Duke, Richard

, was a divine and a poet, the effusions of whose muse have been honoured with a place in Dr. Johnson’s collection, but of whose early history little | is known, nor do we know who his parents were, or where he was born. His grammatical education he received under the famous Dr. Busby, at Westminster-school, into wnich he was admitted in 1670, and from which he was elected in 1675, to Trinity- college, Cambridge. In 1673 he took the degree of B. A. and that of M. A. in 1682. He became likewise a fellow of the college, and it is related that he was for some time tutor to the duke of Richmond. Having entered into holy orders, he was presented to the rectory of Blaby, in Leicestershire, in 1687-8, made a prebendary of Gloucester, and in 1688 chosen a procior in convocation for that church, and was chaplain to queen Anne. In 1710 he was presented by sir Jonathan Trelawny, bishop of Winchester, to the wealthy living of Witney, in Oxfordshire, which, however, he enjoyed but a few months; for, on the 10th of February, 1710-11, having returned from an entertainment, he was found dead the next morning. When Mr. Duke left the university, being conscious of his powers, he enlisted himself among the wits of the age. He was in particular the familiar friend of Otway, and was engaged, among other popular names, in the translations of Ovid and Juvenal. From his writings he appears not to have been ill-qualified for poetical composition. “In his Review,” says Dr. Johnson, “though unfinished, are some vigorous lines. His poems are not below mediocrity; nor have I found in them much to be praised.” With the wit, Mr. Duke seems to have shared the dissoluteness of the times for some of his compositions are such as he must have reviewed with detestation in his later days. This was especially the case with regard to two of his poems; the translation of one of the elegies of Ovid, and the first of the three songs. “Perhaps,” observes Dr. Johnson, “like >ome other foolish young men, he rather talked than lived viciously, in an age when he that would be thought a wit was afraid to say his prayers; and whatever might have been bad in the first part of his life was surely condemned and reformed by his better judgment;” and this, it is hoped, was the case.

Mr. Duke, in his character as a divine, published three sermons in his life-time. The first was on the imitation of Christ, preached before the queen in 1703, from 1 John, ii. 6. The second was from Psalm xxv. 14, and was likewise preached before the queen in 1704. The third was an assize sermon, on Christ’s kingdom, from John xviii. | 36, and published in the same year. In 1714, fifteen of his sermons on several occasions, were printed in one vol. 8vo, which were held in good reputation, and are spoken of in strong terms of commendation by Dr. Henry Felton, who, in his Dissertation on reading the Classics, says, “Mr. Duke may be mentioned under the double capacity of a poet and a divine. He is a bright example in the several parts of writing, whether we consider the originals, his translations, paraphrases, or imitations. But here I can only mention him as a divine, with this peculiar commendation, that in his sermons, besides liveliness of wit, purity and correctness of style, and justness of argument, we see many fine allusions to the ancients, several beautiful passages handsomely incorporated in the train of his own thoughts; and, to say all in a word, classic learning and a Christian spirit.1


Biog. Brit. Johnson and Chalmers’s Poets. Swift’s Works. Nichols’s Atterbury, vol. I. p. 13.