1755 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Blacklock

Joseph Spence to Dr. Conybeare, Bishop of Bristol, 11 January 1755; Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809 (1811) 2:554-55.



My Lord, — Your lordship may possibly have heard of a strange phenomenon that appeared in the learned world last summer; a poet, who, though blind from infancy, has got a knack of talking of colours and describing visible objects, and that sometimes much better than many others have done who have always enjoyed the use of their eyes. And yet this is one of the least valuable of his excellencies: all that know Mr. Blacklock (for that is his name) speak of his many virtues in the highest strains, of the sweetness of his temper, his patience and contentedness under poverty, and all his other misfortunes; his industry in acquiring a great mastery in the Greek, Latin, and French languages, and a good share of knowledge in all the branches of erudition, except the mathematics; and his retaining, after all those acquisitions, the greatest modesty and humility, together with the strictest love of virtue, and a mere primitive simplicity of manners. Indeed, taking all that his different acquaintances have said of him together, he seems to be one of the most amiable characters that I ever met with.

My lord, this uncommonly worthy and good man, cut off from all the usual methods of providing for himself by his blindness, (which, by the way, was the only thing that hindered him from being made Greek professor in the university of Aberdeen a year or two ago) is now in the 34th year of his age, with scarce 10 a year certain to maintain him; and one of his friends tells me, in a letter, that so moderate an income as 30 a year would make him quite easy and happy.

Mr. Dodsley, to whom a volume of his poems was sent from Edinburgh, (in which university some of his friends helped to maintain him for upwards of 12 years,) was so struck with the character, wants, and the merits of the man, that he soon fell on the thought of proposing a subscription for his poems, in order to assist him towards purchasing the annuity for his life, at least near that very moderate income which would make him so happy; and on his communicating his design to me, I was so much moved too, that I promised to write a little account of the man and his poems, to make him somewhat more known in this part of our island.

This account was published toward the beginning of November last; and Mr.Dodsley's proposals (for a guinea, large paper, and half-a-guinea for the small) toward the close of the same month.

I then went to town, where (after a fortnight of solicitation) I had the pleasure of paying in above 50 subscriptions the day before I came away; and but three half-guinea ones in that number.

But, at the same time, I had the mortification to find that my notable treatise had had very little effect. Like the honest Mr. Abraham Adams, I had concluded that all good people only wanted to have a man of so much worth pointed out to them in such necessitous circumstances, and that they would all run to help him immediately; but I found myself as much mistaken as that gentleman generally was in his humane conclusions. For all the subscriptions that came in whilst I was in town seem to have been got by the mere dint of personal application: there is scarce the name of a single volunteer among them.

As I found this to be the case, on my return home, I resolved to trouble each of my best friends with a letter, to beg their good word to any very worthy and charitable persons whom they might meet with, either in their visits or at their tables, for their help toward relieving so great and so uncommon a subject for charity. Will your lordship give me leave not to omit you in the number of those friends? and can you pardon me for this tedious narrative? I know your love of doing good, and hope that will plead for my excuse. I beg leave to be ever, with the greatest regard, my lord, your lordship's most obedient and obliged humble servant,

Joseph Spence.