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Significant Scots
David Mallet


MALLET, DAVID, a poet and miscellaneous writer, is said to have been a descendant of the clan Macgregor, so well known for its crimes, and persecution. When that unhappy race were proscribed by a solemn act of state, an ancestor of the poet escaped to the lowlands, and assumed the fictitious name of Malloch. James Malloch, the father of the poet, kept a small public house at Crieff, on the borders of the Highlands, where it is supposed that David was born, about the year 1700. Of his career from youth to manhood, nothing certain is known, nor whence he first derived his education, as, in after life, either through pride or prejudice, he studiously endeavoured to conceal his true name and origin.

Having studied for a time under Mr Ker, a professor in Aberdeen, he, it appears, removed to Edinburgh, where he was, in 1720, employed in the station of tutor to the children of a Mr Home; he at the same time attended the university of that city. He had while at Aberdeen early exercised himself in poetical composition; and a pastoral and some other small pieces which he wrote about this period, attracted the notice of many of the Scottish literati, by whom he was kindly sought after. Finding his situation in Mr Home’s family by no means agreeable, being treated, it is said, with great illiberality, he anxiously sought to change it, and was so fortunate as to be recommended by the professors of the college to the duke of Montrose, who wanted a fit person to be tutor to his two sons, who were then going to Winchester. It is obvious that he must have conducted himself while at college with uncommon zeal and propriety, as nothing but superior ability could have procured for a youth so humbly connected, so marked a preference over the rest of his fellow students. He was most kindly received in his grace’s family; and, on coming to London in the winter, attended his noble pupils to most places of public amusement, and still further improved himself in polite literature, and a knowledge of the world.

Malloch accompanied his noble pupils to the continent, and made what is usually called the grand tour. On their return to London, he still continued to reside with that illustrious family, where, from his advantageous station, he got by degrees introduced to the most polished circle of society. In 1723, in a periodical work of Aaron Hill’s, called the Plain Dealer, No. 36, Malloch’s pleasing ballad of William and Margaret first appeared. The beauty of the production was so highly praised, that it inspired him with courage to apply himself closely to his poetical studies, which he had for some time neglected. "Of this poem," says Dr Johnson, "he has been envied the reputation; and plagiarism has been boldly charged, but never proved,"—though "in its original state it was very different from what it is in the latter edition of his works." It is, however, evident that the idea of the ballad was taken from two much older ones, namely, William’s Ghaist, and Fair Margaret. From these he borrowed largely, both in sentiment and expression. Still, notwithstanding all traces of imitation, as a modern biographer truly observes, "there is enough of Mallet’s own in the ballad of William and Margaret, to justify all the poetical reputation which it procured for its author." The fame so justly acquired by his illustrious countryman, Thomson, whose friendship he had the honour to enjoy, stimulated him to imitate his style; and, in 1728, he produced a poem under the title of the Excursion. It is a collection of poetical landscapes, sketched with some skill and elegance, in imitation of the Seasons, but much inferior in strength and sublimity. About this time he adopted the foolish conceit of changing his name from Malloch to Mallet, to conceal from common observation his country and origin; having, as Dr Johnson satirically remarks, "by degrees cleared his tongue from his native pronunciation, so as to be no longer distinguished as a Scot, he seemed inclined to disincumber himself from all adherences of his original, and took upon him to change his name from Scotch Malloch to English Mallet, without any imaginable reason of preference which the eye or ear can discover."

Mallet next produced a tragedy, called Eurydice, which he had planned some years before: it was first brought on the stage in very flattering reception. Garrick, several years afterwards, when Mallet enjoyed both fame and fortune, again introduced Eurydice to the public; but not even the talents of that unrivalled actor, assisted by the celebrated Mrs Cibber, could make it be tolerated for any length of time. Though so ably supported in the principal parts, so gross was the egotism of Mallet, that, as Davies tells us, he sat all the time in the orchestra, and bestowed his execrations plentifully on the players, to whom he entirely attributed the bad success of the piece.

Mallet now left the family of the duke of Montrose, and went to reside with a Mr Knight at Gosfield, probably as a teacher; but still he had made an impression, and enjoyed the esteem of the first literary characters of the day. There is a remarkable letter extant, from Pope to Mr Knight, in which he speaks of Mallet in the following affectionate terms:—"To prove to you how little essential to friendship I hold letter-writing—I have not yet written to Mr Mallet, whom I love and esteem greatly; nay, whom I know to have as tender a heart, and that feels a remembrance as long as any man." With what heartless ingratitude Mallet returned this noble expression of confident esteem, will be seen afterwards. Proud in the first instance of being honoured by the particular regard of so eminent a poet, he servilely employed his pen, by attacking Bentley, to please Pope, whose ridicule of critics and commentators he echoed in a poem, published in 1733, entitled Verbal Criticism. It is stuffed, as Bentley observes, "with illiberal cant about pedantry and collections of manuscripts. Real scholars will always speak with due regard of such names as the Scaligers, Salmasiuses, Heinsiuses, Burmans, Gronoviuses, Reiskiuses, Marklands, Gesners, and Heynes." Dr Johnson considered the versification above mediocrity, which is all that can be said in its praise. About this time, Frederick, prince of Wales, being at variance with his father, kept what was considered an opposition court, where he affected the patronage of men of letters, with the hope of adding to his popularity. Mallet, through the recommendation of his friends, had the good fortune to be appointed under-secretary to his royal highness, with a salary of 200 a-year. "He attended the prince of Orange to Oxford in 1734, and presented to him a copy of verses, written in the name of the university; on which occasion he was admitted to the degree of M.A. Had then the Oxford muses lost their voice? or did he assume a fictitious character, for the purpose of spontaneous adulation? The circumstance is certainly extraordinary." In 1739, he published his tragedy of Mustapha: it was brought on the stage under the patronage of the prince of Wales, to whom it was dedicated. The first representation of the piece is said to have been honoured with the presence of all the leading members of the opposition. The characters of Solyman the Magnificent, and Hustan his Vizier, were generally supposed to glance at the king and Sir Robert Walpole; notwithstanding which, it was licensed by the lord chamberlain, and performed with much applause to crowded houses. But in proportion as the public mind was diverted by the appearance of another set of political actors than those to whom the play was said to refer, it lost its only attraction, and sunk with his Eurydice into oblivion, whence neither is likely to be ever called forth. In the following year, Mallet wrote, in conjunction with Thomson, by command of the prince, the masque of "Alfred," in honour of the birthday of his eldest daughter, the princess Augusta. It was first acted in the gardens of Cliffden, by a set of performers brought from London for the express purpose; and after Thomson’s death, Mallet revised it for Drury Lane theatre, where it had, with the aid of music and splendid scenery, a run for a short time.

The same year he published his principal prose work, the Life of Lord Bacon, prefixed to a new edition of the works of that illustrious person, in point of style, it may be considered as an elegant and judicious piece of biography, but nothing more. To develop the vast treasures stored in the mighty intellect of Bacon, was a task to which the best intellects of that and a succeeding age would have failed to do justice. Of Mallet’s performance, Dr Johnson merely says, that "it is known as appended to Bacon’s volumes, but is no longer mentioned."

In 1742, Mallet made a considerable addition to his fortune by marriage. He had already buried one wife, by whom he had several children; but of her there is little or no account. His second choice was Miss Lucy Estob, the daughter of the earl of Carlisle’s steward, with whom he received a portion of 10,000. From his various sources of income, Mallet may be considered as one of the most fortunate worshippers of the Muses in his day, and hence, becoming either indifferent or lazy, he allowed seven years to pass over without favouring the public with any thing from his pen. When at length his Hermit, or Amyntor and Theodora, appeared, critics were much divided in their opinions of its merits. Dr Warton, in his Essay on the Life and Writings of Pope, says it "exhibits a nauseous affectation, expressing every thing pompously and poetically," while Dr Johnson praises it for "copiousness and elegance of language, vigour of sentiment, and imagery well adapted to take possession of the fancy." Up to this period the character of Mallet stood deservedly high with the public as an author, but we now come to a part of his history when he drew down upon his head the severe but just censure of all honourable men.

Pope, who honoured Mallet with his friendship at a time when a favourable word from the bard of Twickenham was sufficient to advance the interests of any genius, however depressed by obscurity, had now introduced Mallet to lord Bolingbroke, at the time when the Patriot King was first written by his lordship. Only seven copies were printed, and given to some particular friends of the author, including Pope, with a positive injunction against publication, Bolingbroke assigning as a reason that the work was not finished in a style sufficiently to his satisfaction before he would consent to let it go forth to the world. Pope obliged his friend Mr Ralph Allen of Prior Park, near Bath, with the loan of his copy, stating to him at the same time the injunction of lord Bolingbroke; but that gentleman was so delighted with the work, that he pressed Pope to allow him to print a limited impression at his own cost, promising at the same time to observe the strictest caution, and not to permit a single copy to get into the hands of any individual until the consent of the author could be obtained. Under this condition Pope consented, and an edition was printed, packed up, and deposited in a wareroom, of which Pope received the key. There it remained until, by the untimely death of Pope, the transaction came to the knowledge of lord Bolingbroke, who felt or affected to feel, the highest indignation at what he called Pope’s breach of faith. Mallet, it was generally believed at the time, was the person who informed his lordship of the transaction, but it has never been sufficiently proved that he was the unworthy author. Mr George Rose, to whom all the particulars of the story were related by the earl of Marchmont, the intimate friend of Bolingbroke, gives us an account of the discovery which clears Mallet of all blame. "On the circumstance," he says, "being made known to lord Bolingbroke, who was then a guest in his own house at Battersea with lord Marchmont, to whom he had lent it for two or three years, his lordship was in great indignation; to appease which, lord Marchmont sent Mr Grevinkop to bring out the whole edition, of which a bonfire was instantly made on the Terrace at Battersea." This, however, did not by any means appease his lordship’s angry feelings. He determined on revising and publishing the work himself, and employed Mallet to write a preface, in which the part that Pope had acted was to be set forth to the world in the blackest and falsest colours possible. To the lasting disgrace of his character, he was found ready to stoop to so vile and dishonourable a task. It would be vain to seek for any palliation of such egregious turpitude. He was rich, and placed beyond the craving temptation of lending himself to any one, however high in rank or interest, to defile his pen by so unworthy a task. But no compunctious visiting of honour ever once stayed his hand, or prevented him from heaping the most malignant abuse upon his departed friend, for an affair in which, it is evident, there was nothing dishonourable intended, either on the part of Pope or Allen. Every fact that could tend to exonerate Mr Pope, particularly the share his friend had in the business, and the careful suppression of the copies until Bolingbroke’s permission for their publication could be procured is studiously concealed. "How far Mallet was acquainted with all these circumstances we cannot pretend to affirm." Nor need any one care about the proportions in which they divide the infamy between them.

The unmitigated resentment of lord Bolingbroke, for the evidently unintentional error of a friend whom he almost worshipped while living, is endeavoured to be accounted for by the preference Pope gave to Warburton, whom Bolingbroke could never endure. Be that as it may; if true, it only proves the meanness of his lordship’s character, and how much mistaken Pope was in the man whose name he embalmed within his deathless page, as a pattern for the most exalted and disinterested friendship. But though such may have been his lordship’s feelings, pride must have made him conceal the true cause from Mallet, who had nothing but the sordid temptation of a ready hireling to incite him to the odious task. He was rewarded for this service at the death of lord Bolingbroke, by the bequest of his lordship’s works, with the care and profit of those already published, as well as all his manuscripts.

Mallet, who cared as little for the fame or character of his noble benefactor as he did for the illustrious friend he was hired to traduce, with the true spirit of avarice, raked up every scrap of Bolingbroke’s writings for publication, without in the least discriminating what ought to be suppressed, though many of the papers contained the most offensive doctrines, subversive of sound morals and revealed religion; the consequence was, that his hopes of gain were very properly frustrated by a presentment which arose from a decision of the grand jury of Westminster, stopping the obnoxious works. This must have sorely affected him, for, before the publication of the five vols. 4to, in 1754, he was offered, by one Millar, a bookseller, 8000 for his copyright, which he refused. After all, the sale was so extremely slow, that it took upwards of twenty years to dispose of the first edition, though assisted by the notoriety of the prosecution of the work. He next appears as an author in, if possible, a more odious light. The disastrous affair of Minorca, at the commencement of the war of 1756, had rendered the ministry unpopular. Mallet was employed to divert the public odium, and turn it upon the unfortunate Admiral Byng. For this purpose he wrote a paper under the character of A Plain Man, in which the disgrace brought upon the British arms in the affair of Minorca, was entirely imputed to the cowardice of the admiral. It was circulated with great industry. How cruelly it effected its purpose need not be told. Byng is now universally considered to have been offered up as a victim to the popular clamour which was thus raised against him, rather than from actual demerit in his conduct. "The price of blood," says Dr Johnson, with fearful but just severity, "was a pension which Mallet retained till his death." He continued to exercise his talent for poetical composition, and published a collection of his works, dedicated to great patrons. At the beginning of the reign of George III., when lord Bute was placed in power, Mallet, who never let an opportunity slip for serving his own interests, enlisted under the ministerial banners, and offered a two-fold service to the cause, by his Truth in Rhyme, and a tragedy called Elvira, imitated from La Motte, and applicable to the politics of the day. His reward was, the place of keeper of the book of entries for the port of London. The Critical Review of that period praised the tragedy in the highest degree; but it is asserted that Mallet had the superintendence of that publication, and was the critic of his own works. On the death of the celebrated duchess of Marlborough, in 1744, it was found by her will, that she left to Mr Glover, the author of Leonidas, and Mr Mallet, jointly, the sum of 1,000, on condition that they drew up, from the family papers, a History of the Life of the Great Duke. The legacy, however, was found to be clogged with so many unpleasant restrictions, that Glover, with the true independence of a man of genius, declined any share in the onerous task. Mallet, who never was troubled by any misgiving of conscience, accepted the legacy, under all stipulations, and was put in possession of the papers necessary for proceeding with the work. The second duke of Marlborough, in order to stimulate his industry, added, in the most liberal manner, an annual pension to the legacy. Mallet pretended all along, that he was deeply engaged in forwarding the work for publication, and in a dedication to his Grace, of a collection of his poems, he spoke of having soon the honour of dedicating to him the life of his illustrious predecessor. But, on the death of Mallet, not a vestige of any such work could be found, nor did it appear, that, after all the money he had received, he had even written a line of it. While he continued to delude his patron and friends, with the expectation of seeing his great work appear, he made the imposition subservient to his interest in many ways. In a familiar conversation with Garrick, and boasting of the diligence which he was then exerting upon the Life of Marlborough, he hinted, that in the series of great men quickly to be exhibited, he should find a niche for the hero of the theatre. Garrick professed to wonder by what artifice he could be introduced, but Mallet let him know, that by a dexterous anticipation, he should fix him in a conspicuous place. "Mr Mallet," says Garrick, in his gratitude of exultation, "have you left off to write for the stage?" Mallet then confessed that he had a drama in his hands—Garrick promised to act it, and Alfred was produced.

Mallet, finding his health in a declining state, went, accompanied by his wife, to the south of France, for the benefit of a change of air, but after some time, finding no improvement, he returned to England, where he died on the 21st April, 1765. Dr Johnson says, "His stature was diminutive, but he was regularly formed. His appearance, till he grew corpulent, was agreeable, and he suffered it to want no recommendation that dress could give it." His second wife is reported to have been particularly proud, and anxious that he should, at all times, appear like a man of the first rank. She reserved to herself the pleasing task of purchasing all his fine clothes, and was always sure to let her friends know it was out of her fortune she did so. As Mallet was what is called a free thinker in religion, his wife also, who prided herself in the strength of her understanding, scrupled not, when surrounded at her table with company of congenial opinions, amongst whom it is said Gibbon was a frequent guest, to enforce her dogmas in a truly authoritative style, prefacing them with the exclamation of "Sir,—We deists." As an additional proof of the vanity and weakness of this well-matched pair, we subjoin the following anecdotes from Wilkes’s Correspondence, and Johnson’s Lives of the Poets:--

"On his arrival from the north, he became a great declaimer at the London coffee-houses, against the Christian religion. Old surly Dennis was highly offended at his conduct, and always called him "Moloch." He then changed his name to Mallet, and soon after published an epistle to Mr Pope on Verbal Criticism. Theobald was attacked in it, and soon avenged himself in the new edition of Shakspeare: ‘An anonymous writer has, like a Scotch pedlar in wit, unbraced his pack on the subject. I may fairly say of this author, as Falstaff says of Poin—Hang him, baboon, his wit is as thick as Tewkesbury mustard; there is no more conceit in him than a mallet. ‘—Preface, p. 52, edition of 1733. This Malloch had the happiness of a wife, who had faith enough. She believed that her husband was the greatest poet and wit of the age. Sometimes she would seize his hand, and kiss it with rapture, and if the looks of a friend expressed any surprise, would apologize that it was the dear hand that wrote those divine poems. She was lamenting to a lady how much the reputation of her husband suffered by his name being so frequently confounded with that of Dr Smollett. The lady answered, ‘Madam, there is a short remedy; let your husband keep his own name."

"When Pope published his Essay on Man, but concealed the author, Mallet entering one day, Pope asked him slightly what there was new. Mallet told him that the newest piece was something called an Essay on Man, which he had inspected idly, and seeing the utter inability of the author, who had neither skill in writing, nor knowledge of the subject, had tossed it away. Pope, to punish his self-conceit, told him the secret."

"Mallet’s conversation," says Dr Johnson, "was elegant and easy, his works are such as a writer, bustling in the world, showing himself in public, and emerging, occasionally, from time to time, into notice, might keep alive by his personal influence; but which, conveying but little information, and giving no great pleasure, must soon give way, as the succession of things produces new topics of conversation, and other modes of amusement."

A daughter, by his first wife, named Cilesia, who was married to an Italian of rank, wrote a tragedy called "Almida," which was acted at Drury Lane theatre. She died at Genoa in 1790.


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