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Richard Blackmore

Sir Richard Blackmore (1654-1729). Portrait attributed to John Closterman (1660-1711). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sir
Richard Blackmore
Born 22 January 1654
Corsham, Wiltshire
Died 9 October 1729 (aged 75)
Boxted, Essex
Nationality English
Occupation poet, physician

Sir Richard Blackmore (22 January 1654 - 9 October 1729) was an English poet and physician, remembered primarily as the object of satire. In his time, however, he was a respected physician and religious writer.

Life Edit

OverviewEdit

Blackmore, one of the court physicians to William III and Anne, was a successful physician and an excellent man. He wrote several very long and well-intentioned, but dull and tedious, poems, which, though praised by Addison and Johnson, are now utterly forgotten. They include Prince Arthur, Creation, Redemption, Alfred. As may be imagined, they were the subject of derision by the profaner wits of the day.[1]

Youth and educationEdit

Blackmore, son of Robert Blackmore, an attorney-at-law, was born at Corsham, in Wiltshire, and educated at Westminster School. He entered St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, in 1668, earning a B.A. degree on 4 April 1674, an M.A. on 3 June 1676.[2]

His necessities compelled him to temporarily adopt the profession of schoolmaster. With this fact his enemies frequently taunted him in later years.

By nature form'd, by want a pedant made,
Blackmore at first set up the whipping trade.
Next quack commenced; then fierce with pride he swore
That toothache, gripes, and corns should be no more;
In vain his drugs as well as birch he tried,
His boys grew blockheads and his patients died.[2]

After abandoning school work Blackmore spent some time abroad, visited France, Germany, and the Low Countries, and earned a degree of M.D. at Padua.[3]

Early careerEdit

On his return to England he was admitted a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, under the charter of James II, at the Comitia Majora Extraordinaria of 12 April 1687. He became censor of the college in 1716, and was named an elect on 22 August 1716, which office he resigned on 22 October 1722.[3]

In 1695 he published Prince Arthur: An heroick poem in X books, which reached a 2nd edition in 1696, and a 3rd in 1714. An enlarged edition, in 12 books, appeared in 1697. The writer tells us that his work was written in such scant moments of leisure as his professional duties afforded, "and for the greatest part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets." Shortly after its appearance the poem was attacked by John Dennis in a criticism which Dr. Johnson pronounced to be "more tedious and disgusting than the work which he condemns." Far from resenting the attack, Blackmore took occasion in a later work to praise Dennis as "equal to Boileau in poetry, and superior to him in literary abilities." When Dr. Johnson wrote his "Life of Blackmore," the poem was completely forgotten: but at the time of its publication Prince Arthur found an admirer in no less distinguished a person than John Locke.[3]

In 1697 Blackmore was appointed physician in ordinary to William II, and received a knighthood. On the latter circumstance Pope has some lines in the "Imitations of Horace" (Epistles, ii. 1):

The Hero William and the Martyr Charles,
One knighted Blackmore and one pension'd Quarles;
Which made old Ben and surly Dennis swear,
‘No Lord's anointed, but a Russian Bear.'[3]

ControversyEdit

Blackmore was strongly attached to the principles of the Revolution, and may perhaps have owed his advancement to some political services rendered to King William. He was afterwards one of the physicians to Queen Anne. In 1699 he published a Short History of the Last Parliament, fol., which was followed in 1700 by a Satyr against Wit.[4]

The publication of the Satyr, in which the wits of the time were attacked on the score of grossness and irreligion, raised up a swarm of enemies against the writer. Sir Richard had for some time past been residing in Cheapside; his friends belonged chiefly to the City, and he had little acquaintance with men of letters. Immediately after the publication of the Satyr there appeared a collection of satirical Commendatory Verses on the Author of the two Arthurs and the Sstyr against Wit. By some of his particular friends, fol. The verses were by various hands, but the chief contributor was Tom Brown.[4]

Blackmore lost no time in replying with Discommendatory Verses: On those which are truly commendatory on the Author of the two Arthurs, &c., fol. Dryden, who had reviously castigated Blackmore in the pregce to his Fables, assailed him very vigorously in the Prologue to the Pilgrim (1700). Samuel Garth attacked him in the Dispensnry (iv. 172, &c.), bidding him "learn to rise in sense and sink in sound." Sedley, Steele, and others had their fling.[4]

But ridicule was powerless to check Blackmore’s literary aspirations. In 1700 he was before the public with a book of Paraphrases on Job, &c., fol. But when he launched another epic in 1705, Eliza: An epic poem in X books, fol., it was received in absolute silence by an indifferent public. "I do not remember," says Dr. Johnson, "that by any author, serious or comical, I have found Eliza either praised or blamed." [4]

Later careerEdit

In 1711 appeared the Nature of Man: A poem in three books, 8vo, and in 1712 Creation: A philosophical poem demonstrating the existence and providence of God, 8vo. The last-named work, which to modern readers presents few attractions, was warmly praised by Joseph Addison in the Spectator (No. 339). Dr. Johnson and John Dennis also praised the poem.

A volume of Essays on Several Subjects; 8vo, appeared in 1716, a 2nd edition (in 2 volumes. 8vo) following in 1717. One of the essays contained an allusion to a "godless author" who had burlesqued a psalm. The charge was understood to refer to Pope, who afterwards avenged himself by including his critic in the Dunciad (ii. 259-68).[4]

In No. 45 of the Freeholder, Addison says, "I have Lately read with much pleasure the essays upon several subjects published by Sir Richard Blackmore," on which statement Swift, (Works by Scott, ed. 2, xii, 140) makes the remark, "I admire to see such praises from this author to so insipid a scoundrel, whom I know he despised."[4]

After publishing in 1716 a volume of Poems on Several Subjects, 8vo, Blackmore turned his attention to controversial divinity, and in 1721 was read with Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis, 8vo (2nd edition 1725), which was immediately followed by Modern Arians unmasked, 1721, 8vo. Having thrown off in the same year a New Version of the Psalms of David, 8vo, he lost no time in issuing Redemption: A divine poem in VI books,’ 1722.[4]

No sooner was he delivered of Redemption than he was at work on Alfred: An epic poem in XII books, which was published in 1723, fol. In the same year appeared History of the Conspiracy against the Person and Government of King William the Third in the year 1695, 8vo.[4]

During the next few years he employed his leisure in writing medical treatises, but in 1728 he reverted to divine studies, and published Natural Theology; or, Moral duties considered apart from positive, 8vo. This was the last work published in his lifetime. He died on 9 Oct. 1729, and was buried at Boxted, Essex, where he had retired in 1722.[4]

To the very last he continued writing, and left at his death The accomplished Preacher; or, An essay on divine eloquence, which was edited in 1731, 8vo, by the Rev. John White, of Nayland, Essex, (who had administered to him on his deathbed the last Spiritual consolation).[4]

WritingEdit

Blackmore as epic poetEdit

Blackmore had a passion for writing epics. Prince Arthur: An Heroick Poem in X Books appeared in 1695. He supported the Glorious Revolution, and Prince Arthur was a celebration of William III. The poem was based on the form of Virgil's Aeneid and the subject matter of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. It told of the Celtic King Arthur opposing the invading Saxons and taking London, which was a transparent encoding of William III opposing the "Saxon" James II and taking London. John Dennis derided the poem as being "servile" in its treatment of Geoffrey of Monmouth and having an inconsequential and fearful hero. Nevertheless, it went through 3 editions.[5]

In 1697, Blackmore followed that with King Arthur: An heroic poem in twelve Books. Like its predecessor, it was a treatment of current events in ancient garb, but, this time, the public and court were less interested and the matter less interesting.[5]

In 1705, with Anne on the throne and William dead, Blackmore wrote another epic, Eliza: an Epic Poem in Ten Books, on the plot by Rodrigo Lopez, the Portuguese physician, against Queen Elizabeth. Once more, the "epic" was current events, as it meant to denounce John Radcliffe, a Jacobite physician who was out of favor with Anne. Anne did not appear to take sufficient notice of the epic, but Sarah Churchill did. 2 occasional pieces followed: "An advice to the poets: a poem occasioned by the wonderful success of her majesty's arms, under the conduct of the duke of Marlborough in Flanders" (1706) and "Instructions to Vander Beck" (1709). These courted favor with the Duke of Marlborough with some success.[5]

In 1711, Blackmore produced The Nature of Man, a physiological/theological poem on climate and character (with the English climate being the best). This was a tune up for Creation: A philosophical poem in 1712, which was praised by John Dennis, Joseph Addison, and, later, Samuel Johnson, for its Miltonic tone. It ran to 16 editions, and of all his epics it was best received. Its design was to refute the atheism of Vanini, Hobbes and (supposedly) Spinoza, and to unfold the intellectual philosophy of John Locke. Johnson thought that it would be the sole memory of Blackmore, and Dennis said that it was the English De Rerum Natura, but with infinitely better reasoning.[5]

In 1722 he continued his religious themes with Redemption, an epic on the divinity of Jesus Christ designed to oppose and confute the Arians (as he called the Unitarians). The next year, he released another long epic, Alfred. The poem was ostensibly about King Alfred the Great, but like his earlier Arthurian epics, this one was political. It was dedicated to Prince Frederick, the eldest son of King George I, but the poem vanished without causing any comment from court or town.[5]

While others approached the epic as a celebration of national origins (Dryden, for example) or sought in it the most lofty subject matter possible (as Edmund Spenser and John Milton had done), Blackmore argued that the form of the epic would "reform" poetry, that it would cease the cavils of wits and the sexuality of rakes. Further, while proclaiming his intention of reforming poetry itself, he used his epics quite often to achieve political, and personal, goals.[5]

Blackmore's poetry is leaden. However, his special marks as a "dunce" come from his willingness to use poetry, and particularly the epic, for contemporary political purposes. The self-interest involved in King Arthur was apparent to contemporaries, and the desperation of Alfred was similarly offensive to other poets. However, Blackmore used his poetry to satirise and destroy persons of the other political factions, and that made him (except for when his subject matter was religion) fair game for a counter-attack that he could not survive.[5]

Non-epic writingEdit

Blackmore was a religious author when he was not a political author. In 1713 he and his friend John Hughes began a periodical modelled on The Spectator entitled The Lay Monk. It only ran from 13 November 1713 to 15 February 1714 and appeared once every three weeks during that period. All the same, Blackmore had its issues collected and published as The Lay Monastery in the year the journal foundered.[5]

It remains to mention Blackmore’s medical treatises. These are: 1. ‘Discourse on the Plague,’ 1720, 8vo. 2. ‘Treatise on the Small Pox,’ 1723, 8vo 3. ‘Treatise on Consumptions,' &c. 1724, 8vo. 4. ‘Treatise on the Spleen,' &c. 1725, 8vo. 5. ‘Critical Dissertation on the Spleen,' 1725, 8vo. 6. ‘Discourses on the Gout, Rheumatism, and King's Evil,' 1726, 8vo. 7. ‘Dissertations on a Dropsy,' &c. 1727, 8vo. A portrait of Sir Richard Blackmore by Colsterman hangs in the hall of the Royal College of Physicians. It was presented to the college in 1863 by Richard Almack, Esq. Swift gives a ludicrous rhyming list of Blackmore's writings in a copy of verses ‘to be placed under the picture of England’s Arch-Poet,’ 8vo.[4]

RecognitionEdit

Blackmore was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1687.

He was knighted, and awarded a gold medal, by William III in 1697 for King Arthur.

There is a monument in the church at Boxted bearing an inscription to the memory of his wife, Dame Mary Blackmore, and of himself.[4]

Critical reputationEdit

Some of Blackmore's epics, particularly Creation, were praised in their day. Samuel Johnson declared of Creation that "if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity as one of the first favourites of the English Muse." John Dennis described it as "a philosophical poem, which has equalled that of Lucretius in the beauty of its versification, and infinitely surpassed it in the solidity and strength of its reasoning."[4]

However, Blackmore's fame today rests with his enemies. Garth's The Dispensary made him out to be a greedy fool with delusions, but Pope's criticisms would be the most lasting, and Pope hits Blackmore over and over again on his stupidity and delusions of grandeur. The Scriblerus Club (Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, Robert Harley, Henry St. John, Jonathan Swift, and Thomas Parnell) attacked Blackmore in 1717's Three Hours after Marriage. Pope further picked out Blackmore's foolish lines in Peri Bathos (1727), and gave a devastating characterization of "Neverending Blackmore" in The Dunciad (1728), where Blackmore's poetry is so awful that it can even put lawyers to sleep. These attacks were on top of Tom Brown's previous attacks, as well as Dryden's.

PublicationsEdit

PoetryEdit

  • Prince Arthur: An heroick poem, in ten books. London: Awnsham & John Churchill, 1695; London: Jacob Tonson, 1714.
  • King Arthur: An heroick poem, in twelve books. London: Awnsham & John Churchill, & Jacob Tonson, 1697.
  • A Satyr against Wit. London: Samuel Crouch, 1700.
  • Eliza: An epick poem, in ten books. London: Awnsham & John Churchill, 1705.
  • A hymn to the light of the world, with a short description of the cartoons of Raphael Urbin. London: Jacob Tonson, 1703.
  • Advice to the Poets: A poem occasion'd by the wonderful success of her Majesty's arms in Flanders. London: A. & J. Churchill, 1706.
  • The Kit-cats: A poem. London: E. Sanger & E. Curll, 1708.
  • Instructions to Vander Bank: A sequel to the Advice to the poets. London: H. Hills, 1709.
  • The Nature of Man: A poem, in three books. London: Sam. Buckley 1711.
  • Creation: A philosophical poem, in seven books. London: Sam Buckley, & Jacob Tonson, 1712.
  • A Collection of Poems on Various Subjects. London: W. Wilkins, for Jonas Browne, & J. Walthoe Jun., 1718.
  • Redemption: A divine poem, in six books. London: A. Bettesworth, & James Mackeuen, 1722.
  • Alfred: An epick poem, in twelve books. London: W. Botham, for James Knapton, 1723.
  • The Poetical Works. Edinburgh: Mundell, 1793.
  • The Poetical Works. London: C. Cooke (Cooke's edition), 1797.

Non-fictionEdit

  • A Short History of the Last Parliament. London: Jacob Tonson, 1699.
  • A Paraphrase on the Book of Job. 1700; London: Jacob Tonson, 1716.
  • The Report of the Physicians and Surgeons. London: John Nutt, 1702.
  • The Lay-monastery: Consisting of essays, discourses, etc. London: S. Keimer, for F. Burleigh, 1714.
  • Essays upon Several Subjects. Volume I, London: John Pemberton, 1716; Volume II, London: W. Wilkins, for A. Bettesworth, & J. Pemberton, 1717.
  • A discourse upon the plague. London: John Clark, 1722.
  • Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis. London: W. Wilkins, for J. Peele, 1721.
  • Modern Arians Unmask'd. London: John Clark, 1721.
  • A Treatise upon the Small-pox: In two parts. London: John Clark, 1723.
  • A True and Impartial History of the Conspiracy against the Person and Government of King William in 1695. London: James Knapton, 1723.
  • A treatise of consumptions and other distempers Belonging to the Breast and Lungs. London: John Pemberton, 1724.
  • A Treatise on the Spleen and Vapours. London: John Pemberton, 1725.
  • A critical dissertation upon the spleen. London: John Pemberton, 1725.
  • Discourses on the gout, rheumatism, and the King's Evil. London: John Pemberton, 1726.
  • Dissertations on a Dropsy. London: James & John Knapton, 1727.
  • Natural theology; or, Moral duties considered apart from positive. London: J. Pemberton, 1728.
  • The Accomplished Preacher; or, Essays on divine eloquence. London: J. Downing, 1731.
  • Essay Upon Wit (with introduction by Richard C. Boys, commentary by Joseph Addison), 1716. Augustan Reprint Society, 1946.[6]

TranslatedEdit

  • A new version of the psalms of David. London: John March, for the Company of Stationers, 1721.

EditedEdit

  • The Lay-monk (journal; edited with John Hughes). London: J. Roberts, 1713.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • PD-icon.svg Bullen, Arthur Henry (1886) "Blackmore, Sir Richard" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 5 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 129-131 . Wikisource, Web, Dec. 13, 2017.
  • Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 6, 1-3. London: Oxford UP, 2004.

NotesEdit

  1. John William Cousin, "Blackmore, Sir Richard," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 32. Web, Dec. 13, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bullen, 129.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Bullen, 130.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Bullen, 131.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Richard Blackmore, Wikipedia, October 24, 2017, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, Dec. 13, 2017.
  6. Essay Upon Wit by Sir Richard Blackmore, Project Gutenberg, Apr. 23, 2012.
  7. Search results = au:Richard Blackmore, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 30, 2016.

External linksEdit

Poems
Books
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PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Blackmore, Richard

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