1952 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Jackson Pratt

Mary Alden Hopkins, in Dr. Johnson's Lichfield (1952) 124-26.



Samuel Jackson Pratt, who wrote poetry under the romantic name of Courtney Melmouth, was a man of flickering talent, a mean disposition, and irresistible charm which he turned on when he wanted something, and off when he did not. It is difficult to follow his life, as he had a lying tongue and probably actually believed his own falsehoods. As well as can be determined, he was the child of respectable middle-class parents who stinted themselves to give him a university education. He took holy orders and obtained a curacy in a Lincolnshire parish, which we know only as P—, but decided he was not cut out for the church. He eloped from Birmingham to Scotland with an eighteen-year-old girl who had formerly lived in Lichfield and had been a childhood friend of Anna Seward. When his wife's fortune, said to have been fifteen hundred pounds, was exhausted, he wrote, 1771, a self-pitying letter to Dr. Johnson, dripping with fulsome flattery, offering Dr. Johnson in capitalized emphasis, a chance to Ameliorate the Anguish of one who was a Football of Fortune. His style makes Anna Seward's sound primer-simple by comparison. He wishes Dr. Johnson to defray his expenses to Ireland where he could get a job as an actor. "Cou'd I raise the Pity and Confidence of some good Being to indulge me with a small Sum to get my Things (I mean the comforts of life) about me, and convey me to Ireland, my gratitude, and Honour wou'd be eternally engag'd to him, and I wou'd return the Favor the first moment of my Power." One trusts that if Dr. Johnson sent the money to his grateful and obedient servant, S. J. C. Pratt, lodging with Mr. Deals, Cheesemonger, corner of Berners Street, near Middlesex Hospital, London, he did it without expectation of return, for paying back money was something Pratt did least well of all. When Mrs. Siddons, the actress, immediately after her husband had lent him a hundred pounds, asked him to return ten pounds she had earlier lent him, he went into a tantrum and accused her of persecuting him. He made the trip to Ireland accompanied, gossip had it, by a married actress with whom he acted in touring companies, until he returned to England, deeply repentant and ready (he said) to do anything his friends advised, except rejoin his wife. He must have been an engaging rascal, for among his friends he counted, off and on, Mrs. Frances Moore Brooke, the writer; "Perdita" Robinson, the actress; Dr. Walcot, the satirist who wrote as Peter Pindar; Angelica Kauffmann, the painter; Anna Seward's friend, Dr. Whalley; and Dr. Johnson's friend, Dr. Taylor.