Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/198

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


568 DAVID MALLET.


poetical landscapes, sketched with some skill and elegance, in imitation of the Seasons, but much inferior in strength and sublimity. About this time he adopted the foolish conceit of changing his name from Malloch to Mallet, to conceal from common observation his country and origin ; having, as Dr John- son satirically remarks, " by degrees cleared his tongue from his native pro- nunciation, so as to be no longer distinguished as a Scot, he seemed inclined to disincumber himself from all adherences of his original, and took upon him to change his name from Scotch Malloch to English Mallet, without any imagin- able reason of preference which the eye or ear can discover.'*

Mallet next produced a tragedy, called Eurydice, which he had planned some years before : it was first brought on the stage in 1737, and met with no very flattering reception. Garrick, several years afterwards, when Mallet en- joyed both fame and fortune, again introduced Eurydice to the public ; but not even the talents of that unrivalled actor, assisted by the celebrated Mrs Gibber, could make it be tolerated for any length of time. Though so ably supported in the principal parts, so gross was the egotism of Mallet, that, as Davies tells us, he sat all the time in the orchestra, and bestowed his execrations plenti- fully on the players, to whom he entirely attributed the bad success of the piece.

Mallet now left the family of the duke of Montrose, and went to reside with a Mr Knight at Gosfield, probably as a teacher ; but still he had made an im- pression, and enjoyed the esteem of the first literary characters of the day. There is a remarkable letter extant, from Pope to Mr Knight, in which he speaks of Mallet in the following affectionate terms : " To prove to you how little essential to friendship I hold letter-writing I have not yet written to Mr Mallet, whom I love and esteem greatly ; nay, whom I know to have as tender a heart, and that feels a remembrance as long as any man." With what heartless ingratitude Mallet returned this noble expression of confident esteem, will be seen afterwards. Proud in the first instance of being honoured by the particular regard of so eminent a poet, he servilely employed his pen, by attack- ing Bentley, to please Pope, whose ridicule of critics and commentators he echoed in a poem, published in 1733, entitled Verbal Criticism. It is stuffed, as Bentley observes, " with illiberal cant about pedantry and collections of manuscripts. Real scholars will always speak with due regard of such names as the Scaligers, Salmasiuses, Heinsiuses, Burmans, Gronoviuses, Heiskiuses, Marklands, Gesners, and Heynes." Dr Johnson considered the versification above mediocrity, which is all that can be said in its praise. About this time, Frederick, prince of Wales, being at variance with his father, kept what was considered an opposition court, where he affected the patronage of men of let- ters, with the hope of adding to his popularity. Mallet, through the recom- mendation of his friends, had the good fortune to be appointed under-secretary to his royal highness, with a salary of 200 a-year. " He attended the prince of Orange to Oxford in 1734, and presented to him a copy of verses, written in the name of the university ; on which occasion he was admitted to the degree of M.A. Had then the Oxford muses lost their voice ? or did he assume a fic- titious character, for the purpose of spontaneous adulation ? The circumstance is certainly extraordinary." In 1739, he published his tragedy of Mustapha: it was brought on the stage under the patronage of the prince of Wales, to whom it was dedicated. The first representation of the piece is said to have been honoured with the presence of all the leading members of the opposition. The characters of Solyman the Magnificent, and Rustan his Vizier, were generally supposed to glance at the king and Sir Robert Walpole ; notwithstanding which, it was licensed by the lord chamberlain, and performed with much ap- plause to crowded houses. But in proportion as the public mind was diverted by