Lewis, David (1683?-1760) (DNB00)

LEWIS, DAVID (1683?–1760), poet, was born in Wales about 1683. He seems to be identical with David Lewis, son of Roger Lewis of Llandewi Velfrey, Pembrokeshire, who matriculated at Jesus College on 4 Jan. 1698, aged 16, and graduated B.A. in 1702 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714). Johnson believed that he was at one time an usher at Westminster School, and although Malone failed to obtain any confirmation of this statement in the school records, it derives probability from the fact that Lewis refers to Lord Charles Noel Somerset, who was at one time a Westminster boy, as a former pupil when dedicating to him his ‘Miscellaneous Poems by Several Hands,’ London, 1726 (Welch, p. 545). In the preface to this volume Lewis states that the pieces therein were exclusively by his friends; but it is unfortunate that Lewis's own share in this undeservedly neglected collection cannot be distinguished. Besides highly successful translations from Martial, Horace, and Anacreon, it contains Dyer's famous ‘Grongar Hill’ in its final form, the first draft of Pope's ‘Vital spark of heavenly flame’ (written in 1712), a fine ‘Wedding Song,’ ‘See the springing day from far,’ and the poem ‘Away! let nought to Love displeasing,’ which was reprinted in Percy's ‘Reliques’ (vol. i. bk. iii.). In 1727 Lewis published ‘Philip of Macedon,’ a tragedy (in blank verse), a second edition of which was published at Dublin in the same year. Before publishing Lewis showed the play to his friend Alexander Pope, who cautiously commended the author's treatment of his subject, and thereby secured a grateful dedication. The play was acted for the first time at Lincoln's Inn Fields on 29 March 1727, and repeated three times. Genest describes it as an historically correct, but ‘very dull, tragedy’ (Genest, iii. 194). Whincop says it was played again at Drury Lane in 1729 (List of Dramatic Poets, p. 257). In 1730 Lewis brought out a second ‘Collection of Miscellany Poems.’ It was dedicated to the Earl of Shaftesbury, and is not unworthy of the former volume. Writing to John Nichols in April 1780, Joseph Warton suggested that some things from Lewis's ‘Miscellanies’ should be inserted in a selection of a similar kind which Nichols was preparing. Some clever verses addressed by Lewis to Pope were published in a ‘Collection of Pieces on Occasion of the Dunciad,’ edited by Savage in 1732. Boswell on one occasion, at the instance of Miss Seward, who wanted to test the universality of Johnson's literary knowledge, asked the doctor who was the author of these lines. He was prompt with his answer: ‘Why, sir, they were written by one Lewis, who was either undermaster or usher of Westminster School, and who published a miscellany in which “Grongar Hill” first came out.’ Johnson praised them highly, and repeated them with a noble animation. ‘In the twelfth line instead of “one established fame” he repeated “one unclouded flame,” which he thought was the reading in former editions; but I believe was a flash of his own genius’ (Boswell, ed. G. B. Hill, iv. 307).

Lewis died, ‘aged 77,’ at Low Leyton, Essex, in April 1760, and was buried on 8 April in Leyton Church, where an inscription speaks of his ‘many excellent pieces of poetry sufficiently testifying’ to the fact that he was ‘a great favourite of the Muses.’ He married Mary, fourth daughter of Newdigate Owsley, esq., a merchant, of Leyton. She died 10 Oct. 1774, aged 90, and was buried by the side of her husband. In the ‘British Museum Catalogue’ the author of ‘Philip of Macedon’ is confused with David Lewis, a poet of local reputation, who flourished at York in 1815, in which year he published ‘The Landscape and Other Poems,’ York, 8vo. Elwin confuses the editor of the ‘Miscellanies’ with William Lewis, the Roman catholic bookseller and publisher of the ‘Essay on Criticism’ (Pope's Works, iv. 409).

[Baker's Biog. Dram. i. 452; Malone's Boswell, iv. 330–1; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 497; Lysons, iv. 171; Thorne's Environs of London, p. 418; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.