Matthew Concanen (17011749)



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Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

CONCANEN, MATTHEW (1701–1749), miscellaneous writer, was born in Ireland in 1701, and deserted the law for literature. In 1721 he brought out a comedy called ‘Wexford Wells.’ In the same year he published a mock-heroic poem called ‘A Match at Football,’ and in 1722 ‘Poems on Several Occasions.’ He came to London with J. Sterling, author of two tragedies (1722 and 1736), and afterwards a clergyman in Maryland. They took to hackwork in literature, and decided (Cibber, Lives) by the toss of a halfpenny that Concanen should defend the ministry, while Sterling was to be in opposition. Concanen published a collection of ‘Miscellaneous Poems’ ‘by several hands’ in 1724. He took part in the ‘London Journal,’ and in a paper called the ‘Speculatist,’ published in 1730. In 1726 Warburton, then a young clergyman in search of preferment, visited London and made the acquaintance of Concanen, Theobald, the Shakespearean critic, and other authors by profession. Warburton says that he gave Concanen money ‘for many a dinner,’ and presented him with the copy of his youthful essay on ‘Prodigies and Miracles’ (1727), which Concanen sold to the booksellers for ‘more money than you (Hurd) would think.’ Concanen had introduced some Shakespearean criticisms of Theobald's, published in the ‘London Journal,’ by some suitable remarks. He also wrote to Warburton for some Shakespearean annotations promised to Theobald, and Warburton replied in a letter (dated 2 Jan. 1727), in which he was unlucky enough to remark that Pope ‘borrowed for want of genius.’ When Warburton had become famous as Pope's literary confidant and advocate, this letter was published by Akenside in a note to his ‘Ode to the late Thomas Edwards’ in 1766, having been discovered in 1760 by Gawin Knight, the first librarian to the British Museum (it was afterwards republished by Malone in his supplement to 'Shakespeare,' i. 222, and will be found in Nichols's 'Illustrations,' ii. 195). The first edition of the 'Dunciad,' of which Theobald was the hero, was published 28 May 1728. Concanen took up the cudgels against Pope in the preface to a 'Collection of all Verses, Essays … occasioned by Mr. Pope and Swift's Miscellanies,' and a pamphlet called 'A Supplement to the Profund,' in which Pope's method of quoting faulty passages from his enemies is turned with some point against himself. In the authorised edition of the 'Dunciad' of 1729 a passage previously applied to Roome and Whatley was altered to an attack upon Concanen, who takes part in the diving match as 'A cold, long-winded native of the deep' (Dunciad, ii. 299–304). In a note of 1736 Pope adds that Concanen afterwards became 'a hired scribbler in the "Daily Courant,"' where he 'poured forth much Billingsgate against Lord Bolingbroke and others.' Concanen succeeded in commending himself to the government, especially to Sir W. Yonge, through whose interest and that of the Duke of Newcastle he was appointed attorney-general in Jamaica 30 Jan. 1732. He is said to have filled the office creditably. He married a planter's daughter and returned to England with a fortune, but a few weeks afterwards died of consumption, 22 Jan. 1729. Besides the above works Concanen published in 1731 a miscellany called 'The Flowerpiece.' He was concerned with Roome and Sir William Yonge (manuscript note by Isaac Reed in copy of Gibber's 'Lives' at British Museum) in altering Broome's 'Jovial Crew' into a ballad opera, and has some songs in the 'Musical Miscellany,' 1729.

[Letters of an Eminent Prelate (1809), 218, 219; Watson's Life of Warburton, 14, 15, 27–30; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 535, 641, viii. 265, 496, 512; Nichols's Illustrations, ii. 189–204; Cibber's Lives, v. 27–31; Memoirs of Grub Street (1737), i. 162, 186.]

L. S.