The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets/Volume 3/Tickell

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Thomas Tickell, the ſon of the reverend Richard Tickell, was born in 1686 at Bridekirk in Cumberland; and in April 1701 became a member of Queen’s College in Oxford; in 1708 he was made Maſter of Arts, and two years afterwards was choſen Fellow; for which, as he did not comply with the ſtatutes by taking orders, he obtained a diſpenſation from the crown. He held his Fellowſhip till 1726, and then vacated it by marrying, in that year, at Dublin.

Tickell was not one of thoſe ſcholars who wear away their lives in cloſets; he entered early into the world, and was long buſy in publick affairs; in which he was initiated under the patronage of Addiſon, whoſe notice he is said have gained by his verſes in praiſe of Rosamond.

To thoſe verſes it would not have been juſt to deny regard; for they contain ſome of the moſt elegant encomiaſtick ſtrains; and, among the innumerable poems of the ſame kind, it will be hard to find one with which they need to fear a compariſon. It may deſerve obſervation, that when Pope wrote long afterwards in praise of Addiſon, he has copied, at leaſt has reſembled, Tickell.

Let joy ſalute fair Roſamonda’s ſhade,
And wreaths of myrtle crown the lovely maid,
While now perhaps with Dido’s ghoſt ſhe roves,
And hears and tells the ſtory of their loves,
Alike they mourn, alike they bleſs their fate,
Since Love, which made them wretched, made them great.
Nor longer that relentleſs doom bemoan,
Which gain’d a Virgil and an Addiſon.


Then future ages with delight ſhall ſee
How Plato’s, Bacon’s, Newton’s, looks agree;
Or in fair ſeries laurel’d bards be ſhown,
A Virgil there, and here an Addiſon.


He produced another piece of the ſame kind at the appearance of Cato, with equal ſkill, but not equal happineſs.

When the miniſters of queen Anne were negotiating with France, Tickell publiſhed The Proſpect of Peace, a poem, of which the tendency was to reclaim the nation from the pride of conqueſt to the pleaſures of tranquillity. How far Tickell, whom Swift afterwards mentioned as Whiggiſſimus, had then connected himſelf with any party, I know not; this poem certainly did not flatter the practices, or promote the opinions, of the men by whom he was afterwards befriended.

Mr. Addiſon, however he hated the men then in power, ſuffered his friendſhip to prevail over his publick ſpirit, and gave in the Spectator ſuch praiſes of Tickell’s poem, that when, after having long wiſhed to peruſe it, I laid hold on it at laſt, I thought it unequal to the honours which it had received, and found it a piece to be approved rather than admired. But the hope excited by a work of genius, being general and indefinite, is rarely gratified. It was read at that time with ſo much favour, that ſix editions were ſold.

At the arrival of king George he ſung The Royal Progreſs; which being inſerted in the Spectator is well known, and of which it is juſt to ſay, that it is neither high nor low.

The poetical incident of moſt importance in Tickell’s life was his publication of the firſt book of the Iliad, as tranſlated by himſelf, an apparent oppoſition to Pope’s Homer, of which the firſt part made its entrance into the world at the ſame time.

Addiſon declared that the rival verſions were both good; but that Tickell’s was the beſt that was ever made; and with Addiſon the wits, his adherents and followers, were certain to concur. Pope does not appear to have been much diſmayed; “for,” ſays he, “I have the town, that is the mob on my ſide.” But he remarks, “that it is common for the ſmaller party to make up in diligence what they want in numbers; he appeals to the people as his proper judges; and if they are not inclined to condemn him, he is in little care about the high-flyers at Button’s.”

Pope did not long think Addiſon an impartial judge; for he conſidered him, as the writer of Tickell’s verſion. The reaſons for his ſuſpicion I will literally tranſcribe from Mr. Spence’s Collection.

“There had been a coldneſs (ſaid Mr. Pope) between Mr. Addiſon and me for ſome time; and we had not been in company together, for a good while, any where but at Button’s coffee-houſe, where I uſed to ſee him almoſt every day.—On his meeting me there, one day in particular, he took me aſide, and ſaid he ſhould be glad to dine with me, at ſuch a tavern, if I ſtaid till thoſe people were gone (Budgell and Philips). He went accordingly; and after dinner Mr. Addiſon ſaid, ‘That he had wanted for ſome time to talk with me; that his friend Tickell had formerly, whilſt at Oxford, tranſlated the firſt book of the Iliad; that he deſigned to print it, and had deſired him to look it over; that he muſt therefore beg that I would not deſire him to look over my firſt book, becauſe, if he did, it would have the air of double-dealing.’ I aſſured him that I did not at all take it ill of Mr. Tickell that he was going to publiſh his tranſlation; that he certainly had as much right to tranſlate any author as myſelf; and that publiſhing both was entering on a fair ſtage. I then added, that I would not deſire him to look over my firſt book of the Iliad, becauſe he had looked over Mr. Tickell’s; but could wiſh to have the benefit of his obſervations on my ſecond, which I had then finiſhed, and which Mr. Tickell had not touched upon. Accordingly I ſent him the ſecond book the next morning; and Mr. Addiſon a few days after returned it, with very high commendations.—Soon after it was generally known that Mr. Tickell was publiſhing the firſt book of the Iliad, I met Dr. Young in the ſtreet; and, upon our falling into that ſubject, the Doctor expreſſed a great deal of ſurpriſe at Tickell’s having had ſuch a tranſlation ſo long by him. He ſaid, that it was inconceivable to him, and that there muſt be ſome miſtake in the matter; that each uſed to communicate to the other whatever verſes they wrote, even to the leaſt things; that Tickell could not have been buſied ſo long a work there without his knowing ſomething of the matter; and that he had never heard a ſingle word on it till on this occaſion. This ſurpriſe of Dr. Young, together with what Steele has ſaid againſt Tickell in relation to this affair, make it highly probable that there was ſome underhand dealing in that buſineſs; and indeed Tickell himſelf, who is a very fair worthy man, has ſince, in a manner, as good as owned it to me. When it was introduced into a converſation between Mr. Tickell and Mr. Pope, by a third perſon, Tickell did not deny it; which, conſidering his honour and zeal for his departed friend, was the ſame as owning it.”

Upon theſe ſuſpicions, with which Dr. Warburton hints that other circumſtances concurred, Pope always in his Art of Sinking quotes this book as the work of Addiſon.

To compare the two tranſlations would be tedious; the palm is now given univerſally to Pope; but I think the firſt lines of Tickell’s were rather to be preferred and Pope ſeems to have ſince borrowed ſomething from them in the correction of his own.

When the Hanover ſucceſſion was diſputed, Tickell gave what aſſiſtance his pen would ſupply. His Letter to Avignon ſtands high among party-poems; it expreſſes contempt without coarſeneſs, and ſuperiority without inſolence. It has the ſucceſs which it deſerved, being five times printed.

He was now intimately united to Mr. Addiſon, who, when he went into Ireland as ſecretary to the lord Sunderland, took him thither, and employed him in publick buſineſs; and when (1717) afterwards he roſe to be ſecretary of ſtate, made him under-ſecretary. Their friendſhip ſeems to have continued without abatement; for when Addiſon died, he heft him the charge of publiſhing his works, with a ſolemn recommendation to the patronage of Craggs.

To theſe works he prefixed an elegy on the author, which could owe none of its beauties to the aſſiſtance which might be ſuſpected to have ſtrengthened or embelliſhed his earlier compoſitions; but neither he nor Addiſon ever produced nobler lines than are contained in the third and fourth paragraphs; nor is a more ſublime or more elegant funeral-poem to be found in the whole compaſs of Engliſh literature.

He was afterwards (about 1725) made ſecretary to the Lords juſtices of Ireland, a place of great honour; in which he continued till 1740, when he died on the twenty-third of April at Bath.

Of the poems yet unmentioned the longeſt is Kenſington Gardens, of which the verſification is ſmooth and elegant, but the fiction unſkilfully compounded of Grecian Deities and Gothick Fairies. Neither ſpecies of thoſe exploded Beings could have done much; and when they are brought together, they only make each other contemptible. To Tickell, however, cannot be refuſed a high place among the minor poets; nor ſhould it be for gotten that he was one of the contributors to the Spectator. With reſpect to his perſonal character, he is ſaid to have been a man of gay converſation, at leaſt a temperate lover of wine and company, and in his domeſtick relations without cenſure.