Page images

traying his former friend; and second, that the story told in that correspondence, about Armstrong's privity to the publication of "Day," is the true one. The whole of the little plot has the marks of Wilkes's finesse about it, nor is it possible to assign any motive which could induce Armstrong to start a controversy, that was so sure to end to his own disadvantage, When the charge is advanced he does not attempt to deny it he is angry because he cannot; he goes to complain, but obtains no satisfaction; and then sits down in silence under the exposure.

The deception disclosed was, after all, of a very venial description; and Armstrong, though he had reason to feel deeply hurt at the artifice and treachery of Wilkes, had none to be ashamed of the part he had himself acted in this transaction.

Dr. Armstrong died at his house in Russel-street, Covent-garden, on the 7th September, 1779; and, to the surprise of his friends, who thought him poor, left behind him more than three thousand pounds, saved out of a very moderate income.

The character of Armstrong seems, on the whole, to have been of an amiable, though somewhat splenetic cast. By his friends, among whom he numbered some of the ablest and worthiest men of his time-Thomson, Granger, Theobald, Birch, Mead, Sir John Pringle, &c. he was much respected and esteemed. Several of them have borne strong testimony to the goodness of his heart, and general sincerity of his conduct.-He was blunt in his manners, and not very choice in his conversational language; but these asperities were quickly forgot in the liveliness of observation and dry

humour with which they were accompanied. He is said to have been indolent and inactive, and fonder, at all times, of making one of a social party of literary friends, than of attending any serious occupation; and to this, perhaps, as much as to that " distempered excess of sensibility," of which he talks in his Commentaries, we may ascribe the little success he experienced in his profession. In Dr. Birch's papers* there is a Tavern invitation from Armstrong to the Doctor, which, as illustrating the personal habits of some of the literati of those days, is curious. The following is

a copy.


If you are to be at leisure next Friday, Mr. Spencet and I shall be glad to meet you about two at Richard's Coffee-house, within Temple-bar, from whence we shall adjourn to any Tavern you please, to dine together. If Friday is not convenient for you, please leave word at the bar here: at meeting we shall agree upon some day next week. I am, Dear Sir,

Your most humble and obliged servant,

"Rawthwell's,t Wednesday Evening, October 6, 1742."

With the author of the Seasons, Dr. Armstrong was,

[ocr errors]

*No. 4300 Birch's papers, British Museum.

+ The collector of the Anecdotes.

Where was Rawthwell's?

from his first coming to London, in the habits of peculiar intimacy; and he is generally understood to have been his coadjutor in the composition of the "Castle of Indolence," to both a most congenial subject. The sixty-eighth stanza was entirely written by Armstrong.

The reputation of Armstrong, as a poet, must rest chiefly on his " Art of Preserving Health;" but that has merit enough of itself to bear him on the wings of renown through many a distant age. In point of classical elegance, purity, and simplicity of style, as well as truth of sentiment, it is not perhaps excelled by any poem of the Didactic kind, in the English language. The subject was one "unattempted, yet in prose or rhyme."

-the secret wilds, I trace,
Of nature, and with daring steps proceed
Through paths the Muses never trod before.
Book I.

The field was encompassed with difficulties, for though it opened many sources of poetical ideas, still the leading theme was of the most ordinary matters of human existence ;-eating, drinking, and sleeping; pain, sickness, and disease; all the infirmities, in short, which flesh is heir to. The skill and imagination which were required to give grace and elevation to such topics as these, could only belong to a mind of the highest order. The task, as Dr. Warton remarks, (in his reflections on Didactic Poetry, prefixed to his Edition of Virgil,) was reserved to Armstrong, and he has executed it nobly.

The author appears throughout to have had Lucretius in his eye; but he has shewn himself no servile imitator. If we compare the opening invocation of Hygeia by Armstrong with the invocation of Venus by Lucretius, or both their descriptions of a pestilence, we shall be convinced that it was the rivalry of equals. The approach of Hygeia through "the blue serenity of Heaven," and the dispersion of the various baleful forms of disease and death into the loathsome gloom, are conceived and pourtrayed in the very highest spirit of poetry. The instance of wide wasting pestilence, which Armstrong has selected for a trial of his strength with the Roman poet, in grand and pathetic description, is distinguished by one extremely poetical circumstance. The instance he selects, is that of the sweating sickness, which laid England waste during the reign of the tyrant Richard. It was a notion universally entertained by the common people of that period, that the disease attacked and was fatal to Englishmen alone, and that it was not limited in its rage to England, but extended to Englishmen, wherever Englishmen were to be found throughout the world. A sublimer idea of the avenging power of Heaven over a guilty race, and one more calculated to inspire a deep awe into the mind, it is impossible to imagine. Armstrong appreciated it with a poct's eye, and has availed himself of its agency with very happy effect.

O'er the mournful land,
Th' infected city pour'd her hurrying swarms;
Rous'd by the flames that fir'd her seats around
Th' infected country rush'd into the town.

Some, sad at home, and in the desart some,
Abjur'd the fatal commerce of mankind;
In vain: where'er they fled, the fates pursu'd ;
Others, with hopes more specious, cross'd the main,
To seek protection in far distant skies;
But none they found. It seem'd the general air,
From pole to pole, from Atlas to the East,
Was then at enmity with English blood;
For, but the race of England, all were safe
In foreign climes; nor did this fury taste
The foreign blood which England then contain'd.
Where should they fly? The circumambient Heaven
Involv'd them still; and every breeze was bane.
Where find relief? The salutary art

Was mute; and startled at the new disease,
In fearful whispers hopeless omens gave.

To Heaven with suppliant rites they sent their prayers,
Heaven heard them not. Of every hope depriv'd,
Fatigued with vain resources; and subdu'd
With woes resistless, and enfeebling fear;
Passive they sunk beneath the weighty blow.
Nothing but lamentable sounds was heard ;
Nor aught was seen but ghastly views of death.
Infectious horror ran from place to place,
And pale despair. "Twas all the business then,
To tend the sick, and in their turns to die.
In heaps they fell and oft one bed, they say,
The sick'ning, dying, and the dead, contain❜d.

Armstrong has been reproached with exaggeration in his description of the "moist malignity" and variableness of the English climate, in which all the seasons are said to " mix in every monstrous day." It

« PreviousContinue »