A poet of the first rank he was not; he invented nothing; but he established the canons of poetry, attuned to exquisite harmony the rhymed couplet which Dryden had made so powerful an instrument, improved the language, discerned and reconnected the discordant parts of literature; and thus it is that he towers above all the poets of his age, and has sent his influence through those that followed, even to the present day.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE PERIOD.
Matthew Prior, 1664-1721: in his early youth he was a waiter in his uncle’s tap-room, but, surmounting all difficulties, he rose to be a distinguished poet and diplomatist. He was an envoy to France, where he was noted for his wit and ready repartee. His love songs are somewhat immoral, but exquisitely melodious. His chief poems are: Alma, a philosophic piece in the vein of Hudibras; Solomon, a Scripture poem; and, the best of all, The City and Country Mouse, a parody on Dryden’s Hind and Panther, which he wrote in conjunction with Mr. Montague. He was imprisoned by the Whigs in 1715, and lost all his fortune. He was distinguished by having Dr. Johnson as his biographer, in the Lives of the Poets.
John Arbuthnot, 1667-1735: born in Scotland. He was learned, witty, and amiable. Eminent in medicine, he was physician to the court of Queen Anne. He is chiefly known in literature as the companion of Pope and Swift, and as the writer with them of papers in the Martinus Scriblerus Club, which was founded in 1714, and of which Pope, Gay, Swift, Arbuthnot, Harvey, Atterbury, and others, were the principal members. Arbuthnot wrote a History of John Bull, which was designed to render the war then carried on by Marlborough unpopular, and certainly conduced to that end.
John Gay, 1688-1732: he was of humble origin, but rose by his talents, and figured at court. He wrote several dramas in a mock-tragic vein. Among these are What D’ye Call It? and Three Hours after Marriage; but that which gave him permanent reputation is his Beggar’s Opera, of which the hero is a highwayman, and the characters are prostitutes and Newgate gentry. It is interspersed with gay and lyrical songs, and was rendered particularly effective by the fine acting of Miss Elizabeth Fenton, in the part of Polly. The Shepherd’s Week, a pastoral, contains more real delineations of rural life than any other poem of the period. Another curious piece is entitled, Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London.
Thomas Parnell, 1679-1718: he was the author of numerous poems, among which the only one which has retained popular favor is The Hermit, a touching poem founded upon an older story. He wrote the life of Homer prefixed to Pope’s translation; but it was very much altered by Pope.
Thomas Tickell, 1686-1740: particularly known as the friend of Addison. He wrote a translation of the First Book of Homer’s Iliad, which was corrected by Addison, and contributed several papers to The Spectator. But he is best known by his Elegy upon Addison, which Dr. Johnson calls a very “elegant funeral poem.”