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

Son of Joseph Settle of Dunstable in Bedfordshire, was born there; and in the 18th year of his age, 1666, was entered commoner of Trinity College, Oxon, and put under the tuition of Mr. Abraham Champion, fellow of that house; but he quitted the university without taking any degree, and came to London, where he addicted himself to the study of poetry, in which he lived to make no inconsiderable figure.  Finding the nation divided between the opinions of Whig and Tory, and being sensible that a man of parts could not make any considerable figure, unless he attached himself to one of these parties; Settle thought proper, on his first setting out in life, to join the Whigs, who were then, though the minor, yet a powerful party, and to support whose interest he employed his talents.

About the year 1680, when the debates ran high concerning the exclusion of the Duke of York from the succession, on account of his religious principles, our author wrote a piece called the Character of a Popish Successor, and what may be expected from such an one, humbly offered to the consideration of both the Houses of Parliament appointed to meet at Oxon, on March 21, 1681.  This essay it seems was thought of consequence enough to merit an answer, as at that time the Exclusion Bill employed the general conversation.  The answer to it was entitled The Character of a Rebellion, and what England may expect from One; printed 1682.  The author of this last piece, is very severe on the character of Settle; he represents him as an errant knave, a despicable coward, and a prophane Atheist, and seems amazed that any party should make choice of a champion, whose morals were so tainted; but as this is only the language of party violence, no great credit is to be given to it.

The author of this pamphlet carries his zeal, and ill manners still farther, and informs the world of the meanness of our author’s birth, and education, ’most of his relations (says he) are Barbers, and of the baseness, falseness, and mutability of his nature, too many evidences may be brought.  He closed with the Whigs, contrary to the principles he formerly professed, at a time when they took occasion to push their cause, upon the breaking out of Oates’s plot, and was ready to fall off from, and return to them, for his own advantage.’

To the abovementioned pamphlet, written by Settle, various other answers were published, some by writers of distinction, of which Sir Roger L’Estrange was one; and to this performance of Sir Roger’s, which was entitled The Character of a Papist in Masquerade, supported by Authority and Experience, Mr. Settle made a Reply, entitled The Character of a Popish Successor Compleat; this, in the opinion of the critics, is the smartest piece ever written upon the subject of the Exclusion Bill, and yet Sir Roger, his antagonist, ’calls it a pompous, wordy thing, made up of shifts, and suppositions, without so much as an argument, either offered, or answered in stress of the question, &c.’  Mr. Settle’s cause was so much better than that of his antagonist’s, that if he had not possessed half the powers he really did, he must have come off the conqueror, for, who does not see the immediate danger, the fatal chances, to which a Protestant people are exposed, who have the misfortune to be governed by a Popish Prince.  As the King is naturally powerful, he can easily dispose of the places of importance, and trust, so as to have them filled with creatures of his own, who will engage in any enterprise, or pervert any law, to serve the purposes of the reigning Monarch.  Had not the nation an instance of this, during the short reign of the very Popish Prince, against whom Settle contended?  Did not judge Jeffries, a name justly devoted to everlasting infamy, corrupt the streams of justice, and by the most audacious cruelty, pervert the forms of law, that the blood of innocent persons might be shed, to gratify the appetite of a suspicious master?  Besides, there is always a danger that the religion which the King professes, will imperceptibly diffuse itself over a nation, though no violence is used to promote it.  The King, as he is the fountain of honour, so is he the fountain of fashion, and as many people, who surround a throne, are of no religion in consequence of conviction; it is but natural to suppose, that fashion would influence them to embrace the religion of the Prince, and in James II’s reign, this observation was verified; for the people of fashion embraced the Popish religion so very fast, in order to please the King, that a witty knight, who then lived, and who was by his education, and principles, a Papist, being asked by a nobleman what news? he made answer, I hear no news my lord, only, God’s Papists can get no preferment, because the King’s Papists swarm so thick.  This was a sententious, and witty observation, and it will always hold true, that the religion of the King will become the religion of people of fashion, and the lower stations ape their superiors.

Upon the coronation of King James ii. the two Parts of the Character of a Popish Successor, were, with the Exclusion Bill, on the 23d of April, 1685, burnt by the sub-wardens, and fellows of Merton College, Oxon, in a public bonfire, made in the middle of their great quadrangle.  During these contentions, Mr. Settle also published a piece called The Medal Revers’d, published 1681; this was an answer to a poem of Dryden’s called The Medal, occasioned by the bill against the earl of Shaftsbury being found ignoramus at the Old Baily, upon which the Whig party made bonfires, and ordered a medal to be struck in commemoration of that event.  Shaftsbury, who was by his principles a Whig, and who could not but foresee the miseries which afterwards happened under a Popish Prince, opposed the succession with all his power; he was a man of very great endowments, and being of a bustling tumultuous disposition, was admirably fitted to be the head of a party.  He was the leading man against the succession of the Duke of York, and argued in the House of Lords with great force against him, and what was more remarkable, sometimes in the Duke’s presence.  It is related, that at the Council-table, when his Majesty, and his Royal Brother were both present, something concerning the succession was canvassed, when Shaftsbury, not in the least intimidated, spoke his opinion with great vehemence against the Duke, and was answered with equal heat, but with less force, by the then lord chamberlain.  During this debate, the Duke took occasion to whisper the King, that his Majesty had a villain of a chancellor, to which the King merrily replied, oddsfish, York, what a fool you have of a chamberlain:  by which it appears, his Majesty was convinced that Shaftsbury’s arguments were the strongest.

In consequence of Shaftsbury’s violent opposition to the Duke, and the court party, there was a Bill of Indictment of High Treason, read before his Majesty’s Commissioners of Oyer and Terminer in the Sessions-House at the Old Bailey, but the Jury found it Ignoramus; upon which, all the party rejoiced at the deliverance of their head.  These disturbances gave Mr. Settle an opportunity to display his abilities, which he did not neglect to improve, by which means he procured so formidable an antagonist as Mr. Dryden, who was obliged by his place of laureat, to speak, and write for the court.  Dryden had formerly joined Mr. Settle, in order to reduce the growing reputation of Shadwell, but their interest being now so opposite, they became poetical enemies, in which Settle was, no doubt, over-matched.  He wrote a poem, however, called Azaria and Hushai, in five sheets, 4to. designed as an answer to Mr. Dryden’s poem called Absalom and Achitophel.

Soon after this, if we may credit the Oxford Antiquary, Settle changed sides, and turned Tory, with as much violence as he had formerly espoused the interest of the Whigs.  He published in 1683, in eight meets in folio, a Narrative; the first part of which is concerning himself, as being of the Tory side; the second to shew the inconsistency, and contradiction of Titus Oates’s Narrative of the Plot of the Popish Party, against the Life of King Charles ii. at the time when that Monarch intended to alter his ministry, to have consented to the exclusion of his brother, and taken measures to support the Protestant interest.  This Oates was in the reign of James ii. tried, and convidled of perjury, upon the evidence chiefly of Papists, and had a severe sentence pronounced, and inflicted upon him, viz.  Imprisonmehd for life, twice every year to stand on the pillory, and twice to be severely whipt; but he received a pardon from King William, after suffering his whippings, and two years imprisonment, with amazing fortitude, but was never allowed again to be an evidence.  While Settle was engaged in the Tory party, he is said, by Wood, to have been author of Animadversions on the Last Speech and Confession of William Lord Russel, who fell a sacrifice to the Duke of York, and whose story, as related by Burnet, never fails to move the reader to tears.  Also Remarks on Algernon Sidney’s Paper, delivered to the Sheriffs at his Execution, London, 1683, in one sheet, published the latter end of December the same year.  Algernon Sidney was likewise murdered by the same kind of violence, which popish bigotry had lifted up against the lives of some other British worthies.

He also wrote a heroic poem on the Coronation of the High and Mighty Monarch James ii.  London 1685, and then commenced a journalist for the Court, and published weekly an Essay in behalf of the Administration.  If Settle was capable of these mean compliances of writing for, or against a party, as he was hired, he must have possessed a very sordid mind, and been totally devoid of all principles of honour; but as there is no other authority for it than Wood, who is enthusiastic in his temper, and often writes of things, not as they were, but as he would wish them to be, the reader may give what credit he pleases to the report.

Our author’s dramatic works are

1.  The Empress of Morocco, a Tragedy; acted at the Duke of York’s Theatre.  This play was likewise acted at court, as appears by the two Prologues prefixed, which were both spoken by the Lady Elizabeth Howard; the first Prologue was written by the Earl of Mulgrave, the other by Lord Rochester; when it was performed at court, the Lords and Ladies of the Bed-chamber played in it.  Mr. Dryden, Mr. Shadwell, and Mr. Crowne, wrote against it, which began a famous controversy betwixt the wits of the town, wherein, says Jacob, Mr. Dryden was roughly handled, particularly by the lord Rochester, and the duke of Buckingham, and Settle got the laugh upon his side.

2.  Love and Revenge, a Tragedy; acted at the Duke of York’s Theatre, 4t, dedicated to William Duke of Newcastle.

3.  Cambyses King of Persia, a Tragedy; acted at the Duke’s Theatre, dedicated to Anne Duchess of Monmouth.  This tragedy is written in heroic verse; the plot from Justin, lib. i. .  Herodotus, &c.  The Scene is in Suza, and Cambyses’s camp near the walls of Suza.

4.  The Conquest of China by the Tartars, a Tragedy; acted at the Duke’s Theatre, 4t, dedicated to the Right Hon. the Lord Howard of Castle-rising.  This play is likewise written in heroic verse, and founded on history.

5.  Ibrahim, the Illustrious Bassa, a Tragedy in heroic verse; acted at the Duke’s Theatre 1677, dedicated to the Duchess of Albemarle.  Plot from the Illustrious Bassa, a Romance, by Scuddery.  The Scene Solyman’s Seraglio.

6.  Pastor Fido, or The Faithful Shepherd; a Pastoral; acted at the Duke of York’s Theatre.  This is Sir Richard Fanshaw’s translation from the Italian of Guarini Improved.  Scene Arcadia.

7.  Fatal Love, or The Forced Inconstancy; a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal, 1680, dedicated to Sir Robert Owen.

8.  The Female Prelate, being the History of the Life and Death of Pope Joan; a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal, 4t, dedicated to Anthony Earl of Shaftsbury.

9.  The Heir of Morocco, with the Death of Gyland, a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1682.

10.  Distressed Innocence, or the Princess of Persia; a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal, dedicated to John Lord Cutts.  This play was acted with applause; the author acknowledges his obligations to Betterton, for some valuable hints in this play, and that Mr. Mountford wrote the last scene of it.

11.  The Ambitious Slave, or a Generous Revenge; a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre Royal, 4t.  This play met with ill success.

12.  The World in the Moon, a Dramatic, Comic Opera; performed at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden, by his Majesty’s Servants, 1698.

13.  City Rambler, or The Playhouse Wedding; a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal.

14.  The Virgin Prophetess, or The Fate of Troy; an Opera; performed 1701.

15.  The Ladies Triumph, a Comic Opera; presented at the Theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, by Subscription, 1710.

Our poet possessed a pension from the City Magistrates, for an annual Panegyric to celebrate the Festival of the Lord Mayor, and in consequence wrote various poems, which he calls Triumphs for the Inauguration of the Lord Mayors, which are preserved in his works, and which it would be needless to enumerate.  Besides his dramatic pieces, he published many occasional poems, addressed to his patrons, and some funeral elegies on the deaths of his friends.  It is certain Settle did not want learning, and, in the opinion of some critics, in the early part of his life, sometimes excelled Dryden; but that was certainly owing more to a power he had of keeping his temper unruffled, than any effort of genius; for between Dryden and Settle, there is as great difference, as between our modern versifiers, and Pope.

Whatever was the success of his poetry, he was the best contriver of machinery in England, and for many years of the latter part of his life received an annual salary from Mrs. Minns, and her daughter Mrs. Leigh, for writing Drolls for Bartholomew, and Southwark Fairs, with proper decorations, which were generally so well contrived, that they exceeded those of their opponents in the same profession.

Our author died in the Charterhouse 1724; some months before his decease, he offered a play to the managers of the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, but he lived not to introduce it on the stage; it was called The Expulsion of the Danes from Britain.