Narrative Summary of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V.

Overview: I’ve read through a compilation of biographies of British and Irish poets from the 17th and 18th centuries. The text gives a glimpse into the lives of these poets, detailing their personal struggles, their successes, their friendships, and their relationships with the literary and political worlds of the time. Each biography presents a unique perspective on the individual poet, focusing on their writing style, their challenges, and their impact on their respective societies.

Main parts:

The text is divided into individual biographies for each poet, covering various aspects of their lives:

  • Early Life & Education: This section discusses their childhood, families, and the education they received, often highlighting their early displays of talent or unusual circumstances.
  • Career & Writing: This section details their literary career, including their major works, publishing experiences, and any significant patronage they received.
  • Personal Life & Relationships: The text explores their relationships with family, friends, and patrons, often detailing personal struggles, controversies, and the impact of their social circles on their careers.
  • Political and Social Context: The biographies often discuss the political and social climate of the time, placing the poet within the broader historical context of their lives.
  • Literary Style & Impact: This section analyzes their writing style, their chosen genres, and their influence on other writers and the development of English literature.

View on Life:

Several different standpoints regarding life and how to live it are presented in these biographies:

  • The Struggle for Recognition: Many poets faced rejection, poverty, and a lack of recognition for their talents, showcasing the challenges of pursuing a career in literature.
  • The Power of Patronage: Patronage played a significant role in the success of many poets, demonstrating the importance of connections and influence in the literary world.
  • The Pursuit of Virtue: Several poets emphasized the importance of virtue and moral conduct, highlighting the societal and religious pressures of the time.
  • The Impact of Politics: Politics and political affiliation often intertwined with literary careers, influencing the content, reception, and patronage of works.
  • The Value of Friendship and Connection: The biographies demonstrate the importance of strong friendships and connections, providing support and encouragement to poets navigating the complexities of the literary world.

Scenarios & Situations:

The biographies detail various scenarios and situations that shaped the lives of these poets:

  • Family Disputes and Family Secrets: Several poets faced complex family relationships, including neglect, abandonment, and hidden truths surrounding their birth, highlighting the impact of these personal struggles on their lives and careers.
  • Political & Literary Rivalries: Many poets engaged in public disputes and criticisms, showcasing the competitive nature of the literary world and the influence of political factions.
  • Financial Hardships and Poverty: A common theme is the struggle to make a living as a poet, with many facing poverty and financial instability, forcing them to rely on patronage or alternative employment.
  • Social & Religious Pressures: The poets often navigated societal and religious pressures, facing criticism and rejection for their beliefs, their personal choices, or the content of their writing.
  • Love and Romantic Relationships: The biographies detail passionate romantic relationships, highlighting the impact of love and loss on their creative output and their personal lives.


These poets faced a multitude of challenges throughout their lives:

  • Lack of Formal Education or Institutional Support: Some poets lacked access to formal education or support from literary institutions, relying on self-education and personal connections to advance their careers.
  • Poverty and Financial Instability: A significant challenge for many was the struggle to make a living as a poet, often forcing them to rely on patronage or engage in other professions.
  • Social & Religious Stigma: Many poets faced societal and religious prejudice for their beliefs, their personal choices, or the content of their writing.
  • Political Intrigue and Factionalism: The political landscape of the time often affected their careers, with poets navigating factions and potentially facing censorship or limited opportunities for advancement.
  • Personal Struggles and Traumas: Many poets endured personal struggles, such as family disputes, romantic heartache, and mental health challenges, which often influenced their creative output and personal well-being.


The biographies highlight several instances of conflict:

  • Literary and Political Rivalries: The competitive nature of the literary world often led to conflicts between poets, particularly those with opposing political or social views.
  • Disputes with Patrons: Some poets experienced conflicts with their patrons, either due to shifts in patronage, perceived lack of support, or disagreements over the content of their works.
  • Personal Conflicts and Family Disputes: Several biographies detail complex family relationships, including accusations, betrayals, and unresolved issues that caused significant conflict in their lives.
  • Internal Conflict and Moral Dilemmas: Some poets grappled with internal conflict, such as moral dilemmas, religious doubts, or the pressures of conforming to societal expectations, which often reflected in their writing.


While not necessarily traditional narrative plots, the biographies offer insights into the story arc of each poet’s life:

  • Rise and Fall of Fortune: Many biographies illustrate the cyclical nature of fortune, with poets experiencing periods of success followed by periods of hardship, often due to shifting political alliances, loss of patrons, or personal struggles.
  • The Struggle for Recognition and Acceptance: The biographies showcase the ongoing effort of these poets to gain recognition for their talents, navigating societal expectations, and battling against prejudice and negativity.
  • The Quest for Success and Fulfillment: Each biography depicts the individual poet’s pursuit of success and fulfillment, often facing setbacks and challenges but ultimately leaving their mark on the literary world.

Point of view:

The biographies primarily offer a third-person perspective on the lives of the poets, presenting an objective account of their experiences. However, the writers sometimes inject their own opinions and interpretations, highlighting their personal biases or the prevailing opinions of the time.

How it’s written:

The biographies are written in a formal, scholarly style, utilizing historical records, letters, and other primary sources to provide a detailed account of the poet’s life. The prose is often descriptive, offering rich details about the poets’ personal lives, social interactions, and literary achievements.


The tone is generally objective and informative, but the text sometimes adopts a more subjective or emotional tone, particularly when discussing the personal struggles or triumphs of the poets.

Life choices:

The biographies explore the choices made by each poet, including:

  • Career Choices: Many poets struggled with career choices, balancing their love of literature with the realities of financial security and societal expectations.
  • Political Affiliations: Their choices to align with specific political factions or remain independent often had a significant impact on their opportunities and careers.
  • Personal Relationships: The choices they made regarding marriage, family, and personal relationships often shaped their lives and influenced their creative output.
  • Religious Beliefs and Practices: Their choices regarding religious affiliation, observance, and expression of faith often reflected the complex religious landscape of the time and influenced their worldview.


The biographies offer several important life lessons:

  • The Importance of Perseverance: Many poets faced adversity and setbacks, but their persistence and dedication to their craft ultimately led to recognition and success.
  • The Value of Relationships: The importance of strong friendships, mentorships, and patrons is emphasized, highlighting the power of support and encouragement in pursuing creative endeavors.
  • The Significance of Moral Character: The biographies often underscore the importance of virtue, integrity, and ethical conduct, showcasing the potential consequences of unethical or morally questionable actions.
  • The Impact of Societal & Political Context: The biographies illustrate how societal and political pressures can shape individuals’ lives and career paths, demonstrating the importance of understanding the broader context.


The text focuses on the lives of the following main characters:

  • Eustace Budgell: A writer, politician, and member of the “Spectator” circle who experienced a tragic downfall due to financial ruin and personal struggles.
  • Thomas Tickell: A poet and friend of Joseph Addison who received patronage through his connection to the influential figure.
  • William Hinchliffe: A bookseller and poet who achieved modest success in his writings.
  • Matthew Concanen: An Irish lawyer and writer who was known for his political writings and involvement in the literary controversies of the time.
  • Richard Savage: A poet and playwright who endured significant hardship, neglect, and legal challenges due to his mother’s cruelty and his own troubled life.
  • Thomas Sheridan: An Irish clergyman and schoolmaster known for his wit, humor, and his association with Jonathan Swift.
  • Jonathan Swift: A prominent satirist, writer, and clergyman who wielded influence through his wit and political commentary.
  • Constantia Grierson: An exceptionally talented scholar and writer who, despite a challenging life, made significant contributions to literature.
  • Catherine Cockburn: A prolific writer, philosopher, and playwright who achieved recognition for her defense of John Locke’s ideas.
  • Ambrose Philips: A poet known for his pastoral works who engaged in a famous literary rivalry with Alexander Pope.
  • Richard Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale: A learned nobleman and poet who translated Virgil.
  • Joseph Trapp: A scholar, clergyman, and poet who translated Virgil into blank verse and wrote several religious works.
  • Samuel Boyse: A poet and translator who endured poverty and addiction despite displaying significant literary talent.
  • Richard Blackmore: A prolific writer, physician, and poet who gained recognition for his religious and philosophical works, particularly “The Creation.”
  • James Thomson: A poet known for his “Seasons” and “Castle of Indolence,” who achieved significant success in both poetry and drama.
  • Alexander Pope: A renowned poet, translator, and satirist considered one of the greatest English writers of the 18th century.
  • Aaron Hill: A prolific writer, playwright, and poet who pursued diverse interests and made contributions to various fields.
  • Lewis Theobald: A writer and critic known for his edition of Shakespeare’s plays and for his literary rivalry with Alexander Pope.
  • Samuel Croxall: A clergyman and poet known for his translation of “The Song of Solomon” and his political writings.
  • Christopher Pitt: A poet and clergyman known for his translations of Virgil and Vida’s “Art of Poetry.”
  • James Hammond: A poet known for his tender love elegies, inspired by a romantic relationship.
  • John Banks: A poet who overcame a challenging upbringing to achieve success as a writer.
  • Laetitia Pilkington: A poetess who experienced hardship, poverty, and personal struggles but still made a significant contribution to literature.
  • Thomas Southern: A playwright known for his tragedies, particularly “Oroonoko” and “The Fatal Marriage.”
  • James Miller: A clergyman and playwright known for his comedies, particularly “The Humours of Oxford” and “The Man of Taste.”
  • Nicholas Amhurst: A writer and satirist known for his contributions to “The Craftsman” and his satirical works.
  • George Lillo: A playwright and jeweler known for his work “The London Merchant,” which explored the themes of morality and social justice.
  • Charles Johnson: A playwright known for his numerous plays, including “The Generous Husband.”
  • Philip Frowde: A poet and playwright known for his tragedies “The Fall of Saguntum” and “Philotas.”
  • Mary Chandler: A writer and poet who achieved literary success in her poems on Bath and “Sweet Solitude.”


Several important themes emerge from the biographies:

  • The Struggle for Artistic Recognition: The constant struggle of poets to gain recognition for their talents and overcome societal prejudices highlights the complexities of the artistic world.
  • The Power of Patronage and Influence: The reliance on patronage and the impact of social connections showcase the importance of networks and influence in artistic careers.
  • The Conflict between Morality and Self-Interest: The poets often faced moral dilemmas, balancing their personal desires and ambitions with ethical considerations and societal expectations.
  • The Relationship between Art and Politics: The biographies demonstrate how art and politics intertwined, shaping the content and reception of literary works.
  • The Importance of Resilience and Perseverance: Despite facing hardship, adversity, and personal setbacks, many poets persevered in their creative pursuits, leaving lasting legacies.


These biographies highlight several principles:

  • The Pursuit of Virtue and Moral Conduct: Several poets valued virtue and moral conduct, emphasizing the importance of these principles in both personal and public life.
  • The Power of Reason and Intellectual Inquiry: The biographies showcase the value of reason and intellectual exploration in navigating complex issues, challenging societal norms, and making moral decisions.
  • The Role of Compassion and Empathy: Many poets demonstrated compassion and empathy towards those in need, highlighting the importance of these values in human relationships.
  • The Impact of Social & Political Context: These biographies emphasize the importance of considering the broader social and political context when analyzing individuals’ lives and choices.

Intentions of the characters:

The intentions of the poets varied depending on their circumstances and personal goals:

  • Desire for Recognition and Success: Many poets sought to achieve recognition for their talents, gain financial security, and make a lasting contribution to the literary world.
  • Desire for Social Change and Moral Improvement: Some poets used their writing as a platform to advocate for social justice, challenge societal norms, and promote moral values.
  • Desire for Personal Fulfillment and Expression: The pursuit of personal fulfillment through creative expression is a recurring theme, with poets seeking to capture the complexities of human experience in their writing.
  • Desire for Patronage and Political Influence: The pursuit of patronage and political influence played a significant role in the lives of many poets, demonstrating the intersection of art and power.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Pindaric Ode”: A type of poetry that imitates the style of the ancient Greek poet Pindar, characterized by its complex structure, elevated language, and celebration of heroes.
  • “True Catholic”: Used by Pope to describe his belief in a universal Christianity, rejecting the specific practices and authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
  • “Whimsicals”: A term used by Lord Bolingbroke to describe Tories who supported the Hanoverian succession.
  • “Laudatur et alget”: A Latin phrase meaning “he is praised and freezes,” used by Frowde to describe the reception of his play “Philotas” which was praised but did not find significant success.
  • “False Sublime”: A term used to describe writing that attempts to achieve grandeur but falls into bombast and ridiculous exaggeration.
  • “Whip-Syllabub”: Used by an unnamed critic to describe Southern’s comedic dialogue, implying it was light and entertaining but lacked depth.
  • “Sal Atticum”: A Latin term referring to the wit and humor associated with Athenian comedies.


  • Eustace Budgell’s Suicide: Budgell’s suicide after experiencing financial ruin and personal struggles illustrates the tragic consequences of unchecked ambition and the impact of societal pressures.
  • Richard Savage’s Mother’s Cruelty: Savage’s mother’s relentless pursuit to deny him recognition and inheritance highlights the darkest side of human nature.
  • Jonathan Swift’s Relationship with Stella: Swift’s complex and ultimately tragic relationship with Esther Johnson, known as Stella, showcases the destructive power of pride and ambition.
  • Alexander Pope’s Rivalry with Joseph Addison: Pope’s famous rivalry with Addison, fueled by personal animosity and contrasting personalities, demonstrates the competitive nature of the literary world.
  • James Thomson’s “Seasons” Discovery: The story of Thomson’s “Winter” being overlooked until a discerning reader recognized its merit illustrates the importance of recognizing talent and supporting new writers.
  • Aaron Hill’s Beech-Oil Project: Hill’s ambitious project to produce oil from beech nuts, which ultimately failed due to conflicts with partners, highlights the challenges of implementing innovative ideas.
  • Lewis Theobald’s “Double Falsehood” Controversy: Theobald’s attempt to claim a play as Shakespeare’s work, sparking a heated debate with Pope, highlights the desire to associate with established literary figures.
  • Samuel Croxall’s “Fair Circassian” Controversy: Croxall’s adaptation of the Song of Solomon into an amorous dialogue sparked criticism for his perceived irreverence towards religious texts.
  • Mary Chandler’s Love for Horace: Chandler’s deep admiration for Horace demonstrates the power of finding connection and inspiration in the works of other writers.
  • John Banks’s “Weaver’s Miscellany”: Banks’s attempt to imitate the success of Stephen Duck’s “Thresher” by writing about a weaver’s life, which ultimately failed, illustrates the challenges of relying on novelty for success.
  • Laetitia Pilkington’s Journey to London: Pilkington’s journey to London seeking recognition and opportunities, which ultimately led to hardships and personal struggles, shows the allure and potential pitfalls of pursuing a literary career in a major city.


  • The Value of Moral and Intellectual Excellence: The biographies emphasize the importance of moral conduct, intellectual inquiry, and the pursuit of excellence in various fields.
  • The Complexities of Human Nature: The texts explore the full range of human emotions and motivations, including ambition, envy, compassion, greed, and the desire for recognition.
  • The Power of Literature and the Arts: The biographies highlight the power of literature and art to inspire, educate, and provide a platform for social commentary and personal expression.

Facts & Findings:

  • Political and Social Climate: The biographies provide valuable insights into the political and social landscape of the 17th and 18th centuries, showcasing the impact of major events like the Revolution, the rise of Hanover, and the changing religious landscape.
  • Literary Practices: The text describes common literary practices of the time, including patronage, publishing methods, and the role of literary societies and clubs.


  • The Success of “The London Merchant”: George Lillo’s play was acted over 20 times in the summer season and continued to be popular in the winter months, demonstrating its appeal to audiences.
  • The Success of “The Craftsman”: The anti-court paper “The Craftsman” sold 10,000 copies in a single day, showcasing its influence and reach during the time.
  • The Profits of Southern’s Plays: Thomas Southern earned 700 pounds from one of his plays, highlighting the financial rewards that could be achieved through successful dramatic works.

Point of View:

The text is primarily written from a third-person perspective, offering an objective view of the poets’ lives and achievements. However, the authors sometimes express their own opinions and biases, reflecting the political and social views of their time.


The biographies offer a unique perspective on the lives of British and Irish poets, showcasing their triumphs and struggles, their relationships with society, and their enduring impact on literature. They provide insights into the social, political, and religious climate of the era, and offer valuable lessons about ambition, resilience, and the importance of moral character in pursuing creative endeavors.

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