Mickle, William Julius

, an ingenious poet, was the son of the rev. Alexander Mickle or Meikle, who exchanging the profession of physic for that of divinity, was admitted, at an age more advanced than usual, into the ministry of the church of Scotland. From that country he removed to London, where he preached for some time in various dissenting meetings, particularly that of the celebrated Dr. Watts. He was also employed by the booksellers in correcting the translation of Bayle’s Dictionary, to which he is said to have contributed the greater part of the additional notes. In 1716 he returned to Scotland, on being presented to the living of Langholm in the county of Dumfries; and in 1727, he married Julia, daughter of Mr. Thomas Henderson, of Ploughlands near Edinburgh, and first cousin to the late sir William Johnstone, bart. of Westerhall. By this lady, who appears to have died before him, he had ten children.

Our poet, his fourth, or as some say, his third, son, was born Sunday Sept. 29, 1734, and educated at the grammar school of Langholm, where he acquired that early taste for works of genius which frequently ends, in spite of all obstacles, in a life devoted to literary pursuits. He even attempted, when at school, a few devotional pieces in rhyme, which, however, were not superior to the common run of puerile compositions. About his thirteenth year, he accidentally met with Spenser’s “Faerie Queene,” which fixed a lasting impression on his mind, and made him desirous of being enrolled among the imitators of that poet. To this he joined the reading of Homer and Virgil, during his education at the high school of Edinburgh, in which city his father obtained permission to reside in consideration of his advanced age and infirmities, and to enable him to give a proper education to his children.

About two years after the rev. Mr. Mickle came to reside in Edinburgh, upon the death of a brother-in-law, a brewer in the neighbourhood of that city, he embarked a great part of his fortune in the purchase of the brewery, and continued the business in the name of his eldest son. Our poet was then taken from school, employed as a clerk under his father, and upon coming of age in 1755, took upon him the whole charge and property of the business, on condition of granting his father a share of the profits during his life, and paying a certain sum to his brothers and sisters at, stated periods, after his father’s decease, | which happened in 1758. Young Mickle is said to have entered into these engagements more from a sense of filial duty, and the peculiar situation of his family, than from any inclination to business. He had already contracted the habits of literary life; he had begun to feel the enthusiasm of a son of the Muses, and while he was storing his mind with the productions of former poets, and cultivating those branches of elegant literature not usually taught at schools at that time, he felt the employment too delightful to admit of much interruption from the concerns of trade. In 1761, he contributed, but without his name, two charming compositions, entitled “Knowledge, an Ode,” and a “Night Piece,” to a collection of poetry published by Donaldson, a bookseller of Edinburgh; and about the same time published some observations on that impious tract “The History of the Man after God’s own heart,” but whether separately, or in any literary journal, is not now known. He had also finished a dramatic poem of considerable length, entitled “The Death of Socrates,” and had begun a poem on “Providence,” when his studies were interrupted by the importunities of his creditors.

This confusion in his affairs was partly occasioned by his intrusting that to servants which it was in their power to abuse without his knowledge, and partly by imprudently becoming a joint security for a considerable sum with a printer in Edinburgh, to whom one of his brothers was then apprentice, which, on his failure, Mickle was unable to pay. In this dilemma, had he at once compounded with his creditors, and disposed of the business, as he was advised, he might have averted a series of anxieties that preyed on his mind for many years; and he perhaps might have entered into another concern more congenial to his disposition, with all the advantage of dear-bought experience. But some friends interposed at this crisis, and prevailed on his creditors to accept notes of hand in lieu of present payment, a measure which, however common, is in general futile, and seldom fails to increase the embarrassment which it is kindly intended to alleviate. Accordingly within a few months, Mickle was again insolvent, and almost distracted with a nearer view of impending ruin ready to fall, not only on himself, but on his whole family. Perhaps an unreserved acknowledgment of iasolvency might not yet have been too late to shorten his sufferings, had not the same friends again interfered, and again persuaded | his creditors to allow him more time to satisfy their demands. This interference, as it appeared to be the last that was possible, in some degree roused him to a more close application to business; but as business was ever secondary in his thoughts, he was induced at the same time to place considerable reliance on his poetical talents which, as far as known, had been encouraged by some critics of acknowledged taste in his own country. He therefore began to retouch and complete his poem on “Providence/‘ from which he conceived great expectations, and at length had it published in London by Becket, in August 1762, under the title ofProvidence, orArandusand Emilee.“The character given of it in the Critical Review was highly flattering; but the opinion of the Monthly, which was then esteemed more decisive, being less satisfactory, he determined to appeal to lord Lyttelton. Accordingly’, he sent to this nobleman a letter dated January 21, 1763, under the assumed name of William More, begging his lordship’s opinion of his poem,” which,“he tells him,” was the work of a young man friendless and unknown, but that, were another edition to have the honour of lord Lyttelton’s name at the head of a dedication, such a pleasure w r ould enable him to put it in a much better dress than what it then appeared in." He concluded with requesting the favour of an answer to be left at Seagoe’s Coffee-house, Hoiborn. This letter he consigned to the care of his brother in London, who was to send it in his own hand and call for the answer. But before this could arrive, his affairs became so deranged that, although he experienced many instances of friendship and forbearance, it was no longer possible to avert a bankruptcy; and suspecting that one of his creditors intended to arrest him for an inconsiderable debt, he was reduced to the painful necessity of leaving his home, which he did in the month of April, and reached London on the 3th day of May. Here for some time he remained friendless and forlorn, reflecting with the utmost poignancy that he had in all probability involved his family and friends in, irremediable distress.

Among other schemes w hich he hoped might eventually succeed in relieving his embarrassments, he appears to have now had some intentions of going to Jamaica, but in what capacity, or with what prospects, he perhaps did not himself know. There was, however, no immediate plan soeabily practicable, by which he could expect at some | distant period to satisfy his creditors, and the consciousness of this most painful of all obligations was felt by him in a manner which can be conceived only by minds of the nicest honour and most scrupulous integrity. While in this perplexity, he was cheered by a letter from lord Lyttelton, in which his lordship assured him that he thought his genius in poetry deserved to be cultivated, but would not advise the republication of his poem without considerable alterations. He declined the offer of a dedication, as a tiling likely to be of no use to the poet, “as nobody minded dedications;” but suggested that it might be of some use if he were to come and read the poem with his lordship, when they might discourse together upon what he thought its beauties and faults. In the mean time he exhorted Mickle to endeavour to acquire greater harmony of versification; and to take care that his diction did not loiter into prose ^ or become hard by new phrases, or words unauthorized by the usage of good authors. In answer to this condescending and friendly letter, Mickle informed his lordship of his real name, and inclosed the elegy of “Pollio” for his lordship’s advice. This was followed by another kind letter from lord Lyttelton, in which he gave his opinion, that the correction of a few lines would make it as perfect as any thing of that kind in our language, and promised to point out its faults when he had the pleasure of seeing the author. An interview accordingly took place in the month of February 1764, when his lordship, after receiving him with the utmost politeness and affability, begged him not to be discouraged at such difficulties as a young author must naturally expect, but to cultivate his very promising poetical powers; and, with his usual condescension, added, that he would become his schoolmaster. Other interviews followed this very flattering introduction, at which Mickle read with him the poem on “Providence,” and communicated his plan for treating more fully a subject of so much intricacy, intimating that he had found it necessary to discard the philosophy of Pope’s ethics. But, as in order to render his talents as soon productive as possible, he had now a wish to publish a volume of poems, he sent to his noble friend that on “Providence,” “Pollio,” and an “Elegy on Mary Queen of Scots.” This produced a long letter from his lordship, in which after much praise of the two former, he declined criticising any part of the elegy on Mary, because he wholly disapproved of the subject. | He added, with justice, that poetry should not consecrate what history must condemn; and in the view his lordship had taken of the history of Mary, he thought her entitled to pity, but not to praise. In this opinion Mickle acquiesced, from convenience, if not from conviction, and again sent his lordship a copy of “Providence,” with further improvements, hoping probably that they might be the last; but he had the mortification to receive it back from the noble critic so much marked and blotted, that he began to despair of completing it to his satisfaction. He remitted, therefore, a new performance, the “Ode on May Day,” begging his lordship’s opimion “if it could be made proper to appear this spring (1765) along with the one already approved.

Whether any answer was returned to this application, we are not told. It is certain no volume of poems appeared, and our author began to feel how difficult it would be to justify such tardy proceedings to those who expected that he should do something to provide for himself. He had now been nearly two years in London, without any other subsistence than what he received from his brothers, or procured by contributing to some of the periodical publications, particularly the British and St. James’s Magazines. All this was scanty and precarious, and his hopes of greater advantages from his poetical efforts were considerably damped by the fastidious opinions of the noble critic who had voluntarily undertaken to be his tutor. It now occurred to Mickle to try whether his lordship might not serve him more essentially as a patron; and having still some intention of going to Jamaica, he took the liberty to request his lordship’s recommendation to his brother William Henry Lyttelton, esq. who was then governor of that island. This produced an interview, in which lord Lyttelton intimated that a recommendation to his brother would be of no real use, as the governor’s patronage was generally bespoke long before vacancies take place; he promised, however, to recommend Mickle to the merchants, and to one of them then in London, whom he expected to see very soon. He also hinted that a clerkship at home would be desireable, as England was the place for Mickle, but repressed all hopes from this scheme, by adding, that as he (lord Lyttelton) was in opposition, he could ask no favours. He then mentioned the East Indies, as a place where perhaps he could be of service; and after much | conversation on these various schemes, concluded with a promise, which probably appeared to his client as a kind of anti-climax, that he would aid the sale of his “Odes” with his good opinion when they should be published.

This was the last interview Mickle had with his lordship. He afterwards renewed the subject in the way of correspondence, but received so little encouragement, that he was at length compelled, although much against the fond opinion he had formed of his lordship’s zeal in his cause, to give up all thoughts of succeeding by his means. It cannot be doubted that he felt this disappointment very acutely, but whether he thought, upon more mature reflection, that he had not sufficient claims on lord Lyttelton’s patronage, that his lordship could not be expected to provide for every one who ‘solicited his opinion, or that he was really unable to befriend him according to his honest professions, it is certain that he betrayed no coarse resentment, and always spoke, respectfully of the advantages he had derived from his critical opinions. The conclusion of their correspondence, indeed, was in some respect owing to Mickle himself. Lord Lyttelton so far kept his word as to write to his brother in his favour at the time when Mickle was bent on going to Jamaica, but the latter had, in the mean time, “in order to avoid the dangers attending an uncertainty,” accepted the offer of going as a merchant’s clerk to Carolina, a scheme which, being delayed by some accident, he gave up for a situation more agreeable to his taste, that of corrector of the Clarendon press at Oxford.

To whom he owed this appointment we are not told. As it is a situation, however, of moderate emolument, and dependant on the printer employed, it required no extraordinary interference of friends. He was already known to the Wartons, and it is not improbable that their mentioning him to Jackson, the printer, would be sufficient. He removed to Oxford in 1765; and in 1767, published “The Concubine,” in the manner of Spenser, which brought him into more notice than any thing he had yet written, and was attributed to some of the highest names on the list of living poets, while he concealed his being the author. It may here be noticed, that when he published a second edition in 1778, he changed the name to “Sir Martyn,” as “The Concubine” conveyed a very improper idea both of the subject and spirit of the poem. Living now in a society from which some of the ablest defenders of | Christianity have risen, he was induced to take up his pen in its defence, by attacking a “Translation of the New Testament” published by the late Dr. Harwood. Mickle’s pamphlet was entitled “A Letter to Dr. Harwood, wherein some of his evasive glosses, false translations, and blundering criticisms, in support of the Arian heresy, contained in his liberal translation of the New Testament, are pointed out and confuted.” Harwood had laid himself so open to ridicule as well as confutation by his foolish translation, that perhaps there was no great merit in exposing what it was scarcely possible to read with gravity; but our author, while he employed rather more severity than was necessary on this part of his subject, engaged in the vindication of the doctrine of the Triraity with the acuteness of a man who had carefully studied the controversy, and considered the established opinion as a matter of essential importance. This was followed by another attempt to vindicate revealed religion from the hostility of the deists, entitled “Voltaire in the Shades, or Dialogues on the Deistical Controversy.

In 1772, he formed that collection of fugitive poetry, which was published in four volumes by George Pearch, bookseller, as a continuation of Dodsley’s collection. In this Mickle inserted his “Hengist and Mey,” and the “Elegy on Mary queen of Scots.” He contributed about the same time other occasional pieces, both in prose and verse, to the periodical publications,*

*

A correspondent in the Gentleman’s Magazine (vol. LXI. p. 402) asserte’l that Mickle was employedEvans, bookseller in the Strand, to fabricate some of the old ballads pubJished by him. This calumny, how­ ever, was fully refuted in a subsequent letter in p. 504, written, probabiy, by by Mr. Isaac Reed, who knew Mickle well, and drew up the first account published of his life in the European Magazine, 1789.

when he could spare leisure from his engagements at the Clarendon press, and from a more important design which he had long revolved in his mind, and had now the resolution to carry into execution in preference to every other employment. This was his justly celebrated translation of the “Lusiad” of Camoens, a poem which he is said to have read when a boy in Castera’s French translation, and which at no great distance of time he determined to familiarize to the English, reader. For this purpose he studied the Portuguese language, and the history of the poem and of its author, and without greatly over-rating the genius of Camoens, dwelt on the beauties of the “Lusiad,” until he caught the | author’s spirit, and became confident that he could transfuse it into English with equal honour to his original andto himself. But as it was necessary that the attention of the English public should be drawn to a poem at this time very little known, he first published proposals for his translation to be printed by subscription, and afterwards sent a small specimen of the fifth book to be inserted in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which was then, as now, the common vehicle of literary communications. This appeared in the Magazine for March 1771, and a few months after he printed at Oxford the first boo.k of the “Lusiad.” These specimens were received with indulgence sufficient to encourage him to prosecute his undertaking with spirit; and that he might enjoy the advantages of leisure and quiet, he relinquished his situation at the Clarendon press, and retired to an old mansion occupied by a Mr. Tomkins, a farmer at Forrest- hill, about five miles from Oxford. Here be remained until the end of 1775, at which time he was enabled to complete his engagement with his numerous subscribers, and publish the work complete in a quarto volume printed at Oxford.

With the approbation bestowed on this work by the critical world, he had every reason to be satisfied, and the profits he derived from the sale were far from being inconsiderable to a man in his circumstances; yet the publication was attended by some unforeseen circumstances of a less pleasing kind, for he had again the misfortune to be teazed by the prospect of high patronage, which again ended in disappointment. It had at first been suggested to him that he might derive advantage from dedicating his Translation of the Lusiad to some person of rank in the East India department, but before he had made a choice, his friend the late commodore Johnstone, persuaded him to inscribe it to the late duke of Buccleugh. This nobleman, however, we are told, had been a pupil of Dr. Adam Smith, some of whose doctrines respecting the Eastern trade, Mickle had controverted; and upon this account the nobleman is said to have treated the dedication and the poem with neglect. Mickle’s biographers have expatiated on this subject at great length, and with much acrimony; but as his grace of Buccleugh was universally esteemed for his public and private worth, and above all for his liberality, we must abstain from any further notice of a story, of which probably, one half only cau ever be known. One thing is | certain, that Mickle did not publish on the East India trade until 1779.

Soon after the publication of the “Lusiad,” he returned to London, and was advised by some who probably in this instance consulted his fame less than his immediate interest, to write a tragedy, The story of his tragedy, which was entitled “The Siege of Marseilles,” was taken from the French history in the reign of Francis I. When completed, his friends recommended it to Garrick, wbo allowed its general merit, but complained of the want of stage effect, and recommended him to take the advice of Dr. Warton. This able critic was accordingly called in, with his brother Thomas, and with Home the author of “Douglas.” In compliance with their opinion, Mickle made great alterations, and Thomas Warton earnestly recommended the tragedy to Garrick, but in vain; and Mickle, his biographers inform us, was so incensed at this, that he resolved to appeal to the judgment of the public by printing it.

His conduct on this occasion must be ascribed to irritation arising from other disappointments. The mere printing would have been a harmless, and might have been a profitable experiment, but Mickle threatened to go farther. Having been told by some officious person that Garrick had followed his refusal by sentiments of personal disrespect, he was so enraged as to threaten to write a new “Dunciad,” of which Garrick should be the hero. His more sensible friends naturally took the alarm at a threat so impotent, and persuaded him to lay aside his design. Yet he drew up an angry preface, and sent a copy of it to Mr. Garrick. It is unnecessary to say more of this play, than that it was afterwards rejected by Mr. Harris and Mr. Sheridan.

The first edition of the “Lusiad,” consisting of a thousand copies, had so rapid a sale, that a second edition, with improvements, was published in June 177S. About the same time, as he had yet no regular provision, some means were employed, but ineffectually, to procure him a pension from the crown, as a man of letters. Dr. Lowth, then bishop of London, had more than once intimated, that he was ready to admit him into holy orders, and provide for him; but Mickle refused the offer, lest his hitherto uniform support of revealed religion should be imputed to interested motives. This offer was highly honourable to him, as it must have proceeded from a knowledge of the | excellence of his character, and the probable advantages which the church must have derived from the accession of such a member. Nor was his rejection of it less honourable, for he was still poor. Although he had received nearly a thousand pounds from the sale and for the copyright of the “Lusiad,” he appropriated all of that sum which he could spare from his immediate necessities to the payment of his debts, and the maintenance of his sisters, He now issued proposals for printing an edition of his original poems, by subscription, in quarto, at one guinea each copy. For this he had the encouragement of many friends, and probably the result, would have been very advantageous, but the steady friendship of the late commodore Johnstone relieved him from any farther anxiety on this account.

In 1779 * this gentleman being appointed commander of the Romney man of war, and commodore of a squadron, immediately nominated Mickle to be his secretary, by which, though only a non-commissioned officer, he was entitled to a considerable share of prize-money. But what probably afforded him most delight, in the commencement of this new life, was the destination of the squadron to the native shores of his favourite Camoens, which the fame of his translation had already reached. On his landing at Lisbon in November 1779, he was received with the utmost politeness and respect by prince don John of Braganza, duke of Lafoens, and was introduced to the principal nobility, gentry, and literati of Portugal.

In May 1780 the royal academy of Lisbon admitted him a member, and the duke of Braganza, who presided on that occasion, presented him with his portrait as a token of his particular regard. It is almost needless to add, that the admirers of Mickle owe his beautiful, though neglected poem of “Almeda Hill” to this visit. He is said also to have employed some of his leisure hours in collecting materials for a history of Portugal, which he did not live to prepare for the press.

On his arrival in England, in November 1780, he was appointed joint agent for the disposal of the valuable prizes

* In this year he published a pans- nions of Dr. Adam Smith, to whose inphlet in quarto, entitled “A Candid sinuations Mickle’s friends have supExamination of the Reasons for de- posed that he owed the loss of the nopriving the East India Company of its hie patron to whom he dedicated the Charter.” This was written in defence Lusiad, although his pamphlet had not of the Company, and against the opi- then appeared.
| taken during the Commodore’s cruize; and by the profits of this place, and his share of the prize-money, he was enabled to discharge his debts. This had long been the ardent wish of his heart, the object of all his pursuits, and an object which he at length accomplished with the strictest honour, and with a satisfaction to his own mind the most pure and delightful. Jn 1782 our poet published /’The Prophecy of Queen Emma," a ballad, with an ironical preface, containing an account of its pretended author and discovery, and hints for vindicating the authenticity of the poems of Ossian and Rowley. This irony, however, lost part of its effect by the author’s pretending that a poem, which is modern both in language and versification, was the production of a prior of Durham in the reign of William Rufus, although he endeavours to account for this with some degree of humour, and is not unsuccessful in imitating the mode of reasoning adopted by dean Milles and Mr. Bryant, in the case of Chatterton.

In the same year he married Mary, the daughter of Mr. Robert Tomkins, with whom he resided in Oxfordshire while employed in translating the “Lusiad.” The fortune which he obtained by his marriage, and what he acquired under commodore Johnstone, would have enabled him to pass the remainder of his days in ease and independence, and with that view he took a house at Wheatly, near Oxford; but the failure and death of a banker, with whom he was connected as agent for the prizes, and a chancery suit in which he engaged rather too precipitately, in order to secure a part of his wife’s fortune, involved him in many delays and much anxiety and expence. He still, however, employed his pen on occasional subjects, and contributed essays entitled “The Fragments of Leo,” and some other articles, to the European Magazine. His last production was ‘ Eskdale Braes," a song in commemoration of the place of his birth.

He died after a short illness at Forrest-hill, on the 28th of October, 1788, and was buried in the church-yard of that parish. His character, as drawn by Mr. Isaac Reed and Mr. John Ireland, who knew him well, may be adopted with safety. “He was in every point of view a man of the utmost integrity, warm in his friendship, and indignant only against vice, irreligion, or meanness. The compliment paid by lord Lyttelton to Thomson, might be applied to him with the strictest truth; not a line is to be found | in his works, which, dying, he would wish to blot During the greatest part of his lire, he endured the pressures of a narrow fortune, without repining, never relaxing in his industry to acquire, by honest exertions, that independence which at length he enjoyed. He did not shine in conversation; nor would any person, from his appearance, have been able to form a favourable judgment of his talents. In every situation in which fortune placed him, he displayed an independent spirit, undebased by any meanness; and when his pecuniary circumstances made him, on one occasion, feel a disappointment with some force, he even then seemed more ashamed at his want of discernment of character, than concerned for his loss. He seemed to entertain with reluctance an opinion, that high birth could be united with a sordidmind. He had, however, the satisfaction of reflecting, that no extravagant panegyric had disgraced his pen. Contempt certainly came to his aid, though not soon: he wished to forget his credulity, and never after conversed on the subject by choice. To conclude, his foibles were but few, and those inoffensive: his virtues were many; and his genius was very considerable. He lived without reproach, and his memory will always be cherished by those who were acquainted with him.

To this Mr. Ireland adds, “His manners were not of that obtrusive kind by which many men of the second or third order force themselves into notice. A very close observer might have passed many hours in Mr. Mickle’s company, without suspecting that he had ever written a line of poetry. A common physiognomist would have said that he had an unmasked face. Lavater would have said otherwise; but neither his countenance nor manners were such as attract the multitude. When his name was announced, he has been more than once asked if the translator of Camoens was any relation to him. To this he usually answered, with a good-natured smile, that they were of the same family. Simplicity, unaffected simplicity, was the leading feature in his character. The philosophy of Voltaire and David Hume was his detestation. He could not hear their names with temper. For the Bible he had th* highest reverence, and never sat silent when the doctrines or precepts of the Gospel were cither ridiculed or of with contempt.| In 1794, an edition of his poems was published by subscription, with an account of his life by Mr. Ireland. A more full and correct collection of his poems appeared in 1807, with a life by the rev. John Sim, who was his intimate friend when at Oxford, and has done ample justice to his memory; and his principal poems were added to the late continuation of Johnson’s collection.

Although there is no species of poetry of which he had not afforded favourable specimens, and many striking images and animated descriptions are discoverable in his original pieces, and while we allow that his imagination is considerably fertile, his language copious, and his versification rich and various, yet it cannot be denied that there are too- many marks of imitation in all his lesser poems, and that his fame must rest principally, where it is more than probable he intended it should, on his translation of the Lusiad. This work, which is now rising in reputation, is inferior only to Pope’s Iliad, according to the general opinion, which perhaps may be controverted. Pope has given an English poem of unquestionable beauty, but, we may say with Bentley, it is not Homer. Mickle has not only transfused the spirit, but has raised the character of his original. By preserving the energy, elegance, and fire of Camoens, he has given an “English Lusiad,” a work which, although confessedly borrowed from the Portuguese, Has all the appearance of having been invented- in the language in which we find it. In executing this, indeed, it must be confessed that Mickle has taken more liberties with his original than the laws of translation will allow; but they are of a kind not usually taken by translators, for he has often introduced beauties of his own equal to any that come from the pen of Camoens. In acknowledging that he has taken such freedoms, however, he has not specified the individual passages; a neglect for which some have praised his humility, and others have blamed his injustice. But with this exception, he has successfully executed what he purposed, not only to make Camoens be understood and relished, but “to give a poem that might live in the English language.” Nor ought it to be omitted in this general character of the Lusiad, that in his preliminary dissertations, he has distinguished himself as a scholar, a critic, and a historian. 1

1

Johnsou and Chalmers’s Poets, 1810.

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