1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Julius Mickle

R. C., "Tribute to Mr. Mickle" Gentleman's Magazine 61 (September 1791) 801.



August 18.

MR. URBAN,

Please to permit a real admirer of your valuable Repository to pay a small tribute to the memory of a dear departed friend, the late excellent Mr. Mickle. The mention that has been recently made of him as the "suspected" author of some pretendedly antient ballads, in Evans's Collection, suggested the idea of giving you this trouble. I perfectly agree with your correspondent Philarkaios, that Mr. M. was a poet of genius; that he was very intimate with the late Mr. Evans, to whose pleasantries he was obliged for many a chearful hour; and that he was a native of Scotland: but from this combination of circumstances it by no means follows, that he must have committed what your correspondent calls an unprincipled forgery. The mind of Mr. M. was early imbued with the principles of moral rectitude; and I firmly believe that neither the storms of adversity, nor the more dangerous soothing gales of prosperity, could force him to lose sight of them in a single instance. It was my happiness to conciliate his good opinion when we were both young, long before he was known to the world as a man of genius, and we lived for near thirty years in habits of the most strict and unreserved intimacy. In that period I had many opportunities of witnessing instances that evinced the purity of his sentiments, and the inflexible integrity of his conduct. The finer impulses of the soul were eminently his; and in the exercise of those charities that alleviate the ills of life, and give the sweetest zest to its comforts, he had not, so far as God allowed him the means, a superior on earth. Yet, in his general conversation, he was not a sentimental declaimer; "esse, non videri," was his wish and practice. To know him, it was necessary to gain admission to the inmost recesses of his heart. I take notice of these particulars, not only in justice to his character, but to give the greater weight to the solemn declaration he once made to me, that he was not the author of those Ballads. He had, however, all the requisite ingredients for a successful imposition of this kind; to the most happy imitation of Spenser's style, he united the tender pathos, the luxuriant imagery, the boundless fancy, and the pensive temper of that exquisite poet.

Whether Scotland has produced more literary impostors than any other country, I know not; but this I know, that England is not free from such; and one of them is a name of such respectability, and of so high a character for probity and honour, that he would not have enlarged the list, had he considered the act to be so criminal as Philarkaios thinks it. I mean the amiable and venerable Lord of Strawberry-hill. When his Castle of Otranto first appeared, it was introduced as a translation from an old, unknown Italian author; and the story was so generally believed, that even the Monthly Reviewers of that time gave credit to it. But one who had read the book, happening to see a proof-sheet of the Review before it went to press, expressed to the late Mr. William Strahan, junior, so strong a conviction of the work's being certainly original, that he thought proper to inform the Reviewer of the opinion, who then hinted that he had doubts of its being a translation, and was complimented for discernment not his own.

R. C.