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Churchill in the middle


Bucknell, C


Freedom was important to Charles Churchill. His great aim, as he explained in an early poem called Night (1761), was for him and his friends ‘To pass thro’ life as easy as we can’, unencumbered by serious commitments and ‘rude cares’ (ll. 256, 281). He kept irregular hours, drank immoderately and had a train of mistresses. As a poet without a patron or public salary, he relished his ability to write about whatever he wanted and to digress wildly if the fancy took him. Before he gave them up in 1763, he resented the poorly remunerated duties he had as the curate of St John the Evangelist in Westminster, forced to ‘pray, and starve on forty pounds a year’ (The Author, l. 352) – although, the way he saw it, even this burden had its associated freedoms, insofar as receiving a small salary released him from owing anything to the state in taxes. ‘WHAT is’t to us, if taxes rise or fall,/ Thanks to our fortune we pay none at all’ (Night, ll. 263–4).

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