Suckling, Sir John

, an accomplished courtier, scholar, and poet, was the son of sir John Suckling, comptroller of the royal household, and was born at Whitton in Middlesex, where his father resided, in 1609. His biopraphers have hitherto fixed the time of his birth in 1612, but, according to some extracts from the parish-register of Twickenham, in Lysons’s " Environs/* it appears, that he was baptised Feb. 10, 160S-9. Lloyd, from whoop we have the first account of this poet, mentions a circumstance relating to his birth, from which more was presaged than followed. He was born, according to his mother’s computation, in the eleventh month, and long life and health were expected from so extraordinary an occurrence. During his infancy he certainly displayed an uncommon facility of acquiring every branch of education. He spoke Latin at five years of age, and could write in that language at the age of nine. It is probable that he was taught more languages than one at the same time, and by practising frequently with men of education who kept company with his father, soon acquired an ease and elegance of address which qualified him for the court as well as for foreign travel. His father is represented as a man of a serious turn and grave manners; the son volatile, good-tempered, and thoughtless; characteristics which he seems to have preserved throughout life. His tutors found him particularly submissive, docile, easy to be taught, and quick in learning It does not appear that he was sent to either university, yet a perusal of his prose works can leave no doubt that he laid a very solid and extensive foundation for various learning, and studied, not only such authors as were suitable to the vivacity of his disposition, but made himself acquainted with those political and religious controversies which were about to involve his country in all the miseries of civil war.

After continuing for some years under his father’s tutorage, he travelled over the kingdom, and then went to the | continent, where, his biographer informs us, “he made an honourable collection of the virtues of each nation, without any tincture of theirs, unless it were a little too much of the French air, which was indeed the fault of his complexion, rather than his person” It was about this time, probably in his twentieth year, that he joined the standard of the illustrious Gustavus Adolphus, and was present at three battles and five sieges, besides lesser engagements, within the space of six months.

On his return he employed his time, and expended his fortune, among the wits of his age, to whom he was recommended, not only by generous and social habits, but by a solid sense in argument and conversation far beyond what might be expected from his years, and the apparent lightness of his disposition. Among his principal associates, we find the names of lord Falkland, Davenant, Ben Jonson, Digby, Carew, sir Toby Matthews, and the “ever memorable” Hales of Eton, to whom he addresses a lively invitation to come to town. His plays, “Aglaura,” “Brennoralt,” “The Goblins,” and an unfinished piece entitled “The Sad One,” added considerably to his fame, although they have not been able to perpetuate it. The first only was printed in his life-time. All his plays, we are told, were acted with applause, and he spared no expence in costly dresses and decorations.

While thus seemingly devoted to pleasure only, the unfortunate aspect of public affairs roused him to a sense of duty, and induced him to offer his services, and devote his life and fortune, to the cause of royalty. How justly he could contemplate the unfortunate dispute between the court and nation, appears in his letier to Mr. Germaine (afterwards lord Albemarle), a composition almost unrivalled in that age for elegance of style and depth of observation. It was, however, too much the practice with those who made voluntary offers of soldiers, to equip them in an expensive and useless manner. Suckling, who was magnificent in all his expenses, was not to be outdone in an. article which he had studied more than became a soldier, and which he might suppose would afford unquestionable proof of his attachment to the royal cause; and, having been permitted to raise a troop of horse, consisting of an hundred, he equipped them so richly, that they are said to have cost him the sum of twelve thousand pounds. | This exposed him to some degree of ridicule, a weapon which the republicans often wielded with successful dexterity, and which, in this instance, was sharpened by the misconduct of his gaudy soldiers. The particulars of this affair are not recorded; but it appears, that in 1639, the royal army, of which his troop formed a part, was defeated by the Scotch, and that sir John’s men behaved remarkably ill. All this is possible, without any imputation on the courage of their commander; but it afforded his enemies an opportunity of turning the expedition into ridicule with an effect that is yet remembered. The lines in Dr. Percy’s collection, by sir John Mennis, are not the only specimen of the wit of the times at our author’s expense.

This unhappy affair is said by Lloyd to have contributed 10 shorten his days; but Oldys, in his ms notes on Langbaine, attributes his death to another cause. Lord Oxford informed Oldys, on the authority of dean Chetwood, who said he had it from lord Roscommon, that sir John Suckling, in his way to France, was robbed of a casket of gold and jewels, by his valet, who gave him poison, and besides stuck the blade of a pen-knife into his boot in such a manner, that sir John was disabled from pursuing the villain, and was wounded incurably in the heel. Dr. Warton, in a note to his Essay on Pope, relates the story somewhat differently: “Sir John Suckling was robbed by his valetde-chambre; the moment he discovered it, he clapped on his boots in a passionate hurry, and perceived not a large rusty nail that was concealed at the bottom, which pierced his heel, and brought on a mortification.” He died May 7, 1641, in the thirty-second year of his age. That he was on his way to France, when he met with the occasion of his death, seems to be confirmed by a ludicrous poem, lately re-printed in the “Censura Literaria,” entitled “A Letter sent by sir John Suckling from France, deploring his sad estate and flight: with a discoverie of the plot and conspiracie, intended by him and his adherents against England. Imprinted at London, 1641.” This poem is dated Paris, June 16, 1641, at which time the author probably had not learned that the object of his satire was beyond his reach.

As a poet, he was one of those who wrote for amusement, and was not stimulated by ambition, or anxious for fame. His pieces were sent loose about the world; and not having been collected until after his death, they are | probably less correct than he left them. Many of his verses are as rugged and unhamionious as those of Donne; but his songs and ballads are elegant and graceful. He was particularly happy and original in expressing the feelings of artificial love, disdain, or disappointment. The “Session of the Poets,” the “Lines to a Rival,” the “Honest Lover,” and the “Ballad upon a Wedding,” are sufficient to entitle him to the honours of poetry, which the author of the lives published under the name of Gibber, is extremely anxious to wrest from him.

His works have been often reprinted; first in 1646, 8yo, again in 1659, and 1676; very correctly by Tonson in 1719, and elegantly, but incorrectly, by Davies in 1770. The edition of Tonson has been followed in the late edition of the “English Poets,” with the omission of such pieces as were thought degrading to his memory, and insulting to public decency .*


There is a manuscript poem from his pen in the British Museum, replete with humour but the subject is of that gross kind which delicacy will not now tolerate.

But whatever opinion is entertained of Suckling as a poet, it may be doubted whether his prose writings are not calculated to raise a yet higher opinion of his talents. His letters, with a dash of gallantry more free than modern times will admit, are shrewd in observation, and often elegant in style. That addressed to Mr. Germaine has already been noticed, and his “Account of Religion by Reason,” is remarkable for soundness of argument, and purity of expression, far exceeding the controversial writings of that age. This piece affords a presumption that he was even now no stranger to those reflections which elevate the human character, and that if his life had been spared, it would have been probably devoted to more honourable objects than those in which he had employed his youthful days. 1

English Poets, 21 vols. 8vo, 1810, &c.