1895 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

W. J. Courthope, in History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:236-37.



Churchill should rather be compared to those wild trees spoken of by Virgil, which by the gift of nature are, with pruning and culture, capable of bearing fruit both abundant and good. But pruning and culture were arts with which Churchill thought that he could dispense; hence, as a satirist, he did not rise above the rank of Oldham, whom he resembles in many points of both his career and his character, though the total effect of his work is different. Both were inflamed by a common passion for poetry and independence; both turned aside from their early professions to seek a maintenance by means of literature; both died an early death. They may each be described as poetical demagogues; Oldham taking advantage of the public fury in the Popish Plot, and Churchill of the popular infatuation about Wilkes. They were alike "by too much force betrayed." Oldham was superior in imagination, invention, and judgment; Churchill in largeness of vocabulary and command of metrical effect: their qualities united would have produced first-rate satire; but this end was not attained by either, because the one did not understand that wit was incomplete unless supplemented with harmony, and the other that it would be wasted without proper direction.