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Thomson, whose Seasons were then in their full blossom of reputation. He has Thomson's beauties and his faults.
His poem on Verbal Criticism (1733) was written to pay court to Pope, on a subject which he either did not understand, or willingly misrepresented; and is little more than an improvement, or rather expansion, of a fragment which Pope printed in a Miscellany long before he engrafted it into a regular poem. There is in this piece more pertness than wit, and more confidence than knowledge. The versification is tolerable, nor can criticism allow it a higher praise.
His first tragedy was Eurydice, acted at Drury-lane in 1731; of which I know not the reception nor the merit, but have heard it mentioned as a mean performance. He was not then too high to accept a prologue and epilogue from Aaron Hill, neither of which can be much commended.
Having cleared his tongue from his native pronunciation so as to be no longer distinguished as a Scot, he seems inclined to disencumber himself from all adherences of his original, and took upon him to change his name from Scotch Malloch to English Mallet, without any imaginable reason of preference which the eye or ear can discover. What other proofs he gave of disrespect to his native country, I know not; but it was remarked of him, that he was the only Scot whom Scotchmen did not commend.
About this time Pope, whom he visited familiarly, published his Essay on Man, but concealed the author; and, when Mallet entered one day, Pope asked him slightly what there was new. Mallet told him, that the newest piece was something called an Essay on Man, which he had inspected idly, and seeing the utter inability of the author, who had neither skill in writing nor knowledge of the subject, had tossed it away. Pope, to punish his self-conceit, told him the secret.
A new edition of the works of Bacon being prepared (1750) for the press, Mallet was employed to prefix a life, which he has written with elegance, perhaps with some affectation; but with so much more knowledge of history than of science, that when he afterwards undertook the Life of Marlborough, Waxbui ton remarked, that he might perhaps forget that Marlborough was a general, as he had forgotten that Bacon was a philosopher. ,
When the prince of Wales was driven from the palace, and, setting himself at the head of the opposition, kept a separate court, he endeavoured to increase his popularity by the patronage of literature, and made Mallet his under-secretary, with a salary of two hundred pounds a year; Thomson likewise had a pension; and they were associated in the composition of The Masque of Alfred, which, in its original state, was played at Cliefdeu in 1740; it was afterwards almost wholly changed by Mallet, and brought upon the stage at Drury-lane in 1751, but with no great success.
Mallet, in a familiar conversation with Garrick, discoursing of the diligence which he was then exerting upon the Life of Marlborough, let him know, that, in the series of great men quickly to be exhibited, he should find a nick for the hero of the theatre. Garrick professed to wonder by what artifice he could be introduced; but Mallet let him know, that, by a dexterous anticipation, he should fix him in a conspicuous place. "Mr. Mallet," says Garrick, in his gratitude of exultation, "have you left off to write for the stas>e i" Mallet then confessed that he had a drama in his hands. Garrick promise .: to act it; and Alfred was produced.
The long retardation of the Life of the Duke of Marlborough shows, with strong conviction, how little confidence can be placed in posthumous renown. When he died, it LIFE OF MALLET. 5
was soon determined that his story should be delivered to posterity; and that the papers supposed to contain the necessary information were delivered to lord Molesworth, wlio had been his favourite in Flanders. When Molesworth died, the same papers were transferred with the same design to sir Richard Steele, who in some of his exigences put them in pawn. They then remained with the old dutchess, who in her will assigned the task to Glover and Mallet, with a reward of a thousand pounds, and a prohibition to insert any verses. Glover rejected, I suppose, with disdain, the legacy, and devolved the whole work upon Mallet; who had from the late duke of Marlborough a pension to promote his industry, and who talked of the discoveries which he had made; but left not, when he died, any historical labours behind him.
While he was in the prince's service he published Mustapha, with a prologue by Thomson, not mean, but far inferior to that which he had received from Mallet for Agamemnon. The epilogue, said to be written by a friend, was composed in haste by Mallet, in the place of one promised, which was never given. This tragedy was dedicated to the prince his master. It was acted at Drury-lane in 1739, and was well received, but was never revived. ■>
In 1740, he produced, as has been already mentioned, The Masque of Alfred, in conjunction with Thomson.
For some time afterwards he lay at rest. After a long interval, his next work was Amyntor and Theodora, (17*7) a long story in blank verse; in which it cannot be denied that there is copiousness and elegance of language, vigour of sentiment, and imagery well adapted to take possession of the fancy. But it is blank verse. This he sold to Vaillant for one hundred and twenty pounds. The first sale was not great, and it is now lost in forgetfulness.
Mallet, by address or accident, perhaps by his dependauce 011 the prince, found his way to Bolingbroke; a man whose pride and petulance made his kindness difficult to gain, or keep, and whom Mallet was content to court by an act, which, I hope, was unwillingly performed. When it was found that Pope had clandestinely printed an unauthorised number of the pamphlet called The Patriot King, Bolingbroke, in a fit of useless fury, resolved to blast his memory, and employed Mallet (J74.9) as the executioner of his vengeance. Mallet had not virtue, or had not spirit, to refuse the office; and was rewarded, not long after, with the legacy of lord Bolingbioke's works.
Many of the political pieces had been written during the opposition to Walpole, and given to Franklin, as he supposed, in perpetuity. These, among the rest, were claimed by the will. The question was referred to arbitrators; but, when they decided against Mallet, he refused to yield to the award, and, by the help of Millar the bookseller, published all that he could find, but with success very much below his expectation.
Id 1755, his masque of Britannia was acted at Drury-lane; and his tragedy of Elvira in 1763; in which year he was appointed keeper of the Book of Entries for ships in the port of London.
In the beginning of the last war, when the nation was exasperated by ill success, he was employed to turn the public vengeance upon Byng, and wrote a letter of accusation under the character of a Plain Man. The paper was with great industry circulated and dispersed; and he, for his seasonable intervention, had a considerable pension bestowed upon him, which he retained to his death.
Towards the end of his life he went with his wife to France; but after a while, finding his health declining, he returned alone to England, and died in April, 176a.
He was twice married, and by his first wife had several children. One daughter, who married an Italian of rank named Cilesia, wrote a tragedy called Almida, which was acted at Drury-lane. His second wife was the daughter of a nobleman's steward, who had a considerable fortune, which she took care to retain in her own hands.
His stature was diminutive, but he was regularly formed; his appearance, till he grew corpulent, was agreeable, and he suffered it to want no recommendation that dress could give it. His conversation was elegant and easy. The rest of his character may, without injury to his memory, sink into silence.
As a writer, he cannot be placed in any high class. There is no species of composition in which he was eminent. His dramas had their day, a short day, and are forgotten; his blank verse seems to my ear the echo of Thomson. His Life of Bacon is known, as it is appended to Bacon's volumes, but is no longer mentioned. His works are such as a writer, bustling in the world, showing himself in public, and emerging occasionally from time to time into notice, might keep alive by his personal influence; but which, conveying little information, and giving no great pleasure, must soon give way, as the succession of things produces new topics of conversation and other modes of amusement.
WILLIAM, LORD MANSFIELD,
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE OF ENGLAND. JANUARY 1, 1759.
J\ o man, in ancient Rome, my lord, would have been surprised, I believe, to see a poet inscribe his works, either to Cicero, or the younger Pliny; not to mention any more amongst her most celebrated names. They were both, it is true, public magistrates of the first distinction, and had applied themselves severely to the study of the laws; in which both eminently excelled. They were, at the same time, illustrious orators, and employed their eloquence in the service of their clients and their country. But, as they had both embellished their other talents by early cultivating the finer arts, and which has spread, we see, a peculiar light and grace over all their productions; no species of polite literature could be foreign to their taste or patronage. And, in effect, we find they were the friends and protectors of the best poets their respective ages produced.
It is from a parity of character, my lord, and which will occur obviously to every eye, that I am induced to place your name at the head of this collection, such as it is, of the different things I have written.
Nee Pheebo gratior ulla
Quam sibi quae Yuri praescripsit pagina nomen.
And were I as sure, my lord, that it is deserving of your regard, as I am that these verses were not applied with more propriety at first than they are now • the public would universally justify my ambition in presenting it to you. But, of that, the public only must and will judge, in the last appeal. There is but one thing, to bespeak their favour and your friendship, that I dare be positive in: without which, you are the last person in Britain to whom I should have thought of addressing it. And this any man may affirm of himself, without vanity; because it is equally in every man's power. Of all that I have written, on any occasion, there is not a line, which I am afraid to own, either as an honest man, a good subject, or a true lover of my country. I have thus, my lord, dedicated some few moments, the first day of this new year, to send you, according to good old custom, a present. An humble one, I confess it is; and that can have little other value but what arises from the disposition of the sender. On that account, perhaps, it may not be altogether unacceptable; for it is indeed an offering rather of the heart than the head; an effusion of those sentiments, which great merit, employed to the best purposes, naturally creates.
May you enjoy, my lord, through the whole course of this and many more years, that sound health of mind and body, which your important labours for the public so much want, and so justly merit! And may you soon have the satisfaction to see, what I know you so ardently wish, this destructive war, however necessary on our part, concluded by a safe and lasting peace! Then, and not till then, all the noble arts, no less useful than ornamental to human life, and that now languish, may again flourish, under the eye and encouragement of those few, who think and feel as you do, for the advantage and honour of Great Britain. I am, with the sincerest attachment,
your most faithful