1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 10:451.



In his Poems, he appears in the character of an outrageous and merciless satirist; though there is every reason to believe that his natural disposition was not severe. Like our national character, his satires are manly, rough, and vehement. A spirit of indignation, which gratifies the irascible passions, is the predominant principle. They resemble the satires of Hall, in style, sentiment, and spirit, more than those of Young; to whom he is not inferior in wit, force, pungency, and invention. He has the strength, fire, and brilliant diction of Dryden, of whom he was an ardent admirer; but he is greatly inferior in gracefulness, ease, and elevation of style, to Pope, whom he held in contempt. The reasons of it are given in his letters to Mr. Wilkes; but do not appear to be satisfactory. A sincere regard to Pope, is not inconsistent with the most ardent admiration of Dryden. Like Dryden, who "could write severely, with more ease than he could write gently," he seems to have preferred the model of his favourite Juvenal, rather than of Horace. He is all fire, spirit, and animation. His nervous verse is well adapted to express the vehemence of his indignation. Amid the most spirited invective, it emits many a luminous irradiation of beautiful descriptive poetry.

But he is inferior to Juvenal, in the importance of his subject, and in the harmony of his numbers. Juvenal pours his majestic verse with all the warmth of a zealot in the cause of virtue. He not only puts vice to shame, but countenances virtue, and points out the way to attain it. Churchill seems to have little else in view, than to gratify private pique, or party prejudice. He did not possess dignity of character, and solidity of judgment, in a degree sufficient to enable him to stand forth as a disinterested censor of prevailing manners. His versification is extremely unequal; sometimes he reminds us of the roughness of Donne, and the looseness of Oldham; while at other times, he amply shows how well he understood all the powers of strong and harmonious numbers.