Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duke, Richard

DUKE, RICHARD (1658–1711), poet and divine, was born at London, ‘the son of an eminent citizen,’ probably a short time before the Restoration, since he was admitted to Westminster School in 1670. He was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1675, and proceeded B.A. in 1678, M.A. in 1682. He lived in close intercourse with the courtiers, the play-writers, and actors, was a general favourite, and probably wrote much satirical verse, which can only be identified occasionally by internal evidence. Johnson wrote: ‘His poems are not below mediocrity, nor have I found much in them to be praised. With the wit he seems to have shared the dissoluteness of the times.’ Among the works by Duke, which have not been claimed for him, was the caustic satire on Titus Oates, printed by Nathanael Thompson, ‘A Panegyrick upon Oates,’ which is referred to in Duke's acknowledged companion poem, ‘An Epithalamium upon the Marriage of Captain William Bedloe,’ issued at Christmas 1679, and this was followed, near the end of August 1680, by ‘Funeral Tears upon the Death of Captain William Bedloe.’ He complimented the queen at Cambridge, September 1681. Conjointly with Wentworth Dillon, earl of Roscommon [q. v.], Duke wrote several lampoons on the misguided Duke of Monmouth during his so-called progresses in the west. He wrote in 1683, being then a fellow of Trinity, an ‘Ode on the Marriage of Prince George of Denmark and the Lady Anne.’ On the death of Charles II he produced the poem beginning ‘If the indulgent Muse,’ &c. He translated the fifth elegy of Ovid's book i., the fourth and eighth odes of Horace, book ii.; the ninth ode (Horace and Lydia) of book iii., and the Cyclops, idyl xi., of Theocritus, for Dryden, with whom he appears to have been on terms of friendship, although he addressed him elsewhere as ‘the unknown author of “Absalom and Achitophel.”’ He praised him in a poem for his adaptation of ‘Troilus and Cressida;’ he also complimented Creech (for his ‘Lucretius’), Nat Lee, Otway, and Edmund Waller. He translated two of Ovid's epistles in 1683. He wrote several original Latin poems and a translation of Juvenal's fourth satire. To Dryden's third ‘Miscellany,’ 1693, he contributed anonymously two amatory songs. His ‘Detestation of Civil War’ is expressed in a poem ‘To the People of England.’ One of his Dryden ‘Miscellany’ poems, ‘Floriana,’ had in 1684 celebrated the Duchess of Southampton. Before the accession of James II he entered into holy orders, and was in 1687 presented to the rectory of Blaby in Leicestershire. In 1688 he was made a prebendary of Gloucester, and soon afterwards became Gloucester proctor in convocation and also chaplain to Queen Anne. Three of his sermons were separately published, while he was rector of Blaby and prebendary of Gloucester. These show that ‘he was a shrewd and sound divine.’ A small volume of fifteen sermons, praised by Felton, was issued at Oxford in 1714. His clerical life was blameless. Dr. Jonathan Trelawney, bishop of Winchester, in June 1707 made Duke his chaplain, and in July 1710 presented him to the rich living of Witney, Oxfordshire, 700l. per annum. ‘Having returned from an entertainment’ on Saturday night, 10 Feb. 1711, he was found dead in his bed next morning. Atterbury and Mat Prior had been among his intimate friends, and on 16 Feb. (Swift writes in his Journal to Stella) they ‘went to bury poor Dr. Duke.’ ‘Dr. Duke,’ Swift writes, ‘died suddenly two or three nights ago; he was one of the wits when we were children, but turned parson and left it, but never writ further than a prologue [to Lucius Junius Brutus, by Nat. Lee, 1681] or recommendatory copy of verses. He had a fine living given him by the Bishop of Winchester about three months ago; he got his living suddenly, and he got his dying so too’ (ib.) Duke's ‘Poems upon Several Occasions’ were collected in 1717, and published in conjunction with those of Roscommon, including the fragmentary beginning of ‘The Review,’ declared to have been never before printed. Jacob Tonson says that it was written ‘a little after the publishing of Mr. Dryden's “Absalom and Achitophel,”’ November 1681; ‘he was persuaded to undertake it by Mr. Sheridan, then secretary to the Duke of York; but Mr. Duke, finding Mr. Sheridan designed to make use of his pen to vent his spleen against several persons at court that were of another party than that he was engaged in, broke off proceeding in it, and left it as it is now printed.’

[Johnson's Lives of the English Poets, vol. ii. 1779, ed. Hazlitt, ii. 253, 1854, ed. Peter Cunningham (some inaccuracies as to dates and miscellanies), ii. 63, 64, 1854; Luttrell's Relation, i. and vi.; E. Sanford's Life and Poems of Richard Duke, 1819; R. Anderson's Brit. Poets, vi. 1793; Chalmers's English Poets, ix. 1810; Ovid's Epistles, translated, 1683; Plutarch's Lives, translated by Duke, &c., 1683; Works of Jonathan Swift, p. 273, 1868; Bagford Ballads, pp. 794 et seq., 1878; Ballad Society's reprint of the Roxburghe Collection of Ballads, iv. 156–70, &c., 1881; Dryden's Miscellany Poems, vol. i. 1684, iii. 224, 225, 1685; Poems upon Several Occasions, 1717; and Sermons as above cited.]

J. W. E.