Duck, Stephen

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Duck, Stephen (1705?-1756): English, Poet

Born in Wiltshire, England, Stephen Duck was known as the thresher poet because he lacked formal education and worked as a thresher separating grain or seed from straw, a novelty in a class-conscious era in which poets derived from the upper class or at least the rising middle class. At the age of fourteen, Duck was forced to leave the charity school that he attended so that he could work in the fields. Duck’s success as a poet originated in part from his occupation and humble background. In perhaps his best poem, “The Thresher’s Labour,” Duck wrote skillfully about topics he knew, but the poems he wrote simply to please others lack the same quality. Because of his unique background, as well as his talent, virtue and charm, Queen Caroline became his patron and provided him with a pension and domicile. Such success, however, inspired the jealousy of other poets, including Pope, Alexander and Swift, Jonathan, who penned “On Stephen Duck. The Thresher and Favourite Poet. A Quibbling Epigram.” Convinced that they possessed much more talent than Duck and knowing that they derived from a higher social class, some poets became upset that Duck had acquired fame and patronage, which they believed he did not deserve. Duck’s first collection of poems was entitled Poems on Several Subjects (1730) and was followed by “To His Royal Highness, the Duke of Cumberland on His Birthday” (1732) and Poems on Several Occasions (1736). Duck committed suicide by drowning himself in 1756.

Stephen Duck was a celebrity in his lifetime but is now considered an obscure and unknown poet. In fact, Duck’s fame began to diminish greatly even in his own lifetime. Despite the lack of attention paid to Duck’s work today, he was nonetheless an influential poet in his day, inspiring other common laborers to write verse. Furthermore, Duck’s “Caesar’s Camp, or St. George’s Hill” (1755) influenced and inspired Gray, Thomas’s “The Bard.”

Further Reading:

Rose Mary Davis, Stephen Duck, The Thresher-Poet, 1926.


Eric Sterling

Auburn Montgomery University

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