1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Mallet

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 3:130-32.



DAVID MALLETT was the son of a small innkeeper in Crieff, Perthshire, where he was born in the year 1700. Crieff, as many of our readers know, is situated on the western side of a, hill, and commands a most varied and beautiful prospect, including Drummond Castle, with its solemn shadowy woods, and the Ochils, on the south, — Ochtertyre, one of the loveliest spots in Scotland, and the gorge of Glenturrett, on the north, — and the bold dark hills which surround the romantic village of Comrie, on the west. Crieff is now a place of considerable note, and forms a centre of summer attraction to multitudes; but at the commencement of the eighteenth century it must have been a miserable hamlet. "Malloch" was originally the name of the poet, and the name is still common in that part of Perthshire. David attended the college of Aberdeen, and became, afterwards, an unsalaried tutor in the family of Mr. Home of Dreghorn, new Edinburgh. We find him next in the Duke of Montrose's family, with a salary of 30 per annum. In 1723, he accompanied his pupils to London, and changed his name to Mallett, as more euphonious. Next year, he produced his pretty ballad of William and Margaret, and published it in Aaron Hill's Plain Dealer. This served as an introduction to the literary society of the metropolis, including such names as Young and Pope. In 1733, he disgraced himself by a satire on the greatest man then living, the venerable Richard Bentley. Mallett was one of those mean creatures who always worship a rising, and turn their backs on a setting sun. By his very considerable talents, his management, and his address, he soon rose in the world. He was appointed under-secretary to the Prince of Wales, with a salary of 200 a-year. In conjunction with Thomson, to whom he was really kind, he wrote in 1740, The Masque of Alfred, in honour of the birthday of the Princess Augusta. His first wife, of whom nothing is recorded, having died, he married the daughter of Lord Carlisle's steward, who brought him a fortune of 10,000. Both she and Mallett himself gave themselves out as Deists. This was partly owing to his intimacy with Bolingbroke, to gratify whom, he heaped abuse upon Pope in a preface to The Patriot-King, and was rewarded by Bolingbroke leaving him the whole of his works and MSS. These he afterwards published, and exposed himself to the vengeful sarcasm of Johnson, who said that Bolingbroke was a scoundrel and a coward; — a scoundrel, to charge a blunderbuss against Christianity; and a coward, because he durst not fire it himself, but left a shilling to a beggarly Scotsman to draw the trigger after his death. Mallett ranked himself among the calumniators and, as it proved, murderers of Admiral Byng. He wrote a Life of Lord Bacon, in which, it was said, he forgot that Bacon was a philosopher, and would probably, when he came to write the Life of Marlborough, forget that he was a general. This Life of Bacon is now utterly forgotten. We happened to read it in our early days, and thought it a very contemptible performance. The Duchess of Marlborough left 1000 in her will between Glover and Mallett to write a Life of her husband. Glover threw up his share of the work, and Mallett engaged to perform the whole, to which, besides, he was stimulated by a pension from the second Duke of Marlborough. He got the money, but when he died it was found that he had not written a line of the work. In his latter days he held the lucrative office of Keeper of the Book of Entries for the port of London. He died on the 21st April 1765.

Mallett is, on the whole, no credit to Scotland. He was a bad, mean, insincere, and unprincipled man, whose success was procured by despicable and dastardly arts. He had doubtless some genius, and his Birks of Invermay, and William and Margaret, shall preserve his name after his clumsy imitation of Thomson, called The Excursion, and his long, rambling Amyntor and Theodora, have been forgotten.