1846 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nahum Tate

Denis Florence M'Carthy, in Poets and Dramatists of Ireland (1846) 116-19.



Nahum Tate, another favourite target for the arrows of satire, he being to Pope almost what Flecknoe had been to Dryden, was born in Dublin, in the year 1652. He received his early education at Belfast, and entered Trinity College in 1668, at the age of sixteen. After some years' study, says Ware, he removed into England, where he continued to the time of his death. — The decision of posterity upon his writings has been very unfavourable; here is the judgment of the court, as pronounced by Sir Walter Scott. His talent for poetry amounted to cold mediocrity; had he been a man of fortune, it would have raised him to the rank of an easy sonnet writer, or a person of wit and honour about town. As he was very poor, it is no disgrace to his muse, that she left him in that indigence, from which far more distinguished poetical merit had been unable to raise those who possessed it. Tate died in the Mint, where he had taken refuge from his creditors, on the 12th of August, 1715. He had long been in extreme want, having owed almost his sole subsistence to the patronage or charity of the Earl of Dorset. His poetry is multifarious; but consists chiefly of pieces upon occasional subjects, written to supply the immediate wants of the author. The Psalms, of which he executed a translation, in conjunction with Dr. Brady, are still used in the Church of England, although, in the opinion of many persons, they are inferior to the old version. If we were disposed to move for a new trial "in re" Tate, there are two circumstances which we would wish to put prominently forward. One is the fact of Dryden having selected our unfortunate client, as the fittest person to continue Absolom and Achitophel, one of the most successful of his own poems; and the second part of which, was eventually published in 1682, as the sole production of Tate, although there can be no doubt that he received considerable assistance from Dryden on this work. And the other, the equally remarkable fact of Tate being appointed poet laureat to William the Third, upon the death of Shadwell, in 1692. A man could not be destitute of considerable talents, who would be thus selected as his associate in an important work by one of the greatest of poets, and who was considered worthy of wearing the laurel "Which Jonson and divinest Spenser wore."

In preference to selecting anything from the second part of Absolom and Achitophel, which may reasonably be supposed to have received the corrections of Dryden, we give a poem which is entirely his own.

TO THE CONCEALED AUTHOR OF ABSOLOM AND ACHITOPHEL.
Hail, heaven-born muse! hail, every sacred page!
The glory of our isle and of our age.
Th' inspiring sun to Albion draws more nigh,
The north at length teems with a rank, to vie
With Homer's flame and Virgil's majesty.
While Pindus' lofty heights our poet sought,
(His ravish'd mind with vast ideas fraught,)
Our language fail'd beneath his rising thought.
This checks not his attempt: for Maro's mines
He drains of all their gold, t' adorn his lines;
Through each of which the Mantuan genius shines.
The rock obey'd the powerful Hebrew guide,
Her flinty breast dissolv'd into a tide:
Thus on our stubborn language he prevails,
And makes the Helicon in which he sails;
The dialect, as well as sense, invents,
And with his poem, a new speech presents.
Hail then, thou matchless bard, thou great unknown,
That give your country fame, yet shun your own!
In vain; for every where your praise you find,
And, not to meet it, you must shun mankind.
Your loyal theme each royal reader draws,
And even the factions give your verse applause.
Whose lightning strikes to ground their idol cause:
The cause for whose dear sake they drank a flood
Of civil gore, nor spared the royal blood;
The cause whose growth to crush, our prelates wrote
In vain, almost in vain our heroes fought;
Yet by one stab of your keen satire dies;
Before your sacred lines their shatter'd dagon lies.
Oh! if unworthy we appear to know
The sire, to whom this lovely birth we owe;
Deny'd our ready homage to express,
And can at best but thankful be by guess;
This hope remains: may David's God-like mind,
(For him 'twas wrote) the unknown author find;
And, having found, shower equal favours down,
On wit so vast, as could oblige a crown.

In addition to the poems already mentioned, Tate was the author of nine plays. His alteration of Shakespeare's King Lear still keeps possession of the stage.