Sir Richard Blackmore (1654–1729)
Note: the 19th- and early 20th-century biographies below preserve a historical record. A new biography that reflects 21st-century approaches to the subjects in question is forthcoming.
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)
BLACKMORE, Sir RICHARD (d. 1729), physician and voluminous writer in verse and prose, son of Robert Blackmore, an attorney-at-law, was born at Corsham, in Wiltshire, and educated at Westminster School. He entered St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, in 1668, took his B.A. degree on 4 April 1674, and proceeded M.A. on 3 June 1676. His necessities compelled him to temporarily adopt the profession of schoolmaster. With this fact his enemies frequently taunted him in later years.
By nature form'd, by want a pedant made, Blackmore at first set up the whipping trade. Next quack commenced; then fierce with pride he swore That toothache, gripes, and corns should be no more; In vain his drugs as well as birch he tried, His boys grew blockheads and his patients died.
After abandoning school work Blackmore spent some time abroad, visited France, Germany, and the Low Countries, and took the degree of M.D. at Padua. On his return to England he was admitted fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, under the charter of James II, at the Comitia Majora Extraordinaria of 12 April 1687, became censor of the college in 1716, and was named an elect on 22 Aug. 1716, which office he resigned on 22 Oct. 1722. In 1695 he published ‘Prince Arthur, an Heroick Poem in X books,' fol., which reached a second edition in 1696, and a third in 1714; an enlarged edition, in twelve books, appeared in 1697. The writer tells us that his work was written in such scant moments of leisure as his professional duties afforded, ‘and for the greatest part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets.’ Shortly after its appearance the poem, if so it must be called, was attacked by John Dennis in a criticism which Dr. Johnson pronounced to be ‘more tedious and disgusting than the work which he condemns.’ Far from resenting the attack, Blackmore took occasion in a later work to praise Dennis as ‘equal to Boileau in poetry, and superior to him in literary abilities.' When Dr. Johnson wrote his ‘Life of Blackmore,' the poem was completely forgotten: but at the time of its publication ‘Prince Arthur’ found an admirer in no less distinguished a person than John Locke. In 1697 Blackmore was appointed physician in ordinary to William II, and received the honour of knighthood. On the latter circumstance Pope has some lines in the ‘Imitations of Horace’ (Epistles, ii. 1)—
The Hero William and the Martyr Charles, One knighted Blackmore and one pension'd Quarles; Which made old Ben and surly Dennis swear, ‘No Lord's anointed, but a Russian Bear.'
Blackmore was strongly attached to the principles of the Revolution, and may perhaps have owed his advancement to some political services rendered to King William. He was afterwards one of the physicians to Queen Anne. In 1699 he published a ‘Short History of the Last Parliament,’ fol., which was followed in 1700 by a ‘Satyr against Wit.’ The publication of the ‘Satyr,’ in which the wits of the time were attacked on the score of grossness and irreligion, raised up a swarm of enemies against the writer. Sir Richard had for some time past been residing in Cheapside; his friends belonged chiefly to the City, and he had little acquaintance with men of letters. Immediately after the publication of the ‘Satyr’ there appeared a collection of satirical ‘Commendatory Verses on the Author of the two Arthurs and the Sstyr against Wit. By some of his particular friends,’ fol. The verses were by various hands, but the chief contributor was Tom Brown. Blackmore lost no time in replying with ‘Discommendatory Verses on those which are truly commendatory on the Author of the two Arthurs, &c.,’ fol. Dryden, who had reviously castigated Blackmore in the pregce to his ‘Fables,' assailed him very vigorously in the Prologue to the ‘Pilgrim’ (1700). Garth attacked him in the ‘ Dispensnry ’ (iv. 172, &c.), bidding him ‘learn to rise in sense and sink in sound.' Sedley, Steele, and others had their fling. But ridicule was powerless to check B1ackmore’s literary aspirations. In 1700 he was before the public with a book of ‘ Paraphrases on Job,' &c., fol. But when he launched another epic in 1705, ‘Eliza, an Epic Poem in X books,' fol., the portentous follow as received in absolute silence by an indifferent public. ‘I do not remember,’ says Dr. Johnson, ‘that by any author, serious or comical, I have found “Eliza” either praised or blamed.’ In 1711 appeared the ‘Nature of Man; a poem in three books,' 8vo, and in 1712 " Creation ; a philosophical Poem demonstrating the Existence and Providence of God,' 8vo. The last-named work, which to modern readers presents few attractions, was warmly praised by Addison in the ‘Spectator’ (No. 339). Dr. Johnson prophesied that this poem alone, ‘if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity as one of the first favourites of the English Muse.’ Even the splenetic John Dennis was excited to admiration. In beauty of versitication, according to this critic, the long-defunct ‘Creation’ equalled the ‘De Rerum Natura‘ of Lucretius, while in solidity and strength of reasoning the august Roman was far excelled by Sir Richard. A volume of ‘Essays on several Subjects; 8vo, appeared in 1716, a second edition (in two vols. 8vo) following in 1717. One of the essays contained an allusion to a ‘godless author’ who had burlesqued a psalm. The charge was understood to refer to Pope, who afterwards avenged himself by including his critic in the 'Dunciad’ (ii. 251–68). In No. 45 of the ‘Freeholder,' Addison says, ‘I have Lately read with much pleasure the essays upon several subjects published by Sir Richard Blackmore, on which statement Swift, (Works by Scott, ed. 2, xii, 140) makes the remark, ‘I admire to see such praises from this author to so insipid a scoruidrel, whom I know he despised.’ Alter publishing in 1716 a volume of ‘Poems on several Subjects; 8vo, the indefatigable Writer turned his attention to controversial divinity, and in 1721 was read with ‘Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis,’ 8vo (2nd edition 1725), which was immediately followed by ‘Modern Arians unmasked,' 1721, 8vo. Having thrown off in the same year a ‘New Version of the Psalms of David,’ 8vo, he lost no time in issuing ‘Redemption, a Divine Poem in VI books,’ 1722. Never was a man at afflicted with a scribendi cacoëthes more incurable. No sooner was he delivered of ‘Redemption’ than he was at work on ‘Alfred, an Epic Poem in XII books,’ which was published in 1723, fol. In the same year appeared ‘History of the Conspiracy against the Person and Government of King William the Third in the ear 1695,’ 8vo. During the next few years he employed his leisure in writing medical treatises, but in 1728 he reverted to divine studies, and published 'Natural Theology, or Moral Duties considered apart from Positive,’ 8vo. This was the last work published in his lifetime. He died on 9 Oct. 1729, and was buried at Boxted, Essex, whither he had retired in 1722. There is a monument in the church at Boxted bearing an inscription to the memory of his wife, Dame Mary Blackmore, and of himself. To the very last he continued writing, and led at his death ‘The accomplished Preacher; or an Essay on Divine Eloquence; which was edited in 1731, 8vo, by the Rev. John White, of Nayland, in Essex, who had administered to him on his deathbed the last Spiritual consolation. It remains to mention Blackmore’s medical treatises. These are: 1. ‘Discourse on the Plague,’ 1720, 8vo. 2. ‘Treatise on the Small Pox,’ 1723, 8vo 3. ‘Treatise on Consumptions,' &c. 1724, 8vo. 4. ‘Treatise on the Spleen,' &c. 1725, 8vo. 5. ‘Critical Dissertation on the Spleen,' 1725, 8vo. 6. ‘Discourses on the Gout, Rheumatism, and King's Evil,' 1726, 8vo. 7. ‘Dissertations on a Dropsy,' &c. 1727, 8vo. A portrait of Sir Richard Blackmore by Colsterman hangs in the hall of the Royal College of Physicians. It was presented to the college in 1863 by Richard Almack, Esq. Swift gives a ludicrous rhyming list of Blackmore's writings in a copy of verses ‘to be placed under the picture of England’s Arch-Poet,’ 8vo.
[Munk's College of Physicians, i. 461–9; Johnson’s Lives of the Poets; Scott’s Dryden. i. 411–22. viii. 441–5; Scott’s Swift, ed. 2. xii. 140, xiii. 374–5; Wood's Fasti, ed Bliss, ii. 380.]
Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)
BLACKMORE, SIR RICHARD (c. 1650–1729), English physician and writer, was born at Corsham, in Wiltshire, about 1650. He was educated at Westminster school and St Edmund Hall, Oxford. He was for some time a schoolmaster, but finally, after graduating in medicine at Padua, he settled in practice as a physician in London. He supported the principles of the Revolution, and was accordingly knighted in 1697. He held the office of physician in ordinary both to William III. and Anne, and died on the 9th of October 1729. Blackmore had a passion for writing epics. Prince Arthur, an Heroick Poem in X Books appeared in 1695, and was followed by six other long poems before 1723. Of these Creation … (1712), a philosophic poem intended to refute the atheism of Vanini, Hobbes and Spinosa, and to unfold the philosophy of Locke, was the most favourably received. Dr Johnson anticipated that this poem would transmit the author to posterity "among the first favourites of the English muse," while John Dennis went so far as to describe it as "a philosophical poem, which has equalled that of Lucretius in the beauty of its versification, and infinitely surpassed it in the solidity and strength of its reasoning." These opinions have not been justified, for the poem, like everything else that Blackmore wrote, is dull and tedious. His Creation appears in Johnson's and Anderson's collections of the British poets. He left also works on medicine and on theological subjects.