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The character of Churchill, as a Poet, may be considered as fixed in the first rank of English classics, but the Editor is not desirous of entering into the discussion of this question : it must be determined by the taste and judgment of the reader, and can never, as to the actual or comparative merit of any Poet, be made to depend on critical or controversial disquisition, how elaborate soever. Every intelligent reader will construct and graduate his own scale of poetical excellence, according to his peculiar character, feelings, and pursuits.
With the view entertained by the Editor, of Churchill's merits as a poet, and of the rank he holds in public estimation, it cannot be either indifferent or unimportant to the interests of literature, that the text of the Satirist, necessarily involving many topics of a local and temporary nature, should be rendered intelligible.
In thus again soliciting the attention of the public to the merits of his Author, the Editor is not without hopes that, while endeavouring to render the modern reader better able to appreciate the allusions of the Satirist, the notes will of themselves be found to contain a not uninteresting historical summary of the drama, the literature, and the domestic politics of England during the first five years of the reign of George the Third.
While these Volumes have been in the press, The Memoirs of William Taylor of Norwich,* by
* It is a curious circumstance, that Taylor, a man of considerable shrewdness, and certainly not facile of belief on more important topics, persuaded himself, but no one else, that Wilkes was the author of Junius's letters, in which he was conclusively refuted by a writer in the same magazine, in which the opinion had been promulgated, but who as absurdly escribed the letters to John Horne Tooké.
Mr. Robberds, have been published, from which it appears that he was the Author of the review of the first edition in the critical review for May, 1804. That critique was not a little encouraging to the young Editor, who was altogether unknown to the writer of it; but, having now lost its anonymous character, and being avowedly the production of a practised pen under the guidance of a mind peculiarly qualified to form a judgment of the merits, as well of the Poet as the Editor, the latter trusts he may, with no imputation of an overweening vanity, be permitted here to record, as respects his first literary effort, that meed of approval which no endeavour has been wanting on his part to propitiate in favour of this his later if not last labour.
Mr. Taylor, in his notice of the Rosciad, and some of the other poems, states it as his opinion, “that the Prophecy of Famine is considerably the best of Churchill's works. It has imagery and condensation, which Churchill rarely has; and it displays that periodic structure, or poetic paragraph, that progressive evolution and swell of the versified sentence which elevates poetry into oratory, and which constitutes the highest merit, peculiar to Churchill's style.”
Churchill's poems in general Mr. Taylor describes as possessing "a certain simplicity of style —and easy unaffected English—which disclaims the correction of minute blemishes, and immingles much of the idiomatic dialect of conversationwhich avoids the set of phrases and dancing master steps of practised versifiers—these constitute Churchill's highest merit, and confer on his writings the atticism which preserves them.”
After giving some extracts from the poems, in confirmation of his opinion, the Reviewer adverts to the Editorial portion of the work in these terms. “ This edition is accompanied with very curious and interesting notes, gathering from the newspapers, magazines, and journals of the time whatever anecdotes and paragraphs chiefly serve to elucidate the biographical, literary, and factious allusions so common in the works of Churchill. Besides the notes, which are very curious and entertaining even where they are superfluous, a satisfactory biography is prefixed, the Editor in short has executed his office with unusual diligence and complete propriety.”
The critique concludes with the following suggestion, and renewed favourable appreciation of the notes.
“If all the known prose works of Churchill were appended to his letters this edition would then become as complete as can reasonably be desired or expected; it would be the classical form of possessing the works of this occasionally spirited and once popular writer. What of attraction they still retain, would be greatly enhanced by the anecdotes and amusive information scattered throughout the commentary. A greater service cannot be rendered to an author's reputation than to select from the transient and perishable literature of his time whatever can assist in rendering his allusions intelligible and his personages important. This task has been performed with diligence and impartiality, which in the Editor's own opinion is the highest praise to which a work of this kind can aspire.”
In the subsequent memoir and notes it will be found that no such known works exist, although there is good reason to believe that some of the numbers of the North Briton and papers in the Library were written by Churchill, but which cannot now be identified. The Sermons published under his name after his death were most probably transcribed by him from some of his father's manuscript discourses, for the mere purpose of prefixing to them the pungent dedication to Warburton, which he did not live to complete and publish.
LIFE OF CHARLES CHURCHILL.
While it is frequently made a matter of complaint, by most biographers, that the noiseless tenor of an author's life affords so few materials for the pen, is so barren of incident, and so deficient in novelty and interest, as to call forth all their anecdotic if not inventive powers to excite attention, that of Churchill, it is to be lamented, affords too much opportunity for relating facts beyond the limits of his literary labours, facts too notorious to be suppressed, and too immoral to be palliated.
The Life of Churchill may be divided into two periods, as unequal in length as in the celebrity which attached to them. During the first period of seven-and-twenty years, with the exception of a few indiscretions, his conduct in every relation, as son, as brother, as husband, as father, and as friend, was rigidly and exemplarily, though obscurely virtuous; while the remaining six years present an odious contrast.
It is somewhat singular that no authentic memoir should hitherto have been published of a poet once so celebrated, who, during the latter period of his life, attracted, more than any of his contemporaries, the attention of the public. The variety of letters, essays, papers, poems, and paragraphs relating to him with which the press teemed from 1761 to 1765, would scarcely be credited, except after as laborious a search into the Reviews, Pamphlets, Magazines, and Newspapers of that period as has been made for the purpose of ob.