1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Blackmore

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 7:581.



He was not known as a poet till he published Prince Arthur, an Heroic Poem, in Ten Books, 1695, written, as he related, "by such catches and starts, and in such occasional, uncertain hours, as his profession afforded, and for the greatest part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets." In the latter part of the apology, he was accused by Dryden of writing "to the rumbling of his chariot wheels." He incurred the displeasure of Dryden, by censuring, in his preface, the licentiousness of the stage.

Prince Arthur appears to have been generally read; for in two years it had three editions: a very uncommon instance of favourable reception, at a time when literary curiosity was yet confined to particular classes of the nation.

As he was not, however, "free of the poet's company, but a downright interloper, an unlicensed adventurer," his success naturally raised animosity; and Dennis attacked him in Remarks on Prince Arthur, published in 1696, in which he endeavoured to show that his action had neither unity, integrity, nor morality, nor universality; and that consequently he could have no fable, nor no heroic poem; and that his narration was neither probable, delightful, nor wonderful. It was not, however, his design to prove that Prince Arthur was a work of no merit; for in his dedication to the Earl of Dorset, he says, "I believe Prince Arthur to be neither admirable nor contemptible: for, if I had either the one or the other opinion, I should certainly never have written against him." To the censure of Dennis, may be opposed the approbation of Locke, and the admiration of Molineaux, which are found in their printed letters. Molineaux is particularly delighted with the Song of Mopas. It is also praised by Watts in the preface to his Horae Lyricae. And Gildon, in his Art of Poetry, says, "That notwithstanding his merit, this admirable author did not think himself upon the same footing with Homer."

The animadversions of Dennis, insolent and contemptuous as they were, raised no implacable resentment in Blackmore; for, in one of his latter works, he praises Dennis as "equal to Boileau in poetry, and superior to him in critical abilities."

His Prince Arthur was followed, in 1697, by King Arthur, an epic poem, in twelve books; in the preface to which, he atones for the "provoking preface" to Prince Arthur, by bestowing a genteel and just eulogium on Congreve's Mourning Bride. He also acknowledged, that several considerable defects are to be found in Prince Arthur; and apologizes for them, by confessing that, when he undertook it, he had been long a stranger to the muses. "I had read but little poetry," says he, "throughout my whole life; and in fifteen years before, I had not, as I can remember, wrote a hundred lines in verse, excepting a copy of Latin verses in honour of a friend's book."

The resentment of the wits and critics was not softened either by the panegyric or the apology; but he found advantages more than equivalent to all their outrages; for he was this year made one of the Physicians in ordinary to King William, and advanced by him to the honour of knighthood, with a present of a gold chain and a medal.

The malignity of the wits attributed his knighthood to his new poem; but poetical merit was not a sufficient recommendation to the favour and notice of William, who, in conferring honours and rewards on Blackmore, no doubt, regarded the eminence which he had attained in his profession, and his zealous attachment to the principles of the Revolution.

Pope, when he became his enemy, mentions this as an instance of honours and rewards being improperly bestowed by kings.

The hero William, and the martyr Charles,
One knighted Blackmore, one one pensioned Quarles.