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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Which rivalled the success of The Rosciad


name and fame have suffered of late years. Since Byron stood by the neglected grave and mused on him who blazed, the comet of a season, the genius of Churchill has been more and more disregarded. But the Georgian epoch, so rich in its many and contrasting types {53} of men of letters, produced few men more remarkable in themselves, if not in their works, than Charles Churchill. The cleric who first became famous for most unclerical assaults upon the stage, the satirist who could be the most devoted friend, the seducer who could be so loyal to his victim, the spendthrift who could be generous, the cynic who could feel and obey the principles of the purest patriotism, was one of those strangely compounded natures in which each vice was as it were effaced or neutralized by some compensating virtue. It may be fairly urged that while Churchill's virtues were his own, his vices were in large part the fault of his unhappy destiny. The Westminster boy who learned Latin under Vincent Bourne, and who was a schoolfellow of Warren Hastings, of Cowper, and of Colman, might possibly have made a good scholar, but was certainly not of the stuff of which good clergymen are made. An early marriage, an unhappy marriage contracted in the Rules of the Fleet, had weighed down his life with encumbrances almost before he had begun to live. Compelled to support an unsuitable wife and an increasing family, Churchill followed his father's example and his father's injudicious counsel and took Holy
Orders. Men took Orders in those days with a light heart. It afforded the needy a livelihood, precarious indeed for the most part, but still preferable to famine. Men took Orders with no thought of the sanctity of their calling, of the solemn service it exacted, of its awful duties and its inexorable demands. They wished merely to keep famine from the door, to have food and fire and shelter, and they took Orders as under other conditions they would have taken the King's shilling, with no more feeling of reverence for the black cassock than for the scarlet coat. Churchill was not the man to wear the clergyman's gown with dignity, or to find in the gravity of his office consolation for the penury that it entailed. The Establishment offered meagre advantages to an extravagant man with an extravagant wife. He drifted deeper and deeper into debt. He became as a wandering star, reserved for the blackness of bailiffs and the darkness of duns. But the {54} rare quality he had in him of giving a true friendship to his friend won a like quality from other men. Dr. Lloyd, under-master of his old school of Westminster, came to his aid, helped him in his need, and secured the patience of his creditors. He was no longer harassed, but he was still poor, and the spur of poverty drove him to tempt his fortune in letters. Like so many a literary adventurer of the eighteenth century, he saw in the writing of verse the sure way to success. Like so many a literary adventurer of the century, he carried his first efforts unsuccessfully from bookseller to bookseller. The impulses of his wit were satirical; he was not dismayed by failure; the stage had entertained him and irritated him, and he made the stage the subject of his first triumph. "The Rosciad" was in every sense a triumph. Its stings galled the vanity of the players to frenzy. At all times a susceptible brotherhood, their susceptibilities were sharply stirred by Churchill's corrosive lines and acidulated epigrams. Their indignation finding vent in hot recrimination and virulent lampoon only served to make the poem and its author better known to the public. Churchill replied to the worst of his assailants in "The Apology," which rivalled the success of "The Rosciad," and gained for the satirist the friendship of Garrick, who had affected to disdain the praises of "The Rosciad," but who now recognized in time the power of the satirist and the value of his approval. Churchill himself was delighted with his good fortune. He was the talk of the town; he had plenty of money in his pocket; he was separated from his wife, freed from his uncongenial profession, and he could exchange the solemn black of the cleric for a blue coat with brass buttons and a gold-laced hat.

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