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Walsh, William (1663-1708) (DNB00)


WALSH, WILLIAM (1663–1708), critic and poet, son of Joseph Walsh of Abberley, Worcestershire, was born at Abberley, the seat of his family, in 1663. On 14 May 1678 he became a gentleman-commoner at Wadham College, Oxford, at the age of fifteen (Gardiner, Reg. of Wadham Coll. i. 322). He left the university without a degree, and on 10 Aug. 1698 was returned to parliament for Worcestershire; he was re-elected on 22 Jan. 1700–1 and on 5 Aug. 1702. Under Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury [q. v.], master of the horse, Walsh held the post of gentleman of the horse from the beginning of Queen Anne's reign till his death (Luttrell, vi. 280); a reference in Dryden's ‘Postscript to the Æneis’ (1697) shows them to have been for some years previously on terms of intimacy. In the parliament of 1705 Walsh sat as member for Richmond in Yorkshire. His politics were those of a consistent supporter of the protestant succession and of the whig war policy. Walsh died on 18 March 1708 (Luttrell, vi. 280). His portrait, painted by Kneller, was engraved by Faber in 1735 (Bromley, p. 237).

Walsh was a man of fashion; according to the testimony of Dennis, ‘ostentatiously splendid in his dress;’ according to his own avowal (see the lines ‘To his Book,’ prefixed to his Poems), burdened with ‘an amorous heart.’ There was, he elsewhere asserts, not one folly that he had not committed in his devotion to women, with the exception of marriage (cf. Letters Amorous and Gallant, No. xx.). He may be credited with more genuine sentiment in the part which he so successfully played of a critical friend of letters. His own writings are insignificant.

The most notable of his productions in prose was a ‘Dialogue concerning Women, being a Defence of the Sex’ (1691), addressed to Eugenia, supposed by Wood, on no ostensible grounds, to have been Walsh's mistress. It was honoured by Dryden with a preface (see Scott and Saintsbury, Dryden, vol. xviii.), not very carefully written, in which he applies to Walsh Waller's compliment to Denham—stated by Dryden to have been ‘the wits'’ compliment to Waller—that he had come out into the world forty thousand strong before he had been heard of. Another attempt in prose, ‘Æsculapius, or the Hospital of Fools,’ was published posthumously in 1714. The ‘Life of Virgil’ prefixed to Dryden's ‘Works of Virgil’ (1697), though at one time ascribed to Walsh, was really by Dr. Knightly Chetwood [q. v.], dean of Gloucester, who was probably also the author of the ‘Preface to the Pastorals, with a Short Defence of Virgil’ (against Fontenelle), likewise attributed to Walsh, and appearing with his name in Scott's edition of Dryden (vol. xiii.). The argument of this Preface, in form, as Mr. Saintsbury thinks, much manipulated by Carey, is the reverse of profound; the contention that Virgil's shepherds were educated gentlemen contradicts the view advanced by Walsh in the preface to his own ‘Poems.’ All or most of these ‘Poems,’ together with a series of twenty ‘Letters Amorous and Gallant,’ addressed to ‘Two Masques’ and others in a more or less sprightly style of raillery, first appeared in Tonson's ‘Miscellany,’ pt. iv. 1716. They were reprinted by Curll in 1736 as ‘revised and corrected by the author’ in 1706, with a preface dated ‘St. James', 1692,’ concerning the art of letter-writing, and, more particularly, the various species of poetry ‘proper for love.’ They subsequently appeared in the collections of Johnson (1779), Anderson (1793), Chalmers (1808), Park (1808), and Sandford (1819). The verse consists in the main of short ‘elegies,’ epigrams, and erotic poetry at large in various metres. From one of Walsh's elegies Pope borrowed the substance of a couplet, and an indifferent rhyme, in ‘Eloïsa to Abelard’ (vv. 183–4; Elwin, ii. 248; and cf. ib. p. 254, as to a possible further debt). In addition, it comprises four ‘Pastoral Eclogues’ in the conventional style, with a fifth, ‘Delia,’ in memory of Mrs. Tempest (d. 1703), whom Walsh induced Pope likewise to commemorate in his ‘Fourth Pastoral’ (‘Winter’) (Elwin, vi. 55); and the ‘visitations’ of Horace and Virgil, previously noticed. In the latter, Johnson considers ‘there was something of humour when the facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer.’ To Walsh rumour also attributed the authorship of a society ballad, ‘The Confederates, or the First Happy Day of the Island Princess,’ written in raillery of the fashionable excitement over the quarrel between the rival managers Skipwith and Betterton. Fletcher's ‘Island Princess,’ converted into an opera by Peter Anthony Motteux [q. v.], had been performed at Drury Lane in 1699 (Dryden to Mrs. Steward, 23 Feb. 1700, in Works, ed. Scott and Saintsbury, xiii. 172). In 1704 Walsh joined with Vanbrugh and Congreve in ‘Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, or Squire Trelooby,’ an adaptation of Molière's farce, which was performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields on 30 March 1704, and, with a new second act, at the Haymarket on 28 Jan. 1706 (E. Gosse, William Congreve, 1888, p. 148; Genest, English Stage, ii. 308 and 347).

Walsh's chief title to fame lies in his connection with Pope, and in the tributes from the latter that resulted from it. Pope printed their correspondence in 1735; an additional letter is among the Homer MSS. in the British Museum (all seven letters are reprinted by Elwin, vi. 49–60). Wycherley had sent to Walsh, to whom Pope then was not personally known, the manuscript of Pope's ‘Pastorals’ (or of part of them), according to Pope himself in April 1705, but this is highly improbable (see Elwin, i. 240. Pope's statement to Spence that he was ‘about 15’ when he made Walsh's acquaintance was clearly incorrect). In return Walsh praised the ‘Pastorals,’ venturing on the assertion that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. In June Walsh wrote to the young poet in a most encouraging tone, and in the following month Pope began to consult him on particular points in reference to his poem. By July 1707 the acquaintance had become intimate enough for Walsh to write from Abberley expressing his hope to see Pope there shortly, and the latter actually went thither in August. (His statement that he spent part of the summer of 1705 with Walsh in Worcestershire is apparently one of Pope's falsifications of chronology; see Elwin, vi. 59 n.) The ‘Pastorals’ were not published till the year after Walsh's death, but the Richardson collection includes a manuscript in which are to be found at the bottom of the pages Walsh's decisions as to the various readings proposed by Pope for a number of passages (ib. i. 240). Walsh also corrected Pope's translation of book i. of the ‘Thebaïs’ of Statius, which he professed to have made in 1703 (ib. p. 45). Walsh's famous advice to Pope, related by the latter to Spence, that he should seek to be a ‘correct’ poet, this being now ‘the only way left of excellency,’ was no doubt designed to commend something beyond mere accuracy of expression (cf. ib. v. 25, and Walsh's letter to Pope of 20 July 1706). Pope eulogised Walsh in the ‘Essay on Criticism’ (1711), where near the end he, Roscommon, and Buckinghamshire are absurdly made to figure as luminous exceptions to the literary barbarism of their age. In the ‘Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot’ (1735, vv. 135–6) Pope repeated more briefly the personal acknowledgments of the ‘Essay on Criticism.’

[The Works of William Walsh in Prose and Verse, 1736; Lives of Walsh in Johnson's Lives of the English Poets, and in vol. iii. of the Account of the Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, published under the name of Theophilus Cibber, 1753; Narcissus Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs; Dryden's Works, ed. Scott and Saintsbury; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope.]

A. W. W.