Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tate, Nahum

TATE, NAHUM (1652–1715), poetaster and dramatist, was son of Faithful Teate (as the name is generally spelt). Faithful Teate himself was the son of a doctor of divinity, a clergyman probably of the puritan party. He was born in co. Cavan, and graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, as B.A. in 1621 and M.A. 1624, subsequently proceeding D.D. He was instituted to the rectory of Castleterra, Ballyhaise, in 1625. In 1641, being still at Ballyhaise, he gave information to the government regarding the plans of the rebels, and was consequently robbed on his way to Dublin. His house was plundered and burnt, and his wife and children cruelly treated, three of the children dying of the injuries. He lived for some time after this at the provost's lodgings in Trinity College, Dublin, and held some benefice there. About 1650 he was incumbent of East Greenwich. He styles himself preacher of the gospel at Sudbury in Suffolk in 1654–8. In 1660 he was once more in Dublin, and held the benefice of St. Werburgh's in that city. His ‘Meditations’ show him still living in 1672. Besides some sermons—two of them dedicated to Oliver and Henry Cromwell—he published a poem entitled ‘Ter Tria, or the Doctrine of the Three Sacred Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Principal Graces, Faith, Hope, and Love; Main Duties, Prayer, Hearing, and Meditation,’ pithy and quaint, in the vein of Bishop Andrews or George Herbert, and fuller of matter than anything written by his son.

Nahum Tate, born in Dublin in 1652, matriculated at Trinity College as a scholar in 1668 under the name of Teate, and graduated as B.A. in 1672. In 1677 he published in London a volume of poems in varied metres, fresher than his later work, and not yet dominated by the heroic fashion. His first drama, ‘Brutus of Alba; or the Enchanted Lovers’ (London, 4to), founded on the story of Dido and Æneas, and dedicated to the Marquis of Dorset, followed in 1678. His ‘Loyal General,’ with a prologue by Dryden, was given at Dorset Garden in 1680. Tate's version of Shakespeare's ‘Richard II,’ entitled ‘The Sicilian Usurper,’ was played at the Theatre Royal in 1681, but was suppressed upon the third performance as offering too close a parallel with the political situation of the time. Later in 1681 Betterton appeared at Dorset Garden in ‘King Lear’ as altered by Tate, and this alteration of ‘King Lear’ actually held the stage until about 1840. The part of the fool is entirely omitted, and Cordelia survives to marry Edgar. Addison protested against the outrage on Shakespeare (Spectator, No. 40). But Tate's adaptation was defended, on grounds of poetical justice, by Johnson, whose feelings had been agitated by witnessing the death of Cordelia. Tate proceeded to alter ‘Coriolanus’ into his ‘Ingratitude of a Commonwealth,’ played at the Theatre Royal in 1682. His next piece, a farce entitled ‘Duke and No Duke,’ first printed in 1685, but acted before that date at the Theatre Royal, is said to have diverted Charles II. His ‘Cuckold's Haven,’ produced at the same theatre in 1685, is a bad imitation of Chapman and Marston's ‘Eastward Ho!’ His ‘Island Princess, or the Generous Portugals,’ was an equally bad alteration of Fletcher; it was played at the Theatre Royal in 1687. His ‘Injured Love, or the Cruel Husband,’ altered from Webster's ‘White Devil,’ seems never to have been acted. All the above pieces were printed in quarto in the years referred to (see Genest, Hist. of the Stage, i. passim, and x. 152). Tate protested against the demoralisation of the theatre. In 1698, the date of Jeremy Collier's indictment of the stage, he drew up proposals for the regulation of plays and of the theatre behind the scenes, in which he pronounces that the stage must be either reformed or silenced (Gibson MSS. Lambeth Library).

In 1682 he wrote the second part of ‘Absalom and Achitophel,’ with fair imitation of Dryden's manner and plagiarism of images, sentiments, and passages from the first part of the satire. The piece is above Tate's usual level, and Scott traced Dryden's strengthening hand in many parts besides the two hundred lines which are acknowledged to be his. He instances the character of Corah and perhaps Arod, and the account of the Green-ribbon Club. The portraits of Michal and of Dryden as Asaph he concedes wholly to Tate. In Dryden's ‘Miscellanies’ and his translations of Ovid and Juvenal, Tate appears as an occasional colleague for the next few years.

On the death of Shadwell, Tate was appointed poet laureate (24 Dec. 1692) through Dorset, the lord chamberlain. Southey has pronounced him the lowest of the laureates except his predecessor; but Pye and Eusden may dispute the place. He celebrated in official verse the death of Queen Mary and Queen Anne and the victory of Blenheim, as well as many smaller events. He was reappointed by the lord chamberlain upon Anne's accession in 1702, and was also named historiographer-royal, with a pension of 200l. a year. He seems to have lost his post on the accession of George I, his successor, Nicholas Rowe, being appointed on 1 Aug. 1715.

In 1696 appeared the ‘New Version of the Psalms,’ in metre, by N. Tate and Nicholas Brady [see Brady, Nicholas]. Two different recensions of it were published in 1698, and from each of these a stream of editions issued for a century. The book was ‘allowed’ and ‘permitted to be used in all churches, &c., as shall think fit to receive it’ by the king in council. In 1698 ‘A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms’ by the same authors was advertised, containing paraphrases of the Lord's Prayer, Creed, Commandments, Canticles, &c., after the precedent of Sternhold and Hopkins, and several additional psalms in peculiar measures. A license for this book was obtained from the queen in council in 1703. The additional psalms were omitted and other changes were made in later editions. Tate's share in these volumes cannot be apportioned; but it is plausible to ascribe to him the ornate pieces of a Drydenesque character (of these Ps. cxxxvii, ‘Thou, Lord, by strictest search hast known,’ is the best). The Christmas hymn, ‘While shepherds watched,’ is generally attributed to him, and a few of similar feeling (e.g. Ps. xlii. ‘As pants the hart’), which stand out above the doggerel mass, may be his also. There are curious traces of political allusion in Psalms xviii. xxxvii–xliii. ci–ii–lxx. and cvii–xl.—

    The prince who slights what God commands,
    Exposed to scorn must leave his throne.

Though attaining ultimately almost universal use, the book made way in the churches at first slowly. Bishop Beveridge condemned it as ‘new and modish.’ Tate replied to his attack with some spirit in an ‘Essay on Psalmody’ (1710).

Almost all Tate's work is tacked on to that of some one else, either as an editor or a translator, or a colleague or one of a company. The list of the productions in which he had a hand is long. Among the translations which he executed for the booksellers may be mentioned, from the French, ‘The Life of Louis of Bourbon, late Prince of Condé, digested into Annals’ (1693); ‘The Four Epistles of A. G. Busbequius concerning his Embassy into Turkey’ (1694); and from the Latin Cowley's ‘History of Plants’ (1695). The only original poem worth naming is ‘Panacea—a poem on Tea’ (London, 1700, 8vo). Most of his poems are elegies or adulatory verses to great people, designed to attract pecuniary recognition. Pope's label for him in the ‘Dunciad’ is ‘Tate's poor page;’ elsewhere he calls him the poetical child of Ogilby. Parnell ridicules him in the ‘Bookworm.’

Tate is described as an honest, quiet man, with a downcast face and somewhat given to ‘fuddling.’ The patronage of Dorset often shielded him from his creditors. But he was hiding from them in the Mint, Southwark, when death found him, 12 Aug. 1715. He was buried in the neighbouring church of St. George's.

[Jacob's Poetical Register; Biogr. Dramatica; Beljame's Hommes de Lettres en Angleterre au XVIIIme Siècle, 1883, pp. 153, 494; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Austin and Ralph's Lives of the Poets Laureate, 1853, pp. 196–222; Hamilton's Origin of the Office of Poet Laureate, 1879; Dryden's Works, by Sir Walter Scott, re-edited by Professor Saintsbury; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology.]

H. L. B.