Dorothy Brewster.

Aaron Hill, poet, dramatist, projector online

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New York :
30-32 West 27th Street

London :


Amen Corner, E.C.

Toronto :
25 Richmond Street, W.





Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements

FOR THE Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in the

Faculty of Philosophy, Columbia University


Copyright, 1913
By Columbia University Press

Printed from type September, 1913

Press of

The New er* printins cohpanv

Lancaster, Pa.

This Monograph has been approved by the Depart-
ment of English and Comparative Literature in Columbia
University as a contribution to knowledge worthy of








The study of a minor author entails two main advan-
tages: his relations with great contemporaries may throw
light upon them from a new angle; and his activities,
whether signifieant or not in their results, may illustrate
the spirit of his age, and enrich the backgrounds of more
memorable lives. There is often, too, a psychological prob-
lem of much interest involved in a vanished reputation.
Why was a writer, whose works our age declines to notice,
highly regarded in his own day? It is a problem merely
pushed aside, not solved, by concluding that the judgment
of our ancestors was at fault. The attempt to solve it may
not always result in a contribution to scholarship, but it
may add a very little to our knowledge of human nature,
and it sometimes reveals a personality more interesting and
attractive than the pages in which that personality found

Aaron Hill is an author who offers all these inducements
to study: he had relations more or less intimate with a
great poet and a great novelist, and with many less famous
writers; he was versatile and enterprising to such an un-
usual degree that he left few of the typical pursuits of his
time untried; and the prominence of his name in his own
day, compared with the total eclipse of it in ours, provides
us with the psychological problem. "To the really in-
telligent men among his contemporaries," Professor Louns-
bury has said, "he must have seemed the most persistent
and colossal bore of the century. ' '^ To disinter an extinct

1 Thomas E. Lounsbury, STiakespeare and Voltaire, 87. ' ' It was to
posterity," Professor Lounsbury says of Hill in another place (page
151), "that he looked for recognition, forgetting that posterity must


bore of the past would be a work not so much of pious as
of impious pedantry — a criminal attempt to increase the
present sum of boredom. But it is curious that men,
usually considered to have been really intelligent, expressed
opinions the reverse of that which Professor Lounsbury
supposes them to have entertained. By some of them Hill
was called a genius, by many a man of unusual ability;
and almost invariably he was spoken of with great respect.
Were all these men either deliberately insincere, or stupidly
mistaken ?

This study makes no effort to rescue Hill's poetry from
the neglect into which it has deservedly fallen. But in
following his career, we meet well-known figures, we catch
glimpses of interesting phases of eighteenth century thought
and enterprise, and we come to know a man who has no
title to be hailed as a genius, but who is, nevertheless, very
far from deserving to be dismissed as a "bore of the first
water, "^ or as a "joke concocted between the Muses and
Momus, to bring the judgments of mortals into contempt."^

In the unpublished correspondence between Hill and
Samuel Richardson, preserved in the Forster MSS. in the
Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington, I have
found the most interesting record of Hill 's later life ; and
I am therefore especially indebted to the Keeper of the
Dyce and Forster Collections for the privilege of examining
this material. In quoting from the correspondence, I have
retained the original spelling and punctuation; but in
extracts from printed works, I have modernized both, for
I see no advantage in directing attention to Hill's vagaries

necessarily be so taken up with its own bores that only at rare inter-
vals can a pious pedantry be trusted to exhume even temporarily the
extinct bores of the past."

2 As he is characterized in the Diet, of Nat. Biog.

3 D. C. Tovey, Memoir of Thomson in the Aldine ed. of his works,
1897, p. xxiii.


in the use of commas and italics. I wish to express my
thanks for courteous assistance to the librarians of Yale,
Harvard, and Columbia Universities; to the authorities of
the British Museum, the John Rylands Library of Man-
chester, and the Bodleian ; and to Professor C, H. Firth of
Oxford University, through whose kindness I secured read-
ing privileges at the Bodleian. My friend Miss E. R. Clapp
examined for me several books to which I did not have
access, and made helpful suggestions; and my mother has
been a most patient and valuable critic of my work in all
its stages.

In the English Department at Columbia University, my
thanks are due to Professor A. H. Thorndike and Dr. Carl
Van Doren for reading my manuscript. But my deepest
obligation is to Professor W. P. Trent, who first suggested
the subject of this study, and whose generous interest in its
progress has been no less helpful to me than his wide and
intimate knowledge of the period. It is a pleasure to
express here my appreciation of both.
New York City, May, 1913.


Chapter Page

I. Hill's Early Life 1

II. Hill's Projects 28

III. Hill and the Stage : 1709-1723 76

IV. Hill and the Stage : 1723-1749 110

V. Hill and His Circle about 1725 153

VI. Hill 's Relations with Pope 201

VII. Hill and Richardson 239

VIII. Conclusion 275

Bibliography 279

Index 291





Aaron Hill was born on February 10, 1685, in Beaufort
Buildings in the Strand.^ His father was George Hill, an
attorney, of Malmsbury Abbey, in Wiltshire, ' ' a gentleman
possessed of an estate of about 2000 1. 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 hitherto has rendered it of no advantage to
his family; for, without any legal title 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."- Perhaps it was his father's
misuse of his legal knowledge that led Aaron Hill to acquire
what one of his biographers calls a "deep insight" into
law — so deep that his arguments sometimes obliged "the
greatest council (formally) under their hands to retract
their own first given opinions."^ It was not deep enough
to enable him to win a law-suit, however. Another son of
George Hill, Gilbert, appears from time to time during
his brother Aaron's life and after his death, usually in a
state of distress.

1 For biographies of Hill, see the Bibliography.

2 Gibber's Lives, V, 252 f.

3 Ibid., V, 261.

2 1


At the age of nine, Aaron Hill was sent to the free
grammar-school at Barnstaple in Devon, where he had for
a schoolfellow John Gay, also born in 1685. From Barn-
staple he went to "Westminster, just a little too late to come
under the rod of the famous Dr. Busby, who died in 1695.
There were two classes of students at Westminster : To^^^l
Boys, and King's (or Queen's) Scholars, elected after a
year from among the Town Boys. Hill evidently remained
a Town Boy, for Ms name does not appear in the list of
those elected to the Foundation. His friendship with
Barton Booth, the actor, who entered the school about 1690
and left in 1698 to go on the Dublin stage, probably began
at Westminster; and perhaps his interest in the stage was
first aroused, like Booth's, by the annual Westminster play.
Another Westminster boy, afterwards famous, — John Car-
teret, Earl of Granville, — was referred to by Hill as a
schoolfellow;* but he must have entered just about when
Hill left, for he was five years his junior. Hill eulogized
him in his poem, The Impartial (1745), but confided to his
friend Richardson that he really was not sure that what
he said of him was true.^

At Westminster Hill received the usual classical educa-
tion of the time.*' One little contemporary picture of con-
ditions in the school is perhaps worth quoting. The mother
of a Westminster boy, Colin Campbell, wrote in February,
1691 : * ' Cdin is a busie man at all his leasons ; is every
day at scoul all this winter befor 7 o'clock, and his wax
candle with him, and doth not com out till past 11, and
they returne at 1, and stay until neir six. This was far

4 In the dedication of The Impartial to Carteret by ' ' his Lordship 's
quondam schoolfellow. ' '

5 Hill to Eiehardson, April 6 and 9, 1744. Forster MSS.

6 See G. F. Eussell Barker, Memoir of Eichard Bushy, etc., London,
1895, and John Sargeaunt, Annals of Westminster School, London,


from his dyot at horn, and in the great cold scoul he sits the
whole day over without a hatt or cap, and all the windows
broak, and yet thanks be to God, he taks very well with it,
tho he never seeth a fire but in my hous."^ She notes,
however, that the reputation of the masters for severity has
not been borne out so far in Colin 's case. Hill, too, unless
the boy was very different from the man, was probably a
' ' busie man at his leasons, ' ' and tradition says that he was
a ''busie man" at the lessons of his fellows as well: "Under
the care of Dr. Knipe, his genius showed itself in a distin-
guished 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 eapacity. ' '* It is more likely that
his helpfulness was prompted by good-nature, and by the
inadequacy of his own tasks to employ all his energy; if
he really increased his pocket money by his genius, it was,
I think, the only instance of the kind in his life. Aside
from this anecdote, there is little to show what sort of boy
he was, except one reminiscence of his own, which suggests
that he was imaginative and sensitive to impressions : in his
Plain Dealer,^ after praising Spenser for bold descriptions
and quick, penetrating fancy, he goes on: "There is in
his works an image of Death so dreadfully drawn, and
painted in such glowing colors, that (having got it by heart
when I was a boy) it made so lively an impression on me
that I never failed for a long time after to see it at my
bed's foot as soon as the candle was carried out of the room,
and met it in every churchyard I passed over after sun-
set. "^'^

" Quoted by Sargeaunt, Annals, etc., 287.

8 Gibber's Lives, V, 253. Dr. Thomas Knipe was Busby's suc-

9 No. 91.

10 Hill 's appreciation of earlier poets occasionally took a form that


The conventional Westminster boy proceeded in due
course either to Christ Church, Oxford, or Trinity College,
Cambridge; but Hill was not the conventional boy. "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 ambassador at
Constantinople), he formed a resolution of paying him a
visit there, being likewise very desirous of seeing that
empire. "^^ Mrs. Gregory, being a woman of "uncommon
understanding and great good-nature," sympathized with
this adventurous scheme, and furnished him with funds
for the voyage. He embarked on ]\Iarch 2, 1700, and
travelled by way of Portugal and Italy. Unfortunately,
the diary he is said to have kept has not come to light,
but many particulars of the journey were incorporated in
his Ottoman Empire. Lord Paget was surprised at the
arrival of his young relation, and it is a proof of the at-
tractions of Hill's person and character that he was also
pleased at the boy's enterprise. He promptly provided for
him "a very learned ecclesiastic in his own house, and
under his tuition sent him to travel, being desirous to im-
prove, so far as possible, the education of a person he found
worthy of it. ' ' These travels took Hill to Greece, and the
islands of the ^gean, and by caravan into the Holy

arouses the ire of their modern admirers, though it was quite in
accord with the feeling of his own age. He "improved" poems of
Wotton and Donne. (See The Disparity, from a Hint of Sir Henry
Wotton, WorTis, III, 310; and To a Lady wlio Loved Angling, from a
Hint out of Dr. Donne, Worts, IV, 58.) In the very brief notice of
Hill in TJie Cambridge History of Eng. Lit., IX, ch. VI, p. 210, the
alteration of Wotton 's * ' You meaner beauties of the night ' ' is singled
out by Professor Saintsbury as a crime he finds it very difficult to
pardon Hill for.

11 Life by "I. K." prefixed to Ilill's Dramatic Worls.


Land ;^^ he visited ]\Iecea as well as Jerusalem. He was in
Egypt in the spring of 1701, and back in Constantinople in
1702. Needless to say, he had adventures, and the most
interesting parts of his Ottoman Empire are those in which
he tells of them, though he introduces them merely by way
of illustration.

Once, when Hill and others were returning from a visit
to a British ship, they met a Turkish fanatic, "a certain
tattered wretch, in the habit of a pilgrim, leaping up and
down, with elevated eyes, contracted forehead, and a visage
full of passion and deformity. (He) held a dagger in his
hand, and skipped about with such . . . violence as made
me take his zealous transports for madness ; so that taking
him for some simple antic, I laughed aloud at his ex-
travagant diversion. He saw me laugh and made directly
towards me with his brandished weapon, which a Greek in-
terpreter, endeavoring to turn aside, received unhappily
to the hilt within his bosom." He then hurled his dagger
at Hill, who avoided it by dropping to his knee. Of course
Hill killed him."

At Sestos and Abydos, Hill paid his respects to the
lovers; and after quoting Musfeus, he adds with a trace of
humor that the sentimental traveller has opportunity
enough to weep, for Turkish official red-tape detains him
there three days. At Troy he was sure that he had found
a fragment of the original wall and the tomb of Hector.
His vessel was detained near the coast by adverse winds
long enough to permit him to land, with an Italian priest,

12 ic >rp^g really a diverting entertainment for a sprightly fancy to
observe what multitudes of superstitious Jews swarm up and down
in every caravan ; the oldest, ugliest, and most decrepit of all man-
kind, who flock from every distant corner of the spacious universe
to die as near Jerusalem as possible, and load themselves and other
beasts of burden with the musty bones and tattered relics of their
dead relations" (Ottoman Empire, 274).

13 Ottovian Empire, 82 f.


and they walked about three miles up into a desolate
country overgrown with brambles. At least one English-
man had been there before them, for scratched on the
marble of the supposed tomb of Hector were the lines :

" I do suppose that here stood Troy ;
My name it is William, a jolly Boy;
My other name it is Hudson, and so
God bless the sailors, wherever they do go.

I was here in the year of our Lord 1631, and was bound for old
England, God bless her."^*

At Samos, Hill watched the sponge divers, and tried
diving himself with their apparatus, though "more than
most men averse to diving. "^^ At Patmos, he was de-
termined to see the chapel where St. John was said to have
written the Book of Revelations; and unable to persuade
anyone to go on shore with him, he landed alone, and started
out with pistols and scimetar to find the monastery. While
wandering about, quite lost, on a wooded hill, he discovered
"on the brow of an impending precipice a little hut or
cave," with a door which he pushed open. "I was all
amazed when I perceived the inside of the cell as still as
possible; . . . just against the entrance burned a lamp on
either side a little altar, and the weak and broken light . . .
discovered in the midst a large black coffin filled with
something ... as black and dismal ... as the coffin." This
dismal something was a living Italian hermit, who proved
to be a most agreeable companion, and escorted the young
traveller to the monastery.^*'

1* Ottoman Empire, 206 f.

15 Ibid., 210-211. He and liis fellow travellers were induced to
try their skill when they heard of a law among' the divers ' ' that no
man shall be allowed to marry, till he can demonstrate by a trial he
is qualiiSed to dive for one continued quarter of an hour." Hill kept
his head under only two minutes.

10 Ibid., 213 f,


Hill's pictures of the streets of Cairo — especially of a
bowing ass, a climbing goat, and a dancing camel — are
entertaining.^' But his most thrilling adventure happened
in the catacombs, some fifteen miles southeast of IMemphis.
To visit them was a dangerous enterprise, for they were
remote from protection, and the wandering Arabs had an
unpleasant custom of closing the entrances after travellers
had entered, and then returning "some few days after to
divide the plunder of those miscarried gentlemen." Hill
and three others secured a guide, journeyed all night, and
found the desert apparently deserted. Near the opening of
the catacombs, however, they were surprised to see a ladder
of ropes. They "went backwards down, with each man a
pistol in one hand and a lighted torch in the other. A
strange uncommon smell saluted our first entrance with an
odor not to be imagined by such as have not known it by
experience, and the blazing torches, striking a faint glim-
mering light through the thickness of the gloom, discovered,
as we walked along, on either side the discolored faces of
the dead, with a strange and inexpressible horror. We had
scarce passed three yards within the vault when the fore-

1" Ibid., 242 f. Hill did not rest till he found out how they taught
the camels to dance : ' ' They make a large square hollow place oh
some stone pavement, not unlike a bath, of such depth that nothing
let down thither can get out again but with the same assistance he
was first put in by. Under this paved floor^ consisting . . . of . . .
fire-stone, is built a furnace into which they put a necessary quantity
of wood, and heating it to what degree they please, the stones grow
hot like some mild oven. Then they put the poor meek camel into this
square hollow, heated as it is, and standing around the edges of the
place begin to sound their drums or other instruments; continuing so
to do, while the unhoofed and tender-footed camel, all impatient of
the heat, first draws up one leg, then another, changing swifter as the
heat, increasing, burns his feet with greater anguish, till at last he
rears himself on end, and capers nimbly on his hinder feet, as if he
strove to imitate a dancer." After a course of this training, he is
ready to dance anywhere at the sound of that music.


most of our company, stumbling accidentally on something
that lay in his way, fell headlong over it ; whereupon, hold-
ing down our torches, we perceived two men in Christian
habits, extended cross each other, and appearing newly
dead, with all the pale and frightful marks of a convulsive
horror in their . . . faces. Between the feet of one there
lay a pocketbook and pencil, which taking up and opening,
we read with great difficulty . . . lines there written in
Italian. ' ' It seems the unfortunate Italians had been shut
in by Arabs on June 18, 1701 ; it was then June 22,
Alarmed, the explorers hurried back to the entrance,
arriving just in time to see the stone shoved over the aper-
ture by some persons above. The ladder was gone. Hill
urged the company to search for some other exit, and keep-
ing only one torch alight, they hurried from vault to vault.
Suddenly they caught a glimpse of six faces against a wall
ahead of them. "With one consent we fired our pistols.
'Tis impossible to make the reader sensible of the pro-
digious loud report and rumbling noise this one discharge
created in the vault. . . . Whether fear, or some unlucky
accident produced the cause, . . . the frighted guide let fall
his torch, which presently extinguished." Wlien the
smoke cleared away, they perceived a ray of light, and
followed the gleam until they came to a hole in the wall,
through which they finally escaped into daylight. Several
Arabs were riding off with their mules ; they had evidently
come back to plunder the Italians and had been surprised
by Hill's party. Just then some Turkish soldiers arrived
opportunely, recovered the mules, and allowed the party
to finish in safety their explorations in the catacombs, and
to attend to the obsequies of the Italians.^^

18 Ottoman Empire, 264 f . The cut illustrating this adventure
represents a cross section of the vaults, quite in the style of a bill-
board for a modern melodrama, and allows us to see the desert, two
stories of the catacombs, and all that is happening above and below

hill's early life 9

After all these adventures — rather unusual for a boy —
Hill returned to Constantinople, apparently near the end
of the year 1701 or the beginning of 1702. In the acknowl-
edgment of Lord Paget 's kindness, prefixed to the Ottoman
Empire, Hill writes that after visiting Palestine, Egypt,
and other eastern parts, he came to Constantinople "time
enough to owe the best improvements of my education to
the generous care of this wise nobleman, whose instructions
and example gave me first a notion of the world, and under
whose protection I was afterwards so happy as to see it to
advantage, having had the honor to attend him from the
Turkish court to England, in a journey overland through
almost all the celebrated parts of Christendom." Lord
Paget, with his suite, started on his return some time in the
late spring or early summer of 1702; he went by way of
Bulgaria and Roumania into Germany; in September he
reached Holland, and was then ordered to proceed to
Vienna; and in December he went from Vienna to the court
of Bavaria. Not until April 12, 1703, did he and his suite
arrive in England, after a passage from Holland that had
been enlivened by a sea-fight with the French. ^^

The next certain date in Hill's life is that of the publica-
tion of his Camillus in 1707, He probably remained at-
tached to Lord Paget 's household for a short time after the
return to England, and it may be to this period that the
mysterious operations of a malevolent female, mentioned by
his biographer, belong r" ' ' He was in great esteem with that

ground. Lady Mary W. Montagu remembered this adventure when
she contradicted a statement of the admirable Mr. Hill's about the
sweating pillar of St. Sophia; she says (incorrectly, according to
her editor) that "there is not the least tradition of any such matter;
and I suppose it was revealed to him in vision during his wonderful
stay in the Egyptian catacombs" (Letters and Worlcs, ed. of 1887,
I, 236).

loLuttrell, Brief Historical Belation, IV, 287 (April 13, 1703).

30 Gibber's Lives, V, 254.


nobleman ; insomuch that in all probability he had been still
more distinguished by him at his death than in his lifetime,
had not the envious fears and malice of a certain female,
who was in high authority with that lord, prevented and
supplanted his kind disposition towards him. ]\Iy lord
took great pleasure in instructing him himself, WTOte 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

Online LibraryDorothy BrewsterAaron Hill, poet, dramatist, projector → online text (page 1 of 24)