Pratt, Samuel Jackson (DNB00)

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PRATT, SAMUEL JACKSON (1749–1814), miscellaneous writer, mainly under the pseudonym of Courtney Melmoth, was born at St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, on 25 Dec. 1749. He was the son of a brewer in that town who twice served as high sheriff of his county, and apparently died in 1773 (Gent. Mag. 1773, p. 154). His mother was a niece of Sir Thomas Drury. He was educated in part at Felsted school in Essex, is said to have been for some time under the private tuition of Hawkesworth, and was ordained in the English church. His poem of the ‘Partridges, an Elegy,’ a piece often included in popular collections of poetry, was printed in the ‘Annual Register’ for 1771 (p. 241) as by the ‘Rev. Mr. Pratt of Peterborough,’ and he is described as ‘an esteemed and popular preacher’ (Beauties of England, Hunts, p. 485*). At an early age he was entangled in a love affair of which his parents disapproved, and the family property was much impaired by constant dissensions and litigation. He soon abandoned his clerical profession, and in 1773 appeared, under the name of ‘Courtney Melmoth,’ on the boards of the theatre in Smock Alley, Dublin, taking the part of Marc Antony in ‘All for Love.’ He was ‘tall and genteel, his deportment easy,’ but his action wanted force, and his success was not great. At the end of the season he took a company to Drogheda, but after three months' ill-success the theatre was closed (Hitchcock, Irish Stage, ii. 229–31). In 1774 he assumed at Covent Garden Theatre the parts of Hamlet and Philaster, again without success, and he also appeared as a reciter (cf. Taylor, Records of my Life, i. 45–6). His failure as an actor was perhaps due, says Taylor, to his walk, ‘a kind of airy swing that rendered his acting at times rather ludicrous.’ Subsequently he and ‘Mrs. Melmoth’ travelled about the country telling fortunes, and they resorted to various other expedients to gain a livelihood.

From 1774, when he published verses deploring the death of Goldsmith, Pratt depended largely upon his pen for support. At first he generally wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Courtney Melmoth.’ About 1776 he was at Bath, in partnership with a bookseller called Clinch, in the old-established library, subsequently known as ‘Godwin's library,’ at the north-west corner of Milsom Street. On Clinch's death Pratt's name remained as a nominal partner in the business under the style of Pratt & Marshall, but after a few years he quitted Bath for London. Several plays by him were produced at Drury Lane, and he became intimately acquainted with Potter, the translator of Æschylus, the elder Colman, Beattie, and Dr. Wolcot. His popular poem of ‘Sympathy’ was first handed to Cadell, the publisher, by Gibbon the historian. Pratt travelled at home and abroad; in 1802 he was at Birmingham, making detailed inquiry into its manufactures and the lives of its artisans. He was there again early in 1814, and, after a long illness, caused by a fall from his horse, he died at Colmore Row, Birmingham, on 4 Oct. 1814. Pratt possessed considerable talents, but his necessities left him little time for reflection or revision. Some severe lines on his poetry and prose were in the original manuscript of Byron's ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,’ but they were omitted from publication. Pratt's wife died at the end of 1805, after a long separation from her husband, for whom, however, she had retained feelings of ‘cordial and confidential amity’ (The Friendships of Miss Mitford, i. 34–5). A mezzotint engraving of Pratt's portrait by J. J. Masquerier was published in 1802; another portrait, by Lawrence, was engraved by Caroline Watson.

Pratt's voluminous works comprised: 1. ‘The Tears of Genius, on the Death of Dr. Goldsmith. By Courtney Melmoth,’ 1774; written a few hours after Goldsmith's death, and containing imitations of him and other popular authors. 2. ‘The Progress of Painting. A Poem,’ 1775; attributed to him by Reuss. 3. ‘Liberal Opinions upon Animals, Man, and Providence,’ vol. i. and ii. 1775, iii. and iv. 1776, v. and vi. 1777; 2nd ed. 1777; new ed. 1783. These volumes contained essays and elegies, but were mainly occupied with the adventures of Benignus, believed to have been in some respects an autobiography. 4. ‘The Pupil of Pleasure,’ inscribed to Mrs. Eugenia Stanhope, 1776, 2 vols.; 2nd ed. 1777; new ed. 1783. Translated into French by Lemierre d'Argy at Paris, 1787, and into German in 1790. It was written to illustrate the ill-effects of the advice of Chesterfield; its licentious tone evoked a printed letter of remonstrance from ‘Euphrasia’ in 1777. 5. ‘Observations on the “Night Thoughts” of Dr. Young,’ 1776. 6. ‘Travels for the Heart,’ written in France, 1777, 2 vols.; an imitation of Sterne. A translation was published at Leipzig in 1778. 7. ‘The sublime and beautiful of Scripture,’ 1777, 2 vols.; new ed. 1783; several of these essays were delivered in public at Edinburgh. 8. ‘An Apology for the Life and Writings of David Hume’ (anon.), 1777. 9. ‘Supplement to the Life of David Hume’ (anon.), 1777; new ed. 1789, also issued as ‘Curious Particulars and Genuine Anecdotes respecting Lord Chesterfield and David Hume’ (anon.), 1788; these tracts were satirised in ‘A Panegyrical Essay on the present Times’ (1777). 10. ‘Tutor of Truth’ (anon.), 1779, 3 vols. (cf. Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ix. 139). 11. ‘Shadows of Shakespeare, a Monody on Death of Garrick. A Prize-Poem for the Vase at Bath-Easton,’ 1779. 12. ‘Shenstone Green, or the New Paradise Lost,’ 1779, 3 vols.; translated at Mannheim in 1780; a dull novel. 13. ‘Emma Corbett, or the Miseries of Civil War. Founded on some Events in America’ (anon.), 1780; 4th ed. 1785; 9th ed. 1789. It was translated into French by J. N. Jouin de Sauseuil, in 1783, and by another hand in 1789. 14. ‘Landscapes in Verse, taken in Spring’ (anon.), 1785. 15. ‘Miscellanies. By Mr. Pratt,’ 1785, 4 vols. The first work on which his name appears. 16. ‘Triumph of Benevolence. A Poem on Design of erecting a Monument to John Howard’ (anon.), 1786; several editions. 17. ‘Humanity, or the Rights of Nature’ (anon.), 1788. 18. ‘Sympathy, a Poem’ (anon.), 1788; 4th ed. corrected and much enlarged, 1788. Many of the descriptions were drawn from the ‘summer retreat’ of the Rev. T. S. Whalley at Langford Court, Somerset; the poem, which was marked by ‘feeling, energy, and beauty,’ is said to have been corrected to the extent of one hundred lines, by the Rev. Richard Graves [q. v.] (cf. Polwhele, Traditions, i. 132). It was reprinted so late as 1807. 19. ‘Ode on his Majesty's Recovery,’ 1789. 20. ‘Gleanings through Wales, Holland, and Westphalia. With Humanity, a Poem,’ 1795–9, 4 vols., the fourth being called ‘Gleanings in England,’ and devoted to the county of Norfolk. A German translation came out at Leipzig in 1800. The last volume was reissued in 1801 with a second volume, and was called ‘Gleanings in England,’ 2nd ed.; a 3rd edition appeared in 1801–4. It is described by Charles Lamb as ‘a wretched assortment of vapid feelings’ (Letters, ed. Ainger, i. 97), but Pratt's observations were ‘lively enough’ to interest the present Lord Iddesleigh, who described them in ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ January 1895, pp. 121–5. 20. ‘Family Secrets,’ 1797, 5 vols.; 2nd ed. 1798; translated into French by Madame Mary Gay-Allart. 21. ‘Letter to the “Tars” of Old England,’ 1797; this went through six editions in a few weeks. 22. ‘Letter to the British Soldiers,’ 1797. 23. ‘Our good old Castle on the Rock,’ 1797. 24. ‘Cottage-pictures, or the Poor, a Poem,’ 1801; 3rd ed. 1803. 25. ‘John and Dame, or the loyal Cottagers, a Poem,’ 1803. This passed through many editions. 26. ‘Harvest Home, consisting of supplementary Gleanings,’ 1805, 3 vols. The first volume is mainly composed of descriptions of Hampshire, Dorset, Birmingham; in the second are reprinted three of Pratt's plays, and the third consists of poems by himself and others. 27. ‘The Contrast, a Poem, with comparative Views of Britain, Spain, and France,’ 1808. 28. ‘The Lower World, a Poem,’ 1810; arguing for kindness to animals. 29. ‘A brief Account of Leamington Spa Charity, with the Rides, Walks, &c.’ (anon.), 1812; subsequently enlarged as 30. ‘Local and Literary Account of Leamington, Warwick, &c. By Mr. Pratt,’ 1814.

Pratt's plays were: 31. ‘Joseph Andrews,’ a farce acted at Drury Lane for Bensley's benefit, 20 April 1778, unpublished. 32. ‘The Fair Circassian,’ a tragedy founded on Hawkesworth's novel of ‘Almoran and Hamet;’ it was produced with success at Drury Lane on 27 Nov. 1781, the heroine being Miss Farren, afterwards Countess of Derby, and passed through three editions in 1781 (Genest, Historical Account, vi. 214). 33. ‘School for Vanity,’ a comedy, 1785. It was brought out at Drury Lane in 1783, but failed through the great number of letters passing between the several characters (Taylor, Records of my Life, i. 45). 34. ‘The new Cosmetic, or the Triumph of Beauty,’ a comedy, 1790. Three plays by him were included in the second volume of his ‘Harvest Home,’ and three more were neither acted nor published (Baker, Biogr. Dramatica).

Pratt published in 1808, in six volumes, ‘The Cabinet of Poetry,’ containing selections from the Poets, from Milton to Beattie, and short notices of their lives. He edited ‘Specimens of the Poetry of Joseph Blacket’ (1809), and ‘The Remains of Joseph Blacket’ (1811), 2 vols. Byron made sarcastic allusions to his patronage of Blacket (Moore, Byron, ii. 53–4). In conjunction with Dr. Mavor, he formed a collection of ‘Classical English Poetry,’ which ran into many editions. A selection from his own works, nominally by a lady, first appeared in 1798, and was reissued down to 1816. It was entitled ‘Pity's Gift,’ and was followed in 1802 by the sequel, ‘A Paternal Present,’ the third edition of which came out in 1817. A translation of Goethe's ‘Werter’ (1809 and 1823) ‘by Dr. Pratt’ is sometimes attributed to him. Lines by him, stigmatised by Charles Lamb as ‘a farrago of false thoughts and nonsense,’ and chosen in preference to a longer epitaph by Burke, were engraved on the monument to Garrick which was erected in 1797 in Westminster Abbey.

[Gent. Mag. 1814 pt. ii. pp. 398–9; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. vi. 212; Biogr. Universelle, xxxvi. 13–15; Monkland's Bath Literature, supplement, pp. 12–13; Byron's Life, ii. 209;

Byron's Works, ed. 1832, vii. 244; Taylor's Records of my Life, i. 38–47; Bath Booksellers, by R. E. M. Peach, in Bath Herald 15 Dec. 1894; Monthly Mirror, xv. 363–6.]

W. P. C.