Thomas Tickell, the son of the Rev. Richard Tickell, was born in 1686, at Bridekirk, in Cumberland, and in 1701 became a member of Queen's College in Oxford; in 1708 he was made Master of Arts, and two years afterwards was chosen Fellow, for which, as he did not comply with the statutes by taking orders, he obtained a dispensation from the Crown. He held his fellowship till 1726, and then vacated it by marrying, in that year, at Dublin.
Tickell was not one of those scholars who wear away their lives in closets; he entered early into the world and was long busy in public affairs, in which he was initiated under the patronage of Addison, whose notice he is said to have gained by his verses in praise of Rosamond. To those verses it would not have been just to deny regard, for they contain some of the most elegant encomiastic strains; and among the innumerable poems of the same kind it will be hard to find one with which they need to fear a comparison. It may deserve observation that when Pope wrote long afterwards in praise of Addison, he has copied—at least, has resembled—Tickell.
"Let joy salute fair Rosamonda's shade,
And wreaths of myrtle crown the lovely maid.
While now perhaps with Dido's ghost she roves,
And hears and tells the story of their loves,
Alike they mourn, alike they bless their fate,
Since Love, which made them wretched, made them great.
Nor longer that relentless doom bemoan,
Which gained a Virgil and an Addison."—TICKELL.
"Then future ages with delight shall see
How Plato's, Bacon's, Newton's, looks agree;
Or in fair series laurelled bards be shown,
A Virgil there, and here an Addison."—POPE.
He produced another piece of the same kind at the appearance of Cato, with equal skill, but not equal happiness.
When the Ministers of Queen Anne were negotiating with France, Tickell published "The Prospect of Peace," a poem of which the tendency was to reclaim the nation from the pride of conquest to the pleasures of tranquillity. How far Tickell, whom Swift afterwards mentioned as Whiggissimus, had then connected himself with any party, I know not; this poem certainly did not flatter the practices, or promote the opinions, of the men by whom he was afterwards befriended.
Mr. Addison, however he hated the men then in power, suffered his friendship to prevail over his public spirit, and gave in the Spectator such praises of Tickell's poem that when, after having long wished to peruse it, I laid hold of it at last, I thought it unequal to the honours which it had received, and found it a piece to be approved rather than admired. But the hope excited by a work of genius, being general and indefinite, is rarely gratified. It was read at that with so much favour that six editions were sold.
At the arrival of King George, he sang "The Royal Progress," which, being inserted in the Spectator, is well known, and of which it is just to say that it is neither high nor low.
The poetical incident of most importance in Tickell's life was his publication of the first book of the "Iliad," as translated by himself, an apparent opposition to Pope's "Homer," of which the first part made its entrance into the world at the same time. Addison declared that the rival versions were both good, but that Tickell's was the best that ever was made; and with Addison, the wits, his adherents and followers, were certain to concur. Pope does not appear to have been much dismayed, "for," says he, "I have the town—that is, the mob—on my side." But he remarks "that it is common for the smaller party to make up in diligence what they want in numbers. He appeals to the people as his proper judges, and if they are not inclined to condemn him, he is in little care about the highflyers at Button's."
Pope did not long think Addison an impartial judge, for he considered him as the writer of Tickell's version. The reasons for his suspicion I will literally transcribe from Mr. Spence's Collection:—
"There had been a coldness," said Mr. Pope, "between Mr. Addison and me for some time, and we had not been in company together, for a good while, anywhere but at Button's Coffee House, where I used to see him almost every day. On his meeting me there, one day in particular, he took me aside and said he should be glad to dine with me at such a tavern, if I stayed till those people were gone (Budgell and Philips). He went accordingly, and after dinner Mr. Addison said 'that he had wanted for some time to talk with me: that his friend Tickell had formerly, whilst at Oxford, translated the first book of the Iliad; that he designed to print it, and had desired him to look it over; that he must therefore beg that I would not desire him to look over my first book, because, if he did, it would have the air of double-dealing.' I assured him that I did not at all take it ill of Mr. Tickell that he was going to publish his translation; that he certainly had as much right to translate any author as myself; and that publishing both was entering on a fair stage. I then added that I would not desire him to look over my first book of the Iliad, because he had looked over Mr. Tickell's, but could wish to have the benefit of his observations on my second, which I had then finished, and which Mr. Tickell had not touched upon. Accordingly I sent him the second book the next morning, and Mr. Addison a few days after returned it, with very high commendations. Soon after it was generally known that Mr. Tickell was publishing the first book of the Iliad, I met Dr. Young in the street, and upon our falling into that subject, the doctor expressed a great deal of surprise at Tickell's having had such a translation so long by him. He said that it was inconceivable to him, and that there must be some mistake in the matter; that each used to communicate to the other whatever verses they wrote, even to the least things; that Tickell could not have been busied in so long a work there without his knowing something of the matter; and that he had never heard a single word of it till on this occasion. This surprise of Dr. Young, together with what Steele has said against Tickell in relation to this affair, make it highly probable that there was some underhand dealing in that business; and indeed Tickell himself, who is a very fair worthy man, has since, in a manner, as good as owned it to me. When it was introduced into a conversation between Mr. Tickell and Mr. Pope by a third person, Tickell did not deny it, which, considering his honour and zeal for his departed friend, was the same as owning it."
Upon these suspicions, with which Dr. Warburton hints that other circumstances concurred, Pope always in his "Art of Sinking" quotes this book as the work of Addison.
To compare the two translations would be tedious; the palm is now given universally to Pope, but I think the first lines of Tickell's were rather to be preferred; and Pope seems to have since borrowed something from them in the correction of his own.
When the Hanover succession was disputed, Tickell gave what assistance his pen would supply. His "Letter to Avignon" stands high among party poems; it expresses contempt without coarseness, and superiority without insolence. It had the success which it deserved, being five times printed.
He was now intimately united to Mr. Addison, who, when he went into Ireland as secretary to the Lord Sunderland, took him thither, and employed him in public business; and when (1717) afterwards he rose to be Secretary of State, made him Under-Secretary. Their friendship seems to have continued without abatement; for, when Addison died, he left him the charge of publishing his works, with a solemn recommendation to the patronage of Craggs. To these works he prefixed an elegy on the author, which could owe none of its beauties to the assistance which might be suspected to have strengthened or embellished his earlier compositions; but neither he nor Addison ever produced nobler lines than are contained in the third and fourth paragraphs; nor is a more elegant funeral poem to be found in the whole compass of English literature. He was afterwards (about 1725) made secretary to the Lords Justices of Ireland, a place of great honour; in which he continued till 1740, when he died on the 23rd of April at Bath.
Of the poems yet unmentioned, the longest is "Kensington Gardens," of which the versification is smooth and elegant, but the fiction unskilfully compounded of Grecian deities and Gothic 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; nor should it be forgotten that he was one of the contributors to the Spectator. With respect to his personal character, he is said to have been a man of gay conversation, at least a temperate lover of wine and company, and in his domestic relations without censure.