Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 26. Sir Richard Blackmore: Creation

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 26. Sir Richard Blackmore: Creation

There is, thus, no need of the courage or the callousness of a “Swiss of Heaven” in making out a case for Watts or for Garth; but what shall be said of Blackmore? The present writer has read a great deal of Blackmore at different times, has recently re-read some and believes that his knowledge, if not exhaustive, is, at least, adequate. So far as it goes (and it extends even to Eliza, in part), it certainly does not support Johnson’s contention that Blackmore has been exposed to worse treatment than he deserved; nor does it—and, on this head, it is pretty complete—enable him to accept the other dictum that Creation, if the poet had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity among the first favourites of the English muse. Dismiss (most readers will not have much difficulty in doing so) all thoughts of Arthur (“Prince” and “King”), Eliza, Alfred and the rest; allow nothing on the score that Blackmore’s diploma-piece, which the respectable Mr. Molyneux and the great Mr. Locke esteemed highly, consists of verses like

  • He spread the airy ocean without shores
  • Where birds are wafted by their feathered oars;
  • let Creation, which is easily accessible, count alone, with no bias, for or against it, from the fact that the praises of Addison and Johnson, if not those of Molyneux and Locke, were evidently secured by its decent orthodoxy—and in this work will be noticed an absence of the positive absurdities with which Blackmore’s other poems abound; so that it will seem as if there were some foundation for the curious story that Blackmore submitted the piece to a club of wits, surely more complacent and more patient than wits usually are, who corrected it almost line by line. It displays some argumentative power: and the verse is not entirely devoid of vigour. But the whole is a flat expanse of bare didactic; while its constant attempt to cope directly with Lucretius adds exasperation to the disappointed expectance of something even distantly approaching the furor arduus of the enemy. The conclusion is that one must alter Johnson’s final verdict slightly. He says that “whoever judges of this by any other of Blackmore’s performances will do it injury.” We should say that, in order to enjoy or endure Creation, at least one, and, if possible, more, of Blackmore’s other performances ought to have been mastered. The reader would then, at least, feel how much worse Creation might have been.