the grave. Be it not the least shame of the profligate politics of these three disgraceful years, that, arraying in bitter hostility one section of the kingdom against the other, they turned into unscrupulous personal enemies such men as these; made a patriot of Wilkes; statesmen of Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord Sandwich, and Bubb Dodington; and, of the free and vigorous verse of Churchill, a mere instrument of perishable faction. Not without reason on that ground did Goldsmith condemn and scorn it. It was that which had made it the rare mixture it so frequently is, of the artificial with the natural and impulsive; which so fitfully blended in its author the wholly and the partly true; which impaired his force of style with prosaical weakness; and controlled, by the necessities of partisan satire, his feeling for nature and truth. Yet should his critic and fellow-poet have paused before, in this dedication to the Traveller, he branded him as a writer of lampoons. To Charles Hanbury Williams, but not to Charles Churchill, such epithets belong. The senators who met to decide the fate of turbots were not worthier of the scourge of Juvenal, than the men who, reeking from the gross indulgences of Medmenham-abbey, drove out William Pitt from the cabinet, sat down by the side of Bute, denounced in the person of Wilkes their own old profligate associate, and took the public morality into keeping. Never, that he might merely fawn upon power or trample upon weakness, had Churchill let loose his pen. There was not a form of mean pretence or servile assumption which be did not use it to denounce. Low, pimping polities he abhorred; and that their worthless abettors, to whose exposure his works are so incessantly devoted, have not carried him into oblivion with themselves, argues something for the sound morality and permanent truth expressed in his manly verse. By these the new poet was to profit, as much as by the faults which perished with the satirist, and left the lesson of avoidance to his successors. In the interval since Pope's and Thomson's death, since Collins's faint sweet song, since the silence of Young, of Akenside, and of Gray, no such easy, familiar, and vigorous verse as Churchill's had dwelt in the public ear. The less likely was it now to turn away, impatient or intolerant of the Traveller.