1695
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Prince Arthur. An Heroick Poem.

Prince Arthur. An Heroick Poem. In Ten Books. By Richard Blackmore, M. D. and Fellow of the College of Physicians in London.

Sir Richard Blackmore


Sir Richard Blackmore's first assault on heroic poetry has found few readers these past three hundred years, though it received considerable attention upon its first publication, not all of it hostile. The failure of Blackmore's epics indicated the difficulty of treating modern history in the manner of ancient epic, leading in the next decade to new forms of heroic poetry in successful poems by Prior, Addison, and Smith. On the relation of the poem to incidents and themes in The Faerie Queene, see Roberta Florence Brinkley, Arthurian Legend (1932) 151-64.

Samuel Johnson: "I believe it is peculiar to him that his first publick work was an heroick poem. He was not known as a maker of verses till he published (in 1695) Prince Arthur, in ten books, written, as he relates, 'by such catches and starts, and in such occasional uncertain hours as his profession afforded, and for the greatest part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets.' For the latter part of this apology he was accused of writing 'to the rumbling of his chariot-wheels.' He had read, he says, 'but little poetry throughout his whole life; and for fifteen years before had not written an hundred verses, except one copy of Latin verses in praise of a friend's book'.... That Prince Arthur found many readers is certain, for in two years it had three editions; a very uncommon instance of favourable reception, at a time when literary curiosity was yet confined to particular classes of the nation. Such success naturally raised animosity; and Dennis attacked it by a formal criticism, more tedious and disgusting than the work which he condemns. To this censure may be opposed the approbation of Locke and the admiration of Molineux, which are found in their printed Letters" "Richard Blackmore" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 2:237-38.

Sidney Walker: "Prince Arthur, in the poem which bears his name, is described as voyaging homeward from Neustria, to take the command of his country's forces against the Saxons. Satan descries him from afar, and hastens full of wrath to the palace of Thor, the storm-demon.... King Arthur finds refuge and hospitality at the court of Hoel, king of Armorica, who had been previously converted by a vision of the Christian faith, and at whose request he relates the story of the creation of the world, the fall and redemption of man, and the final judgment. This recital occupies the second and third books. It is for the most part adumbrated from Milton, 'whom,' says Sir Richard (preface to King Arthur), 'I look upon as a very extraordinary genius'.... The picture of Hell in the third book is most monotonously dismal.... So also the opiate administered by Thor to the winds in Book V.... In the same book the shade of King Uther appearing to his son, describes the character and achievements of the future monarchs of Britain, as they pass in review before him. Virgil's panegyric of Marcellus is here adapted to Mary, the consort of William III. In Book VI. we have a catalogue of forces, remarkable chiefly for the display of topographical knowledge. Under the names of the commanders, the leading characters of Blackmore's own time are, as usual, shadowed out. That of Sakil (Sackville earl of Dorset) introduces a stroke of the author's old enemy and assailant, Dryden. The name of Laurus was probably adopted as a set-off against the punning appellation of Maurus, by which Dryden had designated Blackmore.... In Book VII. there is a description of a battle in the air, which is not ill executed. In the same book there is a description of Goliath, which for bombast may be fairly matched against that in the Davideis.... The remainder of the poem is a tiresome medley of swords, trumpets, cries, wounds, blood, bones, and confusion" "Crumbs of Criticism" in Knight's Quarterly Magazine 2 (January 1824) 93-96.

W. J. Courthope: "If he had learned from his profession that life was short, he did not seem to recognise that art was long; for in the same preface he informs us that Prince Arthur was 'begun, carried out, and completed in less than two years' time, and by such catches and starts, and in such occasional uncertain hours as the business of my profession would afford me. And, therefore, for the greatest part, that poem was written in coffee-houses, and in passing up and down the street, because I had little leisure elsewhere to apply to it'" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:46.

E. M. W. Tillyard: "Though Virgil was his chief model, he reinforced the assurance of his imitative capacity by drawing on Spenser, Tasso, Milton, and Dryden as well. Tasso and Spenser had had their enchantresses, more subtle and sensual than Virgil's Dido; so Blackmore must have his Fascinia to try Arthur with her charms.... Prince Arthur recounts Arthur's establishment in England, thereby shadowing the events of 1688 and 1689" The English Epic (1954) 483.

Hoxie Neale Fairchild: "To paraphrase Spenser's prefatory letter to Raleigh, Prince Arthur might be called and attempt 'to fashion a Protestant Whig or true Englishman in virtuous and gentle discipline'" Religious Trends in English Poetry (1939) 1:194.

The poem provoked a vast and acrimonious treatment of modern epic from John Dennis, Remarks on a Book Entituled, Prince Arthur (1696).



Celestial Muse, Instruct me how to sing
The generous Pity of the British King,
Who mov'd by Gallia's crys, and Heav'n's Command,
Sustain'd excessive toyl by Sea and Land,
The Gallic Christian's Freedom to restore,
And save Neustrasia's Realm from Clotar's power.

The Valiant Briton from the Cimbrean Coast
Was newly landed with his Conq'ring Host,
Leading his Spoils and Captive Lords along
Augusta's Streets, amidst th' applauding throng,
Who sung his Triumphs and proclaim'd aloud
His mighty Deeds on Eyder's wond'ring Flood:
When num'rous Envoy's drawn by Arthur's fame,
From distant Kingdoms to Augusta came.
Faces so strange, and Habits so unknown,
Had ne'er before pass'd thro' th' admiring Town.
They made their publick Entrys at her Gate
With great Magnificence and Princely State.
They strove in Pomp each other to out-do,
And who should most their Master's Greatness shew.
Thick at the Court did Foreign Lords appear,
Some by Affection brought, but more by Fear.
Some Leagues of lasting Friendship offer'd, some
Did for Protection from Oppression come:
But all, O Albion, did applaud thy fate
Blest with so just a Prince to guide thy State.

The Night her Sable Banner did display,
And from the Air to chase the Light away
Drew out her must'ring Shades in black Array:
When Britain's King dissolv'd in balmy rest
Dismist the Cares of Empire from his Breast.
But Heav'n mean time, which such a Noble Mind
For Dangers, and for glorious toyle design'd,
Did by a Dream sent in the silent Night,
To fresh Heroic Deeds the King excite:
Its Springs divinely touch'd, his lab'ring Brain
Did this Celestial Vision entertain.

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