1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Mallet

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 9:677.



The character of Mallet has been variously described by his friends, and by his enemies. According to Hill, who knew him well, his manners were as amiable as his abilities were respectable. With Young, Pope, Thomson, and Lyttleton, he lived in habits of familiar intimacy; and, it is but justice to add, that no man maintained his share in conversation more happily than Mallet. His behaviour to Pope after his death has drawn upon him the universal accusation of ingratitude; but if he had not virtue, or had not spirit to refuse the office assigned him by Bolingbroke, it ought to remembered that Pope was not innocent, and that he had some dependence on the favour of Bolingbroke, a man whose pride and petulance made his kindness difficult to gain, or keep. He is said to have adopted the peculiar sentiments of his patron with regard to religion; but of this there is no better evidence than the publication of his posthumous works, in which he seems to have acted from considerations of gain rather than zeal for the propagation of his opinions. His integrity in business and in life is unimpeached. Vanity, the most innocent species of pride, seems to have been his predominant passion. Pathos was a quality which he conceived to be so much the characteristic of his own poetry, that he once quarrelled with Jones, author of the "Earl of Essex," for pretending to it. The dispute ended by his turning the poor bricklayer out of the room where they were spending the evening together. As a political writer, he seems to have been of that numerous class of men of letters, who think it no dishonour to be ministerial hirelings.

"His stature," says Dr. Johnson, "was diminutive; but he was regularly formed; his appearance, till he grew corpulent, was agreeable, and he suffered it to want no recommendation that dress could give it. His conversation was elegant and easy. The rest of his character may, without injury to his memory, sink into silence." This last observation cannot be generally allowed; his gratitude to Mr. Ker, his kindness to his brother, his services to Hill and Thomson, his beneficence to Derrick (Letters, 2 vols. 1767), and his exemplary tenderness to the discharge of the relative duties of husband and parent, command our esteem for his character, and confer a lasting honour on his memory.

As a poet, though he may not be altogether secure from the objections of the critic, he has very little to fear from the strictest moral or religious censure; his works are not only the productions of a genius truly poetical; but they are friendly to the best interests of morality and liberty; they inspire virtue, truth, and patriotism; and inculcate the necessity of goodness to the present and future happiness of mankind. His compositions are characterised by elegance of diction, and correctness of judgment, rather than vigour of expression or sublimity of sentiment, neither of which are wanting. His powers have had every aid that laborious cultivation, that useful and polite learning could give; he possesses a judgment critically exact, but has not an highly creative imagination. He is an elegant and pleasing writer, a smooth and correct versifier, but not a first-rate poet.