Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 13. Gotham; The Conference and its personal confession

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XVII. Political Literature

§ 13. Gotham; The Conference and its personal confession

Contemporaneously with The Duellist, Churchill was writing, in the heroic couplet, Gotham, a curious farrago, in the three books of which a Utopian realm ruled by himself, a long denunciation of the Stewart dynasty and a description of an ideal king jostle one another. He does not appear at his best in this attempt at non-satiric poetry. The usual mannerisms of eighteenth-century poetry, the personifications, the platitudinous moralising, the hackneyed, meaningless descriptions are all to be found here. That entire absence of any taste for nature outside Fleet street which was characteristic of Churchill as fully as it was of Johnson places him at peculiar disadvantage when he imitates Spenser in a hasty catalogue of flowers, trees, months and other poetic properties. Not less did the straightforward vigour of his usual metre and style disqualify him for the prophet of the ideal. In short, in spite of Cowper’s praise, he was off his track.

Only a few months before Gotham was printed, Churchill had published a very different poem, The Conference. He was accused of merely making his profit out of political satire, and he here, in words of obvious sincerity, repudiates the charge that he was looking for office or pension. At the same time, he refers to a better-grounded cause of censure—his seduction of a girl, whose father is said to have been a stone-cutter of Westminster. Instead of pleading extenuating circumstances, such as, in this case, certainly existed, he only confesses his fault and avows his remorse. On the other hand, his personal conduct throughout this miserable affair must be described as callous.