Elkanah Settle (1648–1724)
Pat Rogers, University of South Florida
Elkanah Settle, playwright and poet, is the single individual who embodies most fully the literary life of London during the years around 1700. This is because of the diverse and curious nature of his output. He started out as a precocious dramatist, with successful performances of his work both in a private showing at court and on the public stage. As a result, he acquired the favour of King Charles II, but also engaged in a standoff with John Dryden, the poet laureate and greatest writer of the age (two phrases that historically have not gone together very often). This would be the start of a long quarrel acted out in disparate venues. After this Settle became embroiled in the political and literary battles surrounding the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis. His most noteworthy contribution to the ongoing strife came with his role as manager of the pope-burning ceremonies mounted by the Whigs in the City of London. Shifting his allegiance for a time to the Catholic heir to the crown, the Duke of York, he wrote against Titus Oates, the author of Protestant conspiracy theory. In due course, the Duke succeeded to the throne as James II: Settle supported him until the King took flight in 1688, after which he returned to his previous adherence to the Whigs under William and Mary. Like the legendary Vicar of Bray, each time he turned his coat he would claim that the principles to which he now adhered were “law, I will maintain unto my dying day.” He began to write spectacular quasi-operatic plays, most significantly The Virgin Prophetess, or The Fall of Troy, first performed at the home of elite theatre, Drury Lane, but most durable in its popular version played at the great London fairs. Allegedly he took part in one such droll at Smithfield fairground in a dragon costume. By this time Settle had become City Poet, charged with creating the pageants held annually as the procession of the new Lord Mayor made its way along the streets and the river each October. Late in life, he found a new outlet for his peculiar talents in composing to order panegyrical verses that celebrated marriages, funerals or civic attainments.
Running through this complicated life-history is one thread: London. All Settle’s adult career was played out in the capital. He had links with the royal court, the alternative court which ruled the City, the legitimate theatre, and the popular entertainments put on at the fairground. For more than fifty years, he witnessed, and even participated in, the major events that transfixed the populace, from open riots to the virtual wars of words that issued from the presses of the metropolis. With complete aptness, Pope gave him a central role in The Dunciad, a poem set on the day of the Lord Mayor’s show, whose plot turns the myth of London reborn as a glorious Troynovant into the portrayal of an urban disaster zone. Only Settle could have sustained this role in the design.
He was born on 1 February 1648 at Dunstable, a small market town lying about 35 miles along the main route from London to the North West. At fifteen he was sent to Westminster School, then at the peak of its national importance under the famous headmaster Richard Busby, who oversaw the education of pupils such as Dryden, Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, John Locke, Matthew Prior and Henry Purcell. He spent the rest of his life in the capital, apart from a spell of a year at Trinity College, Oxford, where he had already embarked on his career as a dramatist. Some of his early work attracted the interest of prominent individuals, notably the Duchess of Monmouth, and for the next few years he enjoyed the support of prominent figures at court, including the poet and roué Lord Rochester. On 28 February 1674 he married Mary Warner at St. Andrew’s, Holborn. Within a few years she may have departed this life: if not, she certainly departed form Settle’s life.
His standing had been greatly augmented in 1673 when he had a play performed by the Duke’s Company, led by Sir William Davenant, at the fashionable new theatre in Dorset Gardens. This had been erected just two years before, close to the river not far from the east end of Fleet Street. It was the most lavish and expensive playhouse of its day, and its imposing façade, perhaps designed by the great polymath Hooke, looked out on the Thames. This appears as the frontispiece to The Empress of Morocco, opposite a title page proclaiming the author as “Elkanah Settle, Servant to his Majesty.” The company specialised in elaborate staging, and the new drama certainly gave the audience what they wanted. Its more eye-catching special effects have been summarised by Settle’s biographer: “The gorgeous palace scenes, the frequent appearance of emperor, princes, and princesses in prison, the returning ‘fleet of ships’ that boomed their homage on the Tensift River, the hailstorm and rainbow, the dance of Moors under the palm-tree, the masque of hell at the army’s camp in the Atlas Mountains, the villains’ ambush and attack on Muly Hamet, and the latter’s single-handed victory, the violent assassinations army of Taffale , and lastly, the most horrible scene in which the villain is ‘cast down’ upon sharp steel hooks and scythelike knives of the torture room.” These properties of the drama, the author adds, “must have made the performance very spectacular.” Even, one might add, to blasé contemporaries used to such visual shenanigans in the theatre.
Not only did The Empress of Morocco bring the young dramatist to general attention, it also set a pattern for future controversies that dogged his career, and provided a template for his later work. Abigail Williams rightly points out that the play “marked both the high point of Settle's literary career and the source of his literary feud with John Dryden.” Unwisely, he had used the dedication to attack “the Impudence of Scriblers in this Age,” and pointed clearly enough at Dryden’s behaviour to his patrons. There is some wit in what he writes, for example “They make Dedications when their Playes are Damn’d, as the Dutch do Bonefires, when their Navies are beaten,” but he must have expected retribution. It was not long in coming: Dryden joined with two fellow writers (one was Thomas Shadwell, later pilloried in Mac Flecknoe) to bring out a scathing response. It was easy for them to make fun of the bombastic couplets that Settle had employed to give his tragedy a heroic quality. As was the rule, he published a pamphlet in his own defence, but the damage was done, especially in the light of a burlesque version of the play by the able Irish farceur Thomas Doggett, who worked for a rival theatre and delighted in ridiculing the efforts at Dorset Gardens.
Having run into this trouble, Settle soon found that the skittish taste of the court no longer saw him as a favourite. His next two plays enjoyed less success, and even a decent recension of the old warhorse Pastor Fido (1676) could not salvage his reputation. Soon it became clear to Settle that he was playing for the wrong team, and by the end of the decade he was firmly allied with the opposition camp supporting the Protestant claimant to the throne, the Duke of Monmouth (husband of his former patron) in opposition to the Catholic heir, James. He arrived in time to echo the clamour over the supposed Popish Plot, fomented by the scoundrel Titus Oates—one of many judgments that Settle would recant more than once. During the Exclusion Crisis which followed, pitting what came to be termed Whigs and Tories against one another on the disputed succession, he was able to make himself genuinely useful to the former group, led by Lord Shaftesbury (the treacherous Achitophel, who has gone over to aid the rebel Absalom in Dryden’s poem). What he did was act as stage-manager for the ritual “pope burnings.” These outlandish ceremonies reached their apogee with a carnival procession that zigzagged through London in 1679, 1680 and 1681 on 17 November, the anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth I. The route started at Moorgate, and took in Aldgate, Leadenhall Street, and then went by the Royal Exchange down Cheapside, as far as Temple Bar, marking the official limits of the City. The scene was depicted in prints and described by broadside sheets (in which Settle very likely had a hand) with titles such as The Solemn Mock Procession of the Pope, Cardinalls, Iesuits, Fryers, &c: through ye City of London. Also taking part in the cavalcade were figures representing Carmelites, nuns, bishops, and other religious dignitaries, some carrying bloody daggers. The Pope himself brought up the rear, accompanied by the devil. At the close of the march the effigies were burnt in a large bonfire, to the evident satisfaction of thousands of bystanders.
Settle had found his true calling here, as it proved. Few were better at putting on a show or using traditional allegory to turn politics into street theatre. A journalist amusingly portrayed him in 1681 as “a lusty Fellow, who has an indifferent Hand at making of Crackers, Serpents, Rockets, and the other Play-things, that are proper on the fifth of November [Guy Fawkes day, another Protestant festival]; and has for such his skill received Applause and Victuals from the munificent Gentlemen about Temple-Bar.... Elkanah promises to vindicate Lucifer's first Rebellion for a few Guinies.” This was not the first or the last time that he would be accused of mercenary motives. More harm was done to his reputation when he was treated with contumely in a short work named A Character of the True Blue Protestant Poet (1682). In any case, these occasions gave him the chance to enlist his skills in organisation, to marshal crowd action, to exploit popular feelings, and to choreograph ideology. Moreover, the processions resembled in some ways the pageantry of a Lord Mayor’s Day show, whose contrivance became his day job some years later.
In 1685 Monmouth was defeated by the royal forces at Sedgemoor and subsequently beheaded. This made it prudent for Settle to find a new home for his energies, so he defaulted to the side of the papist monarch. One of his publications denounced what he now saw as the lies of Titus Oates. James II held annual military exercises on Hounslow Heath, fifteen miles from the City of London, in an effort to impress the populace with his strength: Pope claimed with no demonstrable evidence that Settle “became a trooper” on such an occasion. The King’s reign lasted under four years, and that was the exact duration of Settle’s loyalty to the Stuart cause. As soon as it was clear that the Revolution had achieved its goal, he defaulted to the Whig side, and somehow managed to stick to this convenient allegiance for the remainder of his days.
Much of his energy went into drama, and indeed his ink dish must have needed more frequent replenishment than that of almost anyone else (“Could Troy be sav’d by any single hand, / His gray-goose-weapon [quill pen] must have made her stand,” The Dunciad remarks with mock sympathy). He went on writing plays almost up to the time of his death, but most of them did not hold the stage and they are now housed among the shelves of the great unread. One of the most interesting is the libretto for Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (1692), if we may accept the suggestion that Settle helped Thomas Betterton to adapt A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a new semi-operatic spectacle. Betterton was a great actor and a skilful play-doctor, but the masques, tableaux and songs that fill up intervals in Shakespeare’s narrative appear to be much more up Settle’s street. In addition, there are the painted scenery and stage props needed to create vistas of Chinese hanging gardens, rivers, fountains and grottos, where a cast of nymphs, fawns, swans and two grotesque dragons could dance and play: these were of the kind used in the latter’s plays (if they are not the identical items of furniture). Overall the transformation of genre works well: much of Shakespeare’s text survives intact, even if heavy cuts are made, especially in Acts 3 and 4, and some material is shifted from one scene to another. Roger Savage has shown how the method “sets up a kind of dialogue between theatrical modes”, and how the opera is able to reinforce central ideas of the original comedy, such as “ideas of the complementary worlds of fancy-full darkness and rational daylight.” Of course, if The Fairy Queen enjoyed success then and does still today, that has more to do with Purcell than with Settle or Betterton.
The work that had the greatest impact in its various guises was a blank verse tragedy, The Virgin Prophetess: or, The Fate of Troy, premiered at Drury Lane in 1701 with music by Gottfried Finger. Its content is summarised by Abigail Williams: “a play set during the siege of Troy, which centred on the figure of Cassandra, and maximized its location with a series of spectacular scenes involving prospects of Troy in flames, and Helen leaping into the fire from the top of a turret.” This seems to have gone down well enough with the audience, as text and music were reprinted. But it was as nothing to its triumph in the abridged form of a three-act droll entitled The Siege of Troy, mounted at Bartholomew Fair in 1707. This was the most elaborate of all the Smithfield entertainments, and it took the show-woman Mrs Mynns ten months to prepare at a cost of “many hundreds of pounds.” It was recycled at other venues, and reissued separately at least ten times, apart from its appearance just as often alongside a prose history of the Trojan wars. In 1726 John Gay went to see it at Bartholomew Fair, and admired the way in which the poet “corrected Virgil.”
By this time Settle had acquired a new string to his bow. In 1691 he was appointed City Poet, and during the followed decade he planned the pageants held to mark the Lord Mayor’s inauguration. The early ones were called The Triumphs of London, and that title expresses the simple ideology behind them. Their heavy outlay of money was met by the wealthy City company to whom the incoming Lord Mayor belonged. In 1692 the Grocers paid “Elkanor Settle Poett” £2.3.6 (£2.17), which may also have covered the printed description of “The Several Pageants with the Speeches Spoken at each Pageant,” issued as advance publicity. In 1703 he got over eleven pounds. While the main function of the pomp and ceremony was to glorify the City, it also served to give the current sponsors added prominence. As Celia Fiennes observes in her diary, the senior Company, that of the Mercers, specialised in a tableau featuring a maiden queen on a throne. Settle’s chance to orchestrate these scenes in order to dignify “the whole Solemnity of the Day” came in 1702, when Sir William Gore took office. First he signs a panegyrical dedication to Gore, on his “happy Accession to the Command of this Honourable CITY,” phrasing that suggests a close resemblance between the civic leader of London and the monarch. Then “E.S.” addresses the Company, noting “The Expence and Glory of one single Virgin-Chariot of the Honourable Company of MERCERS far exceeding the whole Charge and Grandeur of any common Entertainment from other Foundations, on the like publick Occasion.” The first pageant celebrates the chariot, alluding to a figure in the Company’s coat of arms, but no doubt also a nod towards the Protestant heroine, Elizabeth I. Other items describe the “Rock of Neptune” in patriotic terms, and “Mercury’s’ Temple,” invoking the god of trade to rhapsodise over the role of merchants within the city. Fiennes gives an account of the typical show, often supplying details which instantly call up the action of The Dunciad (“At Fleet Ditche they enter the Barges which are all very curiously adorned”).
Settle continued to act as master of ceremonies until 1708, the last time that the spoken pageants were presented. Despite this, he continued to be known as the City Poet. He had besides developed a parallel line to pursue with his custom-built poems on special occasions, many of which adopt the same idiom as that used in the pageants. Their titles give the game away: Eusebia Trumphans: The Hanover Succession to the Imperial Crown of England, in Latin and English (1702), which Pope mocked in one of his earliest surviving poems “To the Author of a poem, intitled, Successio,” and which was given a reboot for the accession of George I in 1714; and Augusta Lacrimans (1707), on the death of Sir William Hodges, a rich merchant in the City and Whig MP. The one-off copies of verses he wrote on commission to mark events such as birthdays or funerals made him a hackney author in a very direct sense. His poetry differed little, no matter what the source of the invitation: only the names were changed. More important than the repetitive and flabby content was the sumptuous binding in which it was cased.
Around 1718 Settle went into the Charterhouse, as one of the “poor brethren” in a kind of genteel retirement home. He was now living within two hundred yards of the fairground, where Jane Shore was put on in the following year—this was not the renowned tragedy by Pope’s friend Nicholas Rowe, but a droll featuring “the comical Humours of Sir Anthony Noodle, a foolish Courtier.” This withdrawal from the public arena did not stop him producing his ineffable poems on a major London event, such as Threnodia Britannica for the funeral of the Duke of Marlborough in 1722. He died on 12 February 1724 aged seventy-six. This was too soon for him to know what The Dunciad had in store for him, but late enough for his doings to fit easily into Pope’s satiric transmogrification of the Lord Mayor’s Day show of 1719.
It was a master stroke on the part of the author to give Settle a key role in his drama, behind only the Queen Dulness and the King of the dunces in his contribution. No one was better suited to representing “the Smithfield Muses” invoked in the second line of the poem. No one has a better claim than the City Poet to overseeing the procession of the dunces as they wend through the streets in the very semblance of a Lord Mayor’s cavalcade. No one exemplifies more clearly a superannuated figure from the previous age, who stands in relation to the arch dunce as Flecknoe stood relative to Shadwell in Dryden’s great satire. Few living writers were old enough to figure convincingly as an ancient seer (albeit a ghost) who channels Anchises, father of Aeneas, and the son’s guide through the underworld. This forms a key episode in Virgil’s epic and a central prop of the alternative narrative that The Dunciad overlays on The Aeneid, mimicking the fall of Troy in the collapse of Troynovant (London). Settle’s vision in Book III turns at one point on the spectacular shows that were ousting legitimate dramas in the patent theatre – who more equipped by his experience in the playhouse than he was, to describe these extravagant displays? There are more personal thrusts: the author of anti-Catholic dramas like The Female Prelate naturally attracted the poet’s hostility. Equally, it is perfect artistic decorum that the man who wrote a play about Cassandra should now come forward with his own sweeping prophecies. We might easily forget that, in the earlier three-book versions of the Dunciad, the famous peroration (“Universal darkness covers all”) formed part of the long vision of Settle. That, too, is apt. The work is set in a preternatural London, where the literary world is given a paranormal makeover, and his presence as a spectre confirms the authenticity of the depiction.
The only full length biography is F.C. Brown, Elkanah Settle: His Life and Works (Chicago, 1910), which still has its uses. See also the entry by Abigail Williams for the Oxford Dctionary of National Biography, available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2512000000000000000008.
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)
SETTLE, ELKANAH (1648–1724), city poet, the son of Josias Settle and his wife Sarah, was born at Dunstable on 1 Feb. and baptised on 9 Feb. 1647–8 (Bedfordshire Notes and Queries, vol. iii. pt. vii. 206). He matriculated on 13 July 1666 from Trinity College, Oxford, where his tutor was Abraham Campian, but he left Oxford without taking a degree and proceeded to London. According to Gildon, he once possessed a good fortune, which he quickly dissipated. If Downes may be believed, it was in the same year (1666) that Settle, then barely eighteen, completed his first play, ‘Cambyses, King of Persia: a Tragedy.’ It was the first new play acted that season at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Betterton and his wife were in the cast, and, the other parts being ‘perfectly well acted,’ it ‘succeeded six days with a full audience’ (Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, 1886, p. 27). It was subsequently produced at Oxford, and was printed in 1671 and 1673. Wood states that Settle's fellow collegian, William Buller Fyfe, had some part in the composition, the plot of which was mainly derived from Herodotus. Settle was inflated by his success, and ‘Cambyses’ formed the first of a series of bombastic dramas, the scenario of which was discreetly laid in Persia or Morocco. Settle's triumph was eagerly adopted by Rochester as a means of humiliating Dryden. Through Rochester's influence Settle's next tragedy, ‘The Empress of Morocco,’ was twice acted at Whitehall, the prologues being spoken respectively by Rochester and by Lord Mulgrave. It seems to have been originally given in 1671, and revived at Dorset Garden in 1673, when Betterton played it for two weeks with great applause. Though highflown, it is not devoid of merit, and Genest called the plot ‘well managed.’ In his dedication to the Earl of Norwich, Settle says, ‘I owe the story of my play to your hands and your honourable embassy into Africa.’ It was published by Cademan in 1671, and again in 1673 with six engravings (one of which represents the front of Dorset Garden), at the enhanced price of two shillings. It is said to have been the first play ever published with engravings (later editions 1687 and 1698). The court was for the time completely won over by Settle's heroic tragedies, passages from which were quoted against Dryden's ‘Tyrannic Love’ and ‘Conquest of Granada;’ at the universities, where it was keenly discussed whether Dryden or Settle were the greater genius, the younger fry, said Wood, inclined to Elkanah. As his enemies had anticipated, Dryden's temper was stirred, and with Crowne and Shadwell he clubbed to crush the upstart by an unworthy and abusive pamphlet (Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco). Settle was undismayed, and retorted vigorously in ‘Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco Revised,’ 1674, 4to, to which he added, by way of counter-attack, ‘Some few Erratas to be printed, instead of the Postscript, with the next edition of the “Conquest of Granada.”’ Apart from his success, Settle appears to have given the poet small provocation; but Dryden nursed his jealousy, and gave vent to his resentment in the second part of his ‘Absalom and Achitophel,’ published about November 1682, where his former rival is described as
Doeg, though without knowing how or why, Made still a blundering kind of melody, Spurr'd boldly on, and dashed through thick and thin, Through sense and nonsense never out or in; Free from all meaning, whether good or bad, And, in one word, heroically mad.
Dryden's intention to signalise him had doubtless reached Settle's ears, for he produced almost at the same time his ‘Absalom Senior, or Achitophel Transpros'd’ (published at the sign of Sir Edmondbury Godfrey, near Fleetbridge, 1682), a whig reply to the first part of Dryden's satire, with a free description of its author. In several of his later plays the laureate referred contemptuously to Settle, for whom he predicted an audience in Bartholomew Fair. Elkanah took leave of his tormentor in ‘Reflections on several of Mr. Dryden's Plays,’ 1687, 4to. In the meantime, notwithstanding the transference of Rochester's patronage to Crowne and Otway, Settle ‘rhymed and rattled’ persistently. His ‘Love and Revenge,’ founded upon the ‘Fatal Contract’ of William Hemings [q. v.], was produced at Dorset Garden in 1675 and printed. In the dedication the dramatist congratulates providence on lengthening the Duke of Newcastle's life, so that he might ‘witness the prosperous reign of a great and pious monarch.’ In a ‘postscript’ he attacked Shadwell, a much better writer than himself. His ‘Conquest of China by the Tartars’ was given at the same theatre, Jevon, who had a leading part, taking great liberties with its turgid periods (Downes, p. 35; printed London, 1676, 4to). His ‘Ibrahim, the Illustrious Bassa: a Tragedy’ (based on Georges de Scudéry's ‘L'Illustre Bassa’), was licensed on 4 May 1676 and printed (1677 and 1692, 4to), with a dedication to the Duchess of Albemarle, and his ‘Fatal Love; or the Forced Inconstancy,’ a fustian version of the legend of Clitophon and Leucippe, was given at the Theatre Royal (Drury Lane) in 1680. Neglected by the court, Settle made overtures to the opposition, and his political bias is sufficiently shown in his next play, ‘The Female Prelate, being the History of the Life and Death of Pope Joan,’ which was produced at the Theatre Royal in 1680, and printed immediately, with a dedication to Shaftesbury. The invective is outrageous, but the plot and incidents, says Genest, are good (Hist. i. 275). Settle's mastery of scenic effect and the violence of his protestantism led to his unanimous election as organiser-in-chief of the pope-burning procession on Queen Elizabeth's birthday (17 Nov. 1680); and Roger L'Estrange, in ‘Heraclitus Ridens’ (No. 50), described him as poet-laureate and master of ordnance to the whig party, who would vindicate Lucifer's first rebellion for a few guineas. Next year he wrote, at Shaftesbury's instance, his ‘Character of a Popish Successor’ (1681), which evoked a storm of remonstrance. Settle accentuated his remarks in a revised edition, which he afterwards alleged that Shaftesbury, dissatisfied by its moderation of tone, had retouched. His personal attacks upon the Duke of York are said to have involved him in a duel with Thomas Otway. Of these passages in his life he wrote: ‘I now grew weary of my little talent for Dramaticks, and forsooth must be rambling into politics … and much have I got by it’ (pref. to Distressed Innocence). Determined, at least, not to lose by politics, Settle, upon the dissolution of the Oxford parliament, promptly recanted, and wrote ‘A Narrative of the Popish Plot,’ 1683, fol., exposing the perjuries of ‘Doctor’ Oates, and covering with abuse Shaftesbury and his old associates at the ‘Green Ribbon Club.’ Written with a clever assumption of fairness, the ‘Narrative’ evoked a cloud of answers and letters, and a heated ‘Vindication of Titus Oats.’ Settle was undeterred from publishing hostile ‘animadversions’ upon the dying speeches of William, lord Russell, and Algernon Sidney, and he went so far as to issue ‘A Panegyrick on Sir George Jefferies’ (1683) on his elevation to the chief-justiceship, Jeffreys having been conspicuous as ‘Shimei’ in his satire of ‘Achitophel Transpros'd.’ His tory enthusiasm reached its climax in 1685, when he published an adulatory ‘Heroick Poem on the Coronation of the High and Mighty Monarch, James II’ (London, 4to), and shortly afterwards entered himself as a trooper in James's army on Hounslow Heath. He is said, moreover, to have published a weekly sheet in support of the administration. Upon the revolution Settle recommenced overtures to his whig friends; but, feeling that both parties were looking askance at him, he put in for the reversion of Matthew Taubman's post of city laureate, for which political consistency was not a necessary qualification. Taubman's last pageant was dated 1689; in 1690 the show was intermitted, but Settle was duly appointed city poet in the following year, and issued for lord-mayor's day ‘The Triumphs of London’ (for Abel Roper, London, 4to). His four pageants 1692–5 bear the same title. No pageants are known for 1696–7, but in 1698 Settle produced ‘Glory's Resurrection.’ He then reverted to the older title until 1702. The ‘Triumphs’ for the next five years are missing, but Settle issued one for 1708, though the exhibition of that year was frustrated by the death of Prince George of Denmark. It seems to have been the last lord-mayor's show to have been described in a separate official publication. In the meantime Settle had not abandoned his career as a playwright. His ‘Heir of Morocco’ (1694, 4to), forming a second part to his ‘Empress of Morocco,’ and based upon a slender substratum of facts furnished by the English occupation of Tangier, was produced at the Theatre Royal in 1682 (revived on 19 Jan. 1709). Then after a long interval came his ‘Distressed Innocence, or the Princess of Persia’ (1691, 4to), founded on the 39th chapter of the 5th book of Theodoret, but ‘warped’ in favour of the Christians. The piece was given at the Theatre Royal in 1691. His ‘New Athenian Comedy’ (1693, 4to) and ‘The Ambitious Slave,’ a tragedy (1694, 4to), were followed at Dorset Garden in 1697 by ‘The World in the Moon’ (1697, 4to), an opera, of which the first scene was formed by a moon fourteen feet in diameter. Of his ‘Virgin Prophetess, or the Fate of Troy’ (1701, 4to), Genest says that the language and the deviations from the accredited legend were ‘disgusting, but the spectacle must have been fine.’ ‘The City Ramble, or the Playhouse Wedding’ (1711, 4to), based to some extent upon the ‘Knight of the Burning Pestle’ and the ‘Coxcomb,’ with humorous additions of some merit, was produced at Drury Lane on 17 Aug. 1711. By this time Settle's reputation was so damaged that he determined to bring out the piece anonymously. But the secret ‘happened to take air,’ and he fell back upon producing it during the long vacation. His last play, ‘The Ladies' Triumph’ (1718, 12mo), produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1718, ended with a masque in which Settle skilfully introduced elaborate scenery and machinery. The theatre and the corporation proved only occasional resources, and very soon after the revolution Settle fulfilled various predictions by letting himself out to write drolls for Bartholomew Fair, love-letters for maid servants, ballads for Pye Corner, and epithalamiums for half a crown. In Bartholomew Fair he served under the show-woman, Mrs. Mynn, and produced at her booth his ‘Siege of Troy’ in 1707. At the same show he is said to have played a dragon in green leather, whence Pope puts into his mouth the couplet—
Yet lo! in me what authors have to brag on! Reduced at last to hiss in my own dragon
(Dunciad, iii. 285; cf. Young's Epistle to Mr. Pope, i. 261–8). As a laureate Settle celebrated with equal readiness the act of succession (‘Eusebia Triumphans,’ 1702 and 1707), the danger to the church (‘A New Memorial,’ 1706), the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts (‘A Pindarick Ode,’ 1711), the tory peace of 1713 (‘Irene Triumphans,’ 1713), and the whig triumph two years later (‘Rebellion Display'd,’ 1715). He seems to have always had in hand a stock of printed elegies and complimentary verses under such titles as ‘Augusta Lacrimans,’ ‘Thalia Lacrimans,’ ‘Thalia Triumphans,’ ‘Memoriæ Fragranti,’ to which he affixed names and dedications in accordance with the demand. Resourceful as he was, however, Elkanah's income dwindled until, about 1718, his city friends procured him a retreat in the Charterhouse. He died there, a poor brother, on 12 Feb. 1723–4 (Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary, 1724, p. 11; the Charterhouse burial registers 1710–40 are missing). Five days after his death he was described in the ‘True Briton’ as a man ‘of tall stature, red face, short black hair,’ who ‘lived in the city, and had a numerous poetical issue, but shared the misfortune of several gentlemen, to survive them all.’ He married, on 28 Feb. 1673–4, Mary Warner, at St. Andrew's, Holborn (Notes and Queries, 8th ser. xii. 483). Settle was not deficient in promise as scholar, rhymester, and wit; but he wrecked his career by his tergiversation and by his inept efforts to measure his mediocre capacity against the genius of Dryden. He soon became a butt for caricature as a voluminous and reckless dunce. ‘Recanting Settle,’ wrote a critic, when his tragedies and libels could no more yield him penny loaves and ale, ‘bids our youth by his example fly, the Love of Politicks and Poetry’ (Poems on State Affairs, ii. 138). In one of his earliest satires Pope dubbed him Codrus, after the prolix poetaster of Juvenal (Lintot, Miscell. 1712, revised for Dunciad, i. 183), and in the ‘Dunciad’ are many jibes at his expense, notably the allusion to the lord-mayor's show, which ‘liv'd in Settle's numbers one day more’ (bk. i. 90). In 1776, on the occasion of his conversation with Johnson, Wilkes referred to Elkanah as the last of the city poets, and one whose poetry matched the queerness of his name (Boswell, Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 76). In addition to the works enumerated and minor complimentary pieces, Settle was author of: 1. ‘The Life and Death of Major Clancie, the grandest Cheat of this Age,’ 1680, 8vo. 2. ‘Insignia Bataviæ; or the barbarous behaviour of the Dutch towards the English in East India,’ 1688, 4to. 3. ‘The Compleat Memoirs of the Life of that Notorious Impostor, Will. Morrell, alias Bowyer, alias Wickham,’ 1694, 12mo; 1699, 8vo. 4. ‘Minerva Triumphans. The Muses' Essay. To the Honour of the Generous Foundation, the Cotton Library at Westminster,’ 1701, fol. 5. ‘Carmen Irenicum. The Happy Union of the Two East India Companies. An Heroic Poem,’ 1702, fol. (for 1, 4 and 5, see Hazlitt, Bibl. Coll. 3rd ser. pp. 229–30). Settle also edited the ‘Herod and Mariamne’ (1673, 4to) of Samuel Pordage [q. v.], and contributed to the popular translation of ‘Ovid's Epistles’ (1683, 8vo). He re-edited for the stage Sir R. Fanshaw's version of Guarini, which appeared at Dorset Garden in 1676 as ‘Pastor Fido, or the Faithful Shepherd’ (London, 1677, 4to); ‘a moderate pastoral’ (Genest, i. 196). He revised and rewrote the last two acts of Beaumont and Fletcher's ‘Philaster’ for the Theatre Royal in 1695 (London, 4to). The British Museum possesses Settle's ‘Triumphs of London’ for 1691, 1692, 1693, 1694, 1695, 1699, 1708, and his ‘Glory's Resurrection’ for 1698. The Guildhall Library has all these, with the exception of 1693, and, in addition, the ‘Triumphs’ for 1701 and 1702.
[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 684; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Rawlinson MSS. (in Bodleian), iii. 407; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 41 seq.; Nichols's Lord Mayors' Pageants, 1831; Fairholt's Hist. of Lord Mayors' Pageants, i. 109, 121–2; Langbaine's Dramatic Poets, 1698, p. 123; Dennis's Letters, 1721, vol. ii.; Dunton's Life and Errors, passim; The Session of the Poets, held at the foot of the Parnassian Hill, 9 July 1696; The Towne Displayed, 1701; Johnson's Poets, ed. Cunningham; Dryden's Works, ed. Scott and Saintsbury; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin; Rochester's Poems, 1707, p. 19; Oldham, ed. Bell, p. 234; Disraeli's Quarrels of Authors, pp. 206, 288; Masson's Milton, vi. 611; Morley's Bartholomew Fair; Lowe's Betterton, p. 137; Gissing's New Grub Street, 1891, p. 31 (Settle contrasted with Shadwell); Beljame's Public et les Hommes de Lettres en Angleterre 152, 207; Ward's English Dram. Lit. ii. 534; Doran's Annals of the Stage; Sitwell's First Whig, pp. 86–7, 101, 202; English Cyclopædia; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Hazlitt's Bibl. Collections and Notes; Guildhall Libr. Cat. 1889; Brit. Mus. Cat.]
Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)
SETTLE, ELKANAH (1648–1724), English poet and playwright, was born at Dunstable on the 1st of January 1648. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1666, but left the university without taking a degree. His first tragedy, Cambyses, King of Persia, was produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1667. The success of this play led the earl of Rochester to encourage the new writer as a rival to Dryden. Through his influence, Settle's Empress of Morocco (1671) was twice performed at Whitehall, and proved a signal success on the stage. It is said by Dennis to have been the "first play that was ever sold in England for two shillings, and the first play that was ever printed with cuts." These illustrations represent scenes in the theatre, and make the book very valuable. The play was printed with a preface to the earl of Norwich, in which Settle described with scorn the effusive dedications of other dramatic poets. Dryden was obviously aimed at, and he co-operated with Crowne and Shadwell in an abusive pamphlet entitled "Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco" (1674), to which Settle replied in "Some Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco revised" (1674). In the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, in a passage certainly by Dryden's hand, he figures as "Doeg." Neglected by the court party he took an active share in the anti-popish agitation. When this subsided he turned round to expose Titus Oates, and with the Revolution he veered towards the Whig party. But he had lost the confidence of both sides, "recanting Settle" accordingly abandoned politics for the appointment (1691) of city poet. In his old age he kept a booth at Bartholomew Fair, where he is said to have played the part of the dragon in a green leather suit devised by himself. He became a poor brother of the Charterhouse, where he died on the 12th of February 1724. Settle's numerous works include, beside numerous political pamphlets and occasional poems: Ibrahim, the Illustrious Bassa (1676), a tragedy taken from Madeleine de Scudéry's romance: The Female Prelate; being the History of the Life and Death of Pope Joan (1680), a tragedy; The Ambitious Slave: or A Generous Revenge (1694); The World in the Moon (1697), an opera, of which the first scene was formed by a moon fourteen feet across; and The Virgin Prophetess, or The Fate of Troy (1701), an opera.