Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860
Author: Saintsbury, George, 1845-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



ESSAYS

IN

ENGLISH LITERATURE

1780-1860


BY

GEORGE SAINTSBURY

PERCIVAL AND CO.
_KING STREET, COVENT GARDEN_

LONDON

1890



PREFACE


Of the essays in this volume, the introductory paper on "The Kinds of
Criticism" has not before appeared in print. All the rest, with one
exception (the Essay on Lockhart which appeared in the _National
Review_), were originally published in _Macmillan's Magazine_. To the
Editors and Publishers of both these periodicals I owe my best thanks
for permission to reprint the articles. To the Editor of _Macmillan's
Magazine_ in particular (to whom, if dedications were not somewhat in
ill odour, I should, in memory of friendship old and new, have dedicated
the book), I am further indebted for suggesting several of the subjects
as well as accepting the essays. These appear in the main as they
appeared; but I have not scrupled to alter phrase or substance where it
seemed desirable, and I have in a few places restored passages which had
been sacrificed to the usual exigencies of space. In two cases, those of
Lockhart and De Quincey, I have thought it best to discuss, in a brief
appendix, some questions which have presented themselves since the
original publications. In consequence of these alterations and additions
as well as for other reasons, it may be convenient to give the dates and
places of the original appearance of each essay. They are as follows:--

    Lockhart, _National Review_, Aug. 1884. Borrow, _Macmillan's
    Magazine_, Jan. 1886. Peacock, do. April 1886. Wilson (under the
    title of "Christopher North"), do. July 1886. Hazlitt, do. March
    1887. Jeffrey, do. August 1887. Moore, do. March 1888. Sydney
    Smith, do. May 1888. Praed, do. Sept. 1888. Leigh Hunt, do.
    April 1889. Crabbe, do. June 1889. Hogg, do. Sept. 1889. De
    Quincey, do. June 1890.

The present order is chronological, following the birth-years of the
authors discussed.



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

INTRODUCTORY ESSAY--

  THE KINDS OF CRITICISM                                              ix

   I. CRABBE                                                           1

  II. HOGG                                                            33

 III. SYDNEY SMITH                                                    67

  IV. JEFFREY                                                        100

   V. HAZLITT                                                        135

  VI. MOORE                                                          170

 VII. LEIGH HUNT                                                     201

VIII. PEACOCK                                                        234

  IX. WILSON                                                         270

   X. DE QUINCEY                                                     304

  XI. LOCKHART                                                       339

 XII. PRAED                                                          374

XIII. BORROW                                                         403


APPENDIX--A. DE QUINCEY                                              440

          B. LOCKHART                                                444


INDEX                                                                449



INTRODUCTION

THE KINDS OF CRITICISM


It is probably unnecessary, and might possibly be impertinent, to renew
here at any length the old debate between reviewers as reviewers, and
reviewers as authors--the debate whether the reissue of work contributed
to periodicals is desirable or not. The plea that half the best prose
literature of this century would be inaccessible if the practice had
been forbidden, and the retort that anything which can pretend to keep
company with the best literature of the century will be readily relieved
from the objection, at once sum up the whole quarrel, and leave it
undecided. For my own part, I think that there is a sufficient
connection of subject in the following chapters, and I hope that there
is a sufficient uniformity of treatment. The former point, as the least
important, may be dismissed first. All the literature here discussed
is--with the exception of Crabbe's earliest poems, and the late
aftermath of Peacock and Borrow--work of one and the same period, the
first half of the present century. The authors criticised were all
contemporaries; with only one exception, if with one, they were all
writing more or less busily within a single decade, that of 1820 to
1830. And they have the further connection (which has at least the
reality of having been present to my mind in selecting them), that while
every one of them was a man of great literary power, hardly one has been
by general consent, or except by private crotchet would be, put among
the very greatest. They stand not far below, but distinctly below,
Scott, Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, and Keats. Yet again, they
agree in the fact that hardly one of them has yet been securely set in
the literary niche which is his due, all having been at some time either
unduly valued or unduly neglected, and one or two never having yet
received even due appreciation. The greatest of all critics was accused,
unjustly, of having a certain dislike of clear, undoubted supremacy. It
would be far more fair to say that Sainte-Beuve had eminently, what
perhaps all critics who are not mere carpers on the one hand, or mere
splashers of superlatives on the other, have more or less--an affection
for subjects possessing but qualified merit, and so giving to criticism
a certain additional interest in the task of placing and appraising
them.

This last sentence may not meet with universal assent, but it will bring
me conveniently to the second part of my subject. I should not have
republished these essays if I had not thought that, whatever may be
their faults (and a man who does not see the faults of his own writing
on revising it a second time for the press after an interval, must be
either a great genius or an intolerable fool), they possess a certain
unity of critical method. Nor should I have republished them if it had
seemed to me that this method was exactly identical with that of any
other critic of the present day in England. I have at least endeavoured
to wear my rue with a difference, and that not merely for the sake of
differing.

Mr. Goldwin Smith, whose work is not likely to be impeached for defect
either in form or in substance, wrote but a few months ago, in
melancholy mood, that the province of criticism appeared to be now
limited to the saying of fine things. I agree with him that this is one
vicious extreme of the popular conception of the art; but in order to
define correctly, we cannot be contented with one only. The other, as it
seems to me, is fixed by the notion, now warmly championed by some
younger critics both at home and abroad, that criticism must be of all
things "scientific." For my own part, I have gravely and strenuously
endeavoured to ascertain from the writings both of foreign critics (the
chief of whom was the late M. Hennequin in France), and of their
disciples at home, what "scientific" criticism means. In no case have I
been able to obtain any clear conception of its connotation in the
mouths or minds of those who use the phrase. The new heaven and the new
earth which they promise are no doubt to be very different from our own
old earth and heaven; of that they are sure, and their sureness does not
fail to make itself plain. But what the flora and fauna, the biology and
geology of the new heaven and earth are to be, I have never succeeded in
ascertaining. The country would appear to be like that Land of Ignorance
which, as Lord Brooke says, "none can describe until he be past it."
Only I have perceived that when this "scientific" criticism sticks
closest to its own formulas and ways, it appears to me to be very bad
criticism; and that when, as sometimes happens, it is good criticism,
its ways and formulas are not perceptibly distinguishable from those of
criticism which is not "scientific." For the rest, it is all but
demonstrable that "scientific" literary criticism is impossible, unless
the word "scientific" is to have its meaning very illegitimately
altered. For the essential qualities of literature, as of all art, are
communicated by the individual, they depend upon idiosyncrasy: and this
makes science in any proper sense powerless. _She_ can deal only with
classes, only with general laws; and so long as these classes are
constantly reduced to "species of one," and these laws are set at nought
by incalculable and singular influences, she must be constantly baffled
and find all her elaborate plant of formulas and generalisations
useless. Of course, there are generalisations possible in literature,
and to such I may return presently; but scientific criticism of
literature must always be a contradiction in terms. You may to some
considerable extent ascertain the general laws of language, of metre, of
music, as applied to verbal rhythm and cadence; you may classify the
subjects which appeal to the general, and further classify their
particular manners of appeal; you may arrange the most ingenious
"product-of-the-circumstances" theories about race, climate, religion.
But always sooner or later, and much more often sooner than later, the
mocking demon of the individual, or, if a different phrase be preferred,
the great and splendid mystery of the idiosyncrasy of the artist, will
meet and baffle you. You will find that on the showing of this science
falsely so called, there is no reason why Chapelain should not be a
poet, and none why Shakespeare is. You will ask science in vain to tell
you why some dozen or sixteen of the simplest words in language arranged
by one man or in one fashion, why a certain number of dabs of colour
arranged by another man or in another fashion, make a permanent addition
to the delight of the world, while other words and other dabs of colour,
differently arranged by others, do not. To put the matter yet otherwise,
the whole end, aim, and object of literature and the criticism of
literature, as of all art, and the criticism of all art, is beauty and
the enjoyment of beauty. With beauty science has absolutely nothing to
do.

It is no doubt the sense, conscious or unconscious, of this that has
inclined men to that other conception of criticism as a saying of fine
things, of which Mr. Goldwin Smith complains, and which certainly has
many votaries, in most countries at the present day. These votaries have
their various kinds. There is the critic who simply uses his subject as
a sort of springboard or platform, on and from which to display his
natural grace and agility, his urbane learning, his faculty of pleasant
wit. This is perhaps the most popular of all critics, and no age has
ever had better examples of him than this age. There is a more serious
kind who founds on his subject (if indeed founding be not too solemn a
term) elaborate descants, makes it the theme of complicated variations.
There is a third, closely allied to him, who seeks in it apparently
first of all, and sometimes with no further aim, an opportunity for the
display of style. And lastly (though as usual all these kinds pervade
and melt into one another, so that, while in any individual one may
prevail, it is rare to find an individual in whom that one is alone
present) there is the purely impressionist critic who endeavours in his
own way to show the impression which the subject has, or which he
chooses to represent that it has, produced on him. This last is in a
better case than the others; but still he, as it seems to me, misses
the full and proper office of the critic, though he may have an
agreeable and even useful function of his own.

For the full and proper office of the critic (again as it seems to me)
can never be discharged except by those who remember that "critic" means
"judge." Expressions of personal liking, though they can hardly be kept
out of criticism, are not by themselves judgment. The famous "J'aime
mieux Alfred de Musset," though it came from a man of extraordinary
mental power and no small specially critical ability, is not criticism.
Mere _obiter dicta_ of any kind, though they may be most agreeable and
even most legitimate sets-off to critical conversation, are not
criticism. The most admirable discourses from the merely literary point
of view on taste, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses, with some
parenthetic reference to the matter in hand, are not criticism. There
must be at least some attempt to take in and render the whole virtue of
the subjects considered, some effort to compare them with their likes in
other as well as the same languages, some endeavour to class and value
them. And as a condition preliminary to this process, there must, I
think, be a not inconsiderable study of widely differing periods, forms,
manners, of literature itself. The test question, as I should put it, of
the value of criticism is "What idea of the original would this critic
give to a tolerably instructed person who did not know that original?"
And again, "How far has this critic seen steadily and seen whole, the
subject which he has set himself to consider? How far has he referred
the main peculiarities of that subject to their proximate causes and
effects? How far has he attempted to place, and succeeded in placing,
the subject in the general history of literature, in the particular
history of its own language, in the collection of authors of its own
department?" How far, in short, has he applied what I may perhaps be
excused for calling the comparative method in literature to the
particular instance? I have read very famous and in their way very
accomplished examples of literature ostensibly critical, in which few if
any of these questions seem to have been even considered by the critic.
He may have said many pretty things; he may have shown what a clever
fellow he is; he may have in his own person contributed good literature
to swell the literary sum. But has he done anything to aid the general
grasp of that literary sum, to place his man under certain lights and in
certain aspects, with due allowance for the possibility of other aspects
and other lights? Very often, I think, it must be admitted that he has
not. I should be the first to admit that my own attempts to do this are
unsuccessful and faulty; and I only plead for them that they are such
attempts, and that they have been made on the basis of tolerably wide
and tolerably careful reading.

For, after all, it is this reading which is the main and principal
thing. It will not of course by itself make a critic; but few are the
critics that will ever be made without it. We have at this moment an
awful example of an exceedingly clever writer who has commenced critic,
disdaining this preparation. Some of my friends jeer or comminate at Mr.
Howells; for my part I only shudder and echo the celebrated "There, but
for the grace of God." Here is a clever man, a very clever man, an
excellent though of late years slightly depraved practitioner in one
branch of art, who, suddenly and without preparation, takes to another,
and becomes a spectacle to men and angels. I hope that we shall one day
have a collection of Mr. Howells's critical _dicta_ on novels and other
things; they will be one of the most valuable, one of the most terrible
of books as showing what happens when a man speaks without knowledge. To
read what Mr. Howells says of Mr. Thackeray is almost an illiberal
education. The reason of the error is quite obvious. It is simply that
the clever American does not know; he has not sufficient range of
comparison. For my own part, I should not dare to continue criticising
so much as a circulating library novel, if I did not perpetually pay my
respects to the classics of many literatures: and I am not sure that I
do not appreciate the classics of many literatures all the better from
my not infrequent reading of circulating library novels.

The only objection of validity that I have ever seen taken to what I
have ventured to call comparative criticism, is that it proceeds too
much, as the most learned of living French critics once observed of an
English writer, _par cases et par compartiments_, that is to say, as I
understand M. Brunetière, with a rather too methodical classification.
This, however, was written some seven or eight years ago, and since then
I have found M. Brunetière speaking about critical method as
distinguished from the science of criticism, and insisting on the
necessity of comparison, not less positively, and no doubt with far more
authority, than I have done myself. Yet I half think that M. Brunetière,
like most of us, does not practise quite up to the level of his
preaching; and I should say that on mediæval literature, on Romantic
literature, and on some other things, his own excellent censorship might
be further improved by a still more catholic sympathy, and a still more
constant habit of looking at everything and every writer in conjunction
with their analogues and their opposites in the same and other
literatures. This constant reference of comparison may indeed stand in
the way of those flowing deliverances of personal opinion, in more or
less agreeable language, which are perhaps, or rather certainly, what is
most popular in criticism; I do not think that they will ever stand in
the way of criticism proper. As I understand that long and difficult
art, its end, as far as the individual is concerned, is to provide the
mind with a sort of conspectus of literature, as a good atlas thoroughly
conned provides a man with a conspectus of the _orbis terrarum_. To the
man with a geographical head, the mention of a place at once suggests
its bearings to other places, its history, its products, all its
relations in short; to the man with a critical head, the mention of a
book or an author should call up a similar mental picture. The picture,
indeed, will never be as complete in the one instance as in the other,
because the intellect and the artistic faculty of man are far vaster
than this planet, far more diverse, far more intricately and
perplexingly arranged than all its abundant material dispositions and
products. The life of Methuselah and the mind of Shakespeare together
could hardly take the whole of critical knowledge to be their joint
province. But the area of survey may be constantly increased; the
particularity of knowledge constantly made more minute.

Another objection, more fantastic in appearance but rather attractive in
its way, is that the comparative critic becomes too much of a universal
lover, and too little of an enthusiast, that he has an irritating and
ungentlemanly habit of seeing blemishes in the greatest, a pottering and
peddling fancy for discovering beauties in the most insignificant; that
he lacks the exclusiveness and the fastidiousness of intellectual
aristocracy, the fervour and rapture of æsthetic passion. To this, one
can answer little more than, "It may be so." Certainly the critic of
this kind will very rarely be able to indulge in the _engouement_ which
is the apparent delight of some of his class. He will deal very
cautiously in superlatives, and his commendations, when he gives them,
will sometimes have, to more gushing persons, the slightly ludicrous air
which attached to the modest boast of somebody that he was "the third
best authority in England on gray shirtings." On the other hand, the
critic of this kind will not be able to neglect the uninteresting with
the serene nonchalance of some of his fellows. He will sometimes have to
look back on days and months and years of laborious reading and say to
himself, "Were it not well for us, as others use, to take all this for
granted?" But to say this is to say no more than that the thorough-going
practice of any art and mystery involves a great deal of tedious,
thankless, and even positively fruitless work, brushes away a good many
illusions, and interferes a good deal with personal comfort. Cockaigne
is a delightful country, and the Cockaigne of criticism is as agreeable
as the other provinces. But none of these provinces has usually been
accounted a wise man's paradise.

It may be asked, "What is the end which you propose for this comparative
reading? A method must lead somewhere; whither does this method lead? or
does it lead only to statistics and classifications?" Certainly it does
not, or at least should not. It leads, like all method, to
generalisations which, though as I have said I do not believe that they
have attained or ever will attain the character of science, at least
throw no small light and interest on the study of literature as a whole,
and of its examples as particulars. It gives, I think (speaking as a
fool), a constantly greater power of distinguishing good work from bad
work, by giving constantly nearer approach (though perhaps it may never
wholly and finally attain) to the knowledge of the exact characteristics
which distinguish the two. And the way in which it does this is by a
constant process of weakening or strengthening, as the case may be, the
less or more correct generalisations with which the critic starts, or
which he forms in the early days of his reading. There has often been
brought against some great critics the charge that their critical
standards have altered at different times of their career. This simply
means that they have been constantly applying the comparative method,
and profiting by the application. After all, there are few, though there
are some, absolute truths in criticism; and a man will often be
relatively right in condemning, from certain aspects and in certain
combinations, work which, under other aspects and in other combinations,
he has been relatively quite as right in admiring. Occasionally, no
doubt, there will be an apparent exception to the rule of critical
development, as in the case of Hazlitt: but that remarkable exception
does not fail to justify the rule. For in truth, Hazlitt's critical
range was not so wide as his penetration was deep; and he avows, almost
exultingly, that after a comparatively early time of life, he
practically left off reading. That is to say, he carefully avoided
renewing his plant, and he usually eschewed new material--conditions
which, no doubt, conduce to the uniformity, and, within obvious limits,
are not prejudicial to the excellence of the product.

It is possible that the title "The Kinds of Criticism" may have excited
in some readers expectations of the discussion of a subject which has
not yet been handled. We have recently seen revived the sempiternal
argument between authors and critics--an argument in which it may be as
well to say that the present writer has not yet taken part either
anonymously or otherwise. The authors, or some of them, have remarked
that they have never personally benefited by criticism; and the critics,
after their disagreeable way, have retorted that this was obvious. A
critic of great ingenuity, my friend Mr. Andrew Lang, has, with his
usual humour, suggested that critics and reviewers are two different
kinds, and have nothing to do with each other essentially, though
accidentally, and in the imperfect arrangements of the world, the
discharge of their functions may happen to be combined in the same
person. As a matter of practice, this is no doubt too often the case; as
a matter of theory, nothing ought much less to be the case. I think
that if I were dictator, one of the first non-political things that I
should do, would be to make the order of reviewers as close a one, at
least, as the bench of judges, or the staff of the Mint, or of any
public establishment of a similar character. That any large amount of
reviewing is determined by fear or favour is a general idea which has
little more basis than a good many other general ideas. But that a very
large amount of reviewing is determined by doubtless well-meaning
incompetence, there is no doubt whatever. It is on the whole the most
difficult kind of newspaper writing, and it is on the whole the most
lightly assigned and the most irresponsibly performed. I have heard of
newspapers where the reviews depended almost wholly on the accident of
some of the staff taking a holiday, or being laid for a time on the
shelf, or being considered not up to other work; of others, though this
I own is scarcely credible, where the whole reviewing was farmed out to
a manager, to be allotted to devils as good to him seemed; of many where
the reviews were a sort of exercising-ground on which novices were
trained, broken-down hacks turned out to grass, and invalids allowed a
little gentle exercise. And I know of not a few papers and not a few
reviewers in which and by whom, errors and accidents excepted, the best
work possible is given to one of the most important kinds of work. Of
common mistakes on the subject, which are not merely silly crazes, such
as the log-rolling craze and the five-pound note craze and the like, the
worst known to me, though it is shared by some who should know better,
is that a specialist is the best reviewer. I do not say that he is
always the worst; but that is about as far as my charity, informed by
much experience, can go. Even if he has no special craze or megrim, and
does not decide offhand that a man is hopeless because he calls Charles
the Great Charlemagne, or _vice versâ_, he is constantly out of focus.
The perfect reviewer would be (and the only reviewer whose reviews are
worth reading is he who more or less approximates to this ideal) the
Platonic or pseudo-Platonic philosopher who is "second best in
everything," who has enough special knowledge not to miss merits or
defects, and enough general knowledge to estimate the particular subject
at, and not above, its relative value to the whole. There have been good
critics who were unable to bring themselves down to the mere reading of
ephemeral work, but I do not think they were the better for this; I am
sure that there never was a good reviewer, even of the lowest trash, who
was not _in posse_ or _in esse_ a good critic of the highest and most
enduring literature. The writer of funny articles, and the "slater," and
the intelligent _compte-rendu_ man, and the person who writes six
columns on the general theory of poetry when he professes to review Mr.
Apollo's last book, may do all these things well and not be good
critics; but then all these things may be done, and done well, and yet
not be good reviews.

Whether the reviewer and the critic are valuable members of society or
useless encumbrances, must be questions left to the decision of the
world at large, which apparently is not in a hurry to decide either way.
There are, no doubt, certain things that the critic, whether he be
critic major or critic minor, Sainte-Beuve or Mr. Gall, cannot do. He
cannot certainly, and for the present, sell or prevent the sale of a
book. "You slated this and it has gone through twenty editions" is not a
more uncommon remark than the other, "They slated that and you extol it
to the skies." Both, as generally urged, rest on fallacy. In the first
case, nothing was probably farther from the critic's intention than to
say "this book is not popular"; the most that he intended was "this book
is not good." In the second case, it has been discovered of late (it is
one of the few things that we have discovered) that very rarely has any
really good thing, even in the most famous or infamous attacks on it,
been attacked, even with a shadow of success, for its goodness. The
critics were severe on Byron's faults, on Keats's faults, and on the
present Laureate's faults; they were seldom severe on their goodness,
though they often failed to appreciate it fully.

This, however, is in one sense a digression, for there is no criticism
of contemporary work in this volume. I think, however, as I have just
endeavoured to point out, that criticism of contemporary work and
criticism of classics should proceed on the same lines, and I think that
both require the same qualities and the same outfit. Nor am I certain
that if narrow inquiry were made, some of the best criticism in all
times and in all languages would not be found in the merest casual
reviewing. That in all cases the critic must start from a wide
comparative study of different languages and literatures, is the first
position to be laid down. In the next place he must, I think, constantly
refer back his sensations of agreement and disagreement, of liking and
disliking, in the same comparative fashion. "Why do I like the
_Agamemnon_ and dislike Mr. Dash's five-act tragedy?" is a question to
be constantly put, and to be answered only by a pretty close personal
inquiry as to what "I" really do like in the _Agamemnon_ and do dislike
in Mr. Dash. And in answering it, it will hardly be possible to consider
too large a number of instances of all degrees of merit, from Aeschylus
himself to Mr. Dash himself, of all languages, of all times. Let
Englishmen be compared with Englishmen of other times to bring out this
set of differences, with foreigners of modern times to bring out that,
with Greeks and Romans to bring out the other. Let poets of old days be
compared with poets of new, classics with romantics, rhymed with
unrhymed. Let the straitest doctrinaire criticism of men of talent like
Boileau and simpletons like Rymer be compared with the fullest
appreciations of Coleridge and Hazlitt, of Sainte-Beuve and Mr. Arnold.
"Compare, always compare" is the first axiom of criticism.[1]

The second, I think, is "Always make sure, as far as you possibly can,
that what you like and dislike is the literary and not the
extra-literary character of the matter under examination." Make sure,
that is to say, that admiration for the author is not due to his having
taken care that the Whig dogs or the Tory dogs shall not have the best
of it, to his having written as a gentleman for gentlemen, or as an
uneasy anti-aristocrat for uneasy anti-aristocrats, as a believer
(fervent or acquiescent) in the supernatural, or as a person who lays
it down that miracles do not happen, as an Englishman or a Frenchman, a
classic or a romantic. Very difficult indeed is the chase and discovery
of these enemies: for extra-literary prejudices are as cunning as winter
hares or leaf-insects, in disguising themselves by simulating literary
forms.

Lastly, never be content without at least endeavouring to connect cause
and effect in some way, without giving something like a reason for the
faith that is in you. No doubt the critic will often be tempted, will
sometimes be actually forced to say, "'J'aime mieux Alfred de Musset,'
and there's an end of it." All the imperfect kinds, as they seem to me,
of criticism are recommended by the fact that they are, unlike some
other literary matter, not only easier writing but also easier reading.
The agreeable exercises of style where adjectives meet substantives to
whom they never thought they could possibly be introduced (as a certain
naughty wit has it), the pleasant chatter about personal reminiscences,
the flowers of rhetoric, the fruits of wit, may not be easy, but they
are at any rate easier than fashioning some intelligent and intelligible
response to the perpetual "Why?" the _quare stans_ of criticism.

In the following pages, I shall no doubt be found, like other people, to
have come very far short of my own ideal, and my own precepts. I may
even say that I have knowingly and intentionally come short of them to
some extent. Biographical and anecdotic detail has, I believe, much
less to do with the real appreciation of the literary value of an author
than is generally thought. In rare instances, it throws a light, but the
examples in which we know practically nothing at all, as in that of
Shakespeare, or only a few leading facts as in that of Dante, are not
those in which criticism is least useful or least satisfactory. At the
same time biographical and anecdotic details please most people, and if
they are not allowed to shoulder out criticism altogether, there can be
no harm in them. For myself, I should like to have the whole works of
every author of merit, and I should care little to know anything
whatever about his life; but that is a mere private opinion and possibly
a private crotchet. Accordingly some space has been given in most of
these Essays to a sketch of the life of the subject. Nor has it seemed
advisable (except as a matter of necessary, but very occasional,
digression) to argue at length upon abstract and general questions such
as the definition of poetry, or the kinds and limits of the novel. Large
as is the body of criticism so-called which the last hundred years have
seen, it may be doubted whether there is even yet accumulated a
sufficient _corpus_ of really critical discussion of individuals. If I
have in these Essays contributed even a very little to such an
accumulation, I shall have done that which I purposed.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Only by dint of this constant comparison, can the critic save
himself from the besetting error which makes men believe that there is
some absolute progress in life and art, instead of, for the most part,
mere eddyings-round in the same circle. I am tempted to glance at this,
because of a passage which I read while this Essay was a-writing, a
passage signed by a person whom I name altogether for the sake of
honour, Mr. James Sully. "If we compare," says Mr. Sully, "Fielding for
example with Balzac, Thackeray, or one of the great Russian novelists,
we see at once what a simple toylike structure used to serve art for a
human world. A mind versed in life as contemporary fiction depicts it,
feels, on turning to the already antiquated forms of the eighteenth
century, that it has to divest itself for the nonce of more than half
its equipment of habitual thought and emotion." This might serve as text
for a long sermon, I only cite it in passing as an interesting example
of the _idola specus_ which beset a clever man who loses the power of
comparative vision, and sees _Tom Jones_ as a toylike structure with the
_Kreutzer Sonata_ beside it as a human world.



I

CRABBE


There is a certain small class of persons in the history of literature
the members of which possess, at least for literary students, an
interest peculiar to themselves. They are the writers who having
attained, not merely popular vogue, but fame as solid as fame can ever
be, in their own day, having been praised by the praised, and having as
far as can be seen owed this praise to none of the merely external and
irrelevant causes--politics, religion, fashion or what not--from which
it sometimes arises, experience in a more or less short time after their
death the fate of being, not exactly cast down from their high place,
but left respectfully alone in it, unvisited, unincensed, unread. Among
these writers, over the gate of whose division of the literary Elysium
the famous, "Who now reads Bolingbroke?" might serve as motto, the
author of "The Village" and "Tales of the Hall" is one of the most
remarkable. As for Crabbe's popularity in his own day there is no
mistake about that. It was extraordinarily long, it was extremely wide,
it included the select few as well as the vulgar, it was felt and more
or less fully acquiesced in by persons of the most diverse tastes,
habits, and literary standards. His was not the case, which occurs now
and then, of a man who makes a great reputation in early life and long
afterwards preserves it because, either by accident or prudence, he does
not enter the lists with his younger rivals, and therefore these rivals
can afford to show him a reverence which is at once graceful and cheap.
Crabbe won his spurs in full eighteenth century, and might have boasted,
altering Landor's words, that he had dined early and in the best of
company, or have parodied Goldsmith, and said, "I have Johnson and
Burke: all the wits have been here." But when his studious though barren
manhood was passed, and he again began, as almost an old man, to write
poetry, he entered into full competition with the giants of the new
school, whose ideals and whose education were utterly different from
his. While "The Library" and "The Village" came to a public which still
had Johnson, which had but just lost Goldsmith, and which had no other
poetical novelty before it than Cowper, "The Borough" and the later
Tales entered the lists with "Marmion" and "Childe Harold," with
"Christabel" and "The Excursion," even with "Endymion" and "The Revolt
of Islam." Yet these later works of Crabbe met with the fullest
recognition both from readers and from critics of the most opposite
tendencies. Scott, the most generous, and Wordsworth,[2] the most
grudging, of all the poets of the day towards their fellows, united in
praising Crabbe; and unromantic as the poet of "The Village" seems to us
he was perhaps Sir Walter's favourite English bard. Scott read him
constantly, he quotes him incessantly; and no one who has read it can
ever forget how Crabbe figures in the most pathetic biographical pages
ever written--Lockhart's account of the death at Abbotsford. Byron's
criticism was as weak as his verse was powerful, but still Byron had no
doubt about Crabbe. The utmost flight of memory or even of imagination
can hardly get together three contemporary critics whose standards,
tempers, and verdicts, were more different than those of Gifford,
Jeffrey, and Wilson. Yet it is scarcely too much to say that they are
all in a tale about Crabbe. In this unexampled chorus of eulogy there
rose (for some others who can hardly have admired him much were simply
silent) one single note, so far as I know, or rather one single rattling
peal of thunder on the other side. It is true that this was significant
enough, for it came from William Hazlitt.

Yet against this chorus, which was not, as has sometimes happened, the
mere utterance of a loud-voiced few, but was echoed by a great multitude
who eagerly bought and read Crabbe, must be set the almost total
forgetfulness of his work which has followed. It is true that of living
or lately living persons in the first rank of literature some great
names can be cited on his side; and what is more, that these great names
show the same curious diversity in agreement which has been already
noticed as one of Crabbe's triumphs. The translator of Omar Khayyám, his
friend the present Laureate, and the author of "The Dream of Gerontius,"
are men whose literary ideals are known to be different enough; yet they
add a third trinity as remarkable as those others of Gifford, Jeffrey,
and Wilson, of Wordsworth, Byron, and Scott. Much more recently Mr.
Courthope has used Crabbe as a weapon in that battle of his with
literary Liberalism which he has waged not always quite to the
comprehension of his fellow-critics; Mr. Leslie Stephen has discussed
him as one who knows and loves his eighteenth century. But who reads
him? Who quotes him? Who likes him? I think I can venture to say, with
all proper humility, that I know Crabbe pretty well; I think I may say
with neither humility nor pride, but simply as a person whose business
it has been for some years to read books, and articles, and debates,
that I know what has been written and said in England lately. You will
find hardly a note of Crabbe in these writings and sayings. He does not
even survive, as "Matthew Green, who wrote 'The Spleen,'" and others
survive, by quotations which formerly made their mark, and are retained
without a knowledge of their original. If anything is known about Crabbe
to the general reader, it is the parody in "Rejected Addresses," an
extraordinarily happy parody no doubt, in fact rather better Crabbe in
Crabbe's weakest moments than Crabbe himself. But naturally there is
nothing of his best there; and it is by his best things, let it be
repeated over and over in face of all opposition, that a poet must be
judged.

Although Crabbe's life, save for one dramatic revolution, was one of the
least eventful in our literary history, it is by no means one of the
least interesting. Mr. Kebbel's book[3] gives a very fair summary of it;
but the Life by Crabbe's son which is prefixed to the collected editions
of the poems, and on which Mr. Kebbel's own is avowedly based, is
perhaps the more interesting of the two. It is written with a curious
mixture of the old literary state and formality, and of a feeling on
the writer's part that he is not a literary man himself, and that not
only his father, but Mr. Lockhart, Mr. Moore, Mr. Bowles and the other
high literary persons who assisted him were august beings of another
sphere. This is all the more agreeable, in that Crabbe's sons had
advantages of education and otherwise which were denied to their father,
and might in the ordinary course of things have been expected to show
towards him a lofty patronage rather than any filial reverence. The poet
himself was born at Aldborough, a now tolerably well-known
watering-place (the fortune of which was made by Mr. Wilkie Collins in
_No Name_) on Christmas Eve, 1754. That not uncommon infirmity of noble
minds which seeks to prove distinguished ancestry seems to have had no
hold on the plain common sense of the Crabbe family, who maintained
themselves to be at the best Norfolk yeomen, and though they possessed a
coat-of-arms, avowed with much frankness that they did not know how they
got it. A hundred and forty years ago they had apparently lost even the
dignity of yeomanhood, and occupied stations quite in the lower rank of
the middle class as tradesmen, non-commissioned officers in the navy or
the merchant service, and so forth. George Crabbe, the grandfather, was
collector of customs at Aldborough, but his son, also a George, was a
parish schoolmaster and a parish clerk before he returned to the
Suffolk port as deputy collector and then as salt-master, or collector
of the salt duties. He seems to have had no kind of polish, and late in
life was a mere rough drinking exciseman; but his education, especially
in mathematics, appears to have been considerable, and his ability in
business not small. The third George, his eldest son, was also fairly
though very irregularly educated for a time, and his father, perceiving
that he was "a fool about a boat," had the rather unusual common sense
to destine him to a learned profession. Unluckily his will was better
than his means, and while the profession which Crabbe chose or which was
chosen for him--that of medicine--was not the best suited to his tastes
or talents, the resources of the family were not equal to giving him a
full education, even in that. He was still at intervals employed in the
Customs warehouses at "piling up butter and cheese" even after he was
apprenticed at fourteen to a country surgeon. The twelve years which he
spent in this apprenticeship, in an abhorred return for a short time to
the cheese and butter, in a brief visit to London, where he had no means
to walk the hospitals, and in an attempt to practise with little or no
qualification at Aldborough itself, present a rather dismal history of
apprenticeship which taught nothing. But Love was, for once, most truly
and literally Crabbe's solace and his salvation, his master and his
patron. When he was barely eighteen, still an apprentice, and
possessed, as far as can be made out, of neither manners nor prospects,
he met a certain Miss Sarah Elmy. She was three or four years older than
himself and much better connected, being the niece and eventual
co-heiress of a wealthy yeoman squire. She was, it is said, pretty; she
was evidently accomplished, and she seems to have had access to the
country society of those days. But Mira, as Crabbe called her, perhaps
merely in the fashion of the eighteenth century, perhaps in remembrance
of Fulke Greville's heroine (for he knew his Elizabethans rather well
for a man of those days), and no doubt also with a secret joy to think
that the last syllables of her Christian name and surname in a way spelt
the appellation, fell in love with the boy and made his fortune. But for
her Crabbe would probably have subsided, not contentedly but stolidly,
into the lot of a Doctor Slop of the time, consoling himself with snuff
(which he always loved) and schnaps (to which we have hints that in his
youth he was not averse). Mira was at once unalterably faithful to him
and unalterably determined not to marry unless he could give her
something like a position. Their long engagement (they were not married
till he was twenty-nine and she was thirty-three) may, as we shall see,
have carried with it some of the penalties of long engagements. But it
is as certain as any such thing can be that but for it English
literature would have lacked the name of Crabbe.

There is no space here to go through the sufferings of the novitiate. At
last, at the extreme end of 1779, Crabbe made up his mind once more to
seek his fortune, this time by aid of literature only, in London. His
son too has printed rare scraps of a very interesting Journal to Mira
which he kept during at least a part of the terrible year of struggle
which he passed there. He saw the riots of '80; he canvassed, always
more or less in vain, the booksellers and the peers; he spent
three-and-sixpence of his last ten shillings on a copy of Dryden; he was
much less disturbed about imminent starvation than by the delay of a
letter from Mira ("my dearest Sally" she becomes with a pathetic lapse
from convention, when the pinch is sorest) or by the doubt whether he
had enough left to pay the postage of one. He writes prayers (but not
for the public eye), abstracts of sermons for Mira, addresses (rather
adulatory) to Lord Shelburne, which received no answer. All this has the
most genuine note that ever man of letters put into his work, for
whatever Crabbe was or was not, now or at any time, he was utterly
sincere; and his sincerity makes his not very abundant letters and
journals unusually interesting. At last, after a year, during which his
means of subsistence are for the most part absolutely unknown, he, as he
says himself, fixed "by some propitious influence, in some happy moment"
on Edmund Burke as the subject of a last appeal.

Nothing in all literary history is, in a modest way and without pearls
and gold, quite so like a fairy tale as the difference in Crabbe's
fortunes which this propitious influence brought about. On the day when
he wrote to Burke he was, as he said in the letter, "an outcast, without
friends, without employment, without bread." In some twenty-four hours
(the night-term of which he passed in ceaselessly pacing Westminster
Bridge to cheat the agony of expectation) he was a made man. It was not
merely that, directly or indirectly, Burke procured him a solid and an
increasing income. He did much more than that. Crabbe, like most
self-educated men, was quite uncritical of his own work: Burke took him
into his own house for months, encouraged him to submit his poems,
criticised them at once without mercy and with judgment, found him
publishers, found him a public, turned him from a raw country boy into a
man who at least had met society of the best kind. It is a platitude to
say that for a hundred persons who will give money or patronage there is
scarcely one who will take trouble of this kind; and if any devil's
advocate objects the delight of producing a "lion," it may be answered
that for Burke at least this delight would not have been delightful at
all.

The immediate form which the patronage of Burke and that, soon added, of
Thurlow took, is one which rather shocks the present day. They made
Crabbe turn to the Church, and got a complaisant bishop to ordain him.
They sent him (a rather dangerous experiment) to be curate in his own
native place, and finally Burke procured him the chaplaincy at Belvoir.
The young Duke of Rutland, who had been made a strong Tory by Pitt, was
fond of letters, and his Duchess Isabel, who was,--like her elder
kinswoman, Dryden's Duchess of Ormond--

    A daughter of the rose, whose cheeks unite
    The varying beauties of the red and white,

in other words, a Somerset, was one of the most beautiful and gracious
women in England. Crabbe, whose strictly literary fortunes I postpone
for the present, was apparently treated with the greatest possible
kindness by both; but he was not quite happy,[4] and his ever-prudent
Mira still would not marry him. At last Thurlow's patronage took the
practical form (it had already taken that, equally practical, of a
hundred pounds) of two small Chancellor's livings in Dorsetshire,
residence at which was dispensed with by the easy fashions of the day.
The Duke of Rutland, when he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,
did not take Crabbe with him, a circumstance which has excited some
unnecessary discussion; but he gave him free quarters at Belvoir, where
he and his wife lived for a time before they migrated to a neighbouring
curacy--his wife, for even Mira's prudence had yielded at last to the
Dorsetshire livings, and they were married in December 1783. They lived
together for nearly thirty years, in, as it would seem, unbroken mutual
devotion, but Mrs. Crabbe's health seems very early to have broken down,
and a remarkable endorsement of Crabbe's on a letter of hers has been
preserved. I do not think Mr. Kebbel quotes it; it ends, "And yet
happiness was denied"--a sentence fully encouraging to Mr. Browning and
other good men who have denounced long engagements.[5] The story of
Crabbe's life after his marriage may be told very shortly. His first
patron died in Ireland, but the duchess with some difficulty prevailed
on Thurlow to exchange his former gifts for more convenient and rather
better livings in the neighbourhood of Belvoir, at the chief of which,
Muston, Crabbe long resided. The death of his wife's uncle made him
leave his living and take up his abode for many years at Glemham, in
Suffolk, only to find, when he returned, that (not unnaturally, though
to his own great indignation) dissent had taken bodily possession of the
parish. His wife died in 1813, and the continued kindness, after nearly
a generation, of the house of Rutland, gave him the living of
Trowbridge, in Wiltshire, with a small Leicestershire incumbency near
Belvoir added, instead of Muston. At Trowbridge he lived nearly twenty
years, revisiting London society, making the acquaintance personally (he
had already known him by letter) of Sir Walter, paying a memorable visit
to Edinburgh, flirting in an elderly and simple fashion with many
ladies, writing much and being even more of a lion in the society of
George the Fourth's reign than he had been in the days of George the
Third. He died on 3rd February 1832.

Crabbe's character is not at all enigmatical, and emerges as clearly in
those letters and diaries of his which have been published, as in
anecdotes of him by others. Perhaps the famous story of his politely
endeavouring to talk French to divers Highlanders, during George the
Fourth's visit to Edinburgh, is slightly embroidered--Lockhart, who
tells it, was a mystifier without peer. If he did gently but firmly
extinguish a candle-snuff while Wordsworth and Sir George Beaumont were
indulging in poetic ecstasies over the beautiful undulations of the
smoke, there may have been something to say for him as Anne Scott, to
whom Wordsworth told the story, is said to have hinted, from the side of
one of the senses. His life, no less than his work, speaks him a man of
amiable though by no means wholly sweet temper, of more common sense
than romance, and of more simplicity than common sense. His nature and
his early trials made him not exactly sour, but shy, till age and
prosperity mellowed him; but simplicity was his chief characteristic in
age and youth alike.

The mere facts of his strictly literary career are chiefly remarkable
for the enormous gap between his two periods of productiveness. In early
youth he published some verses in the magazines and a poem called
"Inebriety," which appeared at Ipswich in 1775. His year of struggle in
London saw the publication of another short piece "The Candidate," but
with the ill-luck which then pursued him, the bookseller who brought it
out became bankrupt. His despairing resort to Burke ushered in "The
Library," 1781, followed by "The Village," 1783, which Johnson revised
and improved not a little. Two years later again came "The Newspaper,"
and then twenty-two years passed without anything appearing from
Crabbe's pen. It was not that he was otherwise occupied, for he had
little or nothing to do, and for the greater part of the time, lived
away from his parish. It was not that he was idle, for we have his son's
testimony that he was perpetually writing, and that holocausts of
manuscripts in prose and verse used from time to time to be offered up
in the open air, for fear of setting the house on fire by their mass. At
last, in 1807, "The Parish Register" appeared, and three years later
"The Borough"--perhaps the strongest division of his work. The
miscellaneous Tales came in 1812, the "Tales of the Hall" in 1819.
Meanwhile and afterwards, various collected editions appeared, the last
and most complete being in 1829--a very comely little book in eight
volumes. His death led to the issue of some "Posthumous Tales" and to
the inclusion by his son of divers fragments both in the Life and in the
Works. It is understood, however, that there are still considerable
remains in manuscript; perhaps they might be published with less harm to
the author's fame and with less fear of incurring a famous curse than in
the case of almost any other poet.

For Crabbe, though by no means always at his best, is one of the most
curiously equal of verse-writers. "Inebriety" and such other very
youthful things are not to be counted; but between "The Village" of 1783
and the "Posthumous Tales" of more than fifty years later, the
difference is surprisingly small. Such as it is, it rather reverses
ordinary experience, for the later poems exhibit the greater play of
fancy, the earlier the exacter graces of form and expression. Yet there
is nothing really wonderful in this, for Crabbe's earliest poems were
published under severe surveillance of himself and others, and at a time
which still thought nothing of such value in literature as correctness,
while his later were written under no particular censorship, and when
the Romantic revival had already, for better or worse, emancipated the
world. The change was in Crabbe's case not wholly for the better. He
does not in his later verse become more prosaic, but he becomes
considerably less intelligible. There is a passage in "The Old
Bachelor," too long to quote but worth referring to, which, though it
may be easy enough to understand it with a little goodwill, I defy
anybody to understand in its literal and grammatical meaning. Such
welters of words are very common in Crabbe, and Johnson saved him from
one of them in the very first lines of "The Village." Yet Johnson could
never have written the passages which earned Crabbe his fame. The great
lexicographer knew man in general much better than Crabbe did; but he
nowhere shows anything like Crabbe's power of seizing and reproducing
man in particular. Crabbe is one of the first and certainly one of the
greatest of the "realists" who, exactly reversing the old philosophical
signification of the word, devote themselves to the particular only. Yet
of the three small volumes by which he, after his introduction to
Burke, made his reputation, and on which he lived for a quarter of a
century, the first and the last display comparatively little of this
peculiar quality. "The Library" and "The Newspaper" are characteristic
pieces of the school of Pope, but not characteristic of their author.
The first catalogues books as folio, quarto, octavo, and so forth, and
then cross-catalogues them as law, physic, divinity, and the rest, but
is otherwise written very much in the air. "The Newspaper" suited Crabbe
a little better, because he pretty obviously took a particular newspaper
and went through its contents--scandal, news, reviews, advertisements--in
his own special fashion: but still the subject did not appeal to him. In
"The Village," on the other hand, contemporaries and successors alike
have agreed to recognise Crabbe in his true vein. The two famous
passages which attracted the suffrages of judges so different as Scott
and Wordsworth, are still, after more than a hundred years, fresh,
distinct, and striking. Here they are once more:--

    Theirs is yon House that holds the parish poor,
    Whose walls of mud scarce bear the broken door;
    There, where the putrid vapours, flagging, play,
    And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day;--
    There children dwell who know no parents' care;
    Parents who know no children's love dwell there!
    Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed,
    Forsaken wives, and mothers never wed;
    Dejected widows, with unheeded tears,
    And crippled age with more than childhood fears;
    The lame, the blind, and, far the happiest they!
    The moping idiot and the madman gay.

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    Anon, a figure enters, quaintly neat,
    All pride and business, bustle and conceit;
    With looks unaltered by these scenes of woe,
    With speed that, entering, speaks his haste to go,
    He bids the gazing throng around him fly,
    And carries fate and physic in his eye:
    A potent quack, long versed in human ills,
    Who first insults the victim whom he kills;
    Whose murderous hand a drowsy Bench protect,
    And whose most tender mercy is neglect.
    Paid by the parish for attendance here,
    He wears contempt upon his sapient sneer;
    In haste he seeks the bed where Misery lies,
    Impatience marked in his averted eyes;
    And some habitual queries hurried o'er,
    Without reply he rushes on the door:
    His drooping patient, long inured to pain,
    And long unheeded, knows remonstrance vain,
    He ceases now the feeble help to crave
    Of man; and silent, sinks into the grave.

The poet executed endless variations on this class of theme, but he
never quite succeeded in discovering a new one, though in process of
time he brought his narrow study of the Aldborough fishermen and
townsfolk down still more narrowly to individuals. His landscape is
always marvellously exact, the strokes selected with extraordinary skill
_ad hoc_ so as to show autumn rather than spring, failure rather than
hope, the riddle of the painful earth rather than any joy of living.
Attempts have been made to vindicate Crabbe from the charge of being a
gloomy poet, but I cannot think them successful; I can hardly think that
they have been quite serious. Crabbe, our chief realist poet, has an
altogether astonishing likeness to the chief prose realist of France,
Gustave Flaubert, so far as his manner of view goes, for in point of
style the two have small resemblance. One of the most striking things in
Crabbe's biography is his remembrance of the gradual disillusion of a
day of pleasure which, as a child, he enjoyed in a new boat of his
father's. We all of us, except those who are gifted or cursed with the
proverbial duck's back, have these experiences and these remembrances of
them. But most men either simply grin and bear it, or carrying the grin
a little farther, console themselves by regarding their own
disappointments from the ironic and humorous point of view. Crabbe,
though not destitute of humour, does not seem to have been able or
disposed to employ it in this way. Perhaps he never quite got over the
terrible and, for the most part unrecorded, year in London: perhaps the
difference between the Mira of promise and the Mira of possession--the
"happiness denied"--had something to do with it: perhaps it was a
question of natural disposition with him. But when, years afterwards, as
a prosperous middle-aged man, he began his series of published poems
once more with "The Parish Register," the same manner of seeing is
evident, though the minute elaboration of the views themselves is
almost infinitely greater. Nor did he ever succeed in altering this
manner, if he ever tried to do so.

With the exception of his few Lyrics, the most important of which, "Sir
Eustace Grey" (one of his very best things), is itself a tale in
different metre, and a few other occasional pieces of little importance,
the entire work of Crabbe, voluminous as it is, is framed upon a single
pattern, the vignettes of "The Village" being merely enlarged in size
and altered in frame in the later books. The three parts of "The Parish
Register," the twenty-four Letters of "The Borough," some of which have
single and others grouped subjects, and the sixty or seventy pieces
which make up the three divisions of Tales, consist almost exclusively
of heroic couplets, shorter measures very rarely intervening. They are
also almost wholly devoted to narratives, partly satirical, partly
pathetic, of the lives of individuals of the lower and middle class
chiefly. Jeffrey, who was a great champion of Crabbe and allotted
several essays to him, takes delight in analysing the plots or stories
of these tales; but it is a little amusing to notice that he does it for
the most part exactly as if he were criticising a novelist or a
dramatist. "The object," says he, in one place, "is to show that a man's
fluency of speech depends very much upon his confidence in the
approbation of his auditors": "In Squire Thomas we have the history of a
mean, domineering spirit," and so forth. Gifford in one place actually
discusses Crabbe as a novelist. I shall make some further reference to
this curious attitude of Crabbe's admiring critics. For the moment I
shall only remark that the singularly mean character of so much of
Crabbe's style, the "style of drab stucco," as it has been unkindly
called, which is familiar from the wicked wit that told how the youth at
the theatre

    Regained the felt and felt what he regained,

is by no means universal. The most powerful of all his pieces, the
history of Peter Grimes, the tyrant of apprentices, is almost entirely
free from it, and so are a few others. But it is common enough to be a
very serious stumbling-block. In nine tales out of ten this is the
staple:--

    Of a fair town where Dr. Rack was guide,
    His only daughter was the boast and pride.

Now that is unexceptionable verse enough, but what is the good of
putting it in verse at all? Here again:--

    For he who makes me thus on business wait,
    Is not for business in a proper state.

It is obvious that you cannot trust a man who, unless he is intending a
burlesque, can bring himself to write like that. Crabbe not only brings
himself to it, but rejoices and luxuriates in the style. The tale from
which that last luckless distich is taken, "The Elder Brother," is full
of pathos and about equally full of false notes. If we turn to a far
different subject, the very vigorously conceived "Natural Death of
Love," we find a piece of strong and true satire, the best thing of its
kind in the author, which is kept up throughout. Although, like all
satire, it belongs at best but to the outer courts of poetry, it is so
good that none can complain. Then the page is turned and one reads:--

    "I met," said Richard, when returned to dine,
    "In my excursion with a friend of mine."

It may be childish, it may be uncritical, but I own that such verse as
that excites in me an irritation which destroys all power of enjoyment,
except the enjoyment of ridicule. Nor let any one say that pedestrian
passages of the kind are inseparable from ordinary narrative in verse
and from the adaptation of verse to miscellaneous themes. If it were so
the argument would be fatal to such adaptation, but it is not. Pope
seldom indulges in such passages, though he does sometimes: Dryden never
does. He can praise, abuse, argue, tell stories, make questionable
jests, do anything in verse that is still poetry, that has a throb and a
quiver and a swell in it, and is not merely limp, rhythmed prose. In
Crabbe, save in a few passages of feeling and a great many of mere
description--the last an excellent setting for poetry but not
necessarily poetical--this rhythmed prose is everywhere. The matter
which it serves to convey is, with the limitations above given, varied,
and it is excellent. No one except the greatest prose novelists has such
a gallery of distinct, sharply etched characters, such another gallery
of equally distinct scenes and manner-pieces, to set before the reader.
Exasperating as Crabbe's style sometimes is, he seldom bores--never
indeed except in his rare passages of digressive reflection. It has, I
think, been observed, and if not the observation is obvious, that he has
done with the pen for the neighbourhood of Aldborough and Glemham what
Crome and Cotman have done for the neighbourhood of Norwich with the
pencil. His observation of human nature, so far as it goes, is not less
careful, true, and vivid. His pictures of manners, to those who read
them at all, are perfectly fresh and in no respect grotesque or faded,
dead as the manners themselves are. His pictures of motives and of
facts, of vice and virtue, never can fade, because the subjects are
perennial and are truly caught. Even his plays on words, which horrified
Jeffrey--

    Alas! your reverence, wanton thoughts I grant
    Were once my motive, now the thoughts of want,

and the like--are not worse than Milton's jokes on the guns. He has
immense talent, and he has the originality which sets talent to work in
a way not tried by others, and may thus be very fairly said to turn it
into genius. He is all this and more. But despite the warnings of a
certain precedent, I cannot help stating the case which we have
discussed in the old form, and asking, was Crabbe a poet?

And thus putting the question, we may try to sum up. It is the gracious
habit of a summing-up to introduce, if possible, a dictum of the famous
men our fathers that were before us. I have already referred to
Hazlitt's criticism on Crabbe in _The Spirit of the Age_, and I need not
here urge at very great length the cautions which are always necessary
in considering any judgment of Hazlitt's.[6] Much that he says even in
the brief space of six or eight pages which he allots to Crabbe is
unjust; much is explicably, and not too creditably, unjust. Crabbe was a
successful man, and Hazlitt did not like successful men: he was a
clergyman of the Church of England, and Hazlitt did not love clergymen
of the Church of England: he had been a duke's chaplain, and Hazlitt
loathed dukes: he had been a Radical, and was still (though Hazlitt does
not seem to have thought him so) a Liberal, but his Liberalism had been
Torified into a tame variety. Again, Crabbe, though by no means
squeamish, is the most unvoluptuous and dispassionate of all describers
of inconvenient things; and Hazlitt was the author of _Liber Amoris_.
Accordingly there is much that is untrue in the tissue of denunciation
which the critic devotes to the poet. But there are two passages in this
tirade which alone might show how great a critic Hazlitt himself was.
Here in a couple of lines ("they turn, one and all, on the same sort of
teasing, helpless, unimaginative distress") is the germ of one of the
most famous and certainly of the best passages of the late Mr. Arnold;
and here again is one of those critical taps of the finger which shivers
by a touch of the weakest part a whole Rupert's drop of misapprehension.
Crabbe justified himself by Pope's example. "Nothing," says Hazlitt,
"can be more dissimilar. Pope describes what is striking: Crabbe would
have described merely what was there.... In Pope there was an appeal to
the imagination, you see what was passing _in a poetical point of
view_."

Even here (and I have not been able to quote the whole passage) there is
one of the flaws, which Hazlitt rarely avoided, in the use of the word
"striking"; for, Heaven knows, Crabbe is often striking enough. But the
description of Pope as showing things "in a poetical point of view" hits
the white at once, wounds Crabbe mortally, and demolishes realism, as we
have been pleased to understand it for the last generation or two.
Hazlitt, it is true, has not followed up the attack, as I shall hope to
show in an instant; but he has indicated the right line of it. As far as
mere treatment goes, the fault of Crabbe is that he is pictorial rather
than poetic, and photographic rather than pictorial. He sees his subject
steadily, and even in a way he sees it whole; but he does not see it in
the poetical way. You are bound in the shallows and the miseries of the
individual; never do you reach the large freedom of the poet who looks
at the universal. The absence of selection, of the discarding of details
that are not wanted, has no doubt a great deal to do with this--Hazlitt
seems to have thought that it had everything to do. I do not quite agree
with him there. Dante, I think, was sometimes quite as minute as Crabbe;
and I do not know that any one less hardy than Hazlitt himself would
single out, as Hazlitt expressly does, the death-bed scene of Buckingham
as a conquering instance in Pope to compare with Crabbe. We know that
the bard of Twickenham grossly exaggerated this. But suppose he had not?
Would it have been worse verse? I think not. Although the faculty of
selecting instead of giving all, as Hazlitt himself justly contends, is
one of the things which make _poesis non ut pictura_, it is not all, and
I think myself that a poet, if he is a poet, could be almost absolutely
literal. Shakespeare is so in the picture of Gloucester's corpse. Is
that not poetry?

The defect of Crabbe, as it seems to me, is best indicated by reference
to one of the truest of all dicta on poetry, the famous maxim of
Joubert--that the lyre is a winged instrument and must transport. There
is no wing in Crabbe, there is no transport, because, as I hold (and
this is where I go beyond Hazlitt), there is no music. In all poetry,
the very highest as well as the very lowest that is still poetry, there
is something which transports, and that something in my view is always
the music of the verse, of the words, of the cadence, of the rhythm, of
the sounds superadded to the meaning. When you get the best music
married to the best meaning, then you get, say, Shakespeare: when you
get some music married to even moderate meaning, you get, say, Moore.
Wordsworth can, as everybody but Wordsworthians holds, and as some even
of Wordsworthians admit, write the most detestable doggerel and
platitude. But when any one who knows what poetry is reads--

    Our noisy years seem moments in the being
    Of the eternal silence,

he sees that, quite independently of the meaning, which disturbs the
soul of no less a person than Mr. John Morley, there is one note added
to the articulate music of the world--a note that never will leave off
resounding till the eternal silence itself gulfs it. He leaves
Wordsworth, he goes straight into the middle of the eighteenth century,
and he sees Thomson with his hands in his dressing-gown pockets biting
at the peaches, and hears him between the mouthfuls murmuring--

    So when the shepherd of the Hebrid Isles,
    Placed far amid the melancholy main,

and there is another note, as different as possible in kind yet still
alike, struck for ever. Yet again, to take example still from the less
romantic poets, and in this case from a poet, whom Mr. Kebbel specially
and disadvantageously contrasts with Crabbe, when we read the old
schoolboy's favourite--

    When the British warrior queen,
    Bleeding from the Roman rods,

we hear the same quality of music informing words, though again in a
kind somewhat lower, commoner, and less. In this matter, as in all
matters that are worth handling at all, we come of course _ad
mysterium_. Why certain combinations of letters, sounds, cadences,
should almost without the aid of meaning, though no doubt immensely
assisted by meaning, produce this effect of poetry on men no man can
say. But they do; and the chief merit of criticism is that it enables us
by much study of different times and different languages to recognise
some part of the laws, though not the ultimate and complete causes, of
the production.

Now I can only say that Crabbe does not produce, or only in the rarest
instances produces, this effect on me, and what is more, that on ceasing
to be a patient in search of poetical stimulant and becoming merely a
gelid critic, I do not discover even in Crabbe's warmest admirers any
evidence that he produced this effect on them. Both in the eulogies
which Mr. Kebbel quotes, and in those that he does not quote, I observe
that the eulogists either discreetly avoid saying what they mean by
poetry, or specify for praise something in Crabbe that is not distinctly
poetical. Cardinal Newman said that Crabbe "pleased and touched him at
thirty years' interval," and pleaded that this answers to the
"accidental definition of a classic." Most certainly; but not
necessarily to that of a poetical classic. Jeffrey thought him
"original and powerful." Granted; but there are plenty of original and
powerful writers who are not poets. Wilson gave him the superlative for
"original and vivid painting." Perhaps; but is Hogarth a poet? Jane
Austen "thought she could have married him." She had not read his
biography; but even if she had would that prove him to be a poet? Lord
Tennyson is said to single out the following passage, which is certainly
one of Crabbe's best, if not his very best:--

    Early he rose, and looked with many a sigh
    On the red light that filled the eastern sky;
    Oft had he stood before, alert and gay,
    To hail the glories of the new-born day;
    But now dejected, languid, listless, low,
    He saw the wind upon the water blow,
    And the cold stream curled onward as the gale
    From the pine-hill blew harshly down the vale;
    On the right side the youth a wood surveyed,
    With all its dark intensity of shade;
    Where the rough wind alone was heard to move
    In this, the pause of nature and of love
    When now the young are reared, and when the old,
    Lost to the tie, grow negligent and cold:
    Far to the left he saw the huts of men,
    Half hid in mist that hung upon the fen:
    Before him swallows gathering for the sea,
    Took their short flights and twittered o'er the lea;
    And near the bean-sheaf stood, the harvest done,
    And slowly blackened in the sickly sun;
    All these were sad in nature, or they took
    Sadness from him, the likeness of his look
    And of his mind--he pondered for a while,
    Then met his Fanny with a borrowed smile.

It is good: it is extraordinarily good: it could not be better of its
kind. It is as nearly poetry as anything that Crabbe ever did--but is it
quite? If it is (and I am not careful to deny it) the reason, as it
seems to me, is that the verbal and rhythmical music here, with its
special effect of "transporting" of "making the common as if it were
uncommon," is infinitely better than is usual with Crabbe, that in fact
there is music as well as meaning. Hardly anywhere else, not even in the
best passages of the story of Peter Grimes, shall we find such music;
and in its absence it may be said of Crabbe much more truly than of
Dryden (who carries the true if not the finest poetical undertone with
him even into the rant of Almanzor and Maximin, into the interminable
arguments of "Religio Laici" and "The Hind and the Panther") that he is
a classic of our prose.

Yet the qualities which are so noteworthy in him are all qualities which
are valuable to the poet, and which for the most part are present in
good poets. And I cannot help thinking that this was what actually
deceived some of his contemporaries and made others content for the most
part to acquiesce in an exaggerated estimate of his poetical merits. It
must be remembered that even the latest generation which, as a whole and
unhesitatingly, admired Crabbe, had been brought up on the poets of the
eighteenth century, in the very best of whom the qualities which Crabbe
lacks had been but sparingly and not eminently present. It must be
remembered too, that from the great vice of the poetry of the eighteenth
century, its artificiality and convention, Crabbe is conspicuously free.
The return to nature was not the only secret of the return to poetry;
but it was part of it, and that Crabbe returned to nature no one could
doubt. Moreover he came just between the school of prose fiction which
practically ended with _Evelina_ and the school of prose fiction which
opened its different branches with _Waverley_ and _Sense and
Sensibility_. His contemporaries found nowhere else the narrative power,
the faculty of character-drawing, the genius for description of places
and manners, which they found in Crabbe; and they knew that in almost
all, if not in all the great poets there is narrative power, faculty of
character-drawing, genius for description. Yet again, Crabbe put these
gifts into verse which at its best was excellent in its own way, and at
its worst was a blessed contrast to Darwin or to Hayley. Some readers
may have had an uncomfortable though only half-conscious feeling that if
they had not a poet in Crabbe they had not a poet at all. At all events
they made up their minds that they had a poet in him.

But are we bound to follow their example? I think not. You could play on
Crabbe that odd trick which used, it is said, to be actually played on
some mediæval verse chroniclers and unrhyme him--that is to say, put
him into prose with the least possible changes--and his merits would,
save in rare instances, remain very much as they are now. You could put
other words in the place of his words, keeping the verse, and it would
not as a rule be much the worse. You cannot do either of these things
with poets who are poets. Therefore I shall conclude that save at the
rarest moments, moments of some sudden gust of emotion, some happy
accident, some special grace of the Muses to reward long and blameless
toil in their service, Crabbe was not a poet. But I have not the least
intention of denying that he was great, and all but of the greatest
among English writers.

FOOTNOTES:

[2] In 1834, after Crabbe's death, Wordsworth wrote to his son: "Your
father's works ... will last, from their combined merit as poetry and
truth, full as long as anything that has been expressed in verse since
the date of their first appearance." A very different estimate by
Wordsworth of Crabbe has been published in Mr. Clayden's _Rogers and his
Contemporaries_. Here he argues at great length that "Crabbe's verses
can in no sense be called poetry," and that "nineteen out of twenty of
his pictures are mere matter of fact." It is fair to say that this was
in 1808, before the appearance of "The Borough" and of almost all
Crabbe's best work.

[3] _Great Writers; Crabbe_: by T. E. Kebbel. London, 1888.

[4] Although constantly patronised by the Rutland family in successive
generations, and honoured by the attentions of "Old Q." and others, his
poems are full of growls at patrons. These cannot be mere echoes of
Oldham and Johnson, but their exact reason is unknown. His son's
reference to it is so extremely cautious that it has been read as a
confession that Crabbe was prone to his cups, and quarrelsome in them--a
signal instance of the unwisdom of not speaking out.

[5] Rogers told Ticknor in 1838 that "Crabbe was nearly ruined by grief
and vexation at the conduct of his wife for above seven years, at the
end of which time she proved to be insane." But this was long after her
death and Crabbe's, and it is not clear that while she was alive Rogers
knew Crabbe at all. Nor is there the slightest reason for attaching to
the phrase "vexation at the conduct" the sense which it would usually
have. A quatrain found after Crabbe's death wrapped round his wife's
wedding-ring is touching, and graceful in its old-fashioned way.

    The ring so worn, as you behold,
    So thin, so pale, is yet of gold:
    The passion such it was to prove;
    Worn with life's cares, love yet was love.

[6] See below, Essay on Hazlitt.



II

HOGG


"What on earth," it was once asked "will you make of Hogg?" I think that
there is something to be made of Hogg, and that it is something worth
the making. In the first place, it is hardly possible, without studying
"the Shepherd" pretty close, fully to appreciate three other persons,
all greater, and one infinitely greater, than himself; namely, Wilson,
Lockhart, and Scott. To the two first he was a client in the Roman
sense, a plaything, something of a butt, and an invaluable source of
inspiration or at least suggestion. Towards the last he occupied a very
curious position, never I think quite paralleled elsewhere--the position
of a Boswell who would fain be a Boswell and is not allowed to be, who
has wild notions that he is really a greater man than Johnson and
occasionally blasphemes against his idol, but who in the intervals is
truly Boswellian. In the second place, he has usually hitherto been not
criticised at all, but either somewhat sneered at or else absurdly
over-praised. In the third place, as both Scott and Byron recognised, he
is probably the most remarkable example we have of absolute
self-education, or of no education: for Burns was an academically
instructed student in comparison with Hogg. In the fourth, he produced,
amid a mass of rubbish, some charming verse and one prose-story which,
though it is almost overlooked by the general, some good judges are, I
believe, agreed with me in regarding as one of the very best things of
its kind, while it is also a very curious literary puzzle.

The anecdotic history, more or less authentic, of the Ettrick Shepherd
would fill volumes, and I must try to give some of the cream of it
presently. The non-anecdotic part may be despatched in a few sentences.
The exact date of his birth is not known, but he was baptized on 9th
December 1770. His father was a good shepherd and a bad farmer--a
combination of characteristics which Hogg himself inherited unimpaired
and unimproved. If he had any early education at all, he forgot it so
completely that he had, as a grown-up man, to teach himself writing if
not reading a second time. He pursued his proper vocation for about
thirty years, during the latter part of which time he became known as a
composer of very good songs, "Donald Macdonald" being ranked as the
best. He printed a few as a pamphlet in the first year of the century,
but met with little success. Then he fell in with Scott, to whom he had
been introduced as a purveyor of ballads, not a few of which his
mother, Margaret Laidlaw, knew by heart. This old lady it was who gave
Scott the true enough warning that the ballads were "made for singing
and no for reading." Scott in his turn set Hogg on the track of making
some money by his literary work, and Constable published _The Mountain
Bard_ together with a treatise called _Hogg on Sheep_, which I have not
read, and of which I am not sure that I should be a good critic if I
had. The two books brought Hogg three hundred pounds. This sum he poured
into the usual Danaids' vessel of the Scotch peasant--the taking and
stocking of a farm, which he had neither judgment to select, capital to
work, nor skill to manage; and he went on doing very much the same thing
for the rest of his life. The exact dates of that life are very sparely
given in his own _Autobiography_, in his daughter's _Memorials_, and in
the other notices of him that I have seen. He would appear to have spent
four or five years in the promising attempt to run, not one but two
large stock-farms. Then he tried shepherding again, without much
success; and finally in 1810, being forty years old and able to write,
he went to Edinburgh and "commenced," as the good old academic phrase
has it, literary man. He brought out a new book of songs called _The
Forest Minstrel_, and then he started a periodical, _The Spy_. On this,
as he tells us, Scott very wisely remonstrated with him, asking him
whether he thought he could be more elegant than Addison or Mackenzie.
Hogg replied with his usual modesty that at any rate he would be "mair
original." The originality appears to have consisted in personality; for
Hogg acknowledges one exceedingly insolent attack on Scott himself,
which Scott seems, after at first resenting it (and yet Hogg tells us
elsewhere that he never resented any such thing), to have forgiven. He
had also some not clearly known employments of the factorship or
surveyorship kind; he was much patronised by two worthy hatters, Messrs.
Grieve and Scott, and in 1813 the book which contains all his best
verse, _The Queen's Wake_, was published. It was deservedly successful;
but, by a species of bad luck which pursued Hogg with extraordinary
assiduity, the two first editions yielded nothing, as his publisher was
not solvent. The third, which Blackwood issued, brought him in good
profit. Two years later he became in a way a made man. He had very
diligently sought the patronage of Harriet, Duchess of Buccleuch, and,
his claims being warmly supported by Scott and specially recommended by
the Duchess on her deathbed to her husband, Hogg received rent free, or
at a peppercorn, the farm of Mossend, Eltrive or Altrive. It is agreed
even by Hogg's least judicious admirers that if he had been satisfied
with this endowment and had then devoted himself, as he actually did, to
writing, he might have lived and died in comfort, even though his
singular luck in not being paid continued to haunt him. But he must
needs repeat his old mistake and take the adjacent farm of Mount Benger,
which, with a certain reckless hospitable way of living for which he is
not so blamable, kept him in difficulties all the rest of his life and
made him die in them. He lived twenty years longer; married a
good-looking girl much his superior in rank and twenty years his junior,
who seems to have made him an excellent wife; engaged in infinite
magazine- and book-writing, of which more presently; became the
inspirer, model and butt of _Blackwood's Magazine_; constantly
threatened to quarrel with it for traducing him, and once did so; loved
Edinburgh convivialities more well than wisely; had the very ill luck to
survive Scott and to commit the folly of writing a pamphlet (more silly
than anything else) on the "domestic manners" of that great man, which
estranged Lockhart, hitherto his fast friend; paid a visit to London in
1832, whereby hang tales; and died himself on 21st November 1835.

Such, briefly but not I think insufficiently given, is the Hogg of
history. The Hogg of anecdote is a much more considerable and difficult
person. He mixes himself up with or becomes by turns (whichever phrase
may be preferred) the Shepherd of the _Noctes_ and the Hogg who is
revealed to us, say his panegyrists, with "uncalled-for malignity" in
Lockhart's _Life of Scott_. But these panegyrists seem to forget that
there are two documents which happen not to be signed either "John
Gibson Lockhart" or "Christopher North," and that these documents are
Hogg's _Autobiography_, published by himself, and the _Domestic Manners
of Sir Walter Scott_, likewise authenticated. In these two we have the
Hogg of the _ana_ put forward pretty vividly. For instance, Hogg tells
us how, late in Sir Walter's life, he and his wife called upon Scott.
"In we went and were received with all the affection of old friends. But
his whole discourse was addressed to my wife, while I was left to shift
for myself.... In order to attract his attention from my wife to one who
I thought as well deserved it, I went close up to him with a
scrutinising look and said, 'Gudeness guide us, Sir Walter, but ye hae
gotten a braw gown.'" The rest of the story is not bad, but less
characteristic. Immediately afterwards Hogg tells his own speech about
being "not sae yelegant but mair original" than Addison. Then there is
the other capital legend, also self-told, how he said to Scott, "Dear
Sir Walter, ye can never suppose that I belang to your school of
chivalry! Ye are the king of that school, but I'm the king of the
mountain and fairy school, which is a far higher ane than yours!"
"This," says Professor Veitch, a philosopher, a scholar, and a man of
letters, "though put with an almost sublime egotism, is in the main
true." Almost equally characteristic is the fact that, after beginning
his pamphlet by calling Lockhart "the only man thoroughly qualified for
the task" of writing Scott's life, Hogg elsewhere, in one of the
extraordinary flings that distinguish him, writes: "Of Lockhart's genius
and capabilities Sir Walter always spoke with the greatest enthusiasm:
more than I thought he deserved. For I knew him a great deal better than
Sir Walter did, and, whatever Lockhart may pretend, I knew Sir Walter a
thousand times better than he did."

Now be it remembered that these passages are descriptive of Hogg's Hogg,
to use the always useful classification of Dr. Holmes. To complete them
(the actual texts are too long to give here) it is only necessary to
compare the accounts of a certain dinner at Bowhill given respectively
by Hogg in the _Domestic Manners_ and by Lockhart in his biography, and
also those given in the same places of the one-sided quarrel between
Scott and Hogg, because the former, according to his almost invariable
habit, refused to collaborate in Hogg's _Poetic Mirror_. In all this we
have the man's own testimony about himself. It is not in the least
incompatible with his having been, as his panegyrists contend, an
affectionate friend, husband, and father; a very good fellow when his
vanity or his whims were not touched; and inexhaustibly fertile in the
kind of rough profusion of flower and weed that uncultivated soil
frequently produces. But it most certainly is also not inconsistent, but
on the contrary highly consistent, with the picture drawn by Lockhart in
his great book; and it shows how, to say the least and mildest, the
faults and foibles of the curious personage known as "the Shepherd of
the _Noctes_" were not the parts of the character on which Wilson need
have spent, or did spend, most of his invention. Even if the "boozing
buffoon" had been a boozing buffoon and nothing more, Hogg, who
confesses with a little affected remorse, but with evident pride, that
he once got regularly drunk every night for some six weeks running, till
"an inflammatory fever" kindly pulled him up, could not have greatly
objected to this part of the matter. The wildest excesses of the
_Eidolon_-Shepherd's vanity do not exceed that speech to Scott which
Professor Veitch thinks so true; and the quaintest pranks played by the
same shadow do not exceed in quaintness the immortal story of Hogg being
introduced to Mrs. Scott for the first time, extending himself on a sofa
at full length (on the excuse that he "thought he could never do wrong
to copy the lady of the house," who happened at the time to be in a
delicate state of health), and ending by addressing her as "Charlotte."
This is the story that Mrs. Garden, Hogg's daughter, without attempting
to contest its truth, describes as told by Lockhart with "uncalled-for
malignity." Now when anybody who knows something of Lockhart comes
across "malignant," "scorpion," or any term of the kind, he, if he is
wise, merely shrugs his shoulders. All the literary copy-books have got
it that Lockhart was malignant, and there is of course no more to be
said.[7] But something may be done by a little industrious clearing
away of fiction in particulars. It may be most assuredly and confidently
asserted that no one reading the _Life of Scott_ without knowing what
Hogg's friends have said of it would dream of seeing malignity in the
notices which it contains of the Shepherd. Before writing this paper I
gave myself the trouble, or indulged myself in the pleasure (for perhaps
that is the more appropriate phrase in reference to the most delightful
of biographies, if not of books), of marking with slips of paper all the
passages in Lockhart referring to Hogg, and reading them consecutively.
I am quite sure that any one who does this, even knowing little or
nothing of the circumstances, will wonder where on earth the "ungenerous
assaults," the "virulent detraction," the "bitter words," the "false
friendship," and so forth, with which Lockhart has been charged, are to
be found. But any one who knows that Hogg had, just before his own
death, and while the sorrow of Sir Walter's end was fresh, published the
possibly not ill-intentioned but certainly ill-mannered pamphlet
referred to--a pamphlet which contains among other things, besides the
grossest impertinences about Lady Scott's origin, at least one
insinuation that Scott wrote Lockhart's books for him--if any one
further knows (I think the late Mr. Scott Douglas was the first to point
out the fact) that Hogg had calmly looted Lockhart's biography of Burns,
then he will think that the "scorpion," instead of using his sting,
showed most uncommon forbearance. This false friend, virulent detractor
and ungenerous assailant describes Hogg as "a true son of nature and
genius with a naturally kind and simple character." He does indeed
remark that Hogg's "notions of literary honesty were exceedingly loose."
But (not to mention the Burns affair, which gave me some years ago a
clue to this sentence) the remark is subjoined to a letter in which Hogg
placidly suggests that he shall write an autobiographic sketch, and that
Scott, transcribing it and substituting the third person for the first,
shall father it as his own. The other offence I suppose was the remark
that "the Shepherd's nerves were not heroically strung." This perhaps
might have been left out, but if it was the fact (and Hogg's defenders
never seem to have traversed it) it suggested itself naturally enough in
the context, which deals with Hogg's extraordinary desire, when nearly
forty, to enter the militia as an ensign. Moreover the same passage
contains plenty of kindly description of the Shepherd. Perhaps there is
"false friendship" in quoting a letter from Scott to Byron which
describes Hogg as "a wonderful creature," or in describing the
Shepherd's greeting to Wilkie, "Thank God for it! I did not know you
were so young a man" as "graceful," or in the citation of Jeffrey's
famous blunder in selecting for special praise a fabrication of Hogg's
among the "Jacobite Ballads," or in the genial description, without a
touch of ridicule, of Hogg at the St. Ronan's Games. The sentence on
Hogg's death is indeed severe: "It had been better for his memory had
his end been of earlier date; for he did not follow his benefactor until
he had insulted his dust." It is even perhaps a little too severe,
considering Hogg's irresponsible and childlike nature. But Lockhart
might justly have retorted that men of sixty-four have no business to be
irresponsible children; and it is certainly true that in this unlucky
pamphlet Hogg distinctly accuses Scott of anonymously puffing himself at
his, Hogg's, expense, of being over and over again jealous of him, of
plagiarising his plots, of sneering at him, and, if the passage has any
meaning, of joining a conspiracy of "the whole of the aristocracy and
literature of the country" to keep Hogg down and "crush him to a
nonentity." Neither could Lockhart have been exactly pleased at the
passage where Scott is represented as afraid to clear the character of
an innocent friend to the boy Duke of Buccleuch.

    He told me that which I never knew nor suspected before; that a
    certain gamekeeper, on whom he bestowed his maledictions without
    reserve, had prejudiced my best friend, the young Duke of
    Buccleuch, against me by a story; and though he himself knew it
    to be a malicious and invidious lie, yet seeing his grace so
    much irritated, he durst not open his lips on the subject,
    further than by saying, "But, my lord duke, you must always
    remember that Hogg is no ordinary man, although he may have shot
    a stray moorcock." And then turning to me he said, "Before you
    had ventured to give any saucy language to a low scoundrel of an
    English gamekeeper, you should have thought of Fielding's tale
    of Black George."

    "I never saw that tale," said I, "and dinna ken ought about it.
    But never trouble your head about that matter, Sir Walter, for
    it is awthegither out o' nature for our young chief to entertain
    ony animosity against me. The thing will never mair be heard of,
    an' the chap that tauld the lees on me will gang to hell, that's
    aye some comfort."

Part of my reason for quoting this last passage is to recall to those
who are familiar with the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_ the extraordinary felicity
of the imitation. This, which Hogg with his own pen represents himself
as speaking with his own mouth, might be found textually in any page of
the _Noctes_ without seeming in the least out of keeping with the ideal
Hogg.

And this brings me to the second charge of Hogg's friends, that Wilson
wickedly caricatured his humble friend, if indeed he did not manufacture
a Shepherd out of his own brain. This is as uncritical as the other, and
even more surprising. That any one acquainted with Hogg's works,
especially his autobiographic productions, should fail to recognise the
resemblance is astonishing enough; but what is more astonishing is that
any one interested in Hogg's fame should not perceive that the Shepherd
of the _Noctes_ is Hogg magnified and embellished in every way. He is
not a better poet, for the simple reason that the verses put in his
mouth are usually Hogg's own and not always his best. But out of the
_Confessions of a Sinner_, Hogg has never signed anything half so good
as the best prose passages assigned to him in the _Noctes_. They are
what he might have written if he had taken pains: they are in his key
and vein; but they are much above him. Again, unless any reader is so
extraordinarily devoid of humour as to be shocked by the mere
horse-play, it must be clear to him that the Shepherd's manners are
dressed up with extraordinary skill, so as to be just what he would have
liked them to be. As for the drinking and so forth, it simply comes to
this--that the habits which were fashionable when the century was not
yet in its teens, or just in them, were getting to be looked on askance
when it was entering or had entered on its thirties. But, instead of
being annoyed at this Socrates-Falstaff, as somebody has called it, one
might have thought that both Hogg himself and his admirers would have
taken it as an immense compliment. The only really bad turn that Wilson
seems to have done his friend was posthumous and pardonable. He
undertook the task of writing the Shepherd's life and editing his
_Remains_ for the benefit of his family, who were left very badly off;
and he not only did not do it but appears to have lost the documents
with which he was entrusted. It is fair to say that after the deaths,
which came close together, of his wife, of Blackwood, and of Hogg
himself, Wilson was never fully the same man; and that his strongly
sentimental nature, joined to his now inveterate habit of writing
rapidly as the fancy took him, would have made the task of hammering out
a biography and of selecting and editing _Remains_ so distasteful from
different points of view as to be practically impossible. But in that
case of course he should not have undertaken it, or should have
relinquished it as soon as he found out the difficulties. Allan
Cunningham, it is said, would have gladly done the business; and there
were few men better qualified.

And now, having done a by no means unnecessary task in this preliminary
clearance of rubbish, let us see what sort of a person in literature and
life this Ettrick Shepherd really was--the Shepherd whom Scott not only
befriended with unwearied and lifelong kindness, but ranked very high as
an original talent, whom Byron thought Scott's only second worth
speaking of, whom Southey, a very different person from either, esteemed
highly, whom Wilson selected as the mouthpiece and model for one of the
most singular and (I venture to say despite a certain passing wave of
unpopularity) one of the most enduring of literary character-parts, and
to whom Lockhart was, as Hogg himself late in life sets down, "a warm
and disinterested friend." We have seen what Professor Veitch thinks of
him--that he is the king of a higher school than Scott's. On the other
hand, I fear the general English impression of him is rather that given
by no Englishman, but by Thomas Carlyle, at the time of Hogg's visit to
London in 1832. Carlyle describes him as talking and behaving like a
"gomeril," and amusing the town by walking about in a huge gray plaid,
which was supposed to be an advertisement, suggested by his publisher.

The king of a school higher than Scott's and the veriest gomeril--these
surely, though the judges be not quite of equal competence, are
judgments of a singularly contradictory kind. Let us see what middle
term we can find between them.

The mighty volume (it has been Hogg's ill-fortune that the most
accessible edition of his work is in two great double-columned royal
octavos, heavy to the hand and not too grateful to the eye) which
contains the Shepherd's collected poetical work is not for every reader.
"Poets? where are they?" Wordsworth is said, on the authority of De
Quincey, to have asked, with a want of graciousness of manners uncommon
even in him and never forgiven by Hogg, when the latter used the plural
in his presence, and in that of Wilson and Lloyd. It was unjust as well
as rude, but endless allowance certainly has to be made for Hogg as a
poet. I do not know to whom the epigram that "everything that is written
in Scotch dialect is not necessarily poetry" is originally due, but
there is certainly some justice in it. Scotch, as a language, has grand
accommodations; it has richer vowels and a more varied and musical
arrangement of consonants than English, while it falls not much short of
English in freedom from that mere monotony which besets the
richly-vowelled continental languages. It has an almost unrivalled
provision of poetical _clichés_ (the sternest purist may admit a French
word which has no English equivalent), that is to say, the stock phrases
which Heaven knows who first minted and which will pass till they are
worn out of all knowledge. It has two great poets--one in the
vernacular, one in the literary language--who are rich enough to keep a
bank for their inferiors almost to the end of time. The depreciation of
it by "glaikit Englishers" (I am a glaikit Englisher who does not
depreciate), simply because it is unfamiliar and rustic-looking, is
silly enough. But its best practitioners are sometimes prone to forget
that nothing ready-made will do as poetry, and that you can no more take
a short cut to Parnassus by spelling good "guid" and liberally using
"ava," than you can execute the same journey by calling a girl a nymph
and a boy a swain. The reason why Burns is a great poet, and one of the
greatest, is that he seldom or never does this in Scots. When he takes
to the short cut, as he does sometimes, he usually "gets to his
English." Of Hogg, who wrote some charming things and many good ones,
the same cannot be said. No writer known to me, not even the eminent Dr.
Young, who has the root of the poetical matter in him at all, is so
utterly uncritical as Hogg. He does not seem even to have known when he
borrowed and when he was original. We have seen that he told Scott that
he was not of his school. Now a great deal that he wrote, perhaps
indeed actually the major part of his verse, is simply imitation and not
often very good imitation of Scott. Here is a passage:--

    Light on her airy steed she sprung,
    Around with golden tassels hung.
    No chieftain there rode half so free,
    Or half so light and gracefully.
    How sweet to see her ringlets pale
    Wide-waving in the southland gale,
    Which through the broom-wood odorous flew
    To fan her cheeks of rosy hue!
    Whene'er it heaved her bosom's screen
    What beauties in her form were seen!
    And when her courser's mane it swung,
    A thousand silver bells were rung.
    A sight so fair, on Scottish plain,
    A Scot shall never see again.

I think we know where this comes from. Indeed Hogg had a certain
considerable faculty of conscious parody as well as of unconscious
imitation, and his _Poetic Mirror_, which he wrote as a kind of humorous
revenge on his brother bards for refusing to contribute, is a fair
second to _Rejected Addresses_. The amusing thing is that he often
parodied where he did not mean parody in the least, and nowadays we do
not want Scott-and-water. Another vein of Hogg's, which he worked
mercilessly, is a similar imitation, not of Scott, but of the weakest
echoes of Percy's _Reliques_:--

    O sad, sad, was young Mary's plight:
      She took the cup, no word she spake,
    She had even wished that very night
      To sleep and never more to wake.

Sad, sad indeed is the plight of the poet who publishes verses like
this, of which there are thousands of lines to be found in Hogg. And
then one comes to "Kilmeny," and the note changes with a vengeance:--

    Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
    But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
    Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
    For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
    It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
    And pu' the cress-flower round the spring,
    The scarlet hip and the hindberry,
    For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
    But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny's face;
    As still was her look and as still was her ee
    As the stillness that lay on the emeraut lea,
    Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.
    For Kilmeny had been she kent not where,
    And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
    Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
    Where the rain never fell and the wind never blew.

No matter that it is necessary even here to make a cento, that the
untutored singer cannot keep up the song by natural force and has not
skill enough to dissemble the lapses. "Kilmeny" at its best is
poetry--such poetry as, to take Hogg's contemporaries only, there is
none in Rogers or Crabbe, little I fear in Southey, and not very much in
Moore. Then there is no doubt at all that he could write ballads. "The
Witch of Fife" is long and is not improved by being written (at least
in one version) in a kind of Scots that never was on land or sea, but it
is quite admirable of its class. "The Good Grey Cat," his own imitation
of himself in the _Poetic Mirror_, comes perhaps second to it, and "The
Abbot McKinnon" (which is rather close to the imitations of Scott)
third. But there are plenty of others. As for his poems of the more
ambitious kind, "Mador of the Moor," "Pilgrims of the Sun," and even
"Queen Hynde," let blushing glory--the glory attached to the literary
department--hide the days on which he produced those. She can very well
afford it, for the hiding leaves untouched the division of Hogg's
poetical work which furnishes his highest claims to fame except
"Kilmeny," the division of the songs. These are numerous and unequal as
a matter of course. Not a few of them are merely variations on older
scraps and fragments of the kind which Burns had made popular; some of
them are absolute rubbish; some of them are mere imitations of Burns
himself. But this leaves abundance of precious remnants, as the
Shepherd's covenanting friends would have said. The before-mentioned
"Donald Macdonald" is a famous song of its kind: "I'll no wake wi'
Annie" comes very little short of Burns's "Green grow the rashes O!" The
piece on the lifting of the banner of Buccleuch, though a curious
contrast with Scott's "Up with the Banner" does not suffer too much by
the comparison: "Cam' ye by Athole" and "When the kye comes hame"
everybody knows, and I do not know whether it is a mere delusion, but
there seems to me to be a rare and agreeable humour in "The Village of
Balmaquhapple."

    D'ye ken the big village of Balmaquhapple?
    The great muckle village of Balmaquhapple?
    'Tis steeped in iniquity up to the thrapple,
    An' what's to become o' poor Balmaquhapple?

Whereafter follows an invocation to St. Andrew, with a characteristic
suggestion that he may spare himself the trouble of intervening for
certain persons such as

    Geordie, our deacon for want of a better,
    And Bess, wha delights in the sins that beset her--

ending with the milder prayer:

    But as for the rest, for the women's sake save them,
    Their bodies at least, and their sauls if they have them.

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    And save, without word of confession auricular,
    The clerk's bonny daughters, and Bell in particular;
    For ye ken that their beauty's the pride and the stapple
    Of the great wicked village of Balmaquhapple!

"Donald McGillavry," which deceived Jeffrey, is another of the
half-inarticulate songs which have the gift of setting the blood
coursing;

    Donald's gane up the hill hard an' hungry;
    Donald's come down the hill wild an' angry:
    Donald will clear the gowk's nest cleverly;
    Here's to the King and Donald McGillavry!

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    Donald has foughten wi' reif and roguery,
    Donald has dinnered wi' banes and beggary;
    Better it war for Whigs an' Whiggery
    Meeting the deevil than Donald McGillavry.
    Come like a tailor, Donald McGillavry,
    Come like a tailor, Donald McGillavry,
    Push about, in an' out, thimble them cleverly.
    Here's to King James an' Donald McGillavry!

"Love is Like a Dizziness," and the "Boys' Song,"

    Where the pools are bright and deep,
    Where the grey trout lies asleep,
    Up the river and over the lea,
    That's the way for Billy and me--

and plenty more charming things will reward the explorer of the
Shepherd's country. Only let that explorer be prepared for pages on
pages of the most unreadable stuff, the kind of stuff which hardly any
educated man, however great a "gomeril" he might be, would ever dream of
putting to paper, much less of sending to press. It is fair to repeat
that the educated man who thus refrained would probably be a very long
time before he wrote "Kilmeny," or even "Donald McGillavry" and "The
Village of Balmaquhapple."

Still (though to say it is enough to make him turn in his grave) if Hogg
had been a verse-writer alone he would, except for "Kilmeny" and his
songs, hardly be worth remembering, save by professed critics and
literary free-selectors. A little better than Allan Cunningham, he is
but for that single, sudden, and unsustained inspiration of "Kilmeny,"
and one or two of his songs, so far below Burns that Burns might enable
us to pay no attention to him and not lose much. As for Scott, "Proud
Maisie" (an unapproachable thing), the fragments that Elspeth Cheyne
sings, even the single stanza in _Guy Mannering_, "Are these the Links
of Forth? she said," any one of a thousand snatches that Sir Walter has
scattered about his books with a godlike carelessness will "ding" Hogg
and all his works on their own field. But then it is not saying anything
very serious against a man to say that he is not so great as Scott. With
those who know what poetry is, Hogg will keep his corner ("not a
polished corner," as Sydney Smith would say) of the temple of Apollo.

Hogg wrote prose even more freely than he wrote verse, and after the
same fashion--a fashion which he describes with equal frankness and
truth by the phrases, "dashing on," "writing as if in desperation,"
"mingling pathos and absurdity," and so forth. Tales, novels, sketches,
all were the same to him; and he had the same queer mixture of
confidence in their merits and doubt about the manner in which they were
written. _The Brownie of Bodsbeck_, _The Three Perils of Man_ (which
appears refashioned in the modern editions of his works as _The Siege of
Roxburgh_), _The Three Perils of Woman_, _The Shepherd's Calendar_ and
numerous other uncollected tales exhibit for the most part very much the
same characteristics. Hogg knew the Scottish peasantry well, he had
abundant stores of unpublished folklore, he could invent more when
wanted, he was not destitute of the true poetic knowledge of human
nature, and at his best he could write strikingly and picturesquely. But
he simply did not know what self-criticism was, he had no notion of the
conduct or carpentry of a story, and though he was rather fond of
choosing antique subjects, and prided himself on his knowledge of old
Scots, he was quite as likely to put the baldest modern touches in the
mouth of a heroine of the fourteenth or fifteenth century as not. If
anybody takes pleasure in seeing how a good story can be spoilt, let him
look at the sixth chapter of the _Shepherd's Calendar_, "The Souters of
Selkirk;" and if any one wants to read a novel of antiquity which is not
like Scott, let him read _The Bridal of Polmood_.

In the midst, however, of all this chaotic work, there is still to be
found, though misnamed, one of the most remarkable stories of its kind
ever written--a story which, as I have said before, is not only
extraordinarily good of itself, but insists peremptorily that the reader
shall wonder how the devil it got where it is. This is the book now
called _The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Fanatic_, but by its
proper and original title, _The Confessions of a Justified Sinner_.
Hogg's reference to it in his _Autobiography_ is sufficiently odd. "The
next year (1824)," he says, "I published _The Confessions of a Fanatic
[Sinner]_, but, it being a story replete with horrors, after I had
written it I durst not venture to put my name to it, so it was
published anonymously, and of course did not sell very well--so at least
I believe, for I do not remember ever receiving anything for it, and I
am sure if there had been a reversion [he means return] I should have
had a moiety. However I never asked anything, so on that point there was
no misunderstanding." And he says nothing more about it, except to
inform us that his publishers, Messrs. Longman, who had given him for
his two previous books a hundred and fifty pounds each "as soon as the
volumes were put to press," and who had published the _Confessions_ on
half profits, observed, when his next book was offered to them, that
"his last publication (the _Confessions_) had been found fault with in
some very material points, and they begged leave to decline the present
one until they consulted some other persons." That is all. But the
Reverend Thomas Thomson, Hogg's editor, an industrious and not
incompetent man of letters, while admitting that it is "in excellence of
plot, concentration of language and vigorous language, one of the best
and most interesting [he might have said the best without a second] of
Hogg's tales," observes that it "alarmed the religious portion of the
community who hastily thought that the author was assailing
Christianity." "Nothing could be more unfounded," says the Reverend
Thomas Thomson with much justice. He might have added that it would have
been much more reasonable to suspect the author of practice with the
Evil One in order to obtain the power of writing anything so much better
than his usual work.

For, in truth, _The Confessions of a Justified Sinner_, while it has all
Hogg's merits and more, is quite astoundingly free from his defects. His
tales are generally innocent of the most rudimentary notions of
construction: this goes closely ordered, with a few pardonable enough
digressions, from beginning to end. He has usually little concentrated
grasp of character: the few personages of the _Confessions_ are
consistent throughout. His dialogue is, as a rule, extraordinarily
slipshod and unequal: here there is no fault to find with it. His
greatest lack, in short, is the lack of form: and here, though the story
might perhaps have been curtailed, or rather "cut" in the middle, with
advantage, the form is excellent. As its original edition, though an
agreeable volume, is rare, and its later ones are buried amidst
discordant rubbish, it may not be improper to give some account of it.
The time is pitched just about the Revolution and the years following,
and, according to a common if not altogether praiseworthy custom, the
story consists of an editor's narrative and of the _Confessions_ proper
imbedded therein. The narrative tells how a drinking Royalist laird
married an exceedingly precise young woman, how the dissension which was
probable broke out between them, how a certain divine, the Reverend
Robert Wringhim, endeavoured to convert the sinner at the instances of
the saint, and perhaps succeeded in consoling the saint at the expense
of the sinner; how the laird sought more congenial society with a
certain cousin of his named Arabella Logan, and how, rather out of
jealousy than forgiveness, such a union or quasi-union took place
between husband and wife that they had two sons, George and Robert, the
elder of whom was his father's favourite and like, while the younger was
pretty much left to the care of Mr. Wringhim. The tale then tells how,
after hardly seeing one another in boyhood, the brothers met as young
men at Edinburgh, where on extreme provocation the elder was within an
ace of killing the younger. The end of it was that, after Robert had
brought against George a charge of assaulting him on Arthur's Seat,
George himself was found mysteriously murdered in an Edinburgh close.
His mother cared naught for it; his father soon died of grief; the
obnoxious Robert succeeded to the estates, and only Arabella Logan was
left to do what she could to clear up the mystery, which, after certain
strange passages, she did. But when warrants were made out against
Robert he had disappeared, and the whole thing remained wrapped in more
mystery than ever.

To this narrative succeed the confessions of Robert himself. He takes of
course the extreme side both of his mother and of her doctrines, but for
some time, though an accomplished Pharisee, he is not assured of
salvation, till at last his adopted (if not real) father Wringhim
announces that he has wrestled sufficiently in prayer and has received
assurance.

Thereupon the young man sallies out in much exaltation of feeling and
full of contempt for the unconverted. As he goes he meets another young
man of mysterious appearance, who seems to be an exact double of
himself. This wraith, however, presents himself as only a humble admirer
of Robert's spiritual glory, and holds much converse with him. He meets
this person repeatedly, but is never able to ascertain who he is. The
stranger says that he may be called Gil Martin if Robert likes, but
hints that he is some great one--perhaps the Czar Peter, who was then
known to be travelling incognito about Europe. For a time Robert's
Illustrious Friend (as he generally calls him) exaggerates the extremest
doctrines of Calvinism, and slips easily from this into suggestions of
positive crime. A minister named Blanchard, who has overheard his
conversation, warns Robert against him, and Gil Martin in return points
out Blanchard as an enemy to religion whom it is Robert's duty to take
off. They lay wait for the minister and pistol him, the Illustrious
Friend managing not only to avert all suspicion from themselves, but to
throw it with capital consequences on a perfectly innocent person. After
this initiation in blood Robert is fully reconciled to the "great work"
and, going to Edinburgh, is led by his Illustrious Friend without
difficulty into the series of plots against his brother which had to
outsiders so strange an appearance, and which ended in a fresh murder.
When Robert in the course of events above described becomes master of
Dalchastel, the family estate, his Illustrious Friend accompanies him
and the same process goes on. But now things turn less happily for
Robert. He finds himself, without any consciousness of the acts charged,
accused on apparently indubitable evidence, first of peccadillos, then
of serious crimes. Seduction, forgery, murder, even matricide are hinted
against him, and at last, under the impression that indisputable proofs
of the last two crimes have been discovered, he flies from his house.
After a short period of wandering, in which his Illustrious Friend
alternately stirs up all men against him and tempts him to suicide, he
finally in despair succumbs to the temptation and puts an end to his
life. This of course ends the _Memoir_, or rather the _Memoir_ ends just
before the catastrophe. There is then a short postscript in which the
editor tells a tale of a suicide found with some such legend attaching
to him on a Border hillside, of an account given in _Blackwood_ of the
searching of the grave, and of a visit to it made by himself (the
editor), his friend Mr. L----t of C----d [Lockhart of Chiefswood], Mr.
L----w [Scott's Laidlaw] and others. The whole thing ends with a very
well written bit of rationalisation of the now familiar kind,
discussing the authenticity of the _Memoirs_, and concluding that they
are probably the work of some one suffering from religious mania, or
perhaps a sort of parable or allegory worked out with insufficient
skill.

Although some such account as this was necessary, no such account,
unless illustrated with the most copious citation, could do justice to
the book. The first part or Narrative is not of extraordinary, though it
is of considerable merit, and has some of Hogg's usual faults. The
_Memoirs_ proper are almost wholly free from these faults. In no book
known to me is the grave treatment of the topsy-turvy and improbable
better managed; although, by an old trick, it pleases the "editor" to
depreciate his work in the passage just mentioned. The writer, whoever
he was, was fully qualified for the task. The possibility of a young man
of narrow intellect--his passion against his brother already excited,
and his whole mind given to the theology of predestination--gliding into
such ideas as are here described is undoubted; and it is made thoroughly
credible to the reader. The story of the pretended Gil Martin,
preposterous as it is, is told by the unlucky maniac exactly in the
manner in which a man deluded, but with occasional suspicions of his
delusion, would tell it. The gradual change from intended and successful
rascality and crime into the incurring or the supposed incurring of the
most hideous guilt without any actual consciousness of guilty action may
seem an almost hopeless thing to treat probably. Yet it is so treated
here. And the final gathering and blackening of the clouds of despair
(though here again there is a very slight touch of Hogg's undue
prolongation of things) exhibits literary power of the ghastly kind
infinitely different from and far above the usual raw-head-and-bloody-bones
story of the supernatural.

Now, who wrote it?

No doubt, so far as I know, has been generally entertained of Hogg's
authorship, though, since I myself entertained doubts on the subject, I
have found some good judges not unwilling to agree with me. Although
admitting that it appeared anonymously, Hogg claims it, as we have seen,
not only without hesitation but apparently without any suspicion that it
was a particularly valuable or meritorious thing to claim, and without
any attempt to shift, divide, or in any way disclaim the responsibility,
though the book had been a failure. His publishers do not seem to have
doubted then that it was his; nor, I have been told, have their
representatives any reason to doubt it now. His daughter, I think, does
not so much as mention it in her _Memorials_, but his various
biographers have never, so far as I know, hinted the least hesitation.
At the same time I am absolutely unable to believe that it is Hogg's
unadulterated and unassisted work. It is not one of those cases where a
man once tries a particular style, and then from accident, disgust, or
what not, relinquishes it. Hogg was always trying the supernatural, and
he failed in it, except in this instance, as often as he tried it. Why
should he on this particular occasion have been saved from himself? and
who saved him?--for that great part of the book at least is his there
can be no doubt.

By way of answer to these questions I can at least point out certain
coincidences and probabilities. It has been seen that Lockhart's name
actually figures in the postscript to the book. Now at this time and for
long afterwards Lockhart was one of the closest of Hogg's literary
allies; and Hogg, while admitting that the author of _Peter's Letters_
hoaxed him as he hoaxed everybody, is warm in his praise. He describes
him in his _Autobiography_ as "a warm and disinterested friend." He
tells us in the book on Scott how he had a plan, even later than this,
that Lockhart should edit all his (the Shepherd's) works, for
discouraging which plan he was very cross with Sir Walter. Further, the
vein of the _Confessions_ is very closely akin to, if not wholly
identical with, a vein which Lockhart not only worked on his own account
but worked at this very same time. It was in these very years of his
residence at Chiefswood that Lockhart produced the little masterpiece of
"Adam Blair" (where the terrors and temptations of a convinced
Presbyterian minister are dwelt upon), and "Matthew Wald," which is
itself the history of a lunatic as full of horrors, and those of no very
different kind, as the _Confessions_ themselves. That editing, and
perhaps something more than editing, on Lockhart's part would have been
exactly the thing necessary to prune and train and direct the Shepherd's
disorderly luxuriance into the methodical madness of the Justified
Sinner--to give Hogg's loose though by no means vulgar style the dress
of his own polished manner--to weed and shape and correct and straighten
the faults of the Boar of the Forest--nobody who knows the undoubted
writing of the two men will deny. And Lockhart, who was so careless of
his work that to this day it is difficult, if not impossible, to
ascertain what he did or did not write unassisted, would certainly not
have been the man to claim a share in the book, even had it made more
noise; though he may have thought of this as well as of other things
when, in his wrath over the foolish blethering about Scott, he wrote
that the Shepherd's views of literary morality were peculiar. As for
Hogg himself, he would never have thought of acknowledging any such
editing or collaboration if it did take place; and that not nearly so
much from vanity or dishonesty as from simple carelessness, dashed
perhaps with something of the habit of literary _supercherie_ which the
society in which he lived affected, and which he carried as far at least
as any one of its members.

It may seem rather hard after praising a man's ewe lamb so highly to
question his right in her. But I do not think there is any real
hardship. I should think that the actual imagination of the story is
chiefly Hogg's, for Lockhart's forte was not that quality, and his own
novels suffer rather for want of it. If this be the one specimen of what
the Shepherd's genius could turn out when it submitted to correction and
training, it gives us a useful and interesting explanation why the mass
of his work, with such excellent flashes, is so flawed and formless as a
whole. It explains why he wished Lockhart to edit the others. It
explains at the same time why (for the Shepherd's vanity was never far
off) he set apparently little store by the book. It is only a hypothesis
of course, and a hypothesis which is very unlikely ever to be proved,
while in the nature of things it is even less capable of disproof. But I
think there is good critical reason for it.

At any rate, I confess for myself, that I should not take anything like
the same interest in Hogg, if he were not the putative author of the
_Confessions_. The book is in a style which wearies soon if it be
overdone, and which is very difficult indeed to do well. But it is one
of the very best things of its kind, and that is a claim which ought
never to be overlooked. And if Hogg in some lucky moment did really
"write it all by himself," as the children say, then we could make up
for him a volume composed of it, of "Kilmeny," and of the best of the
songs, which would be a very remarkable volume indeed. It would not
represent a twentieth part of his collected work, and it would probably
represent a still smaller fraction of what he wrote, while all the rest
would be vastly inferior. But it would be a title to no inconsiderable
place in literature, and we know that good judges did think Hogg, with
all his personal weakness and all his literary shortcomings, entitled to
such a place.

FOOTNOTES:

[7] For something more, however, see the Essay on Lockhart below.



III

SYDNEY SMITH


The hackneyed joke about biographers adding a new terror to death holds
still as good as ever. But biography can sometimes make a good case
against her persecutors; and one of the instances which she would
certainly adduce would be the instance of Sydney Smith. I more than
suspect that his actual works are less and less read as time goes on,
and that the brilliant virulence of _Peter Plymley_, the even greater
brilliance, not marred by virulence at all, of the _Letters to
Archdeacon Singleton_, the inimitable quips of his articles in the
_Edinburgh Review_, are familiar, if they are familiar at all, only to
the professed readers of the literature of the past, and perhaps to some
intelligent newspaper men who find Sydney[8] to be what Fuseli
pronounced Blake, "d----d good to steal from." But the _Life_ which
Lady Holland, with her mother's and Mrs. Austin's aid, produced more
than thirty years ago has had a different fate; and a fresh lease of
popularity seems to have been secured by another _Life_, published by
Mr. Stuart Reid in 1883. This was partly abridged from the first, and
partly supplied with fresh matter by a new sifting of the documents
which Lady Holland had used. Nor do the authors of these works, however
great must be our gratitude to them, take to themselves any such share
of the credit as is due to Boswell in the case of Johnson, to Lockhart
in the case of Scott, to Carlyle in the case of Sterling. Neither can
lay claim to the highest literary merit of writing or arrangement; and
the latter of the two contains digressions, not interesting to all
readers, about the nobility of Sydney's cause. It is because both books
let their subject reveal himself by familiar letters, scraps of journal,
or conversation, and because the revelation of self is so full and so
delightful, that Sydney Smith's immortality, now that the generation
which actually heard him talk has all but disappeared, is still secured
without the slightest fear of disturbance or decay. With a few
exceptions (the Mrs. Partington business, the apologue of the dinners at
the synod of Dort, "Noodle's Oration," and one or two more), the things
by which Sydney is known to the general, all come, not from his works,
but from his _Life_ or _Lives_. No one with any sense of fun can read
the Works without being delighted; but in the Life and the letters the
same qualities of wit appear, with other qualities which in the Works
hardly appear at all. A person absolutely ignorant of anything but the
Works might possibly dismiss Sydney Smith as a brilliant but bitter and
not too consistent partisan, who fought desperately against abuses when
his party was out, and discovered that they were not abuses at all when
his party was in. A reader of his Life and of his private utterances
knows him better, likes him better, and certainly does not admire him
less.

He was born in 1771, the son of an eccentric and apparently rather
provoking person, who for no assigned reason left his wife at the church
door in order to wander about the world, and who maintained his vagabond
principles so well that, as his granddaughter ruefully records, he
bought, spent money on, and sold at a loss, no less than nineteen
different houses in England and Wales. Sydney was also the second of
four clever brothers, the eldest and cleverest being the somewhat famous
"Bobus," who co-operated in the _Microcosm_ with Canning and Frere,
survived his better known brother but a fortnight, founded a family, and
has left one of those odd reputations of immense talent not justified by
any producible work, to which our English life of public schools,
universities, and Parliament gives peculiar facilities. Bobus and Cecil
the third brother were sent to Eton: Sydney and Courtenay, the fourth,
to Winchester, after a childhood spent in precocious reading and arguing
among themselves. From Winchester Sydney (of whose school-days some
trifling but only trifling anecdotes are recorded,) proceeded in regular
course to New College, Oxford, and being elected of right to a
Fellowship, then worth about a hundred pounds a year, was left by his
father to "do for himself" on that not extensive revenue. He did for
himself at Oxford during the space of nine years; and it is supposed
that his straitened circumstances had something to do with his dislike
for universities, which however was a kind of point of conscience among
his Whig friends. It is at least singular that this residence of nearly
a decade has left hardly a single story or recorded incident of any
kind; and that though three generations of undergraduates passed through
Oxford in his time, no one of them seems in later years to have had
anything to say of not the least famous and one of the most sociable of
Englishmen. At that time, it is true, and for long afterwards, the men
of New College kept more to themselves than the men of any other college
in Oxford; but still it is odd. Another little mystery is, Why did
Sydney take orders? Although there is not the slightest reason to
question his being, according to his own standard, a very sincere and
sufficient divine, it obviously was not quite the profession for him.
He is said to have wished for the Bar, but to have deferred to his
father's wishes for the Church. That Sydney was an affectionate and
dutiful son nobody need doubt: he was always affectionate, and in his
own way dutiful. But he is about the last man one can think of as likely
to undertake an uncongenial profession out of high-flown dutifulness to
a father who had long left him to his own resources, and who had neither
influence nor prospects in the Church to offer him. The Fellowship would
have kept him, as it had kept him already, till briefs came. However, he
did take orders; and the later _Life_ gives more particulars than the
first as to the incumbency which indirectly determined his career. It
was the curacy of Netheravon on Salisbury Plain; and its almost complete
seclusion was tempered by a kindly squire, Mr. Hicks-Beach,
great-grandfather of the present Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. Mr.
Hicks-Beach offered Sydney the post of tutor to his eldest son; Sydney
accepted it, started for Germany with his pupil, but (as he
picturesquely though rather vaguely expresses it) "put into Edinburgh
under stress of war" and stayed there for five years.

The sojourn at Edinburgh began in June 1798: it ended in August 1803. It
will thus be seen that Sydney was by no means a very young man even when
he began reviewing, the year before leaving the Scotch capital. Indeed
the aimless prolongation of his stay at Oxford, which brought him
neither friends, money, nor professional experience of any kind, threw
him considerably behindhand all his life; and this delay, much more than
Tory persecution or Whig indifference, was the cause of the comparative
slowness with which he made his way. His time at Edinburgh was, however,
usefully spent even before that invention of the _Review_, over which
there is an amicable and unimportant dispute between himself and
Jeffrey. His tutorship was so successful that Mr. Hicks-Beach rewarded
it with a cheque for a thousand pounds: he did duty in the Episcopal
churches of Edinburgh: he made friends with all the Whigs and many of
the Tories of the place: he laughed unceasingly at Scotchmen and liked
them very much. Also, about the middle of his stay, he got married, but
not to a Scotch girl. His wife was Miss Catherine Pybus, of Cheam, and
the marriage was as harebrained a one, from the point of view of
settlements, as Jeffrey's own.[9] Sydney's settlement on his wife is
well known: it consisted of "six small silver teaspoons much worn," with
which worldly goods he did her literally endow by throwing them into her
lap. It would appear that there never was a happier marriage; but it
certainly seemed for some years as if there might have been many more
prosperous in point of money. When Sydney moved to London he had no
very definite prospect of any income whatever; and had not Mrs. Smith
sold her mother's jewels (which came to her just at the time), they
would apparently have had some difficulty in furnishing their house in
Doughty Street. But Horner, their friend (the "parish bull" of Scott's
irreverent comparison), had gone to London before them, and impressed
himself, apparently by sheer gravity, on the political world as a good
young man. Introduced by him, Sydney Smith soon became one of the circle
at Holland House. It is indeed not easy to live on invitations and your
mother-in-law's pearls; but Sydney reviewed vigorously, preached
occasionally, before very long received a regular appointment at the
Foundling Hospital, and made some money by lecturing very agreeably at
the Royal Institution on Moral Philosophy--a subject of which he
honestly admits that he knew, in the technical sense, nothing. But his
hearers did not want technical ethics, and in Sydney Smith they had a
moral philosopher of the practical kind who could hardly be excelled
either in sense or in wit. One little incident of this time, however,
throws some light on the complaints which have been made about the delay
of his promotion. He applied to a London rector to license him to a
vacant chapel, which had not hitherto been used for the services of the
Church. The immediate answer has not been preserved; but from what
followed it clearly was a civil and rather evasive but perfectly
intelligible request to be excused. The man was of course quite within
his right, and a dozen good reasons can be guessed for his conduct. He
may really have objected, as he seems to have said he did, to take a
step which his predecessors had refused to take, and which might
inconvenience his successors. But Sydney would not take the refusal, and
wrote another very logical, but extremely injudicious, letter pressing
his request with much elaboration, and begging the worthy Doctor of
Divinity to observe that he, the Doctor, was guilty of inconsistency and
other faults. Naturally this put the Doctor's back up, and he now
replied with a flat and very high and mighty refusal. We know from
another instance that Sydney was indisposed to take "No" for an answer.
However he obtained, besides his place at the Foundling, preacherships
in two proprietary chapels, and seems to have had both business and
pleasure enough on his hands during his London sojourn, which was about
the same length as his Edinburgh one. It was, however, much more
profitable, for in three years the ministry of "All the Talents" came
in, the Holland House interest was exerted, and the Chancellor's living
of Foston, near York, valued at five hundred pounds a year, was given to
Sydney. He paid for it, after a fashion which in a less zealous and
convinced Whig might seem a little dubious, by the famous lampoons of
the _Plymley Letters_, advocating the claims of Catholic emancipation,
and extolling Fox and Grenville at the expense of Perceval and Canning.
Very edifying is it to find Sydney Smith objecting to this latter that
he is a "diner out," a "maker of jokes and parodies," a trifler on
important subjects--in fact each and all of the things which the Rev.
Sydney Smith himself was, in a perfection only equalled by the object of
his righteous wrath. But of Peter more presently.

Even his admiring biographers have noticed, with something of a chuckle,
the revenge which Perceval, who was the chief object of Plymley's
sarcasm, took, without in the least knowing it, on his lampooner. Had it
not been for the Clergy Residence Bill, which that very respectable, if
not very brilliant, statesman passed in 1808, and which put an end to
perhaps the most flagrant of all then existing abuses, Sydney, the enemy
of abuses, would no doubt have continued with a perfectly clear
conscience to draw the revenues of Foston, and while serving it by a
curate, to preach, lecture, dine out, and rebuke Canning for making
jokes, in London. As it was he had to make up his mind, though he
obtained a respite from the Archbishop, to resign (which in the
recurring frost of Whig hopes was not to be thought of), to exchange,
which he found impossible, or to bury himself in Yorkshire. This was a
real hardship upon him, because Foston, as it was, was uninhabitable,
and had had no resident clergyman since the seventeenth century. But
whatever bad things could be said of Sydney (and I really do not know
what they are, except that the combination of a sharp wit, a ready pen,
and strong political prejudices sometimes made him abuse his talents),
no one could say that he ever shirked either a difficulty or a duty.
When his first three years' leave expired, he went down in 1809 with his
family to York, and established himself at Heslington, a village near
the city and not far from his parish. And when a second term of
dispensation from actual residence was over, he set to work and built
the snuggest if the ugliest parsonage in England, with farm-buildings
and all complete, at the cost of some four thousand pounds. Of the
details of that building his own inimitable account exists, and is or
ought to be well known. The brick-pit and kiln on the property, which
were going to save fortunes and resulted in nothing but the production
of exactly a hundred and fifty thousand unusable bricks: the four oxen,
Tug, Lug, Haul and Crawl, who were to be the instruments of another
economy and proved to be, at least in Sydneian language, equal to
nothing but the consumption of "buckets of sal volatile:" the entry of
the distracted mother of the household on her new domains with a baby
clutched in her arms and one shoe left in the circumambient mud: the
great folks of the neighbourhood (Lord and Lady Carlisle) coming to call
graciously on the strangers, and being whelmed, coach and four,
outriders and all, in a ploughed field of despond: the "universal
scratcher" in the meadows, inclined so as to let the brute creation of
all heights enjoy that luxury: Bunch the butler, a female child of
tender years but stout proportions: Annie Kay the factotum: the
"Immortal," a chariot which was picked up at York in the last stage of
decay, and carried the family for many years half over England--all
these things and persons are told in divers delightful scraps of
autobiography and in innumerable letters, after a fashion impossible to
better and at a length too long to quote.

Sydney Smith was for more than twenty years rector of Foston, and for
fully fifteen actually resided there. During this time he made the
acquaintance of Lord and Lady Grey, next to Lord and Lady Holland his
most constant friends, visited a little, entertained in his own
unostentatious but hearty fashion a great deal, wrote many articles for
the _Edinburgh Review_, found himself in a minority of one or two among
the clergy of Yorkshire on the subject of Emancipation and similar
matters, but was on the most friendly terms possible with his diocesan,
Archbishop Vernon Harcourt. Nor was he even without further preferment,
for he held for some years (on the then not discredited understanding of
resignation when one of the Howards was ready for it) the neighbouring
and valuable living of Londesborough. Then the death of an aunt put an
end to his monetary anxieties, which for years had been considerable, by
the legacy of a small but sufficient fortune. And at last, when he was
approaching sixty, the good things of the Church, which he never
affected to despise, came in earnest. The Tory Chancellor Lyndhurst gave
him a stall at Bristol, which carried with it a small Devonshire living,
and soon afterwards he was able to exchange Foston (which he had greatly
improved), for Combe Florey near Taunton. When his friend Lord Grey
became Prime Minister, the stall at Bristol was exchanged for a much
more valuable one at St. Paul's; Halberton, the Devonshire vicarage, and
Combe Florey still remaining his. These made up an ecclesiastical
revenue not far short of three thousand a year, which Sydney enjoyed for
the last fifteen years of his life. He never got anything more, and it
is certain that for a time he was very sore at not being made a bishop,
or at least offered a bishopric. Lord Holland had rather rashly
explained the whole difficulty years before, by reporting a conversation
of his with Lord Grenville, in which they had hoped that when the Whigs
came into power they would be more grateful to Sydney than the Tories
had been to Swift. Sydney's acuteness must have made him wince at the
omen. For my part I do not see why either Harley or Grey should have
hesitated, as far as any scruples of their own went. But I think any
fair-minded person must admit the possibility of a scruple, though he
may not share it, about the effect of seeing either the _Tale of a Tub_
or _Peter Plymley's Letters_, with "By the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop
of----" on the title-page. The people who would have been shocked might
in each case have been fools: there is nothing that I at least can see,
in either book, inconsistent with sound religion and churchmanship. But
they would have been honest fools, and of such a Prime Minister has to
take heed. So Amen Corner (or rather, for he did not live there, certain
streets near Grosvenor Square) in London, and Combe Florey in the
country, were Sydney Smith's abodes till his death. In the former he
gave his breakfasts and dinners in the season, being further enabled to
do so by his share (some thirty thousand pounds) of his brother
Courtenay's Indian fortune. The latter, after rebuilding it,--for he had
either a fate or a passion for bricks and mortar,--he made on a small
scale one of the most beautiful and hospitable houses in the West of
England.

To Combe Florey, as to Foston, a sheaf of fantastic legends attaches
itself; indeed, as Lady Holland was not very fond of dates, it is
sometimes not clear to which of the two residences some of them apply.
At both Sydney had a huge store-room, or rather grocer's and chemist's
shop, from which he supplied the wants, not merely of his household, but
of half the neighbourhood. It appears to have been at Combe Florey (for
though no longer poor he still had a frugal mind), that he hit upon the
device of "putting the cheapest soaps in the dearest papers," confident
of the result upon the female temper. It was certainly there that he
fitted up two favourite donkeys with a kind of holiday-dress of antlers,
to meet the objection of one of his lady-visitors that he had no deer;
and converted certain large bay-trees in boxes into the semblance of an
orangery, by fastening some dozens of fine fruit to the branches. I like
to think of the mixed astonishment and disgust of a great Russian, and a
not very small Frenchman, both not long deceased, M. Tourguénieff and M.
Paul de Saint-Victor, if they had heard of these pleasing tomfooleries.
But tomfoolery, though, when properly and not inordinately indulged, one
of the best things in life, must, like the other good things of life,
come to an end. After an illness of some months Sydney Smith died at his
house in Green Street, of heart disease, on 22nd February 1845, in the
seventy-fourth year of his age.

The memorials and evidences of his peculiar if not unique genius consist
of three different kinds; reported or remembered conversations and
jokes, letters, and formal literary work. He was once most famous as a
talker; but conversation is necessarily the most perishable of all
things, and its recorded fragments bear keeping less than any other
relics. Some of the verbal jests assigned to him (notably the famous
one about the tortoise, which, after being long known by the initiated
not to be his, has at last been formally claimed by its rightful owner),
are certainly or probably borrowed or falsely attributed, as rich
conversationalists always borrow or receive. And always the things have
something of the mangled air which sayings detached from their context
can hardly escape. It is otherwise with the letters. The best letters
are always most like the actual conversation of their writers, and
probably no one ever wrote more as he talked than Sydney Smith. The
specially literary qualities of his writing for print are here too in
great measure; and on the whole, though of course the importance of
subject is nearly always less, and the interest of sustained work is
wholly absent, nowhere can the entire Sydney be better seen. Of the
three satirists of modern times with whom he may not unfairly claim to
rank--Pascal, Swift, and Voltaire--he is most like Voltaire in his
faculty of presenting a good thing with a preface which does not in the
least prepare you for it, and then leaving it without the slightest
attempt to go back on it, and elaborate it, and make sure that his
hearer has duly appreciated it and laughed at it. And of the two, though
the palm of concentration must be given to Voltaire, the palm of
absolute simplicity must be given to Sydney. Hardly any of his letters
are without these unforced flashes of wit, from almost his first
epistle to Jeffrey (where, after rallying that great little man on being
the "only male despondent he has met," he adds the postscript, "I beg to
except the Tuxford waiter, who desponds exactly as you do") to his very
last to Miss Harcourt, in which he mildly dismisses one of his brethren
as "anything but a _polished_ corner of the Temple." There is the "usual
establishment for an eldest landed baby:" the proposition, advanced in
the grave and chaste manner, that "the information of very plain women
is so inconsiderable, that I agree with you in setting no store by it:"
the plaintive expostulation with Lady Holland (who had asked him to
dinner on the ninth of the month, after previously asking him to stay
from the fifth to the twelfth), "it is like giving a gentleman an
assignation for Wednesday when you are going to marry him on the
previous Sunday--an attempt to combine the stimulus of gallantry with
the security of connubial relations:" the simple and touching
information that "Lord Tankerville has sent me a whole buck. This
necessarily takes up a good deal of my time;" that "geranium-fed bacon
is of a beautiful colour, but it takes so many plants to fatten one pig
that such a system can never answer;" that "it is a mistake to think
that Dr. Bond could be influenced by partridges. He is a man of very
independent mind, with whom pheasants at least, or perhaps even turkeys,
are necessary;" and scores more with references to which I find the
fly-leaves of my copy of the letters covered. If any one wants to see
how much solid there is with all this froth, let him turn to the
passages showing the unconquerable manliness, fairness, and good sense
with which Sydney treated the unhappy subject of Queen Caroline, out of
which his friends were so ready to make political capital; or to the
admirable epistle in which he takes seriously, and blunts once for all,
the points of certain foolish witticisms as to the readiness with which
he, a man about town, had taken to catechisms and cabbages in an almost
uninhabited part of the despised country. In conversation he would seem
sometimes to have a little, a very little, "forced the note." The Quaker
baby, and the lady "with whom you might give an assembly or populate a
parish," are instances in point. But he never does this in his letters.
I take particular pleasure in the following passage written to Miss
Georgiana Harcourt within two years of his death: "What a charming
existence! To live in the midst of holy people; to know that nothing
profane can approach you; to be certain that a Dissenter can no more be
found in the Palace than a snake can exist in Ireland, or ripe fruit in
Scotland! To have your society strong, and undiluted by the laity; to
bid adieu to human learning; to feast on the Canons and revel in the
Thirty-Nine Articles! Happy Georgiana!" Now if Sydney had been what some
foolish people think him, merely a scoffer, there would be no fun in
this; it would be as impertinent and in as bad taste as the stale jokes
of the eighteenth century about Christianity. But he was much else.

Of course, however, no rational man will contend that in estimating
Sydney Smith's place in the general memory, his deliberate literary
work, or at least that portion of it which he chose to present on
reflection, acknowledged and endorsed, can be overlooked. His _Life_
contains (what is infinitely desirable in all such Lives and by no means
always or often furnished) a complete list of his contributions to the
_Edinburgh Review_, and his works contain most of them. To these have to
be added the pamphlets, of which the chief and incomparably the best
are, at intervals of thirty years, _Peter Plymley_ and the _Letters to
Archdeacon Singleton_, together with sermons, speeches, and other
miscellaneous matter. The whole, except the things which he did not
himself care to reprint, can be obtained now in one volume; but the
print is not to be recommended to aged or weakly sight.

Sydney Smith had no false modesty, and in not a few letters to Jeffrey
he speaks of his own contributions to the _Edinburgh_ with the greatest
freedom, combating and quite refusing to accept his editor's suggestion
as to their flippancy and fantasticality, professing with much frankness
that this is the way he can write and no other, and more than once
telling Jeffrey that whatever they may think in solemn Scotland, his,
Sydney's, articles are a great deal more read in England and elsewhere
than any others. Although there are maxims to the contrary effect, the
judgment of a clever man, not very young and tolerably familiar with the
world, on his own work, is very seldom far wrong. I should say myself
that, putting aside the historic estimate, Sydney Smith's articles are
by far the most interesting nowadays of those contributed by any one
before the days of Macaulay, who began just as Sydney ceased to write
anonymously in 1827, on his Bristol appointment. They are also by far
the most distinct and original. Jeffrey, Brougham, and the rest wrote,
for the most part, very much after the fashion of the ancients: if a
very few changes were made for date, passages of Jeffrey's criticism
might almost be passages of Dryden, certainly passages of the better
critics of the eighteenth century, as far as manner goes. There is
nobody at all like Sydney Smith before him in England, for Swift's style
is wholly different. To begin with, Sydney had a strong prejudice in
favour of writing very short articles, and a horror of reading long
ones--the latter being perhaps less peculiar to himself than the former.
Then he never made the slightest pretence at systematic or dogmatic
criticism of anything whatever. In literature proper he seems indeed to
have had no particular principles, and I cannot say that he had very
good taste. He commits the almost unpardonable sin of not merely
blaspheming Madame de Sévigné, but preferring to her that second-rate
leader-writer in petticoats, Madame de Staël. On the other hand, if he
had no literary principles, he had (except in rare cases where politics
came in, and not often then) few literary prejudices, and his happily
incorrigible good sense and good humour were proof against the frequent
bias of his associates. Though he could not have been very sensible,
from what he himself says, of their highest qualities, he championed
Scott's novels incessantly against the Whigs and prigs of Holland House.
He gives a most well-timed warning to Jeffrey that the constant
running-down of Wordsworth had very much the look of persecution, though
with his usual frankness he avows that he has not read the particular
article in question, because the subject is "quite uninteresting to
him." I think he would, if driven hard, have admitted with equal
frankness that poetry, merely as poetry, was generally uninteresting.
Still he had so many interests of various kinds, that few books failed
to appeal to one or the other, and he, in his turn, has seldom failed to
give a lively if not a very exact or critical account of his subject.
But it is in his way of giving this account that the peculiarity,
glanced at above as making a parallel between him and Voltaire, appears.
It is, I have said, almost original, and what is more, endless as has
been the periodical writing of the last eighty years, and sedulously as
later writers have imitated earlier, I do not know that it has ever
been successfully copied. It consists in giving rapid and apparently
business-like summaries, packed, with apparent negligence and real art,
full of the flashes of wit so often noticed and to be noticed. Such are,
in the article on "The Island of Ceylon," the honey-bird "into whose
body the soul of a common informer seems to have migrated," and "the
chaplain of the garrison, all in black, the Rev. Mr. Somebody or other
whose name we have forgotten," the discovery of whose body in a serpent
his ruthless clerical brother pronounces to be "the best history of the
kind he remembers." Very likely there may be people who can read this,
even the "all in black," without laughing, and among them I should
suppose must be the somebody or other, whose name we too have forgotten,
who is said to have imagined that he had more than parried Sydney's
unforgiven jest about the joke and the surgical operation, by retorting,
"Yes! an _English_ joke." I have always wept to think that Sydney did
not live to hear this retort. The classical places for this kind of
summary work are the article just named on Ceylon, and that on Waterton.
But the most inimitable single example, if it is not too shocking to
this very proper age, is the argument of Mat Lewis's tragedy: "Ottilia
becomes quite furious from the conviction that Cæsario has been sleeping
with a second lady called Estella; whereas he has really been sleeping
with a third lady called Amelrosa."

Among the most important of these essays are the two famous ones on
Methodism and on Indian missions, which gave far more offence to the
religious public of evangelical persuasion than all Sydney's jokes on
bishops, or his arguments for Catholic emancipation, and which (owing to
the strong influence which then, as now, Nonconformists possessed in the
counsels of the Liberal party) probably had as much to do as anything
else with the reluctance of the Whig leaders, when they came into power,
to give their friend the highest ecclesiastical preferment. These
subjects are rather difficult to treat in a general literary essay, and
it may perhaps be admitted that here, as in dealing with poetry and
other subjects of the more transcendental kind, Sydney showed a touch of
Philistinism, and a distinct inability to comprehend exaltation of
sentiment and thought. But the general sense is admirably sound and
perfectly orthodox; and the way in which so apparently light and
careless a writer has laboriously supported every one of his charges,
and almost every one of his flings, with chapter and verse from the
writings of the incriminated societies, is very remarkable. Nor can it,
I think, be doubted that the publication, in so widely read a
periodical, of the nauseous follies of speech in which well-meaning
persons indulged, had something to do with the gradual disuse of a style
than which nothing could be more prejudicial to religion, for the simple
reason that nothing else could make religion ridiculous. The medicine
did not of course operate at once, and silly people still write silly
things. But I hardly think that the Wesleyan body or the Church
Missionary Society would now officially publish such stuff as the
passage about Brother Carey, who, while in the actual paroxysm of
sea-sickness, was "wonderfully comforted by the contemplation of the
goodness of God," or that about Brother Ward "in design clasping to his
bosom" the magnanimous Captain Wickes, who subsequently "seemed very
low," when a French privateer was in sight. Jeffrey was, it seems, a
little afraid of these well-deserved exposures, which, from the
necessity of abundant quotation, are an exception to the general
shortness of Sydney's articles. Sydney's interest in certain subjects
led him constantly to take up fresh books on them; and thus a series of
series might be made out of his papers, with some advantage to the
reader perhaps, if a new edition of his works were undertaken. The chief
of such subjects is America, in dealing with which he pleased the
Americans by descanting on their gradual emancipation from English
prejudices and abuses, but infuriated them by constant denunciations of
slavery, and by laughing at their lack of literature and cultivation.
With India he also dealt often, his brothers' connection with it giving
him an interest therein. Prisons were another favourite subject, though,
in his zeal for making them uncomfortable, he committed himself to one
really atrocious suggestion--that of dark cells for long periods of
time. It is odd that the same person should make such a truly diabolical
proposal, and yet be in a perpetual state of humanitarian rage about
man-traps and spring-guns, which were certainly milder engines of
torture. It is odd, too, that Sydney, who was never tired of arguing
that prisons ought to be made uncomfortable, because nobody need go
there unless he chose, should have been furiously wroth with poor Mr.
Justice Best for suggesting much the same thing of spring-guns. The
greatest political triumph of his manner is to be found no doubt in the
article "Bentham on Fallacies," in which the unreadable diatribes of the
apostle of utilitarianism are somehow spirited and crisped up into a
series of brilliant arguments, and the whole is crowned by the famous
"Noodle's Oration," the summary and storehouse of all that ever has been
or can be said on the Liberal side in the lighter manner. It has not
lost its point even from the fact that Noodle has now for a long time
changed his party, and has elaborated for himself, after his manner, a
similar stock of platitudes and absurdities in favour of the very things
for which Sydney was fighting.

The qualities of these articles appear equally in the miscellaneous
essays, in the speeches, and even in the sermons, though Sydney Smith,
unlike Sterne, never condescended to buffoonery or theatrical tricks in
the pulpit. In _Peter Plymley's Letters_ they appear concentrated and
acidulated: in the _Letters to Archdeacon Singleton_, in the
_Repudiation Letters_, and the _Letters on Railways_ which date from his
very last days, concentrated and mellowed. More than one good judge has
been of the opinion that Sydney's powers increased to the very end of
his life, and it is not surprising that this should have been the case.
Although he did plenty of work in his time, the literary part of it was
never of an exhausting nature. Though one of the most original of
commentators, he was a commentator pure and simple, and found, but did
not supply, his matter. Thus there was no danger of running dry, and as
his happiest style was not indignation but good-natured raillery, his
increasing prosperity, not chequered, till quite the close of his life,
by any serious bodily ailment, put him more and more in the right
atmosphere and temper for indulging his genius. _Plymley_, though very
amusing, and, except in the Canning matter above referred to, not
glaringly unfair for a political lampoon, is distinctly acrimonious, and
almost (as "almost" as Sydney could be) ill-tempered. It is possible to
read between the lines that the writer is furious at his party being out
of office, and is much more angry with Mr. Perceval for having the ear
of the country than for being a respectable nonentity. The main
argument, moreover, is bad in itself, and was refuted by facts. Sydney
pretends to be, as his friend Jeffrey really was, in mortal terror lest
the French should invade England, and, joined by rebellious Irishmen
and wrathful Catholics generally, produce an English revolution. The
Tories replied, "We will take good care that the French shall _not_
land, and that Irishmen shall _not_ rise." And they did take the said
good care, and they beat the Frenchmen thorough and thorough while
Sydney and his friends were pointing their epigrams. Therefore, though
much of the contention is unanswerable enough, the thing is doubtfully
successful as a whole. In the _Letters to Archdeacon Singleton_ the tone
is almost uniformly good-humoured, and the argument, whether quite
consistent or not in the particular speaker's mouth, is absolutely
sound, and has been practically admitted since by almost all the best
friends of the Church. Here occurs that inimitable passage before
referred to.

    I met the other day, in an old Dutch chronicle, with a passage
    so apposite to this subject, that, though it is somewhat too
    light for the occasion, I cannot abstain from quoting it. There
    was a great meeting of all the clergy at Dordrecht, and the
    chronicler thus describes it, which I give in the language of
    the translation: "And there was great store of Bishops in the
    town, in their robes goodly to behold, and all the great men of
    the State were there, and folks poured in in boats on the Meuse,
    the Merse, the Rhine, and the Linge, coming from the Isle of
    Beverlandt and Isselmond, and from all quarters in the Bailiwick
    of Dort; Arminians and Gomarists, with the friends of John
    Barneveldt and of Hugh Grote. And before my Lords the Bishops,
    Simon of Gloucester, who was a Bishop in those parts, disputed
    with Vorstius and Leoline the Monk, and many texts of Scripture
    were bandied to and fro; and when this was done, and many
    propositions made, and it waxed towards twelve of the clock, my
    Lords the Bishops prepared to set them down to a fair repast, in
    which was great store of good things--and among the rest a
    roasted peacock, having in lieu of a tail the arms and banners
    of the Archbishop, which was a goodly sight to all who favoured
    the Church--and then the Archbishop would say a grace, as was
    seemly to do, he being a very holy man; but ere he had finished,
    a great mob of townspeople and folks from the country, who were
    gathered under the windows, cried out _Bread! bread!_ for there
    was a great famine, and wheat had risen to three times the
    ordinary price of the _sleich_; and when they had done crying
    _Bread! bread!_ they called out _No Bishops!_ and began to cast
    up stones at the windows. Whereat my Lords the Bishops were in a
    great fright, and cast their dinner out of the window to appease
    the mob, and so the men of that town were well pleased, and did
    devour the meats with a great appetite; and then you might have
    seen my Lords standing with empty plates, and looking wistfully
    at each other, till Simon of Gloucester, he who disputed with
    Leoline the Monk, stood up among them and said, _Good my Lords,
    is it your pleasure to stand here fasting, and that those who
    count lower in the Church than you do should feast and fluster?
    Let us order to us the dinner of the Deans and Canons which is
    making ready for them in the chamber below._ And this speech of
    Simon of Gloucester pleased the Bishops much; and so they sent
    for the host, one William of Ypres, and told him it was for the
    public good, and he, much fearing the Bishops, brought them the
    dinner of the Deans and Canons; and so the Deans and Canons went
    away without dinner, and were pelted by the men of the town,
    because they had not put any meat out of the windows like the
    Bishops; and when the Count came to hear of it, he said it was a
    pleasant conceit, _and that the Bishops were right cunning men,
    and had ding'd the Canons well_."

Even in the Singleton Letters, however, there are some little lapses of
the same kind (worse, indeed, because these letters were signed) as the
attack on Canning in the Plymley Letters. Sydney Smith exclaiming
against "derision and persiflage, the great principle by which the world
is now governed," is again edifying. But in truth Sydney never had the
weakness (for I have known it called a weakness) of looking too
carefully to see what the enemy's advocate is going to say. Take even
the famous, the immortal apologue of Mrs. Partington. It covered, we are
usually told, the Upper House with ridicule, and did as much as anything
else to carry the Reform Bill. And yet, though it is a watery apologue,
it will not hold water for a moment. The implied conclusion is, that the
Atlantic beat Mrs. Partington. Did it? It made, no doubt, a great mess
in her house, it put her to flight, it put her to shame. But when I was
last at Sidmouth the line of high-water mark was, I believe, much what
it was before the great storm of 1824, and though the particular Mrs.
Partington had no doubt been gathered to her fathers, the Mrs.
Partington of the day was, equally without doubt, living very
comfortably in the house which the Atlantic had threatened to swallow
up.

It was, however, perhaps part of Sydney's strength that he never cared
to consider too curiously, or on too many sides. Besides his inimitable
felicity of expression (the Singleton Letters are simply crammed with
epigram), he had the sturdiest possible common sense and the liveliest
possible humour. I have known his claim to the title of "humourist"
called in question by precisians: nobody could deny him the title of
good-humourist. Except that the sentimental side of Toryism would never
have appealed to him, it was chiefly an accident of time that he was a
polemical Liberal. He would always and naturally have been on the side
opposite to that on which most of the fools were. When he came into the
world, as the straitest Tory will admit, there were in that world a
great many abuses as they are called, that is to say, a great many
things which, once useful and excellent, had either decayed into
positive nuisances, or dried up into neutral and harmless but
obstructive rubbish. There were also many silly and some mischievous
people, as well as some wise and useful ones, who defended the abuses.
Sydney Smith was an ideal soldier of reform for his time, and in his
way. He was not extraordinarily long-sighted--indeed (as his famous and
constantly-repeated advice to "take short views of life" shows) he had a
distinct distrust of taking too anxious thought for political or any
other morrows. But he had a most keen and, in many cases, a most just
scent and sight for the immediate inconveniences and injustices of the
day, and for the shortest and most effective ways of mending them. He
was perhaps more destitute of romance and of reverence (though he had
too much good taste to be positively irreverent) than any man who ever
lived. He never could have paralleled, he never could have even
understood, Scott's feelings about the Regalia, or that ever-famous
incident of Sir Walter's life, when returning with Jeffrey and other
Whig friends from some public meeting, he protested against the
innovations which, harmless or even beneficial individually and in
themselves, would by degrees destroy every thing that made Scotland
Scotland. I am afraid that his warmest admirers, even those of his own
political complexion, must admit that he was, as has been said, more
than a little of a Philistine; that he expressed, and expressed
capitally in one way, that curious middle-class sentiment, or denial of
sentiment, which won its first triumph in the first Reform Bill and its
last in the Exhibition of twenty years later, which destroyed no doubt
much that was absurd, and some things that were noxious, but which
induced in England a reign of shoddy in politics, in philosophy, in art,
in literature, and, when its own reign was over, left England weak and
divided, instead of, as it had been under the reign of abuses, united
and strong. The bombardment of Copenhagen may or may not have been a
dreadful thing: it was at any rate better than the abandonment of
Khartoum. Nor can Sydney any more than his friends be acquitted of
having held the extraordinary notion that you can "rest and be thankful"
in politics, that you can set Demos at bishops, but stave and tail him
off when he comes to canons; that you can level beautifully down to a
certain point, and then stop levelling for ever afterwards; that because
you can laugh Brother Ringletub out of court, laughter will be equally
effective with Cardinal Newman; and that though it is the height of
"anility" (a favourite word of his) to believe in a country gentleman,
it is the height of rational religion to believe in a ten-pound
householder.

But however open to exception his principles may be, and that not merely
from the point of view of highflying Toryism, his carrying out of them
in life and in literature had the two abiding justifications of being
infinitely amusing, and of being amusing always in thoroughly good
temper. It is, as I have said, impossible to read Sydney Smith's _Life_,
and still more impossible to read his letters, without liking him warmly
and personally, without seeing that he was not only a man who liked to
be comfortable (that is not very rare), that he was not only one who
liked others to be comfortable (that is rarer), but one who in every
situation in which he was thrown, did his utmost to make others as well
as himself comfortable (which is rarest of all). If the references in
_Peter Plymley_ to Canning were unjustifiable from him, there is little
or no reason to think that they were prompted by personal jealousy; and
though, as has been said, he was undoubtedly sore, and unreasonably
sore, at not receiving the preferment which he thought he had deserved,
he does not seem to have been personally jealous of any man who had
received it. The parson of Foston and Combe Florey may not have been
(his latest biographer, admiring though he be, pathetically laments that
he was not) a spiritually minded man. But happy beyond almost all other
parishioners of the time were the parishioners of Combe Florey and
Foston, though one of them did once throw a pair of scissors at his
provoking pastor. He was a fast and affectionate friend; and though he
was rather given to haunting rich men, he did it not only without
servility, but without that alternative of bearishness and freaks which
has sometimes been adopted. As a prince of talkers he might have been a
bore to a generation which (I own I think in that perhaps single point),
wiser than its fathers, is not so ambitious as they were to sit as a
bucket and be pumped into. But in that infinitely happier system of
conversation by books, which any one can enjoy as he likes and interrupt
as he likes at his own fireside, Sydney is still a prince. There may be
living somewhere some one who does not think so very badly of slavery,
who is most emphatically of opinion that "the fools were right," in the
matters of Catholic emancipation and Reform, who thinks well of public
schools and universities, who even, though he may not like spring-guns
much, thinks that John Jones had only himself to blame if, after ample
warning and with no business except the business of supplying a London
poulterer with his landlord's game, he trespassed and came to the worst.
Yet even this monster, if he happened to be possessed of the sense of
fun and literature, (which is perhaps impossible), could not read even
the most acrid of Sydney's political diatribes without shrieking with
laughter, if, in his ogreish way, he were given to such violent
demonstrations; could certainly not read the _Life_ and the letters
without admitting, in a moment of unwonted humanity, that here was a man
who, for goodness as well as for cleverness, for sound practical wisdom
as well as for fantastic verbal wit, has had hardly a superior and very
few equals.

FOOTNOTES:

[8] To speak of him in this way is not impertinence or familiarity. He
was most generally addressed as "Mr. Sydney," and his references to his
wife are nearly always to "Mrs. Sydney," seldom or never to "Mrs.
Smith."

[9] See next Essay.



IV

JEFFREY


"Jeffrey and I," says Christopher North in one of his more malicious
moments, "do nothing original; it's porter's work." A tolerably
experienced student of human nature might almost, without knowing the
facts, guess the amount of truth contained in this fling. North, as
North, had done nothing that the world calls original: North, as Wilson,
had done a by no means inconsiderable quantity of such work in verse and
prose. But Jeffrey really did underlie the accusation contained in the
words. A great name in literature, nothing stands to his credit in
permanent literary record but a volume (a sufficiently big one, no
doubt[10]) of criticisms on the work of other men; and though this
volume is only a selection from his actual writings, no further gleaning
could be made of any different material. Even his celebrated, or once
celebrated, "Treatise on Beauty" is but a review article, worked up into
an encyclopædia article, and dealing almost wholly with pure criticism.
Against him, if against any one, the famous and constantly repeated gibe
about the fellows who have failed in literature and art, falls short and
harmless. In another of its forms, "the corruption of a poet is the
generation of a critic," it might be more appropriate. For Jeffrey, as
we know from his boyish letters, once thought, like almost every boy who
is not an idiot, that he might be a poet, and scribbled verses in
plenty. But the distinguishing feature in this case was, that he waited
for no failure, for no public ridicule or neglect, not even for any
private nipping of the merciful, but so seldom effective, sort, to check
those sterile growths. The critic was sufficiently early developed in
him to prevent the corruption of the poet from presenting itself, in its
usual disastrous fashion, to the senses of the world. Thus he lives (for
his political and legal renown, though not inconsiderable, is
comparatively unimportant) as a critic pure and simple.

His biographer, Lord Cockburn, tells us that "Francis Jeffrey, the
greatest of British critics, was born in Edinburgh on 23d October 1773."
It must be at the end, not the beginning, of this paper that we decide
whether Jeffrey deserves the superlative. He seems certainly to have
begun his critical practice very early. He was the son of a depute-clerk
of the Court of Session, and respectably, though not brilliantly,
connected. His father was a great Tory, and, though it would be
uncharitable to say that this was the reason why Jeffrey was a great
Liberal, the two facts were probably not unconnected in the line of
causation. Francis went to the High School when he was eight, and to the
College at Glasgow when he was fourteen. He does not appear to have been
a prodigy at either; but he has an almost unequalled record for early
work of the self-undertaken kind. He seems from his boyhood to have been
addicted to filling reams of paper, and shelves full of note-books, with
extracts, abstracts, critical annotations, criticisms of these
criticisms, and all manner of writing of the same kind. I believe it is
the general experience that this kind of thing does harm in nineteen
cases, for one in which it does good; but Jeffrey was certainly a
striking exception to the rule, though perhaps he might not have been so
if his producing, or at least publishing, time had not been unusually
delayed. Indeed, his whole mental history appears to have been of a
curiously piecemeal character; and his scrappy and self-guided education
may have conduced to the priggishness which he showed early, and never
entirely lost, till fame, prosperity, and the approach of old age
mellowed it out of him. He was not sixteen when his sojourn at Glasgow
came to an end; and, for more than two years, he seems to have been left
to a kind of studious independence, attending only a couple of law
classes at Edinburgh University. Then his father insisted on his going
to Oxford: a curious step, the reasons for which are anything but clear.
For the paternal idea seems to have been that Jeffrey was to study not
arts, but law; a study for which Oxford may present facilities now, but
which most certainly was quite out of its way in Jeffrey's time, and
especially in the case of a Scotch boy of ordinary freshman's age.

It is painful to have to say that Jeffrey hated Oxford, because there
are few instances on record in which such hatred does not show the hater
to have been a very bad man indeed. There are, however, some special
excuses for the little Scotchman. His college (Queen's) was not perhaps
very happily selected; he had been sent there in the teeth of his own
will, which was a pretty strong will; he was horrified, after the free
selection of Scotch classes, to find a regular curriculum which he had
to take or leave as a whole; the priggishness of Oxford was not his
priggishness, its amusements (for he hated sport of every kind) were not
his amusements; and, in short, there was a general incompatibility. He
came up in September and went down in July, having done nothing except
having, according to a not ill-natured jest, "lost the broad Scotch, but
gained only the narrow English,"--a peculiarity which sometimes brought
a little mild ridicule on him both from Scotchmen and Englishmen.

Very soon after his return to Edinburgh, he seems to have settled down
steadily to study for the Scotch bar, and during his studies
distinguished himself as a member of the famous Speculative Society,
both in essay-writing and in the debates. He was called on 16th December
1794.

Although there have never been very quick returns at the bar, either of
England or Scotland, the smaller numbers of the latter might be thought
likely to bring young men of talent earlier to the front. This
advantage, however, appears to have been counterbalanced partly by the
strong family interests which made a kind of aristocracy among Scotch
lawyers, and partly by the influence of politics and of Government
patronage. Jeffrey was, comparatively speaking, a "kinless loon"; and,
while he was steadily resolved not to put himself forward as a candidate
for the Tory manna of which Dundas was the Moses, his filial reverence
long prevented him from declaring himself a very violent Whig. Indeed,
he gave an instance of this reverence which might serve as a pretty text
for a casuistical discussion. Henry Erskine, Dean of the Faculty of
Advocates, was in 1796 deprived by vote of that, the most honourable
position of the Scotch bar, for having presided at a Whig meeting.
Jeffrey, like Gibbon, sighed as a Whig, but obeyed as a son, and stayed
away from the poll. His days were certainly long in the land; but I am
inclined to think that, in a parallel case, some Tories at least would
have taken the chance of shorter life with less speckled honour.
However, it is hard to quarrel with a man for obeying his parents; and
perhaps, after all, the Whigs did not think the matter of so much
importance as they affected to do. It is certain that Jeffrey was a
little dashed by the slowness of his success at the bar. Towards the end
of 1798, he set out for London with a budget of letters of introduction,
and thoughts of settling down to literature. But the editors and
publishers to whom he was introduced did not know what a treasure lay
underneath the scanty surface of this Scotch advocate, and they were
either inaccessible or repulsive. He returned to Edinburgh, and, for
another two years, waited for fortune philosophically enough, though
with lingering thoughts of England, and growing ones of India. It was
just at the turn of the century, that his fortunes began, in various
ways, also to take a turn. For some years, though a person by no means
given to miscellaneous acquaintances, he had been slowly forming the
remarkable circle of friends from whose combined brains was soon to
start the _Edinburgh Review_. He fell in love, and married his second
cousin, Catherine Wilson, on 1st November 1801--a bold and by no means
canny step, for his father was ill-off, the bride was tocherless, and he
says that he had never earned a hundred pounds a year in fees. They did
not, however, launch out greatly, and their house in Buccleuch Place
(not the least famous locality in literature) was furnished on a scale
which some modern colleges, conducted on the principles of enforced
economy, would think Spartan for an undergraduate. Shortly afterwards,
and very little before the appearance of the Blue and Yellow, Jeffrey
made another innovation, which was perhaps not less profitable to him,
by establishing a practice in ecclesiastical causes; though he met with
a professional check in his rejection, on party principles, for the
so-called collectorship, a kind of reporter's post of some emolument and
not inconsiderable distinction.

The story of the _Edinburgh Review_ and its foundation has been very
often told on the humorous, if not exactly historical, authority of
Sydney Smith. It is unnecessary to repeat it. It is undoubted that the
idea was Sydney's. It is equally undoubted that, but for Jeffrey, the
said idea might never have taken form at all, and would never have
retained any form for more than a few months. It was only Jeffrey's
long-established habit of critical writing, the untiring energy into
which he whipped up his no doubt gifted but quite untrained
contributors, and the skill which he almost at once developed in editing
proper,--that is to say in selecting, arranging, adapting, and, even to
some extent, re-writing contributions--which secured success. Very
different opinions have been expressed at different times on the
intrinsic merits of this celebrated production; and perhaps, on the
whole, the principal feeling of explorers into the long and dusty
ranges of its early volumes, has been one of disappointment. I believe
myself that, in similar cases, a similar result is very common indeed,
and that it is due to the operation of two familiar fallacies. The one
is the delusion as to the products of former times being necessarily
better than those of the present; a delusion which is not the less
deluding because of its counterpart, the delusion about progress. The
other is a more peculiar and subtle one. I shall not go so far as a very
experienced journalist who once said to me commiseratingly, "My good
sir, I won't exactly say that literary merit hurts a newspaper." But
there is no doubt that all the great successes of journalism, for the
last hundred years, have been much more due to the fact of the new
venture being new, of its supplying something that the public wanted and
had not got, than to the fact of the supply being extraordinarily good
in kind. In nearly every case, the intrinsic merit has improved as the
thing went on, but it has ceased to be a novel merit. Nothing would be
easier than to show that the early _Edinburgh_ articles were very far
from perfect. Of Jeffrey we shall speak presently, and there is no doubt
that Sydney at his best was, and is always, delightful. But the
blundering bluster of Brougham, the solemn ineffectiveness of Horner (of
whom I can never think without also thinking of Scott's delightful
Shandean jest on him), the respectable erudition of the Scotch
professors, cannot for one single moment be compared with the work
which, in Jeffrey's own later days, in those of Macvey Napier, and in
the earlier ones of Empson, was contributed by Hazlitt, by Carlyle, by
Stephen, and, above all, by Macaulay. The _Review_ never had any one who
could emulate the ornateness of De Quincey or Wilson, the pure and
perfect English of Southey, or the inimitable insolence, so polished and
so intangible, of Lockhart. But it may at least claim that it led the
way, and that the very men who attacked its principles and surpassed its
practice had, in some cases, been actually trained in its school, and
were in all, imitating and following its model. To analyse, with
chemical exactness, the constituents of a literary novelty is never
easy, if it is ever possible. But some of the contrasts between the
style of criticism most prevalent at the time, and the style of the new
venture are obvious and important. The older rivals of the _Edinburgh_
maintained for the most part a decent and amiable impartiality; the
_Edinburgh_, whatever it pretended to be, was violently partisan,
unhesitatingly personal, and more inclined to find fault, the more
distinguished the subject was. The reviews of the time had got into the
hands either of gentlemen and ladies who were happy to be thought
literary, and only too glad to write for nothing, or else into those of
the lowest booksellers' hacks, who praised or blamed according to
orders, wrote without interest and without vigour, and were quite
content to earn the smallest pittance. The _Edinburgh_ started from the
first on the principle that its contributors should be paid, and paid
well, whether they liked it or not, thus establishing at once an
inducement to do well and a check on personal eccentricity and
irresponsibility; while whatever partisanship there might be in its
pages, there was at any rate no mere literary puffery.

From being, but for his private studies, rather an idle person, Jeffrey
became an extremely busy one. The _Review_ gave him not a little
occupation, and his practice increased rapidly. In 1803 the institution,
at Scott's suggestion, of the famous Friday Club, in which, for the
greater part of the first half of this century, the best men in
Edinburgh, Johnstone and Maxwell, Whig and Tory alike, met in peaceable
conviviality, did a good deal to console Jeffrey, who was now as much
given to company as he had been in his early youth to solitude, for the
partial breaking up of the circle of friends--Allen, Horner, Smith,
Brougham, Lord Webb Seymour--in which he had previously mixed. In the
same year he became a volunteer, an act of patriotism the more
creditable, that he seems to have been sincerely convinced of the
probability of an invasion, and of the certainty of its success if it
occurred. But I have no room here for anything but a rapid review of the
not very numerous or striking events of his life. Soon, however, after
the date last mentioned, he met with two afflictions peculiarly trying
to a man whose domestic affections were unusually strong. These were the
deaths of his favourite sister in May 1804, and of his wife in October
1805. The last blow drove him nearly to despair; and the extreme and
open-mouthed "sensibility" of his private letters, on this and similar
occasions, is very valuable as an index of character, oddly as it
contrasts, in the vulgar estimate, with the supposed cynicism and
savagery of the critic. In yet another year occurred the somewhat
ludicrous duel, or beginning of a duel, with Moore, in which several
police constables did perform the friendly office which Mr. Winkle
vainly deprecated, and in which Jeffrey's, not Moore's, pistol was
discovered to be leadless. There is a sentence in a letter of Jeffrey's
concerning the thing which is characteristic and amusing: "I am glad to
have gone through this scene, both because it satisfies me that my
nerves are good enough to enable me to act in conformity to my notions
of propriety without any suffering, and because it also assures me that
I am really as little in love with life as I have been for some time in
the habit of professing." It is needless to say that this was an example
of the excellence of beginning with a little aversion, for Jeffrey and
Moore fraternised immediately afterwards and remained friends for life.
The quarrel, or half quarrel, with Scott as to the review of "Marmion,"
the planning and producing of the _Quarterly Review, English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers_, not a few other events of the same kind, must be
passed over rapidly. About six years after the death of his first wife,
Jeffrey met, and fell in love with, a certain Miss Charlotte Wilkes,
great-niece of the patriot, and niece of a New York banker, and of a
Monsieur and Madame Simond, who were travelling in Europe. He married
her two years later, having gone through the very respectable probation
of crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic (he was a very bad sailor) in a
sailing ship, in winter, and in time of war, to fetch his bride. Nor had
he long been married before he took the celebrated country house of
Craigcrook, where, for more than thirty years, he spent all the spare
time of an exceedingly happy life. Then we may jump some fifteen years
to the great Reform contest which gave Jeffrey the reward, such as it
was, of his long constancy in opposition, in the shape of the Lord
Advocateship. He was not always successful as a debater; but he had the
opportunity of adding a third reputation to those which he had already
gained in literature and in law. He had the historical duty of piloting
the Scotch Reform Bill through Parliament, and he had the, in his case,
pleasurable and honourable pain of taking the official steps in
Parliament necessitated by the mental incapacity of Sir Walter Scott.
Early in 1834 he was provided for by promotion to the Scotch Bench. He
had five years before, on being appointed Dean of Faculty, given up the
editorship of the _Review_, which he had held for seven-and-twenty
years. For some time previous to his resignation, his own contributions,
which in early days had run up to half a dozen in a single number, and
had averaged two or three for more than twenty years, had become more
and more intermittent. After that resignation he contributed two or
three articles at very long intervals. He was perhaps more lavish of
advice than he need have been to Macvey Napier, and after Napier's death
it passed into the control of his own son-in-law, Empson. Long, however,
before the reins passed from his own hands, a rival more galling if less
formidable than the _Quarterly_ had arisen in the shape of _Blackwood's
Magazine_. The more ponderous and stately publication always affected,
to some extent, to ignore its audacious junior; and Lord Cockburn
(perhaps instigated not more by prudence than by regard for Lockhart and
Wilson, both of whom were living) passes over in complete silence the
establishment of the magazine, the publication of the Chaldee
manuscript, and the still greater hubbub which arose around the supposed
attacks of Lockhart on Playfair, and the _Edinburgh_ reviewers
generally, with regard to their religious opinions. How deep the
feelings really excited were, may be seen from a letter of Jeffrey's,
published, not by Cockburn, but by Wilson's daughter in the life of her
father. In this Jeffrey practically drums out a new and certainly most
promising recruit for his supposed share in the business, and inveighs
in the most passionate terms against the imputation. It is undesirable
to enter at length into any such matters here. It need only be said that
Allen, one of the founders of the _Edinburgh_, and always a kind of
standing counsel to it, is now acknowledged to have been something
uncommonly like an atheist, that Sydney Smith (as I believe most
unjustly) was often, and is sometimes still, regarded as standing
towards his profession very much in the attitude of a French _abbé_ of
the eighteenth century, that almost the whole staff of the _Review_,
including Jeffrey, had, as every Edinburgh man of position knew,
belonged to the so-called Academy of Physics, the first principle of
which was that only three facts (the words are Lord Cockburn's) were to
be admitted without proof: (1) Mind exists; (2) matter exists; (3) every
change indicates a cause. Nowadays the most orthodox of metaphysicians
would admit that this limitation of position by no means implied
atheism. But seventy years ago it would have been the exception to find
an orthodox metaphysician who did admit it; and Lockhart, or rather
Baron von Lauerwinkel, was perfectly justified in taking the view which
ordinary opinion took.

These jars, however, were long over when Jeffrey became Lord Jeffrey,
and subsided upon the placid bench. He lived sixteen years longer,
alternating between Edinburgh, Craigcrook, and divers houses which he
hired from time to time, on Loch Lomond, on the Clyde, and latterly at
some English watering-places in the west. His health was not
particularly good, though hardly worse than any man who lives to nearly
eighty, with constant sedentary and few out-of-door occupations, and
with a cheerful devotion to the good things of this life, must expect.
And he was on the whole singularly happy, being passionately devoted to
his wife, his daughter, and his grandchildren; possessing ample means,
and making a cheerful and sensible use of them; seeing the increasing
triumph of the political principles to which he had attached himself;
knowing that he was regarded by friends and foes alike, as the chief
living English representative of an important branch of literature; and
retaining to the last an almost unparalleled juvenility of tastes and
interests. His letters to Dickens are well known, and, though I should
be very sorry to stake his critical reputation upon them, there could
not be better documents for his vivid enjoyment of life. He died on 26th
January 1850, in his seventy-seventh year, having been in harness almost
to the very last. He had written a letter the day before to Empson,
describing one of those curious waking visions known to all sick folk,
in which there had appeared part of a proof-sheet of a new edition of
the Apocrypha, and a new political paper filled with discussions on Free
Trade.

In reading Jeffrey's work[11] nowadays, the critical reader finds it
considerably more difficult to gain and keep the author's own point of
view than in the case of any other great English critic. With Hazlitt,
with Coleridge, with Wilson, with Carlyle, with Macaulay, we very soon
fall into step, so to speak, with our author. If we cannot exactly
prophesy what he will say on any given subject, we can make a pretty
shrewd guess at it; and when, as it seems to us, he stumbles and shies,
we have a sort of feeling beforehand that he is going to do it, and a
decided inkling of the reason. But my own experience is, that a modern
reader of Jeffrey, who takes him systematically, and endeavours to trace
cause and effect in him, is liable to be constantly thrown out before he
finds the secret. For Jeffrey, in the most puzzling way, lies between
the ancients and the moderns in matter of criticism, and we never quite
know where to have him. It is ten to one, for instance, that the novice
approaches him with the idea that he is a "classic" of the old rock.
Imagine the said novice's confusion, when he finds Jeffrey not merely
exalting Shakespeare to the skies, but warmly praising Elizabethan
poetry in general, anticipating Mr. Matthew Arnold almost literally, in
the estimate of Dryden and Pope as classics of our prose, and hailing
with tears of joy the herald of the emancipation in Cowper. Surely our
novice may be excused if, despite certain misgiving memories of such
reviews as that of "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," he concludes that
Jeffrey has been maligned, and that he was really a Romantic before
Romanticism. Unhappy novice! he will find his new conclusion not less
rapidly and more completely staggered than his old. Indeed, until the
clue is once gained, Jeffrey must appear to be one of the most
incomprehensibly inconsistent of writers and of critics. On one page he
declares that Campbell's extracts from Chamberlayne's "Pharonnida" have
made him "quite impatient for an opportunity of perusing the whole
poem,"--Romantic surely, quite Romantic. "The tameness and poorness of
the serious style of Addison and Swift,"--Romantic again, quite
Romantic. Yet when we come to Jeffrey's own contemporaries, he
constantly appears as much bewigged and befogged with pseudo-classicism
as M. de Jouy himself. He commits himself, in the year of grace 1829, to
the statement that "the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley, and the
fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth are melting fast from the field of
our vision," while he contrasts with this "rapid withering of the
laurel" the "comparative absence of marks of decay" on Rogers and
Campbell. The poets of his own time whom he praises most heartily, and
with least reserve, are Campbell and Crabbe; and he is quite as
enthusiastic over "Theodric" and "Gertrude" as over the two great
war-pieces of the same author, which are worth a hundred "Gertrudes" and
about ten thousand "Theodrics." Reviewing Scott, not merely when they
were personal friends (they were always that), but when Scott was a
contributor to the _Edinburgh_, and giving general praise to "The Lay,"
he glances with an unmistakable meaning at the "dignity of the subject,"
regrets the "imitation and antiquarian researches," and criticises the
versification in a way which shows that he had not in the least grasped
its scheme. It is hardly necessary to quote his well-known attacks on
Wordsworth; but, though I am myself anything but a Wordsworthian, and
would willingly give up to chaos and old night nineteen-twentieths of
the "extremely valooable chains of thought" which the good man used to
forge, it is in the first place quite clear that the twentieth ought to
have saved him from Jeffrey's claws; in the second, that the critic
constantly selects the wrong things as well as the right for
condemnation and ridicule; and in the third, that he would have praised,
or at any rate not blamed, in another, the very things which he blames
in Wordsworth. Even his praise of Crabbe, excessive as it may now
appear, is diversified by curious patches of blame which seem to me at
any rate, singularly uncritical. There are, for instance, a very great
many worse jests in poetry than,

    Oh, had he learnt to make the wig he wears!

--which Jeffrey pronounces a misplaced piece of buffoonery. I cannot
help thinking that if Campbell instead of Southey had written the lines,

    To see brute nature scorn him and renounce
    Its homage to the human form divine,

Jeffrey would, to say the least, not have hinted that they were "little
better than drivelling." But I do not think that when Jeffrey wrote
these things, or when he actually perpetrated such almost unforgivable
phrases as "stuff about dancing daffodils," he was speaking away from
his sincere conviction. On the contrary, though partisanship may
frequently have determined the suppression or the utterance, the
emphasising or the softening, of his opinions, I do not think that he
ever said anything but what he sincerely thought. The problem,
therefore, is to discover and define, if possible, the critical
standpoint of a man whose judgment was at once so acute and so purblind;
who could write the admirable surveys of English poetry contained in the
essays on Mme. de Staël and Campbell, and yet be guilty of the stuff (we
thank him for the word) about the dancing daffodils; who could talk of
"the splendid strains of Moore" (though I have myself a relatively high
opinion of Moore) and pronounce "The White Doe of Rylstone" (though I
am not very fond of that animal as a whole) "the very worst poem he ever
saw printed in a quarto volume"; who could really appreciate parts even
of Wordsworth himself, and yet sneer at the very finest passages of the
poems he partly admired. It is unnecessary to multiply inconsistencies,
because the reader who does not want the trouble of reading Jeffrey must
be content to take them for granted, and the reader who does read
Jeffrey will discover them in plenty for himself. But they are not
limited, it should be said, to purely literary criticism; and they
appear, if not quite so strongly, in his estimates of personal
character, and even in his purely political arguments.

The explanation, as far as there is any, (and perhaps such explanations,
as Hume says of another matter, only push ignorance a stage farther
back), seems to me to lie in what I can only call the Gallicanism of
Jeffrey's mind and character. As Horace Walpole has been pronounced the
most French of Englishmen, so may Francis Jeffrey be pronounced the most
French of Scotchmen. The reader of his letters, no less than the reader
of his essays, constantly comes across the most curious and multiform
instances of this Frenchness. The early priggishness is French; the
effusive domestic affection is French; the antipathy to dogmatic
theology, combined with general recognition of the Supreme Being, is
French; the talk (I had almost said the chatter) about virtue and
sympathy, and so forth, is French; the Whig recognition of the rights
of man, joined to a kind of bureaucratical distrust and terror of the
common people (a combination almost unknown in England), is French.
Everybody remembers the ingenious argument in _Peter Simple_ that the
French were quite as brave as the English, indeed more so, but that they
were extraordinarily ticklish. Jeffrey, we have seen, was very far from
being a coward, but he was very ticklish indeed. His private letters
throw the most curious light possible on the secret, as far as he was
concerned, of the earlier Whig opposition to the war, and of the later
Whig advocacy of reform. Jeffrey by no means thought the cause of the
Revolution divine, like the Friends of Liberty, or admired Napoleon like
Hazlitt, or believed in the inherent right of Manchester and Birmingham
to representation like the zealots of 1830. But he was always dreadfully
afraid of invasion in the first place, and of popular insurrection in
the second; and he wanted peace and reform to calm his fears. As a young
man he was, with a lack of confidence in his countrymen probably
unparalleled in a Scotchman, sure that a French corporal's guard might
march from end to end of Scotland, and a French privateer's boat's crew
carry off "the fattest cattle and the fairest women" (these are his very
words) "of any Scotch seaboard county." The famous, or infamous,
Cevallos article--an ungenerous and pusillanimous attack on the Spanish
patriots, which practically founded the _Quarterly Review_, by finally
disgusting all Tories and many Whigs with the _Edinburgh_--was, it
seems, prompted merely by the conviction that the Spanish cause was
hopeless, and that maintaining it, or assisting it, must lead to mere
useless bloodshed. He felt profoundly the crime of Napoleon's rule; but
he thought Napoleon unconquerable, and so did his best to prevent him
being conquered. He was sure that the multitude would revolt if reform
was not granted; and he was, therefore, eager for reform. Later, he got
into his head the oddest crotchet of all his life, which was that a
Conservative government, with a sort of approval from the people
generally, and especially from the English peasantry, would scheme for a
_coup d'état_, and (his own words again) "make mincemeat of their
opponents in a single year." He may be said almost to have left the
world in a state of despair over the probable results of the Revolutions
of 1848-49; and it is impossible to guess what would have happened to
him if he had survived to witness the Second of December. Never was
there such a case, at least among Englishmen, of timorous pugnacity and
plucky pessimism. But it would be by no means difficult to parallel the
temperament in France; and, indeed, the comparative frequency of it
there, may be thought to be no small cause of the political and military
disasters of the country.

In literature, and especially in criticism, Jeffrey's characteristics
were still more decidedly and unquestionably French. He came into the
world almost too soon to feel the German impulse, even if he had been
disposed to feel it. But, as a matter of fact, he was not at all
disposed. The faults of taste of the German Romantic School, its
alternate homeliness and extravagance, its abuse of the supernatural,
its undoubted offences against order and proportion, scandalised him
only a little less than they would have scandalised Voltaire and did
scandalise the later Voltairians. Jeffrey was perfectly prepared to be
Romantic up to a certain point,--the point which he had himself reached
in his early course of independent reading and criticism. He was even a
little inclined to sympathise with the reverend Mr. Bowles on the great
question whether Pope was a poet; and, as I have said, he uses, about
the older English literature, phrases which might almost satisfy a
fanatic of the school of Hazlitt or of Lamb. He is, if anything, rather
too severe on French as compared with English drama. Yet, when he comes
to his own contemporaries, and sometimes even in reference to earlier
writers, we find him slipping into those purely arbitrary severities of
condemnation, those capricious stigmatisings of this as improper, and
that as vulgar, and the other as unbecoming, which are the
characteristics of the pseudo-correct and pseudo-classical school of
criticism. He was a great admirer of Cowper, and yet he is shocked by
Cowper's use, in his translation of Homer, of the phrases, "to entreat
Achilles to a calm" (evidently he had forgotten Shakespeare's "pursue
him and entreat him to a peace"), "this wrangler here," "like a fellow
of no worth." He was certainly not likely to be unjust to Charles James
Fox. So he is unhappy, rather than contemptuous, over such excellent
phrases as "swearing away the lives," "crying injustice," "fond of
ill-treating." These appear to Mr. Aristarchus Jeffrey too "homely and
familiar," too "low and vapid"; while a harmless and rather agreeable
Shakespearian parallel of Fox's seems to him downright impropriety. The
fun of the thing is that the passage turns on the well-known misuse of
"flat burglary"; and if Jeffrey had had a little more sense of humour
(his deficiency in which, for all his keen wit, is another Gallic note
in him), he must have seen that the words were ludicrously applicable to
his own condemnation and his own frame of mind. These settings-up of a
wholly arbitrary canon of mere taste, these excommunicatings of such and
such a thing as "low" and "improper," without assigned or assignable
reason, are eminently Gallic. They may be found not merely in the older
school before 1830, but in almost all French critics up to the present
day: there is perhaps not one, with the single exception of
Sainte-Beuve, who is habitually free from them. The critic may be quite
unable to say why _tarte à la crême_ is such a shocking expression, or
even to produce any important authority for the shockingness of it. But
he is quite certain that it is shocking. Jeffrey is but too much given
to protesting against _tarte à la crême_; and the reasons for his error
are almost exactly the same as in the case of the usual Frenchman; that
is to say, a very just and wholesome preference for order, proportion,
literary orthodoxy, freedom from will-worship and eccentric divagations,
unfortunately distorted by a certain absence of catholicity, by a
tendency to regard novelty as bad, merely because it is novelty, and by
a curious reluctance, as Lamb has it of another great man of the same
generation, to go shares with any newcomer in literary commerce.

But when these reservations have been made, when his standpoint has been
clearly discovered and marked out, and when some little tricks, such as
the affectation of delivering judgments without appeal, which is still
kept up by a few, though very few, reviewers, have been further allowed
for, Jeffrey is a most admirable essayist and critic. As an essayist, a
writer of _causeries_, I do not think he has been surpassed among
Englishmen in the art of interweaving quotation, abstract, and comment.
The best proof of his felicity in this respect is that in almost all the
books which he has reviewed, (and he has reviewed many of the most
interesting books in literature) the passages and traits, the anecdotes
and phrases, which have made most mark in the general memory, and which
are often remembered with very indistinct consciousness of their origin,
are to be found in his reviews. Sometimes the very perfection of his
skill in this respect makes it rather difficult to know where he is
abstracting or paraphrasing, and where he is speaking outright and for
himself; but that is a very small fault. Yet his merits as an essayist,
though considerable, are not to be compared, even to the extent to which
Hazlitt's are to be compared, with his merits as a critic, and
especially as a literary critic. It would be interesting to criticise
his political criticism; but it is always best to keep politics out
where it can be managed. Besides, Jeffrey as a political critic is a
subject of almost exclusively historical interest, while as a literary
critic he is important at this very day, and perhaps more important than
he was in his own. For the spirit of merely æsthetic criticism, which
was in his day only in its infancy, has long been full grown and
rampant; so that, good work as it has done in its time, it decidedly
needs chastening by an admixture of the dogmatic criticism, which at
least tries to keep its impressions together and in order, and to
connect them into some coherent doctrine and creed.

Of this dogmatic criticism Jeffrey, with all his shortcomings, is
perhaps the very best example that we have in English. He had addressed
himself more directly and theoretically to literary criticism than
Lockhart. Prejudiced as he often was, he was not affected by the wild
gusts of personal and political passion which frequently blew Hazlitt a
thousand miles off the course of true criticism. He keeps his eye on the
object, which De Quincey seldom does. He is not affected by that desire
to preach on certain pet subjects which affects the admirable critical
faculty of Carlyle. He never blusters and splashes at random like
Wilson. And he never indulges in the mannered and rather superfluous
graces which marred, to some tastes, the work of his successor in
critical authority, if there has been any such, the author of _Essays in
Criticism_.

Let us, as we just now looked through Jeffrey's work to pick out the
less favourable characteristics which distinguish his position, look
through it again to see those qualities which he shares, but in greater
measure than most, with all good critics. The literary essay which
stands first in his collected works is on Madame de Staël. Now that good
lady, of whom some judges in these days do not think very much, was a
kind of goddess on earth in literature, however much she might bore them
in life, to the English Whig party in general; while Jeffrey's French
tastes must have made her, or at least her books, specially attractive
to him. Accordingly he has written a great deal about her, no less than
three essays appearing in the collected works. Writing at least partly
in her lifetime and under the influences just glanced at, he is of
course profuse in compliments. But it is very amusing and highly
instructive to observe how, in the intervals of these compliments, he
contrives to take the good Corinne to pieces, to smash up her ingenious
Perfectibilism, and to put in order her rather rash literary judgments.
It is in connection also with her, that he gives one of the best of not
a few general sketches of the history of literature which his work
contains. Of course there are here, as always, isolated expressions as
to which, however much we admit that Jeffrey was a clever man, we cannot
agree with Jeffrey. He thinks Aristophanes "coarse" and "vulgar" just as
a living pundit thinks him "base," while (though nobody of course can
deny the coarseness) Aristophanes and vulgarity are certainly many miles
asunder. We may protest against the chronological, even more than
against the critical, blunder which couples Cowley and Donne, putting
Donne, moreover, who wrote long before Cowley was born, and differs from
him in genius almost as the author of the _Iliad_ does from the author
of the _Henriade_, second. But hardly anything in English criticism is
better than Jeffrey's discussion of the general French imputation of
"want of taste and politeness" to English and German writers, especially
English. It is a very general, and a very mistaken notion that the
Romantic movement in France has done away with this imputation to a
great extent. On the contrary, though it has long been a kind of
fashion in France to admire Shakespeare, and though since the labours of
MM. Taine and Montégut, the study of English literature generally has
grown and flourished, it is, I believe, the very rarest thing to find a
Frenchman who, in his heart of hearts, does not cling to the old "pearls
in the dung-heap" idea, not merely in reference to Shakespeare, but to
English writers, and especially English humorists, generally. Nothing
can be more admirable than Jeffrey's comments on this matter. They are
especially admirable because they are not made from the point of view of
a _Romantique à tous crins_; because, as has been already pointed out,
he himself is largely penetrated by the very preference for order and
proportion which is at the bottom of the French mistake; and because he
is, therefore, arguing in a tongue understanded of those whom he
censures. Another essay which may be read with especial advantage is
that on Scott's edition of Swift. Here, again, there was a kind of test
subject, and perhaps Jeffrey does not come quite scatheless out of the
trial: to me, at any rate, his account of Swift's political and moral
conduct and character seems both uncritical and unfair. But here, too,
the value of his literary criticism shows itself. He might very easily
have been tempted to extend his injustice from the writer to the
writings, especially since, as has been elsewhere shown, he was by no
means a fanatical admirer of the Augustan age, and thought the serious
style of Addison and Swift tame and poor. It is possible of course, here
also, to find things that seem to be errors, both in the general sketch
which Jeffrey, according to his custom, prefixes, and in the particular
remarks on Swift himself. For instance, to deny fancy to the author of
the _Tale of a Tub_, of _Gulliver_, and of the _Polite Conversation_, is
very odd indeed. But there are few instances of a greater triumph of
sound literary judgment over political and personal prejudice than
Jeffrey's description, not merely of the great works just mentioned (it
is curious, and illustrates his defective appreciation of humour, that
he likes the greatest least, and is positively unjust to the _Tale of a
Tub_), but also of those wonderful pamphlets, articles, lampoons, skits
(libels if any one likes), which proved too strong for the generalship
of Marlborough and the administrative talents of Godolphin; and which
are perhaps the only literary works that ever really changed, for a not
inconsiderable period, the government of England. "Considered," he says,
"with a view to the purposes for which they were intended, they have
probably never been equalled in any period of the world." They certainly
have not; but to find a Whig, and a Whig writing in the very moment of
Tory triumph after Waterloo, ready to admit the fact, is not a trivial
thing. Another excellent example of Jeffrey's strength, by no means
unmixed with examples of his weakness, is to be found in his essays on
Cowper. I have already given some of the weakness: the strength is to be
found in his general description of Cowper's revolt, thought so daring
at the time, now so apparently moderate, against poetic diction. These
instances are to be found under miscellaneous sections, biographical,
historical, and so forth; but the reader will naturally turn to the
considerable divisions headed Poetry and Fiction. Here are the chief
rocks of offence already indicated, and here also are many excellent
things which deserve reading. Here is the remarkable essay, quoted
above, on Campbell's _Specimens_. Here is the criticism of Weber's
edition of Ford, and another of those critical surveys of the course of
English literature which Jeffrey was so fond of doing, and which he did
so well, together with some remarks on the magnificently spendthrift
style of our Elizabethan dramatists which would deserve almost the first
place in an anthology of his critical beauties. The paper on Hazlitt's
_Characters of Shakespeare_ (Hazlitt was an _Edinburgh_ reviewer, and
his biographer, not Jeffrey's, has chronicled a remarkable piece of
generosity on Jeffrey's part towards his wayward contributor) is a
little defaced by a patronising spirit, not, indeed, of that memorably
mistaken kind which induced the famous and unlucky sentence to Macvey
Napier about Carlyle, but something in the spirit of the schoolmaster
who observes, "See this clever boy of mine, and only think how much
better I could do it myself." Yet it contains some admirable passages on
Shakespeare, if not on Hazlitt; and it would be impossible to deny that
its hinted condemnation of Hazlitt's "desultory and capricious
acuteness" is just enough. On the other hand, how significant is it of
Jeffrey's own limitations that he should protest against Hazlitt's
sympathy with such "conceits and puerilities" as the immortal and
unmatchable

    Take him and cut him out in little stars,

with the rest of the passage. But there you have the French spirit. I do
not believe that there ever was a Frenchman since the seventeenth
century (unless perchance it was Gérard de Nerval, and he was not quite
sane), who could put his hand on his heart and deny that the little
stars seemed to him puerile and conceited.

Jeffrey's dealings with Byron (I do not now speak of the article on
_Hours of Idleness_, which was simply a just rebuke of really puerile
and conceited rubbish) are not, to me, very satisfactory. The critic
seems, in the rather numerous articles which he has devoted to the
"noble Poet," as they used to call him, to have felt his genius unduly
rebuked by that of his subject. He spends a great deal, and surely an
unnecessarily great deal, of time in solemnly, and no doubt quite
sincerely, rebuking Byron's morality; and in doing so he is sometimes
almost absurd. He calls him "not more obscene perhaps than Dryden or
Prior," which is simply ludicrous, because it is very rare that this
particular word can be applied to Byron at all, while even his
staunchest champion must admit that it applies to glorious John and to
dear Mat Prior. He helps, unconsciously no doubt, to spread the very
contagion which he denounces, by talking about Byron's demoniacal power,
going so far as actually to contrast _Manfred_ with Marlowe to the
advantage of the former. And he is so completely overcome by what he
calls the "dreadful tone of sincerity" of this "puissant spirit," that
he never seems to have had leisure or courage to apply the critical
tests and solvents of which few men have had a greater command. Had he
done so, it is impossible not to believe that, whether he did or did not
pronounce Byron's sentiment to be as theatrical, as vulgar, and as false
as it seems to some later critics, he would at any rate have substituted
for his edifying but rather irrelevant moral denunciations some exposure
of those gross faults in style and metre, in phrase and form, which now
disgust us.

There are many essays remaining on which I should like to comment if
there were room enough. But I have only space for a few more general
remarks on his general characteristics, and especially those which, as
Sainte-Beuve said to the altered Jeffrey of our altered days, are
"important to us." Let me repeat then that the peculiar value of Jeffrey
is not, as is that of Coleridge, of Hazlitt, or of Lamb, in very subtle,
very profound, or very original views of his subjects. He is neither a
critical Columbus nor a critical Socrates; he neither opens up
undiscovered countries, nor provokes and stimulates to the discovery of
them. His strength lies in the combination of a fairly wide range of
sympathy with an extraordinary shrewdness and good sense in applying
that sympathy. Tested for range alone, or for subtlety alone, he will
frequently be found wanting; but he almost invariably catches up those
who have thus outstripped him, when the subject of the trial is shifted
to soundness of estimate, intelligent connection of view, and absence of
eccentricity. And it must be again and again repeated that Jeffrey is by
no means justly chargeable with the Dryasdust failings so often
attributed to academic criticism. They said that on the actual Bench he
worried counsel a little too much, but that his decisions were almost
invariably sound. Not quite so much perhaps can be said for his other
exercise of the judicial function. But however much he may sometimes
seem to carp and complain, however much we may sometimes wish for a
little more equity and a little less law, it is astonishing how weighty
Jeffrey's critical judgments are after three quarters of a century which
has seen so many seeming heavy things grow light. There may be much
that he does not see; there may be some things which he is physically
unable to see; but what he does see, he sees with a clearness, and
co-ordinates in its bearings on other things seen with a precision,
which are hardly to be matched among the fluctuating and diverse race of
critics.

FOOTNOTES:

[10] To prevent mistakes it may be as well to say that Jeffrey's
_Contributions to the Edinburgh Review_ appeared first in four volumes,
then in three, then in one.

[11] In the following remarks, reference is confined to the
_Contributions to the Edinburgh Review_, 1 vol. London, 1853. This is
not merely a matter of convenience; the selection having been made with
very great care by Jeffrey himself at a time when his faculties were in
perfect order, and including full specimens of every kind of his work.



V

HAZLITT


The following paper was in great part composed, when I came across some
sentences on Hazlitt, written indeed before I was born, but practically
unpublished until the other day. In a review of the late Mr. Horne's
_New Spirit of the Age_, contributed to the _Morning Chronicle_ in 1845
and but recently included in his collected works, Thackeray writes thus
of the author of the book whose title Horne had rather rashly borrowed:

    The author of the _Spirit of the Age_ was one of the keenest and
    brightest critics that ever lived. With partialities and
    prejudices innumerable, he had a wit so keen, a sensibility so
    exquisite, an appreciation of humour, or pathos, or even of the
    greatest art, so lively, quick, and cultivated, that it was
    always good to know what were the impressions made by books or
    men or pictures on such a mind; and that, as there were not
    probably a dozen men in England with powers so varied, all the
    rest of the world might be rejoiced to listen to the opinions of
    this accomplished critic. He was of so different a caste to the
    people who gave authority in his day--the pompous big-wigs and
    schoolmen, who never could pardon him his familiarity of manner
    so unlike their own--his popular--too popular habits--and
    sympathies so much beneath their dignity; his loose, disorderly
    education gathered round those bookstalls or picture galleries
    where he laboured a penniless student, in lonely journeys over
    Europe tramped on foot (and not made, after the fashion of the
    regular critics of the day, by the side of a young nobleman in a
    postchaise), in every school of knowledge from St. Peter's at
    Rome to St. Giles's in London. In all his modes of life and
    thought, he was so different from the established authorities,
    with their degrees and white neck-cloths, that they hooted the
    man down with all the power of their lungs, and disdained to
    hear truth that came from such a ragged philosopher.

Some exceptions, no doubt, must be taken to this enthusiastic, and in
the main just, verdict. Hazlitt himself denied himself wit, yet if this
was mock humility, I am inclined to think that he spoke truth
unwittingly. His appreciation of humour was fitful and anything but
impartial, while, biographically speaking, the hardships of his
apprenticeship are very considerably exaggerated. It was not, for
instance, in a penniless or pedestrian manner that he visited St.
Peter's at Rome; but journeying with comforts of wine, _vetturini_, and
partridges, which his second wife's income paid for. But this does not
matter much, and, on the whole, the estimate is as just as it is
generous. Perhaps something of its inspiration may be set down to
fellow-feeling, both in politics and in the unsuccessful cultivation of
the arts of design. But as high an estimate of Hazlitt is quite
compatible with the strongest political dissent from his opinions, and
with a total freedom from the charge of wearing the willow for painting.

There is indeed no doubt that Hazlitt is one of the most absolutely
unequal writers in English, if not in any, literature, Wilson being
perhaps his only compeer. The term absolute is used with intention and
precision. There may be others who, in different parts of their work,
are more unequal than he is; but with him the inequality is pervading,
and shows itself in his finest passages, in those where he is most at
home, as much as in his hastiest and most uncongenial taskwork. It could
not, indeed, be otherwise, because the inequality itself is due less to
an intellectual than to a moral defect. The clear sunshine of Hazlitt's
admirably acute intellect is always there; but it is constantly obscured
by driving clouds of furious prejudice. Even as the clouds pass, the
light may still be seen on distant and scattered parts of the landscape;
but wherever their influence extends, there is nothing but thick
darkness, gusty wind and drenching rain. And the two phenomena, the
abiding intellectual light, and the fits and squalls of moral darkness,
appear to be totally independent of each other, or of any single will or
cause of any kind. It would be perfectly easy, and may perhaps be in
place later, to give a brief collection of some of the most absurd and
outrageous sayings that any writer, not a mere fool, can be charged
with: of sentences not representing quips and cranks of humour, or
judgments temporary and one-sided, though having a certain relative
validity, but containing blunders and calumnies so gross and palpable,
that the man who set them down might seem to have forfeited all claim to
the reputation either of an intelligent or a responsible being. And yet,
side by side with these, are other passages (and fortunately a much
greater number) which justify, and more than justify, Hazlitt's claims
to be as Thackeray says, "one of the keenest and brightest critics that
ever lived"; as Lamb had said earlier, "one of the wisest and finest
spirits breathing."

The only exception to be taken to the well-known panegyric of Elia is,
that it bestows this eulogy on Hazlitt "in his natural and healthy
state." Unluckily, it would seem, by a concurrence of all testimony,
even the most partial, that the unhealthy state was quite as natural as
the healthy one. Lamb himself plaintively wishes that "he would not
quarrel with the world at the rate he does"; and De Quincey, in his
short, but very interesting, biographical notice of Hazlitt (a notice
entirely free from the malignity with which De Quincey has been
sometimes charged), declares with quite as much truth as point, that
Hazlitt's guiding principle was, "Whatever is, is wrong." He was the
very ideal of a literary Ishmael; and after the fullest admission of the
almost incredible virulence and unfairness of his foes, it has to be
admitted, likewise, that he was quite as ready to quarrel with his
friends. He succeeded, at least once, in forcing a quarrel even upon
Lamb. His relations with Leigh Hunt (who, whatever his faults were, was
not unamiable) were constantly strained, and at least once actually
broken by his infernal temper. Nor were his relations with women more
fortunate or more creditable than those with men. That the fault was
entirely on his side in the rupture with his first wife is, no doubt,
not the case; for Mrs. Hazlitt's, or Miss Stoddart's, own friends admit
that she was of a peculiar and rather trying disposition. It is indeed
evident that she was the sort of person (most teasing of all others to a
man of Hazlitt's temperament) who would put her head back as he was
kissing her, to ask if he would like another cup of tea, or interrupt a
declaration to suggest shutting the window. As for the famous and almost
legendary episode of Sarah Walker, the lodging-house keeper's daughter,
and the _Liber Amoris_, the obvious and irresistible attack of something
like erotic madness which it implies absolves Hazlitt partly--but only
partly, for there is a kind of shabbiness about the affair which shuts
it out from all reasonable claim to be regarded as a new act of the
endless drama of _All for Love, or The World Well Lost!_ Of his second
marriage, the only persons who might be expected to give us some
information either can or will say next to nothing. But when a man with
such antecedents marries a woman of whom no one has anything bad to
say, lives with her for a year, chiefly on her money, and is then
quitted by her with the information that she will have nothing more to
do with him, it is not, I think, uncharitable to conjecture that most of
the fault is his.

It is not, however, only of Hazlitt's rather imperfectly known life, or
of his pretty generally acknowledged character, that I wish to speak
here. His strange mixture of manly common-sense and childish prejudice,
the dislike of foreigners which accompanied his Liberalism and his
Bonapartism, and other traits, are very much more English than Irish.
But Irish, at least on the father's side, his family was, and had been
for generations. He was himself the son of a Unitarian minister, was
born at Maidstone in 1778, accompanied his parents as a very little boy
to America, but passed the greater part of his youth at Wem in
Shropshire, where the interview with Coleridge, which decided his fate,
took place. Yet for some time after that, he was mainly occupied with
studies, not of literature, but of art. He had been intended for his
father's profession, but had early taken a disgust to it. At such
schools as he had been able to frequent, he had gained the character of
a boy rather insusceptible of ordinary teaching; and his letters (they
are rare throughout his life) show him to us as something very like a
juvenile prig. According to his own account, he "thought for at least
eight years" without being able to pen a line, or at least a page; and
the worst accusation that can truly be brought against him is that, by
his own confession, he left off reading when he began to write. Those
who (for their sins or for their good) are condemned to a life of
writing for the press know that such an abstinence as this is almost
fatal. Perhaps no man ever did good work in periodical writing, unless
he had previously had a more or less prolonged period of reading, with
no view to writing. Certainly no one ever did other than very faulty
work if, not having such a store to draw on, when he began writing he
left off reading.

The first really important event in Hazlitt's life, except the visit
from Coleridge in 1798, was his own visit to Paris after the Peace of
Amiens in 1802--a visit authorised and defrayed by certain commissions
to copy pictures at the Louvre, which was then, in consequence of French
conquests, the picture-gallery of Europe. The chief of these
commissioners was a Mr. Railton, a person of some fortune at Liverpool,
and the father of a daughter who, if she was anything like her portrait,
had one of the most beautiful faces of modern times. Miss Railton was
one of Hazlitt's many loves: it was, perhaps, fortunate for her that the
course of the love did not run smooth. Almost immediately on his return,
he made acquaintance with the Lambs, and, as Mr. W. C. Hazlitt, his
grandson and biographer, thinks, with Miss Stoddart, his future wife.
Miss Stoddart, there is no doubt, was an elderly coquette, though
perfectly "proper." Besides the "William" of her early correspondence
with Mary Lamb, we hear of three or four other lovers of hers between
1803 and 1808, when she married Hazlitt. It so happens that one, and
only one, letter of his to her has been preserved. His biographer seems
to think it in another sense unique; but it is, in effect, a very
typical letter from a literary lover of a rather passionate temperament.
The two were married, in defiance of superstition, on Sunday, the first
of May; and certainly the superstition had not the worst of it.

At first, however, no evil results seemed likely. Miss Stoddart had a
certain property settled on her at Winterslow, on the south-eastern
border of Salisbury Plain, and for nearly four years the couple seem to
have dwelt there (once, at least, entertaining the Lambs), and producing
children, of whom only one lived. It was not till 1812 that they removed
to London, and that Hazlitt engaged in writing for the newspapers. From
this time till the end of his life, some eighteen years, he was never at
a loss for employment--a succession of daily and weekly papers, with
occasional employment on the _Edinburgh Review_, providing him, it would
seem, with sufficiently abundant opportunities for copy. The _London_,
the _New Monthly_ (where Campbell's dislike did him no harm), and other
magazines also employed him. For a time, he seems to have joined "the
gallery," and written ordinary press-work. During this time, which was
very short, and this time only, his friends admit a certain indulgence
in drinking, which he gave up completely, but which was used against him
with as much pitilessness as indecency in _Blackwood_; though heaven
only knows how the most Tory soul alive could see fitness of things in
the accusation of gin-drinking brought against Hazlitt by the
whiskey-drinkers of the _Noctes_. For the greater part of his literary
life he seems to have been almost a total abstainer, indulging only in
the very strongest of tea. He soon gave up miscellaneous press-work, as
far as politics went; but his passion for the theatre retained him as a
theatrical critic almost to the end of his life. He gradually drifted
into the business really best suited to him, that of essay-writing, and
occasionally lecturing on literary and miscellaneous subjects. During
the greatest part of his early London life, he was resident in a famous
house, now destroyed, in York Street, Westminster, next door to Bentham
and reputed to have once been tenanted by Milton; and he was a constant
attendant on Lamb's Wednesday evenings. The details of his life, it has
been said, are not much known. The chief of them, besides the breaking
out of his lifelong war with _Blackwood_ and the _Quarterly_, was,
perhaps, his unlucky participation in the duel which proved fatal to
Scott, the editor of the _London_. It is impossible to imagine a more
deplorable muddle than this affair. Scott, after refusing the challenge
of Lockhart,[12] with whom he had, according to the customs of those
days, a sufficient ground of quarrel, accepted that of Christie,
Lockhart's second, with whom he had no quarrel at all. Moreover, when
his adversary had deliberately spared him in the first fire, he insisted
(it is said owing to the stupid conduct of his own second) on another,
and was mortally wounded. Hazlitt, who was more than indirectly
concerned in the affair, had a professed objection to duelling, which
would have been more creditable to him if he had not been avowedly of a
timid temper. But, most unfortunately, he was said, and believed, to
have spurred Scott on to the acceptance of the challenge, nor do his own
champions deny it. The scandal is long bygone, but is, unluckily, a fair
sample of the ugly stories which cluster round Hazlitt's name, and which
have hitherto prevented that justice being done to him which his
abilities deserve and demand.

This wretched affair occurred in February 1821, and, shortly afterwards,
the crowning complications of Hazlitt's own life, the business of the
_Liber Amoris_ and the divorce with his first wife, took place. The
first could only be properly described by an abundance of extracts, for
which there is here no room. Of the second, which, it must be
remembered, went on simultaneously with the first, it is sufficient to
say that the circumstances are nearly incredible. It was conducted under
the Scotch law with a blessed indifference to collusion: the direct
means taken to effect it were, if report may be trusted, scandalous; and
the parties met during the whole time, and placidly wrangled over money
matters, with a callousness which is ineffably disgusting. I have
hinted, in reference to Sarah Walker, that the tyranny of "Love
unconquered in battle" may be taken by a very charitable person to be a
sufficient excuse. In this other affair there is no such palliation;
unless the very charitable person should hold that a wife, who could so
forget her own dignity, justified any forgetfulness on the part of her
husband; and that a husband, who could haggle and chaffer about the
terms on which he should be disgracefully separated from his wife,
justified any forgetfulness of dignity on the wife's part.

Little has to be said about the rest of Hazlitt's life. Miss Sarah
Walker would have nothing to say to him; and it has been already
mentioned that the lady whom he afterwards married, a Mrs. Bridgewater,
had enough of him after a year's experience. He did not outlive this
last shock more than five years; and unfortunately his death was
preceded by a complete financial break-down, though he was more
industrious during these later years than at any other time, and though
he had abundance of well-paid work. The failure of the publishers, who
were to have paid him five hundred pounds for his _magnum opus_, the
partisan and almost valueless _Life of Napoleon_, had something to do
with this, and the dishonesty of an agent is said to have had more, but
details are not forthcoming. He died on the eighteenth of September
1830, saying, "Well, I have had a happy life"; and despite his son's
assertion that, like Goldsmith, he had something on his mind, I believe
this to have been not ironical but quite sincere. He was only fifty-two,
so that the infirmities of age had not begun to press on him. Although,
except during the brief duration of his second marriage, he had always
lived by his wits, it does not appear that he was ever in any want, or
that he had at any time to deny himself his favourite pleasures of
wandering about and being idle when he chose. If he had not been
completely happy in his life, he had lived it; if he had not seen the
triumph of his opinions, he had been able always to hold to them. He was
one of those men, such as an extreme devotion to literature now and then
breeds, who, by the intensity of their enjoyment of quite commonplace
delights--a face passed in the street, a sunset, a quiet hour of
reflection, even a well-cooked meal--make up for the suffering of not
wholly commonplace woes. I do not know whether even the joy of literary
battle did not overweigh the pain of the dishonest wounds which he
received from illiberal adversaries. I think that he had a happy life,
and I am glad that he had. For he was in literature a great man. I am
myself disposed to hold that, for all his accesses of hopelessly
uncritical prejudice, he was the greatest critic that England has yet
produced; and there are some who hold (though I do not agree with them)
that he was even greater as a miscellaneous essayist than as a critic.
It is certainly upon his essays, critical and other, that his fame must
rest; not on the frenzied outpourings of the _Liber Amoris_ (full as
these are of flashes of genius), or upon the one-sided and ill-planned
_Life of Napoleon_; still less on his clever-boy essay on the
_Principles of Human Action_, or on his attempts in grammar, in literary
compilation and abridgment, and the like. Seven volumes of Bonn's
Standard Library, with another published elsewhere containing his
writings on Art, contain nearly all the documents of Hazlitt's fame: a
few do not seem to have been yet collected from his _Remains_ and from
the publications in which they originally appeared.

These books--the _Spirit of the Age_, _Table Talk_, _The Plain Speaker_,
_The Round Table_ (including the _Conversations with Northcote_ and
_Characteristics_), _Lectures on the English Poets and Comic Writers_,
_Elizabethan Literature_ and _Characters of Shakespeare_, _Sketches and
Essays_ (including _Winterslow_)--represent the work, roughly speaking,
of the last twenty years of Hazlitt's life; for in the earlier and
longer period he wrote very little, and, indeed, declares that for a
long time he had a difficulty in writing at all. They are all singularly
homogeneous in general character, the lectures written as lectures
differing very little from the essays written as essays, and even the
frantic diatribes of the "Letter to Gifford" bearing a strong family
likeness to the good-humoured _reportage_ of "On going to a Fight," or
the singularly picturesque and pathetic egotism of the "Farewell to
Essay-writing." This family resemblance is the more curious because,
independently of the diversity of subject, Hazlitt can hardly be said to
possess a style or, at least, a manner--indeed, he somewhere or other
distinctly disclaims the possession. Yet, irregular as he is in his
fashion of writing, no less than in the merit of it, the germs of some
of the most famous styles of this century may be discovered in his
casual and haphazard work. Everybody knows Jeffrey's question to
Macaulay, "Where the devil did you get that style?" If any one will read
Hazlitt (who, be it remembered, was a contributor to the _Edinburgh_)
carefully, he will see where Macaulay got that style, or at least the
beginning of it, much as he improved on it afterwards. Nor is there any
doubt that, in a very different way, Hazlitt served as a model to
Thackeray, to Dickens, and to many not merely of the most popular, but
of the greatest, writers of the middle of the century. Indeed, in the
_Spirit of the Age_ there are distinct anticipations of Carlyle. He had
the not uncommon fate of producing work which, little noted by the
public, struck very strongly those of his juniors who had any literary
faculty. If he had been, just by a little, a greater man than he was, he
would, no doubt, have elaborated an individual manner, and not have
contented himself with the hints and germs of manners. As it was, he had
more of seed than of fruit. And the secret of this is, undoubtedly, to
be found in the obstinate individuality of thought which characterised
him all through. Hazlitt may sometimes have adopted an opinion partly
because other people did not hold it, but he never adopted an opinion
because other people did hold it. And all his opinions, even those which
seem to have been adopted simply to quarrel with the world, were genuine
opinions. He has himself drawn a striking contrast in this point,
between himself and Lamb, in one of the very best of all his essays, the
beautiful "Farewell to Essay-writing" reprinted in _Winterslow_. The
contrast is a remarkable one, and most men, probably, who take great
interest in literature or politics, or indeed in any subject admitting
of principles, will be able to furnish similar contrasts from their own
experience.

    In matters of taste and feeling, one proof that my conclusions
    have not been quite shallow and hasty, is the circumstance of
    their having been lasting. I have the same favourite books,
    pictures, passages that I ever had; I may therefore presume
    that they will last me my life--nay, I may indulge a hope that
    my thoughts will survive me. This continuity of impression is
    the only thing on which I pride myself. Even Lamb, whose relish
    of certain things is as keen and earnest as possible, takes a
    surfeit of admiration, and I should be afraid to ask about his
    select authors or particular friends after a lapse of ten years.
    As for myself, any one knows where to have me. What I have once
    made up my mind to, I abide by to the end of the chapter.

This is quite true if we add a proviso to it--a proviso, to be sure, of
no small importance. Hazlitt is always the same when he is not
different, when his political or personal ails and angers do not obscure
his critical judgment. His uniformity of principle extends only to the
two subjects of literature and of art; unless a third may be added, to
wit, the various good things of this life, as they are commonly called.
He was not so great a metaphysician as he thought himself. He "shows to
the utmost of his knowledge, and that not deep"; a want of depth not
surprising when we find him confessing that he had to go to Taylor, the
Platonist, to tell him something of Platonic ideas. It may be more than
suspected that he had read little but the French and English
philosophers of the eighteenth century; a very interesting class of
persons, but, except Condillac, Hume, and Berkeley, scarcely
metaphysicians. As for his politics, Hazlitt seems to me to have had no
clear political creed at all. He hated something called "the hag
legitimacy," but for the hag despotism, in the person of Bonaparte, he
had nothing but love. How any one possessed of brains could combine
Liberty and the first Napoleon in one common worship is, I confess, a
mystery too great for me; and I fear that any one who could call
"Jupiter Scapin" "the greatest man who ever lived," must be entirely
blind to such constituents of greatness as justice, mercy, chivalry, and
all that makes a gentleman. Indeed, I am afraid that "gentleman" is
exactly what cannot be predicated of Hazlitt. No gentleman could have
published the _Liber Amoris_, not at all because of its so-called
voluptuousness, but because of its shameless kissing and telling. But
the most curious example of Hazlitt's weaknesses is the language he uses
in regard to those men with whom he had both political and literary
differences. That he had provocation in some cases (he had absolutely
none from Sir Walter Scott) is perfectly true. But what provocation will
excuse such things as the following, all taken from one book, the
_Spirit of the Age_? He speaks of Scott's "zeal to restore the spirit of
loyalty, of passive obedience, and of non-resistance," as an
acknowledgment for his having been "created a baronet by a prince of the
House of Brunswick." Alas for dates and circumstances, for times and
seasons, when they stand in the way of a fling of Hazlitt's! In the
character of Scott himself an entire page and a half is devoted to an
elaborate peroration in one huge sentence, denouncing him in such terms
as "pettifogging," "littleness," "pique," "secret and envenomed blows,"
"slime of rankling malice and mercenary scorn," "trammels of servility,"
"lies," "garbage," etc. etc. The Duke of Wellington he always speaks of
as a brainless noodle, forgetting apparently that the description does
not make his idol's defeat more creditable to the vanquished. As for the
character of Gifford, and the earlier "Letter to Gifford," I should have
to print them entire to show the state of Hazlitt's mind in regard to
this notorious, and certainly not very amiable person. His own words,
"the dotage of age and the fury of a woman," form the best short
description of both. He screams, he foams at the mouth, he gnashes and
tears and kicks, rather than fights. Nor is it only on living authors
and living persons (as some of his unfavourable critics have said) that
he exercises his spleen. His remarks on Burke (_Round Table_, p. 150)
suggest temporary insanity. Sir Philip Sidney (as Lamb, a perfectly
impartial person who had no politics at all, pointed out) was a kind of
representative of the courtly monarchist school in literature. So down
must Sir Philip go; and not only the _Arcadia_, that "vain and
amatorious poem" which Milton condemned, but the sonnets which one would
have thought such a lover of poetry as Hazlitt must have spared, go down
also before his remorseless bludgeon.

But there is no need to say any more of these faults of his, and there
is no need to say much of another and more purely literary fault with
which he has been charged--the fault of excessive quotation. In him the
error lies rather in the constant repetition of the same, than in a too
great multitude of different borrowings. Almost priding himself on
limited study, and (as he tells us) very rarely reading his own work
after it was printed, he has certainly abused his right of press most
damnably in some cases. "Dry as a remainder biscuit," and "of no mark or
likelihood," occur to me as the most constantly recurrent tags; but
there are many others.

These various drawbacks, however, only set off the merits which almost
every lover of literature must perceive in him. In most writers, in all
save the very greatest, we look for one or two, or for a few special
faculties and capacities, and we know perfectly well that other
(generally many other) capacities and faculties will not be found in
them at all. We do not dream of finding rollicking mirth in Milton, or
gorgeous embroidery of style in Swift, or unadorned simplicity in
Browne. But in Hazlitt you may find something of almost everything,
except the finer kinds of wit and humour; to which last, however, he
makes a certain side-approach by dint of his appreciation of the irony
of Nature and Fate. Almost every other grace of matter and form that can
be found in prose may be found at times in his. He is generally thought
of as, and for the most part is, a rather plain and straightforward
writer, with few tricks and frounces of phrase and style. Yet most of
the fine writing of these latter days is but as crumpled tarlatan to
brocaded satin beside the passage on Coleridge in the _English Poets_,
or the description of Winterslow and its neighbourhood in the "Farewell
to Essay-writing," or "On a Landscape of Nicolas Poussin" in the
_Table-Talk_. Read these pieces and nothing else, and an excusable
impression might be given that the writer was nothing if not florid. But
turn over a dozen pages, and the most admirable examples of the grave
and simple manner occur. He is an inveterate quoter, yet few men are
more original. No man is his superior in lively, gossiping description,
yet he could, within his limits, reason closely and expound admirably.
It is, indeed, almost always necessary, when he condemns anything, to
inquire very carefully as to the reasons of the condemnation. But
nothing that he likes (except Napoleon) is ever bad: everything that he
praises will repay the right man who, at the right time, examines it to
see for what Hazlitt likes it. I have, for my part, no doubt that Miss
Sarah Walker was a very engaging young woman; but (though the witness is
the same) I have the gravest doubts as to Hazlitt's charges against her.

We shall find this same curious difference everywhere in Hazlitt. He has
been talking, for instance, with keen relish of the "Conversation of
Authors" (it is he, be it remembered, who has handed down to us the
immortal debate at one of Lamb's Wednesdays on "People one would Like
to have Seen"), and saying excellent things about it. Then he changes
the key, and tells us that the conversation of "Gentlemen and Men of
Fashion" will not do. Perhaps not; but the wicked critic stops and asks
himself whether Hazlitt had known much of the conversation of "Gentlemen
and Men of Fashion"? We can find no record of any such experiences of
his. In his youth he had no opportunity: in his middle age he was
notoriously recalcitrant to all the usages of society, would not dress,
and scarcely ever dined out except with a few cronies. This does not
seem to be the best qualification for a pronouncement on the question.
Yet this same essay is full of admirable things, the most admirable
being, perhaps, the description of the man who "had you at an advantage
by never understanding you." I find, indeed, in looking through my
copies of his books, re-read for the purpose of this paper, an
innumerable and bewildering multitude of essays, of passages, and of
short phrases, marked for reference. In the seven volumes above referred
to (to which, as has been said, not a little has to be added) there must
be hundreds of separate articles and conversations; not counting as
separate the short maxims and thoughts of the _Characteristics_, and one
or two other similar collections, in which, indeed, several passages are
duplicated from the Essays. At least two out of every three are
characteristic of Hazlitt: not one in any twenty is not well worth
reading and, if occasion served, commenting on. They are, indeed, as far
from being consecutive as (according to the Yankee) was the conversation
of Edgar Poe; and the multitude and diversity of their subjects fit them
better for occasional than for continuous reading.[13] Perhaps, if any
single volume deserves to be recommended to a beginner in Hazlitt it had
better be _The Plain Speaker_, where there is the greatest range of
subject, and where the author is seen in an almost complete repertory of
his numerous parts. But there is not much to choose between it and _The
Round Table_ (where, however, the papers are shorter as a rule),
_Table-Talk_, and the volume called, though not by the author, _Sketches
and Essays_. I myself care considerably less for the _Conversations with
Northcote_, the personal element in which has often attracted readers;
and the attempts referred to above as _Characteristics_, avowedly in the
manner of La Rochefoucauld, are sometimes merely extracts from the
essays, and rarely have the self-containedness, the exact and chiselled
proportion, which distinguishes the true _pensée_ as La Rochefoucauld
and some other Frenchmen, and as Hobbes perhaps alone of Englishmen,
wrote it. But to criticise these numerous papers is like sifting a
cluster of motes, and the mere enumeration of their titles would fill
up more than half the room which I have to spare. They must be
criticised or characterised in two groups only, the strictly critical
and the miscellaneous, the latter excluding politics. As for art, I do
not pretend to be more than a connoisseur according to Blake's
definition, that is to say, one who refuses to let himself be
connoisseured out of his senses. I shall only, in reference to this last
subject, observe that the singularly germinal character of Hazlitt's
work is noticeable here also; for no one who reads the essay on Nicolas
Poussin will fail to add Mr. Ruskin to Hazlitt's fair herd of literary
children.

His criticism is scattered through all the volumes of general essays;
but is found by itself in the series of lectures, or essays (they are
rather the latter than the former), on the characters of Shakespeare, on
Elizabethan Literature, on the English Poets, and on the English Comic
Writers. I cannot myself help thinking that in these four Hazlitt is at
his best; though there may be nothing so attractive to the general, and
few such brilliant passages as may be found in the "Farewell to
Essay-writing," in the paper on Poussin, in "Going to a Fight," in
"Going a Journey," and others of the same class. The reason of the
preference is by no means a greater interest in the subject of one
class, than in the subject of another. It is that, from the very nature
of the case, Hazlitt's unlucky prejudices interfere much more seldom
with his literary work. They interfere sometimes, as in the case of
Sidney, as in some remarks about Coleridge and Wordsworth, and
elsewhere; but these instances are rare indeed compared with those that
occur in the other division. On the other hand, there are always present
Hazlitt's enthusiastic appreciation of what is good in letters, his
combination of gusto with sound theory as to what is excellent in prose
and verse, his felicitous method of expression, and the acuteness that
kept him from that excessive and paradoxical admiration which both Lamb
and Coleridge affected, and which has gained many more pupils than his
own moderation. Nothing better has ever been written as a general view
of the subject than his introduction to his Lectures on Elizabethan
Literature; and almost all the faults to be found in it are due merely
to occasional deficiency of information, not to error of judgment. He is
a little paradoxical on Jonson; but not many critics could furnish a
happier contrast than his enthusiastic praise of certain passages of
Beaumont and Fletcher, and his cool toning down of Lamb's extravagant
eulogy on Ford. He is a little unfair to the Caroline poets; but here
the great disturbing influence comes in. If his comparison of ancient
and modern literature is rather weak, that is because Hazlitt was
anything but widely acquainted with either; and, indeed, it may be said
in general that wherever he goes wrong, it is not because he judges
wrongly on known facts, but because he either does not know the facts,
or is prevented from seeing them by distractions of prejudice. To go
through his Characters of Shakespeare would be impossible, and besides,
it is a point of honour for one student of Shakespeare to differ with
all others. I can only say that I know no critic with whom on this point
I differ so seldom as with Hazlitt. Even better, perhaps, are the two
sets of lectures on the Poets and Comic Writers. The generalisations are
not always sound, for, as must be constantly repeated, Hazlitt was not
widely read in literatures other than his own, and his standpoint for
comparison is therefore rather insufficient. But take him where his
information is sufficient, and how good he is! Of the famous four
treatments of the dramatists of the Restoration--Lamb's, Hazlitt's,
Leigh Hunt's, and Macaulay's--his seems to me by far the best. In regard
to Butler, his critical sense has for once triumphed over his political
prejudice; unless some very unkind devil's advocate should suggest that
the supposed ingratitude of the King to Butler reconciled Hazlitt to
him. He is admirable on Burns; and nothing can be more unjust or sillier
than to pretend, as has been pretended, that Burns's loose morality
engaged Hazlitt on his side. De Quincey was often a very acute critic,
but anything more uncritical than his attack on Hazlitt's comparison of
Burns and Wordsworth in relation to passion, it would be difficult to
find. Hazlitt "could forgive Swift for being a Tory," he tells us--which
is at any rate more than some other people, who have a better reputation
for impartiality than his, seem to have been able to do. No one has
written better than he on Pope, who still seems to have the faculty of
distorting some critical judgments. His chapter on the English novelists
(that is to say, those of the last century) is perhaps the best thing
ever written on the subject; and is particularly valuable nowadays when
there is a certain tendency to undervalue Smollett in order to exalt
Fielding, who certainly needs no such illegitimate and uncritical
leverage. I do not think that he is, on the whole, unjust to Campbell;
though his Gallican, or rather Napoleonic mania made him commit the
literary crime of slighting "The Battle of the Baltic." But in all his
criticism of English literature (and he has attempted little else,
except by way of digression) he is, for the critic, a study never to be
wearied of, always to be profited by. His very aberrations are often
more instructive than other men's right-goings; and if he sometimes
fails to detect or acknowledge a beauty, he never praises a defect.

It is less easy to sum up the merits of the miscellaneous pieces, for
the very obvious reason that they can hardly be brought under any
general form or illustrated by any small number of typical instances.
Perhaps the best way of "sampling" this undisciplined multitude is to
select a few papers by name, so as to show the variety of Hazlitt's
interests. The one already mentioned, "On Going to a Fight," which
shocked some proprieties even in its own day, ranks almost first; but
the reader should take care to accompany it with the official record of
that celebrated contest between Neate and the Gasman. All fights are
good reading; but this particular effort of Hazlitt's makes one sigh for
a _Boxiana_ or _Pugilistica_ edited by him. Next, I think, must be
ranked "On Going a Journey," with its fine appreciation of solitary
travelling which does not exclude reminiscences of pleasant journeys in
company. But these two, with the article on Poussin and the "Farewell to
Essay-writing," have been so often mentioned that it may seem as if
Hazlitt's store were otherwise poor. Nothing could be farther from the
truth. The "Character of Cobbett" is the best thing the writer ever did
of the kind, and the best thing known to me on Cobbett. "Of the Past and
the Future" is perhaps the height of the popular metaphysical style--the
style from which, as was noted, Hazlitt may never have got free as far
as philosophising is concerned, but of which he is a master. "On the
Indian Jugglers" is a capital example of what may be called improving a
text; and it contains some of the most interesting and genial examples
of Hazlitt's honest delight in games such as rackets and fives, a
delight which (heaven help his critics) was frequently regarded at the
time as "low." "On Paradox and Commonplace" is less remarkable for its
contribution to the discussion of the subject, than as exhibiting one of
Hazlitt's most curious critical megrims--his dislike of Shelley. I wish
I could think that he had any better reason for this than the fact that
Shelley was a gentleman by birth and his own contemporary. Most
disappointing of all, perhaps, is "On Criticism," which the reader (as
his prophetic soul, if he is a sensible reader, has probably warned him
beforehand) soon finds to be little but an open or covert diatribe
against the contemporary critics whom Hazlitt did not like, or who did
not like Hazlitt. The apparently promising "On the Knowledge of
Character" chiefly yields the remark that Hazlitt could not have admired
Cæsar if he had resembled (in face) the Duke of Wellington. But "My
first Acquaintance with Poets" is again a masterpiece; and to me, at
least, "Merry England" is perfect. Hazlitt is almost the only person up
to his own day who dared to vindicate the claims of nonsense, though he
seems to have talked and written as little of it as most men. The
chapter "On Editors" is very amusing, though perhaps not entirely in the
way in which Hazlitt meant it; but I cannot think him happy "On
Footmen," or on "The Conversation of Lords," for reasons already
sufficiently stated. A sun-dial is a much more promising subject than a
broomstick, yet many essays might be written on sun-dials without there
being any fear of Hazlitt's being surpassed. Better still is "On Taste,"
which, if the twenty or thirty best papers in Hazlitt were collected
(and a most charming volume they would make), would rank among the very
best. "On Reading New Books" contains excellent sense, but perhaps is,
as Hazlitt not seldom is, a little deficient in humour; while the
absence of any necessity for humour makes the discussion "Whether Belief
is Voluntary" a capital one. Hazlitt is not wholly of the opinion of
that Ebrew Jew who said to M. Renan, "_On fait ce qu'on veut mais on
croit ce qu'on peut._"

The shorter papers of the _Round Table_ yield perhaps a little less
freely in the way of specially notable examples. They come closer to a
certain kind of Addisonian essay, a short lay-sermon, without the
charming divagation of the longer articles. To see how nearly Hazlitt
can reach the level of a rather older and cleverer George Osborne, turn
to the paper here on Classical Education. He is quite orthodox for a
wonder: perhaps because opinion was beginning to veer a little to the
side of Useful Knowledge; but he is as dry as his own favourite biscuit,
and as guiltless of freshness. He is best in this volume where he notes
particular points such as Kean's Iago, Milton's versification (here,
however, he does not get quite to the heart of the matter), "John
Buncle," and "The Excursion." In this last he far outsteps the scanty
confines of the earlier papers of the _Round Table_, and allows himself
that score of pages which seems to be with so many men the normal limit
of a good essay. Of his shortest style one sample from "Trifles light as
Air" is so characteristic, in more ways than one, that it must be quoted
whole.

    I am by education and conviction inclined to Republicanism and
    Puritanism. In America they have both. But I confess I feel a
    little staggered as to the practical efficacy and saving grace
    of first principles, when I ask myself, Can they throughout the
    United States from Boston to Baltimore, produce a single head
    like one of Titian's Venetian Nobles, nurtured in all the pride
    of aristocracy and all the blindness of popery? Of all the
    branches of political economy the human face is perhaps the best
    criterion of value.

If I were editing Hazlitt's works I should put these sentences on the
title-page of every volume; for, dogmatist as he thought himself, it is
certain that he was in reality purely æsthetic, though, I need hardly
say, not in the absurd sense, or no-sense, which modern misuse of
language has chosen to fix on the word. Therefore he is very good (where
few are good at all) on Dreams; and, being a great observer of himself,
singularly instructive on Application to Study. "On Londoners and
Country People" is one of his liveliest efforts; and the pique at his
own inclusion in the Cockney School fortunately evaporates in some
delightful reminiscences, including one of the few classic passages on
the great game of marbles. His remarks on the company at the
Southampton coffee-house, which have been often and much praised, please
me less: they are too much like attempts in the manner of the Queen Anne
men, and Hazlitt is always best when he imitates nobody. "Hot and Cold"
(which might have been more intelligibly called "North and South") is
distinctly curious, bringing out again what may be called Hazlitt's
fanciful observation; and it may generally be said that, however
alarming and however suggestive of commonplace the titles "On
Respectable People," "On People of Sense," "On Novelty and Familiarity,"
may be, Hazlitt may almost invariably be trusted to produce something
that is not commonplace, that is not laboured paradox, that is eminently
literature.

I know that a haphazard catalogue of the titles of essays (for it is
little more) such as fills the last paragraph or two may not seem very
succulent. But within moderate space there is really no other means of
indicating the author's extraordinary range of subject, and at the same
time the pervading excellence of his treatment. To exemplify a
difference which has sometimes been thought to require explanation, his
work as regards system, connection with anything else, immediate
occasion (which with him was generally what his friend, Mr. Skimpole,
would have called "pounds") is always Journalism: in result, it is
almost always Literature. Its staple subjects, as far as there can be
said to be any staple where the thread is so various, are very much
those which the average newspaper-writer since his time has had to deal
with--politics, book-reviewing, criticism on plays and pictures, social
etceteras, the minor morals, the miscellaneous incidents of daily life.
It is true that Hazlitt was only for a short time in the straitest
shafts, the most galling traces, of periodical hack-work. His practice
was rather that of George Warrington, who worked till he had filled his
purse, and then lay idle till he had emptied it. He used (an indulgence
agreeable in the mouth, but bitter in the belly) very frequently to
receive money beforehand for work which was not yet done. Although
anything but careful, he was never an extravagant man, his tastes being
for the most part simple; and he never, even during his first married
life, seems to have been burdened by an expensive household. Moreover,
he got rid of Mrs. Hazlitt on very easy terms. Still he must constantly
have had on him the sensation that he lived by his work, and by that
only. It seems to be (as far as one can make it out) this sensation
which more than anything else jades and tires what some very
metaphorical men of letters are pleased to call their Pegasus. But
Hazlitt, though he served in the shafts, shows little trace of the
harness. He has frequent small carelessnesses of style, but he would
probably have had as many or more if he had been the easiest and
gentlest of easy-writing gentlemen. He never seems to have allowed
himself to be cramped in his choice of his subjects, and wrote for the
editors, of whom he speaks so amusingly, with almost as much freedom of
speech as if he had had a private press of his own, and had issued
dainty little tractates on Dutch paper to be fought for by bibliophiles.
His prejudices, his desultoriness, his occasional lack of correctness of
fact (he speaks of "Fontaine's Translation" of Æsop, and makes use of
the extraordinary phrase, "The whole Council of Trent with Father Paul
at their head," than which a more curious blunder is hardly
conceivable), his wayward inconsistencies, his freaks of bad taste,
would in all probability have been aggravated rather than alleviated by
the greater freedom and less responsibility of an independent or an
endowed student. The fact is that he was a born man of letters, and that
he could not help turning whatsoever he touched into literature, whether
it was criticism on books or on pictures, a fight or a supper, a game at
marbles, a political diatribe, or the report of a literary conversation.
He doubtless had favourite subjects; but I do not know that it can be
said that he treated one class of subjects better than another, with the
exception that I must hold him to have been first of all a literary
critic. He certainly could not write a work of great length; for the
faults of his _Life of Napoleon_ are grave even when its view of the
subject is taken as undisputed, and it holds among his productions about
the same place (that of longest and worst) which the book it was
designed to counterwork holds among Scott's. Nor was he, as it seems to
me, quite at home in very short papers--in papers of the length of the
average newspaper article. What he could do, as hardly any other man has
ever done it in England, was a _causerie_ of about the same length as
Sainte-Beuve's or a little shorter, less limited in range, but also less
artfully proportioned than the great Frenchman's literary and historical
studies, giving scope for considerable digression, but coming to an end
before the author was wearied of his subject, or had exhausted the fresh
thoughts and the happy borrowings and analogies which he had ready for
it. Of what is rather affectedly called "architectonic," Hazlitt has
nothing. No essay of his is ever an exhaustive or even a symmetrical
treatment of its nominal, or of any, theme. He somewhere speaks of
himself as finding it easy to go on stringing pearls when he has once
got the string; but, for my part, I should say that the string was much
more doubtful than the pearls. Except in a very few set pieces, his
whole charm consists in the succession of irregular, half-connected, but
unending and infinitely variegated thoughts, fancies, phrases,
quotations, which he pours forth not merely at a particular "Open
Sesame," but at "Open barley," "Open rye," or any other grain in the
corn-chandler's list. No doubt the charm of these is increased by the
fact that they are never quite haphazard, never absolutely promiscuous,
despite their desultory arrangement; no doubt also a certain additional
interest arises from the constant revelation which they make of
Hazlitt's curious personality, his enthusiastic appreciation flecked
with spots of grudging spite, his clear intellect clouded with
prejudice, his admiration of greatness and nobility of character
co-existing with the faculty of doing very mean and even disgraceful
things, his abundant relish of life contrasted with almost constant
repining. He must have been one of the most uncomfortable of all English
men of letters, who can be called great, to know as a friend. He is
certainly, to those who know him only as readers, one of the most
fruitful both in instruction and in delight.

FOOTNOTES:

[12] For some further remarks on this duel as it concerns Lockhart see
Appendix.

[13] Since this paper was first published Mr. Alexander Ireland has
edited a most excellent selection from Hazlitt.



VI

MOORE


It would be interesting, though perhaps a little impertinent, to put to
any given number of well-informed persons under the age of forty or
fifty the sudden query, who was Thomas Brown the Younger? And it is very
possible that a majority of them would answer that he had something to
do with Rugby. It is certain that with respect to that part of his work
in which he was pleased so to call himself, Moore is but little known.
The considerable mass of his hack-work has gone whither all hack-work
goes, fortunately enough for those of us who have to do it. The vast
monument erected to him by his pupil, friend, and literary executor,
Lord Russell, or rather Lord John Russell, is a monument of such a
Cyclopean order of architecture, both in respect of bulk and in respect
of style, that most honest biographers and critics acknowledge
themselves to have explored its recesses but cursorily. Less of him,
even as a poet proper, is now read than of any of the brilliant group
of poets of which he was one, with the possible exceptions of Crabbe and
Rogers; while, more unfortunate than Crabbe, he has had no Mr. Courthope
to come to his rescue. But he has recently had what is an unusual thing
for an English poet, a French biographer.[14] I shall not have very much
to say of the details of M. Vallat's very creditable and useful
monograph. It would be possible, if I were merely reviewing it, to pick
out some of the curious errors of hasty deduction which are rarely
wanting in a book of its nationality. If (and no shame to him) Moore's
father sold cheese and whisky, _le whisky d'Irlande_ was no doubt his
staple commodity in the one branch, but scarcely _le fromage de Stilton_
in the other. An English lawyer's studies are not even now, except at
the universities and for purposes of perfunctory examination, very much
in "Justinian," and in Moore's time they were still less so. And if
Bromham Church is near Sloperton, then it will follow as the night the
day that it is not _dans le Bedfordshire_. But these things matter very
little. They are found, in their different kinds, in all books; and if
we English bookmakers (at least some of us) are not likely to make a
Bordeaux wine merchant sell Burgundy as his chief commodity, or say that
a village near Amiens is _dans le Béarn_, we no doubt do other things
quite as bad. On the whole, M. Vallat's sketch, though of moderate
length, is quite the soberest and most trustworthy sketch of Moore's
life and of his books, as books merely, that I know. In matters of pure
criticism M. Vallat is less blameless. He quotes authorities with that
apparent indifference to, or even ignorance of, their relative value
which is so yawning a pit for the feet of the foreigner in all cases;
and perhaps a wider knowledge of English poetry in general would have
been a better preparation for the study of Moore's in particular.
"Never," says M. Renan very wisely, "never does a foreigner satisfy the
nation whose history he writes"; and this is as true of literary history
as of history proper. But M. Vallat satisfies us in a very considerable
degree; and even putting aside the question whether he is satisfactory
altogether, he has given us quite sufficient text in the mere fact that
he has bestowed upon Moore an amount of attention and competence which
no compatriot of the author of "Lalla Rookh" has cared to bestow for
many years.

I shall also here take the liberty of neglecting a very great--as far as
bulk goes, by far the greatest--part of Moore's own performance. He has
inserted so many interesting autobiographical particulars in the
prefaces to his complete works, that visits to the great mausoleum of
the Russell memoirs are rarely necessary, and still more rarely
profitable. His work for the booksellers was done at a time when the
best class of such work was much better done than the best class of it
is now; but it was after all work for the booksellers. His _History of
Ireland_, his _Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald_, etc., may be pretty
exactly gauged by saying that they are a good deal better than Scott's
work of a merely similar kind (in which it is hardly necessary to say
that I do not include the _Tales of a Grandfather_ or the introductions
to the Dryden, the Swift, and the Ballantyne novels), not nearly so good
as Southey's, and not quite so good as Campbell's. The Life of Byron
holds a different place. With the poems, or some of them, it forms the
only part of Moore's literary work which is still read; and though it is
read much more for its substance than for its execution, it is still a
masterly performance of a very difficult task. The circumstances which
brought it about are well known, and no discussion of them would be
possible without plunging into the Byron controversy generally, which
the present writer most distinctly declines to do. But these
circumstances, with other things among which Moore's own comparative
faculty for the business may be not unjustly mentioned, prevent it from
taking rank at all approaching that of Boswell's or Lockhart's
inimitable biographies. The chief thing to note in it as regards Moore
himself, is the help it gives in a matter to which we shall have to
refer again, his attitude towards those whom his time still called "the
great."

And so we are left with the poems--not an inconsiderable companion
seeing that its stature is some seven hundred small quarto pages closely
packed with verses in double columns. Part of this volume is, however,
devoted to the "Epicurean," a not unremarkable example of ornate prose
in many respects resembling the author's verse. Indeed, as close readers
of Moore know, there exists an unfinished verse form of it which, in
style and general character, is not unlike a more serious "Lalla Rookh."
As far as poetry goes, almost everything that will be said of "Lalla
Rookh" might be said of "Alciphron": this latter, however, is a little
more Byronic than its more famous sister, and in that respect not quite
so successful.

Moore's life, which is not uninteresting as a key to his personal
character, is very fairly treated by M. Vallat, chiefly from the poet's
own authority; but it need not detain us very long. He was born at
Dublin on 28th May 1779. There is no mystery about his origin. His
father, John Moore, was a small grocer and liquor-shop keeper who
received later the place of barrack-master from a patron of his son. The
mother, Anastasia Codd, was a Wexford girl, and seems to have been well
educated and somewhat above her husband in station. Thomas was sent to
several private schools, where he appears to have attained to some
scholarship and to have early practised composition in the tongue of
the hated Saxon. When he was fourteen, the first measure of Catholic
Emancipation opened Trinity College to him, and that establishment, "the
intellectual eye of Ireland" as Sir William Harcourt has justly called
it, received him a year later. The "silent sister" has fostered an
always genial, if sometimes inexact, fashion of scholarship, in which
Moore's talents were well suited to shine, and a pleasant social
atmosphere wherein he was also not misplaced. But the time drew near to
'98, and Moore, although he had always too much good sense to dip deeply
into sedition, was, from his sentimental habits, likely to run some risk
of being thought to have dipped in it. Although it is certain that he
would have regarded what is called Nationalism in our days with disgust
and horror, he cannot be acquitted of using, to the end of his life, the
loosest of language on subjects where precision is particularly to be
desired. Robert Emmet was his contemporary, and the action which the
authorities took was but too well justified by the outbreak of the
insurrection later. A Commission was named for purifying the college.
Its head was Lord Clare, one of the greatest of Irishmen, the base or
ignorant vilifying of whom by some persons in these days has been one of
the worst results of the Home Rule movement. It had a rather comic
assessor in Dr. Duigenan, the same, I believe, of whom it has been
recorded that, at an earlier stage of his academic career and when a
junior Fellow, he threatened to "bulge the Provost's eye." The oath was
tendered to each examinate, and on the day before Moore's appearance
Emmet and others had gone by default, while it was at least whispered
that there had been treachery in the camp. Moore's own performance was,
by his own account, heroic and successful: by another, which he very
fairly gives, a little less heroic but still successful. Both show
clearly that Clare was nothing like the stage-tyrant which the
imagination of the seditious has chosen to represent him as being. That
M. Vallat should talk rather foolishly about Emmet was to be expected;
for Emmet's rhetorical rubbish was sure to impose, and has always
imposed, on Frenchmen. The truth of course is that this young
person--though one of those whom every humane man would like to keep
mewed up till they arrived, if they ever did arrive, which is
improbable, at years of discretion--was one of the most mischievous of
agitators. He was one of those who light a bonfire and then are shocked
at its burning, who throw a kingdom into anarchy and misery and think
that they are cleared by a reference to Harmodius and Aristogeiton. It
is one of the most fearful delights of the educated Tory to remember
what the grievance of Harmodius and Aristogeiton really was. Moore (who
had something of the folly of Emmet, but none of his reckless conceit)
escaped, and his family must have been exceedingly glad to send him
over to the Isle of Britain. He entered at the Middle Temple in 1799,
but hardly made even a pretence of reading law. His actual experience is
one of those puzzles which continually meet the student of literary
history in the days when society was much smaller, the makers of
literature fewer, and the resources of patronage greater. Moore toiled
not, neither did he spin. He slipped, apparently on the mere strength of
an ordinary introduction, into the good graces of Lord Moira, who
introduced him to the exiled Royal Family of France, and to the richest
members of the Whig aristocracy--the Duke of Bedford, the Marquis of
Lansdowne and others, not to mention the Prince of Wales himself. The
young Irishman had indeed, as usual, his "proposals" in his
pocket--proposals for a translation of Anacreon which appeared in May
1800. The thing which thus founded one of the easiest, if not the most
wholly triumphant, of literary careers is not a bad thing. The original,
now abandoned as a clever though late imitation, was known even in
Moore's time to be in parts of very doubtful authenticity, but it still
remains, as an original, a very pretty thing. Moore's version is not
quite so pretty, and is bolstered out with paraphrase and amplification
to a rather intolerable extent. But there was considerable
fellow-feeling between the author, whoever he was, and the translator,
and the result is not despicable. Still there is no doubt that work as
good or better might appear now, and the author would be lucky if he
cleared a hundred pounds and a favourable review or two by the
transaction. Moore was made for life. These things happen at one time
and do not happen at another. We are inclined to accept them as ultimate
facts into which it is useless to inquire. There does not appear to be
among the numerous fixed laws of the universe any one which regulates
the proportion of literary desert to immediate reward, and it is on the
whole well that it should be so. At any rate the publication increased
Moore's claims as a "lion," and encouraged him to publish next year the
_Poems of the late Thomas Little_ (he always stuck to the Christian
name), which put up his fame and rather put down his character.

In later editions Thomas Little has been so much subjected to the
fig-leaf and knife that we have known readers who wondered why on earth
any one should ever have objected to him. He was a good deal more
uncastrated originally, but there never was much harm in him. It is true
that the excuse made by Sterne for Tristram Shandy, and often repeated
for Moore, does not quite apply. There is not much guilt in Little, but
there is certainly very little innocence. He knows that a certain amount
of not too gross indecency will raise a snigger, and, like Voltaire and
Sterne himself, he sets himself to raise it. But he does not do it very
wickedly. The propriety of the nineteenth century, moreover, had not
then made the surprisingly rapid strides of a few years later, and some
time had to pass before Moore was to go out with Jeffrey, and nearly
challenge Byron, for questioning his morality. The rewards of his
harmless iniquity were at hand; and in the autumn of 1803 he was made
Secretary of the Admiralty in Bermuda. Bermuda, it is said, is an
exceedingly pleasant place; but either there is no Secretary of the
Admiralty there now, or they do not give the post to young men
four-and-twenty years old who have written two very thin volumes of
light verses. The Bermoothes are not still vexed with that kind of Civil
Servant. The appointment was not altogether fortunate for Moore,
inasmuch as his deputy (for they not only gave nice berths to men of
letters then, but let them have deputies) embezzled public and private
moneys, with disastrous results to his easy-going principal. But for the
time it was all, as most things were with Moore, plain sailing. He went
out in a frigate, and was the delight of the gun-room. As soon as he got
tired of the Bermudas, he appointed his deputy and went to travel in
America, composing large numbers of easy poems. In October 1804 he was
back in England, still voyaging at His Majesty's expense, and having
achieved his fifteen months' trip wholly on those terms. Little is heard
of him for the next two years, and then the publication of his American
and other poems, with some free reflections on the American character,
brought down on him the wrath of _The Edinburgh_, and provoked the
famous leadless or half-leadless duel at Chalk Farm. It was rather hard
on Moore, if the real cause of his castigation was that he had offended
democratic principles, while the ostensible cause was that, as Thomas
Little, he had five years before written loose and humorous verses. So
thinks M. Vallat, with whom we are not wholly disposed to agree, for
Jeffrey, though a Whig, was no Democrat, and he was a rather strict
moralist. However, no harm came of the meeting in any sense, though its
somewhat burlesque termination made the irreverent laugh. It was indeed
not fated that Moore should smell serious powder, though his courage
seems to have been fully equal to any such occasion. The same year
brought him two unquestioned and unalloyed advantages, the friendship of
Rogers and the beginning of the Irish Melodies, from which he reaped not
a little solid benefit, and which contain by far his highest and most
lasting poetry. It is curious, but by no means unexampled, that, at the
very time at which he was thus showing that he had found his right way,
he also diverged into one wholly wrong--that of the serious and very
ineffective Satires, "Corruption," "Intolerance," and others. The year
1809 brought "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" with a gibe from
Byron and a challenge from Moore. But Moore's challenges were fated to
have no other result than making the challenged his friends for life.
All this time he had been more or less "about town." In 1811 he married
Elizabeth Dyke ("Bessy"), an actress of virtue and beauty, and wrote the
very inferior comic opera of "The Blue Stocking." Lord Moira gave the
pair a home first in his own house, then at Kegworth near Donington,
whence they moved to Ashbourne. Moore was busy now. The politics of "The
Two-penny Postbag" are of course sometimes dead enough to us; but
sometimes also they are not, and then the easy grace of the satire,
which is always pungent and never venomed, is not much below Canning.
Its author also did a good deal of other work of the same kind, besides
beginning to review for _The Edinburgh_. Considering that he was in a
way making his bread and butter by lampooning, however good-humouredly,
the ruler of his country, he seems to have been a little unreasonable in
feeling shocked that Lord Moira, on going as viceroy to India, did not
provide for him. In the first place he was provided for already; and in
the second place you cannot reasonably expect to enjoy the pleasures of
independence and those of dependence at the same time. At the end of
1817 he left Mayfield (his cottage near Ashbourne) and Lord Moira, for
Lord Lansdowne and Sloperton, a cottage near Bowood, the end of the one
sojourn and the beginning of the other being distinguished by the
appearance of his two best works, next to the Irish Melodies--"Lalla
Rookh" and "The Fudge Family at Paris." His first and almost his only
heavy stroke of ill-luck now came on him: his deputy at Bermuda levanted
with some six thousand pounds, for which Moore was liable. Many friends
came to his aid, and after some delay and negotiations, during which he
had to go abroad, Lord Lansdowne paid what was necessary. But Moore
afterwards paid Lord Lansdowne, which makes a decided distinction
between his conduct and that of Theodore Hook in a similar case.

Although the days of Moore lasted for half an ordinary lifetime after
this, they saw few important events save the imbroglio over the Byron
memoirs. They saw also the composition of a great deal of literature and
journalism, all very well paid, notwithstanding which, Moore seems to
have been always in a rather unintelligible state of pecuniary distress.
That he made his parents an allowance, as some allege in explanation,
will not in the least account for this; for, creditable as it was in him
to make it, this allowance did not exceed one hundred pounds a year. He
must have spent little in an ordinary way, for his Sloperton
establishment was of the most modest character, while his wife was an
excellent manager, and never went into society. Probably he might have
endorsed, if he had been asked, the great principle which somebody or
other has formulated, that the most expensive way of living is staying
in other peoples houses. At any rate his condition was rather precarious
till 1835, when Lord John Russell and Lord Lansdowne obtained for him a
Civil List pension of three hundred pounds a year. In his very last days
this was further increased by an additional hundred a year to his wife.
His end was not happy. The softening of the brain, which set in about
1848, and which had been preceded for some time by premonitory symptoms,
can hardly, as in the cases of Scott and Southey, be set down to
overwork, for though Moore had not been idle, his literary life had been
mere child's play to theirs. He died on 26th February 1852.

Of Moore's character not much need be said, nor need what is said be
otherwise than favourable. Not only to modern tastes, but to the
sturdier tastes of his own day, and even of the days immediately before
his, there was a little too much of the parasite and the hanger-on about
him. It is easy to say that a man of his talents, when he had once
obtained a start, might surely have gone his own way and lived his own
life, without taking up the position of a kind of superior gamekeeper or
steward at rich men's gates. But race, fashion, and a good many other
things have to be taken into account; and it is fair to Moore to
remember that he was, as it were from the first, bound to the
chariot-wheels of "the great," and could hardly liberate himself from
them without churlishness and violence. Moreover, it cannot possibly be
denied by any fair critic that if he accepted to some extent the awkward
position of led-poet, he showed in it as much independence as was
compatible with the function. Both in money matters, in his language to
his patrons, and in a certain general but indefinable tone of behaviour,
he contrasts not less favourably than remarkably, both with the
ultra-Tory Hook, to whom we have already compared him, and with the
ultra-Radical Leigh Hunt. Moore had as little of Wagg as he had of
Skimpole about him; though he allowed his way of life to compare in some
respects perilously with theirs. It is only necessary to look at his
letters to Byron--always ready enough to treat as spaniels those of his
inferiors in station who appeared to be of the spaniel kind--to
appreciate his general attitude, and his behaviour in this instance is
by no means different from his behaviour in others. As a politician
there is no doubt that he at least thought himself to be quite sincere.
It may be that, if he had been, his political satires would have galled
Tories more than they did then, and could hardly be read by persons of
that persuasion with such complete enjoyment as they can now. But the
insincerity was quite unconscious, and indeed can hardly be said to have
been insincerity at all. Moore had not a political head, and in English
as in Irish politics his beliefs were probably not founded on any
clearly comprehended principles. But such as they were he held to them
firmly. Against his domestic character nobody has ever said anything;
and it is sufficient to observe that not a few of the best as well as of
the greatest men of his time, Scott as well as Byron, Lord John Russell
as well as Lord Moira, appear not only to have admired his abilities and
liked his social qualities, but to have sincerely respected his
character. And so we may at last find ourselves alone with the plump
volume of poems in which we shall hardly discover with the amiable M.
Vallat "the greatest lyric poet of England," but in which we shall find
a poet certainly, and if not a very great poet, at any rate a poet who
has done many things well, and one particular thing better than anybody
else.

The volume opens with "Lalla Rookh," a proceeding which, if not
justified by chronology, is completely justified by the facts that Moore
was to his contemporaries the author of that poem chiefly, and that it
is by far the most considerable thing not only in mere bulk, but in
arrangement, plan, and style, that he ever did. Perhaps I am not quite a
fair judge of "Lalla Rookh." I was brought up in what is called a strict
household where, though the rule was not, as far as I can remember,
enforced by any penalties, it was a point of honour that in the nursery
and school-room none but "Sunday books" should be read on Sunday. But
this severity was tempered by one of the easements often occurring in a
world which, if not the best, is certainly not the worst of all possible
worlds. For the convenience of servants, or for some other reason, the
children were much more in the drawing-room on Sundays than on any other
day, and it was an unwritten rule that any book that lived in the
drawing-room was fit Sunday-reading. The consequence was that from the
time I could read, till childish things were put away, I used to spend a
considerable part of the first day of the week in reading and re-reading
a collection of books, four of which were Scott's poems, "Lalla Rookh,"
_The Essays of Elia_ (First Edition,--I have got it now), and Southey's
_Doctor_. Therefore it may be that I rank "Lalla Rookh" rather too high.
At the same time, I confess that it still seems to me a very respectable
poem indeed of the second rank. Of course it is artificial. The parade
of second, or third, or twentieth-hand learning in the notes makes one
smile, and the whole reminds one (as I daresay it has reminded many
others before) of a harp of the period with the gilt a little tarnished,
the ribbons more than a little faded, and the silk stool on which the
young woman in ringlets used to sit much worn. All this is easy
metaphorical criticism, if it is criticism at all. For I am not sure
that, when the last age has got a little farther off from our
descendants, they will see anything more ludicrous in such a harp than
we see in the faded spinets of a generation earlier still. But much
remains to Lalla if not to Feramorz. The prose interludes have lost none
of their airy grace. Even Mr. Burnand has not been able to make Mokanna
ridiculous, nor have the recent accounts of the actual waste of desert
and felt huts banished at least the poetical beauty of "Merou's bright
palaces and groves." There are those who laugh at the bower of roses by
Bendemeer's stream: I do not. "Paradise and the Peri" is perhaps the
prettiest purely sentimental poem that English or any other language can
show. "The Fire Worshippers" are rather long, but there is a famous
fight--more than one indeed--in them to relieve the monotony. For "The
Light of the Harem" alone I have never been able to get up much
enthusiasm; but even "The Light of the Harem" is a great deal better
than Moore's subsequent attempt in the style of "Lalla Rookh," or
something like it, "The Loves of the Angels." There is only one good
thing that I can find to say of that: it is not so bad as the poem which
similarity of title makes one think of in connection with
it--Lamartine's disastrous "Chute d'un Ange."

As "Lalla Rookh" is far the most important of Moore's serious poems, so
"The Fudge Family in Paris" is far the best of his humorous poems. I do
not forget "The Two-penny Postbag," nor many capital later verses of the
same kind, the best of which perhaps is the Epistle from Henry of Exeter
to John of Tchume. But "The Fudge Family" has all the merits of these,
with a scheme and framework of dramatic character which they lack. Miss
Biddy and her vanities, Master Bob and his guttling, the eminent
turncoat Phil Fudge, Esq. himself and his politics, are all excellent.
But I avow that Phelim Connor is to me the most delightful, though he
has always been rather a puzzle. If he is intended to be a satire on the
class now represented by the O'Briens and the McCarthys he is exquisite,
and it is small wonder that Young Ireland has never loved Moore much.
But I do not think that Thomas Brown the Younger meant it, or at least
wholly meant it, as satire, and this is perhaps the best proof of his
unpractical way of looking at politics. For Phelim Connor is a much more
damning sketch than any of the Fudges. Vanity, gluttony, the scheming
intrigues of eld, may not be nice things, but they are common to the
whole human race. The hollow rant which enjoys the advantages of liberty
and declaims against the excesses of tyranny is in its perfection Irish
alone. However this may be, these lighter poems of Moore are great fun,
and it is no small misfortune that the younger generation of readers
pays so little attention to them. For they are full of acute observation
of manners, politics, and society by an accomplished man of the world,
put into pointed and notable form by an accomplished man of letters. Our
fathers knew them well, and many a quotation familiar enough at second
hand is due originally to the Fudge Family in their second appearance
(not so good, but still good) many years later, to "The Two-penny
Postbag" and to the long list of miscellaneous satires and skits. The
last sentence is however to be taken as most strictly excluding
"Corruption," "Intolerance," and "The Sceptic." "Rhymes on the Road,"
travel-pieces out of Moore's line, may also be mercifully left aside:
and "Evenings in Greece;" and "The Summer Fête" (any universal provider
would have supplied as good a poem with the supper and the rout-seats)
need not delay the critic and will not extraordinarily delight the
reader. Not here is Moore's spur of Parnassus to be found.

For that domain of his we must go to the songs which, in extraordinary
numbers, make up the whole of the divisions headed Irish Melodies,
National Airs, Sacred Songs, Ballads and Songs, and some of the finest
of which are found outside these divisions in the longer poems from
"Lalla Rookh" downwards. The singular musical melody of these pieces has
never been seriously denied by any one, but it seems to be thought,
especially nowadays, that because they are musically melodious they are
not poetical. It is probably useless to protest against a prejudice
which, where it is not due to simple thoughtlessness or to blind
following of fashion, argues a certain constitutional defect of the
understanding powers. But it may be just necessary to repeat pretty
firmly that any one who regards, even with a tincture of contempt, such
work (to take various characteristic examples) as Dryden's lyrics, as
Shenstone's, as Moore's, as Macaulay's Lays, because he thinks that, if
he did not contemn them, his worship of Shakespeare, of Shelley, of
Wordsworth would be suspect, is most emphatically not a critic of poetry
and not even a catholic lover of it. Which said, let us betake ourselves
to seeing what Moore's special virtue is. It is acknowledged that it
consists partly in marrying music most happily to verse; but what is not
so fully acknowledged as it ought to be is, that it also consists in
marrying music not merely to verse, but to poetry. Among the more
abstract questions of poetical criticism few are more interesting than
this, the connection of what may be called musical music with poetical
music; and it is one which has not been much discussed. Let us take the
two greatest of Moore's own contemporaries in lyric, the two greatest
lyrists as some think (I give no opinion on this) in English, and
compare their work with his. Shelley has the poetical music in an
unsurpassable and sometimes in an almost unapproached degree, but his
verse is admittedly very difficult to set to music. I should myself go
farther and say that it has in it some indefinable quality antagonistic
to such setting. Except the famous Indian Serenade, I do not know any
poem of Shelley's that has been set with anything approaching to
success, and in the best setting that I know of this the honeymoon of
the marriage turns into a "red moon" before long. That this is not
merely due to the fact that Shelley likes intricate metres any one who
examines Moore can see. That it is due merely to the fact that Shelley,
as we know from Peacock, was almost destitute of any ear for music is
the obvious and common explanation. But neither will this serve, for we
happen also to know that Burns, whose lyric, of a higher quality than
Moore's, assorts with music as naturally as Moore's own, was quite as
deficient as Shelley in this respect. So was Scott, who could yet write
admirable songs to be sung. It seems therefore almost impossible, on the
comparison of these three instances, to deny the existence of some
peculiar musical music in poetry, which is distinct from poetical music,
though it may coexist with it or may be separated from it, and which is
independent both of technical musical training and even of what is
commonly called "ear" in the poet. That Moore possessed it in probably
the highest degree, will I think, hardly be denied. It never seems to
have mattered to him whether he wrote the words for the air or altered
the air to suit the words. The two fit like a glove, and if, as is
sometimes the case, the same or a similar poetical measure is heard set
to another air than Moore's, this other always seems intrusive and
wrong. He draws attention in one case to the extraordinary irregularity
of his own metre (an irregularity to which the average pindaric is a
mere jog-trot), yet the air fits it exactly. Of course the two feet
which most naturally go to music, the anapæst and the trochee, are
commonest with him; but the point is that he seems to find no more
difficulty, if he does not take so much pleasure, in setting
combinations of a very different kind. Nor is this peculiar gift by any
means unimportant from the purely poetical side, the side on which the
verse is looked at without any regard to air or accompaniment. For the
great drawback to "songs to be sung" in general since Elizabethan days
(when, as Mr. Arber and Mr. Bullen have shown, it was very different)
has been the constant tendency of the verse-writer to sacrifice to his
musical necessities either meaning or poetic sound or both. The climax
of this is of course reached in the ineffable balderdash which usually
does duty for the libretto of an opera, but it is quite as noticeable in
the ordinary songs of the drawing-room. Now Moore is quite free from
this blame. He may not have the highest and rarest strokes of poetic
expression; but at any rate he seldom or never sins against either
reason or poetry for the sake of rhythm and rhyme. He is always the
master not the servant, the artist not the clumsy craftsman. And this I
say not by any means as one likely to pardon poetical shortcomings in
consideration of musical merit, for, shameful as the confession may be,
a little music goes a long way with me; and what music I do like, is
rather of the kind opposite to Moore's facile styles. Yet it is easy,
even from the musical view, to exaggerate his facility. Berlioz is not
generally thought a barrel-organ composer, and he bestowed early and
particular pains on Moore.

To many persons, however, the results are more interesting than the
analysis of their qualities and principles; so let us go to the songs
themselves. To my fancy the three best of Moore's songs, and three of
the finest songs in any language, are "Oft in the stilly Night," "When
in Death I shall calm recline," and "I saw from the Beach." They all
exemplify what has been pointed out above, the complete adaptation of
words to music and music to words, coupled with a decidedly high quality
of poetical merit in the verse, quite apart from the mere music. It can
hardly be necessary to quote them, for they are or ought to be familiar
to everybody; but in selecting these three I have no intention of
distinguishing them in point of general excellence from scores, nay
hundreds of others. "Go where Glory waits thee" is the first of the
Irish melodies, and one of those most hackneyed by the enthusiasm of
bygone Pogsons. But its merit ought in no way to suffer on that account
with persons who are not Pogsons. It ought to be possible for the
reader, it is certainly possible for the critic, to dismiss Pogson
altogether, to wave Pogson off, and to read anything as if it had never
been read before. If this be done we shall hardly wonder at the delight
which our fathers, who will not compare altogether badly with ourselves,
took in Thomas Moore. "When he who adores thee" is supposed on pretty
good evidence to have been inspired by the most hollow and senseless of
all pseudo-patriotic delusions, a delusion of which the best thing that
can be said is that "the pride of thus dying for" it has been about the
last thing that it ever did inspire, and that most persons who have
suffered from it have usually had the good sense to take lucrative
places from the tyrant as soon as they could get them, and to live
happily ever after. But the basest, the most brutal, and the bloodiest
of Saxons may recognise in Moore's poem the expression of a possible, if
not a real, feeling given with infinite grace and pathos. The same
string reverberates even in the thrice and thousand times hackneyed Harp
of Tara. "Rich and rare were the Gems she wore" is chiefly comic opera,
but it is very pretty comic opera; and the two pieces "There is not in
the wide world" and "How dear to me" exemplify, for the first but by no
means for the last time, Moore's extraordinary command of the last
phase of that curious thing called by the century that gave him birth
Sensibility. We have turned Sensibility out of doors; but he would be a
rash man who should say that we have not let in seven worse devils of
the gushing kind in her comparatively innocent room.

Then we may skip not a few pieces, only referring once more to "The
Legacy" ("When in Death I shall calm recline"), an anacreontic quite
unsurpassable in its own kind. We need dwell but briefly on such pieces
as "Believe me if all those endearing young Charms," which is typical of
much that Moore wrote, but does not reach the true devil-may-care note
of Suckling, or as "By the Hope within us springing," for Moore's
war-like pieces are seldom or never good. But with "Love's Young Dream"
we come back to the style of which it is impossible to say less than
that it is quite admirable in its kind. Then after a page or two we come
to the chief _cruces_ of Moore's pathetic and of his comic manner, "The
Last Rose of Summer," "The Young May Moon," and "The Minstrel Boy." I
cannot say very much for the last, which is tainted with the unreality
of all Moore's Tyrtean efforts; but "The Young May Moon" could not be
better, and I am not going to abandon the Rose, for all her perfume be
something musty--a _pot-pourri_ rose rather than a fresh one. The song
of O'Ruark with its altogether fatal climax--

    On our side is virtue and Erin,
    On theirs is the Saxon and guilt--

(which carries with it the delightful reflection that it was an Irishman
running away with an Irishwoman that occasioned this sweeping moral
contrast) must be given up; but surely not so "Oh had we some bright
little Isle of our own." For indeed if one only had some bright little
isle of that kind, some _rive fidèle où l'on aime toujours_, and where
things in general are adjusted to such a state, then would Thomas Moore
be the Laureate of that bright and tight little island.

But it is alarming to find that we have not yet got through twenty-five
pages out of some hundred or two, and that the Irish Melodies are not
yet nearly exhausted. Not a few of the best known of Moore's songs,
including "Oft in the stilly Night," are to be found in the division of
National Airs, which is as a whole a triumph of that extraordinary
genius for setting which has been already noticed. Here is "Flow on thou
shining River," here the capital "When I touch the String," on which
Thackeray loved to make variations. But "Oft in the stilly Night" itself
is far above the others. We do not say "stilly" now: we have been taught
by Coleridge (who used to use it freely himself before he laughed at it)
to laugh at "stilly" and "paly" and so forth. But the most acrimonious
critic may be challenged to point out another weakness of the same kind,
and on the whole the straightforward simplicity of the phrase equals
the melody of the rhythm.

The Sacred Songs need not delay us long; for they are not better than
sacred songs in general, which is saying remarkably little. Perhaps the
most interesting thing in them is the well-known couplet,

    This world is but a fleeting show
    For man's illusion given--

which, as has justly been observed, contains one of the most singular
estimates of the divine purpose anywhere to be found. But Moore might,
like Mr. Midshipman Easy, have excused himself by remarking, "Ah! well,
I don't understand these things." The miscellaneous division of Ballads,
Songs, etc., is much more fruitful. "The Leaf and the Fountain,"
beginning "Tell me, kind seer, I pray thee," though rather long, is
singularly good of its kind--the kind of half-narrative ballad. So in a
lighter strain is "The Indian Bark." Nor is Moore less at home after his
own fashion in the songs from the Anthology. It is true that the same
fault which has been found with his Anacreon may be found here, and that
it is all the more sensible because at least in some cases the originals
are much higher poetry than the pseudo-Teian. To the form and style of
Meleager Moore could not pretend; but as these are rather songs on Greek
motives than translations from the Greek, the slackness and dilution
matter less. But the strictly miscellaneous division holds some of the
best work. We could no doubt dispense with the well-known ditty (for
once very nearly the "rubbish" with which Moore is so often and so
unjustly charged) where Posada rhymes of necessity to Granada, and
where, quite against the author's habit, the ridiculous term "Sultana"
is fished out to do similar duty in reference to the Dulcinea, or rather
to the Maritornes, of a muleteer. But this is quite an exception, and as
a rule the facile verse is as felicitous as it is facile. Perhaps no one
stands out very far above the rest; perhaps all have more or less the
mark of easy variations on a few well-known themes. The old comparison
that they are as numerous as motes, as bright, as fleeting, and as
individually insignificant, comes naturally enough to the mind. But then
they are very numerous, they are very bright, and if they are fleeting,
their number provides plenty more to take the place of that which passes
away. Nor is it by any means true that they lack individual
significance.

This enumeration of a few out of many ornaments of Moore's muse will of
course irritate those who object to the "brick-of-the-house" mode of
criticism; while it may not be minute enough, or sufficiently bolstered
by actual quotation, to please those who hold that simple extract is the
best, if not the only tolerable form of criticism. But the critic is not
alone in finding that, whether he carry his ass or ride upon it, he
cannot please all his public. What has been said is probably enough, in
the case of a writer whose work, though as a whole rather unjustly
forgotten, survives in parts more securely even than the work of greater
men, to remind readers of at least the outlines and bases of his claim
to esteem. And the more those outlines are followed up, and the
structure founded on those bases is examined, the more certain, I think,
is Moore of recovering, not the position which M. Vallat would assign to
him of the greatest lyrist of England (a position which he never held
and never could hold except with very prejudiced or very incompetent
judges), not that of the equal of Scott or Byron or Shelley or
Wordsworth, but still a position high enough and singularly isolated at
its height. Viewed from the point of strictly poetical criticism, he no
doubt ranks only with those poets who have expressed easily and
acceptably the likings and passions and thoughts and fancies of the
average man, and who have expressed these with no extraordinary cunning
or witchery. To go further in limitation, the average man, of whom he is
thus the bard, is a rather sophisticated average man, without very deep
thoughts or feelings, without a very fertile or fresh imagination or
fancy, with even a touch--a little touch--of cant and "gush" and other
defects incident to average and sophisticated humanity. But this
humanity is at any time and every time no small portion of humanity at
large, and it is to Moore's credit that he sings its feelings and its
thoughts so as always to get the human and durable element in them
visible and audible through the "trappings of convention." Again, he has
that all-saving touch of humour which enables him, sentimentalist as he
is, to be an admirable comedian as well. Yet again, he has at least
something of the two qualities which one must demand of a poet who is a
poet, and not a mere maker of rhymes. His note of feeling, if not full
or deep, is true and real. His faculty of expression is not only
considerable, but it is also distinguished; it is a faculty which in the
same measure and degree nobody else has possessed. On one side he had
the gift of singing those admirable songs of which we have been talking.
On the other, he had the gift of right satiric verse to a degree which
only three others of the great dead men of this century in
England--Canning, Praed, and Thackeray--have reached. Besides all this,
he was a "considerable man of letters." But your considerable men of
letters, after flourishing, turn to dust in their season, and other
considerable or inconsiderable men of letters spring out of it. The true
poets and even the true satirists abide, and both as a poet and a
satirist Thomas Moore abides and will abide with them.

FOOTNOTES:

[14] _Etude sur la Vie et les Oeuvres de Thomas Moore_; by Gustave
Vallat. Paris: Rousseau. London: Asher and Co. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis,
and Co. 1887.



VII

LEIGH HUNT


To compare the peaceful and home-keeping art of criticism to the
adventurous one of lighthouse-building may seem an excursion into the
heroi-comic, if not into the tragic-burlesque. Neither is it in the
least my intention to dwell on a tolerably obvious metaphorical
resemblance between the two. It is certainly the business of the critic
to warn others off from the mistakes which have been committed by his
forerunners, and perhaps (for let us anticipate the crushing wit) from
his own. But that is not my reason for the suggestion. There is a story
of I forget what lighthouse which Smeaton, or Stevenson, or somebody
else, had unusual difficulty in establishing. The rock was too near the
surface for it to be safe or practicable to moor barges over it; and it
was uncovered for too short a time to enable any solid foundations to be
laid or even begun during one tide. So the engineer, with other
adventurous persons, got himself landed on it, succeeded after a vain
attempt or two in working an iron rod into the middle, and then hung on
bodily while the tide was up, that he and his men might begin again as
soon as it receded. In a mild and unexciting fashion, that is what the
critic has to do--to dig about till he makes a lodgment in his author,
hang on to it, and then begin to build. It is not always very easy work,
and it is never less easy than in the case of the author whom somebody
has kindly called "the Ariel of criticism." Leigh Hunt is an extremely
difficult person upon whom to make any critical lodgment, for the reason
that (I do not intend any disrespect by the comparison) he has much less
of the rock about him than of the shifting sand. I do not now speak of
the great Skimpole problem--we shall come to that presently--but merely
of the writer as shown in his works.

The works themselves are not particularly easy to get together in any
complete form, some of them being almost inextricably entangled in
defunct periodicals, and others reappearing in different guises in the
author's many published volumes. Mr. Kent's bibliography gives forty-six
different entries; Mr. Alexander Ireland's (to which he refers) gives, I
think, over eighty. Some years ago I remember receiving the catalogue of
a second-hand bookseller who offered what he very frankly confessed to
be far from a complete collection of the first editions, at the price of
a score or two of pounds; and here at least the first are in some cases
the only issues. Probably this is one reason why selections from Leigh
Hunt, of which Mr. Kent's is the latest and best, have been frequent. I
have seen two certainly, and I think three, within as many years.
Luckily, however, quite enough for the reader's if not for the critic's
purpose is easily obtainable. The poems can be bought in more forms than
one; Messrs. Smith and Elder have reprinted cheaply the "Autobiography,"
"Men, Women, and Books," "Imagination and Fancy," "The Town," "Wit and
Humour," "Table Talk," and "A Jar of Honey." Other reprints of "One
Hundred Romances of Real Life" (one of his merest pieces of book-making)
and of his "Stories from the Italian Poets," one of his worst pieces of
criticism, but agreeably reproduced in every respect save the hideous
American spelling, have recently appeared. The complete and uniform
issue, the want of which to some lovers of books (I own myself among
them) is never quite made up by a scratch company of volumes of all
dates, sizes, and prints, is indeed wanting. But still you can get a
working Leigh Hunt together.

It is when you have got him that your trouble begins; and before it is
done the critic, if he be one of those who are not satisfied with a mere
_compte rendu_, is likely to acknowledge that Leigh Hunt, if "Ariel" be
in some respects too complimentary a name for him, is at any rate a
most tricksy spirit. The finest taste in some ways, contrasting with
what can only be called the most horrible vulgarity in others; a light
hand tediously boring again and again at obviously miscomprehended
questions of religion, philosophy, and politics; a keen appetite for
humour condescending to thin and repeated jests; a reviler of kings
going out of his way laboriously to beslaver royalty; a man of letters,
of talent almost touching genius, who seldom writes a dozen consecutive
good pages:--these are only some of the inconsistencies that meet us in
Leigh Hunt.

He has related the history of his immediate and remoter forbears with
considerable minuteness--with more minuteness indeed by far than he has
bestowed upon all but a few passages of his own life. For the general
reader, however, it is quite sufficient to know that his father, the
Reverend Isaac Hunt, who belonged to a clerical family in Barbados, went
for his education to the still British Provinces of North America,
married a Philadelphia girl, Mary Shewell, practised as a lawyer till
the Revolution broke out, and then being driven from his adopted country
as a loyalist, settled in England, took orders, drifted into
Unitarianism or anythingarianism, and ended his days, after not
infrequent visits to the King's Bench, comfortably enough, but hanging
rather loose on society, his friends, and a pension. Leigh Hunt (his
godfathers and godmothers gave him also the names of James Henry, which
he dropped) was the youngest son, and was born on 19th October 1784. His
best youthful remembrance, and one of the most really humorous things he
ever said, was that he used, after a childish indulgence in bad
language, to think to himself with a shudder when he received any mark
of favour, "Ah! they little suspect I'm the boy who said 'd----n.'" But
at seven years old he went to Christ's Hospital, and continued there for
another seven. His reminiscences of that seminary, put down pretty
early, and afterwards embodied in the "Autobiography," are even better
known from the fact that they served as a text, and as the occasion of a
little gentle raillery, to Elia's famous essay than in themselves. For
some years after leaving school he did nothing definite but write
verses, which his father (who seems to have been gifted with a plentiful
lack of judgment in most incidents and relations of life) published when
the boy was but sixteen. They are as nearly as possible valueless, but
they went through three editions in a very short time. It ought to be
remembered that except Cowper, who was just dead, and Crabbe, who had
for years intermitted writing, the public had only Rogers and Southey
for poets, for it would none of the "Lyrical Ballads," and the "Lay of
the Last Minstrel" had not yet been published. So that it did not make
one of its worst mistakes in taking up Leigh Hunt, who certainly had
poetry in him, if he did not put it forth quite so early as this. He was
made a kind of lion, but, fortunately or unfortunately for him, only in
middle-class circles where there were no patrons. He was quite an old
man--nearly twenty--when he made regular entry into the periodical
writing which kept him (with the aid of his friends) for nearly sixty
years. "Mr. Town, Junior" (altered from an old signature of Colman's)
contributed theatrical criticisms, which do not seem to have been paid
for, to an evening paper, the _Traveller_, now surviving as a second
title to the _Globe_. His bent in this direction was assisted by the
fact that his elder brother John had been apprenticed to a printer, and
had desires to be a publisher. In January 1808 the two brothers started
the _Examiner_, and Leigh Hunt edited it with a great deal of courage
for fourteen years. He threw away for this the only piece of solid
preferment that he ever had, a clerkship in the War Office which
Addington gave him. The references to this act of recklessness or
self-sacrifice in the Autobiography are rather enigmatical. His two
functions were no doubt incompatible at best, especially considering the
violent Opposition tone which the _Examiner_ took. But Leigh Hunt,
whatever faults he had, was not quite a hypocrite; and he hints pretty
broadly that if he had not resigned he might have been asked to do so,
not from any political reasons, but simply because he did his work very
badly. He was much more at home in the _Examiner_ (with which for a
short time was joined the quarterly _Reflector_), though his warmest
admirers candidly admit that he knew nothing about politics. In 1809 he
married a Miss Marianne Kent, whose station was not very exalted, and
whose son admits with unusual frankness that she was "the reverse of
handsome, and without accomplishments," adding rather whimsically that
this person, "the reverse of handsome," had "a pretty figure, beautiful
black hair and magnificent eyes," and though "without accomplishments"
had "a very strong natural turn for plastic art." At any rate she seems
to have suited Leigh Hunt admirably. The _Examiner_ soon became
ill-noted with Government, but it was not till the end of 1812 that a
grip could be got of it. Leigh Hunt's offence is in the ordinary books
rather undervalued. That he (or his contributor) called the Prince
Regent, as is commonly said, "a fat Adonis of fifty" (the exact words
are, "this Adonis in loveliness is a corpulent man of fifty") may have
been the chief sting, but was certainly not the chief legal offence.
Leigh Hunt called the ruler of his country "a violator of his word, a
libertine over head and ears in disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties,
the companion of demi-reps, a man who had just closed half a century
without one single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect
of posterity." It might be true or it might be false; but certainly
there was then not a country in Europe where it would have been allowed
to be said of the chief of the state. And I am not sure that it could be
said now anywhere but in Ireland, where considerably worse things were
said with impunity of Lord Spencer and Sir George Trevelyan. At any rate
the brothers were prosecuted and fined five hundred pounds each, with
two years' imprisonment. The sentence was carried out; but Leigh Hunt's
imprisonment in Horsemonger Lane Gaol was the merest farce of
incarceration. He could not indeed go beyond the prison walls. But he
had a comfortable suite of rooms which he was permitted to furnish and
decorate just as he liked; he was allowed to have his wife and family
with him; he had a tiny garden of his own, and free access to that of
the prison; there was no restriction on visitors, who brought him
presents just as they chose; and he became a kind of fashion with the
Opposition. Jeremy Bentham came and played at battledore and shuttlecock
with him--an almost appalling idea, for it will not do to trust too
implicitly to Leigh Hunt's declaration that Jeremy's object was to
suggest "an improvement in the constitution of shuttlecocks." The
_Examiner_ itself continued undisturbed, and except for the "I can't get
out" feeling, which even of itself cannot be compared for one moment to
that of a modern prisoner condemned to his cell and the
exercising-ground, it is rather difficult to see much reason for Leigh
Hunt's complaints. The imprisonment may have affected his health, but it
certainly brought him troops of friends, and gave him leisure to do not
only his journalist's work, but things much more serious. Here he wrote
and published his first poem since the Juvenilia, "A Feast of the Poets"
(not much of a thing), and here he wrote, though he did not publish it
till his liberation, the "Story of Rimini," by far his most important
poem, both for intrinsic character and for influence on others. He had
known Lamb from boyhood, and Shelley some years; he now made the
acquaintance of Keats, Hazlitt, and Byron.

In the next five years after his liberation he did a great deal of work,
the best by far being the periodical called the _Indicator_, a weekly
paper which ran for sixty-six numbers. The _Indicator_ was the first
thing that I ever read of Hunt's, and, by no means for that reason only,
I think it the best. Its buttonholing papers, of a kind since widely
imitated, were the most popular; but there are romantic things in it,
such as "The Daughter of Hippocrates" (paraphrased and expanded from Sir
John Mandeville with Hunt's peculiar skill), which seem to me better. It
was at the end of these five years that Leigh Hunt resolved upon the
second adventure (his imprisonment being the first and involuntary) of
his otherwise easy-going life--an adventure the immediate consequences
of which were unfortunate in many ways, but which supplied him with a
good deal of literary material. This was his visit to Italy as a kind of
literary _attaché_ to Lord Byron, and editor of a quarterly magazine,
the _Liberal_. The idea was Shelley's, and if Shelley had lived, it
might not have resulted quite so disastrously, for Shelley was
absolutely untiring as a helper of lame dogs over stiles. As it was, the
excursion distinctly contradicted the saying (condemned by some as
immoral) that a bad beginning makes a good ending. The Hunt family,
which now included several children, embarked, in November of all months
in the year, on a small ship bound for Italy. They were something like a
month getting down the Channel in tremendous weather, and at last when
their ship had to turn tail from near Scilly and run into Dartmouth,
Hunt, whose wife was extremely ill of lung-disease, made up his mind to
stay for the winter in Devonshire. He passed the time pleasantly enough
at Plymouth, which they left once more in May 1822, reaching Leghorn at
the end of June. Shelley's death happened within ten days of their
arrival, and Byron and Leigh Hunt were left to get on together. How
badly they got on is pretty generally known, might have been foreseen
from the beginning, and is not very profitable to dwell on. Leigh Hunt's
mixture of familiarity and "airs" could not have been worse mixed to
suit the taste of Byron. The "noble poet" too was not a person who liked
to be spunged upon; and his coolest admirers may sympathise with his
disgust when he found that he had upon his hands a man of letters with a
large family whom he was literally expected to keep, whose society was
disagreeable to him, who lampooned his friends, who differed with him on
every point of taste, and who did not think it necessary to be grateful.
For Leigh Hunt, somewhat on Lamb's system of compensation for coming
late by going away early, combined his readiness to receive favours with
a practice of not acknowledging the slightest obligation for them.
Byron's departure for Greece was in its way lucky, but it left Hunt
stranded. He remained in Italy for rather more than three years and then
returned home across the Continent. The _Liberal_, which contains work
of his, of Byron's, of Shelley's, and of Hazlitt's, is interesting
enough and worth buying in its original form, but it did not pay. Of the
unlucky book on his relations with Byron which followed--the worst act
by far of his life--I shall not say much. No one has attempted to defend
it, and he himself apologises for it frankly and fully in his
Autobiography. It is impossible, however, not to remark that the offence
was much aggravated by its deliberate character. For the book was not
published in the heat of the moment, but three years after Hunt's return
to England and four after Byron's death.

The remaining thirty years of Hunt's life were wholly literary. As for
residences, he hovered about London, living successively at Highgate,
Epsom, Brompton, Chelsea, Kensington, and divers other places. At
Chelsea he was very intimate with the Carlyles, and, while he was
perhaps of all living men of letters most leniently judged by those not
particularly lenient judges, we have nowhere such vivid glimpses of
Hunt's peculiar weaknesses as in the memoirs of Carlyle and his wife.
Why Leigh Hunt was always in such difficulties is not at first obvious,
for he was the reverse of an idle man; he seems, though thriftless, to
have been by no means very sumptuous in his way of living; everybody
helped him, and his writing was always popular. He appears to have felt
not a little sore that nothing was done for him when his political
friends came into power after the Reform Bill--and remained there for
almost the whole of the rest of his life. He had certainly in some
senses borne the burden and heat of the day for Liberalism. But he was
one of those reckless people who, without meaning to offend anybody in
particular, offend friends as well as foes; the days of sinecures were
even then passing or passed; and it is very difficult to conceive any
office, even with the lightest duties, in which Leigh Hunt would not
have come to grief. As for his writing, his son's earnest plea as to his
not being an idle man is no doubt true enough, but he never seems to
have reconciled himself to the regular drudgery of miscellaneous
article writing for newspapers which is almost the only kind of
journalism that really pays, and his books did not sell very largely. In
his latter days, however, things became easier for him. The unfailing
kindness of the Shelley family gave him (in 1844 when Sir Percy Shelley
came into his property) a regular annuity of £120; two royal gifts of
£200 each and in 1847 a pension of the same amount were added; and two
benefit nights of Dickens's famous amateur company brought him in
something like a cool thousand, as Dickens himself would have said. Of
his last years Mr. Kent, who was intimate with him, gives much the
pleasantest account known to me. He died on 28th August 1859, surviving
his wife only two years.

I can imagine some one, at the name of Dickens in the preceding
paragraph, thinking or saying, that if the author of _Bleak House_
raised a thousand pounds for his old friend, he took the value of it and
infinitely more out of him. It is impossible to shirk the Skimpole
affair in any really critical notice of Leigh Hunt. To put unpleasant
things briefly, that famous character was at once recognised by every
one as a caricature, perhaps ill-natured but certainly brilliant, of
what an enemy might have said of the author of "Rimini." Thornton Hunt,
the eldest of Leigh Hunt's children, and a writer of no small power,
took the matter up and forced from Dickens a contradiction, or
disavowal, with which I am afraid the recording angel must have had
some little difficulty. Strangely enough the last words of Macaulay's
that we have concern this affair; and they may be quoted as Sir George
Trevelyan gives them, written by his uncle in those days at Holly Lodge
when the shadow of death was heavy on him.

    _December 23, 1859._ An odd declaration by Dickens that he did
    not mean Leigh Hunt by Harold Skimpole. Yet he owns that he took
    the light externals of the character from Leigh Hunt, and surely
    it is by those light externals that the bulk of mankind will
    always recognise character. Besides, it is to be observed that
    the vices of H. S. are vices to which L. H. had, to say the
    least, some little leaning, and which the world generally
    attributed to him most unsparingly. That he had loose notions of
    _meum_ and _tuum_; that he had no high feeling of independence;
    that he had no sense of obligation; that he took money wherever
    he could get it; that he felt no gratitude for it; that he was
    just as ready to defame a person who had relieved his distress
    as a person who had refused him relief--these were things which,
    as Dickens must have known, were said, truly or falsely, about
    L. H., and had made a deep impression on the public mind.

Now Macaulay has not always been leniently judged; but I do not think
that, with the single exception of Croker's case, he can be accused of
having borne hardly on the moral character of any one of his
contemporaries. He had befriended Leigh Hunt in every way; he had got
him into the _Edinburgh_; he had lent (that is to say given) him money
freely, and I do not think that his fiercest enemy can seriously think
that he bore Hunt a grudge for having told him, as he himself records,
that the "Lays" were not so good as Spenser, whom Macaulay in one of the
rare lapses of his memory had unjustly blasphemed, and whom Leigh Hunt
adored. To my mind, if there were any doubt about Dickens's intention,
or about the fitting in a certain sense of the cap, this testimony of
Macaulay's would settle it. But I cannot conceive any doubt remaining in
the mind of any person who has read Leigh Hunt's works, who has even
read the Autobiography. Of the grossest faults in Skimpole's character,
such as the selling of Jo's secret, Leigh Hunt was indeed incapable, and
the insertion of these is at once a blot on Dickens's memory and a kind
of excuse for his disclaimer; but as regards the lighter touches the
likeness is unmistakable. Skimpole's most elaborate jests about "pounds"
are hardly an exaggeration of the man who gravely and more than once
tells us that his difficulties and irregularities with money came from a
congenital incapacity to appreciate arithmetic, and who admits that
Shelley (whose affairs he knew very well) once gave him no less than
fourteen hundred pounds (that is to say some sixteen months of Shelley's
income at his wealthiest) to clear him, and that he was not cleared,
though apparently he gave Shelley to understand that he was.

There are many excuses for him which Skimpole had not. His own pleas of
tropical blood and so forth will not greatly avail. But the old
patron-theory and its more subtle transformation (the influence of
which is sometimes shown even by Thackeray in the act of denouncing it),
to the effect that the State or the public, or somebody, is bound to
look after your man of genius, had bitten deep into the being of the
literary man of our grandfathers' time. Anybody who has read _Thomas
Poole and his Friends_ must have seen how not merely Coleridge, of whose
known liability to the weakness the book furnished new proofs, but even,
to some extent and vicariously, the austere Wordsworth, cherished the
idea. But for the most part, men kept it to themselves. Leigh Hunt never
could keep anything to himself, and he has left record on record of the
easy manner in which he acted on his beliefs.

For this I own that I care little, especially since he never borrowed
money of me. There is a Statute of Limitations for all such things in
letters as well as in law. What is much harder to forgive is the
ill-bred pertness, often if not always innocent enough in intention, but
rather the worse than the better for that, which mars so much of his
actual literary work. When almost an old man he wrote--when a very old
man he quotes, with childlike surprise that any one should see anything
objectionable in them--the following lines:

    Perhaps you have known what it is to feel longings,
    To pat buxom shoulders at routs and mad throngings--
    Well--think what it was at a vision like that!
    A grace after dinner! a Venus grown fat!

It would be almost unbelievable of any man but Leigh Hunt that he
placidly remarks in reference to this impertinence that "he had not the
pleasure of Lady Blessington's acquaintance," as if that did not make
things ten times worse. He had laid the foundation of not a few of the
literary enmities he suffered from, by writing, thirty years earlier, a
"Feast of the Poets," on the pattern of Suckling, in which he took,
though much more excusably, the same kind of ill-bred liberties; and
similar things abound in his works. It is scarcely surprising that the
good Macvey Napier (rather awkwardly, and giving Macaulay much trouble
to patch things up) should have said that he would like a
"gentleman-like" article from Mr. Hunt for the _Edinburgh_; and the
taunt about the Cockney School undoubtedly derived its venom from this
weakness of his. Lamb was not descended from the kings that long the
Tuscan sceptre swayed, and had some homely ways; Keats had to do with
livery-stables, Hazlitt with shady lodging-houses and lodging-house
keepers. But Keats might have been, whatever his weaknesses, his own and
Spenser's Sir Calidore for gentle feeling and conduct; the man who
called Lamb vulgar would only prove his own vulgarity; and Hazlitt,
though he had some darker stains on his character than any that rest on
Hunt, was far too potent a spirit for the fire within him not to burn
out mere vulgarity. Leigh Hunt I fear must be allowed to be now and
then merely vulgar--a Pogson of talent, of genius, of immense
amiability, of rather hard luck, but still of the Pogsons, Pogsonic.

As I shall have plenty of good to say of him, I may as well despatch at
once whatever else I have to say that is bad, which is little. The
faults of taste which have just been noticed passed easily into
occasional, though only occasional, faults of criticism. I do not
recommend anybody who has not the faculty of critical adjustment, and
who wants to like Leigh Hunt, to read his essay on Dante in the _Italian
Poets_. For flashes of crass insensibility to great poetry it is
difficult to match anywhere, and impossible to match in Leigh Hunt. His
favourite theological doctrine, like that of Béranger's hero, was, _Ne
damnons personne_. He did not like monarchy, and he did not understand
metaphysics. So the great poet, who, more than any other great poet
except Shakespeare, grows on those who read him, receives from Leigh
Hunt not an honest confession, like Sir Walter's, that he does not like
him, which is perhaps the first honest impression of the majority of
Dante's readers, but tirade upon tirade of abuse and bad criticism.
Further, Leigh Hunt's unfortunate necessity of preserving his own
journalism has made him keep a thousand things that he ought to have
left to the kindly shade of the newspaper files--a cemetery where, thank
Heaven, the tombs are not open as in the other city of Dis. The book
called _Table Talk_, for instance, contains, with a little better
matter, chiefly mere rubbish like this section:

    BEAUMARCHAIS

    Beaumarchais, author of the celebrated comedy of "Figaro," an
    abridgment of which has been rendered more famous by the music
    of Mozart, made a large fortune by supplying the American
    republicans with arms and ammunition, and lost it by
    speculations in salt and printing. His comedy is one of those
    productions which are accounted dangerous, from developing the
    spirit of intrigue and gallantry with more gaiety than
    objection; and they would be more unanimously so, if the good
    humour and self-examination to which they excite did not suggest
    a spirit of charity and inquiry beyond themselves.

Leigh Hunt tried almost every conceivable kind of literature, including
a historical novel, _Sir Ralph Esher_, several dramas (one or two of
which, the "Legend of Florence" being the chief, got acted), and at
nearly the beginning and nearly the end of his career two religious
works, or works on religion, an attack on Methodism and "The Religion of
the Heart." All this we may not unkindly brush away, and consider him
first as a poet, secondly as a critic, and thirdly as what can be best,
though rather unphilosophically, called a miscellanist.

Few good judges nowadays, I think, would deny that Leigh Hunt had a
certain faculty for poetry, and fewer still would rank it very high. To
something like, but less than, the tunefulness of Moore, he joined a
very much better taste in models and an infinitely wider and deeper
study of them. There is no doubt that his versification in "Rimini"
(which may be described as Chaucerian in basis with a strong admixture
of Dryden, further crossed and dashed slightly with the peculiar music
of the followers of Spenser, especially Browne and Wither) had a very
strong influence both on Keats and on Shelley, and that it drew from
them music much better than itself. This fluent, musical, many-coloured
verse was a capital medium for tale-telling, and Leigh Hunt is always at
his best when he employs it. The more varied measures and the more
ambitious aim of "Captain Sword and Captain Pen" seem to me very much
less successful. Not only was Leigh Hunt far from strong enough for a
serious argument, but the cheery, sentimental optimism of which he was
one of the most persevering exponents--the kind of thing which
vehemently protests that in the good time coming nobody shall be damned,
or starved, or put in prison, or subjected to the perils of villainous
saltpetre, or prevented from doing just what he likes, and that all
existence ought to be and shortly will be a vaguely refined beer and
skittles--did not lend itself very well to verse. Nor are Hunt's lyrics
particularly strong. His best thing by far is the charming trifle (the
heroine being, it has been said and also denied, Mrs. Carlyle) which he
called a "rondeau," though it is not one.

    Jenny kissed me when we met,
    Jumping from the chair she sat in:
    Time, you thief, who love to get
    Sweets into your list, put _that_ in!
    Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
    Say that health and wealth have missed me,
    Say I'm growing old--but add,
        Jenny kissed me.

Even here it may be noticed that though the last four lines could hardly
be bettered, the second couplet is rather weak. Some of Leigh Hunt's
sonnets, especially that which he wrote on the Nile in rivalry with
Shelley and Keats, are very good.

    It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
    Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream;
    And times and things, as in that vision, seem
    Keeping along it their eternal stands;--
    Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd-bands
    That roamed through the young earth, the glory extreme
    Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
    _The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands._
    Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
    As of a world left empty of its throng,
    And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
    And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
    'Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
    Our own calm journey on for human sake.

This was written in 1818, and I think it will be admitted that the
italicised line is a rediscovery of a cadence which had been lost for
centuries, and which has been constantly borrowed and imitated since.

Every now and then he had touches of something much above his usual
style, as in the concluding lines of the whimsical "flyting," as the
Scotch poets of the fifteenth century would have called it, between the
Man and the Fish:

    Man's life is warm, glad, sad, 'twixt loves and graves,
      Boundless in hope, honoured with pangs austere,
    Heaven-gazing; and his angel-wings he craves:
      The fish is swift, small-needing, vague yet clear,
    A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves,
      Quickened with touches of transporting fear.

As a rule, however, his poetry has little or nothing of this kind, and
he will hold his place in the English _corpus poetarum_, first, because
he was an associate of better poets than himself; secondly, because he
invented a medium for the poetic tale which was as poetical as Crabbe's
was prosaic; thirdly, because of all persons perhaps who have ever
attempted English verse on their own account, he had the most genuine
affection for, and the most intimate and extensive acquaintance with,
the triumphs of his predecessors in poetry. Of prose he was a much less
trustworthy judge, as may be instanced once for all by his pronouncing
Gibbon's style to be bad; but of poetry he could tell with an
extraordinary mixture of sympathy and discretion. And this will
introduce us to his second faculty, the faculty of literary criticism,
in which he is, with all his drawbacks, on a level with Coleridge, with
Lamb, and with Hazlitt, his defects as compared with them being in each
case made up by compensatory, or more than compensatory, merits.

How considerable a critic Leigh Hunt was, may be judged from the fact
that he himself confesses the great critical fault of his principal
poem--the selection, for amplification and paraphrase, of a subject
which has once for all been treated with imperial and immortal brevity
by a great poet. With equal ingenuousness and equal truth he further
confesses that, at the time, he not only did not see this fault, but was
critically incapable of seeing it. For there is that one comfort about
this discomfortable and discredited art of ours, that age at any rate
does not impair it. The first sprightly runnings of criticism are never
the best; and in the case of all really great critics, from Dryden to
Sainte-Beuve, the critical faculty has gone on constantly increasing.
The chief examples of Leigh Hunt's critical accomplishment are to be
found in the two books called respectively, _Wit and Humour_, and
_Imagination and Fancy_, both being selections from the English poets,
with critical remarks interspersed as a sort of running commentary. But
hardly any book of his is quite barren of such examples; for he neither
would, nor indeed apparently could, restrain his desultory fancy from
this as from other indulgences. His criticism is very distinct in kind.
It is almost purely and in the strict and proper sense æsthetic--that is
to say, it does hardly anything but reproduce the sensations produced
upon Hunt himself by the reading of his favourite passages. As his sense
of poetry was extraordinarily keen and accurate, there is perhaps no
body of "beauties" of English poetry to be found anywhere in the
language which is selected with such uniform and unerring judgment as
this or these. Even Lamb, in his own favourite subjects and authors,
misses treasure-trove which Leigh Hunt unfailingly discovers, as in the
now pretty generally acknowledged case of the character of De Flores in
Middleton's "Changeling." And Lamb had a much less wide and a much more
crotchety system of admissions and exclusions. Macaulay was perfectly
right in fixing, at the beginning of his essay on the dramatists of the
Restoration, upon this catholicity of Hunt's taste as the main merit in
it; and it is really a great pity that the two volumes referred to were
not, as they were intended to be, followed up by others respectively
devoted to Action and Passion, Contemplation, and Song. But Leigh Hunt
was sixty when he planned them, and age, infirmity, perhaps also the
less pressing need which the comparative affluence of his later years
brought, prevented the completion. It has also to be remarked that Hunt
is much better as a taster than as a professor or expounder. He says
indeed many happy things about his favourite passages, but they
evidently represent rather afterthought than forethought. He is not good
at generalities, and when he tries them is apt, instead of flying (as
an Ariel of criticism should do), to sprawl. Yet it was impossible for a
man who was so almost invariably right in particulars, to go very wrong
in general; and the worst that can be said of Leigh Hunt's general
critical axioms and conclusions is that they are much better than the
reasons that support them. For instance, he is probably right in calling
the famous "intellectual" and "henpecked you all" in "Don Juan," "the
happiest triple rhyme ever written." But when he goes on to say that
"the sweepingness of the assumption completes the flowing breadth of the
effect," he goes very near to talking nonsense. For most people,
however, a true opinion persuasively stated is of much more consequence
than the most elaborate logical justification of it; and it is this that
makes Leigh Hunt's criticism such excellent good reading. It is
impossible not to feel that when a guide (which after all a critic
should be) is recommended with cautions that, though an invaluable
fellow for the most part, he is not unlikely in certain places to lead
the traveller over a precipice, it is a very dubious kind of
recommendation. Yet this is the way in which one has to speak of Jeffrey
and Hazlitt, of Wilson and De Quincey. Of Leigh Hunt it need hardly ever
be said; for in the unlucky diatribes on Dante above cited, the most
unwary reader can see that his author has lost his temper and with it
his head. As a rule he avoids the things that he is not qualified to
judge, such as the rougher and sublimer parts of poetry. Of its
sweetness and its music, of its grace and its wit, of its tenderness and
its fancy, no better judge ever existed than Leigh Hunt. He jumped at
such things, when he came near them, almost as involuntarily as a needle
to a magnet.

He was, however, perhaps most popular in his own time, and certainly he
gained most of the not excessive share of pecuniary profit which fell to
his lot, as what I have called a miscellanist. One of the things which
have not yet been sufficiently done in the criticism of English literary
history, is a careful review of the successive steps by which the
periodical essay of Addison and his followers during the eighteenth
century passed into the magazine-paper of our own days. The later
examples of the eighteenth century, the "Observers" and "Connoisseurs,"
the "Loungers" and "Mirrors" and "Lookers-On," are fairly well worth
reading in themselves, especially as the little volumes of the "British
Essayists" go capitally in a travelling-bag; but the gap between them
and the productions of Leigh Hunt, of Lamb, and of the _Blackwood_ men,
with Praed's schoolboy attempts not left out, is a very considerable
one. Leigh Hunt is himself entitled to a high place in the new school so
far as mere priority goes, and to one not low in actual merit. He
relates himself, more than once, with the childishness which is the good
side of his Skimpolism, how not merely his literary friends but persons
of quality had special favourites among the miscellaneous papers of the
_Indicator_, like (he would certainly have used the parallel himself if
he had known it or thought of it) the Court of France with Marot's
Psalms. This miscellaneous work of his extends, as it ought to do, to
all manner of subjects. The pleasantest example to my fancy is the book
called _The Town_, a gossiping description of London from St. Paul's to
St. James's, which he afterwards followed up with books on the West End
and Kensington, and which, though of course second-hand as to its facts,
is by no means uncritical, and by far the best reading of any book of
its kind. Even the Autobiography might take rank in this class; and the
same kind of stuff made up the staple of the numerous periodicals which
Leigh Hunt edited or wrote, and of the still more numerous books which
he compounded out of the dead periodicals. It may be that a severe
criticism will declare that, here as well as elsewhere, he was more
original than accomplished; and that his way of treating subjects was
pursued with better success by his imitators than by himself. Such a
paper, for instance, as "On Beds and Bedrooms" suggests (and is dwarfed
by the suggestion) Lamb's "Convalescent" and other similar work. "Jack
Abbott's Breakfast," which is, or was, exceedingly popular with Hunt's
admirers, is an account of the misfortunes of a luckless young man who
goes to breakfast with an absent-minded pedagogue, and, being turned
away empty, orders successive refreshments at different coffee-houses,
each of which proves a feast of Tantalus. The idea is not bad; but the
carrying out suits the stage better than the study, and is certainly far
below such things as Maginn's adventures of Jack Ginger and his friends,
with the tale untold that Humphries told Harlow. "A Few Remarks on the
Rare Vice called Lying" is a most promising title; he must be a very
good-natured judge who finds appended to it a performing article. "The
Old Lady" and "The Old Gentleman" were once great favourites; they seem
to have been studied from Earle's _Microcosmography_, not the least
excellent of the books that have proceeded from foster-children of
Walter de Merton, but they are over-laboured in particulars. So too are
"The Adventures of Carfington Blundell" and "Inside of an Omnibus."
Leigh Hunt's humour is so devoid of bitterness that it sometimes becomes
insipid; his narrative so fluent and gossiping that it sometimes becomes
insignificant. His enemies called him immoral, which appears to have
been a gross calumny so far as his private life was concerned, and is
certainly a gross exaggeration as regards his writing. But he was rather
too much given to dally about voluptuous subjects with a sort of
chuckling epicene triviality. He is so far from being passionate that he
sometimes becomes almost offensive. He is terribly apt to labour a
conceit or a prettiness till it becomes vapid; and his "Criticism on
Female Beauty," though it contains some extremely sensible remarks, also
contains much which is suggestive of Mr. Tupman. Yet his miscellaneous
writing has one great merit (besides its gentle playfulness and its
untiring variety) which might procure pardon for worse faults. With no
one perhaps are those literary memories which transform and vivify life
so constantly present as with Leigh Hunt. Although the world was a
perfectly real thing to him, and not by any means seen only through the
windows of a library, he took everywhere with him the remembrances of
what he had read, and they helped him to clothe and colour what he saw
and what he wrote. Between him, therefore, and readers who themselves
have read a good deal, and loved what they have read not a little, there
is always something in common; and yet probably no bookish writer has
been less resented by his unbookish readers as a thruster of the
abominable things--superior knowledge and superior scholarship--upon
them. Some vices of the snob Leigh Hunt undoubtedly had, but he was
never in the least a pretentious snob. He quotes his books not in the
spirit of a man who is looking down on his fellows from a proper
elevation, but in the spirit of a kindly host who is anxious that his
guests should enjoy the good things on his table.

It is this sincere and unostentatious love of letters, and anxiety to
spread the love of letters, that is the redeeming point of Leigh Hunt
throughout: he is saved _quia multum amavit_. It was this which prompted
that rather grandiose but still admirable palinode of Christopher North,
in August 1834,--"the Animosities are mortal: but the Humanities live
for ever,"--an apology which naturally enough pleased Hunt very much. He
is one of those persons with whom it is impossible to be angry, or at
least to be angry long. "The bailiff who took him was fond of him," it
is recorded of Captain Costigan; and in milder moments the same may be
said of the critical bailiffs who are compelled to "take" Leigh Hunt.
Even in his least happy books (such as the "Jar of Honey from Mount
Hybla," where all sorts of matter, some of it by no means well known to
the writer, have been hastily cobbled together) this love, and for the
most part intelligent and animated love, for literature appears. If in
another of his least happy attempts, the critical parts of the already
mentioned _Stories from the Italian Poets_, he is miles below the great
argument of Dante, and if he is even guilty to some extent of
vulgarising the lesser but still great poets with whom he deals, he
never comes, even in Dante, to any passage he can understand without
exhibiting such a warmth of enthusiasm and enjoyment that it softens the
stoniest readers. He can gravely call Dante's Hell "geologically
speaking a most fantastical formation" (which it certainly is), and
joke clumsily about the poet's putting Cunizza and Rahab in Paradise. He
can write, in the true spirit of vulgarising, that "the Florentine is
thought to have been less strict in his conduct in regard to the sex
than might be supposed from his platonical aspirations," heedless of the
great confessions implied in the swoon at Francesca's story, and the
passage through the fire at the end of the seventh circle of Purgatory.
But when he comes to things like "Dolce color d'oriental zaffiro," and
"Era già l'ora," it is hardly possible to do more justice to the
subject. The whole description of his Italian sojourn in the
Autobiography is an example of the best kind of such writing. Again, of
all the people who have rejoiced in Samuel Pepys, Leigh Hunt "does it
most natural," being indeed a kind of nineteenth-century Pepys himself,
whom the gods had made less comfortable in worldly circumstances and no
man of business, but to whom as a compensation they had given the
feeling for poetry which Samuel lacked. At different times Dryden,
Spenser, and Chaucer were respectively his favourite English poets; and
as there was nothing faithless in his inconstancy, he took up his new
loves without ceasing to love the old. It is perhaps rather more
surprising that he should have liked Spenser than that he should have
liked the other two; and we must suppose that the profusion of beautiful
pictures in the "Faerie Queen" enabled him, not to appreciate (for he
never could have done that), but to tolerate or pass over the deep
melancholy and the occasional philosophisings of the poet. But the
attraction of Dryden and Chaucer for him is very easily understood. Both
are eminently cheerful poets, Dryden with the cheerfulness born of manly
sense, Chaucer with that of youth and abounding animal spirits. Leigh
Hunt seems to have found this cheerfulness as akin to his own, as the
vigour of both was complementary and satisfactory to his own, I shall
not say weakness, but fragility. Add yet again to this that Hunt
seems--a thing very rarely to be said of critics--never to have disliked
a thing simply because he could not understand it. If he sometimes
abused Dante, it was not merely because he could not understand him,
though he certainly could not, but because Dante trod (and when Dante
treads he treads heavily) on his most cherished prejudices. Now he had
not very many prejudices, and so he had an advantage here also.

Lastly, as he may be read with pleasure, so he may be skipped without
shame. There are some writers whom to skip may seem to a conscientious
devotee of letters both wicked and unwise--wicked because it is
disrespectful to them, unwise because it is quite likely to inflict loss
on the reader. Now nobody can ever think of respecting Leigh Hunt; he is
not unfrequently amiable, but never in the least venerable. Even at his
best he seldom or never affects the reader with admiration, only with a
mild pleasure. It is at once a penalty for his sins and a compliment to
his good qualities, that to make any kind of fuss over him would be
absurd. Nor is there any selfish risk run by treating him, in the
literary sense, in an unceremonious manner. His writing of all kinds
carries desultoriness to the height, and may be begun at the beginning,
or at the end, or in the middle, and left off at any place, without the
least risk of serious loss. He is excellent good company for half an
hour, sometimes for much longer; but the reader rarely thinks very much
of what he has said when the interview is over, and never experiences
any violent hunger or thirst for its renewal, though such renewal is
agreeable enough in its way. Such an author is a convenient possession
on the shelves: a possession so convenient that occasionally a blush of
shame may suggest itself at the thought that he should be treated so
cavalierly. But this is quixotic. The very best things that he has done
hardly deserve more respectful treatment, for they are little more than
a faithful and fairly lively description of his own enjoyments; the
worst things deserve treatment much less respectful. Yet let us not
leave him with a harsh mouth; for, as has been said, he loved the good
literature of others very much, and he wrote not a little that was good
literature of his own.



VIII

PEACOCK


In the year 1875 Mr. Bentley conferred no small favour upon lovers of
English literature by reprinting, in compact form and good print, the
works of Thomas Love Peacock, up to that time scattered and in some
cases not easily obtainable. So far as the publisher was concerned,
nothing more could reasonably have been demanded; it is not easy to say
quite so much of the editor, the late Sir Henry Cole. His editorial
labours were indeed considerably lightened by assistance from other
hands. Lord Houghton contributed a critical preface, which has the ease,
point, and grasp of all his critical monographs. Miss Edith Nicolls, the
novelist's granddaughter, supplied a short biography, written with much
simplicity and excellent good taste. But as to editing in the proper
sense--introduction, comment, illustration, explanation--there is next
to none of it in the book. The principal thing, however, was to have
Peacock's delightful work conveniently accessible, and that the issue
of 1875 accomplished. The author is still by no means universally or
even generally known; though he has been something of a critic's
favourite. Almost the only dissenter, as far as I know, among critics,
is Mrs. Oliphant, who has not merely confessed herself, in her book on
the literary history of Peacock's time, unable to comprehend the
admiration expressed by certain critics for _Headlong Hall_ and its
fellows, but is even, if I do not mistake her, somewhat sceptical of the
complete sincerity of that admiration. There is no need to argue the
point with this agreeable practitioner of Peacock's own art. A certain
well-known passage of Thackeray, about ladies and _Jonathan Wild_, will
sufficiently explain her own inability to taste Peacock's persiflage. As
for the genuineness of the relish of those who can taste him there is no
way that I know to convince sceptics. For my own part I can only say
that, putting aside scattered readings of his work in earlier days, I
think I have read the novels through on an average once a year ever
since their combined appearance. Indeed, with Scott, Thackeray, Borrow,
and Christopher North, Peacock composes my own private Paradise of
Dainty Devices, wherein I walk continually when I have need of rest and
refreshment. This is a fact of no public importance, and is only
mentioned as a kind of justification for recommending him to others.

Peacock was born at Weymouth on 18th October 1785. His father (who died
a year or two after his birth) was a London merchant; his mother was the
daughter of a naval officer. He seems during his childhood to have done
very much what he pleased, though, as it happened, study always pleased
him; and his gibes in later life at public schools and universities lose
something of their point when it is remembered that he was at no
university, at no school save a private one, and that he left even that
private school when he was thirteen. He seems, however, to have been
very well grounded there, and on leaving it he conducted his education
and his life at his own pleasure for many years. He published poems
before he was twenty, and he fell in love shortly after he was
twenty-two. The course of this love did not run smooth, and the lady,
marrying some one else, died shortly afterwards. She lived in Peacock's
memory till his death, sixty years later, which event is said to have
been heralded (in accordance with not the least poetical of the many
poetical superstitions of dreaming) by frequent visions of this shadowy
love of the past. Probably to distract himself, Peacock, who had
hitherto attempted no profession, accepted the rather unpromising post
of under-secretary to Admiral Sir Home Popham on board ship. His mother,
in her widowhood, and he himself had lived much with his sailor
grandfather, and he was always fond of naval matters. But it is not
surprising to find that his occupation, though he kept it for something
like a year, was not to his taste. He gave it up in the spring of 1809,
and returned to leisure, poetry, and pedestrianism. The "Genius of the
Thames," a sufficiently remarkable poem, was the result of the two
latter fancies. A year later he went to Wales and met his future wife,
Jane Griffith, though he did not marry her for ten years more. He
returned frequently to the principality, and in 1812 made, at Nant
Gwillt, the acquaintance of Shelley and his wife Harriet. This was the
foundation of a well-known friendship, which has supplied by far the
most solid and trustworthy materials existing for the poet's biography.
It was Wales, too, that furnished the scene of his first and far from
worst novel _Headlong Hall_, which was published in 1816. From 1815 to
1819 Peacock lived at Marlow, where his intercourse with Shelley was
resumed, and where he produced not merely _Headlong Hall_ but
_Melincourt_ (the most unequal, notwithstanding many charming sketches,
of his works), the delightful _Nightmare Abbey_ (with a caricature, as
genius caricatures, of Shelley for the hero), and the long and
remarkable poem of "Rhododaphne."

During the whole of this long time, that is to say up to his
thirty-fourth year, with the exception of his year of secretaryship,
Peacock had been his own master. He now, in 1819, owed curtailment of
his liberty but considerable increase of fortune to a long-disused
practice on the part of the managers of public institutions, of which
Sir Henry Taylor gave another interesting example. The directors of the
East India Company offered him a clerkship because he was a clever
novelist and a good Greek scholar. He retained his place ("a precious
good place too," as Thackeray with good-humoured envy says of it in "The
Hoggarty Diamond") with due promotion for thirty-seven years, and
retired from it in 1856 with a large pension. He had married Miss
Griffith very shortly after his appointment; in 1822 _Maid Marian_
appeared, and in 1823 Peacock took a cottage, which became after a time
his chief and latterly his only residence, at Halliford, near his
beloved river. For some years he published nothing, but 1829 and 1831
saw the production of perhaps his two best books, _The Misfortunes of
Elphin_ and _Crotchet Castle_. After _Crotchet Castle_, official duties
and perhaps domestic troubles (for his wife was a helpless invalid)
interrupted his literary work for more than twenty years, an almost
unexampled break in the literary activity of a man so fond of letters.
In 1852 he began to write again as a contributor to _Fraser's Magazine_.
It is rather unfortunate that no complete republication, nor even any
complete list of these articles, has been made. The papers on Shelley
and the charming story of _Gryll Grange_ were the chief of them. The
author was an old man when he wrote this last, but he survived it six
years, and died on 23d January 1866, having latterly lived very much
alone. Indeed, after Shelley's death he seems never to have had any very
intimate friend except Lord Broughton, with whose papers most of
Peacock's correspondence is for the present locked up.

There is a passage in Shelley's "Letter to Maria Gisborne" which has
been often quoted before, but which must necessarily be quoted again
whenever Peacock's life and literary character are discussed:--

                                  And there
    Is English P----, with his mountain Fair
    Turned into a flamingo, that shy bird
    That gleams i' the Indian air. Have you not heard
    When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo,
    His best friends hear no more of him? But you
    Will see him, and will like him too, I hope,
    With his milk-white Snowdonian Antelope
    Matched with his Camelopard. _His fine wit
    Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it;_
    A strain too learnèd for a shallow age,
    Too wise for selfish bigots; let his page
    Which charms the chosen spirits of his time,
    Fold itself up for a serener clime
    Of years to come, and find its recompense
    In that just expectation.

The enigmas in this passage (where it is undisputed that "English P----"
is Peacock) have much exercised the commentators. That Miss Griffith,
after her marriage, while still remaining a Snowdonian antelope, should
also have been a flamingo, is odd enough; but this as well as the
"camelopard" (probably turning on some private jest then intelligible
enough to the persons concerned, but dark to others) is not particularly
worth illuminating. The italicised words describing Peacock's wit are
more legitimate subjects of discussion. They seem to me, though not
perhaps literally explicable after the fashion of the duller kind of
commentator, to contain both a very happy description of Peacock's
peculiar humour, and a very sufficient explanation of the causes which
have, both then and since, made that humour palatable rather to the few
than to the many. Not only is Peacock peculiarly liable to the charge of
being too clever, but he uses his cleverness in a way peculiarly
bewildering to those who like to have "This is a horse" writ large under
the presentation of the animal. His "rascally comparative" fancy, and
the abundant stores of material with which his reading provided it, lead
him perpetually to widen "the wound," till it is not surprising that
"the knife" (the particular satirical or polemical point that he is
urging) gets "lost in it." This weakness, if it be one, has in its
different ways of operation all sorts of curious results. One is, that
his personal portraits are perhaps farther removed from faithful
representations of the originals than the personal sketches of any other
writer, even among the most deliberate misrepresenters. There is,
indeed, a droll topsy-turvy resemblance to Shelley throughout the
Scythrop of _Nightmare Abbey_, but there Peacock was hardly using the
knife at all. When he satirises persons, he goes so far away from their
real personalities that the libel ceases to be libellous. It is
difficult to say whether Mr. Mystic, Mr. Flosky, or Mr. Skionar is least
like Coleridge; and Southey, intensely sensitive as he was to criticism,
need not have lost his equanimity over Mr. Feathernest. A single point
suggested itself to Peacock, that point suggested another, and so on and
so on, till he was miles away from the start. The inconsistency of his
political views has been justly, if somewhat plaintively, reflected on
by Lord Houghton in the words, "the intimate friends of Mr. Peacock may
have understood his political sentiments, but it is extremely difficult
to discover them from his works." I should, however, myself say that,
though it may be extremely difficult to deduce any definite political
sentiments from Peacock's works, it is very easy to see in them a
general and not inconsistent political attitude--that of intolerance of
the vulgar and the stupid. Stupidity and vulgarity not being
(fortunately or unfortunately) monopolised by any political party, and
being (no doubt unfortunately) often condescended to by both, it is not
surprising to find Peacock--especially with his noble disregard of
apparent consistency and the inveterate habit of pillar-to-post joking,
which has been commented on--distributing his shafts with great
impartiality on Trojan and Greek; on the opponents of reform in his
earlier manhood, and on the believers in progress during his later; on
virtual representation and the telegraph; on barouche-driving as a
gentleman's profession, and lecturing as a gentleman's profession. But
this impartiality (or, if anybody prefers it, inconsistency) has
naturally added to the difficulties of some readers with his works. It
is time, however, to endeavour to give some idea of the gay variety of
those works themselves.

Although there are few novelists who observe plot less than Peacock,
there are few also who are more regular in the particular fashion in
which they disdain plot. Peacock is in fiction what the dramatists of
the school of Ben Jonson down to Shadwell are in comedy--he works in
"humours." It ought not to be, but perhaps is, necessary to remind the
reader that this is by no means the same thing in essence, though
accidentally it very often is the same, as being a humourist. The dealer
in humours takes some fad or craze in his characters, some minor ruling
passion, and makes his profit out of it. Generally (and almost always in
Peacock's case) he takes if he can one or more of these humours as a
central point, and lets the others play and revolve in a more or less
eccentric fashion round it. In almost every book of Peacock's there is a
host who is possessed by the cheerful mania for collecting other maniacs
round him. Harry Headlong of Headlong Hall, Esquire, a young Welsh
gentleman of means, and of generous though rather unchastened taste,
finding, as Peacock says, in the earliest of his gibes at the
universities, that there are no such things as men of taste and
philosophy in Oxford, assembles a motley host in London, and asks them
down to his place at Llanberis. The adventures of the visit (ending up
with several weddings) form the scheme of the book, as indeed
repetitions of something very little different form the scheme of all
the other books, with the exception of _The Misfortunes of Elphin_, and
perhaps _Maid Marian_. Of books so simple in one way, and so complex in
others, it is impossible and unnecessary to give any detailed analysis.
But each contains characteristics which contribute too much to the
knowledge of Peacock's idiosyncrasy to pass altogether unnoticed. The
contrasts in _Headlong Hall_ between the pessimist Mr. Escot, the
optimist Mr. Foster, and the happy-mean man Mr. Jenkison (who inclines
to both in turn, but on the whole rather to optimism), are much less
amusing than the sketches of Welsh scenery and habits, the passages of
arms with representatives of the _Edinburgh_ and _Quarterly Reviews_
(which Peacock always hated), and the satire on "improving," craniology,
and other passing fancies of the day. The book also contains the first
and most unfriendly of those sketches of clergymen of the Church of
England which Peacock gradually softened till, in Dr. Folliott and Dr.
Opimian, his curses became blessings altogether. The Reverend Dr. Gaster
is an ignoble brute, though not quite life-like enough to be really
offensive. But the most charming part of the book by far (for its women
are mere lay figures) is to be found in the convivial scenes. _Headlong
Hall_ contains, besides other occasional verse of merit, two
drinking-songs--"Hail to the Headlong," and the still better "A
Heel-tap! a heel-tap! I never could bear it"--songs not quite so good as
those in the subsequent books, but good enough to make any reader think
with a gentle sigh of the departure of good fellowship from the earth.
Undergraduates and Scotchmen (and even in their case the fashion is said
to be dying) alone practise at the present day the full rites of Comus.

_Melincourt_, published, and indeed written, very soon after _Headlong
Hall_, is a much more ambitious attempt. It is some three times the
length of its predecessor, and is, though not much longer than a single
volume of some three-volume novels, the longest book that Peacock ever
wrote. It is also much more ambitiously planned; the twice attempted
abduction of the heiress, Anthelia Melincourt, giving something like a
regular plot, while the introduction of Sir Oran Haut-ton (an
orang-outang whom the eccentric hero, Forester, has domesticated and
intends to introduce to parliamentary life) can only be understood as
aiming at a regular satire on the whole of human life, conceived in a
milder spirit than "Gulliver," but belonging in some degree to the same
class. Forester himself, a disciple of Rousseau, a fervent anti-slavery
man who goes to the length of refusing his guests sugar, and an
ideologist in many other ways, is also an ambitious sketch; and Peacock
has introduced episodes after the fashion of eighteenth-century fiction,
besides a great number of satirical excursions dealing with his enemies
of the Lake school, with paper money, and with many other things and
persons. The whole, as a whole, has a certain heaviness. The
enthusiastic Forester is a little of a prig, and a little of a bore; his
friend the professorial Mr. Fax proses dreadfully; the Oran Haut-ton
scenes, amusing enough of themselves, are overloaded (as is the whole
book) with justificative selections from Buffon, Lord Monboddo, and
other authorities. The portraits of Southey, Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Canning, and others, are neither like, nor in themselves very happy, and
the heroine Anthelia is sufficiently uninteresting to make us extremely
indifferent whether the virtuous Forester or the _roué_ Lord Anophel
Achthar gets her. On the other hand, detached passages are in the
author's very best vein; and there is a truly delightful scene between
Lord Anophel and his chaplain Grovelgrub, when the athletic Sir Oran has
not only foiled their attempt on Anthelia, but has mast-headed them on
the top of a rock perpendicular. But the gem of the book is the election
for the borough of One-Vote--a very amusing farce on the subject of
rotten boroughs. Mr. Forester has bought one of the One-Vote seats for
his friend the Orang, and, going to introduce him to the constituency,
falls in with the purchaser of the other seat, Mr. Sarcastic, who is a
practical humorist of the most accomplished kind. The satirical
arguments with which Sarcastic combats Forester's enthusiastic views of
life and politics, the elaborate spectacle which he gets up on the day
of nomination, and the free fight which follows, are recounted with
extraordinary spirit. Nor is the least of the attractions of the book an
admirable drinking-song, superior to either of those in _Headlong Hall_,
though perhaps better known to most people by certain Thackerayan
reminiscences of it than in itself:--

    THE GHOSTS

    In life three ghostly friars were we,
    And now three friendly ghosts we be.
    Around our shadowy table placed,
    The spectral bowl before us floats:
    With wine that none but ghosts can taste
    We wash our unsubstantial throats.
    Three merry ghosts--three merry ghosts--three merry ghosts are we:
    Let the ocean be port and we'll think it good sport
      To be laid in that Red Sea.

    With songs that jovial spectres chaunt,
    Our old refectory still we haunt.
    The traveller hears our midnight mirth:
    "Oh list," he cries, "the haunted choir!
    The merriest ghost that walks the earth
    Is now the ghost of a ghostly friar."
    Three merry ghosts--three merry ghosts--three merry ghosts are we:
    Let the ocean be port and we'll think it good sport
      To be laid in that Red Sea.

In the preface to a new edition of _Melincourt_, which Peacock wrote
nearly thirty years later, and which contains a sort of promise of
_Gryll Grange_, there is no sign of any dissatisfaction on the author's
part with the plan of the earlier book; but in his next, which came
quickly, he changed that plan very decidedly. _Nightmare Abbey_ is the
shortest, as _Melincourt_ is the longest, of his tales; and as
_Melincourt_ is the most unequal and the most clogged with heavy matter,
so _Nightmare Abbey_ contains the most unbroken tissue of farcical,
though not in the least coarsely farcical, incidents and conversations.
The misanthropic Scythrop (whose habit of Madeira-drinking has made some
exceedingly literal people sure that he really could not be intended for
the water-drinking Shelley); his yet gloomier father, Mr. Glowry; his
intricate entanglements with the lovely Marionetta and the still more
beautiful Celinda; his fall between the two stools; his resolve to
commit suicide; the solution of that awkward resolve--are all simply
delightful. Extravagant as the thing is, its brevity and the throng of
incidents and jokes prevent it from becoming in the least tedious. The
pessimist-fatalist Mr. Toobad, with his "innumerable proofs of the
temporary supremacy of the devil," and his catchword "the devil has come
among us, having great wrath," appears just enough, and not too much.
The introduced sketch of Byron as Mr. Cypress would be the least happy
thing of the piece if it did not give occasion for a capital serious
burlesque of Byronic verse, the lines, "There is a fever of the spirit,"
which, as better known than most of Peacock's verse, need not be quoted.
Mr. Flosky, a fresh caricature of Coleridge, is even less like the
original than Mr. Mystic, but he is much more like a human being, and in
himself is great fun. An approach to a more charitable view of the
clergy is discoverable in the curate Mr. Larynx, who, if not extremely
ghostly, is neither a sot nor a sloven. But the quarrels and
reconciliations between Scythrop and Marionetta, his invincible
inability to make up his mind, the mysterious advent of Marionetta's
rival, and her residence in hidden chambers, the alternate sympathy and
repulsion between Scythrop and those elder disciples of pessimism, his
father and Mr. Toobad--all the contradictions of Shelley's character, in
short, with a suspicion of the incidents of his life brought into the
most ludicrous relief, must always form the great charm of the book. A
tolerably rapid reader may get through it in an hour or so, and there is
hardly a more delightful hour's reading of anything like the same kind
in the English language, either for the incidental strokes of wit and
humour, or for the easy mastery with which the whole is hit off. It
contains, moreover, another drinking-catch, "Seamen Three," which,
though it is, like its companion, better known than most of Peacock's
songs, may perhaps find a place:--

    Seamen three! What men be ye?
    Gotham's three wise men we be.
    Whither in your bowl so free?
    To rake the moon from out the sea.
    The bowl goes trim, the moon doth shine,
    And our ballast is old wine;
    And your ballast is old wine.

    Who art thou so fast adrift?
    I am he they call Old Care.
    Here on board we will thee lift.
    No: I may not enter there.
    Wherefore so? 'Tis Jove's decree
    In a bowl Care may not be;
    In a bowl Care may not be.

    Fear ye not the waves that roll?
    No: in charmèd bowl we swim.
    What the charm that floats the bowl?
    Water may not pass the brim.
    The bowl goes trim, the moon doth shine,
    And our ballast is old wine;
    And your ballast is old wine.

A third song sung by Marionetta, "Why are thy looks so blank, Grey
Friar?" is as good in another way; nor should it be forgotten that the
said Marionetta, who has been thought to have some features of the
luckless Harriet Shelley, is Peacock's first lifelike study of a girl,
and one of his pleasantest.

The book which came out four years after, _Maid Marian_, has, I believe,
been much the most popular and the best known of Peacock's short
romances. It owed this popularity, in great part, doubtless, to the fact
that the author has altered little in the well-known and delightful old
story, and has not added very much to its facts, contenting himself with
illustrating the whole in his own satirical fashion. But there is also
no doubt that the dramatisation of _Maid Marian_ by Planché and Bishop
as an operetta helped, if it did not make, its fame. The snatches of
song through the novel are more frequent than in any other of the books,
so that Mr. Planché must have had but little trouble with it. Some of
these snatches are among Peacock's best verse, such as the famous
"Bramble Song," the great hit of the operetta, the equally well-known
"Oh, bold Robin Hood," and the charming snatch:--

    For the tender beech and the sapling oak,
      That grow by the shadowy rill,
    You may cut down both at a single stroke,
      You may cut down which you will;

    But this you must know, that as long as they grow,
      Whatever change may be,
    You never can teach either oak or beech
      To be aught but a greenwood tree.

This snatch, which, in its mixture of sentiment, truth, and what may be
excusably called "rollick," is very characteristic of its author, and
is put in the mouth of Brother Michael, practically the hero of the
piece, and the happiest of the various workings up of Friar Tuck,
despite his considerable indebtedness to a certain older friar, whom we
must not call "of the funnels." That Peacock was a Pantagruelist to the
heart's core is evident in all his work; but his following of Master
Francis is nowhere clearer than in _Maid Marian_, and it no doubt helps
us to understand why those who cannot relish Rabelais should look
askance at Peacock. For the rest, no book of Peacock's requires such
brief comment as this charming pastoral, which was probably little less
in Thackeray's mind than _Ivanhoe_ itself when he wrote _Rebecca and
Rowena_. The author draws in (it would be hardly fair to say drags in)
some of his stock satire on courts, the clergy, the landed gentry, and
so forth; but the very nature of the subject excludes the somewhat
tedious digressions which mar _Melincourt_, and which once or twice
menace, though they never actually succeed in spoiling, the unbroken fun
of _Nightmare Abbey_.

_The Misfortunes of Elphin_, which followed after an interval of seven
years, is, I believe, the least generally popular of Peacock's works,
though (not at all for that reason) it happens to be my own favourite.
The most curious instance of this general unpopularity is the entire
omission, as far as I am aware, of any reference to it in any of the
popular guide-books to Wales. One piece of verse, indeed, the "War-song
of Dinas Vawr," a triumph of easy verse and covert sarcasm, has had some
vogue, but the rest is only known to Peacockians. The abundance of Welsh
lore which, at any rate in appearance, it contains, may have had
something to do with this; though the translations or adaptations,
whether faithful or not, are the best literary renderings of Welsh known
to me. Something also, and probably more, is due to the saturation of
the whole from beginning to end with Peacock's driest humour. Not only
is the account of the sapping and destruction of the embankment of
Gwaelod an open and continuous satire on the opposition to Reform, but
the whole book is written in the spirit and manner of _Candide_--a
spirit and manner which Englishmen have generally been readier to
relish, when they relish them at all, in another language than in their
own. The respectable domestic virtues of Elphin and his wife Angharad,
the blameless loves of Taliesin and the Princess Melanghel, hardly serve
even as a foil to the satiric treatment of the other characters. The
careless incompetence of the poetical King Gwythno, the coarser vices of
other Welsh princes, the marital toleration or blindness of Arthur, the
cynical frankness of the robber King Melvas, above all, the drunkenness
of the immortal Seithenyn, give the humorist themes which he caresses
with inexhaustible affection, but in a manner no doubt very puzzling,
if not shocking, to matter-of-fact readers. Seithenyn, the drunken
prince and dyke-warden, whose carelessness lets in the inundation, is by
far Peacock's most original creation (for Scythrop, as has been said, is
rather a humorous distortion of the actual than a creation). His
complete self-satisfaction, his utter fearlessness of consequences, his
ready adaptation to whatever part, be it prince or butler, presents
itself to him, and above all, the splendid topsy-turviness of his
fashion of argument, make Seithenyn one of the happiest, if not one of
the greatest, results of whimsical imagination and study of human
nature. "They have not"--says the somewhile prince, now King Melvas's
butler, when Taliesin discovers him twenty years after his supposed
death--"they have not made it [his death] known to me, for the best of
all reasons, that one can only know the truth. For if that which we
think we know is not truth, it is something which we do not know. A man
cannot know his own death. For while he knows anything he is alive; at
least, I never heard of a dead man who knew anything, or pretended to
know anything: if he had so pretended I should have told him to his face
that he was no dead man." How nobly consistent is this with his other
argument in the days of his princedom and his neglect of the embankment!
Elphin has just reproached him with the proverb, "Wine speaks in the
silence of reason." "I am very sorry," said Seithenyn, "that you see
things in a wrong light. But we will not quarrel, for three reasons:
first, because you are the son of the king, and may do and say what you
please without any one having a right to be displeased; second, because
I never quarrel with a guest, even if he grows riotous in his cups;
third, because there is nothing to quarrel about. And perhaps that is
the best reason of the three; or rather the first is the best, because
you are the son of the king; and the third is the second, that is the
second best, because there is nothing to quarrel about; and the second
is nothing to the purpose, because, though guests will grow riotous in
their cups in spite of my good orderly example, God forbid that I should
say that is the case with you. And I completely agree in the truth of
your remark that reason speaks in the silence of wine."

_Crotchet Castle_, the last but one of the series, which was published
two years after _Elphin_ and nearly thirty before _Gryll Grange_, has
been already called the best; and the statement is not inconsistent with
the description already given of _Nightmare Abbey_ and of _Elphin_. For
_Nightmare Abbey_ is chiefly farce, and _The Misfortunes of Elphin_ is
chiefly sardonic persiflage. _Crotchet Castle_ is comedy of a high and
varied kind. Peacock has returned in it to the machinery of a country
house with its visitors, each of whom is more or less of a crotcheteer;
and has thrown in a little romantic interest in the suit of a certain
unmoneyed Captain Fitzchrome to a noble damsel who is expected to marry
money, as well as in the desertion and subsequent rescue of Susannah
Touchandgo, daughter of a levanting financier. The charm of the book,
however, which distinguishes it from all its predecessors, is the
introduction of characters neither ridiculous nor simply good in the
persons of the Rev. Dr. Folliott and Lady Clarinda Bossnowl,
Fitzchrome's beloved. "Lady Clarinda," says the captain, when the said
Lady Clarinda has been playing off a certain not unladylike practical
joke on him, "is a very pleasant young lady;" and most assuredly she is,
a young lady (in the nineteenth century and in prose) of the tribe of
Beatrice, if not even of Rosalind. As for Dr. Folliott, the author is
said to have described him as his amends for his earlier clerical
sketches, and the amends are ample. A stout Tory, a fellow of infinite
jest, a lover of good living, an inveterate paradoxer, a pitiless
exposer of current cants and fallacies, and, lastly, a tall man of his
hands, Dr. Folliott is always delightful, whether he is knocking down
thieves, or annihilating, in a rather Johnsonian manner, the economist,
Mr. McQuedy, and the journalist, Mr. Eavesdrop, or laying down the law
as to the composition of breakfast and supper, or using strong language
as to "the learned friend" (Brougham), or bringing out, partly by
opposition and partly by irony, the follies of the transcendentalists,
the fops, the doctrinaires, and the mediævalists of the party. The
book, moreover, contains the last and not the least of Peacock's
admirable drinking-songs:--

    If I drink water while this doth last,
      May I never again drink wine;
    For how can a man, in his life of a span,
      Do anything better than dine?
    We'll dine and drink, and say if we think
      That anything better can be;
    And when we have dined, wish all mankind
      May dine as well as we.

    And though a good wish will fill no dish,
      And brim no cup with sack,
    Yet thoughts will spring as the glasses ring
      To illumine our studious track.
    O'er the brilliant dreams of our hopeful schemes
      The light of the flask shall shine;
    And we'll sit till day, but we'll find the way
      To drench the world with wine.

The song is good in itself, but it is even more interesting as being the
last product of Peacock's Anacreontic vein. Almost a generation passed
before the appearance of his next and last novel, and though there is
plenty of good eating and drinking in _Gryll Grange_, the old fine
rapture had disappeared in society meanwhile, and Peacock obediently
took note of the disappearance. It is considered, I believe, a mark of
barbarian tastes to lament the change. But I am not certain that the Age
of Apollinaris and lectures has yet produced anything that can vie as
literature with the products of the ages of Wine and Song.

_Gryll Grange_, however, in no way deserves the name of a dry stick. It
is, next to _Melincourt_, the longest of Peacock's novels, and it is
entirely free from the drawbacks of the forty-years-older book. Mr.
Falconer, the hero, who lives in a tower alone with seven lovely and
discreet foster-sisters, has some resemblances to Mr. Forester, but he
is much less of a prig. The life and the conversation bear, instead of
the marks of a young man's writing, the marks of the writing of one who
has seen the manners and cities of many other men, and the personages
throughout are singularly lifelike. The loves of the second hero and
heroine, Lord Curryfin and Miss Niphet, are much more interesting than
their names would suggest. And the most loquacious person of the book,
the Rev. Dr. Opimian, if he is somewhat less racy than Dr. Folliott, is
not less agreeable. One main charm of the novel lies in its vigorous
criticism of modern society in phases which have not yet passed away.
"Progress" is attacked with curious ardour; and the battle between
literature and science, which in our days even Mr. Matthew Arnold waged
but as one _cauponans bellum_, is fought with a vigour that is a joy to
see. It would be rather interesting to know whether Peacock, in planning
the central incident of the play (an "Aristophanic comedy," satirising
modern ways), was aware of the existence of Mansel's delightful parody
of the "Clouds." But "Phrontisterion" has never been widely known out
of Oxford, and the bearing of Peacock's own performance is rather social
than political. Not the least noteworthy thing in the book is the
practical apology which is made in it to Scotchmen and political
economists (two classes whom Peacock had earlier persecuted) in the
personage of Mr. McBorrowdale, a candid friend of Liberalism, who is
extremely refreshing. And besides the Aristophanic comedy, _Gryll
Grange_ contains some of Peacock's most delightful verse, notably the
really exquisite stanzas on "Love and Age."

The book is the more valuable because of the material it supplies, in
this and other places, for rebutting the charges that Peacock was a mere
Epicurean, or a mere carper. Independently of the verses just named, and
the hardly less perfect "Death of Philemon," the prose conversation
shows how delicately and with how much feeling he could think on those
points of life where satire and jollification are out of place. For the
purely modern man, indeed, it might be well to begin the reading of
Peacock with _Gryll Grange_, in order that he may not be set out of
harmony with his author by the robuster but less familiar tones, as well
as by the rawer though not less vigorous workmanship, of _Headlong Hall_
and its immediate successors. The happy mean between the heart on the
sleeve and the absence of heart has scarcely been better shown than in
this latest novel.

I have no space here to go through the miscellaneous work which
completes Peacock's literary baggage. His regular poems, all early, are
very much better than the work of many men who have won a place among
British poets. His criticism, though not great in amount, is good; and
he is especially happy in the kind of miscellaneous trifle (such as his
trilingual poem on a whitebait dinner), which is generally thought
appropriate to "university wits." But the characteristics of these
miscellanies are not very different from the characteristics of his
prose fiction, and, for purposes of discussion, may be included with
them.

Lord Houghton has defined and explained Peacock's literary idiosyncrasy
as that of a man of the eighteenth century belated and strayed in the
nineteenth. It is always easy to improve on a given pattern, but I
certainly think that this definition of Lord Houghton's (which, it
should be said, is not given in his own words) needs a little
improvement. For the differences which strike us in Peacock--the easy
joviality, the satirical view of life, the contempt of formulas and of
science--though they certainly distinguish many chief literary men of
the eighteenth century from most chief literary men of the nineteenth,
are not specially characteristic of the eighteenth century itself. They
are found in the seventeenth, in the Renaissance, in classical
antiquity--wherever, in short, the art of letters and the art of life
have had comparatively free play. The chief differentia of Peacock is a
differentia common among men of letters; that is to say, among men of
letters who are accustomed to society, who take no sacerdotal or
singing-robe view of literature, who appreciate the distinction which
literary cultivation gives them over the herd of mankind, but who by no
means take that distinction too seriously. Aristophanes, Horace, Lucian,
Rabelais, Montaigne, Saint-Evremond, these are all Peacock's literary
ancestors, each, of course, with his own difference in especial and in
addition. Aristophanes was more of a politician and a patriot, Lucian
more of a freethinker, Horace more of a simple _pococurante_. Rabelais
may have had a little inclination to science itself (he would soon have
found it out if he had lived a little later), Montaigne may have been
more of a pure egotist, Saint-Evremond more of a man of society, and of
the verse and prose of society. But they all had the same _ethos_, the
same love of letters as letters, the same contempt of mere progress as
progress, the same relish for the simpler and more human pleasures, the
same good fellowship, the same tendency to escape from the labyrinth of
life's riddles by what has been called the humour-gate, the same
irreconcilable hatred of stupidity and vulgarity and cant. The
eighteenth century has, no doubt, had its claim to be regarded as the
special flourishing time of this mental state urged by many others
besides Lord Houghton; but I doubt whether the claim can be sustained,
at any rate to the detriment of other times, and the men of other
times. That century took itself too seriously--a fault fatal to the
claim at once. Indeed, the truth is that while this attitude has in some
periods been very rare, it cannot be said to be the peculiar, still less
the universal, characteristic of any period. It is a personal not a
periodic distinction; and there are persons who might make out a fair
claim to it even in the depths of the Middle Ages or of the nineteenth
century.

However this may be, Peacock certainly held the theory of those who take
life easily, who do not love anything very much except old books, old
wine, and a few other things, not all of which perhaps need be old, who
are rather inclined to see the folly of it than the pity of it, and who
have an invincible tendency, if they tilt at anything at all, to tilt at
the prevailing cants and arrogances of the time. These cants and
arrogances of course vary. The position occupied by monkery at one time
may be occupied by physical science at another; and a belief in graven
images may supply in the third century the target, which is supplied by
a belief in the supreme wisdom of majorities in the nineteenth. But the
general principles--the cult of the Muses and the Graces for their own
sake, and the practice of satiric archery at the follies of the
day--appear in all the elect of this particular election, and they
certainly appear in Peacock. The results no doubt are distasteful, not
to say shocking, to some excellent people. It is impossible to avoid a
slight chuckle when one thinks of the horror with which some such people
must read Peacock's calm statement, repeated I think more than once,
that one of his most perfect heroes "found, as he had often found
before, that the more his mind was troubled, the more madeira he could
drink without disordering his head." I have no doubt that the United
Kingdom Alliance, if it knew this dreadful sentence (but probably the
study of the United Kingdom Alliance is not much in Peacock), would like
to burn all the copies of _Gryll Grange_ by the hands of Mr. Berry, and
make the reprinting of it a misdemeanour, if not a felony. But it is not
necessary to follow Sir Wilfrid Lawson, or to be a believer in
education, or in telegraphs, or in majorities, in order to feel the
repulsion which some people evidently feel for the manner of Peacock.
With one sense absent and another strongly present it is impossible for
any one to like him. The present sense is that which has been rather
grandiosely called the sense of moral responsibility in literature. The
absent sense is that sixth, seventh, or eighth sense, called a sense of
humour, and about this there is no arguing. Those who have it, instead
of being quietly and humbly thankful, are perhaps a little too apt to
celebrate their joy in the face of the afflicted ones who have it not;
the afflicted ones, who have it not, only follow a general law in
protesting that the sense of humour is a very worthless thing, if not a
complete humbug. But there are others of whom it would be absurd to say
that they have no sense of humour, and yet who cannot place themselves
at the Peacockian point of view, or at the point of view of those who
like Peacock. His humour is not their humour; his wit not their wit.
Like one of his own characters (who did not show his usual wisdom in the
remark), they "must take pleasure in the thing represented before they
can take pleasure in the representation." And in the things that Peacock
represents they do not take pleasure. That gentlemen should drink a
great deal of burgundy and sing songs during the process, appears to
them at the best childish, at the worst horribly wrong. The
prince-butler Seithenyn is a reprobate old man, who was unfaithful to
his trust and shamelessly given to sensual indulgence. Dr. Folliott, as
a parish priest, should not have drunk so much wine; and it would have
been much more satisfactory to hear more of Dr. Opimian's sermons and
district visiting, and less of his dinners with Squire Gryll and Mr.
Falconer. Peacock's irony on social and political arrangements is all
sterile, all destructive, and the sentiment that "most opinions that
have anything to be said for them are about two thousand years old" is a
libel on mankind. They feel, in short, for Peacock the animosity,
mingled with contempt, which the late M. Amiel felt for "clever
mockers."

It is probably useless to argue with any such. It might, indeed, be
urged in all seriousness that the Peacockian attitude is not in the
least identical with the Mephistophelian; that it is based simply on the
very sober and arguable ground that human nature is always very much the
same, liable to the same delusions and the same weaknesses; and that the
oldest things are likely to be best, not for any intrinsic or mystical
virtue of antiquity, but because they have had most time to be found out
in, and have not been found out. It may further be argued, as it has
often been argued before, that the use of ridicule as a general
criterion can do no harm, and may do much good. If the thing ridiculed
be of God, it will stand; if it be not, the sooner it is laughed off the
face of the earth the better. But there is probably little good in
urging all this. Just as a lover of the greatest of Greek dramatists
must recognise at once that it would be perfectly useless to attempt to
argue Lord Coleridge out of the idea that Aristophanes, though a genius,
was vulgar and base of soul, so to go a good deal lower in the scale of
years, and somewhat lower in the scale of genius, everybody who rejoices
in the author of "Aristophanes in London" must see that he has no chance
of converting Mrs. Oliphant, or any other person who does not like
Peacock. The middle term is not present, the disputants do not in fact
use the same language. The only thing to do is to recommend this
particular pleasure to those who are capable of being pleased by it, and
to whom, as no doubt it is to a great number, it is pleasure yet
untried.

It is well to go about enjoying it with a certain caution. The reader
must not expect always to agree with Peacock, who not only did not
always agree with himself, but was also a man of almost ludicrously
strong prejudices. He hated paper money; whereas the only feeling that
most of us have on that subject is that we have not always as much of it
as we should like. He hated Scotchmen, and there are many of his readers
who without any claim to Scotch blood, but knowing the place and the
people, will say,

    That better wine and better men
    We shall not meet in May,

or for the matter of that in any other month. Partly because he hated
Scotchmen, and partly because in his earlier days Sir Walter was a
pillar of Toryism, he hated Scott, and has been guilty not merely of an
absurd and no doubt partly humorous comparison of the Waverley novels to
pantomimes, but of more definite criticisms which will bear the test of
examination as badly. His strictures on a famous verse of "The Dream of
Fair Women" are indefensible, though there is perhaps more to be said
for the accompanying gibe at Sir John Millais's endeavour to carry out
the description of Cleopatra in black (chiefly black) and white. The
reader of Peacock must never mind his author trampling on his, the
reader's, favourite corns; or rather he must lay his account with the
agreeable certainty that Peacock will shortly afterwards trample on
other corns which are not at all his favourites. For my part I am quite
willing to accept these conditions. And I do not find that my admiration
for Coleridge, and my sympathy with those who opposed the first Reform
Bill, and my inclination to dispute the fact that Oxford is only a place
of "unread books," make me like Peacock one whit the less. It is the law
of the game, and those who play the game must put up with its laws. And
it must be remembered that, at any rate in his later and best books,
Peacock never wholly "took a side." He has always provided some
personage or other who reduces all the whimsies and prejudices of his
characters, even including his own, under a kind of dry light. Such is
Lady Clarinda, who regards all the crotcheteers of Crotchet Castle with
the same benevolent amusement; such Mr. McBorrowdale, who, when he is
requested to settle the question of the superiority or inferiority of
Greek harmony and perspective to modern, replies, "I think ye may just
buz that bottle before you." (Alas! to think that if a man used the word
"buz" nowadays some wiseacre would accuse him of vulgarity or of false
English.) The general criticism in his work is always sane and vigorous,
even though there may be flaws in the particular censures; and it is
very seldom that even in his utterances of most flagrant prejudice
anything really illiberal can be found. He had read much too widely and
with too much discrimination for that. His reading had been corrected by
too much of the cheerful give-and-take of social discussion, his dry
light was softened and coloured by too frequent rainbows, the Apollonian
rays being reflected on Bacchic dew. Anything that might otherwise seem
hard and harsh in Peacock's perpetual ridicule is softened and mellowed
by this pervading good fellowship which, as it is never pushed to the
somewhat extravagant limits of the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_, so it
distinguishes Peacock himself from the authors to whom in pure style he
is most akin, and to whom Lord Houghton has already compared him--the
French tale-tellers from Anthony Hamilton to Voltaire. In these, perfect
as their form often is, there is constantly a slight want of geniality,
a perpetual clatter and glitter of intellectual rapier and dagger which
sometimes becomes rather irritating and teasing to ear and eye. Even the
objects of Peacock's severest sarcasm, his Galls and Vamps and
Eavesdrops, are allowed to join in the choruses and the bumpers of his
easy-going symposia. The sole nexus is not cash payment but something
much more agreeable, and it is allowed that even Mr. Mystic had "some
super-excellent madeira." Yet how far the wine is from getting above the
wit in these merry books is not likely to escape even the most
unsympathetic reader. The mark may be selected recklessly or unjustly,
but the arrows always fly straight to it.

Peacock, in short, has eminently that quality of literature which may be
called recreation. It may be that he is not extraordinarily instructive,
though there is a good deal of quaint and not despicable erudition
wrapped up in his apparently careless pages. It may be that he does not
prove much; that he has, in fact, very little concern to prove anything.
But in one of the only two modes of refreshment and distraction possible
in literature, he is a very great master. The first of these modes is
that of creation--that in which the writer spirits his readers away into
some scene and manner of life quite different from that with which they
are ordinarily conversant. With this Peacock, even in his professed
poetical work, has not very much to do; and in his novels, even in _Maid
Marian_, he hardly attempts it. The other is the mode of satirical
presentment of well-known and familiar things, and this is all his own.
Even his remotest subjects are near enough to be in a manner familiar,
and _Gryll Grange_, with a few insignificant changes of names and
current follies, might have been written yesterday. He is, therefore,
not likely for a long time to lose the freshness and point which, at any
rate for the ordinary reader, are required in satirical handlings of
ordinary life; while his purely literary merits, especially his grasp
of the perennial follies and characters of humanity, of the _ludicrum
humani generis_ which never varies much in substance under its
ever-varying dress, are such as to assure him life even after the
immediate peculiarities which he satirised have ceased to be anything
but history.



IX

WILSON


Among those judgments of his contemporaries which make a sort of Inferno
of the posthumous writings of Thomas Carlyle, that passed upon
"Christopher North" has always seemed to me the most interesting, and
perhaps on the whole the fairest. There is enough and to spare of
onesidedness in it, and of the harshness which comes from onesidedness.
But it is hardly at all sour, and, when allowance is made for the point
of view, by no means unjust. The whole is interesting from the literary
side, but as it fills two large pages it is much too long to quote. The
personal description, "the broad-shouldered stately bulk of the man
struck me: his flashing eye, copious dishevelled head of hair, and rapid
unconcerned progress like that of a plough through stubble," is
characteristically graphic, and far the best of the numerous pen
sketches of "the Professor." As for the criticism, the following is the
kernel passage of it:--

    Wilson had much nobleness of heart and many traits of noble
    genius, but the central tie-beam seemed wanting always; very
    long ago I perceived in him the most irreconcilable
    contradictions: Toryism with sansculottism; Methodism of a sort
    with total incredulity; a noble loyal and religious nature not
    strong enough to vanquish the perverse element it is born into.
    Hence a being all split into precipitous chasms and the wildest
    volcanic tumults; rocks over-grown indeed with tropical
    luxuriance of leaf and flower but knit together at the
    bottom--that was my old figure of speech--only by an ocean of
    whisky punch. On these terms nothing can be done. Wilson seems
    to me always by far the most _gifted_ of our literary men either
    then or still. And yet intrinsically he has written nothing that
    can endure. The central gift was wanting.

Something in the unfavourable part of this must no doubt be set down to
the critic's usual forgetfulness of his own admirable dictum, "he is not
thou, but himself; other than thou." John was quite other than Thomas,
and Thomas judged him somewhat summarily as if he were a failure of a
Thomas. Yet the criticism, if partly harsh and as a whole somewhat
incomplete, is true enough. Wilson has written "intrinsically nothing
that can endure," if it be judged by any severe test. An English
Diderot, he must bear a harder version of the judgment on Diderot, that
he had written good pages but no good book. Only very rarely has he even
written good pages, in the sense of pages good throughout. The almost
inconceivable haste with which he wrote (he is credited with having on
one occasion actually written fifty-six pages of print for _Blackwood_
in two days, and in the years of its double numbers he often
contributed from a hundred to a hundred and fifty pages in a single
month)--this prodigious haste would not of itself account for the
puerilities, the touches of bad taste, the false pathos, the tedious
burlesque, the more tedious jactation which disfigure his work. A man
writing against time may be driven to dulness, or commonplace, or
inelegance of style; but he need never commit any of the faults just
noticed. They were due beyond doubt, in Wilson's case, to a natural
idiosyncrasy, the great characteristic of which Carlyle has happily hit
off in the phrase, "want of a tie-beam," whether he has or has not been
charitable in suggesting that the missing link was supplied by whisky
punch. The least attractive point about Wilson's work is undoubtedly
what his censor elsewhere describes as his habit of "giving a kick" to
many men and things. There is no more unpleasant feature of the _Noctes_
than the apparent inability of the writer to refrain from sly "kicks"
even at the objects of his greatest veneration. A kind of mania of
detraction seizes him at times, a mania which some of his admirers have
more kindly than wisely endeavoured to shuffle off as a humorous
dramatic touch intentionally administered to him by his Eidolon North.
The most disgraceful, perhaps the only really disgraceful, instance of
this is the carping and offensive criticism of Scott's _Demonology_,
written and published at a time when Sir Walter's known state of health
and fortunes might have protected him even from an enemy, much more from
a friend, and a deeply obliged friend such as Wilson. Nor is this the
only fling at Scott. Wordsworth, much more vulnerable, is also much more
frequently assailed; and even Shakespeare does not come off scot-free
when Wilson is in his ugly moods.

It need hardly be said that I have no intention of saying that Scott or
Wordsworth or Shakespeare may not be criticised. It is the way in which
the criticism is done which is the crime; and for these acts of literary
high treason, or at least leasing-making, as well as for all Wilson's
other faults, nothing seems to me so much responsible as the want of
bottom which Carlyle notes. I do not think that Wilson had any solid
fund of principles, putting morals and religion aside, either in
politics or in literature. He liked and he hated much and strongly, and
being a healthy creature he on the whole liked the right things and
hated the wrong ones; but it was for the most part a merely instinctive
liking and hatred, quite un-coördinated, and by no means unlikely to
pass the next moment into hatred or liking as the case might be.

These are grave faults. But for the purpose of providing that pleasure
which is to be got from literature (and this, like one or two other
chapters here, is partly an effort in literary hedonism) Wilson stands
very high, indeed so high that he can be ranked only below the highest.
He who will enjoy him must be an intelligent voluptuary, and especially
well versed in the art of skipping. When Wilson begins to talk fine,
when he begins to wax pathetic, and when he gets into many others of his
numerous altitudes, it will behove the reader, according to his own
tastes, to skip with discretion and vigour. If he cannot do this, if his
eye is not wary enough, or if his conscience forbids him to obey his
eyes' warnings, Wilson is not for him. It is true that Mr. Skelton has
tried to make a "Comedy of the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_," in which the
skipping is done ready to hand. But, with all the respect due to the
author of _Thalatta_, the process is not, at least speaking according to
my judgment, successful. No one can really taste that eccentric book
unless he reads it as a whole; its humours arbitrarily separated and
cut-and-dried are nearly unintelligible. Indeed Professor Ferrier's
original attempt to give Wilson's work only, and not all of that work
when it happened to be mixed with others, seems to me to have been a
mistake. But of that further, when we come to speak of the _Noctes_
themselves.

Wilson's life, for more than two-thirds of it a very happy one and not
devoid of a certain eventfulness, can be summarised pretty briefly,
especially as a full account of it is available in the very delightful
work of his daughter Mrs. Gordon. Born in 1785, the son of a rich
manufacturer of Paisley and a mother who boasted gentle blood, he was
brought up first in the house of a country minister (whose parish he has
made famous in several sketches), then at the University of Glasgow, and
then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was early left possessor of a
considerable fortune, and his first love, a certain "Margaret," having
proved unkind, he established himself at Elleray on Windermere and
entered into all the Lake society. Before very long (he was twenty-six
at the time) he married Miss Jane Penny, daughter of a Liverpool
merchant, and kept open house at Elleray for some years. Then his
fortune disappeared in the keeping of a dishonest relation, and he had,
in a way, his livelihood to make. I say "in a way," because the wind
appears to have been considerably tempered to this shorn but robust
lamb. He had not even to give up Elleray, though he could not live there
in his old style. He had a mother who was able and willing to entertain
him at Edinburgh, on the sole understanding that he did not "turn Whig,"
of which there was very little danger. He was enabled to keep not too
exhausting or anxious terms as an advocate at the Scottish bar; and
before long he was endowed, against the infinitely superior claims of
Sir William Hamilton, and by sheer force of personal and political
influence, with the lucrative Professorship of Moral Philosophy in the
University of Edinburgh. But even before this he had been exempted from
the necessity of cultivating literature on a little oatmeal by his
connexion with _Blackwood's Magazine_. The story of that magazine has
often been told; never perhaps quite fully, but sufficiently. Wilson was
not at any time, strictly speaking, editor; and a statement under his
own hand avers that he never received any editorial pay, and was
sometimes subject to that criticism which the publisher, as all men know
from a famous letter of Scott's, was sometimes in the habit of
exercising rather indiscreetly. But for a very great number of years,
there is no doubt that he held a kind of quasi-editorial position, which
included the censorship of other men's work and an almost, if not quite,
unlimited right of printing his own. For some time the even more
masterful spirit of Lockhart (against whom by the way Mrs. Gordon seems
to have had a rather unreasonable prejudice) qualified his control over
"Maga." But Lockhart's promotion to the _Quarterly_ removed this
influence, and from 1825 (speaking roughly) to 1835 Wilson was supreme.
The death of William Blackwood and of the Ettrick Shepherd in the
last-named year, and of his own wife in 1837 (the latter a blow from
which he never recovered), strongly affected not his control over the
publication but his desire to control it; and after 1839 his
contributions (save in the years 1845 and 1848) were very few. Ill
health and broken spirits disabled him, and in 1852 he had to resign
his professorship, dying two years later after some months of almost
total prostration. Of the rest of the deeds of Christopher, and of his
pugilism, and of his learning, and of his pedestrian exploits, and of
his fishing, and of his cock-fighting, and of his hearty enjoyment of
life generally, the books of the chronicles of Mrs. Gordon, and still
more the twelve volumes of his works and the unreprinted contributions
to _Blackwood_, shall tell.

It is with those works that our principal business is, and some of them
I shall take the liberty of at once dismissing. His poems are now
matters of interest to very few mortals. It is not that they are bad,
for they are not; but that they are almost wholly without distinction.
He came just late enough to have got the seed of the great romantic
revival; and his verse work is rarely more than the work of a clever man
who has partly learnt and partly divined the manner of Burns, Scott,
Campbell, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and the rest. Nor, to my fancy,
are his prose tales of much more value. I read them many years ago and
cared little for them. I re-read, or attempted to re-read, them the
other day and cared less. There seems, from the original prospectus of
the edition of his works, to have been an intention of editing the
course of moral philosophy which, with more or fewer variations,
obtained him the agreeable income of a thousand a year or so for thirty
years. But whether (as Mrs. Gordon seems to hint) the notes were in too
dilapidated and chaotic a condition for use, or whether Professor
Ferrier, his son-in-law and editor (himself, with Dean Mansel, the last
of the exact philosophers of Britain), revolted at the idea of printing
anything so merely literary, or what it was, I know not--at any rate
they do not now figure in the list. This leaves us ten volumes of
collected works, to wit, four of the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_, four of
_Essays Critical and Imaginative_, and two of _The Recreations of
Christopher North_, all with a very few exceptions reprinted from
_Blackwood_. Mrs. Gordon filially groans because the reprint was not
more extensive, and without endorsing her own very high opinion of her
father's work, it is possible to agree with her. It is especially
noteworthy that from the essays are excluded three out of the four chief
critical series which Wilson wrote--that on Spenser, praised by a writer
so little given to reckless praise as Hallam, the _Specimens of British
Critics_, and the _Dies Boreales_,--leaving only the series on Homer
with its quasi-Appendix on the Greek dramatists, and the _Noctes_
themselves.

It must be confessed that the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_ are not easy things to
commend to the modern reader, if I may use the word commend in its
proper sense and with no air of patronage. Even Scotchmen (perhaps,
indeed, Scotchmen most of all) are wont nowadays to praise them rather
apologetically, as may be seen in the case of their editor and abridger
Mr. Skelton. Like most other very original things they drew after them a
flock of imbecile imitations; and up to the present day those who have
lived in the remoter parts of Scotland must know, or recently remember,
dreary compositions in corrupt following of the _Noctes_, with
exaggerated attempts at Christopher's worst mannerisms, and invariably
including a ghastly caricature of the Shepherd. Even in themselves they
abound in stumbling-blocks, which are perhaps multiplied, at least at
the threshold, by the arbitrary separation in Ferrier's edition of
Wilson's part, and not all his part, from the whole series; eighteen
numbers being excluded bodily to begin with, while many more and parts
of more are omitted subsequently. The critical mistake of this is
evident, for much of the machinery and all the characters of the
_Noctes_ were given to, not by, Wilson, and in all probability he
accepted them not too willingly. The origin of the fantastic personages,
the creation of which was a perfect mania with the early contributors to
_Blackwood_, and who are, it is to be feared, too often a nuisance to
modern readers, is rather dubious. Maginn's friends have claimed the
origination of the _Noctes_ proper, and of its well-known motto
paraphrased from Phocylides, for "The Doctor," or, if his chief
_Blackwood_ designation be preferred, for the Ensign--Ensign O'Doherty.
Professor Ferrier, on the other hand, has shown a not unnatural but by
no means critical or exact desire to hint that Wilson invented the
whole. There is no doubt that the real original is to be found in the
actual suppers at "Ambrose's." These Lockhart had described, in _Peter's
Letters_, before the appearance of the first _Noctes_ (the reader must
not be shocked, the false concord is invariable in the book itself) and
not long after the establishment of "Maga." As was the case with the
magazine generally, the early numbers were extremely local and extremely
personal. Wilson's glory is that he to a great extent, though not
wholly, lifted them out of this rut, when he became the chief if not the
sole writer after Lockhart's removal to London, and, with rare
exceptions, reduced the personages to three strongly marked and very
dramatic characters, Christopher North himself, the Ettrick Shepherd,
and "Tickler." All these three were in a manner portraits, but no one is
a mere photograph from a single person. On the whole, however, I suspect
that Christopher North is a much closer likeness, if not of what Wilson
himself was, yet at any rate of what he would have liked to be, than
some of his apologists maintain. These charitable souls excuse the
egotism, the personality, the violence, the inconsistency, the absurd
assumption of omniscience and Admirable-Crichtonism, on the plea that
"Christopher" is only the ideal Editor and not the actual Professor. It
is quite true that Wilson, who, like all men of humour, must have known
his own foibles, not unfrequently satirises them; but it is clear from
his other work and from his private letters that they _were_ his
foibles. The figure of the Shepherd, who is the chief speaker and on the
whole the most interesting, is a more debatable one. It is certain that
many of Hogg's friends, and, in his touchy moments he himself,
considered that great liberty was taken with him, if not that (as the
_Quarterly_ put it in a phrase which evidently made Wilson very angry)
he was represented as a mere "boozing buffoon." On the other hand it is
equally certain that the Shepherd never did anything that exhibited half
the power over thought and language which is shown in the best passages
of his _Noctes_ eidolon. Some of the adventures described as having
happened to him are historically known as having happened to Wilson
himself, and his sentiments are much more the writer's than the
speaker's. At the same time the admirably imitated patois and the subtle
rendering of Hogg's very well known foibles--his inordinate and
stupendous vanity, his proneness to take liberties with his betters, his
irritable temper, and the rest--give a false air of identity which is
very noteworthy. The third portrait is said to have been the farthest
from life, except in some physical peculiarities, of the three.
"Tickler," whose original was Wilson's maternal uncle Robert Sym, an
Edinburgh "writer," and something of a humorist in the flesh, is very
skilfully made to hold the position of common-sense intermediary between
the two originals, North and the Shepherd. He has his own peculiarities,
but he has also a habit of bringing his friends down from their
altitudes in a Voltairian fashion which is of great benefit to the
dialogues, and may be compared to Peacock's similar use of some of his
characters. The few occasional interlocutors are of little moment, with
one exception; and the only female characters, Mrs. and Miss Gentle,
would have been very much better away. They are not in the least
lifelike, and usually exhibit the namby-pambiness into which Wilson too
often fell when he wished to be refined and pathetic. The "English" or
half-English characters, who come in sometimes as foils, are also rather
of the stick, sticky. On the other hand, the interruptions of Ambrose,
the host, and his household, though a little farcical, are well judged.
And of the one exception above mentioned, the live Thomas De Quincey,
who is brought in without disguise or excuse in some of the very best of
the series, it can only be said that the imitation of his written style
is extraordinary, and that men who knew his conversation say that the
rendering of that is more extraordinary still.

The same designed exaggeration which some uncritical persons have called
Rabelaisian (not noticing that the very fault of the _Noctes_ is that,
unlike Rabelais, their author mixes up probabilities and improbabilities
so that there is a perpetual jarring) is maintained throughout the
scenery and etceteras. The comfortable but modest accommodations of
Ambrose's hotels in Gabriel's Road and Picardy Place are turned into
abodes of not particularly tasteful luxury which put Lord Beaconsfield's
famous upholstery to shame, and remind one of what they probably
suggested, Edgar Poe's equally famous and much more terrible sketch of a
model drawing-room. All the plate is carefully described as "silver"; if
it had been gold there might have been some humour in it. The "wax"
candles and "silken" curtains (if they had been _Arabian Nights_ lamps
and oriental drapery the same might be said) are always insisted on. If
there is any joke here it seems to lie in the contrast with Wilson's
actual habits, which were very simple. For instance, he gives us a
gorgeous description of the apparatus of North's solitary confinement
when writing for _Blackwood_; his daughter's unvarnished account of the
same process agrees exactly as to time, rate of production, and so
forth, but substitutes water for the old hock and "Scots pint" (magnum)
of claret, a dirty little terra-cotta inkstand for the silver utensil of
the _Noctes_, and a single large tallow candle for Christopher's "floods
of light." He carried the whim so far as to construct for himself--his
_Noctes_ self--an imaginary hall-by-the-sea on the Firth of Forth, which
in the same way seems to have had an actual resemblance, half of
likeness, half of contrast, to the actual Elleray, and to enlarge his
own comfortable town house in Gloucester Place to a sort of fairy palace
in Moray Place. But that which has most puzzled and shocked readers are
the specially Gargantuan passages relating to eating and drinking. The
comments made on this seem (he was anything but patient of criticism) to
have annoyed Wilson very much; and in some of the later _Noctes_ he
drops hints that the whole is mere Barmecide business. Unfortunately the
same criticism applies to this as to the upholstery--the exaggeration is
"done too natural." The Shepherd's consumption of oysters not by dozens
but by fifties, the allowance of "six common kettles-full of water" for
the night's toddy ration of the three, North's above-mentioned bottle of
old hock at dinner and magnum of claret after, the dinners and suppers
and "whets" which appear so often;--all these stop short of the actually
incredible, and are nothing more than extremely convivial men of the
time, who were also large eaters, would have actually consumed. Lord
Alvanley's three hearty suppers, the exploits of the old member of
Parliament in Boz's sketch of Bellamy's (I forget his real name, but he
was not a myth), and other things might be quoted to show that there is
a fatal verisimilitude in the Ambrosian feasts which may, or may not,
make them shocking (they don't shock me), but which certainly takes them
out of the category of merely humorous exaggeration. The Shepherd's
"jugs" numerous as they are (and by the way the Shepherd propounds two
absolutely contradictory theories of toddy-making, one of which,
according to the instructions of my preceptors in that art, who lived
within sight of the hills that look down on Glenlivet, is a damnable
heresy) are not in the least like the _seze muiz, deux bussars, et six
tupins_ of tripe that Gargamelle so rashly devoured. There are men now
living, and honoured members of society in Scotland, who admit the soft
impeachment of having drunk in their youth twelve or fourteen "double"
tumblers at a sitting. Now a double tumbler, be it known to the
Southron, is a jorum of toddy to which there go two wineglasses (of
course of the old-fashioned size, not our modern goblets) of whisky.
"Indeed," said a humorous and indulgent lady correspondent of Wilson's,
"indeed, I really think you eat too many oysters at the _Noctes_;" and
any one who believes in distributive justice must admit that they did.

If, therefore, the reader is of the modern cutlet-and-cup-of-coffee
school of feeding, he will no doubt find the _Noctes_ most grossly and
palpably gluttonous. If he be a very superior person he will smile at
the upholstery. If he objects to horseplay he will be horrified at
finding the characters on one occasion engaging in a regular "mill," on
more than one corking each other's faces during slumber, sometimes
playing at pyramids like the bounding brothers of acrobatic fame, at
others indulging in leap-frog with the servants, permitting themselves
practical jokes of all kinds, affecting to be drowned by an explosive
haggis, and so forth. Every now and then he will come to a passage at
which, without being superfine at all, he may find his gorge rise;
though there is nothing quite so bad in the _Noctes_ as the picture of
the ravens eating a dead Quaker in the _Recreations_, a picture for
which Wilson offers a very lame defence elsewhere. He must put all sorts
of prejudice, literary, political, and other, in his pocket. He must be
prepared not only for constant and very scurrilous flings at "Cockneys"
(Wilson extends the term far beyond the Hunt and Hazlitt school, an
extension which to this day seems to give a strange delight to Edinburgh
journalists), but for the wildest heterodoxies and inconsistencies of
political, literary, and miscellaneous judgment, for much bastard
verse-prose, for a good many quite uninteresting local and ephemeral
allusions, and, of course, for any quantity of Scotch dialect. If all
these allowances and provisos are too many for him to make, it is
probably useless for him to attempt the _Noctes_ at all. He will pretty
certainly, with the _Quarterly_ reviewer, set their characters down as
boozing buffoons, and decline the honour of an invitation to Ambrose's
or The Lodge, to Southside or the tent in Ettrick Forest.

But any one who can accommodate himself to these little matters, much
more any one who can enter into the spirit of days merrier, more
leisurely, and if not less straitlaced than our own, yet lacing their
laces in a different fashion, will find the _Noctes_ very delightful
indeed. The mere high jinks, when the secret of being in the vein with
them has been mastered, are seldom unamusing, and sometimes (notably in
the long swim out to sea of Tickler and the Shepherd) are quite
admirable fooling. No one who has an eye for the literary-dramatic can
help, after a few _Noctes_ have been read, admiring the skill with which
the characters are at once typified and individualised, the substance
which they acquire in the reader's mind, the personal interest in them
which is excited. And to all this, peculiarly suited for an alterative
in these solemn days, has to be added the abundance of scattered and
incomplete but remarkable gems of expression and thought that come at
every few pages, sometimes at every page, of the series.

Some of the burlesque narratives (such as the Shepherd's Mazeppa-like
ride on the Bonassus) are inimitably good, though they are too often
spoilt by Wilson's great faults of prolixity and uncertainty of touch.
The criticisms, of which there are many, are also extremely unequal,
but not a few very fine passages may be found among them. The politics,
it must be owned, are not good for much, even from the Tory point of
view. But the greatest attraction of the whole, next to its sunshiny
heartiness and humour, is to be found in innumerable and indescribable
bits, phrases, sentences, short paragraphs, which have, more than
anything out of the dialogues of the very best novels, the character and
charm of actual conversation. To read a _Noctes_ has, for those who have
the happy gift of realising literature, not much less than the effect of
actually taking part in one, with no danger of headache or indigestion
after, and without the risk of being playfully corked, or required to
leap the table for a wager, or forced to extemporise sixteen stanzas
standing on the mantelpiece. There must be some peculiar virtue in this,
for, as is very well known, the usual dialogue leaves the reader more
outside of it than almost any other kind of literature.

This peculiar charm is of necessity wanting to the rest of Wilson's
works, and in so far they are inferior to the _Noctes_; but they have
compensatory merits of their own, while, considered merely as
literature, there are better things in them than anything that is to be
found in the colloquies of those men of great gormandising
abilities--Christopher North, James Hogg, and Timothy Tickler. Of the
four volumes of _Essays Critical and Imaginative_, the fourth, on Homer
and his translators, with an unfinished companion piece on the Greek
drama, stands by itself, and has indeed, I believe, been separately
published. It is well worth reading through at a sitting, which cannot
be said of every volume of criticism. What is more, it may, I think, be
put almost first in its own division of the art, though whether that
division of the art is a high or low one is another question. I should
not myself rank it very high. With Wilson, criticism, at least here, is
little more than the eloquent expression of likes and dislikes. The long
passages in which he deals with the wrath of Achilles and with the love
of Calypso, though subject to the general stricture already more than
once passed, are really beautiful specimens of literary enthusiasm; nor
is there anything in English more calculated to initiate the reader,
especially the young reader, in the love at least, if not the
understanding, of Homer. The same enthusiastic and obviously quite
genuine appreciation appears in the essay on the "Agamemnon." But of
criticism as criticism--of what has been called tracing of literary
cause and effect, of any coherent and co-ordinated theory of the good
and bad in verse and prose, and the reasons of their goodness or
badness, it must be said of this, as of Wilson's other critical work,
that it is to be found _nusquam nullibi nullimodis_. He can preach
(though with too great volubility, and with occasional faults of taste)
delightful sermons about what he likes at the moment--for it is by no
means always the same; and he can make formidable onslaughts with
various weapons on what he dislikes at the moment--which again is not
always the same. But a man so certain to go off at score whenever his
likes or dislikes are excited, and so absolutely unable to check himself
whenever he feels tempted thus to go off, lacks the very first
qualifications of the critic:--lacks them, indeed, almost as much as the
mere word-grinder who looks to see whether a plural substantive has a
singular verb, and is satisfied if it has not, and horrified if it has.
His most famous sentence "The Animosities are mortal, but the Humanities
live for ever" is certainly noble. But it would have been better if the
Humanities had oftener choked the Animosities at their birth.

Wilson's criticism is to be found more or less everywhere in his
collected writings. I have said that I think it a pity that, of his
longest critical attempts, only one has been republished; and the reason
is simple. For with an unequal writer (and Wilson is a writer unequalled
in his inequality) his best work is as likely to be found in his worst
book as his worst work in his best book; while the constant
contemplation for a considerable period of one subject is more likely
than anything else to dispel his habits of digression and padding. But
the ubiquity of his criticism through the ten volumes was, in the
circumstances of their editing, simply unavoidable. He had himself
superintended a selection of all kinds, which he called _The Recreations
of Christopher North_, and this had to be reprinted entire. It followed
that, in the _Essays Critical and Imaginative_, an equally miscellaneous
character should be observed. Almost everything given, and much not
given, in the Works is worth consideration, but for critical purposes a
choice is necessary. Let us take the consolidated essay on Wordsworth
(most of which dates before 1822), the famous paper on Lord, then Mr.,
Tennyson's poems in 1832, and the generous palinode on Macaulay's "Lays"
of 1842. No three papers could better show Wilson in his three literary
stages, that of rather cautious tentative (for though he was not a very
young man in 1818, the date of the earliest of the Wordsworth papers, he
was a young writer), that of practised and unrestrained vigour (for 1832
represents about his literary zenith), and that of reflective decadence,
for by 1842 he had ceased to write habitually, and was already bowed
down by mental sorrows and physical ailments.

In the first paper, or set of papers, it is evident that he is
ambitiously groping after a more systematic style of criticism than he
found in practice to be possible for him. Although he elsewhere scoffs
at definitions, he tries to formulate very precisely the genius of
Scott, of Byron, and of Wordsworth; he does his best to connect his
individual judgments with these formulas; he shuns mere verbal
criticism, and (to some extent) mere exaltation or depreciation of
particular passages. But it is quite evident that he is ill at ease; and
I do not think that any one now reading the essay can call it a
successful one, or can attempt to rank it with those which, from
different points of view, Hazlitt and De Quincey (Hazlitt nearly at the
same time) wrote about Wordsworth. Indeed, Hazlitt is the most valuable
of all examples for a critical comparison with Wilson; both being
violent partisans and crotcheteers, both being animated with the truest
love of poetry, but the one possessing and the other lacking the
"tie-beam" of a consistent critical theory.

A dozen years later Wilson had cast his slough, and had become the
autocratic, freespoken, self-constituted dictator, Christopher North. He
was confronted with the very difficult problem of Mr. Tennyson's poems.
He knew they were poetry; that he could not help seeing and knowing. But
they seemed to him to be the work of a "cockney" (it would be
interesting to know whether there ever was any one less of a cockney
than the author of "Mariana"), and he was irritated by some silly praise
which had been given to them. So he set to work, and perpetrated the
queerest jumble of sound and unsound criticism that exists in the
archives of that art, so far as a humble but laborious student and
practitioner thereof knoweth. He could not for the life of him help
admiring "Adeline," "Oriana," "Mariana," "The Ode to Memory." Yet he had
nothing but scorn for the scarcely less exquisite "Mermaid" and "Sea
Fairies"--though the first few lines of the latter, excluded by this and
other pseudo-criticism from the knowledge of half a generation of
English readers, equal almost anything that the poet has ever done. And
only the lucky memory of a remark of Hartley Coleridge's (who never went
wrong in criticism, whatever he did in life) saved him from explicitly
damning "The Dying Swan," which stands at the very head of a whole class
of poetry. In all this essay, to borrow one of his own favourite words,
he simply "plouters"--splashes and flounders about without any guidance
of critical theory. Compare, to keep up the comparative method, the
paper with the still more famous and far more deadly attack which
Lockhart made a little later in the _Quarterly_. There one finds little,
if any, generosity; an infinitely more cold-blooded and deliberate
determination to "cut up." But the critic (and how quaint and pathetic
it is to think that the said critic was the author of "I ride from land
to land" and "When youthful hope is fled") sees his theory of poetry
straight before him, and never takes his eye off it. The individual
censures may be just or unjust, but they fit together like the
propositions of a masterpiece of legal judgment. The poet is condemned
under the statute,--so much the worse for the statute perhaps, but that
does not matter--and he can only plead No jurisdiction; whereas with
Christopher it is quite different. If he does not exactly blunder right
(and he sometimes does that), he constantly blunders wrong--goes wrong,
that is to say, without any excuse of theory or general view. That is
not criticism.

We shall not find matters much mended from the strictly critical point
of view, when we come, ten years later, to the article on the "Lays."
Here Christopher, as I hold with all respect to persons of distinction,
is absolutely right. He does not say one word too much of the fire and
life of those wonderful verses, of that fight of all fights--as far as
English verse goes, except Drayton's "Agincourt" and the last canto of
"Marmion"; as far as English prose goes, except some passages of Mallory
and two or three pages of Kingsley's--the Battle of the Lake Regillus.
The subject and the swing attracted him; he liked the fight, and he
liked the ring as of Sir Walter at his very best. But he goes
appallingly wrong all through on general critical points.

Yet, according to his own perverse fashion, he never goes wrong without
going right. Throughout his critical work there are scattered the most
intelligent ideas, the neatest phrases, the most appreciative judgments.
How good is it to say that "the battle of Trafalgar, though in some
sort it neither began nor ended anything, was a kind of consummation of
national prowess." How good again in its very straightforwardness and
simplicity is the dictum "it is not necessary that we should understand
fine poetry in order to feel and enjoy it, any more than fine music."
Hundreds and thousands of these things lie about the pages. And in the
next page to each the critic probably goes and says something which
shows that he had entirely forgotten them. An intelligent man may be
angry with Christopher--I should doubt whether any one who is not
occasionally both angry and disgusted with him can be an intelligent
man. But it is impossible to dislike him or fail to admire him as a
whole.

There is a third and very extensive division of Wilson's work which may
not improbably be more popular, or might be if it were accessible
separately, with the public of to-day, than either of those which have
been surveyed. His "drunken _Noctes_," as Carlyle unkindly calls them,
require a certain peculiar attitude of mind to appreciate them. As for
his criticisms, it is frequently said, and it certainly would not become
me to deny it, that nobody reads criticism but critics. But Wilson's
renown as an athlete, a sportsman, and a lover of nature, who had a
singular gift in expressing his love, has not yet died; and there is an
ample audience now for men who can write about athletics, about sport,
and about scenery. Nor is it questionable that on these subjects he is
seen, on the whole, at his best. True, his faults pursue him even here,
and are aggravated by a sort of fashion of the time which made him
elaborately digress into politics, into literature, even (God rest his
soul!) into a kind of quasi-professional and professorial sermonising on
morals and theology, in the midst of his sporting articles. But the
metal more attractive of the main subject would probably recommend these
papers widely, if they were not scattered pell-mell about the _Essays
Critical and Imaginative_, and the _Recreations of Christopher North_.
Speaking generally they fall into three divisions--essays on sport in
general, essays on the English Lakes, and essays on the Scottish
Highlands. The best of the first class are the famous papers called
"Christopher North in his Sporting Jacket," and the scattered reviews
and articles redacted in the _Recreations_ under the general title of
"Anglimania." In the second class all are good; and a volume composed of
"Christopher at the Lakes," "A Day at Windermere," "Christopher on
Colonsay" (a wild extravaganza which had a sort of basis of fact in a
trotting-match won on a pony which Wilson afterwards sold for four
pounds), and "A Saunter at Grasmere," with one or two more, would be a
thing of price. The best of the third class beyond all question is the
collection, also redacted by the author for the _Recreations_, entitled
"The Moors." This last is perhaps the best of all the sporting and
descriptive pieces, though not the least exemplary of its authors
vagaries; for before he can get to the Moors, he gives us heaven knows
how many pages of a criticism on Wordsworth, which, in that place at any
rate, we do not in the least want; and in the very middle of his
wonderful and sanguinary exploits on and near Ben Cruachan, he
"interrupts the muffins" in order to deliver to a most farcical and
impertinent assemblage a quite serious and still more impertinent
sermon. But all these papers are more or less delightful. For the
glowing description of, and the sneaking apology for, cat-worrying which
the "Sporting Jacket" contains, nothing can be said. Wilson deliberately
overlooks the fact that the whole fun of that nefarious amusement
consists in the pitting of a plucky but weak animal against something
much more strongly built and armed than itself. One may regret the P.R.,
and indulge in a not wholly sneaking affection for cock-fighting,
dog-fighting, and anything in which there is a fair match, without
having the slightest weakness for this kind of brutality. But, generally
speaking, Wilson is a thoroughly fair sportsman, and how enthusiastic he
is, no one who has read him can fail to know. Of the scenery of loch or
lake, of hill or mountain, he was at once an ardent lover and a
describer who has never been equalled. His accustomed exaggeration and
false emphasis are nowhere so little perceptible as when he deals with
Ben Cruachan or the Old Man of Coniston, with the Four Great Lakes of
Britain, East and West (one of his finest passages), or with the glens
of Etive and Borrowdale. The accursed influence of an unchastened taste
is indeed observable in the before-mentioned "Dead Quaker of Helvellyn,"
a piece of unrelieved nastiness which he has in vain tried to excuse.
But the whole of the series from which this is taken ("Christopher in
his Aviary") is in his least happy style, alternately grandiose and low,
relieved indeed by touches of observation and feeling, as all his work
is, but hardly redeemed by them. The depths of his possible fall may
also be seen from a short piece which Professor Ferrier, obligingly
describing it as "too lively to be omitted," has adjoined to
"Christopher at the Lakes." But, on the whole, all the articles
mentioned in the list at the beginning of this paragraph, with the
capital "Streams" as an addition, with the soliloquies on "The Seasons,"
and with part (_not_ the narrative part) of "Highland Storms," are
delightful reading. The progress of the sportsman has never been better
given than in "Christopher North in his Sporting Jacket." In "The Moors"
the actual sporting part is perhaps a little spoilt by the affectation
of infallibility, qualified it is true by an aside or two, which so
often mars the Christopherian utterances. But Wilson's description has
never been bettered. The thunderstorm on the hill, the rough
conviviality at the illicit distillery, the evening voyage on the loch,
match, if they do not beat, anything of the kind in much more recent
books far better known to the present generation. A special favourite of
mine is the rather unceremonious review of Sir Humphry Davy's strangely
over-praised "Salmonia." The passage of utter scorn and indignation at
the preposterous statement of the chief personage in the dialogues, that
after an exceptionally hard day's walking and fishing "half a pint of
claret per man is enough," is sublime. Nearly the earliest, and
certainly the best, protest against some modern fashions in shooting is
to be found in "The Moors." In the same series, the visit to the hill
cottage, preceding that to the still, has what it has since become the
fashion to call the idyllic flavour, without too much of the rather
mawkish pathos with which, in imitation of Mackenzie and the
sensibility-writers of the last century, Wilson is apt to daub his
pictures of rural and humble life. The passages on Oxford, to go to a
slightly different but allied subject, in "Old North and Young North" (a
paper not yet mentioned), may have full appeal to Oxford men, but I can
hardly be mistaken in thinking that outsiders must see at least some of
the beauty of them. But the list of specially desirable things in these
articles is endless; hardly one of them can be taken up without
discovering many such, not one of them without discovering some.[15]

And, throughout the whole collection, there is the additional
satisfaction that the author is writing only of what he thoroughly knows
and understands. At the Lakes Wilson lived for years, and was familiar
with every cranny of the hills, from the Pillar to Hawes Water, and from
Newby Bridge to Saddleback. He began marching and fishing through the
Highlands when he was a boy, enticed even his wife into perilous
pedestrian enterprises with him, and, though the extent of his knowledge
was perhaps not quite so large as he pretends, he certainly knew great
tracts as well as he knew Edinburgh. Nor were his qualifications as a
sportsman less authentic, despite the somewhat Munchausenish appearance
which some of the feats narrated in the _Noctes_ and the _Recreations_
wear, and are indeed intended to wear. His enormous baskets of trout
seem to have been, if not quite so regular as he sometimes makes them
out, at any rate fully historical as occasional feats. As has been
hinted, he really did win the trotting-match on the pony, Colonsay,
against a thoroughbred, though it was only on the technical point of the
thoroughbred breaking his pace. His walk from London to Oxford in a
night seems to have been a fact, and indeed there is nothing at all
impossible in it, for the distance through Wycombe is not more than
fifty-three miles; while the less certainly authenticated feat of
walking from Liverpool to Elleray (eighty miles at least), without more
than a short rest, also appears to be genuine. Like the heroes of a song
that he loved, though he seems to have sung it in a corrupt text, he
could wrestle and fight and jump out anywhere; and, until he was
thoroughly broken by illness, he appears to have made the very most of
the not inconsiderable spare time of a Scotch professor who has once got
his long series of lectures committed to paper, and has nothing to do
for the rest of his life but collect bundles of pound notes at the
beginning of each session. All this, joined to his literary gifts, gives
a reality to his out-of-door papers which is hardly to be found
elsewhere except in some passages of Kingsley, between whom and Wilson
there are many and most curious resemblances, chequered by national and
personal differences only less curious.

I do not think he was a good reviewer, even after making allowance for
the prejudices and partisanships of the time, and for the monkey tricks
of mannerism, which, at any rate in his earlier days, were incumbent on
a reviewer in "Maga." He is too prone to the besetting sins of
reviewing--the right hand defections and left hand fallings off, which,
being interpreted, consist first in expressing agreement or
disagreement with the author's views, and secondly in digressing into
personal statements of one's own views of things connected with them
instead of expounding more or less clearly what the book is, and
addressing oneself to the great question, Is it a good or a bad piece of
work according to the standard which the author himself strove to reach?
I have said that I do not think he was on the whole a good critic (for a
man may be a good critic and a bad reviewer, though the reverse will
hardly stand), and I have given my reasons. That he was neither a great,
nor even a very good poet or tale-teller, I have no doubt whatever. But
this leaves untouched the attraction of his miscellaneous work, and its
suitableness for the purpose of recreation. For that purpose I think it
to be among the very best work in all literature. Its unfailing life and
vigour, its vast variety, the healthy and inspiriting character of the
subjects with which in the main it deals, are the characteristics which
make its volumes easy-chair books of the best order. Its beauty no doubt
is irregular, faulty, engaging rather than exquisite, attractive rather
than artistically or scientifically perfect. I do not know that there is
even any reason to join in the general lament over Wilson as being a
gigantic failure, a monument of wasted energies and half-developed
faculty. I do not at all think that there was anything in him much
better than he actually did, or that he ever could have polished and
sand-papered the faults out of his work. It would pretty certainly have
lost freshness and vigour; it would quite certainly have been less in
bulk, and bulk is a very important point in literature that is to serve
as recreation. It is to me not much less certain that it never would
have attained the first rank in symmetry and order. I am quite content
with it as it is, and I only wish that still more of it were easily
accessible.

FOOTNOTES:

[15] If I accepted (a rash acceptance) the challenge to name the three
very best things in Wilson I should, I think, choose the famous Fairy's
Funeral in the _Recreations_, the Shepherd's account of his recovery
from illness in the _Noctes_, and, in a lighter vein, the picture of
girls bathing in "Streams."



X

DE QUINCEY[16]


In not a few respects the literary lot of Thomas De Quincey, both during
his life and after it, has been exceedingly peculiar. In one respect it
has been unique. I do not know that any other author of anything like
his merit, during our time, has had a piece of work published for fully
twenty years as his, only for it to be excluded as somebody else's at
the end of that time. Certainly _The Traditions of the Rabbins_ was very
De Quinceyish; indeed, it was so De Quinceyish that the discovery, after
such a length of time, that it was not De Quincey's at all, but
"Salathiel" Croly's, must have given unpleasant qualms to more than one
critic accustomed to be positive on internal evidence. But if De Quincey
had thus attributed to him work that was not his, he has also had the
utmost difficulty in getting attributed to him, in any accessible form,
work that was his own. Three, or nominally four, editions--one in the
decade of his death, superintended for the most part by himself; another
in 1862, whose blue coat and white labels dwell in the fond memory; and
another in 1878 (reprinted in 1880) a little altered and enlarged, with
the Rabbins turned out and more soberly clad, but identical in the
main--put before the British public for some thirty-five years a certain
portion of his strange, long-delayed, but voluminous work. This work had
occupied him for about the same period, that is to say for the last and
shorter half of his extraordinary and yet uneventful life. Now, after
much praying of readers, and grumbling of critics, we have a fifth and
definitive edition from the English critic who has given most attention
to De Quincey, Professor Masson.[17] I may say, with hearty
acknowledgment of Mr. Masson's services to English literature, that I do
not very much like this last edition. De Quincey, never much favoured by
the mechanical producers of books, has had his sizings, as Byron would
say, still further stinted in the matter of print, margins, and the
like; and what I cannot but regard as a rather unceremonious tampering
with his own arrangement has taken place, the new matter being not added
in supplementary volumes or in appendices to the reprinted volumes, but
thrust into or between the separate essays, sometimes to the destruction
of De Quincey's "redaction" altogether, and always to the confusion and
dislocation of his arrangement, which has also been neglected in other
ways. Still the actual generation of readers will undoubtedly have
before them a fuller and completer edition of De Quincey than even
Americans have yet had; and they will have it edited by an accomplished
scholar who has taken a great deal of pains to acquaint himself
thoroughly with the subject.

Will they form a different estimate from that which those of us who have
known the older editions for a quarter of a century have formed, and
will that estimate, if it is different, be higher or lower? To answer
such questions is always difficult; but it is especially difficult here,
for a certain reason which I had chiefly in mind when I said just now
that De Quincey's literary lot has been very peculiar. I believe that I
am not speaking for myself only; I am quite sure that I am speaking my
own deliberate opinion when I say that on scarcely any English writer is
it so hard to strike a critical balance--to get a clear definite opinion
that you can put on the shelf and need merely take down now and then to
be dusted and polished up by a fresh reading--as on De Quincey. This is
partly due to the fact that his merits are of the class that appeals to,
while his faults are of the class that is excused by, the average boy
who has some interest in literature. To read the _Essay on Murder_, the
_English Mail Coach_, _The Spanish Nun_, _The Cæsars_, and half a score
other things at the age of about fifteen or sixteen is, or ought to be,
to fall in love with them. And there is nothing more unpleasant for _les
âmes bien nées_, as the famous distich has it, than to find fault in
after life with that with which you have fallen in love at fifteen or
sixteen. Yet most unfortunately, just as De Quincey's merits, or some of
them, appeal specially to youth, and his defects specially escape the
notice of youth, so age with stealing steps especially claws those
merits into his clutch and leaves the defects exposed to derision. The
most gracious state of authors is that they shall charm at all ages
those whom they do charm. There are others--Dante, Cervantes, Goethe are
instances--as to whom you may even begin with a little aversion, and go
on to love them more and more. De Quincey, I fear, belongs to a third
class, with whom it is difficult to keep up the first love, or rather
whose defects begin before long to urge themselves upon the critical
lover (some would say there are no critical lovers, but that I deny)
with an even less happy result than is recorded in one of Catullus's
finest lines. This kind of discovery

    Cogit amare _minus_, _nec_ bene velle _magis_.

How and to what extent this is the case, it must be the business of this
paper to attempt to show. But first it is desirable to give, as usual,
a brief sketch of De Quincey's life. It need only be a brief one, for
the external events of that life were few and meagre; nor can they be
said to be, even after the researches of Mr. Page and Professor Masson,
very accurately or exhaustively known. Before those researches "all was
mist and myth" about De Quincey. I remember as a boy, a year or two
after his death, hearing a piece of scandal about his domestic
relations, which seems to have had no foundation whatever, but which
pretty evidently was an echo of the "libel" (published in a short-lived
newspaper of the kind which after many years has again risen to infest
London) whereof he complains with perhaps more acrimony than dignity in
a paper for the first time exhumed and reprinted in Professor Masson's
edition. Many of the details of the _Confessions_ and the
_Autobiography_ have a singular unbelievableness as one reads them; and
though the tendency of recent biographers has been to accept them as on
the whole genuine, I own that I am rather sceptical about many of them
still. Was the ever-famous Malay a real Malay, or a thing of shreds and
patches? Did De Quincey actually call upon the awful Dean Cyril Jackson
and affably discuss with him the propriety of entering himself at
Christ-church? Did he really journey pennilessly down to Eton on the
chance of finding a casual peer of the realm of tender years who would
back a bill for him? These are but a few out of a large number of
questions which in idle moods (for the answer to hardly one of them is
of the least importance) suggest themselves; and which have been very
partially answered hitherto even of late years, though they have been
much discussed. The plain and tolerably certain facts which are
important in connection with his work may be pretty rapidly summed up.

Thomas de Quincey, or Quincey, was born in Manchester--but apparently
not, as he himself thought, at the country house of Greenhay which his
parents afterwards inhabited--on 15th August 1785. His father was a
merchant, well to do but of weak health, who died when Thomas was seven
years old. Of his childhood he has left very copious reminiscences, and
there is no doubt that reminiscences of childhood do linger long after
later memories have disappeared. But to what extent De Quincey gave
"cocked hats and canes" to his childish thoughts and to his relations
with his brothers and sisters, individual judgment must decide. I should
say, for my part, that the extent was considerable. It seems, however,
pretty clear that he was as a child, very much what he was all his
life--emphatically "old-fashioned," retiring without being exactly shy,
full of far-brought fancies and yet intensely concentrated upon himself.
In 1796 his mother moved to Bath, and Thomas was educated first at the
Grammar School there and then at a private school in Wiltshire. It was
at Bath, his headquarters being there, that he met various persons of
distinction--Lord Westport, Lord and Lady Carbery, and others--who
figure largely in the _Autobiography_, but are never heard of
afterwards. It was with Lord Westport, a boy somewhat younger than
himself, that he took a trip to Ireland, the only country beyond Great
Britain that he visited. In 1800 he was sent by his guardians to the
Manchester Grammar School in order to obtain, by three years' boarding
there, one of the Somerset Exhibitions to Brasenose. As a separate
income of £150 had been left by De Quincey's father to each of his sons,
as this income, or part of it, must have been accumulating, and as the
mother was very well off, this roundabout way of securing for him a
miserable forty or fifty pounds a year seems strange enough. But it has
to be remembered that for all these details we have little security but
De Quincey himself. However, that he did go to Manchester, and did,
after rather more than two of his three years' probation, run away is
indisputable. His mother was living at Chester, and the calf was not
killed for this prodigal son; but he had liberty given him to wander
about Wales on an allowance of a guinea a week. That there is some
mystery, or mystification, about all this is nearly certain. If things
really went as he represents them, his mother ought to have been
ashamed of herself, and his guardians ought to have had, to say the
least, an experience of the roughest side of Lord Eldon's tongue. The
wanderings in Wales were followed by the famous sojourn in Soho, with
its waitings at money-lenders' doors, and its perambulations of Oxford
Street. Then, by another sudden revolution, we find De Quincey with
two-thirds of his allowance handed over to him and permission to go to
Oxford as he wished, but abandoned to his own devices by his mother and
his guardians, as surely no mother and no guardians ever abandoned an
exceptionally unworldly boy of eighteen before. They seem to have put
fifty guineas in his pocket and sent him up to Oxford, without even
recommending him a college, and with an income which made it practically
certain that he would once more seek the Jews. When he had spent so much
of his fifty guineas that there was not enough left to pay caution-money
at most colleges, he went to Worcester, where it happened to be low. He
seems to have stayed there, on and off, for nearly six years. But he
took no degree, his eternal caprices making him shun _vivâ voce_ (then a
much more important part of the examination than it is now) after
sending in unusually good written papers. Instead of taking a degree, he
began to take opium, and to make acquaintance with the "Lakers" in both
their haunts of Somerset and Westmoreland. He entered himself at the
Middle Temple, he may have eaten some dinners, and somehow or other he
"came into his property," though there are dire surmises that it was by
the Hebrew door. At any rate in November 1809 he gave up both Oxford and
London (which he had frequented a good deal, chiefly, he says, for the
sake of the opera of which he was very fond), and established himself at
Grasmere. One of the most singular things about his singular life--an
oddity due, no doubt, in part to the fact that he outlived his more
literary associates instead of being outlived by them--is that though we
hear much from De Quincey of other people we hear extremely little from
other people about De Quincey. Indeed what we do so hear dates almost
entirely from the last days of his life.

As for the autobiographic details in his _Confessions_ and elsewhere,
anybody who chooses may put those Sibylline leaves together for himself.
It would only appear certain that for ten years he led the life of a
recluse student and a hard laudanum-drinker, varied by a little society
now and then; that in 1816 he married Margaret Simpson, a dalesman's
daughter, of whom we have hardly any personal notices save to the effect
that she was very beautiful, and who seems to have been almost the most
exemplary of wives to almost the most eccentric of husbands; that for
most of the time he was in more or less ease and affluence (ease and
affluence still, it would seem, of a treacherous Hebraic origin); and
that about 1819 he found himself in great pecuniary difficulties. Then
at length he turned to literature, started as editor of a little Tory
paper at Kendal, went to London, and took rank, never to be cancelled,
as a man of letters by the first part of _The Confessions of an
Opium-Eater_, published in the _London Magazine_ for 1821. He began as a
magazine-writer, and he continued as such till the end of his life; his
publications in book-form being, till he was induced to collect his
articles, quite insignificant. Between 1821 and 1825 he seems to have
been chiefly in London, though sometimes at Grasmere; between 1825 and
1830 chiefly at Grasmere, but much in Edinburgh, where Wilson (whose
friendship he had secured, not at Oxford, though they were
contemporaries, but at the Lakes) was now residing, and where he was
introduced to Blackwood. In 1830 he moved his household to the Scotch
capital, and lived there, and (after his wife's death in 1837) at
Lasswade, or rather Polton, for the rest of his life. His affairs had
come to their worst before he lost his wife, and it is now known that
for some considerable time he lived, like Mr. Chrystal Croftangry, in
the sanctuary of Holyrood. But De Quincey's way of "living" at any place
was as mysterious as most of his other ways; and, though he seems to
have been very fond of his family and not at all put out by them, it was
his constant habit to establish himself in separate lodgings. These he
as constantly shifted (sometimes as far as Glasgow) for no intelligible
reason that has ever been discovered or surmised, his pecuniary troubles
having long ceased. It was in the latest and most permanent of these
lodgings, 42 Lothian Street, Edinburgh, not at Lasswade, that he died on
the 8th of December 1859. He had latterly written mainly, though not
solely, for _Tait's Magazine_ and _Hogg's Instructor_. But his chief
literary employment for at least seven years before this, had been the
arrangement of the authorised edition of his works, the last or
fourteenth volume of which was in the press at the time of his death.

So meagre are the known facts in a life of seventy-four years, during
nearly forty of which De Quincey, though never popular, was still
recognised as a great name in English letters, while during the same
period he knew, and was known to, not a few distinguished men. But
little as is recorded of the facts of his life, even less is recorded of
his character, and for once it is almost impossible to discover that
character from his works. The few persons who met him all agree as to
his impenetrability,--an impenetrability not in the least due to posing,
but apparently natural and fated. De Quincey was at once egotistic and
impersonal, at once delighted to talk and resolutely shunning society.
To him, one is tempted to say, reading and writing did come by nature,
and nothing else was natural at all. With books he is always at home. A
De Quincey in a world where there was neither reading nor writing of
books, would certainly either have committed suicide or gone mad. Pope's
theory of the master-passion, so often abused, justified itself here.

The quantity of work produced during this singular existence, from the
time when De Quincey first began, unusually late, to write for
publication, was very large. As collected by the author, it filled
fourteen volumes; the collection was subsequently enlarged to sixteen,
and though the new edition promises to restrict itself to the older and
lesser number, the contents of each volume have been very considerably
increased. But this printed and reprinted total, so far as can be judged
from De Quincey's own assertions and from the observations of those who
were acquainted with him during his later years, must have been but the
smaller part of what he actually wrote. He was always writing, and
always leaving deposits of his manuscripts in the various lodgings where
it was his habit to bestow himself. The greater part of De Quincey's
writing was of a kind almost as easily written by so full a reader and
so logical a thinker as an ordinary newspaper article by an ordinary
man; and except when he was sleeping, wandering about, or reading, he
was always writing. It is, of course, true that he spent a great deal of
time, especially in his last years of all, in re-writing and
re-fashioning previously executed work; and also that illness and opium
made considerable inroads on his leisure. But I should imagine that if
we had all that he actually wrote during these nearly forty years, forty
or sixty printed volumes would more nearly express its amount than
fourteen or sixteen.

Still what we have is no mean bulk of work for any man to have
accomplished, especially when it is considered how extraordinarily good
much of it is. To classify it is not particularly easy; and I doubt,
myself, whether any classification is necessary. De Quincey himself
tried, and made rather a muddle of it. Professor Masson is trying also.
But, in truth, except those wonderful purple patches of "numerous"
prose, which are stuck all about the work, and perhaps in strictness not
excepting them, everything that De Quincey wrote, whether it was dream
or reminiscence, literary criticism or historical study, politics or
political economy, had one characteristic so strongly impressed on it as
to dwarf and obscure the differences of subject. It is not very easy to
find a description at once accurate and fair, brief and adequate, of
this peculiarity; it is best hinted at in a remark on De Quincey's
conversation which I have seen quoted somewhere (whether by Professor
Masson or not I hardly know), that it was, with many interesting and
delightful qualities, a kind of "rigmarole." So far as I remember, the
remark was not applied in any unfriendly spirit, nor is it adduced here
in any such. But both in the printed works, in the remembrances of De
Quincey's conversation which have been printed, in his letters which are
exactly like his articles, and in those astonishing imaginary
conversations attributed to him in the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_, which are
said, by good authorities, exactly to represent his way of talk, this
quality of rigmarole appears. It is absolutely impossible for him to
keep to his subject, or any subject. It is as impossible for him to pull
himself up briefly in any digression from that subject. In his finest
passages, as in his most trivial, he is at the mercy of the
will-o'-the-wisp of divagation. In his later re-handlings of his work,
he did to some extent limit his followings of this will-o'-the-wisp to
notes, but by no means always; and both in his later and in his earlier
work, as it was written for the first time, he indulged them freely in
the text.

For pure rigmarole, for stories, as Mr. Chadband has it, "of a cock and
of a bull, and of a lady and of a half-crown," few things, even in De
Quincey, can exceed, and nothing out of De Quincey can approach, the
passages about the woman he met on the "cop" at Chester, and about the
Greek letter that he did not send to the Bishop of Bangor, in the
preliminary part of the _Confessions_. The first is the more teasing,
because with a quite elvish superfluity of naughtiness he has here
indulged in a kind of double rigmarole about the woman and the "bore"
in the river, and flits from one to the other, and from the other to the
one (his main story standing still the while), for half a dozen pages,
till the reader feels as Coleridge's auditors must have felt when he
talked about "Ball and Bell, Bell and Ball." But the Greek letter
episode, or rather, the episode about the Greek letter which never was
written, is, if possible, more flagrantly rigmarolish.
The-cop-and-bore-and-woman digression contains some remarkable
description as a kind of solace to the Puck-led traveller; the other is
bare of any such comfort. The Bishop's old housekeeper, who was De
Quincey's landlady, told him, it seems, that the Bishop had cautioned
her against taking in lodgers whom she did not know, and De Quincey was
very angry. As he thought he could write Greek much better than the
Bishop, he meditated expostulation in that language. He did not
expostulate, but he proceeds instead to consider the possible effect on
the Bishop if he had. There was a contemporary writer whom we can
imagine struck by a similar whimsy: but Charles Lamb would have given us
the Bishop and himself "quite natural and distinct" in a dozen lines,
and then have dropped the subject, leaving our sides aching with
laughter, and our appetites longing for more. De Quincey tells us at
great length who the Bishop was, and how he was the Head of Brasenose,
with some remarks on the relative status of Oxford Colleges. Then he
debates the pros and cons on the question whether the Bishop would have
answered the letter or not, with some remarks on the difference between
strict scholarship and the power of composing in a dead language. He
rises to real humour in the remark, that as "Methodists swarmed in
Carnarvonshire," he "could in no case have found pleasure in causing
mortification" to the Bishop, even if he had vanquished him. By this
time we have had some three pages of it, and could well, especially with
this lively touch to finish, accept them, though they be something
tedious, supposing the incident to be closed. The treacherous author
leads us to suppose that it is closed; telling us how he left Bangor,
and went to Carnarvon, which change gradually drew his thoughts away
from the Bishop. So far is this from being the case, that he goes back
to that Reverend Father, and for two mortal pages more, speculates
further what would happen if he had written to the Bishop, what the
Bishop would have said, whether he would not have asked him (De Quincey)
to the Palace, whether, in his capacity of Head of a House, he would not
have welcomed him to that seat of learning, and finally smoothed his way
to a fellowship. By which time, one is perfectly sick of the Bishop, and
of these speculations on the might-have-been, which are indeed by no
means unnatural, being exactly what every man indulges in now and then
in his own case, which, in conversation, would not be unpleasant, but
which, gradually and diffusedly set down in a book, and interrupting a
narrative, are most certainly "rigmarole."

Rigmarole, however, can be a very agreeable thing in its way, and De
Quincey has carried it to a point of perfection never reached by any
other rigmaroler. Despite his undoubted possession of a kind of humour,
it is a very remarkable thing that he rigmaroles, so far as can be made
out by the application of the most sensitive tests, quite seriously, and
almost, if not quite, unconsciously. These digressions or deviations are
studded with quips and jests, good, bad, and indifferent. But the writer
never seems to suspect that his own general attitude is at least
susceptible of being made fun of. It is said, and we can very well
believe it, that he was excessively annoyed at Lamb's delightful parody
of his _Letters to a Young Man whose Education has been Neglected_; and,
on the whole, I should say that no great man of letters in this century,
except Balzac and Victor Hugo, was so insensible to the ludicrous aspect
of his own performances. This in the author of the _Essay on Murder_ may
seem surprising, but, in fact, there are few things of which there are
so many subdivisions, or in which the subdivisions are marked off from
each other by such apparently impermeable lines, as humour. If I may
refine a little I should say that there was very frequently, if not
generally, a humorous basis for these divagations of De Quincey's; but
that he almost invariably lost sight of that basis, and proceeded to
reason quite gravely away from it, in what is (not entirely with
justice) called the scholastic manner. How much of this was due to the
influence of Jean Paul and the other German humorists of the last
century, with whom he became acquainted very early, I should not like to
say. I confess that my own enjoyment of Richter, which has nevertheless
been considerable, has always been lessened by the presence in him, to a
still greater degree, of this same habit of quasi-serious divagation. To
appreciate the mistake of it, it is only necessary to compare the manner
of Swift. The _Tale of a Tub_ is in appearance as daringly discursive as
anything can be, but the author in the first place never loses his way,
and in the second never fails to keep a watchful eye on himself, lest he
should be getting too serious or too tedious. That is what Richter and
De Quincey fail to do.

Yet though these drawbacks are grave, and though they are (to judge from
my own experience) felt more seriously at each successive reading, most
assuredly no man who loves English literature could spare De Quincey
from it; most assuredly all who love English literature would sooner
spare some much more faultless writers. Even that quality of his which
has been already noted, his extraordinary attraction for youth, is a
singular and priceless one. The Master of the Court of the Gentiles, or
the Instructor of the Sons of the Prophets, he might be called in a
fantastic nomenclature, which he would have himself appreciated, if it
had been applied to any one but himself. What he somewhere calls his
"extraordinary ignorance of daily life" does not revolt youth. His
little pedantries, which to the day of his death were like those of a
clever schoolboy, appeal directly to it. His best fun is quite
intelligible; his worst not wholly uncongenial. His habit (a certain
most respected professor in a northern university may recognise the
words) of "getting into logical coaches and letting himself be carried
on without minding where he is going" is anything but repugnant to brisk
minds of seventeen. They are quite able to comprehend the great if
mannered beauty of his finest style--the style, to quote his own words
once more, as of "an elaborate and pompous sunset." Such a schoolmaster
to bring youths of promise, not merely to good literature but to the
best, nowhere else exists. But he is much more than a mere schoolmaster,
and in order that we may see what he is, it is desirable first of all to
despatch two other objections made to him from different quarters, and
on different lines of thought. The one objection (I should say that I do
not fully espouse either of them) is that he is an untrustworthy critic
of books; the other is that he is a very spiteful commentator on men.

This latter charge has found wide acceptance and has been practically
corroborated and endorsed by persons as different as Southey and
Carlyle. It would not in any case concern us much, for when a man is
once dead it matters uncommonly little whether he was personally
unamiable or not. But I think that De Quincey has in this respect been
hardly treated. He led such a wholly unnatural life, he was at all times
and in all places so thoroughly excluded from the natural contact and
friction of society, that his utterances hardly partake of the ordinary
character of men's speech. In the "vacant interlunar caves" where he hid
himself, he could hardly feel the restraints that press on those who
move within ear-shot and jostle of their fellows on this actual earth.
This is not a triumphant defence, no doubt; but I think it is a defence.
And further, it has yet to be proved that De Quincey set down anything
in malice. He called his literary idol, Wordsworth, "inhumanly
arrogant." Does anybody--not being a Wordsworthian and therefore out of
reach of reason--doubt that Wordsworth's arrogance was inhuman? He, not
unprovoked by scant gratitude on Coleridge's part for very solid
services, and by a doubtless sincere but rather unctuous protest of his
brother in opium-eating against the _Confessions_, told some home truths
against that magnificent genius but most unsatisfactory man. A sort of
foolish folk has recently arisen which tells us that because Coleridge
wrote "The Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan," he was quite entitled to
leave his wife and children to be looked after by anybody who chose, to
take stipends from casual benefactors, and to scold, by himself or by
his next friend Mr. Wordsworth, other benefactors, like Thomas Poole,
who were not prepared at a moment's notice to give him a hundred pounds
for a trip to the Azores. The rest of us, though we may feel no call to
denounce Coleridge for these proceedings, may surely hold that "The
Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan" are no defence to the particular
charges. I do not see that De Quincey said anything worse of Coleridge
than any man who knew the then little, but now well-known facts of
Coleridge's life, was entitled to say if he chose. And so in other
cases. That he was what is called a thoughtful person--that is to say
that he ever said to himself, "Will what I am writing give pain, and
ought I to give that pain?"--I do not allege. In fact, the very excuse
which has been made for him above is inconsistent with it. He always
wrote far too much as one in another planet for anything of the kind to
occur to him, and he was perhaps for a very similar reason rather too
fond of the "personal talk" which Wordsworth wisely disdained. But that
he was in any proper sense spiteful, that is to say that he ever wrote
either with a deliberate intention to wound or with a deliberate
indifference whether he wounded or not, I do not believe.

The other charge, that he was a bad or rather a very untrustworthy
critic of books, cannot be met quite so directly. He is indeed
responsible for a singularly large number of singularly grave critical
blunders--by which I mean of course not critical opinions disagreeing
with my own, but critical opinions which the general consent of
competent critics, on the whole, negatives. The minor classical writers
are not much read now, but there must be a sufficient jury to whom I can
appeal to know what is to be done with a professed critic of style--at
least asserting himself to be no mean classical scholar--who declares
that "Paganism had no more brilliant master of composition to show
than"--Velleius Paterculus! Suppose this to be a mere fling or freak,
what is to be thought of a man who evidently sets Cicero, as a writer,
if not as a thinker, above Plato? It would be not only possible but easy
to follow this up with a long list of critical enormities on De
Quincey's part, enormities due not to accidental and casual crotchet or
prejudice, as in Hazlitt's case, but apparently to some perverse
idiosyncrasy. I doubt very much, though the doubt may seem horribly
heretical to some people, whether De Quincey really cared much for
poetry as poetry. He liked philosophical poets:--Milton, Wordsworth,
Shakespeare (inasmuch as he perceived Shakespeare to be the greatest of
philosophical poets), Pope even in a certain way. But read the
interesting paper which late in life he devoted to Shelley. He treats
Shelley as a man admirably, with freedom alike from the maudlin
sentiment of our modern chatterers and from Puritanical preciseness. He
is not too hard on him in any way, he thinks him a pleasing personality
and a thinker distorted but interesting. Of Shelley's strictly poetical
quality he says nothing, if he knew or felt anything. In fact, of
lyrical poetry generally, that is to say of poetry in its most purely
poetical condition, he speaks very little in all his extensive critical
dissertations. His want of appreciation of it may supply explanation of
his unpardonable treatment of Goethe. That he should have maltreated
_Wilhelm Meister_ is quite excusable. There are fervent admirers of
Goethe at his best who acknowledge most fully the presence in _Wilhelm_
of the two worst characteristics of German life and literature, bad
taste and tediousness. But it is not excusable that much later, and
indeed at the very height of his literary powers and practice, he should
have written the article in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ on the author
of _Faust_, of _Egmont_, and above all of the shorter poems. Here he
deliberately assents to the opinion that _Werther_ is "superior to
everything that came after it, and for mere power, Goethe's paramount
work," dismisses _Faust_ as something that "no two people have ever
agreed about," sentences _Egmont_ as "violating the historic truth of
character," and mentions not a single one of those lyrics, unmatched, or
rather only matched by Heine, in the language, by which Goethe first
gave German rank with the great poetic tongues. His severity on Swift is
connected with his special "will-worship" of ornate style, of which more
presently, and in general it may be said that De Quincey's extremely
logical disposition of mind was rather a snare to him in his criticism.
He was constantly constructing general principles and then arguing
downwards from them; in which case woe to any individual fact or person
that happened to get in the way. Where Wilson, the "only intimate male
friend I have had" (as he somewhere says with a half-pathetic touch of
self-illumination more instructive than reams of imaginative
autobiography), went wrong from not having enough of general principle,
where Hazlitt went wrong from letting prejudices unconnected with the
literary side of the matter blind his otherwise piercing literary sight,
De Quincey fell through an unswervingness of deduction more French than
English. Your ornate writer must be better than your plain one, _ergo_,
let us say, Cicero must be better than Swift.

One other curious weakness of his (which has been glanced at already)
remains to be noticed. This is the altogether deplorable notion of
jocularity which he only too often exhibits. Mr. Masson, trying to
propitiate the enemy, admits that "to address the historian Josephus as
'Joe,' through a whole article, and give him a black eye into the
bargain, is positively profane." I am not sure as to the profanity,
knowing nothing particularly sacred about Josephus. But if Mr. Masson
had called it excessively silly, I should have agreed heartily; and if
any one else denounced it as a breach of good literary manners, I do not
know that I should protest. The habit is the more curious in that all
authorities agree as to the exceptional combination of scholarliness and
courtliness which marked De Quincey's colloquial style and expression.
Wilson's daughter, Mrs. Gordon, says that he used to address her
father's cook "as if she had been a duchess"; and that the cook, though
much flattered, was somewhat aghast at his _punctilio_. That a man of
this kind should think it both allowable and funny to talk of Josephus
as "Joe," and of Magliabecchi as "Mag," may be only a new example of
that odd law of human nature which constantly prompts people in various
relations of life, and not least in literature, to assume most the
particular qualities (not always virtues or graces) that they have not.
Yet it is fair to remember that Wilson and the _Blackwood_ set, together
with not a few writers in the _London Magazine_--the two literary
coteries in connexion with whom De Quincey started as a writer--had
deliberately imported this element of horse-play into literature, that
it at least did not seem to interfere with their popularity, and that De
Quincey himself, after 1830, lived too little in touch with actual life
to be aware that the style was becoming as unfashionable as it had
always, save on very exceptional subjects, been ungraceful. Even on
Wilson, who was to the manner born of riotous spirits, it often sits
awkwardly; in De Quincey's case it is, to borrow Sir Walter's admirable
simile in another case, like "the forced impudence of a bashful man."
Grim humour he can manage admirably, and he also--as in the passage
about the fate which waited upon all who possessed anything which might
be convenient to Wordsworth, if they died--can manage a certain kind of
sly humour not much less admirably. But "Joe" and "Mag," and, to take
another example, the stuff about Catalina's "crocodile papa" in _The
Spanish Nun_, are neither grim nor sly, they are only puerile. His
stanchest defender asks, "why De Quincey should not have the same
license as Swift and Thackeray?" The answer is quick and crushing. Swift
and Thackeray justify their license by their use of it; De Quincey does
not. After which it is hardly necessary to add, though this is almost
final in itself, that neither Swift nor Thackeray interlards perfectly
and unaffectedly serious work with mere fooling of the "Joe" and "Mag"
kind. Swift did not put _mollis abuti_ in the _Four last years of Queen
Anne_, nor Thackeray his _Punch_ jokes in the death-scene of Colonel
Newcome. I can quite conceive De Quincey doing both.

And now I have done enough in the fault-finding way, and nothing shall
induce me to say another word of De Quincey in this article save in
praise. For praise he himself gives the amplest occasion; he might
almost remain unblamed altogether if his praisers had not been
frequently unwise, and if his _exemplar_ were not specially _vitiis
imitabile_. Few English writers have touched so large a number of
subjects with such competence both in information and in power of
handling. Still fewer have exhibited such remarkable logical faculty.
One main reason why one is sometimes tempted to quarrel with him is that
his play of fence is so excellent that one longs to cross swords. For
this and for other reasons no writer has a more stimulating effect, or
is more likely to lead his readers on to explore and to think for
themselves. In none is that incurable curiosity, that infinite variety
of desire for knowledge and for argument which age cannot quench, more
observable. Few if any have the indefinable quality of freshness in so
large a measure. You never quite know, though you may have a shrewd
suspicion, what De Quincey will say on any subject; his gift of sighting
and approaching new facets of it is so immense. Whether he was in truth
as accomplished a classical scholar as he claimed to be I do not know;
he has left few positive documents to tell us. But I should think that
he was, for he has all the characteristics of a scholar of the best and
rarest kind--the scholar who is exact as to language without failing to
comprehend literature, and competent in literature without being
slipshod as to language. His historical insight, of which the famous
_Cæsars_ is the best example, was, though sometimes coloured by his
fancy, and at other times distorted by a slight tendency to
_supercherie_ as in _The Tartars_ and _The Spanish Nun_, wonderfully
powerful and acute. He was not exactly as Southey was, "omnilegent"; but
in his own departments, and they were numerous, he went farther below
the surface and connected his readings together better than Southey did.
Of the two classes of severer study to which he specially addicted
himself, his political economy suffered perhaps a little, acute as his
views in it often are, from the fact that in his time it was practically
a new study, and that he had neither sufficient facts nor sufficient
literature to go upon. In metaphysics, to which he gave himself up for
years, and in which he seems really to have known whatever there was to
know, I fear that the opium fiend cheated the world of something like
masterpieces. Only three men during De Quincey's lifetime had anything
like his powers in this department. Of these three men, Sir William
Hamilton either could not or would not write English. Ferrier could and
did write English; but he could not, as De Quincey could, throw upon
philosophy the play of literary and miscellaneous illustration which of
all the sciences it most requires, and which all its really supreme
exponents have been able to give it. Mansel could do both these things;
but he was somewhat indolent, and had many avocations. De Quincey could
write perfect English, he had every resource of illustration and relief
at command, he was in his way as "brazen-bowelled" at work as he was
"golden-mouthed" at expression, and he had ample leisure. But the
inability to undertake sustained labour, which he himself recognises as
the one unquestionable curse of opium, deprived us of an English
philosopher who would have stood as far above Kant in exoteric graces,
as he would have stood above Bacon in esoteric value. It was not
entirely De Quincey's fault. It seems to be generally recognised now
that whatever occasional excesses he may have committed, opium was
really required in his case, and gave us what we have as much as it took
away what we have not. But if any one chose to write in the antique
style a debate between Philosophy, Tar-water, and Laudanum, it would be
almost enough to put in the mouth of Philosophy, "This gave me Berkeley
and that deprived me of De Quincey."

De Quincey is, however, first of all a writer of ornate English, which
was never, with him, a mere cover to bare thought. Overpraise and
mispraise him as anybody may, he cannot be overpraised for this. Mistake
as he chose to do, and as others have chosen to do, the relative value
of his gift, the absolute value of it is unmistakable. What other
Englishman, from Sir Thomas Browne downwards, has written a sentence
surpassing in melody that on Our Lady of Sighs: "And her eyes, if they
were ever seen, would be neither sweet nor subtle; no man could read
their story; they would be found filled with perishing dreams and with
wrecks of forgotten delirium"? Compare that with the masterpieces of
some later practitioners. There are no out-of-the-way words; there is no
needless expense of adjectives; the sense is quite adequate to the
sound; the sound is only what is required as accompaniment to the sense.
And though I do not know that in a single instance of equal length--even
in the still more famous, and as a whole justly more famous, _tour de
force_ on Our Lady of Darkness--De Quincey ever quite equalled the
combined simplicity and majesty of this phrase, he has constantly come
close to it. The _Suspiria_ are full of such passages--there are even
some who prefer _Savannah la Mar_ to the _Ladies of Sorrow_. Beautiful
as it is I do not, because the accursed superfluous adjective appears
there. The famous passages of the _Confessions_ are in every one's
memory; and so I suppose is the _Vision of Sudden Death_. Many passages
in _The Cæsars_, though somewhat less florid, are hardly less good; and
the close of _Joan of Arc_ is as famous as the most ambitious attempts
of the _Confessions_ and the _Mail Coach_. Moreover, in all the sixteen
volumes, specimens of the same kind may be found here and there,
alternating with very different matter; so much so, that it has no doubt
often occurred to readers that the author's occasional divergence into
questionable quips and cranks is a deliberate attempt to set off his
rhetoric, as dramatists of the noblest school have often set off their
tragedy, with comedy, if not with farce. That such a principle would
imply confusion of the study and the stage is arguable enough, but it
does not follow that it was not present. At any rate the contrast,
deliberate or not, is very strong indeed in De Quincey--stronger than in
any other prose author except his friend, and pupil rather than master,
Wilson.

The great advantage that De Quincey has, not only over this friend of
his but over all practitioners of the ornate style in this century, lies
in his sureness of hand in the first place, and secondly in the
comparative frugality of means which perhaps is an inseparable
accompaniment of sureness of hand. To mention living persons would be
invidious; but Wilson and Landor are within the most scrupulous critic's
right of comparison. All three were contemporaries; all three were
Oxford men--Landor about ten years senior to the other two--and all
three in their different ways set themselves deliberately to reverse the
practice of English prose for nearly a century and a half. They did
great things, but De Quincey did, I think, the greatest and certainly
the most classical in the proper sense, for all Landor's superior air of
Hellenism. Voluble as De Quincey often is, he seems always to have felt
that when you are in your altitudes it is well not to stay there too
long. And his flights, while they are far more uniformly high than
Wilson's, which alternately soar and drag, are much more merciful in
regard of length than Landor's, as well as for the most part much more
closely connected with the sense of his subjects. There is scarcely one
of the _Imaginary Conversations_ which would not be the better for very
considerable thinning, while, with the exception perhaps of _The English
Mail Coach_, De Quincey's surplusage, obvious enough in many cases, is
scarcely ever found in his most elaborate and ornate passages. The total
amount of such passages in the _Confessions_ is by no means large, and
the more ambitious parts of the _Suspiria_ do not much exceed a dozen
pages. De Quincey was certainly justified by his own practice in
adopting and urging as he did the distinction, due, he says, to
Wordsworth, between the common and erroneous idea of style as the
_dress_ of thought, and the true definition of it as the _incarnation_
of thought. The most wizened of coxcombs may spend days and years in
dressing up his meagre and ugly carcass; but few are the sons of men who
have sufficient thought to provide the soul of any considerable series
of avatars. De Quincey had; and therefore, though the manner (with
certain exceptions heretofore taken) in him is always worth attention,
it never need or should divert attention from the matter. And thus he
was not driven to make a little thought do tyrannous duty as lay-figure
for an infinite amount of dress, or to hang out frippery on a
clothes-line with not so much as a lay-figure inside it. Even when he is
most conspicuously "fighting a prize," there is always solid stuff in
him.

Few indeed are the writers of whom so much can be said, and fewer still
the miscellaneous writers, among whom De Quincey must be classed. On
almost any subject that interested him--and the number of such subjects
was astonishing, curious as are the gaps between the different groups of
them--what he has to say is pretty sure, even if it be the wildest
paradox in appearance, to be worth attending to. And in regard to most
things that he has to say, the reader may be pretty sure also that he
will not find them better said elsewhere. It has sometimes been
complained by students, both of De Quincey the man and of De Quincey the
writer, that there is something not exactly human in him. There is
certainly much in him of the dæmonic, to use a word which was a very
good word and really required in the language, and which ought not to be
exiled because it has been foolishly abused. Sometimes, as has also been
complained, the demon is a mere familiar with the tricksiness of Puck
rather than the lightness of Ariel. But far oftener he is a more potent
spirit than any Robin Goodfellow, and as powerful as Ariel and Ariel's
master. Trust him wholly you may not; a characteristic often noted in
intelligences that are neither exactly human, nor exactly diabolic, nor
exactly divine. But he will do great things for you, and a little wit
and courage on your part will prevent his doing anything serious against
you. To him, with much greater justice than to Hogg, might Wilson have
applied the nickname of Brownie, which he was so fond of bestowing upon
the author of "Kilmeny." He will do solid work, conjure up a concert of
aerial music, play a shrewd trick now and then, and all this with a
curious air of irresponsibility and of remoteness of nature. In ancient
days when kings played experiments to ascertain the universal or
original language, some monarch might have been tempted to take a very
clever child, interest him so far as possible in nothing but books and
opium, and see whether he would turn out anything like De Quincey. But
it is in the highest degree improbable that he would. Therefore let us
rejoice, though according to the precepts of wisdom and not too
indiscriminately, in our De Quincey as we once, and probably once for
all, received him.

FOOTNOTES:

[16] See Appendix A--De Quincey.

[17] _The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey_; edited by David
Masson. In fourteen volumes; Edinburgh, 1889-90.



XI

LOCKHART


In every age there are certain writers who seem to miss their due meed
of fame, and this is most naturally and unavoidably the case in ages
which see a great deal of what may be called occasional literature.
There is, as it seems to me, a special example of this general
proposition in the present century, and that example is the writer whose
name stands at the head of this chapter. No one, perhaps, who speaks
with any competence either of knowledge or judgment, would say that
Lockhart made an inconsiderable figure in English literature. He wrote
what some men consider the best biography on a large scale, and what
almost every one considers the second best biography on a large scale,
in English. His _Spanish Ballads_ are admitted, by those who know the
originals, to have done them almost more than justice; and by those who
do not know those originals, to be charming in themselves. His novels,
if not masterpieces, have kept the field better than most: I saw a very
badly printed and flaringly-covered copy of _Reginald Dalton_ for sale
at the bookstall at Victoria Station the day before writing these words.
He was a pillar of the _Quarterly_, of _Blackwood_, of _Fraser_, at a
time when quarterly and monthly magazines played a greater part in
literature than they have played since or are likely to play again. He
edited one of these periodicals for thirty years. "Nobody," as Mr.
Browning has it, "calls him a dunce." Yet there is no collected edition
of his works; his sober, sound, scholarly, admirably witty, and, with
some very few exceptions, admirably catholic literary criticism, is
rarely quoted; and to add to this, there is a curious prepossession
against him, which, though nearly a generation has passed since his
death, has by no means disappeared.[18] Some years ago, in a periodical
where I was, for the most part, allowed to say exactly what I liked in
matters literary, I found a sentence laudatory of Lockhart, from the
purely literary point of view, omitted between proof and publication. It
so happened that the editor of this periodical could not even have known
Lockhart personally, or have been offended by his management of the
_Quarterly_, much less by his early _fredaines_ in _Blackwood_ and
_Fraser_. It was this circumstance that first suggested to me the notion
of trying to supply something like a criticism of this remarkable
critic, which nobody has yet (1884) done, and which seems worth doing.
For while the work of many of Lockhart's contemporaries, famous at the
time, distinctly loses by re-reading, his for the most part does not;
and it happens to display exactly the characteristics which are most
wanting in criticism, biographical and literary, at the present day. If
any one at the outset desires a definition, or at least an enumeration
of those characteristics, I should say that they are sobriety of style
and reserve of feeling, coupled with delicacy of intellectual
appreciation and æsthetic sympathy, a strong and firm creed in matters
political and literary, not excluding that catholicity of judgment which
men of strong belief frequently lack, and, above all, the faculty of
writing like a gentleman without writing like a mere gentleman. No one
can charge Lockhart with dilettantism: no one certainly can charge him
with feebleness of intellect, or insufficient equipment of culture, or
lack of humour and wit.

His life was, except for the domestic misfortunes which marked its
close, by no means eventful; and the present writer, if he had access to
any special sources of information (which he has not), would abstain
very carefully from using them. John Gibson Lockhart was born at the
Manse of Cambusnethan on 14th July 1794, went to school early, was
matriculated at Glasgow at twelve years old, transferred himself by
means of a Snell exhibition to Balliol at fifteen, and took a first
class in 1813. They said he caricatured the examiners: this was,
perhaps, not the unparalleled audacity which admiring commentators have
described it as being. Very many very odd things have been done in the
Schools. But if there was nothing extraordinary in his Oxford life
except what was, even for those days, the early age at which he began
it, his next step was something out of the common; for he went to
Germany, was introduced to Goethe, and spent some time there. An odd
coincidence in the literary history of the nineteenth century is that
both Lockhart and Quinet practically began literature by translating a
German book, and that both had the remarkably good luck to find
publishers who paid them beforehand. There are few such publishers now.
Lockhart's book was Schlegel's _Lectures on History_, and his publisher
was Mr. Blackwood. Then he came back to Scotland and to Edinburgh, and
was called to the bar, and "swept the outer house with his gown," after
the fashion admirably described in _Peter's Letters_, and referred to by
Scott in not the least delightful though one of the most melancholy of
his works, the Introduction to the _Chronicles of the Canongate_.
Lockhart, one of whose distinguishing characteristics throughout life
was shyness and reserve, was no speaker. Indeed, as he happily enough
remarked in reply to the toast of his health at the farewell dinner
given to celebrate his removal to London, "I cannot speak; if I could, I
should not have left you." But if he could not speak he could write,
and the establishment of _Blackwood's Magazine_, after its first
abortive numbers, gave him scope. "The scorpion which delighteth to
sting the faces of men," as he or Wilson describes himself in the
_Chaldee Manuscript_ (for the passage is beyond Hogg's part), certainly
justified the description. As to this famous _Manuscript_, the late
Professor Ferrier undoubtedly made a blunder (in the same key as those
that he made in describing the _Noctes_, in company with which he
reprinted it) as "in its way as good as _The Battle of the Books_." _The
Battle of the Books_, full of mistakes as it is, is literature, and the
_Chaldee Manuscript_ is only capital journalism. But it is capital
journalism; and the exuberance of its wit, if it be only wit of the
undergraduate kind (and Lockhart at least was still but an undergraduate
in years), is refreshing enough. The dreadful manner in which it
fluttered the dovecotes of Edinburgh Whiggism need not be further
commented on, till Lockhart's next work (this time an almost though not
quite independent one) has been noticed. This was _Peter's Letters to
his Kinsfolk_, an elaborate book, half lampoon, half mystification,
which appeared in 1819. This book, which derived its title from Scott's
account of his journey to Paris, and in its plan followed to some extent
_Humphrey Clinker_, is one of the most careful examples of literary
hoaxing to be found. It purported to be the work of a certain Dr. Peter
Morris, a Welshman, and it is hardly necessary to say that there was no
such person. It had a handsome frontispiece depicting this Peter Morris,
and displaying not, like the portrait in Southey's _Doctor_, the occiput
merely, but the full face and features. This portrait was described, and
as far as that went it seems truly described, as "an interesting example
of a new style of engraving by Lizars." Mr. Bates, who probably knows,
says that there was no first edition, but that it was published with
"second edition" on the title-page. My copy has the same date, 1819, but
is styled the _third_ edition, and has a postscript commenting on the
to-do the book made. However all this may be, it is a very handsome
book, excellently printed and containing capital portraits and
vignettes, while the matter is worthy of the get-up. The descriptions of
the Outer-House, of Craigcrook and its high jinks, of Abbotsford, of the
finding of "Ambrose's," of the manufacture of Glasgow punch, and of many
other things, are admirable; and there is a charming sketch of Oxford
undergraduate life, less exaggerated than that in _Reginald Dalton_,
probably because the subject was fresher in the author's memory.

Lockhart modestly speaks of this book in his _Life of Scott_ as one that
"none but a very young and thoughtless person would have written." It
may safely be said that no one but a very clever person, whether young
or old, could have written it, though it is too long and has occasional
faults of a specially youthful kind. But it made, coming as it did upon
the heels of the _Chaldee Manuscript_, a terrible commotion in
Edinburgh. The impartial observer of men and things may, indeed, have
noticed in the records of the ages, that a libelled Liberal is the man
in all the world who utters the loudest cries. The examples of the
Reformers, and of the eighteenth-century _Philosophes_, are notorious
and hackneyed; but I can supply (without, I trust, violating the
sanctity of private life) a fresh and pleasing example. Once upon a
time, a person whom we shall call A. paid a visit to a person whom we
shall call B. "How sad," said A., "are those personal attacks of the
---- on Mr. Gladstone."--"Personality," said B., "is always disgusting;
and I am very sorry to hear that the ---- has followed the bad example
of the personal attacks on Lord Beaconsfield."--"Oh! but," quoth A.,
"that was _quite_ a different thing." Now B. went out to dinner that
night, and sitting next to a distinguished Liberal member of Parliament,
told him this tale, expecting that he would laugh. "Ah! yes," said he
with much gravity, "it is _very_ different, you know."

In the same way the good Whig folk of Edinburgh regarded it as very
different that the _Edinburgh Review_ should scoff at Tories, and that
_Blackwood_ and _Peter_ should scoff at Whigs. The scorpion which
delighted to sting the faces of men, probably at this time founded a
reputation which has stuck to him for more than seventy years after Dr.
Peter Morris drove his shandrydan through Scotland. Sir Walter (then
Mr.) Scott held wisely aloof from the extremely exuberant Toryism of
_Blackwood_, and, indeed, had had some quarrels with its publisher and
virtual editor. But he could not fail to be introduced to a man whose
tastes and principles were so closely allied to his own. A year after
the appearance of _Peter's Letters_, Lockhart married, on 29th April
1820 (a perilous approximation to the unlucky month of May), Sophia
Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch's "Little Jacobite," the most like her
father of all his children. Every reader of the _Life_ knows the
delightful pictures, enough for interest and not enough for vulgar
obtrusion, given by Lockhart of life at Chiefswood, the cottage near
Abbotsford which he and his wife inhabited for nearly six years.

They were very busy years for Lockhart. He was still active in
contributing to _Blackwood_; he wrote all his four novels, and he
published the _Spanish Ballads_. _Valerius_ and _Adam Blair_ appeared in
1821, _Reginald Dalton_ and the _Ballads_ in 1823, _Matthew Wald_ in
1824.

The novels, though containing much that is very remarkable, are not his
strongest work; indeed, any critic who speaks with knowledge must admit
that Lockhart had every faculty for writing novels, except the faculty
of novel-writing. _Valerius_, a classical story of the visit of a
Roman-Briton to Rome, and the persecution of the Christians in the days
of Trajan, is, like everything of its author's, admirably written, but,
like every classical novel without exception, save only _Hypatia_ (which
makes its interests and its personages daringly modern), it somehow
rings false and faint, though not, perhaps, so faint or so false as most
of its fellows. _Adam Blair_, the story of the sudden succumbing to
natural temptation of a pious minister of the kirk, is unquestionably
Lockhart's masterpiece in this kind. It is full of passion, full of
force, and the characters of Charlotte Campbell and Adam Blair himself
are perfectly conceived. But the story-gift is still wanting. The reader
finds himself outside: wondering why the people do these things, and
whether in real life they would have done them, instead of following the
story with absorption, and asking himself no questions at all. The same,
in a different way, is the case with Lockhart's longest book, _Reginald
Dalton_; and this has the additional disadvantage that neither hero nor
heroine are much more than lay-figures, while in _Adam Blair_ both are
flesh and blood. The Oxford scenes are amusing but exaggerated--the
obvious work of a man who supplies the defects of a ten years' memory by
deepening the strokes where he does remember. _Matthew Wald_, which is a
novel of madness, has excellent passages, but is conventional and wooden
as a whole. Nothing was more natural than that Lockhart, with the
example of Scott immediately before him, should try novel-writing; not
many things are more indicative of his literary ability than that,
after a bare three years' practice, he left a field which certainly was
not his.

In the early autumn of 1825, just before the great collapse of his
affairs, Scott went to Ireland with Lockhart in his company. But very
early in the following year, before the collapse was decided, Lockhart
and his family moved to London, on his appointment as editor of the
_Quarterly_, in succession to Gifford. Probably there never was a better
appointment of the kind. Lockhart was a born critic: he had both the
faculty and the will to work up the papers of his contributors to the
proper level; he was firm and decided in his literary and political
views, without going to the extreme Giffordian acerbity in both; and his
intelligence and erudition were very wide. "He could write," says a
phrase in some article I have somewhere seen quoted, "on any subject
from poetry to dry-rot;" and there is no doubt that an editor, if he
cannot exactly write on any subject from poetry to dry-rot, should be
able to take an interest in any subject between and, if necessary,
beyond those poles. Otherwise he has the choice of two undesirables;
either he frowns unduly on the dry-rot articles, which probably interest
large sections of the public (itself very subject to dry-rot), or he
lets the dry-rot contributor inflict his hobby, without mercy and
unedited, on a reluctant audience. But Lockhart, though he is said (for
his contributions are not, as far as I know, anywhere exactly
indicated) to have contributed fully a hundred articles to the
_Quarterly_, that is to say one to nearly every number during the
twenty-eight years of his editorship, by no means confined himself to
this work. It was, indeed, during its progress that he composed not
merely the _Life of Napoleon_, which was little more than an abridgment,
though a very clever abridgment, of Scott's book, but the _Lives_ of
Burns and of Scott himself. Before, however, dealing with these, his
_Spanish Ballads_ and other poetical work may be conveniently disposed
of.

Lockhart's verse is in the same scattered condition as his prose; but it
is evident that he had very considerable poetical faculty. The charming
piece, "When youthful hope is fled," attributed to him on Mrs. Norton's
authority; the well-known "Captain Paton's Lament," which has been
republished in the _Tales from Blackwood_; and the mono-rhymed epitaph
on "Bright broken Maginn," in which some wiseacres have seen ill-nature,
but which really is a masterpiece of humorous pathos, are all in very
different styles, and are all excellent each in its style. But these
things are mere waifs, separated from each other in widely different
publications; and until they are put together no general impression of
the author's poetical talent, except a vaguely favourable one, can be
derived from them. The _Spanish Ballads_ form something like a
substantive work, and one of nearly as great merit as is possible to
poetical translations of poetry. I believe opinions differ as to their
fidelity to the original. Here and there, it is said, the author has
exchanged a vivid and characteristic touch for a conventional and feeble
one. Thus, my friend Mr. Hannay points out to me that in the original of
"The Lord of Butrago" the reason given by Montanez for not accompanying
the King's flight is not the somewhat _fade_ one that

    Castile's proud dames shall never point the finger of disdain,

but the nobler argument, showing the best side of feudal sentiment, that
the widows of his tenants shall never say that he fled and left their
husbands to fight and fall. Lockhart's master, Sir Walter, would
certainly not have missed this touch, and it is odd that Lockhart
himself did. But such things will happen to translators. On the other
hand, it is, I believe, admitted (and the same very capable authority in
Spanish is my warranty) that on the whole the originals have rather
gained than lost; and certainly no one can fail to enjoy the _Ballads_
as they stand in English. The "Wandering Knight's Song" has always
seemed to me a gem without flaw, especially the last stanza. Few men,
again, manage the long "fourteener" with middle rhyme better than
Lockhart, though he is less happy with the anapæst, and has not fully
mastered the very difficult trochaic measure of "The Death of Don
Pedro." In "The Count Arnaldos," wherein, indeed, the subject lends
itself better to that cadence, the result is more satisfactory. The
merits, however, of these _Ballads_ are not technical merely, or rather,
the technical merits are well subordinated to the production of the
general effect. About the nature of that effect much ink has been shed.
It is produced equally by Greek hexameters, by old French assonanced
_tirades_, by English "eights and sixes," and by not a few other
measures. But in itself it is more or less the same--the stirring of the
blood as by the sound of a trumpet, or else the melting of the mood into
or close to tears. The ballad effect is thus the simplest and most
primitive of all poetical effects; it is Lockhart's merit that he seldom
fails to produce it. The simplicity and spontaneity of his verse may, to
some people, be surprising in a writer so thoroughly and intensely
literary; but Lockhart's character was as complex as his verse is
simple, and the verse itself is not the least valuable guide to it.

It has been said that his removal to London and his responsible office
by no means reduced his general literary activity. Whether he continued
to contribute to _Blackwood_ I am not sure; some phrases in the _Noctes_
seem to argue the contrary. But he not only, as has been said, wrote for
the _Quarterly_ assiduously, but after a short time joined the new
venture of _Fraser_, and showed in that rollicking periodical that the
sting of the "scorpion" had by no means been extracted. He produced,
moreover, in 1828, his _Life of Burns_, and in 1836-37 his _Life of
Scott_. These, with the sketch of Theodore Hook written for the
_Quarterly_ in 1843, and separately published later, make three very
remarkable examples of literary biography on very different scales,
dealing with very different subjects, and, by comparison of their
uniform excellence, showing that the author had an almost unique genius
for this kind of composition. The _Life of Scott_ fills seven capacious
volumes; the _Life of Burns_ goes easily into one; the _Life of Hook_
does not reach a hundred smallish pages. But they are all equally
well-proportioned in themselves and to their subjects; they all exhibit
the same complete grasp of the secret of biography; and they all have
the peculiarity of being full of facts without presenting an undigested
appearance. They thus stand at an equal distance from biography of the
fashion of the old academic _Eloge_ of the last century, which makes an
elegant discourse about a man, but either deliberately or by accident
gives precise information about hardly any of the facts of the man's
life; and from modern biography, which tumbles upon the devoted reader a
cataract of letters, documents, and facts of all sorts, uncombined and
undigested by any exercise of narrative or critical skill on the part of
the author. Lockhart's biographies, therefore, belong equally (to borrow
De Quincey's useful, though, as far as terminology goes, not very happy
distinction) to the literature of knowledge and the literature of
power. They are storehouses of information; but they are, at the same
time, works of art, and of very great art. The earliest of the three,
the _Life of Burns_, is to this day by far the best book on the subject;
indeed, with its few errors and defects of fact corrected and
supplemented as they have been by the late Mr. Douglas, it makes all
other Lives quite superfluous. Yet it was much more difficult,
especially for a Scotchman, to write a good book about Burns then than
now; though I am told that, for a Scotchman, there is still a
considerable difficulty in the matter. Lockhart was familiar with
Edinburgh society--indeed, he had long formed a part of it--and
Edinburgh society was still, when he wrote, very sore at the charge of
having by turns patronised and neglected Burns. Lockhart was a decided
Tory, and Burns, during the later part of his life at any rate, had
permitted himself manifestations of political opinion which Whigs
themselves admitted to be imprudent freaks, and which even a
good-natured Tory might be excused for regarding as something very much
worse. But the biographer's treatment of both these subjects is
perfectly tolerant, judicious, and fair, and the same may be said of his
whole account of Burns. Indeed, the main characteristic of Lockhart's
criticism, a robust and quiet sanity, fitted him admirably for the task
of biography. He is never in extremes, and he never avoids extremes by
the common expedient of see-sawing between two sides, two parties, or
two views of a man's character. He holds aloof equally from _engouement_
and from depreciation, and if, as a necessary consequence, he failed,
and fails, to please fanatics on either side, he cannot fail to please
those who know what criticism really means.

These good qualities were shown even to better advantage in a pleasanter
but, at the same time, far more difficult task, the famous _Life of
Scott_. The extraordinary interest of the subject, and the fashion, no
less skilful than modest, in which the biographer keeps himself in the
background, and seems constantly to be merely editing Scott's words,
have perhaps obscured the literary value of the book to some readers. Of
the perpetual comparison with Boswell, it may be said, once for all,
that it is a comparison of matter merely; and that from the properly
literary point of view, the point of view of workmanship and form, it
does not exist. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that, even in
moments of personal irritation, any one should have been found to accuse
Lockhart of softening Scott's faults. The other charge, of malice to
Scott, is indeed more extraordinary still in a certain way; but, being
merely imbecile, it need not be taken into account. A delightful
document informs us that, in the opinion of the Hon. Charles Sumner,
Fenimore Cooper (who, stung by some references to him in the book,
attacked it) administered "a proper castigation to the vulgar minds of
Scott and Lockhart." This is a jest so pleasing that it almost puts one
in good temper with the whole affair. But, in fact, Lockhart,
considering his relationship to Scott, and considering Scott's
greatness, could hardly have spoken more plainly as to the grave fault
of judgment which made a man of letters and a member of a learned
profession mix himself up secretly, and almost clandestinely, with
commercial speculations. On this point the biographer does not attempt
to mince matters; and on no other point was it necessary for him to be
equally candid, for this, grave as it is, is almost the only fault to be
found with Scott's character. This candour, however, is only one of the
merits of the book. The wonderfully skilful arrangement of so vast and
heterogeneous a mass of materials, the way in which the writer's own
work and his quoted matter dovetail into one another, the completeness
of the picture given of Scott's character and life, have never been
equalled in any similar book. Not a few minor touches, moreover, which
are very apt to escape notice, enhance its merit. Lockhart was a man of
all men least given to wear his heart upon his sleeve, yet no one has
dealt with such pitiful subjects as his later volumes involve, at once
with such total absence of "gush" and with such noble and pathetic
appreciation. For Scott's misfortunes were by no means the only matters
which touched him nearly, in and in connection with the chronicle. The
constant illness and sufferings of his own child form part of it; his
wife died during its composition and publication, and all these things
are mentioned with as little parade of stoicism as of sentiment. I do
not think that, as an example of absolute and perfect good taste, the
account of Scott's death can be surpassed in literature. The same
quality exhibits itself in another matter. No biographer can be less
anxious to display his own personality than Lockhart; and though for six
years he was a constant, and for much longer an occasional, spectator of
the events he describes, he never introduces himself except when it is
necessary. Yet, on the other hand, when Scott himself makes
complimentary references to him (as when he speaks of his party "having
Lockhart to say clever things"), he neither omits the passage nor stoops
to the missish _minauderie_, too common in such cases, of translating
"spare my blushes" into some kind of annotation. Lockhart will not talk
about Lockhart; but if others, whom the public likes to hear, talk about
him, Lockhart does not put his fan before his face.

This admirable book, however, is both well enough known (if not so well
known as it deserves) and large enough to make it both unnecessary and
impossible to criticise it at length here. The third work noticed
above, the sketch of the life of Theodore Hook, though it has been
reprinted more than once, and is still, I believe, kept in print and on
sale, is probably less familiar to most readers. It is, however, almost
as striking an example, though of course an example in miniature only,
of Lockhart's aptitude for the great and difficult art of literary
biography as either of the two books just mentioned. Here the difficulty
was of a different kind. A great many people liked Theodore Hook, but it
was nearly impossible for any one to respect him; yet it was quite
impossible for Lockhart, a political sympathiser and a personal friend,
to treat him harshly in an obituary notice. There was no danger of his
setting down aught in malice; but there might be thought to be a
considerable danger of over-extenuation. The danger was the greater,
inasmuch as Lockhart himself had certainly not escaped, and had perhaps
to some extent deserved, one of Hook's reproaches. No man questioned his
integrity; he was not a reckless spendthrift; he was not given to
excesses in living, or to hanging about great houses; nor was he
careless of moral and social rules. But the scorpion which had delighted
to sting the faces of men might have had some awkwardness in dealing
with the editor of _John Bull_. The result, however, victoriously
surmounts all difficulties without evading one. Nothing that is the
truth about Hook is omitted, or even blinked; and from reading Lockhart
alone, any intelligent reader might know the worst that is to be said
about him. Neither are any of his faults, in the unfair sense,
extenuated. His malicious and vulgar practical jokes; his carelessness
at Mauritius; the worse than carelessness which allowed him to shirk,
when he had ample means of discharging it by degrees, a debt which he
acknowledged that he justly owed; the folly and vanity which led him to
waste his time, his wit, and his money in playing the hanger-on at
country houses and town dinner-tables; his hard living, and the laxity
which induced him not merely to form irregular connections, but
prevented him from taking the only step which could, in some measure,
repair his fault, are all fairly put, and blamed frankly. Even in that
more delicate matter of the personal journalism, Lockhart's procedure is
as ingenuous as it is ingenious; and the passage of the sketch which
deals with "the blazing audacity of invective, the curious delicacy of
persiflage, the strong caustic satire" (expressions, by the way, which
suit Lockhart himself much better than Hook, though Lockhart had not
Hook's broad humour), in fact, admits that the application of these
things was not justifiable, nor to be justified. Yet with all this, the
impression left by the sketch is distinctly favourable on the whole,
which, in the circumstances, must be admitted to be a triumph of
advocacy obtained not at the expense of truth, but by the art of the
advocate in making the best of it.

The facts of Lockhart's life between his removal to London and his death
may be rapidly summarised, the purpose of this notice being rather
critical than biographical. He had hardly settled in town when, as he
himself tells, he had to attempt, fruitlessly enough, the task of
mediator in the financial disasters of Constable and Scott; and his own
share of domestic troubles began early. His eldest son, after repeated
escapes, died in 1831; Scott followed shortly; Miss Anne Scott, after
her father's death, came in broken health to Lockhart's house, and died
there only a year later; and in the spring of 1837 his wife likewise
died. Then Fortune let him alone for a little, to return in no better
humour some years later.

It is, however, from the early "thirties" that one of the best known
memorials of Lockhart dates; that is to say, the portrait, or rather the
two portraits, in the Fraser Gallery. In the general group of the
Fraserians he sits between Fraser himself and Theodore Hook, with the
diminutive figure of Crofton Croker half intercepted beyond him; and his
image forms the third plate in Mr. Bates's republication of the gallery.
It is said to be the most faithful of the whole series, and it is
certainly the handsomest, giving even a more flattering representation
than the full-face portrait by Pickersgill which serves as frontispiece
to the modern editions of the _Ballads_. In this latter the curious
towzled mop of hair, in which our fathers delighted, rather mars the
effect; while in Maclise's sketch (which is in profile) it is less
obtrusive. In this latter, too, there is clearly perceivable what the
Shepherd in the _Noctes_ calls "a sort of laugh aboot the screwed-up
mouth of him that fules ca'd no canny, for they couldna thole the
meaning o't." There is not much doubt that Lockhart aided and abetted
Maginn in much of the mischief that distinguished the early days of
_Fraser_, though his fastidious taste is never likely to have stooped to
the coarseness which was too natural to Maginn. It is believed that to
him is due the wicked wresting of Alaric Watts' second initial into
"Attila," which gave the victim so much grief, and he probably did many
other things of the same kind. But Lockhart was never vulgar, and
_Fraser_ in those days very often was.

In 1843 Lockhart received his first and last piece of political
preferment, being appointed, says one of the authorities before me,
Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, and (says another) Chancellor of
the Duchy of Lancaster. Such are biographers; but the matter is not of
the slightest importance, though I do not myself quite see how it could
have been Lancaster. A third and more trustworthy writer gives the post
as "Auditorship" of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is possible enough.

In 1847, the death of Sir Walter Scott's last surviving son brought the
title and estate to Lockhart's son Walter, but he died in 1853.
Lockhart's only other child had married Mr. Hope--called, after his
brother-in-law's death, Mr. Hope Scott, of whom an elaborate biography
has been published. Little in it concerns Lockhart, but the admirable
letter which he wrote to Mr. Hope on his conversion to the Roman Church.
This step, followed as it was by Mrs. Hope, could not but be, and in
this letter is delicately hinted to be, no small grief to Lockhart, who
saw Abbotsford fall under influences for which certainly neither he nor
its founder had any respect. His repeated domestic losses, and many
years of constant work and excitement, appear to have told on him, and
very shortly after his son's death in April 1853 he resigned the
editorship of the _Quarterly_. He then visited Italy, a visit from
which, if he had been a superstitious man, the ominous precedent of
Scott might have deterred him. His journey did him no good, and he died
at Abbotsford on the 25th of November. December, says another authority,
for so it is that history gets written, even in thirty years.

The comparatively brief notices which are all that have been published
about Lockhart, uniformly mention the unpopularity (to use a mild word)
which pursued him, and which, as I have remarked, does not seem to have
exhausted itself even yet. It is not very difficult to account for the
origin of this; and the neglect to supply any collection of his work,
and any authoritative account of his life and character, will quite
explain its continuance. In the first place, Lockhart was well known as
a most sarcastic writer; in the second, he was for nearly a lifetime
editor of one of the chief organs of party politics and literary
criticism in England. He might have survived the _Chaldee Manuscript_,
and _Peter's Letters_, and the lampoons in _Fraser_: he might even have
got the better of the youthful imprudence which led him to fix upon
himself a description which was sure to be used and abused against him
by the "fules," if he had not succeeded to the chair of the _Quarterly_.
Individual and, to a great extent, anonymous indulgence of the luxury of
scorn never gave any man a very bad character, even if he were, as
Lockhart was, personally shy and reserved, unable to make up for written
sarcasm with verbal flummery, and, in virtue of an incapacity for
gushing, deprived of the easiest and, by public personages, most
commonly practised means of proving that a man has "a good heart after
all." But when he complicated his sins by editing the _Quarterly_ at a
time when everybody attacked everybody else in exactly such terms as
pleased them, the sins of his youth were pretty sure to be visited on
him. In the first place, there was the great army of the criticised, who
always consider that the editor of the paper which dissects them is
really responsible. The luckless Harriet Martineau, who, if I remember
rightly, gives in her autobiography a lurid picture of Lockhart "going
down at night to the printer's" and inserting dreadful things about her,
and who, I believe, took the feminine plan of revenging herself in an
obituary article, was only one of a great multitude.

Lockhart does not seem to have taken over from Gifford quite such a
troublesome crew of helpers as Macvey Napier inherited from Jeffrey, and
he was also free from the monitions of his predecessor. But in Croker he
had a first lieutenant who could not very well be checked, and who
(though he, too, has had rather hard measure) had no equal in the art of
making himself offensive. Besides, those were the days when the famous
"Scum condensed of Irish bog" lines appeared in a great daily newspaper
about O'Connell. Imagine the _Times_ addressing Mr. Parnell as "Scum
condensed of Irish bog," with the other amenities that follow, in this
year of grace!

But Lockhart had not only his authors, he had his contributors. "A'
contributors," says the before-quoted Shepherd, in a moment of such
preternatural wisdom that he must have been "fou," "are in a manner
fierce." They are--it is the nature and essence of the animal to be so.
The contributor who is not allowed to contribute is fierce, as a matter
of course; but not less fierce is the contributor who thinks himself too
much edited, and the contributor who imperatively insists that his
article on Chinese metaphysics shall go in at once, and the contributor
who, being an excellent hand at articles on the currency, wants to be
allowed to write on dancing; and, in short, as the Shepherd says, all
contributors. Now it does not appear (for, as I must repeat, I have no
kind of private information on the subject) that Lockhart was by any
means an easy-going editor, or one of that kind which allows a certain
number of privileged writers to send in what they like. We are told in
many places that he "greatly improved" his contributors' articles; and I
should say that if there is one thing which drives a contributor to the
verge of madness, it is to have his articles "greatly improved." A hint
in the _Noctes_ (and it may be observed that though the references to
Lockhart in the _Noctes_ are not very numerous, they are valuable, for
Wilson's friendship seems to have been mixed with a small grain of
jealousy which preserves them from being commonplace) suggests that his
friends did not consider him as by any means too ready to accept their
papers. All this, added to his early character of scoffer at Whig
dignities, and his position as leader _en titre_ of Tory journalism, was
quite sufficient to create a reputation partly exaggerated, partly quite
false, which has endured simply because no trouble has been taken to
sift and prove it.

The head and front of Lockhart's offending, in a purely literary view,
seems to be the famous _Quarterly_ article on Lord Tennyson's volume of
1832. That article is sometimes spoken of as Croker's, but there can be
no manner of doubt that it is Lockhart's; and, indeed, it is quoted as
his by Professor Ferrier, who, through Wilson, must have known the
facts. Now I do not think I yield to any man living in admiration of the
Laureate, but I am unable to think much the worse, or, indeed, any the
worse, of Lockhart because of this article. In the first place, it is
extremely clever, being, perhaps, the very best example of politely
cruel criticism in existence. In the second, most, if not all, of the
criticism is perfectly just. If Lord Tennyson himself, at this safe
distance of time, can think of the famous strawberry story and its
application without laughing, he must be an extremely sensitive Peer.
And nobody, I suppose, would now defend the wondrous stanza which was
paralleled from the _Groves of Blarney_. The fact is that criticism of
criticism after some time is apt to be doubly unjust. It is wont to
assume, or rather to imagine, that the critic must have known what the
author was going to do, as well as what he had actually done; and it is
wont to forget that the work criticised was very often, as it presented
itself to the critic, very different from what it is when it presents
itself to the critic's critic. The best justification of Lockhart's
verdict on the volume of 1832 is what Lord Tennyson himself has done
with the volume of 1832. Far more than half the passages objected to
have since been excised or altered. But there are other excuses. In the
first place, Mr. Tennyson, as he then was, represented a further
development of schools of poetry against which the _Quarterly_ had
always, rightly or wrongly, set its face, and a certain loyalty to the
principles of his paper is, after all, not the worst fault of a critic.
In the second, no one can fairly deny that some points in Mr. Tennyson's
early, if not in his later, manner must have been highly and rightly
disgustful to a critic who, like Lockhart, was above all things
masculine and abhorrent of "gush." In the third, it is, unfortunately,
not given to all critics to admire all styles alike. Let those to whom
it is given thank God therefor; but let them, at the same time, remember
that they are as much bound to accept whatever is good in all kinds of
critics as whatever is good in all kinds of poets.

Now Lockhart, within his own range, and it was for the time a very wide
one, was certainly not a narrow critic, just as he certainly was not a
feeble one. In the before-mentioned _Peter's Letters_ (which, with all
its faults, is one of his best, and particularly one of his most
spontaneous and characteristic works) the denunciation of the "facetious
and rejoicing ignorance" which enabled contemporary critics to pooh-pooh
Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, and Coleridge is excellent. And it must be
remembered that in 1819, whatever might be the case with Coleridge,
Wordsworth and Lamb were by no means taken to the hearts of Tories on
their merits, and that in this very passage _Blackwood_ is condemned not
less severely than the _Edinburgh_. Another point in which Lockhart made
a great advance was that he was one of the first (Lamb himself is, in
England, his only important forerunner) to unite and combine criticism
of different branches of art. He never has the disgusting technical
jargon, or the undisciplined fluency, of the mere art critic, any more
than he has the gabble of the mere connoisseur. But it is constantly
evident that he has a knowledge of and a feeling for the art of line and
colour as well as of words. Nothing can be better than the fragments of
criticism which are interspersed in the Scott book; and if his estimate
of Hook as a novelist seems exaggerated, it must be remembered, as he
has himself noted, that Thackeray was, at the time he spoke, nothing
more than an amusing contributor of remarkably promising trifles to
magazines, and that, from the appearance of _Waverley_ to that of
_Pickwick_, no novelist of the first class had made an appearance. It
is, moreover, characteristic of Lockhart as a critic that he is, as has
been noted, always manly and robust. He was never false to his own early
protest against "the banishing from the mind of a reverence for feeling,
as abstracted from mere questions of immediate and obvious utility." But
he never allowed that reverence to get the better of him and drag him
into the deplorable excesses of gush into which, from his day to ours,
criticism has more and more had a tendency to fall. If he makes no
parade of definite æsthetic principles, it is clear that throughout he
had such principles, and that they were principles of a very good kind.
He had a wide knowledge of foreign literature without any taint of
"Xenomania," sufficient scholarship (despite the unlucky false quantity
of _Janua_, which he overlooked) in the older languages, and a thorough
knowledge and love of English literature. His style is, to me at any
rate, peculiarly attractive. Contrasted with the more brightly coloured
and fantastically-shaped styles, of which, in his own day, De Quincey,
Wilson, Macaulay, and Carlyle set the fashion, it may possibly seem tame
to those who are not satisfied with proportion in form and harmony in
tint; it will certainly not seem so to those who are more fortunately
gifted. Indeed, compared either with Wilson's welter of words, now
bombastic, now gushing, now horse-playful, or with the endless and
heartbreaking antitheses of what Brougham ill-naturedly but truly called
"Tom's snip-snap," it is infinitely preferable. The conclusion of the
essay on Theodore Hook is not easily surpassable as an example of solid
polished prose, which is prose, and does not attempt to be a hybrid
between prose and poetry. The last page of the Tennyson review is
perfect for quiet humour.

But there is no doubt that though Lockhart was an admirable critic
merely as such, a poet, or at least a song-writer, of singular ability
and charm within certain limits, and a master of sharp light raillery
that never missed its mark and never lumbered on the way, his most
unique and highest merit is that of biographer. Carlyle, though treating
Lockhart himself with great politeness, does not allow this, and
complains that Lockhart's conception of his task was "not very
elevated." That is what a great many people said of Boswell, whom
Carlyle thought an almost perfect biographer. But, as it happens, the
critic here has fallen into the dangerous temptation of giving his
reasons. Lockhart's plan was not, it seems, in the case of his _Scott_,
very elevated, because it was not "to show Scott as he was by nature, as
the world acted on him, as he acted on the world," and so forth. Now,
unfortunately, this is exactly what it seems to me that Lockhart,
whether he meant to do it or not, has done in the very book which
Carlyle was criticising. And it seems to me, further, that he always
does this in all his biographical efforts. Sometimes he appears (for
here another criticism of Carlyle's on the _Burns_, not the _Scott_, is
more to the point) to quote and extract from other and much inferior
writers to an extent rather surprising in so excellent a penman,
especially when it is remembered that, except to a dunce, the extraction
and stringing together of quotations is far more troublesome than
original writing. But even then the extracts are always luminous. With
ninety-nine out of a hundred biographies the total impression which
Carlyle demands, and very properly demands, is, in fact, a total absence
of impression. The reader's mind is as dark, though it may be as full,
as a cellar when the coals have been shot into it. Now this is never the
case with Lockhart's biographies, whether they are books in half a dozen
volumes, or essays in half a hundred pages. He subordinates what even
Carlyle allowed to be his "clear nervous forcible style" so entirely to
the task of representing his subject, he has such a perfect general
conception of that subject, that only a very dense reader can fail to
perceive the presentment. Whether it is the right or whether it is the
wrong presentment may, of course, be a matter of opinion, but, such as
it is, it is always there.

One other point of interest about Lockhart has to be mentioned. He was
an eminent example, perhaps one of the most eminent, of a "gentleman of
the press." He did a great many kinds of literary work, and he did all
of them well; novel-writing, perhaps (which, as has been said, he gave
up almost immediately), least well. But he does not seem to have felt
any very strong or peculiar call to any particular class of original
literary work, and his one great and substantive book may be fairly
taken to have been much more decided by accident and his relationship to
Scott than by deliberate choice. He was, in fact, eminently a
journalist, and it is very much to be wished that there were more
journalists like him. For from the two great reproaches of the craft to
which so many of us belong, and which seems to be gradually swallowing
up all other varieties of literary occupation, he was conspicuously
free. He never did work slovenly in form, and he never did work that was
not in one way or other consistent with a decided set of literary and
political principles. There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the
unprincipled character of journalism, no doubt; and nobody knows better
than those who have some experience of it, that if, as George Warrington
says, "too many of us write against our own party," it is the fault
simply of those who do so. If a man has a faculty of saying anything, he
can generally get an opportunity of saying what he likes, and avoid
occasions of saying what he does not like. But the mere journalist
Swiss of heaven (or the other place), is certainly not unknown, and by
all accounts he was in Lockhart's time rather common. No one ever
accused Lockhart himself of being one of the class. A still more
important fault, undoubtedly, of journalism is its tendency to slovenly
work, and here again Lockhart was conspicuously guiltless. His actual
production must have been very considerable, though in the absence of
any collection, or even any index, of his contributions to periodicals,
it is impossible to say exactly to how much it would extend. But, at a
rough guess, the _Scott_, the _Burns_, and the _Napoleon_, the
_Ballads_, the novels, and _Peter_, a hundred _Quarterly_ articles, and
an unknown number in _Blackwood_ and _Fraser_, would make at least
twenty or five-and-twenty volumes of a pretty closely printed library
edition. Yet all this, as far as it can be identified, has the same
careful though unostentatious distinction of style, the same admirable
faculty of sarcasm, wherever sarcasm is required, the same depth of
feeling, wherever feeling is called for, the same refusal to make a
parade of feeling even where it is shown. Never trivial, never vulgar,
never feeble, never stilted, never diffuse, Lockhart is one of the very
best recent specimens of that class of writers of all work, which since
Dryden's time has continually increased, is increasing, and does not
seem likely to diminish. The growth may or may not be matter for
regret; probably none of the more capable members of the class itself
feels any particular desire to magnify his office. But if the office is
to exist, let it at least be the object of those who hold it to perform
its duties with that hatred of commonplace and cant and the _popularis
aura_, with, as nearly as may be in each case, that conscience and
thoroughness of workmanship, which Lockhart's writings uniformly
display.

FOOTNOTES:

[18] See Appendix B--Lockhart.



XII

PRAED


It was not till half a century after his death that Praed, who is loved
by those who love him perhaps as sincerely as most greater writers, had
his works presented to the public in a form which may be called
complete.[19] This is of itself rather a cautious statement in
appearance, but I am not sure that it ought not to be made more cautious
still. The completeness is not complete, though it is in one respect
rather more than complete; and the form is exceedingly informal. Neither
in size, nor in print, nor in character of editing and arrangement do
the two little fat volumes which were ushered into the world by Derwent
Coleridge in 1864, and the one little thin volume which appeared in
1887 under Sir George Young's name with no notes and not much
introduction, and the very creditable edition of the political poems
which appeared a year later under the same care but better cared for,
agree together. But this, though a nuisance to those who love not a set
of odd volumes, would matter comparatively little if the discrepancies
were not equally great in a much more important matter than that of mere
externals. Only the last of the four volumes and three books just
enumerated can be said to have been really edited, and though that is
edited very well, it is the least important. Sir George Young, who has
thus done a pious work to his uncle's memory, was concerned not merely
in the previous cheap issue of the prose, but in the more elaborate
issue of the poems in 1864. But either his green unknowing youth did not
at that time know what editing meant, or he was under the restraint of
some higher powers. Except that the issue of 1864 has that well-known
page-look of "Moxon's," which is identified to all lovers of poetry with
associations of Shelley, of Lord Tennyson, and of other masters, and
that the pieces are duly dated, it is difficult to say any good thing of
the book. There are no notes; and Praed is an author who is much in need
of annotation. With singular injudiciousness, a great deal of album and
other verse is included which was evidently not intended for
publication, which does not display the writer at his best, or even in
his characteristic vein at all, while the memoir is meagre in fact and
decidedly feeble in criticism. As for the prose, though Sir George Young
has prefixed an introduction good as far as it goes, there is no index,
no table even of contents, and the separate papers are not dated, nor is
any indication given of their origin--a defect which, for reasons to be
indicated shortly, is especially troublesome in Praed's case.
Accordingly anything like a critical study of the poet is beset with
very unusual difficulties, and the mere reading of him, if it were less
agreeable in itself, could not be said to be exactly easy. Luckily Praed
is a writer so eminently engaging to the mere reader, as well as so
interesting in divers ways to the personage whom some one has politely
called "the gelid critic," that no sins or shortcomings of his editors
can do him much harm, so long as they let him be read at all.

Winthrop Mackworth was the third son of Serjeant Praed, Chairman of the
Board of Audit, and, though his family was both by extraction and by
actual seat Devonian, he was born in John Street, Bedford Row, on 26th
June 1802, the year of the birth of Victor Hugo, who was perhaps about
as unlike Praed in every conceivable point, except metrical mastery, as
two men possessing poetic faculty can be unlike one another. John Street
may not appear as meet a nurse for a poetic child as Besançon,
especially now when it has settled down into the usual office-and-chambers
state of Bloomsbury. But it is unusually wide for a London street; it
has trees--those of the Foundling Hospital and those of Gray's Inn--at
either end, and all about it cluster memories of the Bedford Row
conspiracy, and of that immortal dinner which was given by the Briefless
One and his timid partner to Mr. Goldmore, and of Sydney Smith's sojourn
in Doughty Street, and of divers other pleasant things. In connection,
however, with Praed himself, we do not hear much more of John Street. It
was soon exchanged for the more cheerful locality of Teignmouth, where
his father (who was a member of the old western family of Mackworth,
Praed being an added surname) had a country house. Serjeant Praed
encouraged, if he did not positively teach, the boy to write English
verse at a very early age: a practice which I should be rather slow to
approve, but which has been credited, perhaps justly, with the very
remarkable formal accuracy and metrical ease of Praed's after-work.
Winthrop lost his mother early, was sent to a private school at eight
years old, and to Eton in the year 1814. Public schools in their effect
of allegiance on public schoolboys have counted for much in English
history, literary and other, and Eton has counted for more than any of
them. But hardly in any case has it counted for so much with the general
reader as in Praed's. A friend of mine, who, while entertaining high
and lofty views on principle, takes low ones by a kind of natural
attraction, says that the straightforward title of _The Etonian_ and
Praed's connection with it are enough to account for this. There you
have a cardinal fact easy to seize and easy to remember. "Praed? Oh!
yes, the man who wrote _The Etonian_; he must have been an Eton man,"
says the general reader. This is cynicism, and cannot be too strongly
reprehended. But unluckily, as in other cases, a kind of critical
deduction or reaction from this view has also taken place, and there are
persons who maintain that Praed's merit is a kind of coterie-merit, a
thing which Eton men are bound, and others are not bound but the
reverse, to uphold. This is an old, but apparently still effective
trick. I read not long ago a somewhat elaborate attempt to make out that
the people who admire Mr. Matthew Arnold's poems admire them because
they, the people, are Oxford men. Now this form of "ruling out" is
undoubtedly ingenious. "You admire Mr. Arnold's poems?"--"Yes, I
do."--"You are an Oxford man?"--"Yes, I am."--"Ah! I see." And it is
perfectly useless for the victim to argue that his admiration of the
poet and his allegiance to the University have nothing to do with each
other. In the present case I, at least, am free from this illogical but
damaging disqualification. I do not think that any one living admires
Praed more than I do; and neither Eton nor Cambridge, which may be said
to have divided influence on him, claims any allegiance from me. On
Praed himself, however, the influence of Eton was certainly great, if
not of the greatest. Here he began in school periodicals ("Apis Matina"
a bee buzzing in manuscript only, preceded _The Etonian_) his prose and,
to some though a less extent, his verse-exercises in finished
literature. Here he made the beginnings of that circle of friends
(afterwards slightly enlarged at Cambridge by the addition of
non-Etonians and including one or two Oxford men who had been at Eton)
which practically formed the staff of _The Etonian_ itself and of the
subsequent _Knight's Quarterly_ and _Brazen Head_. The greatest of them
all, Macaulay, belonged to the later Trinity set; but the Etonians
proper included divers men of mark. There has been, I believe, a
frequent idea that boys who contribute to school-magazines never do
anything else. Praed certainly could not be produced as an instance. He
was not a great athlete, partly because his health was always weak,
partly because athletics were then in their infancy. But he is said to
have been a good player at fives and tennis, an amateur actor of merit,
expert at chess and whist, and latterly a debater of promise, while, in
the well-known way of his own school and University, he was more than a
sufficient scholar. He went to Trinity in October 1821, and in the three
following years won the Browne Medals for Greek verse four times and
the Chancellor's Medal for English verse twice. He was third in the
Classical Tripos, was elected to a Fellowship at his college in 1827,
and in 1830 obtained the Seatonian Prize with a piece, "The Ascent of
Elijah," which is remarkable for the extraordinary facility with which
it catches the notes of the just published _Christian Year_. He was a
great speaker at the Union, and, as has been hinted, he made a fresh
circle of literary friends for himself, the chief ornaments whereof were
Macaulay and Charles Austin. It was also during his sojourn at Cambridge
that the short-lived but brilliant venture of _Knight's Quarterly_ was
launched. He was about four years resident at Trinity in the first
instance; after which, according to a practice then common enough but
now, I believe, obsolete, he returned to Eton as private and particular
tutor to Lord Ernest Bruce. This employment kept him for two years. He
then read law, was called to the Bar in 1829, and in 1830 was elected to
Parliament for the moribund borough of St. Germans. He was re-elected
next year, contested St. Ives, when St. Germans lost its members, but
was beaten, was elected in 1834 for Great Yarmouth, and in 1837 for
Aylesbury, which last seat he held to his death. During the whole of
this time he sat as a Conservative, becoming a more thorough one as time
went on; and as he had been at Cambridge a very decided Whig, and had
before his actual entrance on public life written many pointed and some
bitter lampoons against the Tories, the change, in the language of his
amiable and partial friend and biographer, "occasioned considerable
surprise." Of this also more presently: for it is well to get merely
biographical details over with as little digression as possible.
Surprise or no surprise, he won good opinions from both sides, acquired
considerable reputation as a debater and a man of business, was in the
confidence both of the Duke of Wellington and of Sir Robert Peel, was
made Secretary of the Board of Control in 1834, married in 1835, was
appointed Deputy-High Steward of his University (a mysterious
appointment, of the duties of which I have no notion), and died of
disease of the lungs on 15th July 1839. Not very much has been published
about Praed personally; but in what has been published, and in what I
have heard, I cannot remember a single unfriendly sentence.

Notwithstanding his reputation as an "inspired schoolboy," I do not know
that sober criticism would call him a really precocious writer,
especially in verse. The pieces by which he is best known and which have
most individuality, date in no case very early, and in almost all cases
after his five-and-twentieth year. What does date very early (and
unluckily it has been printed with a copiousness betokening more
affection than judgment, considering that the author had more sense
than to print it at all) is scarcely distinguishable from any other
verses of any other clever boy. It is impossible to augur any future
excellence from such stuff as

    Emilia often sheds the tear
      But affectation bids it flow,

or as

    From breasts which feel compassion's glow
      Solicit mild the kind relief;

and, for one's own part, one is inclined to solicit mild the kind relief
of not having to read it. Even when Praed had become, at least
technically, a man, there is no very great improvement as a whole,
though here and there one may see, looking backwards from the finished
examples, faint beginnings of his peculiar touches, especially of that
pleasant trick of repeating the same word or phrase with a different and
slightly altered sense which, as Mr. Austin Dobson has suggested, may
have been taken from Burns. The Cambridge prize poems are quite
authentic and respectable examples of that style which has received its
final criticism in

    Ply battleaxe and hurtling catapult:
    Jerusalem is ours! _Id Deus vult_,--

though they do not contain anything so nice as that, or as its great
author's more famous couplet respecting Africa and the men thereof. The
longer romances of the same date, "Gog," "Lilian," "The Troubadour,"
are little more than clever reminiscences sometimes of Scott, Byron,
Moore, and other contemporaries, sometimes of Prior and the _vers de
société_ of the eighteenth century. The best passage by far of all this
is the close of "How to Rhyme with Love," and this, as it seems to me,
is the only passage of even moderate length which, in the poems dating
before Praed took his degree, in the least foretells the poet of "The
Red Fisherman," "The Vicar," the "Letters from Teignmouth," the
"Fourteenth of February" (earliest in date and not least charming fruit
of the true vein), "Good-night to the Season," and best and most
delightful of all, the peerless "Letter of Advice," which is as much the
very best thing of its own kind as the "Divine Comedy."

In prose Praed was a little earlier, but not very much. _The Etonian_
itself was, even in its earliest numbers, written at an age when many,
perhaps most, men have already left school; and the earlier numbers are
as imitative, of the _Spectator_ and its late and now little read
followers of the eighteenth century, as is the verse above quoted. The
youthful boisterousness of _Blackwood_ gave Praed a more congenial
because a fresher cue; and in the style of which Maginn, as Adjutant
O'Doherty, had set the example in his Latinisings of popular verse, and
which was to be worked to death by Father Prout, there are few things
better than the "Musæ O'Connorianæ" which celebrates the great fight of
Mac Nevis and Mac Twolter. But there is here still the distinct
following of a model the taint of the school-exercise. Very much more
original is "The Knight and the Knave:" indeed I should call this the
first original thing, though it be a parody, that Praed did. To say that
it reminds one in more than subject of _Rebecca and Rowena_, and that it
was written some twenty years earlier, is to say a very great deal. Even
here, however, the writer's ground is rented, not freehold. It is very
different in such papers as "Old Boots" and "The Country Curate," while
in the later prose contributed to _Knight's Quarterly_ the improvement
in originality is marked. "The Union Club" is amusing enough all
through: but considering that it was written in 1823, two years before
Jeffrey asked the author of a certain essay on Milton "where he got that
style," one passage of the speech put in the mouth of Macaulay is
positively startling. "The Best Bat in the School" is quite delightful,
and "My First Folly," though very unequal, contains in the introduction
scene, between Vyvian Joyeuse and Margaret Orleans, a specimen of a kind
of dialogue nowhere to be found before, so far as I know, and giving
proof that, if Praed had set himself to it, he might have started a new
kind of novel.

It does not appear, however, that his fancy led him with any decided
bent to prose composition, and he very early deserted it for verse;
though he is said to have, at a comparatively late period of his short
life, worked in harness as a regular leader-writer for the _Morning
Post_ during more than a year. No examples of this work of his have been
reprinted, nor, so far as I know, does any means of identifying them
exist, though I personally should like to examine them. He was still at
Cambridge when he drifted into another channel, which was still not his
own channel, but in which he feathered his oars under two different
flags with no small skill and dexterity. Sir George Young has a very
high idea of his uncle's political verse, and places him "first among
English writers, before Prior, before Canning, before the authors of the
'Rolliad,' and far before Moore or any of the still anonymous
contributors to the later London press." I cannot subscribe to this.
Neither as Whig nor as Tory, neither as satirist of George the Fourth
nor as satirist of the Reform Bill, does Praed seem to me to have been
within a hundred miles of that elder schoolfellow of his who wrote

    All creeping creatures, venomous and low,
    Still blasphemous or blackguard, praise Lepaux.

He has nothing for sustained wit and ease equal to the best pieces of
the "Fudge Family" and the "Two-penny Postbag"; and (for I do not know
why one should not praise a man because he happens to be alive and one's
friend) I do not think he has the touch of the true political satirist
as Mr. Traill has it in "Professor Baloonatics Craniocracs," or in that
admirable satire on democracy which is addressed to the "Philosopher
Crazed, from the Island of Crazes."

Indeed, by mentioning Prior, Sir George seems to put himself rather out
of court. Praed _is_ very nearly if not quite Prior's equal, but the
sphere of neither was politics. Prior's political pieces are thin and
poor beside his social verse, and with rare exceptions I could not put
anything political of Praed's higher than the shoe-string of "Araminta."
Neither of these two charming poets seems to have felt seriously enough
for political satire. Matthew, we know, played the traitor; and though
Mackworth ratted to my own side, I fear it must be confessed that he did
rat. I can only discover in his political verse two fixed principles,
both of which no doubt did him credit, but which hardly, even when taken
together, amount to a sufficient political creed. The one was fidelity
to Canning and his memory: the other was impatience of the cant of the
reformers. He could make admirable fun of Joseph Hume, and of still
smaller fry like Waithman; he could attack Lord Grey's nepotism and
doctrinairism fiercely enough. Once or twice, or, to be fair, more than
once or twice, he struck out a happy, indeed a brilliant flash. He was
admirable at what Sir George Young calls, justly enough, "political
patter songs" such as,

    Young widowhood shall lose its weeds,
      Old kings shall loathe the Tories,
    And monks be tired of telling beads,
      And Blues of telling stories;
    And titled suitors shall be crossed,
      And famished poets married,
    And Canning's motion shall be lost,
      And Hume's amendment carried;
    And Chancery shall cease to doubt,
      And Algebra to prove,
    And hoops come in, and gas go out
      Before I cease to love.

He hit off an exceedingly savage and certainly not wholly just "Epitaph
on the King of the Sandwich Islands" which puts the conception of George
the Fourth that Thackeray afterwards made popular, and contains these
felicitous lines:

    The people in his happy reign,
      Were blessed beyond all other nations:
    Unharmed by foreign axe and chain,
      Unhealed by civic innovations;
    They served the usual logs and stones,
      With all the usual rites and terrors,
    And swallowed all their fathers' bones,
      And swallowed all their fathers' errors.

    When the fierce mob, with clubs and knives,
      All swore that nothing should prevent them,
    But that their representatives
      Should actually represent them,
    He interposed the proper checks,
      By sending troops, with drums and banners,
    To cut their speeches short, and necks,
      And break their heads, to mend their manners.

Occasionally in a sort of middle vein between politics and society he
wrote in the "patter" style just noticed quite admirable things like
"Twenty-eight and Twenty-nine." Throughout the great debates on Reform
he rallied the reformers with the same complete and apparently useless
superiority of wit and sense which has often, if not invariably, been
shown at similar crises on the losing side. And once, on an
ever-memorable occasion, he broke into those famous and most touching
"Stanzas on seeing the Speaker Asleep" which affect one almost to tears
by their grace of form and by the perennial and indeed ever-increasing
applicability of their matter.

    Sleep, Mr. Speaker: it's surely fair,
    If you don't in your bed, that you should in your chair:
    Longer and longer still they grow,
    Tory and Radical, Aye and No;
    Talking by night and talking by day;
    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; sleep, sleep while you may.

    Sleep, Mr. Speaker: slumber lies
    Light and brief on a Speaker's eyes--
    Fielden or Finn, in a minute or two,
    Some disorderly thing will do;
    Riot will chase repose away;
    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; sleep, sleep while you may.

    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; Cobbett will soon
    Move to abolish the sun and moon;
    Hume, no doubt, will be taking the sense
    Of the House on a saving of thirteen-pence;
    Grattan will growl or Baldwin bray;
    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; sleep, sleep while you may.

    Sleep, Mr. Speaker: dream of the time
    When loyalty was not quite a crime,
    When Grant was a pupil in Canning's school,
    And Palmerston fancied Wood a fool.
    Lord, how principles pass away!
    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; sleep, sleep while you may.

    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; sweet to men
    Is the sleep that comes but now and then;
    Sweet to the sorrowful, sweet to the ill,
    Sweet to the children who work in a mill.
    You have more need of sleep than they,
    Sleep, Mr. Speaker; sleep, sleep while you may.

But the chief merit of Praed's political verse as a whole seems to me to
be that it kept his hand in, and enabled him to develop and refine the
trick, above referred to, of playing on words so as to give a graceful
turn to verse composed in his true vocation.

Of the verse so composed there are more kinds than one; though perhaps
only in two kinds is the author absolutely at his best. There is first a
certain class of pieces which strongly recall Macaulay's "Lays" and may
have had some connexion of origin with them. Of course those who are
foolish enough to affect to see nothing good in "The Battle of the Lake
Regillus," or "Ivry," or "The Armada," will not like "Cassandra," or
"Sir Nicholas at Marston Moor," or the "Covenanter's Lament for Bothwell
Brigg," or "Arminius." Nevertheless they are fine in their way.
"Arminius" is too long, and it suffers from the obvious comparison with
Cowper's far finer "Boadicea." But its best lines, such as the
well-known

    I curse him by our country's gods,
      The terrible, the dark,
    The scatterers of the Roman rods,
      The quellers of the bark,

are excellent in the style, and "Sir Nicholas" is charming. But not here
either did Apollo seriously wait for Praed. The later romances or tales
are far better than the earlier. "The Legend of the Haunted Tree" shows
in full swing that happy compound and contrast of sentiment and humour
in which the writer excelled. And "The Teufelhaus" is, except "The Red
Fisherman" perhaps, the best thing of its kind in English. These lines
are good enough for anything:

    But little he cared, that stripling pale,
    For the sinking sun or the rising gale;
    For he, as he rode, was dreaming now,
    Poor youth, of a woman's broken vow,
    Of the cup dashed down, ere the wine was tasted,
    Of eloquent speeches sadly wasted,
    Of a gallant heart all burnt to ashes,
    And the Baron of Katzberg's long moustaches.

And these:

    Swift as the rush of an eagle's wing,
    Or the flight of a shaft from Tartar string,
    Into the wood Sir Rudolph went:
    Not with more joy the schoolboys run
    To the gay green fields when their task is done;
    Not with more haste the members fly,
    When Hume has caught the Speaker's eye.

But in "The Red Fisherman" itself there is nothing that is not good. It
is very short, ten small pages only of some five-and-twenty lines each.
But there is not a weak place in it from the moment when "the Abbot
arose and closed his book" to the account of his lamentable and yet
lucky fate and punishment whereof "none but he and the fisherman could
tell the reason why." Neither of the two other practitioners who may be
called the masters of this style, Hood and Barham, nor Praed himself
elsewhere, nor any of his and their imitators has trodden the
breadthless line between real terror and mere burlesque with so steady a
foot.

Still not here was his "farthest," as the geographers say, nor in the
considerable mass of smaller poems which practically defy
classification. In them, as so often elsewhere in Praed, one comes
across odd notes, stray flashes of genius which he never seems to have
cared to combine or follow out, such as the unwontedly solemn "Time's
Song," the best wholly serious thing that he has done, and the charming
"L'Inconnue." But we find the perfect Praed, and we find him only, in
the verses of society proper, the second part of the "Poems of Life and
Manners" as they are headed, which began, as far as one can make out, to
be written about 1826, and the gift of which Praed never lost, though he
practised it little in the very last years of his life. Here, in a
hundred pages, with a few to be added from elsewhere, are to be found
some of the best-bred and best-natured verse within the English
language, some of the most original and remarkable metrical experiments,
a profusion of the liveliest fancy, a rush of the gayest rhyme. They
begin with "The Vicar," _vir nullâ non donandus lauru_.

    [Whose] talk was like a stream, which runs
      With rapid change from rocks to roses:
    It slipped from politics to puns,
      It passed from Mahomet to Moses;
    Beginning with the laws which keep
      The planets in their radiant courses,
    And ending with some precept deep
      For dressing eels, or shoeing horses.

Three of the Vicar's companion "Everyday Characters" are good, but I
think not so good as he; the fifth piece, however, "The Portrait of a
Lady," is quite his equal.

    You'll be forgotten--as old debts
      By persons who are used to borrow;
    Forgotten--as the sun that sets,
      When shines a new one on the morrow;
    Forgotten--like the luscious peach
      That blessed the schoolboy last September;
    Forgotten--like a maiden speech,
      Which all men praise, but none remember.

    Yet ere you sink into the stream
      That whelms alike sage, saint, and martyr,
    And soldier's sword, and minstrel's theme,
      And Canning's wit, and Gatton's charter,
    Here, of the fortunes of your youth,
      My fancy weaves her dim conjectures,
    Which have, perhaps, as much of truth
      As passion's vows, or Cobbett's lectures.

Here, and perhaps here first, at least in the order of the published
poems, appears that curious mixture of pathos and quizzing, sentiment
and satire, which has never been mastered more fully or communicated
more happily than by Praed. But not even yet do we meet with it in its
happiest form: nor is that form to be found in "Josephine" which is much
better in substance than in manner, or in the half-social,
half-political patter of "The Brazen Head," or in "Twenty-eight and
Twenty-nine." It sounds first in the "Song for the Fourteenth of
February." No one, so far as I know, has traced any exact original[20]
for the altogether admirable metre which, improved and glorified later
in "The Letter of Advice," appears first in lighter matter still like
this:

    Shall I kneel to a Sylvia or Celia,
      Whom no one e'er saw, or may see,
    A fancy-drawn Laura Amelia,
      An _ad libit_ Anna Marie?
    Shall I court an initial with stars to it,
      Go mad for a G. or a J.,
    Get Bishop to put a few bars to it,
    And print it on Valentine's Day?

But every competent critic has seen in it the origin of the more
gorgeous and full-mouthed, if not more accomplished and dexterous,
rhythm in which Mr. Swinburne has written "Dolores," and the even more
masterly dedication of the first "Poems and Ballads." The shortening of
the last line which the later poet has introduced is a touch of genius,
but not perhaps greater than Praed's own recognition of the
extraordinarily vivid and ringing qualities of the stanza. I profoundly
believe that metrical quality is, other things being tolerably equal,
the great secret of the enduring attraction of verse: and nowhere, not
in the greatest lyrics, is that quality more unmistakable than in the
"Letter of Advice." I really do not know how many times I have read it;
but I never can read it to this day without being forced to read it out
loud like a schoolboy and mark with accompaniment of hand-beat such
lines as

    Remember the thrilling romances
      We read on the bank in the glen:
    Remember the suitors our fancies
      Would picture for both of us then.
    They wore the red cross on their shoulder,
      They had vanquished and pardoned their foe--
    Sweet friend, are you wiser or colder?
      My own Araminta, say "No!"

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    He must walk--like a god of old story
      Come down from the home of his rest;
    He must smile--like the sun in his glory,
      On the buds he loves ever the best;
    And oh! from its ivory portal
      Like music his soft speech must flow!
    If he speak, smile, or walk like a mortal,
      My own Araminta, say "No!"

There are, metrically speaking, few finer couplets in English than the
first of that second stanza. Looked at from another point of view, the
mixture of the comic and the serious in the piece is remarkable enough;
but not so remarkable, I think, as its extraordinary metrical
accomplishment. There is not a note or a syllable wrong in the whole
thing, but every sound and every cadence comes exactly where it ought to
come, so as to be, in a delightful phrase of Southey's, "necessary and
voluptuous and right."

It is no wonder that when Praed had discovered such a medium he should
have worked it freely. But he never impressed on it such a combination
of majesty and grace as in this letter of Medora Trevilian. As far as
the metre goes I think the eight-lined stanzas of this piece better
suited to it than the twelve-lined ones of "Good Night to the Season"
and the first "Letter from Teignmouth," but both are very delightful.
Perhaps the first is the best known of all Praed's poems, and certainly
some things in it, such as

    The ice of her ladyship's manners,
    The ice of his lordship's champagne,

are among the most quoted. But this antithetical trick, of which Praed
was so fond, is repeated a little often in it; and it seems to me to
lack the freshness as well as the fire of the "Advice." On the other
hand, the "Letter from Teignmouth" is the best thing that even Praed has
ever done for combined grace and tenderness.

    You once could be pleased with our ballads--
      To-day you have critical ears;
    You once could be charmed with our salads--
      Alas! you've been dining with Peers;
    You trifled and flirted with many--
      You've forgotten the when and the how;
    There was one you liked better than any--
      Perhaps you've forgotten her now.
    But of those you remember most newly,
      Of those who delight or enthral,
    None love you a quarter so truly
      As some you will find at our Ball.

    They tell me you've many who flatter,
      Because of your wit and your song:
    They tell me--and what does it matter?--
      You like to be praised by the throng:
    They tell me you're shadowed with laurel:
      They tell me you're loved by a Blue:
    They tell me you're sadly immoral--
      Dear Clarence, that cannot be true!
    But to me, you are still what I found you,
      Before you grew clever and tall;
    And you'll think of the spell that once bound you;
      And you'll come--won't you come?--to our Ball!

Is not that perfectly charming?

It is perhaps a matter of mere taste whether it is or is not more
charming than pieces like "School and Schoolfellows" (the best of
Praed's purely Eton poems) and "Marriage Chimes," in which, if not Eton,
the Etonian set also comes in. If I like these latter pieces less, it
is not so much because of their more personal and less universal
subjects as because their style is much less individual. The resemblance
to Hood cannot be missed, and though I believe there is some dispute as
to which of the two poets actually hit upon the particular style first,
there can be little doubt that Hood attained to the greater excellence
in it. The real sense and savingness of that doctrine of the "principal
and most excellent things," which has sometimes been preached rather
corruptly and narrowly, is that the best things that a man does are
those that he does best. Now though

    I wondered what they meant by stock,
      I wrote delightful Sapphics,

and

    With no hard work but Bovney stream,
      No chill except Long Morning,

are very nice things, I do not think they are so good in their kind as
the other things that I have quoted; and this, though the poem contains
the following wholly delightful stanza in the style of the "Ode on a
Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy":

    Tom Mill was used to blacken eyes
      Without the fear of sessions;
    Charles Medlar loathed false quantities
      As much as false professions;
    Now Mill keeps order in the land,
      A magistrate pedantic;
    And Medlar's feet repose unscanned
      Beneath the wide Atlantic.

The same may even be said of "Utopia," a much-praised, often-quoted, and
certainly very amusing poem, of "I'm not a Lover now," and of others,
which are also, though less exactly, in Hood's manner. To attempt to
distinguish between that manner and the manner which is Praed's own is a
rather perilous attempt; and the people who hate all attempts at
reducing criticism to principle, and who think that a critic should only
say clever things about his subject, will of course dislike me for it.
But that I cannot help. I should say then that Hood had the advantage of
Praed in purely serious poetry; for Araminta's bard never did anything
at all approaching "The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies," "The Haunted
House," or a score of other things. He had also the advantage in pure
broad humour. But where Praed excelled was in the mixed style, not of
sharp contrast as in Hood's "Lay of the Desert Born" and "Demon Ship,"
where from real pity and real terror the reader suddenly stumbles into
pure burlesque, but of wholly blended and tempered humour and pathos. It
is this mixed style in which I think his note is to be found as it is to
be found in no other poet, and as it could hardly be found in any but
one with Praed's peculiar talent and temper combined with his peculiar
advantages of education, fortune, and social atmosphere. He never had to
"pump out sheets of fun" on a sick-bed for the printer's devil, like
his less well-fated but assuredly not less well-gifted rival; and as his
scholarship was exactly of the kind to refine, temper, and adjust his
literary manner, so his society and circumstances were exactly of the
kind to repress, or at least not to encourage, exuberance or
boisterousness in his literary matter. There are I believe who call him
trivial, even frivolous; and if this be done sincerely by any careful
readers of "The Red Fisherman" and the "Letter of Advice" I fear I must
peremptorily disable their judgment. But this appearance of levity is in
great part due exactly to the perfect modulation and adjustment of his
various notes. He never shrieks or guffaws: there is no horse-play in
him, just as there is no tearing a passion to tatters. His slight
mannerisms, more than once referred to, rarely exceed what is justified
by good literary manners. His points are very often so delicate, so
little insisted on or underlined, that a careless reader may miss them
altogether; his "questionings" are so little "obstinate" that a careless
reader may think them empty.

    Will it come with a rose or a brier?
      Will it come with a blessing or curse?
    Will its bonnets be lower or higher?
      Will its morals be better or worse?

The author of this perhaps seems to some a mere jesting Pilate, and if
he does, they are quite right not to even try to like him.

I have seen disdainful remarks on those critics who, however warily,
admire a considerable number of authors, as though they were coarse and
omnivorous persons, unfit to rank with the delicates who can only relish
one or two things in literature. But this is a foolish mistake. "One to
one" is not "cursedly confined" in the relation of book and reader; and
a man need not be a Don Juan of letters to have a list of almost _mille
e tre_ loves in that department. He must indeed love the best or those
among the best only, in the almost innumerable kinds, which is not a
very severe restriction. And Praed is of this so fortunately numerous
company. I do not agree with those who lament his early death on the
ground of its depriving literature or politics of his future greatness.
In politics he would most probably not have become anything greater than
an industrious and respectable official; and in letters his best work
was pretty certainly done. For it was a work that could only be done in
youth. In his scholarly but not frigidly correct form, in his irregular
sallies and flashes of a genius really individual as far as it went but
never perhaps likely to go much farther, in the freshness of his
imitations, in the imperfection of his originalities, Praed was the most
perfect representative we have had or ever are likely to have of what
has been called, with a perhaps reprehensible parody on great words,
"the eternal undergraduate within us, who rejoices before life." He is
thus at the very antipodes of Wertherism and Byronism, a light but
gallant champion of cheerfulness and the joy of living. Although there
is about him absolutely nothing artificial--the curse of the lighter
poetry as a rule--and though he attains to deep pathos now and then, and
once or twice (notably in "The Red Fisherman") to a kind of grim
earnestness, neither of these things is his real _forte_. Playing with
literature and with life, not frivolously or without heart, but with no
very deep cares and no very passionate feeling, is Praed's attitude
whenever he is at his best. And he does not play at playing as many
writers do: it is all perfectly genuine. Even Prior has not excelled
such lines as these in one of his early and by no means his best poems
(an adaptation too), for mingled jest and earnest--

    But Isabel, by accident,
      Was wandering by that minute;
    She opened that dark monument
      And found her slave within it;
    _The clergy said the Mass in vain,
      The College could not save me:
    But life, she swears, returned again
      With the first kiss she gave me._

Hardly, if at all, could he have kept up this attitude towards life
after he had come to forty year; and he might have become either a
merely intelligent and respectable person, which is most probable, or an
elderly youth, which is of all things most detestable, or a
caterwauler, or a cynic, or a preacher. From all these fates the gods
mercifully saved him, and he abides with us (the presentation being but
slightly marred by the injudicious prodigality of his editors) only as
the poet of Medora's musical despair lest Araminta should derogate, of
the Abbot's nightmare sufferings at the hands of the Red Fisherman, of
the plaintive appeal after much lively gossip--

    And you'll come--won't you come?--to our Ball,

of all the pleasures, and the jests, and the tastes, and the studies,
and the woes, provided only they are healthy and manly, of Twenty-five.
Unhappy is the person of whom it can be said that he neither has been,
is, nor ever will be in the temper and circumstances of which Praed's
verse is the exact and consummate expression; not much less unhappy he
for whom that verse does not perform the best perhaps of all the offices
of literature, and call up, it may be in happier guise than that in
which they once really existed, the many beloved shadows of the past.

FOOTNOTES:

[19] 1. _The Poems of Winthrop Mackworth Praed, with a Memoir by the
Rev. Derwent Coleridge._ In two volumes. London, 1864. 2. _Essays by
Winthrop Mackworth Praed, collected and arranged by Sir George Young,
Bart._ London, 1887. 3. _The Political and Occasional Poems of Winthrop
Mackworth Praed, edited, with Notes, by Sir George Young._ London, 1888.

[20] Since I wrote this I have been reminded by my friend Mr. Mowbray
Morris of Byron's

    I enter thy garden of roses,
    Beloved and fair Haidee.

It is not impossible that this _is_ the immediate original. But Praed
has so improved on it as to deserve a new patent.



XIII

GEORGE BORROW


In this paper I do not undertake to throw any new light on the
little-known life of the author of _Lavengro_. Among the few people who
knew Borrow intimately, surely some one will soon be found who will give
to the world an account of his curious life, and perhaps some specimens
of those "mountains of manuscript" which, as he regretfully declares,
never could find a publisher--an impossibility which, if I may be
permitted to offer an opinion, does not reflect any great credit on
publishers. For the present purpose it is sufficient to sum up the
generally-known facts that Borrow was born in 1803 at East Dereham in
Norfolk, his father being a captain in the army, who came of Cornish
blood, his mother a lady of Norfolk birth and Huguenot extraction. His
youth he has himself described in a fashion which nobody is likely to
care to paraphrase. After the years of travel chronicled in _Lavengro_,
he seems to have found scope for his philological and adventurous
tendencies in the rather unlikely service of the Bible Society; and he
sojourned in Russia and Spain to the great advantage of English
literature. This occupied him during the greater part of the years from
1830 to 1840. Then he came back to his native country--or, at any rate,
his native district--married a widow of some property at Lowestoft, and
spent the last forty years of his life at Oulton Hall, near the piece of
water which is thronged in summer by all manner of sportsmen and others.
He died but a few years ago; and even since his death he seems to have
lacked the due meed of praise which the Lord Chief Justice of the equal
foot usually brings, even to persons far less deserving than Borrow.

There is this difficulty in writing about him, that the audience must
necessarily consist of fervent devotees on the one hand, and of complete
infidels, or at least complete know-nothings, on the other. To any one
who, having the faculty to understand either, has read _Lavengro_ or
_The Bible in Spain_, or even _Wild Wales_, praise bestowed on Borrow is
apt to seem impertinence. To anybody else (and unfortunately the anybody
else is in a large majority) praise bestowed on Borrow is apt to look
like that very dubious kind of praise which is bestowed on somebody of
whom no one but the praiser has ever heard. I cannot think of any single
writer (Peacock himself is not an exception) who is in quite parallel
case. And, as usual, there is a certain excuse for the general public.
Borrow kept himself, during not the least exciting period of English
history, quite aloof from English politics, and from the life of great
English cities. But he did more than this. He is the only really
considerable writer of his time in any modern European nation who seems
to have taken absolutely no interest in current events, literary and
other. Putting a very few allusions aside, he might have belonged to
almost any period. His political idiosyncrasy will be noticed presently;
but he, who lived through the whole period from Waterloo to Maiwand, has
not, as far as I remember, mentioned a single English writer later than
Scott and Byron. He saw the rise, and, in some instances, the death, of
Tennyson, Thackeray, Macaulay, Carlyle, Dickens. There is not a
reference to any one of them in his works. He saw political changes such
as no man for two centuries had seen, and (except the Corn Laws, to
which he has some half-ironical allusions, and the Ecclesiastical Titles
Bill, which stirred his one active sentiment) he has referred to never a
one. He seems in some singular fashion to have stood outside of all
these things. His Spanish travels are dated for us by references to Doña
Isabel and Don Carlos, to Mr. Villiers and Lord Palmerston. But cut
these dates out, and they might be travels of the last century. His
Welsh book proclaims itself as written in the full course of the
Crimean War; but excise a few passages which bear directly on that
event, and the most ingenious critic would be puzzled to "place" the
composition. Shakespeare, we know, was for all time, not of one age
only; but I think we may say of Borrow, without too severely or
conceitedly marking the difference, that he was not of or for any
particular age or time at all. If the celebrated query in Longfellow's
_Hyperion_, "What is time?" had been addressed to him, his most
appropriate answer, and one which he was quite capable of giving, would
have been, "I really don't know."

To this singular historical vagueness has to be added a critical
vagueness even greater. I am sorry that I am unable to confirm or to
gainsay at first hand Borrow's wonderfully high estimate of certain
Welsh poets. But if the originals are anything like his translations of
them, I do not think that Ab Gwilym and Lewis Glyn Cothi, Gronwy Owen
and Huw Morris can have been quite such mighty bards as he makes out.
Fortunately, however, a better test presents itself. In one book of his,
_Wild Wales_, there are two estimates of Scott's works. Borrow finds in
an inn a copy of _Woodstock_ (which he calls by its less known title of
_The Cavalier_), and decides that it is "trashy": chiefly, it would
appear, because the portrait therein contained of Harrison, for whom
Borrow seems, on one of his inscrutable principles of prejudice, to
have had a liking, is not wholly favourable. He afterwards informs us
that Scott's "Norman Horseshoe" (no very exquisite song at the best, and
among Scott's somewhat less than exquisite) is "one of the most stirring
lyrics of modern times," and that he sang it for a whole evening;
evidently because it recounts a defeat of the Normans, whom Borrow, as
he elsewhere tells us in sundry places, disliked for reasons more or
less similar to those which made him like Harrison, the butcher. In
other words, he could not judge a work of literature as literature at
all. If it expressed sentiments with which he agreed, or called up
associations which were pleasant to him, good luck to it; if it
expressed sentiments with which he did not agree, and called up no
pleasant associations, bad luck.

In politics and religion this curious and very John Bullish unreason is
still more apparent. I suppose Borrow may be called, though he does not
call himself, a Tory. He certainly was an unfriend to Whiggery, and a
hater of Radicalism. He seems to have given up even the Corn Laws with a
certain amount of regret, and his general attitude is quite Eldonian.
But he combined with his general Toryism very curious Radicalisms of
detail, such as are to be found in Cobbett (who, as appeared at last,
and as all reasonable men should have always known, was really a Tory of
a peculiar type), and in several other English persons. The Church, the
Monarchy, and the Constitution generally were dear to Borrow, but he
hated all the aristocracy (except those whom he knew personally) and
most of the gentry. Also, he had the odd Radical sympathy for anybody
who, as the vernacular has it, was "kept out of his rights." I do not
know, but I should think, that Borrow was a strong Tichbornite. In that
curious book _Wild Wales_, where almost more of his real character
appears than in any other, he has to do with the Crimean War. It was
going on during the whole time of his tour, and he once or twice reports
conversations in which, from his knowledge of Russia, he demonstrated
beforehand to Welsh inquirers how improbable, not to say impossible, it
was that the Russian should be beaten. But the thing that seems really
to have interested him most was the case of Lieutenant P---- or
Lieutenant Parry, whom he sometimes refers to in the fuller and
sometimes in the less explicit manner. My own memories of 1854 are
rather indistinct, and I confess that I have not taken the trouble to
look up this celebrated case. As far as I can remember, and as far as
Borrow's references here and elsewhere go, it was the doubtless
lamentable but not uncommon case of a man who is difficult to live with,
and who has to live with others. Such cases occur at intervals in every
mess, college, and other similar aggregation of humanity. The person
difficult to live with gets, to use an Oxford phrase, "drawn." If he is
reformable he takes the lesson, and very likely becomes excellent
friends with those who "drew" him. If he is not, he loses his temper,
and evil results of one kind or another follow. Borrow's Lieutenant
P---- seems unluckily to have been of the latter kind, and was, if I
mistake not, recommended by the authorities to withdraw from a situation
which, to him, was evidently a false and unsuitable one. With this
Borrow could not away. He gravely chronicles the fact of his reading an
"excellent article in a local paper on the case of Lieutenant P----";
and with no less gravity (though he was, in a certain way, one of the
first humorists of our day) he suggests that the complaints of the
martyred P---- to the Almighty were probably not unconnected with our
Crimean disasters. This curious parochialism pursues him into more
purely religious matters. I do not know any other really great man of
letters of the last three-quarters of a century of whose attitude
Carlyle's famous words, "regarding God's universe as a larger patrimony
of Saint Peter, from which it were well and pleasant to hunt the Pope,"
are so literally true. It was not in Borrow's case a case of _sancta
simplicitas_. He has at times flashes of by no means orthodox sentiment,
and seems to have fought, and perhaps hardly won, many a battle against
the army of the doubters. But when it comes to the Pope, he is as
single-minded an enthusiast as John Bunyan himself, whom, by the way,
he resembles in more than one point. The attitude was, of course, common
enough among his contemporaries; indeed any man who has reached middle
life must remember numerous examples among his own friends and kindred.
But in literature, and such literature as Borrow's, it is rare.

Yet again, the curiously piecemeal, and the curiously arbitrary
character of Borrow's literary studies in languages other than his own,
is noteworthy in so great a linguist. The entire range of French
literature, old as well as new, he seems to have ignored altogether--I
should imagine out of pure John Bullishness. He has very few references
to German, though he was a good German scholar--a fact which I account
for by the other fact, that in his earlier literary period German was
fashionable, and that he never would have anything to do with anything
that fashion favoured. Italian, though he certainly knew it well, is
equally slighted. His education, if not his taste for languages, must
have made him a tolerable (he never could have been an exact) classical
scholar. But it is clear that insolent Greece and haughty Rome possessed
no attraction for him. I question whether even Spanish would not have
been too common a toy to attract him much, if it had not been for the
accidental circumstances which connected him with Spain.

Lastly (for I love to get my devil's advocate work over), in Borrow's
varied and strangely attractive gallery of portraits and characters,
most observers must perceive the absence of the note of passion. I have
sometimes tried to think that miraculous episode of Isopel Berners and
the Armenian verbs, with the whole sojourn of Lavengro in the dingle, a
mere wayward piece of irony--a kind of conscious ascetic myth. But I am
afraid the interpretation will not do. The subsequent conversation with
Ursula Petulengro under the hedge might be only a companion piece; even
the more wonderful, though much less interesting, dialogue with the
Irish girl in the last chapters of _Wild Wales_ might be so rendered by
a hardy exegete. But the negative evidence in all the books is too
strong. It may be taken as positively certain that Borrow never was "in
love," as the phrase is, and that he had hardly the remotest conception
of what being in love means. It is possible that he was a most cleanly
liver--it is possible that he was quite the reverse: I have not the
slightest information either way. But that he never in all his life
heard with understanding the refrain of the "Pervigilium,"

    Cras amet qui nunquam amavit, quique amavit eras amet,

I take as certain.

The foregoing remarks have, I think, summed up all Borrow's defects, and
it will be observed that even these defects have for the most part the
attraction of a certain strangeness and oddity. If they had not been
accompanied by great and peculiar merits, he would not have emerged from
the category of the merely bizarre, where he might have been left
without further attention. But, as a matter of fact, all, or almost all,
of his defects are not only counterbalanced by merits, but are
themselves, in a great degree, exaggerations or perversions of what is
intrinsically meritorious. With less wilfulness, with more attention to
the literature, the events, the personages of his own time, with a more
critical and common-sense attitude towards his own crotchets, Borrow
could hardly have wrought out for himself (as he has to an extent hardly
paralleled by any other prose writer who has not deliberately chosen
supernatural or fantastic themes) the region of fantasy, neither too
real nor too historical, which Joubert thought proper to the poet.
Strong and vivid as Borrow's drawing of places and persons is, he always
contrives to throw in touches which somehow give the whole the air of
being rather a vision than a fact. Never was such a John-a-Dreams as
this solid, pugilistic John Bull. Part of this literary effect of his is
due to his quaint habit of avoiding, where he can, the mention of proper
names. The description, for instance, of Old Sarum and Salisbury itself
in _Lavengro_ is sufficient to identify them to the most careless
reader, even if the name of Stonehenge had not occurred on the page
before; but they are not named. The description of Bettws-y-Coed in
_Wild Wales_, though less poetical, is equally vivid. Yet here it would
be quite possible for a reader, who did not know the place and its
relation to other named places, to pass without any idea of the actual
spot. It is the same with his frequent references to his beloved city of
Norwich, and his less frequent references to his later home at Oulton. A
paraphrase, an innuendo, a word to the wise he delights in, but anything
perfectly clear and precise he abhors. And by this means and others,
which it might be tedious to trace out too closely, he succeeds in
throwing the same cloudy vagueness over times as well as places and
persons. A famous passage--perhaps the best known, and not far from the
best he ever wrote--about Byron's funeral, fixes, of course, the date of
the wondrous facts or fictions recorded in _Lavengro_ to a nicety. Yet
who, as he reads it and its sequel (for the separation of _Lavengro_ and
_The Romany Rye_ is merely arbitrary, though the second book is, as a
whole, less interesting than the former), ever thinks of what was
actually going on in the very positive and prosaic England of 1824-25?
The later chapters of _Lavengro_ are the only modern _Roman d'Aventures_
that I know. The hero goes "overthwart and endlong," just like the
figures whom all readers know in Malory, and some in his originals. I do
not know that it would be more surprising if Borrow had found Sir Ozana
dying at the chapel in Lyonesse, or had seen the full function of the
Grail, though I fear he would have protested against that as popish.
Without any apparent art, certainly without the elaborate apparatus
which most prose tellers of fantastic tales use, and generally fail in
using, Borrow spirits his readers at once away from mere reality. If his
events are frequently as odd as a dream, they are always as perfectly
commonplace and real for the moment as the events of a dream are--a
little fact which the above-mentioned tellers of the above-mentioned
fantastic stories are too apt to forget. It is in this natural romantic
gift that Borrow's greatest charm lies. But it is accompanied and nearly
equalled, both in quality and in degree, by a faculty for dialogue.
Except Defoe and Dumas, I cannot think of any novelists who contrive to
tell a story in dialogue and to keep up the ball of conversation so well
as Borrow; while he is considerably the superior of both in pure style
and in the literary quality of his talk. Borrow's humour, though it is
of the general class of the older English--that is to say, the
pre-Addisonian--humorists, is a species quite by itself. It is rather
narrow in range, a little garrulous, busied very often about curiously
small matters, but wonderfully observant and true, and possessing a
quaint dry savour as individual as that of some wines. A characteristic
of this kind probably accompanies the romantic _ethos_ more commonly
than superficial judges both of life and literature are apt to suppose;
but the conjunction is nowhere seen better than in Borrow. Whether
humour can or cannot exist without a disposition to satire co-existing,
is one of those abstract points of criticism for which the public of the
present day has little appetite. It is certain (and that is what chiefly
concerns us for the present) that the two were not dissociated in
Borrow. His purely satirical faculty was very strong indeed, and
probably if he had lived a less retired life it would have found fuller
exercise. At present the most remarkable instance of it which exists is
the inimitable portrait-caricature of the learned Unitarian, generally
known as "Taylor of Norwich." I have somewhere (I think it was in Miss
Martineau's _Autobiography_) seen this reflected on as a flagrant
instance of ingratitude and ill-nature. The good Harriet, among whose
numerous gifts nature had not included any great sense of humour,
naturally did not perceive the artistic justification of the sketch,
which I do not hesitate to call one of the most masterly things of the
kind in literature.

Another Taylor, the well-known French baron of that name, is much more
mildly treated, though with little less skill of portraiture. As for
"the publisher" of _Lavengro_, the portrait there, though very clever,
is spoilt by rather too much evidence of personal animus, and by the
absence of redeeming strokes; but it shows the same satiric power as
the sketch of the worthy student of German who has had the singular
ill-fortune to have his books quizzed by Carlyle, and himself quizzed by
Borrow. It is a strong evidence of Borrow's abstraction from general
society that with this satiric gift, and evidently with a total freedom
from scruple as to its application, he should have left hardly anything
else of the kind. It is indeed impossible to ascertain how much of the
abundant character-drawing in his four chief books (all of which, be it
remembered, are autobiographic and professedly historical) is fact and
how much fancy. It is almost impossible to open them anywhere without
coming upon personal sketches, more or less elaborate, in which the
satiric touch is rarely wanting. The official admirer of "the grand
Baintham" at remote Corcubion, the end of all the European world; the
treasure-seeker, Benedict Mol; the priest at Cordova, with his
revelations about the Holy Office; the Gibraltar Jew; are only a few
figures out of the abundant gallery of _The Bible in Spain_. _Lavengro_,
besides the capital and full-length portraits above referred to, is
crowded with others hardly inferior, among which only one failure, the
disguised priest with the mysterious name, is to be found. Not that even
he has not good strokes and plenty of them, but that Borrow's prejudices
prevented his hand from being free. But Jasper Petulengro, and Mrs.
Hearne, and the girl Leonora, and Isopel, that vigorous and slighted
maid, and dozens of minor figures, of whom more presently, atone for
him. _The Romany Rye_ adds only minor figures to the gallery, because
the major figures have appeared before; while the plan and subject of
_Wild Wales_ also exclude anything more than vignettes. But what
admirable vignettes they are, and how constantly bitten in with satiric
spirit, all lovers of Borrow know.

It is, however, perhaps time to give some more exact account of the
books thus familiarly and curiously referred to; for Borrow most
assuredly is not a popular writer. Not long before his death _Lavengro_,
_The Romany Rye_, and _Wild Wales_ were only in their third edition,
though the first was nearly thirty, and the last nearly twenty, years
old. _The Bible in Spain_ had, at any rate in its earlier days, a wider
sale, but I do not think that even that is very generally known. I
should doubt whether the total number sold, during some fifty years, of
volumes surpassed in interest of incident, style, character and
description by few books of the century, has equalled the sale, within
any one of the last few years, of a fairly popular book by any fairly
popular novelist of to-day. And there is not the obstacle to Borrow's
popularity that there is to that of some other writers, notably the
already-mentioned author of _Crotchet Castle_. No extensive literary
cultivation is necessary to read him. A good deal even of his peculiar
charm may be missed by a prosaic or inattentive reader, and yet enough
will remain. But he has probably paid the penalty of originality, which
allows itself to be mastered by quaintness, and which refuses to meet
public taste at least half-way. It is certainly difficult at times to
know what to make of Borrow. And the general public, perhaps excusably,
is apt not to like things or persons when it does not know what to make
of them.

Borrow's literary work, even putting aside the "mountains of manuscript"
which he speaks of as unpublished, was not inconsiderable. There were,
in the first place, his translations, which, though no doubt not without
value, do not much concern us here. There is, secondly, his early
hackwork, his _Chaines de l'Esclavage_, which also may be neglected.
Thirdly, there are his philological speculations or compilations, the
chief of which is, I believe, his _Romano-Lavo-Lil_, the latest
published of his works. But Borrow, though an extraordinary linguist,
was a somewhat unchastened philologer, and the results of his life-long
philological studies appear to much better advantage from the literary
than from the scientific point of view. Then there is _The Gypsies in
Spain_, a very interesting book of its kind, marked throughout with
Borrow's characteristics, but for literary purposes merged to a great
extent in _The Bible in Spain_. And, lastly, there are the four original
books, as they may be called, which, at great leisure, and writing
simply because he chose to write, Borrow produced during the twenty
years of his middle age. He was in his fortieth year when, in 1842, he
published _The Bible in Spain_. _Lavengro_ came nearly ten years later,
and coincided with (no doubt it was partially stimulated by) the ferment
over the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. Its second part, _The Romany Rye_,
did not appear till six afterwards, that is to say, in 1857, and its
resuscitation of quarrels, which the country had quite forgotten (and
when it remembered them was rather ashamed of), must be pronounced
unfortunate. Last, in 1862, came _Wild Wales_, the characteristically
belated record of a tour in the principality during the year of the
Crimean War. On these four books Borrow's literary fame rests. His other
works are interesting because they were written by the author of these,
or because of their subjects, or because of the effect they had on other
men of letters, notably Longfellow and Mérimée, on the latter of whom
Borrow had an especially remarkable influence. These four are
interesting of themselves.

The earliest has been, I believe, and for reasons quite apart from its
biblical subject perhaps deserves to be, the greatest general favourite,
though its literary value is a good deal below that of _Lavengro_. _The
Bible in Spain_ records the journeys, which, as an agent of the Bible
Society, Borrow took through the Peninsula at a singularly interesting
time, the disturbed years of the early reign of Isabel Segunda. Navarre
and Aragon, with Catalonia, Valencia, and Murcia, he seems to have left
entirely unvisited; I suppose because of the Carlists. Nor did he
attempt the southern part of Portugal; but Castile and Leon, with the
north of Portugal and the south of Spain, he quartered in the most
interesting manner, riding everywhere with his servant and his
saddle-bag of Testaments at, I should suppose, a considerable cost to
the subscribers of the Society and at, it may be hoped, some gain to the
propagation of evangelical principles in the Peninsula, but certainly
with the results of extreme satisfaction to himself and of a very
delightful addition to English literature. He was actually imprisoned at
Madrid, and was frequently in danger from Carlists, and brigands, and
severely orthodox ecclesiastics. It is possible to imagine a more
ideally perfect missionary; but it is hardly possible to imagine a more
ideally perfect traveller. His early habits of roughing it, his gipsy
initiation, his faculties as a linguist, and his other faculties as a
born vagrant, certain to fall on his feet anywhere, were all called into
operation. But he might have had all these advantages and yet lacked the
extraordinary literary talent which the book reveals. In the first
chapter there is a certain stiffness; but the passage of the Tagus in
the second must have told every competent reader in 1842 that he had to
deal with somebody quite different from the run of common writers, and
thenceforward the book never flags till the end. How far the story is
rigidly historical I should be very sorry to have to decide. The author
makes a kind of apology in his preface for the amount of fact which has
been supplied from memory. I daresay the memory was quite trustworthy,
and certainly adventures are to the adventurous. We have had daring
travellers enough during the last half-century, but I do not know that
any one has ever had quite such a romantic experience as Borrow's ride
across the Hispano-Portuguese frontier with a gipsy _contrabandista_,
who was at the time a very particular object of police inquiry. I
daresay the interests of the Bible Society required the adventurous
journey to the wilds of Finisterra. But I feel that if that association
had been a mere mundane company and Borrow its agent, troublesome
shareholders might have asked awkward questions at the annual meeting.
Still, this sceptical attitude is only part of the official duty of the
critic, just as, of course, Borrow's adventurous journeys into the most
remote and interesting parts of Spain were part of the duty of the
colporteur. The book is so delightful that, except when duty calls, no
one would willingly take any exception to any part or feature of it. The
constant change of scene, the romantic episodes of adventure, the
kaleidoscope of characters, the crisp dialogue, the quaint reflection
and comment relieve each other without a break. I do not know whether it
is really true to Spain and Spanish life, and, to tell the exact truth,
I do not in the least care. If it is not Spanish it is remarkably human
and remarkably literary, and those are the chief and principal things.

_Lavengro_, which followed, has all the merits of its predecessor and
more. It is a little spoilt in its later chapters by the purpose, the
antipapal purpose, which appears still more fully in _The Romany Rye_.
But the strong and singular individuality of its flavour as a whole
would have been more than sufficient to carry off a greater fault. There
are, I should suppose, few books the successive pictures of which leave
such an impression on the reader who is prepared to receive that
impression. The word picture is here rightly used, for in all Borrow's
books more or less, and in this particularly, the narrative is anything
but continuous. It is a succession of dissolving views which grow clear
and distinct for a time and then fade off into vagueness before once
more appearing distinctly; nor has this mode of dealing with a subject
ever been more successfully applied than in _Lavengro_. At the same time
the mode is one singularly difficult of treatment by any reviewer. To
describe _Lavengro_ with any chance of distinctness to those who have
not read it, it would be necessary to give a series of sketches in
words, like those famous ones of the pictures in _Jane Eyre_. East
Dereham, the Viper Collector, the French Prisoners at Norman Cross, the
Gipsy Encampment, the Sojourn in Edinburgh (with a passing view of
Scotch schoolboys only inferior, as everything is, to Sir Walter's
history of Green-breeks), the Irish Sojourn (with the horse whispering
and the "dog of peace,") the settlement in Norwich (with Borrow's
compulsory legal studies and his very uncompulsory excursions into
Italian, Hebrew, Welsh, Scandinavian, anything that obviously would not
pay), the new meeting with the gipsies in the Castle Field, the
fight--only the first of many excellent fights--these are but a few of
the memories which rise to every reader of even the early chapters of
this extraordinary book, and they do not cover its first hundred pages
in the common edition. Then his father dies and the born vagrant is set
loose for vagrancy. He goes to London, with a stock of translations
which is to make him famous, and a recommendation from Taylor of Norwich
to "the publisher." The publisher exacted something more than his pound
of flesh in the form of Newgate Lives and review articles, and paid,
when he did pay, in bills of uncertain date which were very likely to be
protested. But Borrow won through it all, making odd acquaintances with
a young man of fashion (his least lifelike sketch); with an apple-seller
on London Bridge, who was something of a "fence" and had erected Moll
Flanders (surely the oddest patroness ever so selected) into a kind of
patron saint; with a mysterious Armenian merchant of vast wealth, whom
the young man, according to his own account, finally put on a kind of
filibustering expedition against both the Sublime Porte and the White
Czar, for the restoration of Armenian independence. At last, out of
health with perpetual work and low living, out of employ, his friends
beyond call, he sees destruction before him, writes _The Life and
Adventures of Joseph Sell_ (name of fortunate omen!) almost at a heat
and on a capital, fixed and floating, of eighteen-pence, and disposes of
it for twenty pounds by the special providence of the Muses. With this
twenty pounds his journey into the blue distance begins. He travels,
partly by coach, to somewhere near Salisbury, and gives the first of the
curiously unfavourable portraits of stage coachmen, which remain to
check Dickens's rose-coloured representations of Mr. Weller and his
brethren. I incline to think that Borrow's was likely to be the truer
picture. According to him, the average stage coachman was anything but
an amiable character, greedy, insolent to all but persons of wealth and
rank, a hanger-on of those who might claim either; bruiser enough to be
a bully but not enough to be anything more; in short, one of the worst
products of civilisation. From civilisation itself, however, Borrow soon
disappears, as far as any traceable signs go. He journeys, not farther
west but northwards, into the West Midlands and the marches of Wales. He
buys a tinker's beat and fit-out from a feeble vessel of the craft, who
has been expelled by "the Flaming Tinman," a half-gipsy of robustious
behaviour. He is met by old Mrs. Hearne, the mother-in-law of his gipsy
friend Jasper Petulengro, who resents a Gorgio's initiation in gipsy
ways, and very nearly poisons him by the wily aid of her grand-daughter
Leonora. He recovers, thanks to a Welsh travelling preacher and to
castor oil. And then, when the Welshman has left him, comes the climax
and turning-point of the whole story, the great fight with Jem Bosvile,
"the Flaming Tinman." The much-abused adjective Homeric belongs in sober
strictness to this immortal battle, which has the additional interest
not thought of by Homer (for goddesses do not count) that Borrow's
second and guardian angel is a young woman of great attractions and
severe morality, Miss Isopel (or Belle) Berners, whose extraction,
allowing for the bar sinister, is honourable, and who, her hands being
fully able to keep her head, has sojourned without ill fortune in the
Flaming Tinman's very disreputable company. Bosvile, vanquished by pluck
and good fortune rather than strength, flees the place with his wife.
Isopel remains behind and the couple take up their joint residence, a
residence of perfect propriety, in this dingle, the exact locality of
which I have always longed to know, that I might make an autumnal
pilgrimage to it. Isopel, Brynhild as she is, would apparently have had
no objection to be honourably wooed. But her eccentric companion
confines himself to teaching her "I love" in Armenian, which she finds
unsatisfactory; and she at last departs, leaving a letter which tells
Mr. Borrow some home truths. And, even before this catastrophe has been
reached, _Lavengro_ itself ends with a more startling abruptness than
perhaps any nominally complete book before or since.

It would be a little interesting to know whether the continuation, _The
Romany Rye_, which opens as if there had been no break whatever, was
written continuously or with a break. At any rate its opening chapters
contain the finish of the lamentable history of Belle Berners, which
must induce every reader of sensibility to trust that Borrow, in writing
it, was only indulging in his very considerable faculty of perverse
romancing. The chief argument to the contrary is, that surely no man,
however imbued with romantic perversity, would have made himself cut so
poor a figure as Borrow here does without cause. The gipsies reappear to
save the situation, and a kind of minor Belle Berners drama is played
out with Ursula, Jasper's sister. Then the story takes another of its
abrupt turns. Jasper, half in generosity it would appear, half in
waywardness, insists on Borrow purchasing a thorough-bred horse which is
for sale, advances the money, and despatches him across England to
Horncastle Fair to sell it. The usual Le Sagelike adventures occur, the
oddest of them being the hero's residence for some considerable time as
clerk and storekeeper at a great roadside inn. At last he reaches
Horncastle, and sells the horse to advantage. Then the story closes as
abruptly and mysteriously almost as that of _Lavengro_, with a long and
in parts, it must be confessed, rather dull conversation between the
hero, the Hungarian who has bought the horse, and the dealer who has
acted as go-between. This dealer, in honour of Borrow, of whom he has
heard through the gipsies, executes the wasteful and very meaningless
ceremony of throwing two bottles of old rose champagne, at a guinea
apiece, through the window. Even this is too dramatic a finale for
Borrow's unconquerable singularity, and he adds a short dialogue between
himself and a recruiting sergeant. And after this again there comes an
appendix containing an _apologia_ for _Lavengro_, a great deal more
polemic against Romanism, some historical views of more originality than
exactness, and a diatribe against gentility, Scotchmen, Scott, and other
black beasts of Borrow's. This appendix has received from some professed
admirers of the author a great deal more attention than it deserves. In
the first place, it was evidently written in a fit of personal pique; in
the second, it is chiefly argumentative, and Borrow had absolutely no
argumentative faculty. To say that it contains a great deal of quaint
and piquant writing is only to say that its writer wrote it, and though
the description of "Charlie-over-the-waterism" probably does not apply
to any being who ever lived, except to a few school-girls of both sexes,
it has a strong infusion of Borrow's satiric gift. As for the diatribes
against gentility, Borrow has only done very clumsily what Thackeray had
done long before without clumsiness. It can escape nobody who has read
his books with a seeing eye that he was himself exceedingly proud, not
merely of being a gentleman in the ethical sense, but of being one in
the sense of station and extraction--as, by the way, the decriers of
British snobbishness usually are, so that no special blame attaches to
Borrow for the inconsistency. Only let it be understood, once for all,
that to describe him as "the apostle of the ungenteel" is either to
speak in riddles or quite to misunderstand his real merits and
abilities.

I believe that some of the small but fierce tribe of Borrovians are
inclined to resent the putting of the last of this remarkable series,
_Wild Wales_, on a level with the other three. With such I can by no
means agree. _Wild Wales_ has not, of course, the charm of unfamiliar
scenery and the freshness of youthful impression which distinguish _The
Bible in Spain_; it does not attempt anything like the novel-interest of
_Lavengro_ and _The Romany Rye_; and though, as has been pointed out
above, something of Borrow's secret and mysterious way of indicating
places survives, it is a pretty distinct itinerary over great part of
the actual principality. I have followed most of its tracks on foot
myself, and nobody who wants a Welsh guide-book can take a pleasanter
one, though he might easily find one much less erratic. It may thus
have, to superficial observers, a positive and prosaic flavour as
compared with the romantic character of the other three. But this
distinction is not real. The tones are a little subdued, as was likely
to be the case with an elderly gentleman of fifty, travelling with his
wife and stepdaughter, and not publishing the record of his travels till
he was nearly ten years older. The localities are traceable on the map
and in Murray, instead of being the enchanted dingles and the
half-mythical woods of _Lavengro_. The personages of the former books
return no more, though, with one of his most excellent touches of art,
the author has suggested the contrast of youth and age by a single gipsy
interview in one of the later chapters. Borrow, like all sensible men,
was at no time indifferent to good food and drink, especially good ale;
but the trencher plays in _Wild Wales_ a part, the importance of which
may perhaps have shocked some of our latter-day delicates, to whom
strong beer is a word of loathing, and who wonder how on earth our
grandfathers and fathers used to dispose of "black strap." A very
different set of readers may be repelled by the strong literary colour
of the book, which is almost a Welsh anthology in parts. But those few
who can boast themselves to find the whole of a book, not merely its
parts, and to judge that whole when found, will be not least fond of
_Wild Wales_. If they have, as every reader of Borrow should have, the
spirit of the roads upon them, and are never more happy than when
journeying on "Shanks his mare," they will, of course, have in addition
a peculiar and personal love for it. It is, despite the interludes of
literary history, as full of Borrow's peculiar conversational gift as
any of its predecessors. Its thumbnail sketches, if somewhat more
subdued and less elaborate, are not less full of character. John Jones,
the Dissenting weaver, who served Borrow at once as a guide and a
whetstone of Welsh in the neighbourhood of Llangollen; the "kenfigenous"
Welshwoman who first, but by no means last, exhibited the curious local
jealousy of a Welsh-speaking Englishman; the doctor and the Italian
barometer-seller at Cerrig-y-Druidion; the "best Pridydd of the world"
in Anglesey, with his unlucky addiction to beer and flattery; the waiter
at Bala; the "ecclesiastical cat" (a cat worthy to rank with those of
Southey and Gautier); the characters of the walk across the hills from
Machynlleth to the Devil's Bridge; the scene at the public-house on the
Glamorgan Border, where the above-mentioned jealousy comes out so
strongly; the mad Irishwoman, Johanna Colgan (a masterpiece by herself);
and the Irish girl, with her hardly inferior history of the
faction-fights of Scotland Road (which Borrow, by a mistake, has put in
Manchester instead of in Liverpool); these make a list which I have
written down merely as they occurred to me, without opening the book,
and without prejudice to another list, nearly as long, which might be
added. _Wild Wales_, too, because of its easy and direct opportunity of
comparing its description with the originals, is particularly valuable
as showing how sober, and yet how forcible, Borrow's descriptions are.
As to incident, one often, as before, suspects him of romancing, and it
stands to reason that his dialogue, written long after the event, must
be full of the "cocked-hat-and-cane" style of narrative. But his
description, while it has all the vividness, has also all the
faithfulness and sobriety of the best landscape-painting. See a place
which Kingsley or Mr. Ruskin, or some other master of our decorative
school, has described--much more one which has fallen into the hands of
the small fry of their imitators--and you are almost sure to find that
it has been overdone. This is never, or hardly ever, the case with
Borrow, and it is so rare a merit, when it is found in a man who does
not shirk description where necessary, that it deserves to be counted to
him at no grudging rate.

But there is no doubt that the distinguishing feature of the book is its
survey of Welsh poetical literature. I have already confessed that I am
not qualified to judge the accuracy of Borrow's translations, and by no
means disposed to over-value them. But any one who takes an interest in
literature at all, must, I think, feel that interest not a little
excited by the curious Old-Mortality-like peregrinations which the
author of _Wild Wales_ made to the birth-place, or the burial-place as
it might be, of bard after bard, and by the short but masterly accounts
which he gives of the objects of his search. Of none of the numerous
subjects of his linguistic rovings does Borrow seem to have been fonder,
putting Romany aside, than of Welsh. He learnt it in a peculiarly
contraband manner originally, which, no doubt, endeared it to him; it
was little known to and often ridiculed by most Englishmen, which was
another attraction; and it was extremely unlikely to "pay" in any way,
which was a third. Perhaps he was not such an adept in it as he would
have us believe--the respected Cymmrodorion Society or Professor Rhys
must settle that. But it needs no knowledge of Welsh whatever to
perceive the genuine enthusiasm, and the genuine range of his
acquaintance with the language from the purely literary side. When he
tells us that Ab Gwilym was a greater poet than Ovid or Chaucer I feel
considerable doubts whether he was quite competent to understand Ovid
and little or no doubt that he has done wrong to Chaucer. But when,
leaving these idle comparisons, he luxuriates in details about Ab Gwilym
himself, and his poems, and his lady loves, and so forth, I have no
doubt about Borrow's appreciation (casual prejudices always excepted) of
literature. Nor is it easy to exaggerate the charm which he has added to
Welsh scenery by this constant identification of it with the men, and
the deeds, and the words of the past.

Little has been said hitherto of Borrow's more purely literary
characteristics from the point of view of formal criticism. They are
sufficiently interesting. He unites with a general plainness of speech
and writing, not unworthy of Defoe or Cobbett, a very odd and
complicated mannerism, which, as he had the wisdom to make it the
seasoning and not the main substance of his literary fare, is never
disgusting. The secret of this may be, no doubt, in part sought in his
early familiarity with a great many foreign languages, some of whose
idioms he transplanted into English: but this is by no means the whole
of the receipt. Perhaps it is useless to examine analytically that
receipt's details, or rather (for the analysis may be said to be
compulsory on any one who calls himself a critic), useless to offer its
results to the reader. One point which can escape no one who reads with
his eyes open is the frequent, yet not too abundant, repetition of the
same or very similar words--a point wherein much of the secret of
persons so dissimilar as Carlyle, Borrow, and Thackeray consists. This
is a well-known fact--so well known indeed that when a person who
desires to acquire style hears of it, he often goes and does likewise,
with what result all reviewers know. The peculiarity of Borrow, as far
as I can mark it, is that, despite his strong mannerism, he never relies
on it as too many others, great and small, are wont to do. The character
sketches, of which, as I have said, he is so abundant a master, are
always put in the plainest and simplest English. So are his flashes of
ethical reflection, which, though like all ethical reflections often
one-sided, are of the first order of insight. I really do not know that,
in the mint-and-anise-and-cummin order of criticism, I have more than
one charge to make against Borrow. That is that he, like other persons
of his own and the immediately preceding time, is wont to make a most
absurd misuse of the word individual. With Borrow "individual" means
simply "person": a piece of literary gentility of which he, of all
others, ought to have been ashamed.

But such criticism has but very little propriety in the case of a
writer, whose attraction is neither mainly nor in any very great degree
one of pure form. His early critics compared him to Le Sage, and the
comparison is natural. But if it is natural, it is not extraordinarily
critical. Both men wrote of vagabonds, and to some extent of picaroons;
both neglected the conventionalities of their own language and
literature; both had a singular knowledge of human nature. But Le Sage
is one of the most impersonal of all great writers, and Borrow is one of
the most personal. And it is undoubtedly in the revelation of his
personality that great part of his charm lies. It is, as has been fully
acknowledged, a one-sided, wrong-headed, not always quite right-hearted
personality. But it is intensely English, possessing at the same time a
certain strain of romance which the other John Bulls of literature
mostly lack, and which John Bunyan, the king of them all, only reached
within the limits, still more limited than Borrow's, of purely
religious, if not purely ecclesiastical, interests. A born grumbler; a
person with an intense appetite for the good things of this life;
profoundly impressed with, and at the same time sceptically critical of,
the bad or good things of another life; apt, as he somewhere says
himself, "to hit people when he is not pleased"; illogical; constantly
right in general, despite his extremely roundabout ways of reaching his
conclusion; sometimes absurd, and yet full of humour; alternately
prosaic and capable of the highest poetry; George Borrow, Cornishman on
the father's side and Huguenot on the mother's, managed to display in
perfection most of the characteristics of what once was, and let us hope
has not quite ceased to be, the English type. If he had a slight
overdose of Celtic blood and Celtic peculiarity, it was more than made
up by the readiness of literary expression which it gave him. He, if any
one, bore an English heart, though, as there often has been in
Englishmen, there was something perhaps more as well as something less
than English in his fashion of expression.

To conclude, Borrow has--what after all is the chief mark of a great
writer--distinction. "Try to be like somebody," said the unlucky
critic-bookseller to Lamartine; and he has been gibbeted for it, very
justly, for the best part of a century. It must be admitted that "try
not to be like other people," though a much more fashionable, is likely
to be quite as disastrous a recommendation. But the great writers,
whether they try to be like other people or try not to be like them (and
sometimes in the first case most of all), succeed only in being
themselves, and that is what Borrow does. His attraction is rather
complex, and different parts of it may, and no doubt do, apply with
differing force to this and that reader. One may be fascinated by his
pictures of an unconventional and open-air life, the very possibilities
of which are to a great extent lost in our days, though patches of
ground here and there in England (notably the tracts of open ground
between Cromer and Wells in Borrow's own county) still recall them. To
others he may be attractive for his sturdy patriotism, or his
adventurous and wayward spirit, or his glimpses of superstition and
romance. The racy downrightness of his talk; the axioms, such as that to
the Welsh alewife, "The goodness of ale depends less upon who brews it
than upon what it is brewed of"; or the sarcastic touches as that of the
dapper shopkeeper, who, regarding the funeral of Byron, observed, "I,
too, am frequently unhappy," may each and all have their votaries. His
literary devotion to literature would, perhaps, of itself attract few;
for, as has been hinted, it partook very much of the character of
will-worship, and there are few people who like any will-worship in
letters except their own; but it adds to his general attraction, no
doubt, in the case of many. That neither it, nor any other of his
claims, has yet forced itself as it should on the general public is an
undoubted fact; a fact not difficult to understand, though rather
difficult fully to explain, at least without some air of superior
knowingness and taste. Yet he has, as has been said, his devotees, and I
think they are likely rather to increase than to decrease. He wants
editing, for his allusive fashion of writing probably makes a great part
of him nearly unintelligible to those who have not from their youth up
devoted themselves to the acquisition of useless knowledge. There ought
to be a good life of him. The great mass of his translations, published
and unpublished, and the smaller mass of his early hackwork, no doubt
deserve judicious excerption. If professed philologers were not even
more ready than most other specialists each to excommunicate all the
others except himself and his own particular Johnny Dods of Farthing's
Acre, it would be rather interesting to hear what some modern men of
many languages have to say to Borrow's linguistic achievements. But all
these things are only desirable embellishments and assistances. His real
claims and his real attractions are comprised in four small volumes, the
purchase of which, under modern arrangements of booksellers, leaves some
change out of a sovereign, and which will about half fill the ordinary
bag used for briefs and dynamite. It is not a large literary baggage,
and it does not attempt any very varied literary kinds. If not exactly a
novelist in any one of his books, Borrow is a romancer, in the true and
not the ironic sense of the word, in all of them. He has not been
approached in merit by any romancer who has published books in our days,
except Charles Kingsley; and his work, if less varied in range and charm
than Kingsley's, has a much stronger and more concentrated flavour.
Moreover, he is the one English writer of our time, and perhaps of times
still farther back, who seems never to have tried to be anything but
himself; who went his own way all his life long with complete
indifference to what the public or the publishers liked, as well as to
what canons of literary form and standards of literary perfection
seemed to indicate as best worth aiming at. A most self-sufficient
person was Borrow, in the good and ancient sense, as well as, to some
extent, in the sense which is bad and modern. And what is more, he was
not only a self-sufficient person, but is very sufficient also to the
tastes of all those who love good English and good literature.



APPENDIX A

DE QUINCEY


A short time after the publication of my essay on De Quincey I learnt,
to my great concern, that it had given offence to his daughter Florence,
the widow of one of the heroes of the Indian Mutiny, Colonel Baird
Smith. Mrs. Baird Smith complained, in a letter to the newspapers, that
I had accused her father of untruthfulness, and requested the public to
suspend their judgment until the publication of certain new documents,
in the form of letters, which had been discovered. I might have replied,
if my intent had been hostile, that little fault could be justly found
with a critic of the existing evidence if new evidence were required to
confute him. But as the very last intention that I had in writing the
paper was to impute anything that can be properly called untruthfulness
to De Quincey, I thought it better to say so and to wait for the further
documents. In a subsequent private correspondence with Mrs. Baird Smith,
I found that what had offended her (her complaints being at first quite
general) was certain remarks on De Quincey's aristocratic acquaintances
as appearing in the _Autobiography_ and "not heard of afterwards,"
certain comments on the Malay incident and others like it, some on the
mystery of her father's money affairs, and the passage on his general
"impenetrability." The matter is an instance of the difficulty of
dealing with recent reputations, when the commentator gives his name.
Some really unkind things have been said of De Quincey; my intention was
not to say anything unkind at all, but simply to give an account of the
thing "as it strikes" if not "a contemporary" yet a well-willing junior.
Take for instance the Malay incident. We know from De Quincey himself
that, within a few years, the truth of this famous story was questioned,
and that he was accused of having borrowed it from something of Hogg's.
He disclaimed this, no doubt truly. He protested that it was a
faithfully recorded incident: but though the events were then fresh, he
did not produce a single witness to prove that any Malay had been near
Grasmere at the time. And so elsewhere. As I have remarked about Borrow,
there are some people who have a knack of recounting truth so that it
looks as if it never had been true. I have been informed by Mr. James
Runciman that he himself once made considerable inquiries on the track
of _Lavengro_, and found that that remarkable book is, to some extent at
any rate, apparently historic. On the other hand I have been told by
another Borrovian who knew Borrow (which I never did) that the _Life of
Joseph Sell_ never existed. In such cases a critic can only go on
internal evidence, and I am sure that the vast majority of critics would
decide against most of De Quincey's stories on that. I do not suppose
that he ever, like Lamb, deliberately begat "lie-children": but
opium-eating is not absolutely repugnant to delusion, and literary
mystification was not so much the exception as the rule in his earlier
time. As to his "impenetrability," I can only throw myself on the
readers of such memoirs and reminiscences as have been published
respecting him. The almost unanimous verdict of his acquaintances and
critics has been that he was in a way mysterious, and though no doubt
this mystery did not extend to his children, it seems to have extended
to almost every one else. I gather from Mrs. Baird Smith's own remarks
that from first to last all who were concerned with him treated him as a
person unfit to be trusted with money, and while his habit of solitary
lodging is doubtless capable of a certain amount of explanation, it
cannot be described as other than curious. I had never intended to throw
doubt on his actual acquaintance with Lord Westport or Lady Carbery.
These persons or their representatives were alive when the
_Autobiography_ was published, and would no doubt have protested if De
Quincey had not spoken truly. But I must still hold that their total
disappearance from his subsequent life is peculiar. Some other points,
such as his mentioning Wilson as his "only intimate male friend" are
textually cited from himself, and if I seem to have spoken harshly of
his early treatment by his family I may surely shelter myself behind the
touching incident, recorded in the biographies, of his crying on his
deathbed, "My dear mother! then I was greatly mistaken." If this does
not prove that he himself had entertained on the subject ideas which,
whether false or true, were unfavourable, then it is purely meaningless.

In conclusion, I have only to repeat my regret that I should, by a
perhaps thoughtless forgetfulness of the feelings of survivors, have
hurt those feelings. But I think I am entitled to say that the view of
De Quincey's character and cast of thought given in the text, while
imputing nothing discreditable in intention, is founded on the whole
published work and all the biographical evidence then accessible to me,
and will not be materially altered by anything since published or likely
to be so in future. The world, though often not quite right, is never
quite wrong about a man, and it would be almost impossible that it
should be wrong in face of such autobiographic details as are furnished,
not merely by the _Autobiography_ itself, but by a mass of notes spread
over seven years in composition and full of personal idiosyncrasy. I not
only acquit De Quincey of all serious moral delinquency,--I declare
distinctly that no imputation of it was ever intended. It is quite
possible that some of his biographers and of those who knew him may have
exaggerated his peculiarities, less possible I think that those
peculiarities should not have existed. But the matter, except for my own
regret at having offended De Quincey's daughter, will have been a happy
one if it results in a systematic publication of his letters, which,
from the specimens already printed, must be very characteristic and very
interesting. In almost all cases a considerable collection of letters is
the most effective, and especially the most truth-telling, of all
possible "lives." No letters indeed are likely to increase the literary
repute of the author of the _Confessions_ and of the _Cæsars_; but they
may very well clear up and fill in the hitherto rather fragmentary and
conjectural notion of his character, and they may, on the other hand,
confirm that idea of both which, however false it may seem to his
children, and others who were united to him by ties of affection, has
commended itself to careful students of his published works.



APPENDIX B

LOCKHART


The most singular instance of the floating dislike to Lockhart's memory,
to which I have more than once referred in the text, occurred
subsequently to the original publication of my essay, and not very long
ago, when my friend Mr. Louis Stevenson thought proper to call Lockhart
a "cad." This extraordinary _obiter dictum_ provoked, as might have been
expected, not a few protests, but I do not remember that Mr. Stevenson
rejoined, and I have not myself had any opportunity of learning from him
what he meant. I can only suppose that the ebullition must have been
prompted by one of two things, the old scandal about the duel in which
John Scott the editor of the _London_ was shot, and a newer one, which
was first bruited abroad, I think, in Mr. Sidney Colvin's book on Keats.
Both of these, and especially the first, may be worth a little
discussion.

I do not think that any one who examines Mr. Colvin's allegation, will
think it very damaging. It comes to this, that Keats's friend Bailey met
Lockhart in the house of Bishop Greig at Stirling, told him some
particulars about Keats, extracted from him a promise that he would not
use them against the poet, and afterwards thought he recognised some of
the details in the _Blackwood_ attack which ranks next to the famous
_Quarterly_ article. Here it is to be observed, first, that there is no
sufficient evidence that Lockhart wrote this _Blackwood_ article;
secondly, that it is by no means certain that if he did, he was making,
or considered himself to be making, any improper use of what he had
heard; thirdly, that for the actual interview and its tenor we have only
a vague _ex parte_ statement made long after date.

The other matter is much more important, and as the duel itself has been
mentioned more than once or twice in the foregoing pages, and as it is
to this day being frequently referred to in what seems to me an entirely
erroneous manner, with occasional implications that Lockhart showed the
white feather, it may be well to give a sketch of what actually
happened, as far as can be made out from the most trustworthy accounts,
published and unpublished.

One of Lockhart's signatures in _Blackwood_--a signature which, however,
like others, was not, I believe, peculiar to him--was "Zeta," and this
Zeta assailed the Cockney school in a sufficiently scorpion-like manner.
Thereupon Scott's magazine, the _London_, retorted, attacking Lockhart
by name. On this Lockhart set out for London and, with a certain young
Scotch barrister named Christie as his second, challenged Scott. But
Scott refused to fight, unless Lockhart would deny that he was editor of
_Blackwood_. Lockhart declared that Scott had no right to ask this, and
stigmatised him as a coward. He then published a statement, sending at
the same time a copy to Scott. In the published form the denial of
editorship was made, in the one sent to Scott it was omitted. Thereupon
Scott called Lockhart a liar. Of this Lockhart took no notice, but
Christie his second did, and, an altercation taking place between them,
Scott challenged Christie and they went out, Scott's second being Mr. P.
G. Patmore, Christie's Mr. Traill, afterwards well known as a London
police magistrate. Christie fired in the air, Scott fired at Christie
and missed. Thereupon Mr. Patmore demanded a second shot, which, I am
informed, could and should, by all laws of the duello, have been
refused. Both principal and second on the other side were, however,
inexperienced and probably unwilling to baulk their adversaries. Shots
were again exchanged, Christie this time (as he can hardly be blamed for
doing) taking aim at his adversary and wounding him mortally. Patmore
fled the country, Christie and Traill took their trial and were
acquitted.

I have elsewhere remarked that this deplorable result is said to have
been brought on by errors of judgment on the part of more than one
person. Hazlitt, himself no duellist and even accused of personal
timidity, is said to have egged on Scott, and to have stung him by some
remark of his bitter tongue into challenging Christie, and there is no
doubt that Patmore's conduct was most reprehensible. But we are here
concerned with Lockhart, not with them. As far as I understand the
imputations made on him, he is charged either with want of
straightforwardness in omitting part of his explanation in the copy sent
to Scott, or with cowardice in taking no notice of Scott's subsequent
lie direct, or with both. Let us examine this.

At first sight the incident of what, from the most notorious action of
Lord Clive, we may call the "red and white treaties" seems odd. But it
is to be observed, first, that Lockhart could not be said to conceal
from Scott what he published to all the world; secondly, that his
conduct was perfectly consistent throughout. He had challenged Scott,
who had declined to go out. Having offered his adversary satisfaction,
he was not bound to let him take it with a proviso, or to satisfy his
private inquisitiveness. But if not under menace, but considering Scott
after his refusal as unworthy the notice of a gentleman, and not further
to be taken into account, he chose to inform the public of the truth, he
had a perfect right to do so. And it is hardly necessary to say that it
was the truth that he was not editor of _Blackwood_.

This consideration will also account for his conduct in not renewing his
challenge after Scott's offensive words. He had offered the man
satisfaction and had been refused. No one is bound to go on challenging
a reluctant adversary. At all times Lockhart seems to have been
perfectly ready to back his opinion, as may be seen from a long affair
which had happened earlier, in connection with the "Baron Lauerwinkel"
matter. There he had promptly come forward and in his own name
challenged the anonymous author of a pamphlet bearing the title of
"Hypocrisy Unveiled." The anonym had, like Scott, shirked, and had
maintained his anonymity. (Lord Cockburn says it was an open secret, but
I do not know who he was.) Thereupon Lockhart took no further notice,
just as he did in the later matter, and I do not believe that a court of
honour in any country would find fault with him. At any rate, I think
that we are entitled to know, much more definitely than I have ever seen
it stated, what the charge against him is. We may indeed blame him in
both these matters, and perhaps in others, for neglecting the sound rule
that anonymous writing should never be personal. If he did this,
however, he is in the same box with almost every writer for the press in
his own generation, and with too many in this. I maintain that in each
case he promptly gave the guarantee which the honour of his time
required, and which is perhaps the only possible guarantee, that of
being ready to answer in person for what he had written impersonally.
This was all he could do, and he did it.



INDEX


 Allen, Thomas, 113

 Arnold, Matthew, 116, 257, 378

 Austen, Jane, 29


 _Blackwood's Magazine_, 37 _sqq._, 276 _sqq._, 343 _sqq._

 Borrow, George, 403-439;
   his life, 403, 404;
   his excessive oddity, 404-411;
   his satiric and character-drawing faculty, 414-417;
   sketches of his books, 417-433;
   his general literary character, 433-439

 Brougham, Lord, 107, 109

 Burke, Edmund, 10 _sqq._

 Burns, Robert, 34, 48, 53, 159, 160, 353

 Byron, Lord, 3, 131, 132, 393


 Canning, George, 75, 97, 200, 385

 Carlyle, Thomas, 47, 270-272, 323, 369, 370

 Coleridge, S. T., 141

 Colvin, Mr. Sidney, 445

 Courthope, Mr. W. J., 4

 Crabbe, George, 1-32;
   the decline of his popularity, 1-5;
   sketch of his life, 6-12;
   his works and their characteristics, 13-20;
   their prosaic element, 20-25;
   was he a poet?, 25-32

 Cunningham, Allan, 46, 53


 Dante, 26, 218, 230, 231

 Douglas, Scott, 41, 353

 Dryden, John, 22, 30, 85, 232


 Fitzgerald, Edward (translator of Omar Khayyám), 4

 Flaubert, Gustave, 19

 _Fraser's Magazine_, 359, 360


 Gifford, William, 3, 21, 152


 Hannay, Mr. David, 350

 Hazlitt, William, 135-169;
   differing estimates of him, 135-140;
   his life, 140-146;
   his works, 146-169
   ----xxi, xxii, 4, 24, 25, 130, 131, 217

 Hogg, James, 33-66;
   his special interest, 33, 34;
   his life, 34-37;
   anecdotes and estimates of him, 37-47;
   his poems, 47-54;
   his general prose, 54, 55;
   _The Confessions of a Sinner_, 55-64

 Hood and Praed, 397-399

 Hook, Theodore, 357-359

 Howells, Mr. W. D., xvii

 Hunt, Leigh, 201-233;
   scattered condition of his work, 201-203;
   his life, 204-213;
   the "Skimpole" matter, 213-216;
   his vulgarity, 217-219;
   his poems, 219-223;
   his critical and miscellaneous work, 223-233


 Jeffrey, Francis, 100-134;
   a critic pure and simple, 100, 101;
   his life, 101-114;
   the foundation of the _Edinburgh Review_, 106-109;
   his criticism, 115, 134
   ----3, 4, 21, 24, 29

 Johnson, Samuel, 2, 11, 14, 16

 Joubert, Joseph, 26


 Lang, Mr. Andrew, xxii

 Lockhart, John Gibson, 339-373, and Appendix B;
   his literary fate, 339-341;
   his life, 341-346, 359-361;
   _The Chaldee MS._ and _Peter's Letters_, 343-345;
   the novels, 346-349;
   the poems, 349-351;
   _Life of Burns_, 353;
   _Life of Scott_, 354-356;
   _Life of Hook_, 357-359;
   his editorship of the _Quarterly_ and his criticism generally, 361-373;
   charges against him, 445-448
   ----3, 6, 13, 33, 37, 39-44, 60, 63, 64, 108, 112, 113, 293, 294


 Macaulay, Lord, 294, 384

 Maguire, W., 279, 360
 [Transcriber's Note: The alternative form of Maguire, Maginn, is used in
 the main body of the text.]

 Masson, Professor, 305 _sqq._

 Moore, Thomas, 170-200;
   a French critic on him, 170-172;
   his miscellaneous work, 172-174;
   his life, 174-183;
   his character, 183-185;
   survey of his poetry, 185-200
   ----6, 27, 110.

 Morley, Mr. John, 27


 Newman, Cardinal, 4

 North, Christopher. _See_ Wilson, John


 Peacock, Thomas Love, 234-269;
   his literary position, 234, 235;
   his life, 236-239;
   some difficulties in him, 239-242;
   survey of his work, 242-259;
   its special characteristics, 257-269

 Pope, Alexander, 22, 25

 Praed, W. M., 374-402;
   editions of him, 374-376;
   his life, 376-381;
   his early writings, 381-384;
   his poetical work, 385-398;
   Hood and Praed, 397-399;
   his special charm, 399-402


 Quincey, Thomas de, 304-338, and Appendix A;
   editions of him, 304-309;
   his life, 309-314;
   his faculty of rigmarole, 314-321;
   defects and merits of his work, 321-338
   ----47, 282


 Rogers, Samuel, 12 _note_


 Scott, John, his duel and death, 143, 144; Appendix B

 Scott, Sir Walter, 34-36, 49, 54, 63, 111, 151, 265, 273, 354-359, 406, 407

 Shelley, P. B., 190, 191, 210, 247-250

 Smith, Bobus, 69

 Smith, Mr. Goldwin, xi, xiv

 Smith, Sydney, 67-99;
   the beneficence of his biographers, 67-69;
   his life, 69-80;
   his letters, 81-84;
   his published work, 84-99

 Staël, Madame de, 126, 127

 Stephen, Mr. Leslie, 4

 Stevenson, Mr. R. L., 445

 Sully, Mr. James, xxvii _note_

 Swift, Jonathan, Jeffrey on, 128, 129


 Tennyson, Lord, 4, 29, 292, 293, 365, 366

 Thackeray, W. M., on Hazlitt, 135, 136

 Thomson, James, 27

 Thurlow, Lord, 10-12


 Vallat, M. Jules, 171 _sqq._

 Veitch, Professor, 38, 40, 46

 Voltaire, 81


 Walker, Sarah, 139 _sqq._

 Wilson, John, 270-303;
   Carlyle's judgment of him and another, 270-274;
   his life, 274-277;
   the _Noctes_, 278-288;
   his miscellaneous work, 288-303

 Wilson, John, 3, 4, 29, 44-47.
   _See_ also Essays on De Quincey and Lockhart

 Wordsworth, William, 3, 27, 117, 323


 Young, Sir George, 375


 "Zeta," 446


THE END

_Printed by R. & R. CLARK, Edinburgh._





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home