1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Arthur Murphy, in Life of David Garrick (1801) 106-07.



AARON HILL was the next author after Dr. Johnson. In the month of March 1749, his tragedy of Merope was acted at Drury Lane. The author was well known to the public by a variety of productions in prose and verse, but chiefly by his translation of Zaire, and Alzire of Voltaire. The first of those two plays made its appearance on the sage in 1736, and had the honour of introducing the celebrated Mrs. Cibber, who, from that time, was universally admired as the most pathetic and melodious actress that ever charmed the public ear. Aaron Hill was a man of an enlarged and comprehensive mind. He had the misfortune to fall beneath his rank, and join the Grub-street race in a libel on Mr. Pope, who took occasion in the Dunciad to express his resentment, and, at the same time, to do justice to the talents of the man. Among the heroes, who are described leaping into Fleetditch, Pope says,

Then Hill essay'd; scarce vanish'd out of sight,
He buoys up instant, and returns to light,
He bears no token of the sable streams,
And mounts far off among the swans of Thames.

Pope's resentment does not seem to have been very strong, since he barely mentions the offence, and ends with an elegant compliment. But that compliment did not soften Aaron Hill's indignation. He took fire, and expostulated in a stile of towering pride, and violent anger. Pope was convinced that he had acted with great moderation; he, therefore, replied to the letters sent to him on the occasion, in terms of civility, not being willing to keep alive a paper war with a man, who was protected by Lord Bolingbroke.