1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Thomas Davies, in Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick (1780) 1:131-32, 155-57.



Mr. Hill in person was tall and genteel; in advanced life, his figure, air, and manner, were gracefully venerable; with a warm and benevolent mind, he had the delicate address and polite manners of the complete gentleman....

Aaron Hill had certainly great claim to our regard, both as a man and an author. The business of his life consisted in performing, or wishing to perform, acts of benevolence; his supreme pleasure, to relieve the wants of his supreme pleasure, to relieve the wants of others, unmindful of his own. As an author, his merit is unquestionable; allowing for some peculiarities in his stile, we must confess that he had an uncommon grandeur of thinking, and a nervous manner of expressing his sentiments. This, indeed, he laboured too much, and sometimes till he removed that grace of simplicity which is the principal ornament of fine writing. His frequent use of compound epithets, with adverbs joined to participles or adjectives, rendered his style subject to the censure of obscurity and bombast.

But, in all his writings, there is sound good sense, and sometimes an uncommon vein of poetry; his worst fault was an affectation of expressing himself too pointedly, and forcibly; and this we find gently hinted in the letter written to him by lord Bolingbroke. His friendship with Mr. Pope was owing to some lines in the Dunciad, which he resented in a poem called the Caveat, or Progress of wit; in the beginning of which Pope is thus described,

Tuneful Alexis, on the Thames' fair side,
The ladies' plaything, and the muse's pride,
With merit popular, with wit polite,
Easy, though vain; and elegant, though light;
Desiring and deserving others praise,
Poorly accepts a fame he ne'er repays;
Unborn to cherish, sneakingly approves,
And wants the soul to spread the worth he loves.

This was fixing Pope's accusation of Addison's envy upon himself. I have with some pleasure, though not with equal knowledge, dwelt on the life and writings of a man who took such delight in the entertainments of the stage, and was not only a considerable dramatic writer, but almost the only gentleman who laboured assiduously to understand the art of acting, and who took incessant pains to communicate his knowledge of it to others. He left a fragment called an Essay on the Art of Acting, which, it is much to be lamented, that he did not live to complete; what remains is worth an actor's consideration.