The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume V Part 17

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[1] See a Note in Warburton's Edition of Pope's Works.


Was the son of George Hill, esq; of Malmsbury-Abbey in Wilts.h.i.+re; a gentleman possessed of an estate of about 2000 l. a year, which was entailed upon him, and the eldest son, and to his heirs for many descents. But the unhappy misconduct of Mr. George Hill, and the weakness of the trustees, entangled it in such a manner as. .h.i.therto has rendered it of no advantage to his family; for, without any legal t.i.tle so to do, he sold it all, at different times, for sums greatly beneath the value of it, and left his children to their mother's care, and her mother's (Mrs. Ann Gregory) who took great pains with her grandson's education. At nine years old she put him to school to Mr. Rayner at Barnstable in Devons.h.i.+re, from whence, he went to Westminster school; where soon (under the care of Dr. Knipe) his genius shewed itself in a distinguished light, and often made him some amends for his hard fortune, which denied him such supplies of pocket-money as his spirit wished, by enabling him to perform the tasks of many who had not his capacity.

Mr. Aaron Hill, was born in Beaufort-Buildings in the Strand, on February 10, 1684-5. At fourteen years of age he left Westminster school; and, shortly after, hearing his grandmother make mention of a relation much esteemed (lord Paget, then amba.s.sador at Constantinople) he formed a resolution of paying him a visit there, being likewise very desirous to see that empire.

His grandmother being a woman of uncommon understanding, and great good-nature, would not oppose him in it; and accordingly he soon embark'd on board a s.h.i.+p, then going there, March 2, 1700, as appears by a Journal which he kept during his voyage, and in his travels (though at so weak an age) wherein he gave the most accurate account of every particular, in a manner much above his years.

When he arrived, lord Paget received him with as much surprize, as pleasure, wondering that so young a person as he was (but then in his fifteenth year) should chuse to run the hazard of such a voyage to visit a relation, whom he knew but by character. The amba.s.sador immediately provided for him a very learned ecclesiastic in his own house, and, under his tuition, sent him to travel, being desirous to improve, as far as possible, the education of a person he found worthy of it. With this tutor he had the opportunity of seeing Egypt, Palestine, and a great part of the Eastern country.

With lord Paget he returned home, about the year 1703, through great part of Europe; in which tour he saw most of the courts.

He was in great esteem with that n.o.bleman; insomuch, that in all probability he had been still more distinguished by him at his death, than in his life time, had not the envious fears and malice of a certain female, who was in high authority and favour with that lord, prevented and supplanted his kind disposition towards him: My lord took great pleasure in instructing him himself, wrote him whole books in different languages, on which his student placed the greatest value; which was no sooner taken notice of by jealous observation, than they were stolen from his apartment, and suffered to be some days missing, to the great displeasure of my lord, but still much greater affliction of his pupil, whose grief for losing a treasure he so highly valued, was more than doubled, by perceiving that from some false insinuation that had been made, it was believed he had himself wilfully lost them: But young Mr. Hill was soon entirely cleared on this head.

A few years after, he was desired both on account of his sobriety and understanding, to accompany Sir William Wentworth, a worthy baronet of Yorks.h.i.+re, who was then going to make the tour of Europe; with whom he travelled two or three years, and brought him home improved, to the satisfaction of that gentleman's relations.

'Twas in those different travels he collected matter for the history he wrote of Turkey, and published in 1709; a work he afterwards often repented having printed; and (though his own) would criticise upon it with much severity. (But, as he used to say, he was a very boy when he began and ended it; therefore great allowance may be made on that account); and in a letter which has since been printed in his works, wrote to his greatly valued friend, the worthy author of Clarissa, he acknowledges his consciousness of such defects: where speaking of obscurity, he says,

'Obscurity, indeed (if they had penetration to mean that) is burying sense alive, and some of my rash, early, too affected, puerile scriblings must, and should, have pleaded guilty to so just an accusation.'

The fire of youth, with an imagination lively as his was, seldom, if ever, go hand in hand with solid judgment. Mr. Hill did not give himself indeed time for correction, having wrote it so very expeditiously, as hardly would be credited. But (as Dr. Sprat, then bishop of Rochester, used to observe) there is certainly visible in that book, the seeds of a great writer.-He seldom in his riper years was guilty of the fault of non-correction; for he revis'd, too strictly rather, every piece he purposed for the public eye (exclusive of an author's natural fondness); and it has been believed by many, who have read some of his pieces in the first copy, that had they never been by a revisal deepened [Transcriber's note: 'deepned' in original] into greater strength, they would have pleased still more, at least more generally.

About the year 1709 he published his first poem, called Camillus; in vindication, and honour of the earl of Peterborough, who had been general in Spain. After that n.o.bleman had seen it, he was desirous to know who was the author of it; which having found by enquiry, he complimented him by making him his secretary, in the room of Mr. Furly, who was gone abroad with another n.o.bleman: And Mr. Hill was always held in high esteem with that great peer; with whom, however, he did not continue long; for in the year 1710 he married the only daughter of Edmund Morris, Esq; of Stratford, in Ess.e.x; with whom he had a very handsome fortune: By her he had nine children, four of whom (a son, and three daughters) are still living.

In 1709 he was made master of the Theatre in Drury-Lane; and then, at the desire of Mr. Barton Booth, wrote his first Tragedy, (Elfrid, or the Fair Inconstant) which from his first beginning of it he compleated in a little more than a week.-The following year, 1710, he was master of the Opera House in the Hay-Market; and then wrote an Opera called Rinaldo, which met with great success: It was the first which that admirable genius Mr. Handel compos'd, after he came to England; (this he dedicated to Queen Anne).-His genius was adapted greatly to the business of the stage; and while he held the management, he conducted both Theatres, intirely to the satisfaction of the public.-But in a few months he relinquished it, from some misunderstanding with the then lord chamberlain; and though he was soon after sollicited to take that charge again upon him (by a person the highest in command) he still declined it.

From that time he bent his thoughts on studies far more solid and desirable to him; to views of public benefit: For his mind was ardently devoted to the pursuit of general improvement. But, as one genius seldom is adapted to both theory and practice; so in the execution of a variety of undertakings, the most advantageous in themselves, by some mismanagement of those concerned with him, he fail'd of the success his labours merited.

As in particular, in an affair he set on foot about the year 1715, and was the sole discoverer of, for which he had a patent; the making of an Oil, as sweet as that from Olives, from the Beech-Nuts: But this being an undertaking of a great extent, he was obliged to work conjointly with other men's a.s.sistance, and materials; whence arose disputes among them, which terminated in the overthrowing the advantage then arising from it; which otherwise might have been great and lasting.

This, has occasioned that affair to be misunderstood by many; it therefore may not be thought improper, here, to set it in a juster light; and this cannot more exactly be given, than from his own words, called, A fair state of the Account, published in the year 1716.

'An impartial state of the case, between the patentee, annuitants, and sharers, in the Beech-Oil-Company.'-Some part of which is here recited.

'The disappointments of the Beech-Oil-Company this year have made abundance of sharers peevish; the natural effect of peevishness is clamour, and clamour like a tide will work itself a pa.s.sage, where it has no right of flowing; some gentlemen, misled by false conceptions both of the affair and its direction, have driven their discontent through a mistaken chanel, and inclined abundance who are strangers to the truth, to accuse the patentee of faults, he is not only absolutely free from, but by which he is, of all concern'd, the greatest sufferer.

'But, he is not angry with the angry; he considers they must take things as they hear them represented; he governs all his actions by this general maxim; never to be moved at a reproach, unless it be a just one.

'In October 1713 the patentee procured a grant for fourteen years, to him and his a.s.signs, for the Beech-Oil invention.

'Anno 1714, he made and published proposals, for taking a subscription of 20,000 l. upon the following conditions;

'That every subscriber should receive, by half yearly payments, at Lady-Day and Michaelmas, during the continuance of the patent from Lady-Day 1715, inclusive, an annuity amounting to fifty-pound per cent, for any sum subscribed, excepting a deduction for the payment of the directors.

'That nine directors should be chosen on midsummer-day, who should receive complaints upon non-payments of annuities; and in such case, upon refusal, any five of the nine directors had power to meet and chuse a governor from among themselves, enrolling that choice in chancery, together with the reasons for it.

'That after such choice and enrollment, the patentee should stand absolutely excluded, the business be carried on, and all the right of the grant be vested (not as a mortgage, but as a sale without redemption) in the governor so chosen, for the joint advantage of the annuitants, in proportion to their several interests.

'As a security for making good the articles, the patentee did, by indenture enrolled in chancery, a.s.sign and make over his patent to trustees, in the indenture named, for the uses above-mentioned.

'In the mean time the first half yearly payments to the annuitants, amounting to 3750 l. became due, and the company not being yet compleated, the patentee himself discharged it, and has never reckon'd that sum to the account between him and the company; which he might have done by virtue of the articles on which he gave admission to the sharers.

'For the better explanation of this scheme it will be necessary to observe, that while the shares were selling, he grew apprehensive that the season would be past, before the fifty pounds per share they were to furnish by the articles could be contributed: He therefore gave up voluntarily, and for the general good, 20,000 l. of his own 25,000 guineas purchase money, as a loan to the company till the expiration of the patent, after which it was again to be made good to him, or his a.s.signs; and this money so lent by the patentee, is all the stock that ever has been hitherto employed by the company.

'But instead of making good the above-mentioned conditional covenant, the board proceeded to unnecessary warmth, and found themselves involved still more and more in animosities, and those irregularities which naturally follow groundless controversy. He would therefore take upon himself the hazard and the power of the whole affair, accountable however to the board, as to the money part; and yet would bind himself to pay for three years to come, a profit of forty s.h.i.+llings per annum upon every share, and then deliver back the business to the general care, above the reach of future disappointments.

'What reasons the gentlemen might have to refuse so inviting an offer is best known to themselves; but they absolutely rejected that part of it, which was to fix the sole power of management in the patentee. Upon which, and many other provocations afterward, becoming more and more dissatisfied, he thought fit to demand repayment of five hundred pounds, which he had lent the company; as he had several other sums before; and not receiving it, but, on the contrary, being denied so much as an acknowledgment that it was due, withdrew himself intirely from the board, and left them to their measures.

'Thus at the same time have I offered my defence, and my opinion: By the first I am sure I shall be acquitted from all imputations; and confirmed in the good thoughts of the concerned on either side, who will know for the future what attention they should give to idle reflections, and the falsehood of rumour; and from the last, I have hopes that a plan may be drawn, which will settle at once all disputed pretensions, and restore that fair prospect, which the open advantage of last year's success (indifferent as it was) has demonstrated to be a view that was no way chimerical.-

'They know how to judge of malicious insinuations to my prejudice, by this one most scandalous example, which has been given by the endeavours of some to persuade the out-sharers that I have made an extravagant profit from the losses of the adventurers. Whereas on the contrary, out of Twenty-five Thousand Guineas, which was the whole I should have received by the sale of the shares, I have given up Twenty Thousand Pounds to the use of the company, and to the annuities afterward; and three thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds more I paid to the annuitants, at Lady-Day 1715, on the company's account; and have never demanded it again, in consideration of their disappointments the first year.

'So that it plainly appears, that out of twenty-five thousand guineas, I have given away in two articles only, twenty-three thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds for the public advantage. And I can easily prove, that the little remainder has been short of making good the charges I have been at for their service; by which means I am not one farthing a gainer by the company, notwithstanding the clamour and malice of some unthinking adventurers: And for the truth of all this, I appeal to their own Office-Books, and defy the most angry among them to deny any article of it. See then what a grateful and generous encouragement may be expected by men, who would dedicate their labours to the profit of others.

November the 30th. 1716. A. HILL.'

This, and much more, too tedious to insert, serves to demonstrate that it was a great misfortune, for a mind so fertile of invention and improvement, to be embarra.s.sed by a narrow power of fortune; too weak alone to execute such undertakings.

About the same year he wrote another Tragedy, int.i.tled [Transcriber's note: 'intiled' in original] the Fatal Vision[2], or the Fall of Siam (which was acted the same year, in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields) to which he gave this Motto out of Horace.

I not for vulgar admiration write; To be well read, not much, is my delight.

And to his death he would declare in favour of that choice.-That year, he likewise published the two first books of an Epic Poem, called Gideon (founded on a Hebrew Story) which like its author, and all other authors, had its enemies; but many more admirers.

But his poetic pieces were not frequent in their appearance. They were the product of some leisure hours, when he relaxed his thoughts from drier study; as he took great delight in diving into every useful science, viz. criticism, history, geography, physic, commerce in general, agriculture, war, and law; but in particular natural philosophy, wherein he has made many and valuable discoveries.

Concerning poetry, he says, in his preface to King Henry the Vth, where he laments the want of taste for Tragedy,

'But in all events I will be easy, who have no better reason to wish well to poetry, than my love for a mistress I shall never be married to: For, whenever I grow ambitious, I shall wish to build higher; and owe my memory to some occasion of more importance than my writings.'

He had acquired so deep an insight in law, that he has from his arguments and demonstrations obliged some of the greatest council (formally) under their hands, to retract their own first-given opinions.

He wrote part of a Tract of War; another upon Agriculture; but they are left unfinished, with several other pieces.

In his younger days he bought a grant of Sir Robert Montgomery (who had purchas'd it of the lords proprietors of Carolina) with whom, &c. be had been concern'd, in a design of settling a new plantation in the South of Carolina, of a vast tract of land; on which he then designed to pursue the same intention.-But being not master of a fortune equal to that scheme, it never proved of any service to him, though many years since, it has been cultivated largely[3].

His person was (in youth) extremely fair, and handsome; his eyes were a dark blue, both bright and penetrating; brown hair and visage oval; which was enlivened with a smile, the most agreeable in conversation; where his address was affably engageing; to which was joined a dignity, which rendered him at once respected and admired, by those (of either s.e.x) who were acquainted with him-He was tall, genteelly made, and not thin.-His voice was sweet, his conversation elegant; and capable of entertaining upon various subjects.-His disposition was benevolent, beyond the power of the fortune he was blessed with; the calamities of those he knew (and valued as deserving) affected him more than his own: He had fort.i.tude of mind sufficient to support with calmness great misfortune; and from his birth it may be truly said he was obliged to meet it.

Of himself, he says in his epistle dedicatory to one of his poems,

'I am so devoted a lover of a private and unbusy life, that I cannot recollect a time wherein I wish'd an increase to the little influence I cultivate in the dignified world, unless when I have felt the deficience of my own power, to reward some merit that has charm'd me:'-

His temper, though by nature warm (when injuries were done him) was as n.o.bly forgiving; mindful of that great lesson in religion, of returning good for evil; and he fulfilled it often to the prejudice of his own circ.u.mstances. He was a tender husband, friend, and father; one of the best masters to his servants, detesting the too common inhumanity, that treats them almost as if they were not fellow-creatures.

His manner of life was temperate in all respects (which might have promis'd greater length of years) late hours excepted which his indefatigable love of study drew him into; night being not liable to interruptions like the day.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume V Part 17

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