The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
XVII. Political Literature
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 12. The Epistle to William Hogarth; The Duellist
The painter Hogarth now crossed Churchill’s path. A satiric print of Wilkes by Hogarth roused the poet’s vicarious revenge. The savage piece of invective, The Epistle to William Hogarth, was the result, which, if it has not worn so well as Hogarth’s pictures, yet, here and there, strikes a deeper note than is usual with its author. Take, for instance, the couplet:With curious art the brain, too finely wrought,Preys on herself, and is destroy’d by thought;although his own fertility shows no sign of exhausting the soil. He was beginning, however, in his own metaphor, to vary the crop. The Duellist, published in January, 1764, was written, not in the stock heroic couplet, but in octosyllabics suggestive of Hudibras. This was an attack on Samuel Martin, one of Wilkes’s ministerial enemies, with a few satirical excursions like that on Warburton. The adoption of a new metre was not a success; its straggling movement doubled the risk which Churchill always ran of being tedious, and the extravagance of his vituperation is no antidote. In compensation, the poem contains some of his finest lines. The curse on Martin reveals an old and clearsighted pupil in the school of life:Grant him what here he most requires,And damn him with his own desires!while the malicious criticism of Warburton’s defence of Scripture suggests a literary experience which approves itself to the instincts of human nature:So long he wrote, and long about it,That e’en believers ’gan to doubt it.