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LIFE OF BLACKMORE.
BY DR. JOHNSON.
SIR RICHARD BLACKMORE is one of those men whose writings have attracted much notice, but of whose life and manners very little has been communicated, and whose lot it has been to be much oftener mentioned by enemies than by friends.
He was the son of Robert Blackmore, of Corsham, in Wiltshire, styled by Wood gentleman, and supposed to have been an attorney. Having been for some time educated in a country school, he was sent, at thirteen, to Westminster; and, in 1668, was entered at Edmund Hall, in Oxford, where he took the degree of M. A. June 3, 1676, and resided thirteen years; a much longer time than it is usual to spend at the university; and which he seems to have passed with very little attention to the business of the place; for, in his poems, the ancient names of nations and places, which he often produces, are pronounced by chance. He afterwards travelled at Padua he was made doctor of physic: and, after having wandered about a year and a half on the continent, returned home.
In some part of his life, it is not known when, his indigence compelled him to teach a school, an humiliation with which, though it certainly lasted but a little while, his enemies did not forget to reproach him, when he became conspicuous enough to excite malevolence; and let it be remembered, for his honour, that to have been once a schoolmaster is the only reproach which all the perspicacity of malice, animated by wit, has ever fixed upon his private life.
When he first engaged in the study of physic, he inquired, as he says, of Dr. Sydenham, what authors he should read, and was directed by Sydenham to Don Quixote; “which," said he, " is a very good book: I read it still." The perverseness of mankind makes it often mischievous in men of eminence to give way to merriment: the idle and the illiterate will long shelter themselves under this foolish apophthegm.
Whether he rested satisfied with this direction, or sought for better, he commenced physician, and obtained high eminence and extensive practice. He became
fellow of the College of Physicians, April 12, 1687, being one of the thirty which, by the new charter of king James, were added to the former fellows. His residence was in Cheapside, and his friends were chiefly in the city. In the early part of Blackmore's time, a citizen was a term of reproach; and his place of abode was another topic to which his adversaries had recourse, in the penury of scandal.
Blackmore, therefore, was made a poet, not by necessity, but inclination, and wrote, not for a livelihood, but for fame; or, if he may tell his own motives, for a nobler purpose, to engage poetry in the cause of Virtue,
I believe it is peculiar to him, that his first public work was an heroic 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."
He thinks, and with some reason, that, from such a performance, perfection cannot be expected; but he finds another reason for the severity of his censurers, which he expresses in language such as Cheapside easily furnished. "I am not free of the Poets' Company, having never kissed the governor's hands: so much as a permission poem, but a downright interloper. carry on their poetical trade in a joint stock, would certainly do what they could to sink and ruin an unlicensed adventurer, notwithstanding I disturbed none of their factories, nor imported any goods they have ever dealt in." He had lived in the city
till he had learnt its note.
mine is therefore not Those gentlemen who
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 eviticism, 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. Molineux is particularly delighted with the song of Mopas, which is therefore subjoined to this narrative.
It is remarked by Pope, that what "raises the hero, often sinks the man." Of Blackmore it may be said, that, as the poet sinks, the man rises; the animadversions of Dennis, insolent and contemptuous as they were, raised in him no implacable resentment: he and his critic were afterwards friends; and in one of his latter works. he praises Dennis as equal to Boileau in poetry, and superior to him in critical abilities."
He seems to have been more delighted with praise than pained by censure, and, instead of slackening, quickened his career. Having in two years produced ten books of Prince Arthur, in two years more (1697) he sent into the world King Arthur in twelve. The provocation was now doubled, and the resentment of
At Sadlers' Hall,