Read THOMAS CREECH of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. III, free online book, by Theophilus Cibber, on

This gentleman was born near Sherborne in Dorsetshire, and bred up at the free school in that town, under Mr. Carganven, a man of eminent character, to whom in gratitude he inscribes one of the Idylliums of Theocritus, translated by him.  His parents circumstances not being sufficient to bestow a liberal education upon him, colonel Strangeways, who was himself a man of taste and literature, took notice of the early capacity of Creech, and being willing to indulge his violent propensity to learning, placed him at Wadham College in Oxford, in the 16th year of his age, anno 1675, being then put under the tuition of two of the fellows.  In the year 1683 he was admitted matter of arts, and soon elected fellow of All-soul’s College; at which time he gave distinguished proofs of his classical learning, and philosophy, before those who were appointed his examiners.  The first work which brought our author into reputation, was his translation of Lucretius, which succeeded so well, that Mr. Creech had a party formed for him, who ventured to prefer him to Mr. Dryden, in point of genius.  Mr. Dryden himself highly commended his Lucretius, and in his preface to the second volume of Poetical Miscellanies thus characterises it.  ’I now call to mind what I owe to the ingenious, and learned translator of Lucretius.  I have not here designed to rob him of any part of that commendation, which he has so justly acquired by the whole author, whose fragments only fall to my portion.  The ways of our translation are very different; he follows him more closely than I have done, which became an interpreter to the whole poem.  I take more liberty, because it best suited with my design, which was to make him as pleasing as I could.  He had been too voluminous, had he used my method, in so long a work; and I had certainly taken his, had I made it my business to translate the whole.  The preference then is justly his; and I join with Mr. Evelyn in the confession of it, with this additional advantage to him, that his reputation is already established in this poet; mine is to make its fortune in the world.  If I have been any where obscure in following our common author; or if Lucretius himself is to be condemned, I refer myself to his excellent annotations, which I have often read, and always with some pleasure.’

Many poets of the first class, of those times, addressed Mr. Creech in commendatory verses, which are prefixed to the translation of Lucretius:  but this sudden blaze of reputation was soon obscured, by his failing in an arduous task, which the success of his Lucretius prompted him to attempt.  This was a translation of the works of Horace, an author more diversified, and consequently more difficult than Lucretius.  Some have insinuated, that Mr. Dryden, jealous of his rising fame, and willing to take advantage of his vanity, in order to sink his reputation, strenuously urged him to this undertaking, in which he was morally certain Creech could not succeed.  Horace is so, various, so exquisite, and perfectly delightful, that he who culls flowers in a garden so replenished with nature’s productions, must be well acquainted with her form, and able to delineate her beauties.  In this attempt Creech failed, and a shade was thrown over his reputation, which continued to obscure it to the end of his life.  It is from this circumstance alleged, that Mr. Creech contracted a melancholy, and moroseness of temper, which occasioned the disinclination of many towards him, and threw him into habits of recluseness, and discontent.  To this some writers likewise impute the rash attempt on his own life, which he perpetrated at Oxford, in 1701.  This act of suicide could not be occasioned by want, for Mr. Jacob tells us, that just before that accident, he had been presented by the college to the living of Welling in Hertfordshire.  Mr. Barnard in his Nouvelles de la Républiques de Lettres, assigns another cause besides the diminution of his fame, which might occasion this disastrous fate.  Mr. Creech, though a melancholy man, was yet subject to the passion of love.  It happened that he fixed his affections on a lady who had either previously engaged hers, or who could not bestow them upon him; this disappointment, which was a wound to his pride, so affected his mind, that, unable any longer to support a load of misery, he hanged himself in his own chamber.  Which ever of these causes induced him, the event was melancholy, and not a little heightened by his being a clergyman, in whose heart religion should have taken deeper root, and maintained a more salutary influence, than to suffer him thus to stain his laurels with his own blood.

Mr. Creech’s works, besides his Lucretius already mentioned, are chiefly these,

The Second Elegy of Ovid’s First Book of Elegies.  The 6th, 7th, 8th, and 12th Elegies of Ovid’s Second Book of Elegies.  The 2d and 3d Eclogue of Virgil.  The Story of Lucretia, from Ovid de Fastis.  B. ii.  The Odes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace already mentioned, dedicated to John Dryden, esq; who is said to have held it in great contempt, which gave such a shock to Mr. Creech’s pride.  The author in his preface to this translation has informed us, that he had not an ear capable of distinguishing one note in music, which, were there no other, was a sufficient objection against his attempting the most musical poet in any language.

The same year he published his Translation of the Idylliums of Theocritus, with Rapin’s Discourse on Pastorals, as also the Life of Phelopidas, from the Latin of Cornelius Nepos.

In Dryden’s Translation of Juvenal and Persius, Mr. Creech did the 13th Satire of Juvenal, and subjoined Notes.  He also translated into English, the verses before Mr. Quintenay’s Compleat Gardiner.  The Life of Solon, from the Greek of Plutarch.  Laconic Apophthegms, or Remarkable Sayings of the Spartans, printed in the first Volume of Plutarch’s Morals.  A Discourse concerning Socrates’s Daemon.  The two First Books of the Symposiacs.

These are the works of Mr. Creech:  A man of such parts and learning, according to the accounts of all who have written of him, that, had he not by the last act of his life effaced the merit of his labours, he would have been an ornament as well to the clerical profession, as his country in general.  He well understood the ancients, had an unusual penetration in discovering their beauties, and it appears by his own translation of Lucretius, how elegantly he could cloath them in an English attire.  His judgment was solid; he was perfectly acquainted with the rules of criticism, and he had from nature an extraordinary genius.  However, he certainly over-rated his importance, or at lead his friends deceived him, when they set him up as a rival to Dryden! but if he was inferior to that great man in judgment, and genius, there were few of the same age to whom he needed yield the palm.  Had he been content to be reckoned only the second, instead of the first genius of the times, he might have lived happy, and died regreted and reverenced, but like Cæsar of old, who would rather be the lord of a little village, than the second man in Rome, his own ambition overwhelmed him.

We shall present the reader with a few lines from the second Book of Lucretius, as a specimen of our author’s versification, by which it will be found how much he fell short of Dryden in point of harmony, though he seems to have been equal to any other poet, who preceded Dryden, in that particular.

  ’Tis pleasant, when the seas are rough, to stand,
  And view another’s danger, safe at land: 
  Not ’cause he’s troubled, but ’tis sweet to see
  Those cares and fears, from which our selves are free. 
  ’Tis also pleasant to behold from far
  How troops engage, secure ourselves from war. 
  But above all, ’tis pleasantest to get
  The top of high philosophy, and sit
  On the calm, peaceful, flourishing head of it: 
  Whence we may view, deep, wondrous deep below,
  How poor mistaken mortals wand’ring go,
  Seeking the path to happiness:  some aim
  At learning, wit, nobility, or fame: 
  Others with cares and dangers vex each hour
  To reach the top of wealth, and sov’reign pow’r: 
  Blind wretched man! in what dark paths of strife
  We walk this little journey of our life! 
  While frugal nature seeks for only ease;
  A body free from pains, free from disease;
  A mind from cares and jealousies at peace. 
  And little too is needful to maintain
  The body sound in health, and free from pain: 
  Not delicates, but such as may supply
  Contented nature’s thrifty luxury: 
  She asks no more.  What tho’ no boys of gold
  Adorn the walls, and sprightly tapers hold,
  Whose beauteous rays, scatt’ring the gawdy light,
  Might grace the feast, and revels of the night: 
  What tho’ no gold adorns; no music’s sound
  With double sweetness from the roofs rebound;
  Yet underneath a loving myrtle’s shade,
  Hard by a purling stream supinely laid,
  When spring with fragrant flow’rs the earth has spread,
  And sweetest roses grow around our head;
  Envy’d by wealth and pow’r, with small expence
  We may enjoy the sweet delights of sense. 
  Who ever heard a fever tamer grown
  In cloaths embroider’d o’er, and beds of down. 
  Than in coarse rags? 
  Since then such toys as these
  Contribute nothing to the body’s ease,
  As honour, wealth, and nobleness of blood,
  ’Tis plain they likewise do the mind no good: 
  If when thy fierce embattell’d troops at land
  Mock-fights maintain; or when thy navies Hand
  In graceful ranks, or sweep the yielding seas,
  If then before such martial fights as these,
  Disperse not all black jealousies and cares,
  Vain dread of death, and superstitious fears
  Not leave thy mind; but if all this be vain,
  If the same cares, and dread, and fears remain,
  If Traytor-like they seize thee on the throne,
  And dance within the circle of a crown;
  If noise of arms, nor darts can make them fly,
  Nor the gay sparklings of the purple dye. 
  If they on emperors will rudely seize,
  What makes us value all such things as these,
  But folly, and dark ignorance of happiness? 
  For we, as boys at night, by day do fear
  Shadows as vain, and senseless as those are. 
  Wherefore that darkness, which o’erspreads our fouls,
  Day can’t disperse; but those eternal rules,
  Which from firm premises true reason draws,
  And a deep insight into nature’s laws.