Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
Critical Introduction by George Saintsbury
Sir Samuel Garth (16611719)
[Samuel Garth was born at Bolam in Durham, and knighted at the accession of George I. The Dispensary appeared in 1699, and quickly ran through numerous editions. The short poem on Claremont came out in 1715, and in 1717 Garth edited a translation of Ovids Metamorphoses, in which Drydens versions were completed by a great number of hands, he himself contributing the fourteenth book and parts of others.]
GARTH is mainly interesting at the present day because he was the first writer who took the couplet, as Dryden had fashioned it, from Drydens hands, and displayed it in the form it maintained throughout the eighteenth century. In some respects it may be said that no advance in this peculiar model was ever made on The Dispensary. Its best lines are equal to any of Popes in mere fashion, and in it appear clearly enough the inherent defects of the form when once Drydens energy divine and his cunning admixture of what looked like roughness had been lost or rejected. The monotony, the mannerism, and the other defects, emerge side by side with the polish and smoothness which are its great merits. Except for its versification, which not only long preceded Pope, but also anticipated Addisons happiest effort by some years, The Dispensary is not now an interesting poem. The dispute on which it is based is long forgotten, its mock heroic plan looks threadbare to our eyes, and the machinery and imagery have lost all the charm that they may at one time have had. But as a versifier Garth must always deserve a place in the story of English literature. Claremont and his other minor works display the same faculty, but at their date it was already common enough. We therefore here give extracts from The Dispensary only, reminding the reader that the poem gives a burlesque account of the opposition made by some physicians and apothecaries to the plan of giving gratuitous advice and medicine to the poor. We may add that our selections form part of the descriptions and episodes added by the author in the edition of 1703.