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LIFE OF CHURCHILL. 269
has duty on all occasions to contradict this. He considered it as a calumny on a man whose "firmness of philosophy," he gravely informs us, " shone in full lustre during the whole time of his very severe illness."
His body was brought from Boulogne for interment at Dover, where it was deposited in the old church-yard, formerly belonging to the collegiate church of St. Martin. A stone was afterwards placed on his grave, on which are inscribed his age, the time of his death, and this line from his works:
Life to the last enjoy'd, here Churchill lies.
Of the nature of his life and its enjoyments, enough has been said. He left tw» ions, Charles and John, the charge of whose education was generously undertaken by sir Richard Jebb, but they soon died, like their father, victims to imprudence and intemperance.
The year after his death, a volume of sermons was published, which he is said to have prepared for the press, but this seems wholly improbable. They bear no marks of his composition; and it has been conjectured by the editor of the Biographia, that they were some of his father's, which he had copied for his own use. Churchill was not a hypocrite, and would not have published sermons for a serious purpose, nor could he be tempted by necessity to avail himself of public curiosity. His poetry supplied all his wants, and, if we may credit his will, he left behind him a considerable sum of money.
The merit of Churchill, as a poet, has but lately been appreciated with impartiality. During his life, his works were popular beyond all competition. While he continued to supply that species of entertainment which is more generally gratifying than a good mind can conceive, or a bad one will acknowledge, lie was more eagerly and more frequently read than any of his contemporaries. Dr. Warton seems to complain that there was a time when Churchill was more in vogue than Gray. This is not wonderful; a personal satirist is sure to engross public attention, and as a supporter of factious defamation, Churchill was admirably suited to the time in which he lived. But if his poems were popular with those who love to see worth depreciated and distinctions levelled, with the vulgar, the envious, and the malignant; they were no less held in abhorrence by those who were as much hurt at the prostitution as charmed by the excellence of his talents, and who were afraid to praise his genius, lest they should propagate his writings. Few men, therefore, made so much noise during their lives, or so little after their deaths. His partners in vice and faction shrunk from the task of perpetuating his memory, either from the fear of an alliance with a character so obnoxious as to injure their party, or from the neglect with which bad men usually treat their associates when they can be no longer useful. Lloyd, to whom he had been more kind than Colman or Thornton, did not survive him above a month. Colman and Thornton preserved a cautious silence about a man whom to praise was to engage with the many enemies he had created; and Wilkes, to whom he bequeathed the editorship and illustration of his poems by notes, &e. neglected the task, until he had succeeded in his ambitious manoeuvres, became ashamed of the agents who had supported him, and left his poorer partizans to shift for themselves. Even when Dr. Kippis applied to him for such information as might supply a life of Churchill for the Biographia, he seemed unwilling or unable to contribute much; and a comparison of that life with the scattered accounts previously published, may convince the reader that Dr. Kippis, who was a good-natured and a grateful man, thuuked una for more assistance than he received.
While the friends of Churchill were thus negligent of his feme, if was not to be expected that his enemies would be very eager to perpetuate the memory of a man by whom they had suffered so severely. Perhaps no writer ever made so many enemies, or carried his hostilities into so many quarters, without provocation. If we except the case of Hogarth, I do not recollect that he has attacked the character of one individual who ever did him an injury, or stood in his way. Such wantonness of detraction must have naturally led to a general wish that his name and works might be speedily consigned to oblivion.
The time, however, is now come, when, although his character cannot be rescued from the contempt into which it fell, his writings may be read with more calmness, and his rank as a poet assigned with the regards due to real genius, however misapplied. If those passages in which his genius shines most conspicuously were to be selected from the mass of defamation by which they are surrounded, he might, I think, be allowed to approach to Pope in every thing but correctness, and even of his failure in this respect, it may be justly said that he evinces carelessness rather than want of taste. But he despised regularity in every thing; and whatever was within rules, bore an air of restraint to which his proud spirit could not submit. From the evidence of his writings, as well as of his friends, it appears that he thought so meanly of Pope as to suppose it no difficult matter to excel him. Dryden was his acknowledged model, and he left inequalities in his writings that he might resemble Dryden, and shun Pope's " unvaried excellence."
Such caprice is unaccountable, but it is certain that Churchill persisted in despising that correctness which he might have attained with very little care. The opinion of Cowper upon this subject is too valuable to be omitted. Churchill "is 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 so 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 V
The superiority of his genius, indeed, is so obvious from even a slight perusal of his works, that it must ever be regretted that his subjects were temporary, and his manner irritating, and that he should have given to party and to passion what might have so boldly chastised vice, promoted the dignity of virtue, and advanced the honours of poetry. His fertility was astonishing, for the whole of his poems were designed and finished within the short space of three years and a half. Whatever he undertook he accomplished with rapidity, although such was the redundancy of his imagination, and such the facility with which he committed his thoughts to paper, that he has not always executed what he began, and perhaps delights too much in excursions from his principal
J Hayley's Life of Cowper, vol. iii. p. 27, 8vo. edit. Cowper had been the associate of Colmanand Thornton, and wrote a few papers in the Connoisseur. Whether he was equally intimate witli Churchill does not appear, but he was among the first to revive the memory of his talents, by some beautiful lines in his Table Talk, which are prefixed to this edition of Churchill's poems. Between Cowper and Churchill, in point of moral character, the distance is so great, that it is impossible to suppose there could ever have been any cordiality. C".
LIFE OF CHURCHILL. 271
subject. Of this, The Prophecy of Famine, which for original, creative power, I should be inclined to prefer to all his other writings, appears to be a striking example. It conusts of a long introduction which might suit any other subject, and detached parts which have no natural connection, and of which the order might be changed without injury.
But it is unnecessary to make a parade of criticism by pointing out the individual beauties that present themselves in all his writings, with the exception of the Rosciad, which seems to have owed its popularity more to its subject, and the clamour of the players and their friends, than to its poetry. In his other works, there are few of the essential qualities of a poet which he has not so frequently exemplified, as to induce every reader to believe that with care, leisure, and a happier disposition of mind, he might have executed works that would have entitled him to unmixed and uninterrupted fame. He has fully proved that he was not incapable of the higher species of poetry: he has given specimens of the sublime and the pathetic, "the two chief nerves of all genuine poesy." In personification he is peculiarly happy, and sometimes displays the hue fancy of Spenser, united with great strength of colouring and force of expression. His bursts of indignation are wonderfully eloquent, and with a love of virtue, he might have beeu her irresistible advocate, and the first of ethic writers. Where he does put on the character of a moral satirist, he is perhaps inferior to none of the moderns, and the modems certainly excel the ancients in this species of poetry. But unfortunately his genius was biassed by personal animosity, and where he surpasses all other writers, it is in the keenness, not of legitimate satire, but of defamation. His object is not to reform, but to revenge, and that the greatness of his revenge may be justified, he exaggerates the offences of his objects beyond all bounds of truth and decency.
From Hell itself his characters he drew,
And christen'd them by every name he knew '.
In some cases, the poet may be considered separate from the man, and indeed of many eminent poets we know too little to be able to determine what influence their character had on their writings. But Churchill's productions are so connected with his turbulent and irregular life, that they must necessarily be brought in contact. He frequently alludes to his character and situation, and takes every opportunity to vindicate what seem to redound most to his discredit, his vices and his associates: and as his works will probably long be read, with admiration as works of genius, or from curiosity as specimens of obloquy, it is necessary to be told that he had very little veneration for truth, that he drew his characters in extravagant disproportion, and that he was regardless of any means by which he could bring temporary or lasting disgrace on the persons, whom either faction or revenge made him consider as enemies7.
• Fragment, by W. Whitehead, in Mason's Life of that poet. A few lines from the same pen are prefixed to the present edition. ('.
'Mr. Tooke, of Gray's Inn, lately published an edition of Churchill's works, illustrated by much "^temporary history". I owe some particulars of Churchill's life to the well-written memoirs prefixed to this work. C
BY WM. COWPER, ESQ.
Costempobakies all surpass'd, see one:
BY WILLIAM WHITEHEAD, ESQ.
That I'm his foe, ev'n Churchill can't pretend,
But—thank my stars—he proves I am no friend:
Yet, Churchill, could an honest wish succeed,
I'd prove myself to thee a friend indeed:
For had I power like that which bends the spheres
To music never heard by mortal ears,
Where, in his system, sits the central Sun,
And drags reluctant planets into tune,
So would I bridle thy eccentric soul,
In Reason's sober orbit bid it roll:
Spite of thyself, would make thy rancour cease,
Preserve thy present fame and future peace,
And teach thy Muse no vulgar place to find
In the full moral chorus of mankind.
ROSCTUS deceas'd, each high aspiring play'r
But though bare merit might in Rome appear
What can an actor give? In ev'ry age
Shuter keeps open house at Southwark fair,
The town divided, each ruas sev'ral ways,
Things of no moment, colour of the hair,
From galleries loud peals of laughter roll.
When place of judgment is by whim supply'd,
At length agreed, all squabbles to decide.
For Johnson some, but Johnson, it was fear'd,
To mischief train'd, e'en from his mother'i *omh, Grown old in fraud, though yet in manhood s hloom. Adopting arts, by which gay villains rise. And reach the heights which honest men despise; Mute at the bar, and in the senate loud, Dull 'mongst the dullest, proudest of the proud; A pert, prim, prater of the northern race, Guilt in his heart, and famine in his face, Stood forth;—and thrice he wav'd his lily hainl— And thrice he twirl'd his tye—thricestrok'd his hand—
i John Coan, a dwarf, who died io I7C4. C.