Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Tickell's Exploded Beings

Born on this day in 1685 was the amusingly named minor poet Thomas Tickell, also known as 'Whigissimus' on account of his political leanings. A protege and favourite of Joseph Addison, Tickell had a good deal of worldly success in his lifetime, and perhaps rather more literary fame than he deserved. His longest poem is a mock-heroic effort, Kensington Gardens, in which Prince Albion, in love with a fairy maid, takes on Oberon and his forces on the site of what is now Kensington Gardens (where, as regulars will know, I often take a lunchtime stroll, weather permitting).
Tickell sets the scene thus:

'Where Kensington, high o'er the neighb'ring lands
'Midst greens and sweets, a Regal fabrick, stands,
And sees each spring, luxuriant in her bowers,
A snow of blossoms, and a wilde of flowers,
The Dames of Britain oft in crowds repair
To gravel walks, and unpolluted air.
Here, while the Town in damps and darkness lies,
They breathe in sun-shine, and see azure skies;
Each walk, with robes of various dyes bespread,
Seems from afar a moving Tulip-bed,
Where rich Brocades and glossy Damasks glow,
And Chints, the rival of the show'ry Bow...'

And so on, and on, for several hundred lines.
In his Lives of the Poets, Johnson remarks of Kensington Gardens that 'the versification is smooth and elegant, but the fiction unskilfully compounded of Grecian Deities and Gothick Fairies. Neither species of those exploded beings could have done much; and when they are brought together they only make each other contemptible. To Tickell, however, cannot be refused a high place among the minor poets...' A major minor then - at least to Johnson.