1835 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Lloyd

Robert Southey, in Life and Works of Cowper (1835-37) 1:61-69, 93-105.



Robert Lloyd, whose father, Dr. Pierson Lloyd, was under-master at Westminster, was of the same age and standing as Colman, and was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, when his compeer was elected to Oxford. The father was a humourist, and of course furnished, to those who were bred up under him, matter for innumerable stories, which there are now none to remember and to laugh at; unless, indeed, which is very likely, some of them have been transferred to his successors, as they may have descended to him. But he was also a kindhearted, equal-minded, generous, good man. Cowper loved his memory, and this feeling alone, he said, prompted him to attempt a translation of some Latin verses which were spoken at the Westminster election next after his decease. He had never learnt who wrote them; but I can state that they were written by Dr. Vincent, who succeeded Lloyd as under master; who, like him, was for half a century connected with the school; and who now, in like manner, lives in the grateful memory of his surviving pupils.

Happy had it been for Robert Lloyd, if, with the playful wit, the cheerful disposition, and the amiable temper of his father, he had inherited his wisdom and his virtue. He distinguished himself at Cambridge by his talents, but not in a way to procure for himself any academical honours or advantages. One of the earliest of Cowper's existing poems is an Epistle addressed to him while he was an under-graduate, and written in his own manner, . . for that, at the age of one-and-twenty had already been formed. The verses are remarkable on another account, for the following extract contains the first intimation of the writer's morbid feelings, and his own apprehension, even then, of their consequences.

'Tis not that I design to rob
Thee of thy birth-right, gentle Bob,
For thou art born sole heir and single,
Of dear Mat Prior's easy jingle;
Nor that I mean, while thus I knit
My thread-bare sentiments together,
To show my genius or my wit,
When God and you know, I have neither;
Or such, as might be better shown
By letting poetry alone.
'Tis not with either of these views,
That I presume t' address the Muse:
But to divert a fierce banditti,
(Sworn foes to ev'ry thing that's witty!)
That, with a black, infernal train,
Make cruel inroads in my brain,
And daily threaten to drive thence
My little garrison of sense:
The fierce banditti which I mean,
Are gloomy thoughts, led on by spleen.

Having taken his degree, and leaving a character in the university which would have been forgotten as well as charitably forgiven, if his after life had given proof of reformation, Lloyd returned to Westminster as an usher. That such a situation was compatible with contentment and happiness, he knew from his father's example; that it was not incompatible with genius, he saw in Vincent Bourne. But though circumstances must have seemed to point it out as his peculiar destination, he became impatient of its wearisome routine, and resigned it in disgust. Possibly his religious opinions were at that time unsettled, and on that account he may have abandoned all intention of entering into orders, and consequently renounced the hopes of preferment which otherwise in such a situation he might have entertained. But there is no intimation of this in his Apology; he speaks in that poem with bitterness of the intellectual drudgery, and assigns no other cause for throwing himself upon the world as a literary adventurer.

Were I at once empowered to show
My utmost vengeance on my foe,
To punish with extremest rigour,
I could inflict no penance bigger
Than, using him as learning's tool,
To make him usher of a school.
For, not to dwell upon the toil
Of working on a barren soil,
And labouring with incessant pains
To cultivate a blockhead's brains,
The duties there but ill befit
The love of letters, arts, or wit.
———*———*———*———
For me, it hurts me to the soul
To brook confinement or control;
Still to be pinion'd down to teach
The syntax and the parts of speech;
Or, what perhaps is drudgery worse,
The links and points and rules of verse
To deal out authors by retail,
Like penny pots of Oxford ale:
Oh 'tis a service irksome more
Than tugging at the slavish oar!
Yet such his task, a dismal truth,
Who watches o'er the bent of youth,
And while, a paltry stipend earning,
He sows the richest seeds of learning,
And tills their minds with proper care,
And sees them their due produce bear,
No joys, alas! his toil beguile,
His own lies fallow all the while.

"Yet still he's on the road," you say,
Of learning." — Why, perhaps he may,
But turns like horses in a mill,
Nor getting on, nor standing still;
For little way his learning reaches,
Who reads no more than what he teaches.

Poor Lloyd had some misgivings before he ventured upon the perilous profession of authorship. For when one of his friends advised him to try his fortune with the public, he replied in a manner which seemed to show a proper regard to prudential considerations, as well as a just estimate of his own talents.

You say I should get fame. I doubt it:
Perhaps I am as well without it;
For what's the worth of empty praise?
What poet ever dined on bays?
And though the laurel, rarest wonder!
May screen us from the stroke of thunder,
This mind I ever was and am in,
It is no antidote to famine.
———*———*———*———
Tempt me no more then to the crime
Of dabbling in the font of rhyme:
My muse has answer'd all her end
If her productions please a friend.
The world is burden'd with a store;
Why need I add one scribbler more?

But though Lloyd never appears to have overrated himself, and knew that he was never likely to undertake, still less to execute, any thing of great pith and moment, he was tempted by the desire of that reputation which so many mistake for fame, and which those authors who have no worthier object than immediate profit or present applause, prefer to it. His earliest pieces appeared in the "Connoisseur," and the friendly editor did not let pass the fair opportunity of praising them. This was before he left Cambridge, and in one of his communications to that paper, he says, "You must know, sir, that in the language of our old dons, every young man is ruined who is not an arrant Tycho Brahe or Erra Pater. Yet it is remarkable, that though the servants of the muses meet with more than ordinary discouragement at this place, Cambridge has produced many celebrated poets; witness Spenser, Milton, Cowley, Dryden, &c.; not to mention some admired writers of the present times. I myself, sir, am grievously suspected of being better acquainted with Homer and Virgil than Euclid or Saunderson; and am universally agreed to be ruined, for having concerned myself with hexameter and pentameter more than diameter." But Latin verses were as much in his vocation at Westminster as mathematics might be at Cambridge; and the love of classical pursuits, instead of marring his fortune there, would have materially contributed to make it.

The success which Thornton and Colman had obtained, undoubtedly raised his hopes and increased his confidence. At that time they seemed to have no farther ambition than to become conspicuous among the wits of the age; and being conscious that he was not inferior to them in any of the qualifications which such ambition required, he was impatient to be ranked in the same class. It is not uninteresting, and possibly may not be useless, to trace the state of his mind progressively in his own poems; ephemeral as they were, they become valuable when they with perfect fidelity exhibit the feelings of a literary adventurer, who, with great talents, great industry, and many amiable qualities, fell an early victim to his own unhappy principles and conduct.

Within four years after he had declared his unwillingness to increase the number of scribblers in rhyme, he thus acknowledged the change which had taken place in his mind upon that subject:

Whether a blessing or a curse,
My rattle is the love of verse.
Some fancied parts and emulation,
Which still aspires to reputation,
Made infant fancy plume her flight,
And held the laurel full to sight.
For vanity, the poet's sin,
Had ta'en possession all within;
And he whose brain is verse-possest,
Is in himself as highly blest
As he whose lines and circles vie
With Heaven's direction of the sky.

Howe'er the river rolls its tides,
The cork upon the surface rides;
And on ink's ocean, lightly buoy'd,
The cork of vanity is Lloyd.
Let me, too, use the common claim,
And souse at once upon my name,
Which some have done, with greater stress,
Who know me and who love me less.

However ardent his aspirations for fame may have been at that time, he expressed in this poem no overweening expectations that the same path would lead with equal certainty to fortune.

However narrowly I look
In Phoebus's "valorem" book,
I cannot from inquiry find
Poets had much to leave behind.
They had a copyhold estate
In lands which they themselves create:
A foolish title to a fountain,
A right of common in a mountain.

Colman, who had already produced a popular farce, and whose well known comedy of "The Jealous Wife" was then on the point of representation, had advised Lloyd to write a play:

That talent, George, though yet untried,
Perhaps my genius has denied,

was the answer which, in the same epistle, he gives to the advice. Perhaps no author ever distrusted his own powers without good reason. He may in execution fall far short of his hopes and anticipations, and such of his productions as have pleased him well in one mood of mind, may in another seem to him "stale, flat, and unprofitable;" for this depends more upon the state of the stomach and the pulse, than of the judgement: but he who at the commencement distrusts his ability for what he undertakes, must as surely fail, as the timid slider falls, or the swimmer sinks if he is panic-stricken in deep water.

Lloyd was a frequenter of the theatres, and had paid much attention to theatrical performances. He first made himself generally known, and with considerable reputation, by a poem called "The Actor," addressed to Thornton, and of sufficient length to form a quarto pamphlet. It was written with his characteristic ease, and more than his usual vigour; and the subject, though trite, was one in which what was then called "the Town" took an interest. The critical remarks upon the costume of the stage, and upon the appearance of Banquo's ghost, were more in the spirit of Kemble's age than of Garrick's; and he reprobated Foote with just and honest indignation for the libellous personalities with which his dramas were seasoned, admirable in their kind as those dramas would be, were it not for this moral sin. But though Lloyd was a good stage critic, he never judged more rightly than when he doubted his own talents for dramatic composition. By Garrick's favour, and no doubt through Colman's friendship, his "Tears and Triumph of Parnassus," an occasional interlude on the death of George II. and the accession of his successor, . . and his "Arcadia," a dramatic pastoral on the young king's marriage, . . were represented at Drury Lane: they were only not too bad for representation in those days, and would hardly be deemed good enough for it now, at the meanest of the minor theatres. The flimsiest of Metastasio's Feste Teatrale are not more flimsy in texture, . . the workmanship admits of no comparison: and when compared with those masques by which English poetry was enriched and English taste refined, in the halcyon days of James and Charles the First, the degradation of the drama itself is not more apparent.

But it is not by his worst performances that any author should be estimated, in whom there is any thing good. These despicable pieces served Lloyd's purpose, by supplying his necessities for a time; and we may be sure he valued them at as little as they were worth. For he was an accomplished scholar, . . a man of great and ready talents, with intellectual vigour enough for higher flights than he ever essayed, if moral strength had not been wanting. His greatest misfortune was his intimacy with Churchill; yet their friendship was so sincere and generous on both sides, that it stands forth as the redeeming virtue in the mournful history of both....

While Churchill, having honourably discharged his debts, was making a provision for his family from the produce of his rapid pen; Lloyd, whose facility in composition was equal, who stood high in reputation, whose talents were of no common order, and whose industry never shrunk from its daily task, was sinking lower and lower as a literary drudge. After conducting the poetical department of a periodical publication, entitled the Library, and publishing a quarto volume of poems, for which he obtained a considerable number of subscribers, he engaged to edit the St. James's Magazine, the first number of which appeared in September, 1762, with his name on the cover; on this it seems the publisher insisted; and Lloyd, if he did not feel the cogency of his arguments, felt that of his authority. Both counted upon the aid of Lloyd's literary friends.

BOOKSELLER.
You'll have assistance, and the best.
There's Churchill, — will not Churchill lend
Assistance!

AUTHOR.
Surely, to his FRIEND.

BOOKSELLER.
And then your interest might procure
Something from either CONNOISSEUR.
Colman and Thornton both will join
Their social hand, to strengthen thine:
And when your name appears in print,
Will Garrick never drop a hint!

AUTHOR.
True, I've indulged such hopes before,
From those you name, and many more;
And they, perhaps, again will join
Their hand, if not ashamed of mine.
———*———*———*———
BOOKSELLER.
—a name will always bring
A better sanction to the thing;
And all your scribbling foes are such
Their censure cannot hurt you much;
And take the matter ne'er so ill,
If you don't print it, sir, they will.

AUTHOR.
Well, be it so. That struggle's o'er;
Nay, this shall prove one spur the more,
Pleased if success attends, if not,
I've writ my name, and made a blot.
The Puff: Introductory Dial.

Bold is the task we undertake:
The friends we wish, the work must make;
For wits, like adjectives, are known
To cling to that which stands alone.

If Lloyd was disappointed in the hopes of assistance which he thus publicly advertised, it was because they could not possibly be realized to the desired extent. He received more than might have been expected. Some contributions seem to have come from Colman; considerable ones, certainly, from Thornton; none from Churchill, who had no time to spare, but who assisted him more effectually in another way. The chief contributor was Charles Denis, to whom the first volume was dedicated, "in acknowledgment of favours received." Denis was an imitator of Lafontaine; and upon this writer and Hall Stevenson, Dr. Wolcott, popularly known in the last generation as Peter Pindar, formed his style. Wolcott had more wit and more originality; but as indecency of one kind was not marketable in his days among the general public, he seasoned his pieces with another, and directed his personal ridicule against individuals whose character or station was such that he was in no danger of receiving personal chastisement.

One communication to the St. James's Magazine may be ascribed to Cowper; it is a Dissertation on the Modern Ode, signed with his initials. "A perfect Ode," composed upon the ironical directions therein given, is promised by the writer; and such an ode appeared in a subsequent number, evidently by the same person, though signed with a different initial. No earlier communication of his can be traced there; and there is none later, because when the ode appeared the crisis of his fate was at hand.

The task of supplying a monthly magazine by his own exertions, with only eleemosynary assistance, was too much for Lloyd, even with all his power of application and facility in composition. The publisher brought to his aid, in the first number, an easy resource, on which probably both had relied. "Though the author," he said, "had in his preliminary poem disclaimed any assistance but the Belles Lettres, and chiefly depended upon the Muses, who are not always in a humour to be propitious to their suitors, it was presumed that it could be neither unacceptable to him, nor disagreeable to the reader, to vary the entertainment, and to give the most material occurrences of the month, both foreign. and domestic." But this was so ill received, that it was immediately discontinued. Bonnell Thornton then came kindly to his aid. "Old friend'," said he, "give me leave to congratulate your readers on the improvement which you made in your last Magazine, in not retailing stale paragraphs of news, but supplying their places with original matter; though by so doing you imposed upon yourself a further task of providing materials for another half sheet. I am sensible of the difficulty you must naturally be under in being obliged to furnish such a quantity of copy for the printer every month; it is therefore incumbent on your friends and well-wishers to ease you in some measure of the burthen. One part of your plan, indeed, is admirably calculated for this purpose, and might prove a great saving to you, if properly attended to. Though we cannot all of us be writers, we may yet contribute greatly to the success as well as merit of your undertaking, by communicating such originals as must secure attention from the very name of their authors. Many such are undoubtedly preserved in the private cabinets of the curious, and in the public libraries and repositories." This letter he accompanied with two poems attributed to Dryden, and till then unpublished.

Already Lloyd began to feel the thraldom to which he had bound himself. Even in the second number these melancholy lines are found:

Oh! had it pleased my wiser betters
That I had never tasted letters,
Then no Parnassian maggots, bred
Like fancies in a madman's head,
No graspings at an idle name,
No childish hope of future fame,
No impotence of wit, had ta'en
Possession of my muse-struck brain.

Or had my birth with fortune lit,
Varnish'd the dunce, or made the wit,
I had not held a shameful place,
Nor letters paid me with disgrace.

Oh for a pittance of my own,
That I might live unsought, unknown,
Retired from all the pedant strife,
Far from the cares of bustling life;
Far from the wits, the fools, the great,
And all the little world I hate!

When, the far greater part of poor Lloyd's poems shall be forgotten, as they may be without injury to his memory or to literature, the passages in which he describes his own drudgery ought always to be preserved for a warning:

While duly each revolving moon,
Which often comes — God knows, too soon,
Continual plagues my soul molest,
And Magazines disturb my rest;
While scarce a night I steal to bed
Without a couplet in my head;
And in the morning, when I stir,
Pop comes a Devil, "Copy, sir!"
I cannot strive with daring flight
To reach the brave Parnassian height,
But at its foot content to stray,
In easy unambitious way,
Pick up those flowers the Muses send,
To make a nosegay for my friend.
In short, I lay no idle claim
To genius strong and noisy fame;
But with a hope and wish to please,
I write, as I would live, with ease.

FRIEND.
But you must have a fund, a mine,
Prose, poems, letters,—

AUTHOR.
Not a line!
And here, my, friend, I rest secure,
He can't lose much who's always poor.
And if as now, through numbers five,
This work with pleasure kept alive,
Can still its currency afford,
Nor fear the breaking of its hoard,
Can pay you, as at sundry times,
For self, per Mag, two thousand rhymes,
From whence should apprehension grow,
That self should fail with richer Co?

No doer of monthly grub,
Myself alone a learned club,
I ask my readers to no treat,
Of scientific hash'd up meat,
Nor seek to please theatric friends
With scraps of plays and odds and ends.

Yet after this false demonstration of cheerfulness, the same poem contains a confession that he felt both the weight and the degradation of his task:

For me, once fond of author-fame,
Now forced to bear its weight and shame,
I have no time to run a race;
A traveller's my only pace.
They whom their steeds unjaded bear
About Hyde Park, to take the air,
May frisk and prance, and ride their fill,
And go all paces, which they will.
We hackney tits, — nay, never smile,
Who trot our stage of thirty mile,
Must travel in a constant plan,
And run our journey as we can.

The same obvious metaphor was continued in another piece, when he, poor man, had nearly reached the end of his stage:

At first the poet idly strays
Along the greensward path of praise,
Till on his journeys up and down,
To see and to be seen in town,
What with ill-natured flings and rubs
From flippant bucks and hackney scrubs,
His toils through dust, through dirt, through gravel,
Take off his appetite for travel.

These lines were written after he had ceased to conduct the Magazine, and were addressed to Dr. Kenrick, who succeeded him as editor. During eighteen months he had continued to fulfil his monthly task, though at length in such exhaustion means and spirits, that he seems to have admitted any communication, however worthless, or reprehensible in a worse way. But his whole dependance had been upon this adventure. The first paper with which Thornton had supplied him was one composed upon the thought that the greater part of mankind, if they had as many lives (according to the common saying) as a cat, would wantonly throw away the eight, however careful some of them might be to preserve the last. Pursuing this fancy through various examples, he presented one which, if it excited no forebodings in Lloyd upon its first perusal, must have been recollected by him in bitterness at last.

"Suppose again (for there can be no end of such like suppositions) that I am an author; my works indeed, I flatter myself, will live after me; but though I had all the lives of a cat, through each of them I might lead the life of a dog. My garret (we will say) has inspired me to soar so high as to attempt a sublime ode, or epic poem. I am let down by its want of sale: the beam across my chamber is very inviting, and at least the bed cords are remaining. I am afterwards lowered to humble prose: my publisher will not afford me small beer; and I choose to have my fill of water by a plunge into the river Thames. After sinking and rising, we will suppose, for eight times alternately, I at last sit down contented in a jail, to supply copy, scrap by scrap, as the printer's little imp calls for it; since, as the proverb has it, 'he must needs go when the devil drives.'"

In the condition here described as the last stage of a hackney writer, Lloyd found himself after his failure with the Magazine; he was arrested for debts contracted during its progress, and it must be presumed, either, that they were beyond his father's ability to discharge, or that his imprudent habits were deemed incorrigible, or that it was hoped he might be brought by confinement to a better mind; for Dr. Lloyd, who had so benevolently interposed to save Churchill from imprisonment, did not procure his son's enlargement, and he has never been charged with want of parental feeling on that score. And now Churchill's friendship was shown. On his return from a summer excursion in Wales with his mistress, whom he now considered as a left-handed wife, united to him by moral ties, he hastened to the Fleet prison, provided for his immediate wants, supplied him with a guinea a week, as well as a servant; and endeavoured to raise a subscription for the purpose of extricating him from his embarrassments. Lloyd was not wanting to himself; he continued to drudge as before; completed, with Denis's assistance, a translation of Marmontel's Contes Moraux, which had been commenced in the Magazine, and performed any miserable work on which the booksellers would employ him. Whatever his reflections might be, he expressed no sorrow for the folly he had committed in throwing himself upon the world as an author: "confinement was irksome enough," he said, "but not so bad as being usher at Westminster." Yet this strain shows that he had his bitter thoughts:

The harlot muse so passing gay
Bewitches only to betray.
Though for awhile with easy air
She smooths the rugged brow of care,
And laps the mind in flowery dreams,
With fancy's transitory gleams;
Fond of the nothings she bestows.
We wake at last to real woes.
Through every age, in every place,
Consider well the poet's case
By turns protected and caress'd,
Defamed, dependent, and distress'd.
The joke of wits, the bane of slaves,
The curse of fools, the butt of knaves;
Too proud to stoop for servile ends,
To lacquey rogues, or flatter friends;
With prodigality to give,
Too careless of the means to live;
The bubble fame intent to gain,
And yet too lazy to maintain;
He quits the world he never prized,
Pitied by few, by more despised,
And lost to friends, oppress'd by foes,
Sinks to the nothing whence he rose.
O glorious trade! for wit's a trade,
Where men are ruined more than made!
Let crazy Lee, neglected Gay,
The shabby Otway, Dryden gray,
Those tuneful servants of the Nine,
(Not that I blend their names with mine,)
Repeat their lives, their works, their fame,
And teach the world some useful shame.

The scheme for releasing him by means of a subscription failed, and was so managed, or mismanaged, as to produce a breach with Thornton and Colman, upon whom, especially the former, much obloquy has been cast on this account. The magazine, however, had been disgraced with so much ribaldry and rubbish, and such grossly offensive personalities before it was transferred to another editor, that a regard to their own characters might have produced some coolness upon their part towards one with whom it was no longer creditable to be associated in public opinion; and as he was connecting himself more closely with Wilkes, they may perhaps also have deemed it no longer safe. Garrick and Hogarth are in like manner charged with having "coolly abandoned him to his fate," though he had "so frequently berhymed and bepraised them." But Hogarth was then at open war with Wilkes and Churchill; and Garrick was endeavouring at that very time to render Lloyd an essential service in his own way, by bringing out at Drury Lane a comic opera, which he had manufactured from the French.

This piece, called "The Capricious Lovers," was represented for the first time on the 28th of November, 1764, with some applause; its success or failure was then alike indifferent to the unhappy author: for on the 4th of that month, Churchill, who had gone to Boulogne, there to meet Wilkes, was cut off by a miliary fever. Lloyd had been apprized of his danger; but when the news of his death was somewhat abruptly announced to him as he was sitting at dinner, he was seized with a sudden sickness, and saying, "I shall follow poor Charles," took to his bed, from which he never rose again; dying, if ever man did, of a broken heart. The tragedy did not end here: Churchill's favourite sister, who is said to have possessed much of her brother's sense and spirit and genius, and to have been betrothed to Lloyd, attended him during his illness; and, sinking under the double loss, soon followed her brother and her lover to the grave.