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and a poem
the name. I have read him twice, and some of his pieces three times over, and the last time with more pleasure than the first. The pitiful scribbler of his life, seems to have undertaken that task for which he was entirely unqualified, merely because it afforded an opportunity to traduce him. He has inserted in it but one anecdote of consequence, for which he refers you to a novel, and introduces the story, with doubts of the truth of it. But his barrenness as a biographer I could forgive, if the simpleton had not thought himself a judge of his writings, and under the erroneous influence of that thought informs his reader that Gotham, Independence, and the Times, were catchpennies. Gotham, unless I am a greater blockhead than he, which I am far from believing, I think a noble and beautiful poem, with which I make no doubt the author took as much pains, as with any he ever wrote. Making allowance, (and Dryden, perhaps, in his Absalom and Achitophel, stands in need of the same indulgence) for an unwarrantable use of scripture, it appears to me to be a masterly performance. Independence is a most animated piece, full of strength and spirit, and marked with that bold masculine character, which I think is the great peculiarity of this writer. And the Times (except that the subject is disgusting in the last degree) stands equally high in my opinion. He is indeed a careless writer for the most part; but where shall we find, in any of those authors who finish their works with the exactness of a Flemish pencil, those bold and daring strokes of fancy, those numbers so hazardously ventured upon and so happily finished, the matter so compressed and yet so clear, and the colouring sc sparingly laid on, and yet with such a beautiful effect? In short, it is not his least praise that he is never guilty of those faults as a writer, which he lays to the charge of others. A proof that he did not judge by a borrowed standard, or from rules laid down by critics, but that he was qualified to do it by his own native powers, and his great superiority of genius. For he that wrote so much, and so fast, would, through inadvertence and hurry, unavoidably have departed from rules which he might have found in books; but his truly poetical talent was a guide which could not suffer him to err. A race horse is graceful in his swiftest pace, and never makes an awkward motion though pushed to his utmost speed. A cart horse might perhaps be taught to play tricks in the riding school, and might prance and curvet like his betters, but at some unlucky time would be sure to betray the baseness of his original. It is an affair of very little consequence, perhaps, to the well-being of mankind, but I cannot help regretting that he died so soon. Those words of Virgil, upon the immature death of Marcellus, might serve for his epitaph.”
* Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra
Esse sinent.” It gives us pleasure to add the testimony of
Southey, in his Life of Cowper, observes on this letter: “That Cowper made Churchill more than any other writer his model. 'No two poets could be more unlike each other in babits, temper, and disposition. Their only sympathy was in a spirit of indignation, taking, in both, the form of satire, but which the one directed against individuals for what he deemed their political turpitude, or for offence given to him self or his friends, the other against the prevailing sins and errors of the age. Churchill's object was to annoy those whom he disliked, Cowper's to exhört and reclaim his fellow
one of the most distinguished of living poets to the poetical merits of Churchill. Mr. Campbell, in his Specimens of British Poets,* with preliminary observations on each, thus characterises him :
“ Churchill may be ranked as a satirist, immediately after Pope and Dryden, with perhaps a greater share of humour than either. He has the bitterness of Pope, with less wit to atone for it; but no mean share of the free manner and energetic plainness of Dryden. After the Rosciad and Apology, he began his poem of the Ghost, (founded on the well-known story of Cock Lane,) many parts of which tradition reports him to have composed when scarce recovered from his fits of drunkenness. It is certainly a rambling and scandalous production, with a few such original gleams as might have crossed the brain of genius, amidst the life and lassitude of dissipation. The novelty of political warfare seems to have given a new impulse to his powers in the Prophecy of Famine, a satire on Scotland; which even, to Scotchmen must seem to sheath its sting in its
creatures. He however found something so congenial to his own taste and sentiments in the strength and manliness of Churchill's poetry, the generous love of liberty which it breathed, and its general tone of morals, that its venom and virulence seem to have given him no displeasure. No doubt he thought that the principal objects of Churchill's satire deserved the severity with which they were treated, for the flagitious profligacy of their private lives, and his own feelings went with the satirist, because his political opinions were of the same school."
* We observe that Lord Jeffrey, in his critique on these Selections, as included in his recent publication of his Contributions to the Edinburgh Review, says, that Mr. Campbell has as much overrated Churchill, as he has underrated Akenside; but as his lordship does not condescend upon particulars, we beg leave, with much deference, to demur to his judgment as regards the former.
laughable extravagance. His poetical epistle to Hogarth is remarkable, amidst its savage ferocity, for one of the best panegyrics that was ever bestowed on that painter's works.
He scalps indeed, even barbarously, the infirmities of the man, but on the whole spares the laurels of the artist.”
“ There are two peculiarly interesting passages in the Conference. One of them, expressive of remorse for the crime of seduction, has been often quoted. The other is a touching description of a man of independent spirit, reduced by despair and poverty, to accept of the means of sustaining life on humiliating terms."
Mr. Campbell differs from Cowper, in his opinion of Gotham, and concludes with a remark which will hardly be acceded to when it is remembered, that Churchill's last production was the Dedication to Warburton. “It was justly complained,” Mr. Campbell says, " that Churchill became too much an echo of himself, and that before his short literary career was closed his originality appeared to be exhausted.”
Our account of Churchill and our estimate of his character and genius would be imperfect, were we not to notice the opinion of one most capable of forming it; we of course allude to Dr. Johnson; but deeply as we reverence him, we should consider him more than human, if he had not been biassed by the attacks made upon him by Churchill in almost all his poems, and particularly in the North Briton, to which he was a reputed contributor. All this, aggravated by Johnson's natural distaste to Churchill's morals, and aversion from his politics, would apparently justify a stronger tone of censure than he has adopted. conveying no critical animadversion, but those forcible epithets only which he was in the habit of bestowing. In one point, indeed, the Doctor was vulnerable, and he severely felt the allusion in the Ghost, to his long-promised edition of Shakespeare:
He for subscribers baits his hook,
Forbids the cheating of our friends? The prospectus for this edition had been issued, and subscriptions received for it in 1757, yet nine years elapsed before it saw the light. Johnson's throes, as Boswell * observes, in bringing it forth,
We have been so much indebted to Boswell, and his editors for many an amusing anecdote in aid of our task of elucidation, that had we no other motive than gratitude we should venture to dissent from the very severe animadversion bestowed by Mr. Macaulay, on what he designates as the thoughtless loquacity of Boswell, adding that he “ would infallibly have made Johnson as contemptible as he has made himself, had not his hero really possessed some moral and intellectual qualities of a very high order. The best proof that Johnson was really an extraordinary man, is, that his character, instead of being degraded, has on the whole been decidedly raised by a work in which all his vices and weaknesses are exposed more unsparingly than they ever were exposed by Churchill or by Kenrick."
Mr. Macaulay has done injustice to Churchill in thus classing him with Kenrick, who with a bilious temperament, but some ability, was neither happy nor successful in his manifestations of it. He was born at Watford, and brought up to his father's trade of a rule-maker, but took to literary pursuits, and became the editor of the London Review ; he had a lawsuit with Garrick about some of his rejected dramas, and his attack on Johnson was contained in a pamph.et entitled “A Review of Dr. Johnson's new edition of Shakespeare, in which the ignorance or inattention of the elitor is exposed, and the poet defended from the persecution of his commentator;” of which ihe only notice