1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Edwards

John Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 2:199-201n.



Mr. Edwards was equally distinguished for his genius and the goodness of his heart. His Canons of Criticism did him great credit, both as a critic and as a scholar; and drew on him the vengeance of Dr. Warburton, who took occasion, in illustrating the names of Blackmore and Milbourne, in a note on the Essay on Criticism, ver. 463, to observe, "These men are of all times, and rise up on all occasions. Sir Walter Raleigh had Alexander Ross; Chillingworth had Cheynel; Milton a first Edwards; and Locke a second; neither of them related to the third Edwards of Lincoln's-inn. They were Divines of parts and learning: this is a Critic without one or the other. Yet (as Mr. Pope says of Luke Milbourn) the fairest of all Critics; for, having written against the Editor's Remarks on Shakspeare, he did him justice in printing, at the same time, some of his own." — "All impartial critics," however, as Dr. Warton well observes, allow these Remarks to have been decisive and judicious; and his Canons of Criticism remain unrefuted and unanswerable."

Again, in the Notes on the Dunciad, book IV, ver. 565, where Mr. Pope has a fling at those, "Who study Shakspeare at the Inns of Court," the learned Commentator adds, "Ill would the Scholiast discharge his duty, who should neglect to honour those whom Dulness has distinguished; or suffer them to lie forgotten, when their rare modesty would have left them nameless. Let us not, therefore, overlook the services which have been done in her cause, by one Mr. Thomas Edwards, a gentleman, as he is pleased to call himself, of Lincoln's-inn; but, in reality, a gentleman only of the Dunciad; or, to speak him better, in the plain language of our honest ancestors to such mushrooms, 'a gentleman of the last edition': who, nobly eluding the solicitude of his careful father, very early retained himself in the cause of Dulness against Shakspeare; and, with the wit and learning of his ancestor Tom Thimble in the Rehearsal, and with the air of good-nature and politeness of Caliban in the Tempest, hath now happily finished the Dunce's Progress, in personal abuse. For a libeller is nothing but a Grub-street critic run to seed." — Here again Dr. Warton observes, "This attack on Mr. Edwards is not of weight sufficient to weaken the effects of his excellent Canons of Criticism." — But Mr. Bannister subjoins, "Dr. Johnson knew best how to appreciate the Canons of Criticism. After bestowing on it the applause it deserved, as an effusion of wit, on some person's observing that the author had shewn himself to be a better critic than Warburton, 'That,' replied the Doctor, 'is going rather too far: a fly may sting and tease a horse; but yet the horse is the nobler animal.'" See Bowles's edition of Pope, vol. I. p. 254; vol. V. p. 322. — Mr. Edwards was more susceptible of the attack than the circumstances required, deeming his rank in life impeached by the words "a gentleman, as he is pleased to call himself, of Lincoln's-inn, but, in reality, a gentleman only of the Dunciad," &c. — The gentleman whose assistance Mr. Edwards acknowledges in the preface, was Mr. Roderick, fellow of Magadalen college in Cambridge, and of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies. He died July 20, 1756, not long before his friend, bequeathing to him such of his papers as related to the Canons of Criticism. — Thirteen of his Sonnets are printed in Dodsley's Collection, eight in Pearch's, and four in Nichols's Select Collection, 1780. Forty-nine appear in the last edition of his Canons of Criticism, 1765. — He was also author of a pretty jeu d'esprit, called The Trial of the Letter [gamma], alias Y, which is printed with his Canons of Criticism; and of a pamphlet called Free and candid Thoughts on the Doctrine of Predestination. This little piece appeared very improperly after his death, having never been intended for publication by Mr. Edwards. A beautiful Ode was addressed to him by Miss Mulso, afterwards Mrs. Chapone; to which he replied in as elegant a Sonnet. Dr. Akenside also addressed an Ode to him.