1880 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Tickell

Edmund Gosse, in The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:154-55.



The powers of Tickell were awakened and solely sustained by an unbounded admiration for the person and genius of Addison. His Muse hovered around her object, celebrating its beauties from every side, and even Pope, when he was most angry, could not help smiling to see the pompous figure of Atticus accompanied by so tender and importunate a satellite. That the great man stooped to make a tool of his friend's fidelity in an unworthy literary quarrel, and by the failure of his intrigue brought ridicule upon them both, is matter of history; but this did not deter Tickell from directing that his tombstone in the church of Glasneven should state that "his highest honour was that of having been the friend of Addison," or from celebrating the death of the latter in a poem wherein he surpassed not himself only but his master too.

The famous elegy is justly ranked among the greatest masterpieces of its kind. In it a sublime and public sorrow for once waved a thoroughly mediocre poet into utterance that seas sincere and original. So much dignity, so much pathos, so direct and passionate a distress, are not to be found in any other poem of the period. But when Tickell was not eulogising the majesty and sweetness of Addison, he was but a languid, feeble versifier. Kensington Gardens is one of those works that will not let themselves be read; the once-admired ballad of Colin and Lucy seems very trite and silly to a modern reader; while the poem On Hunting, in which Tickell posed as the English Gratius Faliscus, progressed so slowly that it was at last anticipated by the Chase of Somerville, another of Addison's ardent disciples. From this general condemnation it is only just to except the thoughtful and melodious lines On the Death of the Earl of Cadogan.

Tickell's first introduction to Addison was through a copy of verses which he addressed to him from Oxford in 1707, in which this couplet occurred:—

No charms are wanted to thy artful song,
Soft as Corelli, and as Virgil strong.

For this piece of flattery the young poet was rewarded by Addison's personal friendship. It is worthy of remark that the influence of Addison on English verse was as entirely false and sterile as his influence on prose was fruitful and healthy.