1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Charles Churchill

Horace Walpole to Horace Mann, 15 November 1764; Letters, ed. Cunningham (1906) 4:291-92.



Churchill the poet is dead, — to the great joy of the Ministry and the Scotch, and to the grief of very few indeed, I believe; for such a friend is not only a dangerous, but a ticklish possession. The next revolution would have introduced the other half of England into his satires, for no party could have promoted him, and woe had betided those who had left him to shift for himself on Parnassus! He had owned that his pen itched to attack Mr. Pitt and Charles Townshend; and neither of them are men to have escaped by their steadiness and uniformity. This meteor blazed scarce four years; for his Rosciad was subsequent to the accession of the present King, before which his name was never heard of; and what is as remarkable, he died in nine days after his antagonist, Hogarth. Were I Charon, I should, without scruple, give the best place in my boat to the latter, who was an original genius. Churchill had great powers; but, besides the facility of outrageous satire, almost all his compositions were wild and extravagant, executed on no plan, and void of the least correction. Many of his characters were obscure even to the present age; and some of the most known were so unknown to him, that he has missed all resemblance; of which Lord Sandwich is a striking instance. He died of a drunken debauch at Calais, on a visit to his friend Wilkes, who is going to write notes to his Works. But he had lived long enough for himself, at least for his reputation and his want of it, for his works began to decrease considerably in vent. He has left some Sermons, for he wrote even sermons; but lest they should do any good, and for fear they should not do some hurt, he had prepared a Dedication of them to Bishop Warburton, whose arrogance and venom had found a proper corrector in Churchill. I don't know whether this man's fame had extended to Florence; but you may judge of the noise he made in this part of the world by the following trait, which is a pretty instance of that good breeding on which the French pique themselves. My sister and Mr. Churchill are in France; a Frenchman asked him if he was Churchill "le fameux poete?" "Non" — "Ma foi, monsieur, tant pis pour vous!"