1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 1:50-54.



THE PLAIN DEALER. The writers of this periodical paper were Aaron Hill and W. Bond. Aaron Hill was born in London on February 10th, 1685; and after his school education at Westminster, not being able, from the destitute state in which he was left by his father, to complete his studies at an university, he embraced the resolution of applying to his relation Lord Paget, then Ambassador at the Court of Constantinople. For this city, therefore, he embarked in 1700, and was fortunately well received by his Lordship, who procured him an able tutor, under whose directions he travelled through a great part of the East, visiting Egypt, Palestine, &c. He returned to England in 1703, in the Ambassador's suite; and, upon the death of Lord Paget, accompanied Sir William Wentworth, of Yorkshire, on a tour through Europe, which occupied nearly three years. Mr. Hill appeared before the public as an author in 1709, by publishing "A History of the Ottoman Empire," and "Camillus," a poem, a panegyric on the Earl of Peterborough, which obtained him the patronage of that nobleman. The succeeding year was a most propitious period in our author's annals; he married a lady of great beauty, wealth, and accomplishments; was appointed manager of Drury Lane Theatre; wrote his first tragedy, entitled "Elfrid, or the Fair Inconstant," which he had written at the request of Booth, and produced an Opera at the Haymarket, called "Rinaldo," which was received with great applause. His prospects, however, soon clouded; a disagreement with the Duke of Kent, Lord Chamberlain, induced him, in a few months, to give up the management of the Theatre; and the failure of a scheme, for which he had obtained a patent in 1713, to make sweet oil from beech-nuts, involved him in heavy pecuniary losses. The spirit of projecting, indeed, seems, from this period, never to have deserted Hill; he undertook a plan, shortly after the ruin of his first attempt, for the establishment of a plantation in Georgia; and, in 1728, entered into a contract with the York Buildings Company in the Highlands of Scotland, for cutting timber upon their estates, and floating it down the river Spey; but these schemes, like the former, proved abortive. In the mean time he was equally industrious with his pen; in 1718, a poem, called "The Northern Star," in honour of Peter the Great, procured him a gold medal from the Empress Catherine; and his politics, though but sparingly mingled with the Plain Dealer," introduced him, most undeservedly, among the heroes of the Dunciad. It was in the province of a dramatic poet, however, that he was best known to his contemporaries; and in this, more as a translator than an original writer; his "Fall of Siam," performed in 1716, and his "Athelstan" in 1731, are now forgotten; but his adaptations from Voltaire, his "Zara," "Alzira," and "Merope," have great merit, and the first and third still keep possession of the stage.

The loss of his amiable and beloved wife, in 1731, was an irreparable shock; she had borne him nine children, and in her he had possessed a consolation in adversity however severe, He endeavoured to amuse his mind by literature, and to bury his sorrows in retirement: at Plaistow, in Essex, he composed most of his latter pieces; and in the dedication of his Merope to Lord Bolingbroke, thus pathetically paints his solitude and resignation, and his hopes of immortality:

Cover'd in Fortune's shade, I rest reclin'd,
My griefs all silent, and my joys resign'd;
With patient eye life's ev'ning gleam survey,
Nor shake th' out-hast'ning sands, nor bid them stay:
Yet, while from life my setting prospects fly,
Fain would my mind's weak offspring shun to die;
Fain would their hope some light through time explore,
The name's kind passport, when the man's no more.

Our author did not long survive the production of his Merope; he expired on February 8th, 1750, in the sixty eighth year of his age, and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey in the same grave with his wife.

Aaron Hill was a man of amiable manners and of great moral worth; but his wishes for the longevity of his mental offspring are not likely to be gratified. Many of his best pieces were collected, shortly after his death, in four volumes octavo; but they are little read, nor do they, with a few exceptions, rise much beyond mediocrity.

It was unfortunate, that in writing the Plain Dealer he should have fixed upon a coadjutor so inferior to himself as Mr. Bond. Notwithstanding this unhappy choice, it is, as a miscellaneous paper, the best that has come under our review since the Free-Thinker; and, though not worthy of re-publication as a whole, contains several essays from which both amusement and instruction may be derived. The preface is a critique on Essay-writing; and No 1, dated March 23d, 1724, is occupied by the discussion of a party assembled to choose a proper name for the paper. As this task, which was a difficulty then, has been rendered still more laborious by the multitude of subsequent publications, it may not be superfluous to present my readers with the proposed list, which includes nine appellations; namely, The Inquisitor; The Truth-Teller; The Secret; The Coquet; The Bagpipe; The Flute; The Good-Fellow; The Sweet-Heart; and The Whirligig. The Plain Dealer was published twice a week, and was concluded on May 7th, 1725, having reached one hundred and seventeen numbers; it was re-printed in 1734, and forms two octavo volumes.