1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Churchill, Charles
CHURCHILL, CHARLES (1731–1764), English poet and satirist, was born in Vine Street, Westminster, in February 1731. His father, rector of Rainham, Essex, held the curacy and lectureship of St John’s, Westminster, from 1733, and the son was educated at Westminster school, where he became a good classical scholar, and formed a close and lasting intimacy with Robert Lloyd. Churchill was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1749, but never resided. He had been refused at Oxford, ostensibly on the unlikely ground of lack of classical knowledge, but more probably because of a hasty marriage which he had contracted within the rules of the Fleet in his eighteenth year. He and his wife lived in his father’s house, and Churchill was afterwards sent to the north of England to prepare for holy orders. He became curate of South Cadbury, Somersetshire, and, on receiving priest’s orders (1756), began to act as his father’s curate at Rainham. Two years later the elder Churchill died, and the son was elected to succeed him in his curacy and lectureship. His emoluments amounted to less than £100 a year, and he increased his income by teaching in a girls’ school. He fulfilled his various duties with decorum for a while, but his marriage proved unfortunate, and he spent much of his time in dissipation in the society of Robert Lloyd. He was separated from his wife in 1761, and would have been imprisoned for debt but for the timely help of Lloyd’s father, who had been an usher and was now a master of Westminster school.
Churchill had already done some work for the booksellers, and his friend Lloyd had had some success with a didactic poem, “The Actor.” His intimate knowledge of the theatre was now turned to account in the Rosciad, which appeared in March 1761. This reckless and amusing satire described with the most disconcerting accuracy the faults of the various actors and actresses on the London stage. Its immediate popularity was no doubt largely due to its personal character, but its real vigour and raciness make it worth reading even now when the objects of Churchill’s wit are many of them forgotten. The first impression was published anonymously, and in the Critical Review, conducted by Tobias Smollett, it was confidently asserted that the poem was the joint production of George Colman, Bonnell Thornton and Robert Lloyd. Churchill owned the authorship and immediately published an Apology addressed to the Critical Reviewers, which, after developing the subject that it is only the caste of authors that prey on their own kind, repeats the fierce attack on the stage. Incidentally it contains an enthusiastic tribute to Dryden, of whom Churchill was a not unworthy scholar. In the Rosciad he had given warm praise to Mrs Pritchard, Mrs Cibber and Mrs Clive, but no leading London actor, with the exception of David Garrick, had escaped censure, and in the Apology Garrick was clearly threatened. He deprecated criticism by showing every possible civility to Churchill, who became a terror to the actors. Thomas Davies wrote to Garrick attributing his blundering in the part of Cymbeline “to my accidentally seeing Mr Churchill in the pit, it rendering me confused and unmindful of my business.” Churchill’s satire made him many enemies, and inquiries into his way of life provided abundant matter for retort. In Night, an Epistle to Robert Lloyd (1761), he answered the attacks made on him, offering by way of defence the argument that any faults were better than hypocrisy. His scandalous conduct brought down the censure of the dean of Westminster, and in 1763 the protests of his parishioners led him to resign his offices, and he was free to wear his “blue coat with metal buttons” and much gold lace without remonstrance from the dean. The Rosciad had been refused by several publishers, and was finally published at Churchill’s own expense. He received a considerable sum from the sale, and paid his old creditors in full, besides making an allowance to his wife.
He now became a close ally of John Wilkes, whom he regularly assisted with the North Briton. The Prophecy of Famine: A Scots Pastoral (1763), his next poem, was founded on a paper written originally for that journal. This violent satire on Scottish influence fell in with the current hatred of Lord Bute, and the Scottish place-hunters were as much alarmed as the actors had been. When Wilkes was arrested he gave Churchill a timely hint to retire to the country for a time, the publisher, Kearsley, having stated that he received part of the profits from the paper. His Epistle to William Hogarth (1763) was in answer to the caricature of Wilkes made during the trial. In it Hogarth’s vanity and envy were attacked in an invective which Garrick quoted as “shocking and barbarous.” Hogarth retaliated by a caricature of Churchill as a bear in torn clerical bands hugging a pot of porter and a club made of lies and North Britons. The Duellist (1763) is a virulent satire on the most active opponents of Wilkes in the House of Lords, especially on Bishop Warburton. He attacked Dr Johnson among others in The Ghost as “Pomposo, insolent and loud, Vain idol of a scribbling crowd.” Other poems are “The Conference” (1763); “The Author” (1763), highly praised by Churchill’s contemporaries; “Gotham” (1764), a poem on the duties of a king, didactic rather than satiric in tone; “The Candidate” (1764), a satire on John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich, one of Wilkes’s bitterest enemies, whom he had already denounced for his treachery in the Duellist (Bk. iii.) as “too infamous to have a friend”; “The Farewell” (1764); “The Times” (1764); “Independence,” and an unfinished “Journey.”
In October 1764 he went to Boulogne to join Wilkes. There he was attacked by a fever of which he died on the 4th of November. He left his property to his two sons, and made Wilkes his literary executor with full powers. Wilkes did little. He wrote an epitaph for his friend and about half a dozen notes on his poems, and Andrew Kippis acknowledges some slight assistance from him in preparing his life of Churchill for the Biographia Britannica (1780). There is more than one instance of Churchill’s generosity to his friends. In 1763 he found his friend Robert Lloyd in prison for debt. He paid a guinea a week for his better maintenance in the Fleet, and raised a subscription to set him free. Lloyd fell ill on receipt of the news of Churchill’s death, and died shortly afterwards. Churchill’s sister Patty, who was engaged to Lloyd, did not long survive them. William Cowper was his schoolfellow, and left many kindly references to him.
A partial collection of Churchill’s poems appeared in 1763. They are included in Chalmers’s edition of the English poets, and were edited (1804) by W. Tooke. This was reprinted in the Aldine edition (1844). There is a revised edition (1892) in the same series, The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill, with a Memoir by J. L. Hannay and copious notes by W. Tooke. For Churchill’s biography, see Genuine Memoirs of Charles Churchill, with an account of and observations on his writings; together with some Original letters . . . between him and the author (1765); A. Kippis, in Biographia Britannica (1780); also John Forster in the Edinburgh Review (January 1845).