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The Scottish Nation

MALLET, DAVID, a poet and miscellaneous writer, was born at Crieff, in Perthshire, about 1700. His father, said to have been a descendant of the proscribed clan Gregor, was named James Malloch, and kept a small public-house in that town. It is uncertain where he got his early education, but he appears to have studied for some time under a professor Ker in Aberdeen, and during his residence in that city, he wrote a pastoral and a few other short pieces, which attracted some notice. He afterwards removed to Edinburgh, and in 1720 was employed as a tutor in the family of a Mr. Home of that city. At the same time he attended the university, and in 1723 he was recommended by the professors as tutor to the two sons of the duke of Montrose, with whom he made the tour of Europe.

                              On their return to London, he continued to reside in the family of the duke, through whom he got introduced to the best society of the day. He now began to cultivate his poetical talents with great assiduity. In July 1724 he published in Aaron Hill’s ‘Plain Dealer,’ No. 36, his beautiful ballad of ‘William and Margaret,’ which at once procured him a high poetical reputation. On settling in London he had Anglicised his name to Mallet. Having, says Dr. Johnson, “by degrees cleared his tongue from his native pronunciation, so as to be no longer distinguished as a Scot, he seemed inclined to disencumber 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.” Dennis, the Critic, used in derision to call  him Moloch, which was possibly one reason for the change. In 1728 he published a poem, entitled ‘

The Excursion,’ being a series of landscape descriptions in blank verse, in the style of Thomson’s Seasons, but greatly inferior to that noble poem. In 1731 he produced a tragedy, entitled ‘Eurydice,’ which was acted at Drury Lane theatre, but without success.

                              His employment as tutor in the family of the duke of Montrose having come to an end, he went to reside with a Mr. Knight at Gosfield, it is supposed, as a teacher. About this time he formed an acquaintance with Pope, and to court the favour OF THAT EMINENT POET, HE PUBLISHED HIS POEMS ON ‘Verbal Criticism.’ Pope introduced him to Lord Bolingbroke, and he was soon after appointed under secretary to Frederick, prince of Wales, at that time at variance with his father, with a salary of £200 a-year. In 1739, his tragedy of ‘Mustapha’ was produced, and owed its temporary success to some political allusions in it to the king and Sir Robert Walpole. To serve and gratify his patron, the prince, he exhibited Sir Robert under the character of Rustan the vizier, and the king as Solyman the Magnificent. On the first night of its representation the heads of the opposition attended, and by their plaudits sustained the performance throughout. In the following year, in conjunction with Thomson, he wrote, by command of the prince, the masque of ‘Alfred,’ in honour of the birthday of his royal highness’ eldest daughter. The same year (1740) he wrote a life of Bacon, prefixed to an edition of his works, which was of very little merit, and is now forgotten. In 1747 he published his ‘Hermit, or Amyntor and Theodora,’ a poem which has been praised by Johnson for copiousness of language and vigour of sentiment, and censured by Warton for nauscous affectation.

                              On the death of Pope in 1744, Mallet, who was indebted to him for his introduction to Lord Bolingbroke, was by the latter employed to defame the character of his former friend, who, in a letter to Mr. Knight had once thus kindly spoken of him: “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 friendly remembrance as long as any man.” Mallet performed his ungracious task with the utmost malignity, in his preface to the revised edition of Bolingbroke’s ‘Patriot King,’ Pope’s offence being that he had allowed the first version of that work to be surreptitiously printed. Bolingbroke rewarded him with a bequest of all his writings, published and unpublished, and Mallet immediately began to prepare them for the press. “His conduct,” says Chalmers, “at the very outset of this business affords another illustration of his character. Francklin, the printer, to whom many of the political pieces written during the opposition to Walpole, had been given, as he supposed, in perpetuity, laid claim to some compensation for those. Mallet allowed his claim, and the question was referred to arbitrators, who were empowered to decide upon it, by an instrument signed by the parties; but when they decided unfavourable to Mr. Mallet, he refused to yield to the decision, and the printer was thus deprived of the benefit of the award, by not having insisted upon bonds of arbitration, to which Mallet had objection as degrading to a man of honour. He then proceeded, with the help of Millar, the bookseller, to publish all he could find; and so sanguine was he in his expectations that he rejected the offer of £3,000 which Millar offered him for the copyright, although he was, at this time, so distressed for money that he was forced to borrow some of Millar to pay the stationer and printer. The work at last appeared in 5 vols. 4to, and Mallet had soon reason to repent his refusal of the bookseller’s offer, as this edition was not sold off in twenty years. As these volumes contained many bold attacks on revealed religion, they brought much obloquy on the editor, and even a presentment was made of them by the grand jury of Westminster.”

                              In the beginning of 1757 Mallet was hired by the Newcastle administration to assist in directing the public indignation, for the disgrace brought on the British arms in the affair of Minorca, towards the unfortunate Admiral Byng; and, accordingly, while that officer was on his trial, he wrote a letter of accusation, under the character of “A Plain Man,” which, printed on a large sheet, was circulated with great industry. “The price of blood,” says Dr. Johnson, “was a pension which he retained till his death.” Mallet was unprincipled enough to accept of a legacy of £1,000 left by Sarah duchess of Marlborough at her death in 1744, as the price of a Life of her illustrious husband, of which he never wrote a line. Besides this bequest, he received also an annual sum from the second duke, to encourage him to proceed with it, but he never even commenced the work.

                              On Lord Bute becoming premier, Mallet wrote his ‘Truth in Rhyme.’ He also wrote ‘Edwin and Emma,’ a ballad. His tragedy of ‘Elvira,’ produced at Drury Lane in 1763, was written with the design of promoting the political views of the new administration. As a recompense, he was appointed keeper of the Book of Entries for ships in the port of London. He died April 21, 1765. A collected edition of his poems was published by himself in three vols. In 1759; but most of his writings are now only known by name. He was an avowed infidel, and a venal writer of the very worst description. He was twice married. Of his first wife, by whom he had several children, nothing is known. One daughter, named Cilesia, who married an Italian of rank, and died at Genoa in 1790, wrote a tragedy called “Almida,’ which was acted at Drury Lane. His second wife was a Lucy Elstob, a freethinker like himself, the daughter of Lord Carlisle’s steward, with whom he received a considerable fortune.

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