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

This gentleman was descended from a good family in Yorkshire; after he had passed through his school education, he was removed to Peter-house in Cambridge, where he is said to have continued till he was created Dr. of Physic July 7, 1691.

In 1696 Dr. Garth zealously promoted the erecting the Dispensary, being an apartment, in the college for the relief of the sick poor, by giving them advice gratis, and dispensing medicines to them at low rates.  This work of charity having exposed him, and many other of the most eminent Physicians to the envy and resentment of several persons of the same faculty, as well as Apothecaries, he ridiculed them with peculiar spirit, and vivacity, in his poem called the Dispensary in 6 Cantos; which, though it first stole into the world a little hastily, and incorrect, in the year 1669, yet bore in a few months three impressions, and was afterwards printed several times, with a dedication to Anthony Henley, esquire.  This poem, gained our author great reputation; it is of the burlesque species, and executed with a degree of humour, hardly equal’d, unless in the Rape of the Lock.

Our author’s poetical character, joined with his skill in his profession, his agreeable conversation, and unaffected good nature, procured him vast practice, introduced him to the acquaintance, and established him in the esteem of most of the nobility and gentry.  Much about the same time he gave a distinguishing instance of his profound knowledge in his profession, his perfect acquaintance with antiquity, and correct taste in Roman eloquence by a Latin oration, pronounced before the Faculty in Warwick-Lane, September 17, 1697, to the great satisfaction of the audience, and the raising his own reputation, as the college register testifies.  Pieces of this kind are often composed with peculiar attention to the phrase, the sound of the periods in speaking, and their effect upon the ear; these advantages were by no means neglected in Dr. Garth’s performance, but the sentiments, the spirit, and stile appeared to still greater advantage in the reading; and the applause with which it was received by its hearers, was echoed by those who perused it; this instance is the more singular, as few have been distinguished both as orators and poets.

Cicero, who was not heard by his cotemporaries with greater applause, than his works are now read with admiration, attempted poetry without success; reputation in that kind of writing the Roman orator much desired, but never could compose a line to please himself, or any of his friends.

Upon the death of Dryden in May 1701, by a very strange accident his burial came to depend on the piety of Dr. Garth, who caused the body to be brought to the College of Physicians, proposed and encouraged by his generous example a subscription for defraying the expence of the funeral, and after pronouncing over the corpse a suitable oration, he attended the solemnity to Westminster-Abbey, where at last the remains of that great man were interred in Chaucer’s grave.  For this memorable act of tenderness and generosity, those who loved the person, or who honoured the parts of that excellent poet, expressed much gratitude to Dr. Garth.  He was one of the most eminent members of a famous society called the Kit-Kat Club, which consisted of above thirty noblemen and gentlemen, distinguished by their zealous affection to the Protestant succession in the House of Hanover.  October 3, 1702 he was elected one of the Censors of the College of Physicians.  In respect to his political principles, he was open and warm, and which was still more to be valued, he was steady and sincere.  In the time of lord Godolphin’s administration, nobody was better received of his rank than Dr. Garth; and nobody seemed to have a higher opinion of that minister’s integrity, and abilities in which he had, however, the satisfaction of thinking with the public.

In 1710, when the Whig ministry was discarded, and his lordship had an opportunity of distinguishing his own friends, from those which were only the friends of his power, it could not fail of giving him sensible pleasure to find Dr. Garth early declaring for him, and amongst the first who bestowed upon him the tribute of his muse, at a time when that nobleman’s interest sunk:  A situation which would have struck a flatterer dumb.  There were some to whom this testimony of gratitude was by no means pleasing, and therefore the Dr’s. lines were severely criticised by the examiner, a paper engaged in the defence of the new ministry; but instead of sinking the credit either of the author, or the verses, they added to the honour of both, by exciting Mr. Addison to draw his pen in their defence.  In order to form a judgment both of the Criticism, and the Defence, it will be necessary first of all to read the poem to which they refer, more especially as it is very short, and may be supposed to have been written suddenly, and, at least, as much from the author’s gratitude to his noble patron, as a desire of adding to his reputation.

  To the earl of Godolphin.

  While weeping Europe bends beneath her ills,
  And where the sword destroys not, famine kills;
  Our isle enjoys by your successful care,
  The pomp of peace amidst the woes of war. 
  So much the public to your prudence owes,
  You think no labours long, for our repose. 
  Such conduct, such integrity are shewn,
  There are no coffers empty, but your own. 
  From mean dependence, merit you retrieve;
  Unask’d you offer, and unseen you give. 
  Your favour, like the Nile, increase bestows;
  And yet conceals the source from whence it flows. 
  So poiz’d your passions are, we find no frown,
  If funds oppress not, and if commerce run,
  Taxes diminish’d, liberty entire,
  These are the grants your services require. 
  Thus far the State Machine wants no repair,
  But moves in matchless order by your care. 
  Free from confusion, settled, and serene;
  And like the universe by springs unseen.

  But now some star, sinister to our pray’rs;
  Contrives new schemes, and calls you from affairs.

  No anguish in your looks, nor cares appear,
  But how to teach th’ unpractic’d crew to steer. 
  Thus like some victim no constraint; you need,
  To expiate their offence, by whom you bleed. 
  Ingratitude’s a weed in every clime;
  It thrives too fast at first, but fades in time. 
  The god of day, and your own lot’s the same;
  The vapours you have rais’d obscure your flame
  But tho’ you suffer, and awhile retreat,
  Your globe of light looks larger as you set.

These verses, however they may express the gratitude, and candour of the author, and may contain no more than truth of the personage to whom they are addressed, yet, every reader of taste will perceive, that the verses are by no means equal to the rest of Dr. Garth’s poetical writings.  Remarks upon these verses were published in a Letter to the Examiner, September 7, 1710.  The author observes, ’That there does not appear either poetry, grammar, or design in the composition of this poem; the whole (says he) seems to be, as the sixth edition of the Dispensary, happily expresses it, a strong, unlaboured, impotence of thought.  I freely examine it by the new test of good poetry, which the Dr. himself has established.  Pleasing at first sight:  Has this piece the least title even to that? or if we compare it to the only pattern, as he thinks, of just writing in this kind, Ovid; is there any thing in De Tristibus so wild, so childish, so flat? what can the ingenious Dr. mean, or at what time could he write these verses? half of the poem is a panegyric on a Lord Treasurer in being, and the rest a compliment of condolance to an Earl that has lost the Staff.  In thirty lines his patron is a river, the primum mobile, a pilot, a victim, the sun, any thing and nothing.  He bestows increase, conceals his source, makes the machine move, teaches to steer, expiates our offences, raises vapours, and looks larger as he sets; nor is the choice of his expression less exquisite, than that of his similies.  For commerce to run, passions to be poized, merit to be received from dependence, and a machine to be serene, is perfectly new.  The Dr. has a happy talent at invention, and has had the glory of enriching our language by his phrases, as much as he has improved medicine by his bills.’  The critic then proceeds to consider the poem more minutely, and to expose it by enumerating particulars.  Mr. Addison in a Whig Examiner published September 14, 1710, takes occasion to rally the fierce over-bearing spirit of the Tory Examiner, which, he says, has a better title to the name of the executioner.  He then enters into the defence of the Dr’s. poem, and observes, ’that the phrase of passions being poized, and retrieving merit from dependence, cavilled at by the critics, are beautiful and poetical; it is the same cavilling spirit, says he, that finds fault with that expression of the Pomp of Peace, among Woes of War, as well as of Offering unasked.’  This general piece of raillery which he passes on the Dr’s. considering the treasurer in several different views, is that which might fall upon any poem in Waller, or any other writer who has diversity of thoughts and allusions, and though it may appear a pleasant ridicule to an ignorant reader, is wholly groundless and unjust.

Mr. Addison’s Answer is, however, upon the whole, rather a palliation, than a defence.  All the skill of that writer could never make that poetical, or a fine panegyric, which is in its own nature removed from the very appearance of poetry; but friendship, good nature, or a coincidence of party, will sometimes engage the greatest men to combat in defence of trifles, and even against their own judgment, as Dryden finely expresses it in his Address to Congreve, “Vindicate a friend.”

In 1711 Dr. Garth wrote a dedication for an intended edition of Lucretius, addressed to his late Majesty, then Elector of Brunswick, which has been admired as one of the purest compositions in the Latin tongue that our times have produced.

On the accession of that King to the throne, he had the honour of knighthood conferred upon him by his Majesty, with the duke of Marlborough’s sword.  He was likewise made Physician in ordinary to the King, and Physician General to the army.  As his known services procured him a great interest with those in power, so his humanity and good nature inclined him to make use of that interest, rather for the support, and encouragement of men of letters who had merit, than for the advancement of his private fortune; his views in that respect having been always very moderate.  He lived with the great in that degree of esteem and independency, and with all that freedom which became a man possessed of superior genius, and the most shining and valuable talents.  His poem entitled Claremont, addressed to the duke of Newcastle, printed in the 6th volume of Dryden’s Miscellanies, met with great approbation.  A warm admirer of the Doctor’s, speaking of Claremont, thus expresses himself; ’It will survive, says he, the noble structure it celebrates, ’and will remain a perpetual monument of its author’s learning, taste, and great capacity as a poet; since, in that short work, there are innumerable beauties, and a vast variety of sentiments easily and happily interwoven; the most lively strokes of satire being intermixed with the most courtly panegyric, at the same time that there appears the true spirit of enthusiasm, which distinguishes the works of one born a poet, from those of a witty, or learned man, that has arrived at no higher art, than that of making verse.’  His knowledge in philosophy, his correct taste in criticism, and his thorough acquaintance in classical literature, with all the advantages that can be derived from an exact, but concealed method, an accurate, though flowing stile, and a language pure, natural, and full of vivacity, appear, says the same panegyrist in the preface he prefixed to a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which would have been sufficient to have raised him an immortal reputation, if it had been the only product of his pen.

Dr. Garth is said to have been a man of the most extensive benevolence; that his hand and heart went always together:  A circumstance more valuable than all the lustre which genius can confer.  We cannot however, speak of his works with so much warmth, as the author just quoted seems to indulge.  His works will scarce make a moderate volume, and though they contain many things excellent, judicious, and humorous, yet they will not justify the writer, who dwells upon them in the same rapturous strain of admiration, with which we speak of a Horace, a Milton, or a Pope.  He had the happiness of an early acquaintance with some of the most powerful, wisest, and wittiest men of the age in which he lived; he attached himself to a party, which at last obtained the ascendant, and he was equally successful in his fortune as his friends:  Persons in these circumstances are seldom praised, or censured with moderation.

We have already seen how warmly Addison espoused the Dr’s. writings, when they were attacked upon a principle of party, and there are many of the greatest wits of his time who pay him compliments; amongst the rest is lord Lansdowne, who wrote some verses upon his illness; but as the lines do no great honour either to his lordship, or the Dr. we forbear to insert them.

The following passage is taken from one of Pope’s Letters, written upon the death of Dr. Garth, which, we dare say, will be more acceptable.  ’The best natured of men (says he) Sir Samuel Garth has left me in the truest concern for his loss.  His death was very heroical, and yet unaffected enough to have made a saint, or a philosopher famous.  But ill tongues, and worse hearts have branded his last moments, as wrongfully as they did his life, with irreligion:  you must have heard many tales upon this subject; but if ever there was a good christian, without knowing himself to be so, it was Dr. Garth.’

Our author was censured for his love of pleasure, in which perhaps it would be easier to excuse than defend him; but upon the whole, his character appears to have been very amiable, particularly, that of his bearing a tide of prosperity with so much, evenness of temper; and his universal benevolence, which seems not to have been cramped with party principles; as appears from his piety towards the remains of Dryden.

He died after a short illness, January 18, 1718-19, and was buried the 22d of the same month in the church of Harrow on the Hill, in the county of Middlesex, in a vault he caused to be built for himself and his family, leaving behind him an only daughter married to the honourable colonel William Boyle, a younger son of colonel Henry Boyle, who was brother to the late, and uncle to the present, earl of Burlington.  His estates in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, are now possessed by his grandson, Henry Boyle, Esq; whose amiable qualities endear him to all who have the happiness of his acquaintance.  His works are collected, and printed in one volume, published by Tonson.